Tag: FFFF

A Lamentation of Swans, Part 2–A First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF)

It’s that time again. Time for another First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF). Other free feature stories can be found on my Pinterest page (a shared short story board) and on the Freebies page of my site.

Today’s offering is the continuation of last month’s story. If you haven’t yet, you should read the first installment before continuing. To read Part 1, click here.


A Lamentation of Swans, Part 2

She hadn’t taken a single step since her fall.

When the hospital released her, she was to go to physical therapy. But she made Jeremiah take her home. He carried her into the house, and she spent her days transferring herself from wheelchair to furniture and back.

She lost track of time.

windowOne day, while reclining on her chaise, listening again to the soundtrack of her former glory, Jeremiah came in and opened the drapes.

“Jeremiah. What are you doing? Close those at once.”

“I’m sorry, madame, but I will not. You can’t stay closed up in here. It’s time you begin your recovery.”

“Recovery? There’s no coming back from this. Close the drapes and leave me be.”

“Many pardons, madame, but I can’t do that.”

Anita brought in a tray loaded with a giant vase of fresh cut flowers, three bottles of mineral water, crusty bread, cut fruit, and assorted cheeses.

“Anita.” Juliette’s tone hid none of her annoyance. “Take this away and bring me my juice.”

“Juicing isn’t eating, ma’am.” She took the vase and put it on the end table where Juliette could easily see it. “There’s precious little nutrition in it.”

“Especially with vodka in it,” Jeremiah said.

“Jerem—” Juliette started.

Anita interrupted her. “You need good, hearty meals. It’s time.”

“Time? Time for what?”

“Ramon thought you’d like to see the fruits of his labors. He brought these cut flowers in for you. I told him that’s the last vase he’ll need to fill. You’ll be going out to walk the gardens from now on.”

Juliette fought back the tears. She’d love to walk the gardens. She’d give anything to walk anywhere at all.

Damn her staff. Damn them all. They didn’t understand. How dare they do this to her?

“Come on, ma’am. Sit up and eat. We have a lot to do after lunch.”

“And what would that be, Anita? Are we running a marathon? Hiking the Appalachian Trail?”

“I don’t see why you couldn’t do those things, after training for them.”

“Get out,” Juliette whispered.

Jeremiah approached the chaise and stooped down beside her. “Do you have any idea how long you’ve been hiding in here?”

Juliette turned and looked outside through a curtain of tears. She had no idea how long it had been since the accident. It had been even longer since she saw her beloved swans. She watched through the glass as they bent graceful necks to the water, then stretched them up to the sky. She couldn’t hear their trumpets, but she knew just what they sounded like.

Like they were calling to her.

swans babies“It looks like the flock of swans is getting bigger,” she said. “There are babies out there.”

“Lamentation,” Jeremiah said.

“What?”

“Lamentation,” he repeated.

“I know what lamentation is,” she said. “But no one’s crying.” She wiped her face, making sure none of her tears still showed on her cheeks.

“No, madame. The swans. They aren’t a flock. They are a lamentation. Groups of swans are called lamentations.”

“Lamentations.” She reflected on that tidbit for a moment. A lamentation of swans. It was sad. Poetic and dramatic, but sad.

Just like her.

“I miss them,” she whispered.

“They miss you too, madame.”

“Will you wheel me out there? I should like to see them. I’ll take them some bread.”

He looked down at her. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to accompany you down there.”

Juliette reached for her wheelchair, intent on swinging herself into the seat and being wheeled down to the pond.

But Jeremiah pushed the chair out of her reach.

“Jeremiah! What are you doing?”

The doorbell rang, but neither Jeremiah nor Anita moved.

Who in the world could that be, anyway? No one visited. Not in years. And she was glad. She didn’t want to see anyone, anyway. But curiosity got the best of her.

“Well, isn’t anyone going to get that?”

Ramon entered, followed by two gentlemen in black pants and purple polo shirts. The logos on their breast pockets read ALLEGRO PHYSICAL THERAPY.

“No one answered the door, so I let these fellows in,” Ramon said. “This here is my nephew, Pablo. And this is his partner, Tobias.”

Juliette dropped her head and sighed.

Anita said, “Come on. I’ll show you to the ballroom. You’ll have the most space in there.” She led the gentlemen out of the room.

“Do you require my assistance during your session, or will you be all right on your own?” Jeremiah asked her.

The ballroom? Of all places. She hadn’t even looked at the closed doors since she began her convalescence. “I’m not having therapy, so it really doesn’t matter.”

“Very well.”

He scooped her into his arms and started walking toward the door.

She swatted at him, but his body was hard and hers was weak. She imagined she had little impact on his efforts and stopped, saving her hand further injury.

“Jeremiah, please. Put me down.”

“I will, Juliette. In the ballroom.”

“Juliette? You’ve never called me that before. Even when we first met and I asked you to. You said it wasn’t appropriate.”

He stopped outside the ballroom doors. “You’ve never been in my arms before.”

Before she could react, he carried her inside and placed her in the care of her therapists.

* * *

bridal coupleTherapy sessions came and went. More years passed. Juliette’s family–Jeremiah, Anita, and Ramon–nursed her back to health. And, because of them, Juliette once again found love.

She had her second wedding on the lawn, her beloved swans in the background. As she stood with her new husband on the edge of the pond, tossing bread cubes into the water and watching the swirls of fuchsia and flame in the sky melt into the midnight inkiness of nighttime, she put her arms around his neck.

“Dance with me, Jeremiah.”

He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. “I thought you’d never ask.”

The stars twinkled in the darkness, they and the moon reflecting off the still, dark water.

Swans trumpeted their approval at her choice.

“A lamentation of swans,” he whispered in her ear.

No more lamentations for Juliette. For the first time in forever, she was happy.


I hope you found this story enjoyable. I wrote it when I was a little sad, but like a true romantic, I pushed for the happy ending. However, as you know from part one’s comments, I originally had a far different (and much sadder) ending in mind. What do you think about happily ever after endings? Always, sometimes, or never? How would you have ended this story? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment below.

A Lamentation of Swans–A First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF)

It’s that time again. Time for another First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF). Other free feature stories can be found on my Pinterest page (a shared short story board) and on the Freebies page of my site.

Today’s offering is part one of a two-part story. It will conclude in next month’s #FFFF.


A Lamentation of Swans

ballerina“Juliette, you have to go look at it before someone else snaps it up. It’s perfect for you.”

Her toes bled, her feet swelled. She wanted nothing more than to hobble to her apartment and soak in a tub. But Selina, her real estate agent, insisted she tour the property the second the sellers listed it. So, despite her aches and pains, Juliette went to tour the place.

“See, it didn’t take you long to get here,” Selina said.

It really hadn’t. It was close to the dance school, yet set far enough into the country that she could escape the bustle of the city with a short fifteen-minute commute.

“Let me tell you about the place before you look around. It’s ten acres of pristine landscaping. The gardener, Ramon, is willing to stay on, and his fees are quite reasonable. In addition to the house and gardens, this place has its own tennis courts and swimming pool.” Selina swept her hand toward the back of the property, but Juliette couldn’t see past the stately columns in the front of the house.

“Let’s go in,” Juliette said.

“You’re going to love it.” Selina hooked her arm through Juliette’s and guided her inside. “The rooms are spacious. Look at these windows.” Every room seemed to have a wall of windows facing another gardening delight outside. Natural light flooded the rooms, seemingly expanding the already generous spaces.

“And you have to see this.” Selina led her down the hall to a formal ballroom. Hardwood floors gleamed in the late evening light.

“The ballroom could easily be converted to a studio for you. You can add a wall of mirrors and a bar over there” she pointed across the room, “and a sound system. You could workout whenever you wanted.”

That room did have potential. Not that Juliette often danced at home. She spent too many hours dancing at the studio, dancing on stage. Home was for rest. But, still…

Selina guided her to the kitchen, which she’d likely never use for anything more than juicing, but she listened politely while the merits of the space were gushed over.

“Granite countertops, cherry cabinetry, and professional-grade stainless steel appliances. Think of the parties you could host here. And I know a woman who’s looking for a job as a personal chef. Anita. She specializes in healthy gourmet meals. I’ll get you her card. You’ll love her.”

It was a good thing she had a trust fund. Every word out of Selina’s mouth amounted to more money.

They continued exploring the home. The splendor of the master bedroom was eclipsed only by the grandeur of the master bath. The rest of the bedrooms were also generous and well-appointed. The library boasted floor-to-ceiling shelves, and as she already had an extensive collection in storage, filling them wouldn’t be a problem.

“I know it’s a bit large, but you’ll want the space when you settle down, start a family. I can get you the number of several cleaning services, or maybe you’d prefer a butler? I know a–”

Juliette tuned her out. It was a big decision. So much to consider. The house had everything she could possibly want. But was she really ready to commit to it? She had the funds, but she didn’t have the family to fill the place. What if she never did? She couldn’t make up her mind.

Then she saw the natural pond in the back of the property. Swans floated on the nearly black water, their graceful countenances a sign to her.

She was dancing the lead in Swan Lake at the time. Seeing the swans on the property—her property—made it seem like fate. She made an offer on the spot and decided the rest would fall into place later.

And the pieces did fall. Quickly. Soon after moving in, she married the premier danseur in her troupe right on the back lawn, the swans an elegant backdrop to the festivities.

When she decided to stop dancing and start a family, she was happy with the decision. She thought her husband was, too. But as she gained weight, her husband lost interest. And when she lost the baby, he didn’t grieve. He just put her on a diet.

It wasn’t long after until she lost her husband, too. And good riddance to him.

She fought to get back into shape. Fought even harder to earn her the lead in several ballets.

And never quite hit either of her goals.

* * *

swansLife passed her by, and she retreated to her estate, no friends, no family.

Just her and her staff—Jeremiah the butler, Ramon the gardener, Anita the cook, and Roland the chauffeur. After the first five years of her self-imposed exile, she dismissed Roland.

It depressed her to lose him. After all, he was like family. But she didn’t leave her house any longer.

The house grew darker with her mood. She drew the drapes and stayed inside.

Occasionally she’d take a bag of bread cubes and stroll around the pond, feeding the swans. They trumpeted their joy at her offerings, but it only seemed to make her sadder.

Eventually, she stopped going to the pond.

Then she stopped watching them from her window, preferring to keep all the drapes drawn.

The only time Juliette was happy was when she danced. She wore out CD after CD of Swan Lake, dancing alone in her ballroom. But her feet didn’t move quite as nimbly as they used to, nor did she have any supporting dancers on the floor with her. Still, she felt light and carefree when she danced.

Then, one rainy afternoon, joints achy and muscles tight, she entered the ballroom and began her warmup. Too soon, she spun onto the floor and began the opening number to Swan Lake.

And she fell.

The pain was excruciating. Breath-stealing. It was moments, hours, days? She didn’t know how long she lay there before she had the strength and breath to call for help.

When Jeremiah found her, he rushed her to the hospital. She spent five days away from home, during which she endured countless tests and one surgery.

The doctors said she’d never dance again.

What they didn’t tell her was she’d never walk again.


I hope you found part one compelling. I’d love to know what you think might happen next. Are you rooting for a happy or sad ending? I’ll be honest–the ending I originally conceived is not the one I’ll be publishing next month. I completely changed my mind right before writing the end.

(Now that the conclusion has been published, you can read it by clicking here.)

Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

Here’s a short story starring Franki and Gianni. This takes place after the end of Bleeding Heart. (Part way through Mind Controlactually, although this won’t be found in that book.) I hope you enjoy it.


Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

villa lanteFranki stood on the travertine-tiled patio and rubbed her arms against the night chill. Weather in Florence, Italy reminded her of weather at home in Pennsylvania—nearly ninety degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and low sixties at night, but for some reason, that evening’s breeze blew exceptionally brisk. Unprepared for the cool wind, she’d stepped outside in a tank and shorts. And regretted it immediately.

But the view captivated her, so she stayed and braced herself against the cool air.

The Brotherhood’s home in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Their compound in New York was gorgeous. But their complex in Florence? It simply stole her breath. And she and her sisters knew quality properties. They’d been raised in the construction and design industries, and since the death of her father, were the owners of one of the most prestigious building and design firms in Pittsburgh.

It didn’t take her construction knowledge to know she stood on private property overlooking one of Italy’s most beautiful—and non-touristy—creations. The house behind her rivaled any palace or basilica she’d toured in her first visit to the country. The grounds, however, captured her interest at the moment. The hedge mazes and topiary created shadow-play on the paths as marble statuary gleamed a luminescent hue of white and water in the grottos sparkled from moonlight, star shine, and discrete lighting fixtures. The burbling fountains composed an organic melody, harmonizing with the chirping crickets.

Gianni walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth she felt from his arms over hers and his torso against her back spread through her body.

And caused her to shiver all over again.

“Cold?” he asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”

She smiled and leaned back against him, not revealing what caused her latest shiver. “The wind just gave me a chill. It is a beautiful night, though.”

“The glow flies are out. June’s nearly over.”

She tipped her head up and looked at him. “Glow flies?”

nighttime gardensHe nodded toward the hedge maze. “Glow flies. Those little floating blinking lights in the garden. You have them in the States.”

A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, we do. But we call them fireflies. Or lightning bugs.”

He kissed her neck and said, “Hmm.” The vibrations from his lips on her skin gave her another shiver. “I don’t like the sound of lightning bugs.” He nuzzled her neck. “Fireflies is kind of nice, though.”

“I think I like glow flies. And I love it when our cultures merge.”

He kissed her neck again. “Mmm. Me, too. I love it when we merge even more.”

Franki giggled. “I love it here. But I wish we were home for the festivities next week.”

His lips grazed against her shoulder. “Festivities?”

She sighed. “The Fourth of July.”

Gianni didn’t answer. He continued pressing his lips on her arms, her shoulder blades. The nape of her neck.

She shuddered again. “Independence Day?”

“I know what it is,” he murmured. “I just didn’t realize it was next week.”

“The food, the fireworks, the festival… music and dancing and seeing the whole town come out to celebrate.” She sighed. “I love that. I’m going to miss it.”

“Let me see if I can take your mind off it, then.”

He led her inside, and she saw fireworks that night.

*    *    *

They continued their work for the next week, and Franki tried not to fixate on missing yet another hometown comfort. She was pleasantly surprised when, on July 4, Gianni and Donni threw together a picnic that would rival any festival back home.

fried doughPlatters of pasta salads, grilled vegetables, and antipastos sat on the table between pulled pork, sausages, burgers, and dogs… all with fresh-baked rolls to put them in. Trays of grilled chicken and barbecued ribs nearly overflowed. Two huge bowls held fresh cut fruit, and sugar-dusted mounds of fried dough sat ready to be topped with gelato, fruit compotes, chopped nuts, homemade hot fudge and salted-caramel sauces, and vanilla-flavored whipped cream.

Why those two idiots loved to work in the kitchen, Franki would never understand. And she’d never complain. Everything was delicious.

After dinner, everyone took drinks out to the patio and settled down to digest their food. Franki sipped on coffee laced with Frangelico. The twins had glasses of Galliano. Jo and Vinnie had beer. The other guys had wine. She’d be content to taste everyone’s drinks, and after feeling comfortably fuzzy from the liquor, slip off to bed.

She sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Gianni asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Franki, you’re a lousy liar. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful.”

He waited, staring at her. The others had broken into pairs and talked quietly to each other. She turned toward Gianni, took his hand, and squeezed it. “You worked so hard today. Everything was wonderful. Delicious. I couldn’t ask for more.”

“But you want more?” he said.

“I just miss the fireworks. Despite the perfect picnic, it just doesn’t feel like the Fourth without fireworks.”

“I see.” He fumbled with something in his pocket.

“When I was little, I used to call them ‘a glittery extravaganza in the sky.’”

“Big words.” He sent a text and then looked at her. “How little?”

“I don’t know. Papa teased me about it for years, though.”

“It’s cute.”

“I guess he thought so, anyway.” She looked away from him, out over the gardens. Talking about her recently-deceased father still made her sad.

“Would fireworks tonight make you happy?”

Why dwell on something she couldn’t have. “I’m happy now, Gianni. Really.”

“So, I should cancel tonight’s festivities?”

She so loved his ‘festivities.’ She’d never say no to that. He’d provide her with her own personal fireworks, and that would be an excellent cap to the evening.

“Do you want to go upstairs now?” she asked.

He laughed and shook his head. “You and your one-track mind.”

She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. They didn’t have a language barrier, but every now and then, he confused her. “What are you talking about?”

Gianni sent a final text, then he nodded toward the gardens. “Watch.”

Italy_fireworksShe heard a faint whistle, then the sky exploded into sparkling embers of violet and gold. A loud boom echoed over the gardens, so loud she felt the air shake with the strength of it.

Fireworks.

Spinning toward Gianni, she flung her arms around him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.

He laughed and pulled away. “Turn around, cara. I don’t want you to miss the show.”

She leaned against his chest and watched as the sky sparkled with explosion after explosion of colorful mortars. The finale rivaled any she’d ever seen before.

Franki turned and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he didn’t turn her away. “You did all this for me?”

“Well, I am a joint citizen…”

She kissed him.

“I just want to make you happy, Franki. Always.”

She held him tight, head pressed against his chest. She felt the heat of his body, heard his heartbeat through the thick silence the end of the show left behind.

She pulled away and looked at him. “How about one more show?”

He frowned. “I think they set everything off, cara. I could call and—”

Franki put her finger over his lips, stopping him from continuing. She shook her head and smiled. “I mean the kind of festivities I thought you meant earlier. A private show.”

He stood, pulled her to her feet, and addressed everyone sitting outside. “Donni and I cooked. The rest of you are on dishes. Goodnight.”

They didn’t wait for an answer. He swept Franki off her feet and carried her upstairs for the second finale of the night.

#FFFF—April Showers Short Story

happy birthdayI’m sorry for my absence last week. I was dealing with the loss of a dear family member and couldn’t get to the post. My apologies if you were looking for me and I wasn’t here. But I’m here now!

April 3 has historically been a weird day for me. My mom’s birthday was yesterday and mine is tomorrow. When I was a kid, this seemed like the longest day of the year. Now that I’m an adult, it’s one of the shortest. My husband and kids ask me how old I am all day, because the next day the number will have increased by one, and I’ll never get to have that smaller number again. I know it’s silly, but it’s tradition.

While I don’t hate my birthday (let’s be honest; having one sure beats the alternative), I’m not crazy about being the center of attention (weird for a writer and marketer, right?), and I hate that life’s pace is accelerating rather than slowing down. This time of year, I reflect on my kids and how old they’ve grown. On my marriage and how long Corey and I have (happily) been together. On my family… those I’ve lost and those I’m still blessed to have.

So, in honor of all the birthdays I’ll be celebrating this month (and the list of family is long, let alone adding in friends), this month’s First Friday Fiction Feature is birthday-themed. (You can find my other free short stories here, and if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive a deleted chapter [available only when you sign up and nowhere else] from Type and Cross.)

Without further ado, this month’s #FFFF.


What April Showers Bring

Italian families… big, boisterous, loud. Mine is the very definition. For example, most people have cake and ice cream for their birthdays with close family, maybe a few friends. Chat for an hour or two and then everyone goes their separate ways.

Not my family.

My family gathers four generations deep for a full multi-course spread. Antipasto platters and dips. Breads and pizzas. Soups and salads. Fruit and veggies. Pasta, potato, and rice dishes. Sausages, meatballs, and roasts. Cookies and pastries. And multiple several-layer birthday cakes. Nothing is store bought. No activity is rushed through. A birthday is an all day affair. Birthdays in my family rival most people’s wedding receptions. (But let’s not bring up weddings right now.)

Our family has grown so large that we’ve stopped celebrating individual birthdays. Once a month we gather on a weekend at someone’s house or a public park (sometimes even a local rec hall) to celebrate any birthdays occurring that month. Which sounds economical and practical, but in reality, it’s crazy. Some months there are only a few birthdays, so it’s not so bad. But April? We have ten birthdays and my cousin Maria—that’s Uncle Dom’s daughter, not Aunt Arlene’s daughter-in-law—is ready to give birth any day now. So we have a lot to celebrate in April. And when you figure each of the ten people gets his or her favorite meal?

Let’s just say we could feed a third world country on the amount of food made for that particular bash.

Every family celebration is the same. Babies and toddlers with food on their faces and sticky little hands are passed between aunts and uncles. They’re either wailing about something or laughing so hard they might throw up. (One of them always does. Often on me.) Kids play games in the yard, dodge the relatives who pinch cheeks, and tell any adult who will listen about silly things they’ve seen on television or heard from their friends. At least three of these little cherubs will invariably tell a story that embarrasses their parents. The teenagers and the twenty-somethings spend all their time teasing each other, keeping the uncles entertained. And all the older women run around getting food on the table and swatting any hands reaching for an early sample of the meal.

It takes these hundred-plus people more than an hour to get through the food line, find a seat by someone who won’t torment them in one way or another, and scarf down their meal. The aunts coyly question people at the table about whose bread was better, whose pasta was dry.

It’s around the end of the secret ‘Who’s The Best Cook’ competition that someone realizes no one has harassed me about getting married. And then it begins.

“Are you seeing anyone special?”

“Or anyone at all?”

“You aren’t getting any younger, you know.”

“Don’t you want babies?”

“Don’t you want a husband?”

“Are you even interested in men? Or are you maybe…?”

Sigh.

This can go on for hours. By the time I’ve answered all the questions at least three times, my brothers and cousins have abandoned teasing each other to focus all their attention on me.

That’s when I decide to clear the table—correction, tables—of food so we can move on to dessert. I know by the time I’ve packed all the food away and done all the dishes, the birthday honorees should be through the cake cutting and at least partially through gift opening. Usually my sister helps so the task isn’t overwhelming. At least there’s that. Then I’ll try to sneak home before anyone notices I haven’t opened my gifts yet. Sometimes I make it. Usually I don’t.

I had dreaded this particular year. I wouldn’t be a twenty-something anymore. I was leaving my youth—and if you listen to anyone in my family, my desirability—behind for my thirties. Yep, I was turning thirty. Trenta. The big three-oh.

I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could sit through a whole day of “My goodness! Thirty and not married? When I was your age, I had already fallen in love, gotten married, and had…” Insert number of children there.

I’d rather run naked through the throng of my relatives than go through that. And that included listening to the inevitable teasing that would go with my fast-and-furious birthday-suit dash. The humiliation would never end. But then, neither does the analysis of my life. It would be a welcome change.

I called my mother.

“Look, I know you’re planning something big for my birthday this year.”

“What? Me? I forgot your birthday was even coming up.” The mock innocence in her voice could be heard by my hearing-impaired grandfather. Who refused to wear his hearing aid, so essentially… my deaf grandfather.

“Mom. Seriously.”

“Is there something special Dad and I can buy you?”

“Buy me, no. But there is something special I want.”

“Anything, honey.”

“I want to go to the cabin instead of the party this year.” My parents owned a lovely two-bedroom cabin at the river. We never had parties there because the house was too small, but I’d have plenty of room to celebrate in any way I wanted. Which meant me, the television, and several bottles of wine.

“Not that, honey. Everyone would miss you. How about a three month trial membership to Catholic Date?”

Lord have mercy. Pleeeease tell me she didn’t get me a membership to a dating site.

“Mom. You want to get me something special, not something that will make me homicidal.”

“Gina—”

“No. I don’t want a profile on a dating site. I just want to be left alone.”

“But you’re turning thirty.”

“Exactly. Thirty. I’m an adult. Long past, actually. I should be able to make my own decisions. Which includes not joining a dating site and not going to the family birthday bash.”

“But what will I tell everyone?”

“That I want my privacy.”

“Honey.” The disappointment in her tone was as evident as her earlier fake innocence. “That’ll hurt their feelings.”

“Then say I’m traveling for work.”

“You want me to lie?”

Seriously. It’s not like she’d be under oath and testifying in a murder trial.

“I’ll bring work to the river with me. Then it won’t be a lie.”

She was silent so long, I thought maybe we’d been disconnected. Finally, I heard that long-suffering sigh. The one that said I was taking years off her life and putting grey in her hair. “Fine. I’ll have the key ready for you.”

I didn’t bother telling her I’d made a copy of the key when I was in high school. She didn’t need any more bad news. I’d just suffer through one more lecture when I picked up her key, and then I’d be on my way.

When birthday-weekend-Friday rolled around, I took the day off and headed to camp. After a quick lunch, I took the canoe out for the first row of spring. The area was deserted. I couldn’t see any of our neighbors from our property, but even rowing up and down the river, no one seemed to be around. I was well and truly alone at the river. Which was fine by me.

It was unseasonably warm for April. The whole weekend was going to be around eighty degrees and sunny. I grabbed a blanket from the deck box, a cooler of beer, my Kindle, and my iPhone and got comfortable in the grass. Might as well celebrate thirty with a suntan.

I played some smooth jazz on Pandora and set my Kindle aside, content to just lie in the sun and listen to music. It was hot. Hotter than I expected. I looked around. There truly was no one in sight, and I was far enough from the river that if someone happened to float or row by, they couldn’t really see me well, anyway.

I bit my lip, looked around, and grinned. I might be thirty, but I was still adventurous. I stripped down and lay in the sun. It was my birthday weekend. Time to be in my birthday suit.

No way would I go home with tan lines.

You’d think the novelty of being naked outside would have worn off after… I don’t know, ten minutes? But it didn’t. I stayed out there all day. Not a soul came past. I felt free, wonderful.

And not at all bad about turning thirty.

In hindsight, the beer might have had something to do with all that. But at the time? I was having a blast.

I went inside around seven and, too lazy to cook dinner, munched my way through a bag of chips. Still naked. I watched classic movies until midnight—still naked—and then I toasted my birthday with a glass of wine. And another. And another.

So I killed the bottle. Well, two bottles. Naked. Who cares?

I don’t remember going to bed, but when I woke up—about half past eleven—I had the volume on my phone cranked up and classic rock blared from the speaker. Generally the speaker isn’t that loud, but with a hangover, it was ridiculous. The boom, boom, boom of the bass echoed through my head and made my teeth hurt. The electric guitar riffs sliced through my skull to that tiny part of my brain that controlled my gag reflex.

So I turned the volume down, changed the station to a zen channel, and headed for the bathroom. After a thorough vomiting, I popped two aspirin in my mouth, drank copious amounts of water, and took a shower.

I felt a lot better after half an hour under a spray of hot water. God bless my parents for spending extra on an instantaneous water heater. I could have spent the rest of the day in there and never run the water to cold.

I got out and dried off, my headache down to a dull roar. Switching the music back to classic rock, I decided a little hair of the dog would cure me of my hangover. I also decided there was no reason to get dressed. Birthday weekend, birthday suit. All weekend long. I was just going to lie naked in the sun again, alone, so what did it matter?

I put my earbuds in, grabbed a towel, and headed downstairs. Snagging a bottle of expensive cabernet out of my dad’s stash—it was my birthday, after all—I stepped out onto the deck and headed down the stairs.

“Surprise!”

More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ when you aren’t expecting it is shocking. More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ followed immediately by laughing and cat calls and shocked exclamations defies description.

I screamed, dropped the bottle, and covered myself as best I could while scrambling back toward the door. A full-bodied red had splattered all over me, and my fully-naked-body dashed for cover. Of course I stepped on some of the glass, embedding it in the flesh of my feet. I hobble-hopped to the door, but it had locked behind me. I stooped down, trying to cover myself, and pretended to try to pull the glass from my foot. In reality, I just hunkered there, praying the earth would split open and swallow me whole.

I had to wait until my dad went around to the front door, unlocked it and let himself in, and came out the back door to rescue me. Thankfully, he brought a blanket for me to cover myself with.

“Come on in, pumpkin.” I have to give him credit. He neither laughed nor lectured. He was surprisingly straight-faced. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

My mother wasn’t as merciful. She followed us in, yell-whispering like only an Italian mother can. “What were you thinking? Have you lost your mind? Who’s here? What are you doing?” She glanced at my phone. “Please tell me you aren’t sex-texting!”

I still couldn’t look at either of them, but I found my voice. “Okay, one, it’s called ‘sexting.’ Two, ew, no. And three, what were you thinking? This weekend was supposed to be your gift to me.”

“That’s why we’re here. Why we’re all here. To give you a party. And presents.”

Dad cleaned up my feet and left, still having said nothing. I think I saw his shoulders shaking as he walked away. I definitely heard a snort before the door closed behind him. Traitor.

Mom, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped talking. So much for what I wanted.

“Honestly, Gina. How… why… I can’t even begin to—”

“Mom. Stop. I have a hangover. And I just exposed myself to one hundred family members.”

“And Tony.”

“Tony is family. Uncle Tony, Big Tony, Little Tony, and Tony Junior. They’re all family.” We have a lot of Tonys in our family. Most Italians probably do. I never found it odd until I listed them all.

“No. Tony DeNunzio.”

That nausea thing was rolling back around again.

“From the Catholic Date site. You two are a perfect match. And I’ve known his mother for years. I thought it was such great luck that we found his profile on that site, and you then went and—”

“Stop.” Thank God she did. “You filled out a profile on that dating site. For me. After I asked you not to. And now you think you found my perfect man?”

Tony DeNunzio. He was my perfect man. I’d had a crush on him from third grade on. But I don’t think he could pick me out of a lineup of male convicts. To think he saw me naked before he even knew I existed was more than I could bear.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of him sooner.” She still prattled on, oblivious to my humiliation. “He’s—”

“I don’t care what he is or isn’t, Mom. Did you say he’s here?”

“Yes. That was another part of the surprise. And then you went and…”

I walked away at that point. Or, I guess I limped away. By my calculations, I had about three minutes left to get dressed and sneak to my car before my cousins converged on my room and dragged me out—dressed or not.

I slipped into jeans and a t-shirt. Why had I drunk so much the night before? Why had I insisted on running around in my birthday suit? Why had I trusted my mother? Why had I stayed in the shower for so long?

Why am I such an idiot?

I stepped out onto the front porch and looked around. There were cars everywhere. I was hopelessly blocked in. Damn loud music and long shower. I never heard any of it.

My humiliation was being exploited in the back yard. Even from the driveway I could hear the quips and the laughter. I glanced around. Tony DeNunzio stood off to the side, chatting with my grandmother.

Damn, he was even better looking than in high school.

I supposed I deserved this. I did wish for it, in a way. I said I’d rather run naked through my family than suffer through another birthday party. This way, I got to do both. Delightful. Happy thirtieth to me.

Tony looked up and smiled, kind of cocked his head, beckoning me to come to him. If I could just laugh with everyone, maybe it would blow over sooner rather than later and I could try flirting with Mr. Right.

Or I could accept that my family loved to torment me and this would go on for years.

Eh. Either way, Tony DeNunzio was at my birthday. He’d seen more of me than I ever thought he would, and he hadn’t run away screaming. It could be worse.

April showers didn’t bring me May flowers. My April shower brought me a hangover, a bad decision, and a new opportunity.

One out of three isn’t bad.


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