Flash Fiction Friday: All You Need is Jesus

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Note: Today’s Flash Fiction Story is a Special Edition. This story was written by my youngest son.

All You Need is Jesus

by Z. Barr

A seemingly never ending column of men stood before Archangel Gabriel, who stood at the pass to the wide open battlefield. Gabriel saw men wearing armor and swords and carrying shields. The men passed Gabriel, trudging with the weight of their armor.

As a new group of men passed Gabriel, a new sight caught his attention. “Why do you carry guns?”

One of the men hefted his gun. “These are what we need to eliminate the enemy, faster than those swords and shields. Those are but toys.”

The other men laughed.

Gabriel shrugged. Only he knew what the enemy was and what it took to destroy the enemy on the battlefield. He said, “You may pass.” He watched as the men, still, chuckling, went through the pass.

At the end of the line, walking all by himself, was a young man dressed in torn clothing. The young man stopped before Gabriel.

“You don’t have weaponry,” Gabriel mused.

“I don’t know how to use one. But Jesus called me, and so I … I came.” The young man lowered his head. “I guess I am here just to pull the dead from the battlefield. But I couldn’t ignore Him. I had to come.”

As the young man talked, Gabriel noticed that when the man moved, something on him sparkled like a star.

“But all I have is Jesus.”

Then Gabriel saw it—the young man wore armor. It was inconspicuous, but he was wearing spiritual armor. “Lad,” Gabriel said, “you may pass. All you need is Jesus. Go forth.”

The young man left Gabriel.

* * *

On the battlefield, the men stood in lines. They waited and waited, but there was no sign of the enemy.

“There is no enemy! We’ve been tricked!” These words rippled through the lines.

Gabriel watched the young man. He stood alone, staring off into the distance. Gabriel’s eyes moved to the young man’s line of sight, where blackness met the horizon, rapidly approaching.

The young man shouted, “The demons are coming! That is the enemy!”

The other men looked but saw nothing except the Archangel and the lad.

“What you men brought won’t work against demons,” the young man said. “We need to pray.” With that, the young man dropped to his knees. His spiritual armor started to glow and become more visible. His sword of prayer materialized in his hands.

Several minutes passed and the young man remained on his knees, praying.

Now the demons were closer than ever. Suddenly, an amazing thing happened. Blue tongues of fire fell from the sky devouring the demons. Blue flame formed a halo around the young man.

The battle was won, with the prayer of just one man.

Only one man passed the test.

He had faith … in his Saviour.

Flash Fiction Friday: Someone to Lead Them

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Someone to Lead Them

by Kelly F. Barr

The children loved to sit in the story circle across the fire from Marta, the storyteller, just after dark and listen as she wove stories—scary stories, funny stories, stories of the history of Pattock, their village, and sometimes, stories of things to come. Tonight as the children gathered round, the night air was cool and the moon was full. Many adults from the village—those with children and those without children—gathered outside the story circle.

Dobbin sat on the left side of the circle, close to Marta’s spot, so he could watch her face as she spoke without having to look through the fire’s dancing flames. His heart pounded in anticipation as he wondered what type of story she would tell tonight.

The door of her cottage opened and Tetra carried Marta’s worn wooden chair out. Marta followed, the hem of her black skirt dragging on the ground, her soft leather moccasins making a shuffling sound as she sloughed along. She flopped onto her chair and drew her tattered gray wool shawl up over her shoulders as her silver hair and black eyes glimmered in the firelight.

When Marta spoke, her voice crackled like the sticks that first caught flame when Tetra started the fire, “Good evening children. Tonight’s story is a special one. One of great importance.”

Her eyes met Dobbin’s as she spoke the words ‘of great importance’ and Dobbin’s heart skipped a beat. Could tonight’s story be one of things to come? Could it have something to do with him? He sat up straight, eyes glued to Marta, ears straining so as not to miss a single word.

“From our brave young men, a great leader will arise and several will follow him. He will lead this group to seek help from those willing to come from Sektur, the village to the east.

Several children gasped. Marta’s story held Dobbin in rapt attention. Marta swung her head and locked eyes with him. “Dobbin, you will be the one to lead Olan, Gad, Bartok, Jinya, Prayjes, and Zeficleez. You must be quick as the trouble will come from the southeast, swift on your heels during your return journey.”

The six young men Marta had named stood and moved to sit around Dobbin. The six each reached a hand to touch one of Dobbin’s shoulders—their pledge to follow him. Dobbin nodded, the weight of responsibility settling on his shoulders.

That night, Dobbin tossed and turned. This was his chance to prove he could be a good leader, and for those going with him, to show they were now truly men.

The next day residents of Pattock busied themselves preparing for the upcoming war as Dobbin and his followers sharpened their weapons, packed food and other supplies for their journey. They must be prepared for the possibility of the Hestanauts ambushing them as they journeyed back to Pattock. When all was ready, they gathered in the center of the village and Dobbin led them out.

As Dobbin and his men entered Sektur two days later, heads turned and people stepped out of doors to see the group. Soon many were gathered, and a white-haired old man wearing a white robe, stepped forward. “Who are you and why are you here?”

Dobbin answered, “Sir, we are from Pattock. Marta has seen a vision that the Hestanauts will attack and sent us to seek aid from you, our allies. We need willing Sekturians to travel back to Pattock with us to help defend our village. Marta says the Hestanauts will be swift on our heels during our return journey.”

Rumblings rose from the crowd around the old man. He raised his hand and the people fell silent. “Prepare the evening meal. After we eat, I will ask for volunteers to help our neighbors in Pattock.” He turned back to Dobbin and his men. “Come. You will sit with me in my hut until the food is prepared. I am Kerrick, leader of this village. You can share your plans with me.”

About an hour later, they followed Kerrick to a long house where they dined on roasted meat and vegetables. When their plates were empty, Kerrick rose. He spoke to a young man, “Go and bring the rest of the village men here.”

A few minutes later, a large number of strong, fit looking men filled the long house. The old man raised his hand and the room grew quiet. “Sektur and Pattock have been allies for many years. Some of our sons have married their daughters and some of their sons have married our daughters. If the Hestanauts were to attack us, the men of Pattock would come to our aid.” He paused, allowing his words to sink in. “How many of you will help defend Pattock against the evil Hestanauts?”

Dobbin held his breath and the muscles in his neck and shoulders tightened with tension as they waited. Two men stepped forward, then three more, then five. Soon, there were two hundred men standing in a line before Kerrick.

Kerrick smiled. “Good. This is good.” He waved his hand, drawing Dobbin to him. Dobbin quickly stepped up beside Kerrick, who placed a hand on Dobbin’s shoulder and faced the Sekturians standing before them. “This is Dobbin. He will lead you to Pattock. Prepare and get some sleep.” He turned to Dobbin and his men. “You can bed down in here.”

* * * * *

In the gray light of early morning 200 Sekturian warriors entered the long house.  Dobbin called Bartok to him and approached the man who seemed to be in charge. He said, “My name is Roedan. I am a Sekturian leader.”

Dobbin charged Bartok and Roedan with leading the party, while he, Jinya and Olan formed the rear guard, watching for Hestanauts.

As they began ascending a rise, Bartok and Roedan heard Dobbin cry, “Hestanauts!”

The front half of the group hastened their pace, while the rear half fell back to battle the Hestanauts.

The Hestanauts–large meaty men–hit hard with clubs. But as Dobbin, Jinya, Olan, and several Sekturians shot arrows, numerous Hestanauts fell. When they fell, the Hestanauts began to retreat.

Dobbin and his men turned and raced to catch up with the group Bartok and Roedan led. But the Hestanauts weren’t finished yet. They ran toward Dobbin and the others, axes in their hands. With their long, muscular legs, they gained on Dobbin and the others quickly. Dobbin’s heart leapt into his throat as several Sekturians and Gad fell around him. The battle yells of the Hestanauts combined with the screams of pain from the injured were deafening.

The Hestanauts began losing steam. “Run!” Dobbin ordered his men as he began to run with all his might.

Soon Dobbin’s group had widened the gap, and Dobbin looked back over his shoulder to see the Hestanauts halted. Many were bent with hands on their knees, sucking in deep breaths.

When Dobbin led the group of men into Pattock, the village cheered. With the announcement of losses, the village grew solemn. Tetra clapped Dobbin on the shoulder. “Well done.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Mysteries, Love, and Tea

Mysteries, Love, and Tea

by Kelly F. Barr

Brad hated his train commute to back and forth to the office everyday. The train was often crowded and nearly everyday, whoever sat next to him would reek of cigarette smoke, turning his stomach and engaging his gag reflex. He’d be forced to stand, his laptop bag over his shoulder and briefcase in his hand, or find another place to sit. If he stood, he’d arrive to an empty home with an aching shoulder and arm.

Today had been no different, and it had been a standing day. He turned the key in the lock and let himself into his empty house—no one to greet him and no sound except for the hum of the refrigerator. His mom and dad suggested he get a pet, but he wasn’t a cat person and didn’t want to have to walk a dog before and after work everyday.

What he wanted was a woman in his life, but all the women he’d met so far, since moving to Boston, were either shallow or more interested in his money than him, or weren’t interested in a long-term relationship. He sighed, moved to the kitchen and paged through the menus he had in a basket on the counter, pulling out the ones for restaurants he knew delivered. It was Friday and he was beat—didn’t feel like cooking or going out.

After ordering a pizza, bag of chips, and a two-liter bottle of root beer, he trudged to the bedroom to get out of his suit and tie. Exiting the bedroom in a comfortable pair of lounge pants and a sleeveless t-shirt, he slouched in his favorite chair, grabbed the t.v. remote, hit the power button and started flipping channels. He had just settled on a college basketball game, when the doorbell rang.

After paying the delivery guy, he put two pieces of Italian sausage pizza, oozing with cheese, on a plate, along with a handful of chips. He put ice in a glass and poured root beer over it. Then he returned to his favorite chair.

The basketball game ended at ten. Brad cleaned up his dinner items, ate a slice of the now cold pizza, put the rest in the fridge, along with the bottle of root beer, and went to bed.

Monday morning Brad stood on the platform in a crowd of people, once again waiting for the train. When the train pulled up, screeched to a halt, and the doors opened, people pushed to get through the doors. Brad didn’t even attempt to grab a seat, but instead stood and held onto the handrail.

As the train began to move, he saw a woman with waves of chocolate brown hair falling to her shoulders, slender legs beneath a tan skirt, and a book in front of her face. She seemed completely oblivious to everyone around her as she frequently turned the pages. Her eyes never left the book until the conductor’s voice came over the speaker, announcing they were entering Downtown Crossing.

That was Brad’s stop, but it appeared this woman planned to get off there as well. As she closed her book, he noticed she was wearing turquoise framed glasses over eyes the same chocolate color as her hair. She wore pink lipstick on bow-shaped lips. When the train stopped, she stood, picked up the briefcase at her feet, and when the door to the train car opened, she brushed past Brad sending the scent of sweet pea and violets to his nose. He moved to follow her.

He weaved in and out of other commuters to keep the woman in view. It helped that she was wearing a bright pink blouse. Though it was no easy feat, he managed to follow her to the street. She turned the same direction he did on the sidewalk. He could follow her much more easily now that the crowd thinned out a bit. As they drew closer to the office building where Brad worked, he wondered if she could be heading to the same building. However, she entered a skyscraper three buildings before his.

For weeks, the woman with chocolate hair and eyes rode in the same train car as he did, always reading a book during the ride. Brad wondered how to interrupt her reading and introduce himself, but his mind kept coming up empty.

Then one day, the train lurched to an unexpected stop and her book toppled to the floor. Brad bent and retrieved it, their eyes met as he handed it back to her, and he said, “Hello.”

She gave him a small smile, took the book, and said, “Thank you.”

Her voice was velvety soft that felt like a caress upon his skin. “My name’s Brad.”

“I’m Laney.”

“What are you reading?”

“I enjoy mysteries, especially cozy mysteries. This is an Aurora Teagarden mystery called ‘A Fool and His Honey’ by Charlaine Harris.”

Brad grinned. “Catchy title. Do you enjoy tea and gardens as well?” He quirked an eyebrow.

Laney gave a little chuckle that sounded like water bubbling over rocks in a stream. “Actually, I do.”

“Maybe I could take you to tea some time?”

“Downtown Crossing,” the conductor’s voice came over the speaker.

Laney rose, met Brad’s gaze, and said, “That sounds lovely. How about this Saturday?”

Brad’s lower jaw went slack, but he regained control quickly. “Saturday would be perfect. Say two o’clock?”

Laney nodded. “It’s a date.” She reached into a pocked on the front of her briefcase, pulled out a business card and handed it to him. “Call me on your lunch break and I can give you my home phone number and address.”

Brad nodded, took the card, exited the train, and walked to his office with a new spring in his step.

Saturday afternoon, Brad took Laney to a Japanese tea house and garden. They enjoyed sitting in the garden sipping Japanese tea and getting to know one another. As they were leaving, Brad took Laney’s hand in his.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Love Letters

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The Love Letters

by Kelly F. Barr

Callie sat in an old wooden rocking chair in her grandmother’s attic. Gran had passed away six months ago and left her house, and everything in it, to Callie, who had just graduated from college three months ago. She had a lot of great memories in this house, though she’d never been in the attic before. On the floor in front of her was an old trunk – black with a metal lock. She gripped the lid and tried to lift it, but it didn’t budge.

It must be locked. Where could the key be? Callie scanned the room. A few feet away stood a little table with a drawer. Callie stood and stepped over to the table. She pulled the drawer out. Inside was an old Bible with a black leather cover. Callie picked it up and opened it to the first page – a page showing ownership of the Bible to Grace Randall Witherspoon, her grandmother. She flipped some pages and, in the Book of Psalms, found an old black and white photograph of a handsome man in an army uniform. Callie picked up the photo for a closer look. The man in the photo didn’t look anything like Grandpa Jasper Witherspoon. Callie turned the photo over and, on the back, in block letters, was the name Galen Edward Haskins and the year 1939. She’d never heard that name before. She lowered her hand to place the photo back into the Bible and saw a key.

Callie picked up the key and studied it. It looked large enough to fit the trunk’s lock. She put the photo back in the Bible, returned the Bible to the drawer, and took the key to the trunk. She placed the key into the lock and turned. She heard a click, and leaving the key in the lock, attempted to lift the lid. This time, there was no resistance. She tipped the lid until it stood open, and a puff of dust cascaded down the lid, causing Callie to sneeze. Inside, the first thing Callie saw was a beautiful peach colored gown. She lifted it from the trunk and held it up. Tiny flowers were embroidered all over the bodice. The skirt was silk with a layer of peach colored lace over it. The top of the bodice had short puffy sleeves. Callie imagined the sleeves were to be worn off the shoulders, leaving the woman’s shoulders and neck fully exposed. Had Gran worn this for a special occasion?

Callie laid the dress aside and began to sort through the rest of the items in the trunk. There was a jewelry box with some beautiful pieces of jewelry, including a pearl necklace and a cameo pin. There was a pair of silk white gloves that Callie imagined had once been worn with the gown. Next, she lifted out three books with locks and keys – diaries. She unlocked and opened the first one and immediately recognized her grandmother’s script. She closed it and put the books aside to read later. The last thing Callie lifted from the trunk was a wooden box. When she opened it, she found several yellowed envelopes. They were addressed to Grace Randall, her grandmother’s maiden name.

Callie gently withdrew a piece of paper from the first envelope and unfolded it. It appeared to be a letter written in the same block print she had seen on the back of the photo of Galen Edward Haskins. She read:

MY DEAREST GRACE,

I’VE ALWAYS KNOWN WAR IS UGLY, BUT THIS WAR IS HIDEOUS. I HAVE SEEN THINGS THAT WILL HAUNT ME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I CANNOT GIVE YOU ANY DETAILS NOR WOULD I WANT TO. PLEASE PRAY THAT I WILL BE ABLE TO DO MY DUTY, BUT ABOVE ALL PRAY THAT THIS WAR WILL END SOON AND THAT WE WILL BE SENT HOME.

THE ONLY THING THAT GIVES ME ANY JOY AND HOPE IS KNOWING THAT YOU ARE WAITING FOR ME AT HOME. I MISS YOU TERRIBLY. I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART.

YOURS TRULY,

GALEN

Callie blinked and looked at the signature again. It still read GALEN. How could that be? Gran had married Jasper Witherspoon, not Galen Haskins. Gran had never spoken of Galen.

Callie replaced the items back in the trunk, except for the diaries and the box of letters. She took those down to the main floor of the house and placed them on her bedside table to read later. Her curiosity was piqued. What had gone on between Gran and Galen Haskins? Had Grandpa known about Galen?

Callie spent the next evening reading the rest of the letters from Galen. Her heart was heavy for him as each letter expressed his longing for the end of the war and his return to Gran. The last letter expressed how Galen didn’t know how much more of this war he could handle, but he praised God that his unit had been able to make a rescue. He hoped they would make more rescues. This letter ended like all the rest: I MISS YOU TERRIBLY. I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART. YOURS TRULY, GALEN.

That letter was dated October 15, 1942. Why was that the last letter? What had happened to Galen or was it, what had happened to his relationship with Gran?

The next night Callie began searching through Gran’s diaries for mention of Galen. Only the first two entries mentioned him. One was dated January 20, 1944. Received word today that Galen and his unit were captured and taken to a POW camp in Germany not long after the rescue they made On October 15th. Gran wrote: I fear I may never hear from Galen again. Why do men have to go to war?

The next diary entry was dated May 8, 1945, and Gran had written: Germany surrendered today. Lists of the names of POWs released to the U.S. were published in newspapers. Galen’s name is not on any of the lists. Now I must learn how to go on without him.

Flash Fiction Friday: Love by Messenger

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Love by Messenger

by Kelly F. Barr

When Tracy stopped walking and looked around, she was in the middle of a wheat field. All she could see were golden stalks of wheat being blown into waves by the wind all around her. The sun was warm on her head and face. Her knees buckled and she collapsed in a heap and sobbed.

What was she supposed to do now? How was she supposed to live without the love of her life? How had this happened? Questions tormented her thoughts as the sobs wracked her body.

When the sobs subsided and Tracy had no tears left to shed, she closed her red, swollen eyes and covered them with her arm. Sheer exhaustion soon plunged her into sleep, but when Austin stepped into her dream, she gasped and sat up. The sun hung low in the sky. How long had she been asleep?

She scrambled to her feet and started back through the wheat in the direction she had come. Austin went with her—in her thoughts. Austin, tall and tan with sun-kissed golden brown hair and a dazzling white smile. At least that’s what he looked like in the photos he sent, but were the photos real?

She met Austin online. He sent her a private message on Messenger. He seemed so kind, caring, and interested in her. She knew the dangers of talking to strangers online, but Austin had a way of drawing her in. Online, people could portray themselves any way they wanted. They could use fake or photo-shopped photos.

Austin told her he loved her just a month after they started speaking to one another. She was thrilled and doubtful at the same time. She hadn’t had any luck finding a good man in person. She knew people who had found their boyfriend or girlfriend, fiancé, or spouse online. Of course, they used online dating services. Were those services any safer or more reliable?

Two days ago, Austin suggested they meet in person, but he lived in Arkansas and she was in Pennsylvania. He said he’d come to Pennsylvania but needed help to pay for the airline ticket.

He’d asked her to send $200 via Western Union.

She wasn’t sure why that bothered her so much. She knew airline tickets weren’t cheap. So, why was she so leery of sending the money? Was it her old-fashioned ideals that the man should be the breadwinner and take care of the woman?

That’s when the doubts, fears, and questions started pounding in her brain with a relentless rhythm: what do you really know about him; how do you know he’ll really use the money toward a plane ticket.

Yesterday Tracy had messaged him and said she couldn’t talk to him anymore, that she thought it would be best if they ended their relationship.

Austin’s response was immediate. Tracy, baby, what’s wrong? Did I say something to hurt you? Please, I’m in love with you. I don’t want to lose you. I thought if we could spend some time face-to-face, we could get to know each other better.

Tracy tried to make some sense of the situation. How could she consider a man she had never met, “the love of her life”?

After a night of tossing and turning, Tracy stumbled to the bathroom and splashed cool water on her face, relieving the grittiness from her eyes. She took a shower and dressed in her favorite shorts and t-shirt then rambled to the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee, grabbed her cell phone from the counter, and texted Austin.

Good morning. I’m sorry I ran like a scared rabbit. I will send the money today. When will you arrive?

I’m so happy you changed your mind. I will arrive on Wednesday and plan to stay until Sunday. I will make a reservation at the Country Inn and Suites on Route 30 in Lancaster. Will that be convenient?

Tracy smiled. He would be a half hour’s drive away. She texted, Perfect.

Wednesday afternoon Tracy’s cell phone rang. “Hello.”

“Hello baby. I just got into my hotel room.”

Austin’s smooth baritone voice made her heart skip a beat. “Okay. How about I pick you up in an hour and a half? That’ll give us both a chance to freshen up and give me driving time.”

“See you soon.” Austin hung up the phone.

Tracy showered and dressed in a pale yellow sundress and white sandals. She grabbed her purse, keys, and cell phone, slipped out the door and into her blue Honda Fit and was on her way.

When she arrived at the hotel, she checked her hair in the rearview mirror before stepping out of the car and making her way to the hotel lobby.

She stepped into the hotel and scanned the open room. She moved toward a green settee across from the elevators. Before she reached the settee, a tall man, who had been sitting on the gold chair next to the settee, stood and stepped toward her.

“Tracy, what a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”

Her breath caught in her throat. Austin stood gazing at her through bright azure eyes. He looked exactly like his pictures, only more strikingly handsome in person.

Austin took another step toward her, and she could feel the warmth from his body. She inhaled the woody scent of him. She wondered what it would be like to be held in his arms, then he lowered his head and placed his lips on hers.

The kiss was soft, gentle and brief. Tracy found herself wanting more.

“I hope you don’t mind my greeting you with a kiss. I’ve been dreaming of kissing you for several weeks now.” He took her hand in his.

“No. I don’t mind. It was nice.” She smiled at him. “So, are you ready for dinner?”

“Lead the way.” He swung his arm in an arc and bowed slightly.

Tracy took Austin to her favorite restaurant, P. F. Chang’s. They shared Mongolian beef, Oolong Chilean Sea Bass, and Singapore Street Noodles. The waiter boxed the leftovers for Tracy to take home.

“That was delicious. I can see why it’s your favorite restaurant.” Austin patted his flat stomach.

“Tomorrow I’ll take you to a restaurant where you can try traditional Lancaster County fare.”

Tracy drove to Long’s Park, parked the car, and they got out to walk. They ended their walk by the large pond in the center of the park. The sun was low in the sky and the breeze chilled Tracy. She had forgotten to bring a sweater. She crossed her arms over her chest and put her hands on her upper arms.

Austin stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Better?”

“Mm-mm. Much better.” She leaned back into him. After a few minutes, she turned to face him. “This is the largest park in the area. They have summer concerts on Sunday evenings. It’s a great way to come and spend a relaxing evening enjoying some great music. Too bad you leave Sunday afternoon.”

“I’m sure I’ll be back again before the summer is over.”

“Really? How will you afford the airfare?”

“Tracy, I don’t ordinarily have money issues, but my parents are getting older and starting to have health issues. My mom was in the hospital recently, and Dad isn’t very good at housekeeping. Therefore, I hired a housekeeping company to clean my parents home once a week. I paid a couple months in advance before I decided to come for a visit. I could’ve waited until I saved the money again, but I didn’t want to wait. As soon as I have the money, I’ll pay you back.”

“Don’t worry about it, Austin. I’m sorry. What you do with your money is really none of my business.”

He placed a finger under her chin and lifted so that she looked in his eyes once again. “It is your business if we’re going to have a serious relationship. We need to be completely open and honest about everything.” He ran a thumb down the side of her face and over her lips. “You’re beautiful.”

His lips descended to hers and he kissed her, a longer, more passionate kiss than earlier, and she slipped her arms up and around his neck. He pulled her closer.

When the kiss ended, they were both breathing hard. “I guess we should get back,” Tracy whispered.

The next three days passed quickly. Tracy was quiet over breakfast in the hotel restaurant Sunday morning.

“Dollar for your thoughts.” Austin broke the silence.

She grinned. “I thought it was supposed to be a penny.”

“Pennies don’t buy anything these days.”

“I was just thinking about how I almost threw all of this away out of fear, and now I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go either, but I promise I’ll be back.”

“Can we really make this work? I mean, there are so many miles between us, and you have your parents. You can’t leave them.”

Austin reached across the table and took her hand. “What keeps you here?”

“It’s all I’ve ever known. I have friends and a job here.”

“What about family?”

“I’ve always been the family outcast. I never really fit in, so once my grandparents and parents were gone … well, I have no family ties.”

“We’ll have to give it some thought. All I know is that now that I’ve found you, I don’t ever want to lose you.” He squeezed her hand.

That night, Austin called her when he arrived home. That was the beginning of nightly phone conversations that went on for a month. Then, Tracy asked, “Austin, what are your thoughts about me moving to Arkansas?”

Tracy heard an intake of breath on the other end of the phone line, then an exhale. “Are you sure?”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. I can take care of everything here and arrive in Arkansas in three weeks.”

“I will be waiting.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Miscalculated Rescue

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Miscalculated Rescue

by Kelly F. Barr

Sir Tobias the Dragonheart rode through the woods upon his ebony warhorse. He followed the path to Redmont Castle. King Redmont’s soldiers had stormed the gates of Clayborne Castle a week before and had captured Princess Octavia. King Redmont now held the princess in a tower high above the Redmont castle walls, and Sir Tobias determined to rescue her.

Sir Fendril the Butcher and Sir Tancred the Hawk rode behind Sir Tobias. When Redmont Castle came into sight, Sir Tobias slowed his horse. Just inside the wooded boundary, he raised a hand, motioning the others to halt. He studied the layout of the castle, quickly spotting the tower that surely held Princess Octavia.

“I will hasten to the tower and use my grappling hook to gain access to the window. You two keep watch. Do your best to stop anyone from entering the tower room while I attempt to rescue the princess. Sir Tancred, use your hawk call to warn me of any impending danger.”

Both men nodded, and the three separated to take their places.

Sir Tobias undid the rope from his waist. He began to swing the rope in a circle over his head, letting more rope out with each rotation. When the rope appeared long enough to reach the window ledge, he gave a quick lasso-type throw, and sure enough, the hook landed, caught, and upon Sir Tobias’s tug, it held.

He paused to see if anyone had heard the clink of the hook landing and scraping into the window ledge. After a couple minutes of silence, he began his climb up the wall toward the tower. He climbed and climbed until his hands ached and his legs and arms burned. Finally, he reached the window ledge and heaved himself over its edge.

He landed on the stone floor with a clink of chain mail against stone. He heaved deep breaths in and out. The scent of lavender and roses floated on the air in the room. He looked up and noticed he was surrounded by Princess Octavia and twelve other women. How was he supposed to rescue the princess and ride off into the sunset now?

“Sir Tobias! You’ve come to save us.”

Sir Tobias rose to his feet. “Mi’lady, I have come to rescue you. I had no idea there were other women here. Who are all these ladies?”

“Apparently, King Redmont and his son have been capturing women and keeping them here for their own carnal pleasures.” Princess Octavia shivered.

Rage rose within Sir Tobias like a tornado. “They haven’t laid a hand upon you, have they?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. The prince wants to save me for himself. Claims he will make me his wife.”

She reached out and gripped Sir Tobias’s arm. “You have to get us all out of here. Some of these women have already been used and are ashamed. The rest cling to one another in fear every time we hear the key in the door lock.”

Sir Tobias began pacing back and forth. How could he rescue thirteen maidens with the help of just two knights and three horses? He moved to the window, looked down and spotted Sir Fendril with his bow, an arrow nocked and ready.

“Fendril!” Sir Tobias called down, and the knight looked up. “We need a wagon. Raid their barns and stables, and be quick about it.”

Fendril nodded and pressed his horse into a gallop around the left side of the castle.

Sir Tobias turned back to Princess Octavia. “How many come to take the ladies?”

“It is always three—one to lead the women, and two to follow.”

Tobias nodded. Those odds weren’t bad. He’d probably survive such a battle, but he still hoped to avoid a confrontation, if possible. Any battle would draw more unwanted attention.

Finally, the pounding of horses’ hooves and the rattling of wagon wheels reached Tobias’s ears. He peered out the window and took a deep breath. Fendril had succeeded in securing a wagon. Now the problem was how to get thirteen women down from the tower without getting caught.

Princess Octavia touched his shoulder and he turned toward her. “We can do it.”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“We can make it down the side of the castle, if you can secure a rope around our waists to keep us from falling in case we lose our grip or footing.”

Sir Tobias frowned and his brow creased. The princess nodded at him. He looked around at the other women, who all nodded their agreement.

“Okay. Let’s give it a try. You will have to move as quickly as possible if we’re going to get all of you out of here undetected.”

The smallest woman stepped forward. “I will go first.”

Tobias quickly fastened a rope around her waist and clipped it to the grappling rope. The little woman climbed upon the window ledge, turned her back to the ground, placed her feet upon the edge of the ledge, held the rope in her hands, and began her backward descent.

When only the princess and one other woman remained, Sir Tancred released his hawk call and a chill ran through Tobias. Without wasting a minute, he tied a rope around both women’s waists and clipped them to the rope around his own waist. “The three of us must descend together.”

Tobias was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the two women adjusted to move as one with him. On the ground, he unclipped all of them and the women ran to climb into the wagon. As Tobias grasped his grappling rope to try to wrench it free, three heads appeared in the tower window. They began shouting.

Tobias released several curses under his breath as he let go his grappling rope and leaped upon his horse’s back. Fendril, his horse already hitched to the wagon, pushed the horse to gallop toward the road. Tobias and Tancred followed the wagon while watching over their shoulders for any trouble from behind.

As they raced through the gates of Clayborne Castle, Tobias shouted for the gatekeepers to shut and bar the gates quickly. The wagon and two horses came to a halt and curious Clayborne residents surrounded the wagon, staring at the women who clung to one another.

Princess Octavia stood up in the wagon and shouted, “Get back. Please. Haven’t you ever seen a group of women before?”

Sir Tobias grinned, dismounted his horse and strode to the back of the wagon. “Ladies, please follow me.” He helped the women down from the wagon, and Fendril and Tancred joined the group. Tobias led, and the rest followed him into the castle.

King Clayborne entered the large foyer and welcomed them, then sent the twelve women with several of the castle handmaids to be taken to rooms and settled for the night. Then he wrapped Princess Octavia in a warm embrace.

“Octavia, I’m so glad you are home. Are you … unscathed?”

“Yes Father.”

“Wonderful. Join me in the dining hall, won’t you?”

Octavia flashed a look toward Tobias, then turned back to her father. “Give me a few minutes?”

Her father chuckled. “Of course.”

As her father walked toward the dining hall, Octavia turned toward Tobias.

“Thank you for coming to my rescue, and for taking on the job of rescuing so many more.” She smiled up at him.

“Of course, Mi’lady. No woman should be treated as farm stock.”

Octavia grinned at the big man, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed his cheek.

Heat crept into Tobias’s face. He looked around to see if anyone was near enough to have seen the princess giving him affection.

Octavia giggled and grasped one of his large hands in her delicate one. “Come on. Escort me to the dining hall. I’m sure my father has an offer you can’t refuse.”

Tobias raised an eyebrow.

She looked into his brown eyes. “Don’t play innocent with me. You do want to marry me, don’t you?”

“M-m-marry!” Tobias spluttered.

“Oh come now. You’ve been vying for my attention for over a year now. You’ve already won my heart. You might as well accept the rest of me.”

This time, when she raised upon her toes, she placed her soft lips against his. His heart thumped in his chest, making it clear there was no turning back now.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Love of a Shepherd

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Photo by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash

 

The Love of a Shepherd

by Kelly F. Barr

A knock at the door startled Stella. She wasn’t expecting anyone. She laid her book on the table next to her and rose from her blue wing-back chair. She stepped from the living room into the short hallway that led to her front door. She peeked through the long narrow side window.

Surprised to find a tall man with jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, and a five o’clock shadow standing on her porch, she paused. As she considered whether or not to open the door, the man turned to look toward the front pasture and ran a hand through the dark waves crowning his head, then knocked louder.

Curious, she opened the door a few inches. “May I help you?”

A look of relief washed over the man’s face, and he said, “Oh, thank goodness someone’s home. One of your sheep has it’s head stuck between a couple of the wires in your fence down by the road. It is bleating quite loudly. I wasn’t sure if sheep bite or not, so I thought I’d better let someone know.”

“I’m sure it will be fine. I’m sure if it got its head through the fence one way, it can get it back the other way.”

“No, ma’am. I don’t think so. I’m not even sure how it got its head through in the first place. The wires don’t look far enough apart for its head to fit. Won’t you please check on it? I’d hate for it to get hurt.”

Stella couldn’t help but smile. “Well, thank you for letting me know. I’ll be right out to check on the sheep. You can just climb back into your car and drive on outta here.”

The man looked at her and hesitated for a minute. Then he turned and left the porch.

Stella waited until she heard a car start, then she stepped out onto her porch and looked down her long gravel drive. There was a silver convertible Ford Mustang at the end of the lane. She started to walk down the driveway. The closer she got to the pasture, the more she slowed her pace. That Mustang wasn’t moving.

Was this man up to something or was he just really that concerned over her sheep? She decided to enter the pasture’s gate and walk through the pasture to the sheep. That way, if this guy was up to something, the fence would be separating them.

As she approached the pasture’s fence line near the road, she could hear the distressed bleat of a sheep. The other sheep seemed uneasy and walked around one another, bleating from time to time as well.

When Stella reached the fence, sure enough, there was Lulabelle, the oldest ewe of her flock with her head stuck between two wires in the fence. Stella spoke to Lulabelle before getting too close to avoid startling the old sheep even more. “Oh Lulabelle, what have you done? Calm down. Everything’s going to be all right now. I’m here. I’ll get you out of there.” She continued talking to the sheep as she placed a hand on its back and moved to the fence. Stella was able to pull the wires apart, but had to untangle a wire from Lulabelle’s wool. As soon as Stella extracted the wire from the wool, Lulabelle pulled her head free. The old ewe ran to the flock letting out a much happier bleat.

Stella noticed that the wire she had taken out of the old ewe’s wool had come loose from the fencepost. That is what had enabled Lulabelle to get her head through. However, when she had tried to pull her head back out, the end of the wire had tangled in her wool and drawn tighter, creating a trap.

Stella grabbed the loose wire, moved it to its proper place, and began winding it tightly around the fencepost to prevent this from happening again.

“That sheep seems genuinely happy to be free.”

The voice startled Stella and the wire end slipped in her hand and cut a small slice in her index finger. It began to bleed. She looked up at the man, now standing outside the fence, the car door of his convertible Mustang open behind him. “You still here? I thought I said you should go.”

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to see the sheep freed. I don’t know much about sheep.” He looked at her through squinted eyes as the sun shone down on him.

Stella finished fastening the wire, then pulling a handkerchief from her pocket, wrapped her finger to stop the bleeding. She moved toward the stranger. She paused about four feet inside the fence.

“Sheep are stupid animals. That’s why, in the old days, there were shepherds who worked moving the flocks from grazing site to grazing site. The sheep came to know the shepherd’s voice and learned they could trust the shepherd. The shepherd not only herded the sheep to provide food, he protected the sheep from predators, and he loved the sheep. He made sure each and every sheep in his flock had a name, and he knew each one by name.”

“I heard you call the one that was stuck, Lulabelle. You named all your sheep too, didn’t you?”

“That’s right.”

“But how can you tell them apart? They all look the same to me.”

“When you raise sheep, you have to spend a lot of time with them. Sheep still need shepherds today, and when you spend time with them and love them, it’s easy to tell them apart. Thanks for letting me know about Lulabelle.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you for the sheep lesson.”

Stella smiled and nodded to the stranger, then walked up through the pasture toward her house, the sheep following her as she went.

Flash Fiction Friday: Puppy Love

Puppy Love

by Kelly F. Barr

Janie rode her bike home from school, but stopped outside the pet shop display window. In the window was a litter of eight puppies – some were black and white, some brown with white spots. Janie put her hand on the window and a black and white puppy waddled over and pressed his nose against the window across from the same spot. Janie squatted down, put her face near the window, and said, “Hi there. You are so cute!”

She parked her bike where it wouldn’t block sidewalk traffic and raced into the pet shop.

“Well, Janie. What brings you into my shop this sunny afternoon?”

“Hi Mr. Walters. I was looking at the puppies in the front window. Could I hold one of them?”

Mr. Walters smiled at her. “One of them caught your attention, huh?”

Janie bobbed her head up and down. “A little black and white one. It came right up to my hand at the window.”

Mr. Walters walked to the front window, Janie on his heels. He opened a panel and let Janie look in and point out the puppy that had caught her eye. Then he reached in, brought the pup out, and handed him to Janie.

The little ball of fluff nestled into her neck and put it’s head up and licked her chin. Janie giggled. “See, Mr. Walters, he likes me!”

“Yes he does. But Janie, a dog needs to be well taken care of. He needs to be fed twice a day. He’ll need to be trained to go to the bathroom outside. You’ll need to take him outside quite frequently until he gets bigger. And he’ll need to be taken for walks. He’ll need annual checkups at the veterinarian’s clinic too. It’s a big job to take care of a puppy.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. I can do it because he’s so cute, and he’ll be my best friend.” Janie paused and wrinkled her brow.

“What is it Janie?”

“Well … first I have to buy him. How much is he?”

“He’s $200.”

Janie frowned. “That’s a lot of money.”

“Yes it is, but it’s not as much as a purebred puppy would cost.”

Janie looked up at Mr. Walters. “What kind of puppy is he?”

“He’s called a Borgi. He’s a mix between a Border Collie and a Welsh Corgi.”

“Mr. Walters, could you promise not to sell him until I can talk to my parents and, maybe, bring them to see him?”

Mr. Walters looked at the puppy, now asleep in Janie’s arms. He rubbed his chin with an index finger. “Well, usually, puppies are sold on a first come, first served basis.”

Janie’s lower lip quivered, and Mr. Walters said, “I suppose … well, you are the first one to ask about him. So, I guess I can wait until … Friday?”

A wide grin spread across Janie’s lips. “Two days? Do you mean it?”

Mr. Walters nodded. “Parents take their time to make such decisions, so, yes. But you have to give me an answer after school on Friday, okay?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Walters. Thanks!” Janie handed the puppy back to the pet shop owner, rushed out to her bike, and pedaled home.

She raced into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam behind her.

“Janie! Where’s the fire?” Her mom placed two chocolate chip cookies on a plate, then poured a glass of milk.

Janie dropped her backpack on a kitchen chair and plopped down in the chair beside it. Her mom placed the plate in front of her on the table.

“I don’t know anything about a fire, but guess what I saw at Mr. Walters’ pet shop?”

Her mother smiled. “I don’t know. What did you see?”

“Puppies! Mr. Walters has eight puppies in the front window. I stopped and put my hand on the window and one of the puppies came right up to my hand. I went in and talked to Mr. Walters. He let me hold the puppy. Do you think Dad will let me get him? Mr. Walters said he’ll hold the puppy for me until Friday.”

“Oh Janie, I don’t know. Taking care of a puppy is a big responsibility, and it costs money. Not just to buy the puppy but to feed it and buy some items you’ll need to care for it. Then there’s the annual veterinarian costs.”

“Mom, I really want this puppy. I promise I’ll take good care of him.”

“We’ll see what your father says. Now eat your cookies and drink your milk, then get that backpack up to your room.”

“Yes, Mom.”

That evening, when her father came home, Janie was setting the table for dinner. She put the stack of plates on the table and ran to greet him. She threw her arms around his waist and squeezed.

“Well, what a nice greeting.” Her dad squatted down to her level and gave her a proper hug. “It’s good to be home.”

“Did you have a good day?”

“It was okay. Why do you ask?”

“I just want to know if you’re in a good mood.”

“Uh-oh. Sounds like you’re up to something. What is it?”

“We-ll.” She told her dad about the puppy. “So, can I have him?”

“Janie…”

“I know. It’s a big responsibility. But I can do it. I promise.”

“I’ll talk to your mom about it after you’re in bed, and we’ll let you know tomorrow at dinner, okay?”

Janie nodded.

“You may have to do more chores around here too, if we decide to let you have the puppy.”

“Because it’s expensive?”

“Yes, because it’s expensive.” Her dad kissed her on the forehead.

* * * * *

The next day, Janie stopped to tell Mr. Walters she’d have an answer for him the next day.

When she got home from school, she went straight to her room to do her homework.

After a while, she heard her mother call, “Janie, please come down and set the table. Your dad will be home soon.”

Janie pounded down the stairs and hurried into the kitchen. She finished setting the table just as her father stepped through the door.

“Hi Daddy.”

“Hello pumpkin.” He bent down and kissed her cheek.

He was in a good mood. She hoped that meant she could have the puppy. She wanted to ask, but knew she needed to wait. Her parents would tell her when they were ready.

Janie pushed her food around on her plate. She couldn’t get food past the butterflies in her stomach. If her parents would just tell her, maybe she could eat her dinner.

“Janie, is something wrong with your food?”

“No mom.” Janie speared a piece of chicken and forked it into her mouth.

Her father grinned and looked at her mother. “I guess we shouldn’t hold her in suspense any longer.”

Her mother smiled and nodded.

“Janie, I’ll be leaving work early tomorrow, and your mother and I will pick you up from school. Then we’ll go to Mr. Walter’s pet shop.”

Janie’s fork clattered as it dropped onto her plate. “You mean…?”

“This puppy is going to be your responsibility, along with extra chores, which we’ll talk about later. As long as you are responsible and work hard, the puppy is yours.”

Janie got out of her chair and ran around the table to give her father a big hug. “Oh, thank you!” Then she moved to hug her mother. “Thank you!”

Janie returned to her seat and finished her dinner.

* * * * *

Friday, Janie struggled to keep her mind on her classes. She kept clock watching, wishing the hours would pass faster.

When the final bell rang, she forced herself to fast walk out of the building, but she really wanted to run. Once outside, she raced down the steps and out the walkway to her dad’s Ford F-150.

Her father drove to the pet shop, and the three of them walked in together.

Mr. Walters looked up and smiled. “Well, Janie. I’m guessing, by the smile on your face, you’re here to take home a certain little puppy.”

“I sure am, Mr. Walters.”

Mr. Walters retrieved the puppy from the front window and placed it in Janie’s arms. Then he helped them pick out the items she would need to begin life with a puppy.

“So, what are you going to name him, Janie?”

Janie looked at the puppy, then looked up at Mr. Walters. “His name is Jasper.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Love and Chocolate Part 2

Every once in a while, one of my flash fiction stories just seems to need a little more, so I hope you will enjoy the second part of Love and Chocolate.

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Photo by Thalia Ruiz on Unsplash

Love and Chocolate Part 2

Sonnet’s cell phone rang as she slid into the driver’s seat of her car. She didn’t recognize the number and decided to let it go to voice mail. She buckled her seat belt, then started the engine just as her phone rang again – same number. She tapped to answer. “Hello?”

“Sonnet. This is Armand, from The Everything Chocolate Café and Bakery.”

Oh, yes. Armand, hi.”

Hi. We are going to have live music this Friday night at the café/bakery. A female duo, one plays cello and one plays the flute and the violin. They’re mostly instrumental, but also sing a few songs. They call themselves ‘Class Act’. They’ll be performing from seven to nine. I get off at eight and thought I could join you for the last hour.”

Sonnet smiled. “That sounds great. I’ll see you Friday.”

She hung up the phone, still smiling. She pictured Armand in her mind – his chocolate brown work t-shirt revealing his firm pectoral muscles, his biceps straining the sleeve openings, wavy hair the color of caramel, and those slate-gray eyes. She sighed and shoved her phone into her purse, then pulled her car out of its space, and headed for the parking garage exit.

Friday, Sonnet, distracted at work, watched the clock, waiting for quitting time. At three o’clock, Marcy, her secretary, buzzed over the intercom. “Ms. Warren, Brindenburg’s mayor is on line one.”

The mayor? Sonnet lifted the receiver, held it to her ear, and hit the button for line one. “Good afternoon, Mayor. What can I do for you?”

I know this is short notice as Christmas is just over two months away, but Brindenburg’s Christmas sales were down last year. I would like you to plan a couple events that will bring in some tourists and boost our shops’ sales.”

I’m sure I can come up with some ideas. Let me brainstorm with my assistant, and I’ll get back to you Monday. Does that work for you?”

That will be fine. Thank you.”

Sonnet grabbed a pen and tablet and rushed over to Chad’s office. She told him about the phone call and they began sharing ideas, Sonnet writing down the best ones.

She didn’t notice when five o’clock arrived, but glanced at the clock at five fifteen. “Oh, I’ve gotta run. Let’s meet early Monday – seven a.m.? That will give us an hour or two to come up with more before I call the mayor.”

A short time later, Sonnet walked into The Everything Chocolate Café and Bakery. She stepped to the counter.

Armand looked up and smiled. “Good evening, Sonnet. What can I get for you?”

I’d like a white hot chocolate, please.”

You got it. I’ll bring it to your table in just a couple minutes.”

Sonnet sat at a table for two along the wall where she had a good view of Class Act setting up their equipment.

Armand brought her cup of hot chocolate and a plate with a cupcake on it. He placed both in front of her.

She looked up at him. “I didn’t order a cupcake.”

I know. It’s a bittersweet chocolate cupcake with cherry fruit filling and white chocolate frosting.” He winked at her.

You are going to spoil me.”

That’s part of my plan.” He grinned. “I’ll join you soon.”

She smiled as she watched him walk back behind the counter. She savored the cupcake, one bite at a time, and sipped her white hot chocolate while enjoying Class Act’s music. Soon Armand moved the other chair beside her, giving him a better view of Class Act, as they stopped for a ten minute break.

So, how was the cupcake?”

It was delicious, and so is this white hot chocolate.”

I’m glad you liked them. How did you get the name Sonnet?”

My mother loves Shakespeare, especially his sonnets, and she and dad wanted an unusual and artsy name for me.”

I see. I like it. It’s very unique, and it fits you well.” He smiled.

Would you like to know my full name?”

He nodded.

Sonnet Monet Warren. My father is a painter, and Monet is his favorite watercolor painter.”

Wow.”

Sonnet quirked an eyebrow at him. “Wow, what?”

Wow, what a great name. Just like I said before, a beautiful name for a beautiful lady.”

Sonnet’s cheeks grew warm and she covered them with her hands, hoping Armand wouldn’t see her blush.

Class Act returned and resumed their performance, so their conversation stopped. About halfway through this set, Armand reached over and took Sonnet’s hand in his. She liked the way her hand fit in his and how he held hers in a firm but gentle grip. A couple times he caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.

When the performance ended, Armand locked eyes with Sonnet. “I don’t have to work tomorrow. How would you like to visit our arts district with me?”

I’d love to.”

He smiled, they rose, and he walked her to her car. “May I pick you up at ten in the morning?”

She turned to face him, her back to her car. “That would be fine. I’m four blocks down, left on Duncan Street, number 312. The front of the house is yellow with sky blue shutters.”

They stood looking at each other a moment, and just as the silence between them started to become uncomfortable, Armand leaned toward her and lowered his head. He pressed his lips to hers and gave her a soft, brief kiss. As he began to pull back, she leaned toward him, reached up and, with a gentle pull, brought his head down so that their lips met again. This time the kiss lingered, lips pressing more firmly before parting.

I’ll see you tomorrow,” she spoke in a near whisper.

I look forward to it.” He reached and opened the car door for her.

As she drove away, she kept her eyes on him, in her rearview mirror, until he faded into the darkness.

Flash Fiction Friday: Love and Chocolate

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Photo by Thalia Ruiz on Unsplash

Love and Chocolate
by Kelly F. Barr

After a week of unpacking and organizing, Sonnet was finally settled into her new home and ready to explore Brindenburg. She grabbed her purse and stepped out the door. Just a block from town, she decided to walk on this beautiful breezy autumn day. As she strolled down the sidewalk, she paused to look into the shop windows. She passed a bakery, a jewelry store, an antique shop, and a candy store.

When she came upon a tea shop, she stepped inside. The aromas of peppermint, cinnamon, and raspberry greeted her. Three shelves of glass jars holding a variety of loose leaf teas beckoned her to come closer.

As Sonnet stepped farther into the shop, the lady behind the counter looked up. “Hello. May I help you?”

Sonnet smiled. “I just moved to town and I’m exploring the shops today. I love tea.”

“Well, welcome to Brindenburg and my tea shop. I have green teas and black teas. I have fruity, spicy, classic, and a few exotic teas. If you can’t find something you’re looking for, just let me know. Feel free to open the small jars to sample the scent of the tea.”

Sonnet sniffed six different types of tea and decided to purchase three ounces each of four of them. The woman bagged Sonnet’s selections, placed the bags in a small, decorative shopping bag, and handed them to Sonnet.

“I hope you enjoy your selections. My name is Tara. Please come again.”

Sonnet smiled and stepped back out onto the sidewalk, where she crossed the street and started back toward her apartment, while peeking into the shop windows on the other side of the street. She passed a women’s clothing store, a Chinese restaurant, a women’s accessories store, and a pizza shop.

She paused as a couple stepped out of a shop in front of her. She caught a whiff of chocolate and looked up at the shop’s sign, “The Everything Chocolate Café and Bakery”. Her mouth began to water and her stomach rumbled. When the couple passed, she stepped into the café/bakery.

She let her eyes wander over the chocolate candies, chocolate coated items, and baked goods in the glass display case.

Just as she moved her eyes to the large black chalkboard that listed drinks, sandwiches, salads, and chili, a smooth male voice asked, “What can I get for you today?”

Still studying the board, she said, “Um…”

This is your first time here, isn’t it?”

She moved her gaze from the chalkboard, and her eyes locked with slate gray ones in the most handsome face she’d ever seen. “Um, yes. I … um … I’m new in town.” She mentally kicked herself for stumbling over her words.

Well, in that case, let me introduce myself and tell you a bit about our options.” He smiled at her and her heart skipped a beat. “I’m Armand, and everything we sell is either chocolate coated or has chocolate syrup or cocoa as an ingredient. Our coated items come coated in white, milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate, and many of our baked goods come with those choices of frostings. So, what will it be?”

Um … do you have any suggestions? Something that won’t keep me from one of these delicious looking desserts?”

How about one of our sandwiches? We have ham or turkey with white American, cheddar, or swiss cheese with our hazelnut chocolate spread on our homemade chocolate bread.”

That sounds good. I’ll take the ham and American, please.”

And to drink?” He winked at her and added, “I recommend the chocolate strawberry lemonade.”

She nodded.

First name for the order?”

Sonnet.”

He looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “Sonnet? Like the poem?”

Yes.”

He stared at her a moment, then said, “You can have a seat and I’ll bring that out to you shortly.”

Just ten minutes later, Armand delivered her food and drink to her table. “May I inquire as to your favorite chocolate dessert?”

Chocolate cake.”

How would you like a piece of moist dark chocolate cake with a white chocolate cream filling and semisweet chocolate and caramel frosting?”

That sounds divine.”

Sonnet swallowed the last bite of her sandwich and sipped the last of her lemonade.

Armand returned to her table and placed a small plate and fork before her. On the plate was a rectangular piece of the cake he had suggested. 

As Armand walked away, she stabbed the fork into the cake, lifted a piece to her mouth, and released a quiet moan of pleasure as the flavors delighted her taste buds. She took her time savoring the cake, then moved to the counter to pay her bill.

Armand rang it up. “That will be $18.55 please.”

She handed him a twenty dollar bill and a five dollar bill. “Keep the change.” She turned to go.

Sonnet.”

She turned back to him.

Don’t forget this.” He held up a white bag.

I didn’t order anything to go.”

Consider it a welcome to the neighborhood gift.” He held the bag out to her and she took it. “I hope I’ll see you in our café/bakery frequently.”

She chuckled. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t be good for my waistline.”

Well then, maybe I could show you more of Brindenberg? I have a feeling you’d enjoy our arts district – unique things to see or shop for, as well as upscale dining.”

She smiled. “I think I’d like that. I, uh, could give you my number.”

He grabbed pen and paper and wrote as she spoke.

When she exited the café/bakery and was certain she was past its windows, she lifted the bag to peek inside. But before opening it, she saw, written on the outside of the bag: Sonnet – a beautiful name for a beautiful lady. Heat raced up her neck and into her cheeks. She opened the bag. Inside was another piece of that wonderful cake and two white chocolate covered strawberries.