Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seashells by Suzan Teall Headley

            Suzan Teall Headley is one of the first writers I met when I joined Query Tracker. (if you have not used QT, you need to. It helps organize your queries and find agents while tracking your stats for you. Find it here. ) A few of us Women's Fiction writers decided to all help each other and read each other's first three chapters and give feedback. It was an amazing experience and I was exposed to lots of different types of writing. And Suzan and I hit it off immediately. What began as CPing ended up being a friendship with LONG late night phone calls talking about everything from writing to life, and emails and texts. So naturally when I wanted to do this project, I thought of her. She is a beautiful writer who tackles tough subjects and does so with ease. She also brings a fluidity to her writing that is easy and fantastic to read.
            So here she is, with a beautiful short story, Seashells.

The Memory Project (continued)
           "It's a nice ring." Jesse hardly glanced over. He was rummaging through the suitcase.
            "Nice is an understatement," I said. But what do guys know about jewelry?
            I turned my attention back at the photos on the first pages. The heading must mean something. "Things They Kept," I read aloud. "Who's 'They'?"
           "The ones who took the picture, Einstein." Jesse nudged me with his shoulder.
           I glared at him and said, "Yeah, I know that. But who took the picture, Sherlock?"
           "Touché," Jesse said and smiled.
           I looked back down at the photographs. One photo caught my attention. Black and white. A snowstorm. An old building. Not a car or a person to be found. Abandoned? I traced the outline of the building with my fingertip.
(to be continued…)

by Suzan Teall Headley

With less than a mile to go before we reached the airport, I tapped the driver on the shoulder. The dark eyes in the rearview mirror stared at me in disbelief when I told him we had to go back. There was plenty of time for a detour; our flight had a two-hour delay due to the weather. I suppose I should’ve told him to turn around miles ago, but my mind had been replaying the events of the last twelve hours, not the last thirty years. Besides, as long as the taxi meter was running, why should he care?
Holding up my sister’s compact, I tried to assess the damage—namely, my puffy eyes and red nose. I anchored my hair behind my ears and did my best to fluff my bangs in the limited light. When I glanced up, I caught the driver staring and he quickly averted his eyes.
I snapped the lid shut and handed the compact back to Theresa. “Thanks. I should’ve reapplied my make-up before we checked out of the motel.”
Theresa rolled her eyes as she placed it back into her purse. “You look fine.”
What I’d just witnessed in that compact mirror was far from fine. I looked over at Theresa and took comfort in the fact that her face didn’t look any better than mine.
We rode silently back to town, neither of us making the effort to spark conversation. Ordinarily, my sister would be talking my ear off as we drove, bantering on about something or other. But tonight was different; we’d spent the entire day at a family funeral and reception, and she was all talked out. Theresa hadn’t been this quiet since we were children. In fact, her unusual silence was the impetus for my impromptu detour. I wanted to take her back there one last time before we returned home.
I sat forward in the seat as the familiar intersection came into view. “Could you pull over here for a moment please?” As we sat at the curb, billowing steam from the exhaust of the taxi clouded my view from the back window. I rifled through my purse for my camera and reached for the door handle. “I’ll be right back.” 
The driver stared wide-eyed in the rearview mirror. “Lady, it’s freezing out there.”
Ignoring his warning, I opened the door. Cold air whipped through the taxi, snapping my sister out of her trance.
Theresa grabbed my arm. “Hanna, wait. Where are you going?”
“I’ll only be a moment. I want to take a picture.” I stepped boldly out into the slushy gutter as the snow tickled my face. Instinctively, I licked my lips and regretted it. Turning my back to the wind, I pulled my scarf about my head with one gloved hand while clutching my camera in the other. As I positioned my stance on the sidewalk, I held my camera steady and snapped a photo.
Theresa beckoned me to return to the taxi and I slid into the backseat, shivering.
“Back to the airport, ma’am?”
I had to pull my scarf down under my chin to reply. “Not yet.”
Theresa lifted the sleeve of her wool coat to consult her watch. “Shouldn’t we head back? What about our flight?”
“I called the airline from the motel, remember? Our flight’s delayed. If this snow doesn’t let up soon, they’ll probably cancel it altogether.”
Theresa sighed. “Oh God, I hope it’s not cancelled. I don’t want to sleep on a bench in the airport tonight.”
“You should thank me for convincing you to move to California.” I removed my gloves and held out my hands against the warm air from the heater vent. “Do you mind if we sit here for a few minutes? I just want to take a moment to reminisce. This is where it all started, you know.” 
Theresa craned her neck to look out the window “The infamous savings and loan. It looks so different at night.”
“Um hmm. You really have no memory of what happened to us in there when we were kids?”
She shook her head. “Just a vision of Dad lying on the floor. The rest is a complete blank.”
I leaned my head against the seat and gazed at the tall structure. More than thirty years had passed since the day my father took us into that building, yet I could still recall every detail.  
Of course my earliest memories of my father stemmed back further than that particular day. From as far back as I can remember, every evening when he arrived home from work, his irritable mood would make me want to hide in my bedroom. My mother, always quick to defend him, blamed his grumpiness on his demanding job. She had a way of calming him after a stressful day. She could transform his mood with her smile, her laugh, or her soft hands while she massaged his shoulders at the table just before she served dinner. Midway through the meal, my father would be smiling about something my mom had said; the two nickels she’d found on her walk back from the market, or the quarter she’d found in the vending machine at the Laundromat. Back then, I’d never really considered how much of an impact she had on our family—until everything changed.
On the eve of my ninth birthday, I remember my mother had baked a cake for my classroom party even though she wasn’t feeling well. My father had offered to buy a cake from the grocery store, but my mom, the consummate cook, had insisted on baking it herself. Later that night, she had become so weak, I had to finish beating the frosting. Of course, none of us had any idea at the time how sick she truly was.
Less than two weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, my mother died. It had been the first time ever we’d been served a frozen TV dinner instead of my mom’s turkey. My sister, Teeta, as we called her back then, refused to eat it. My father had been in no mood for tantrums; he sent Teeta to bed hungry. 
We moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, right before Christmas. My father had accepted a job transfer and said a change of scenery would be ‘good for the family.’ As far as I had been concerned, living in Kenosha might as well be living on the moon—my mother wouldn’t be coming with us, so what did I care?
My father’s temperament had worsened significantly those first few weeks after we moved. Teeta’s constant wailing for my mother hadn’t helped either. One night, he’d finally lost his temper and screamed at Teeta to shut up. I knew he’d regretted it, but he had his own demons to fight. He must’ve been so immersed in his own grief for the loss of his wife that he was incapable of consoling his motherless children. Teeta, only four years old at the time, had been so traumatized by his outburst that she stopped talking altogether. From that day on, I’d had to play the role of interpreter for Teeta by deciphering her facial expressions and body language.  
As for my own grief, my tears were saved for my bed pillow. Night after night, I longed to hear my mother’s voice. There were times when I would call out to her in the dark. I asked her if she was in Heaven, but she didn’t answer. I missed how she used to tickle me at bedtime and how we had giggled uncontrollably until my father would appear at the door, wondering what was so funny. I missed the way she used to tuck my hair behind my ears, the way she would kiss me on the forehead before saying goodnight. I missed her lovely face, her hair, her smell. Crying myself to sleep had been my only solace. Her memory would be fresh in my mind when I entered unconsciousness, and visions of my mother would grace my dreams.
My father’s new job had consumed him. He worked determinedly six days a week, managing the downtown savings and loan. He was always the first one there in the morning to open the bank and the last one to go home. Stress was my father’s constant companion. He seemed to thrive on it, as if it were his punishment. I occasionally watched him from afar, peering from the hallway into the living room as he drank too much liquor and talked aloud to no one. He had acted as if he were guilty for my mother’s death, although I couldn’t understand why—her illness had nothing to do with him. Perhaps the liquor helped him through his lonely nights, and stress helped him through his lonely days.
Several months had passed before that summer day when my father had taken us to the bank. Our babysitter had the flu and there was no one to watch us at the house. My father read me the Riot Act while he drove, reciting the dos and don’ts of workplace etiquette. I listened attentively while Teeta sat in the backseat smacking the toes of her pink galoshes—she had insisted on wearing those ridiculous boots even though it was summer. I made big eyes at her and told her to stop. I knew we had to be on our best behavior; Daddy had expected it.
We parked a block away and followed my father on foot toward the bank. Waiting at the corner for the light to change, I stared at the ominous grey building. After crossing the street with Teeta in tow, she tugged at my hand, stomping on the cracks in the sidewalk with her galoshes. I pulled her back to my side and gave her a look of stern warning.
Standing at the entrance of the building, my father fished the ring of keys from his trousers. How he knew which key to use from that jumble of metal had truly astounded me. We stepped inside and my father locked the front door from the inside.
“Why are you locking the door? How are the customers supposed to get inside if it’s locked?”
He cocked his head and tsked. “What did I tell you in the car this morning about asking too many questions, Hanna?”
“I just wondered, that’s all.” I lowered my head and silently admonished myself for breaking one of his rules within thirty seconds upon entering the bank.
“All right, I’ll explain. I’m locking us in because it’s only eight-fifteen and the bank doesn’t open until nine. And I won’t unlock the door until I’m certain it’s safe to begin working.”
“Whaddya mean, safe?”
His shoulders sagged. I could tell by the look on his face that my constant questions were trying his patience. “I mean if something isn’t right—in case someone is already in the bank that shouldn’t be.”
“You mean like a robber?”
“Precisely.” He smiled at me and his shoulders relaxed. “We let the employees inside a few minutes before nine o’clock—just enough time for the tellers to prepare their drawers.”
“Prepare their drawers?” I clearly hadn’t a clue what he was trying so patiently to explain.
“The employees who take the money and cash people’s checks are called tellers.”
I nodded. That much I understood.
“They keep money in the drawer of their station—the windows where they help people, over there.” I looked over my shoulder to where he had pointed.
“Okay, I get it. So when you say it’s safe, can me and Teeta unlock the door?”
Teeta and I. And no, Jeanne will do it.”
I wasn’t sure I liked the expression on my father’s face when he said Jeanne would do it. I wasn’t bothered in the sense that he wouldn’t allow me to unlock the door. It was his eyes. He actually smiled with his eyes. Feeling my eyebrows crunch together, I asked, “Who’s Jeanne?”
“Jeanne handles the new accounts. Come on, I’ll show you my office.”
“Yeah, okay.” Pursing my lips, I uncrossed my arms and pulled Teeta with me to the back of the bank.
“You two are to remain in here. Stay out of sight, okay?”
“But what if we have to go to the bathroom?”
My father’s jaw dropped. “You mean you guys didn’t go before we left the house?”
“Yeah, but we need to go more than once a day, Daddy.”
“Well, you’ll have to wait until I break for lunch. Children aren’t allowed to wander through the bank unchaperoned.”
“Maybe Jeanne can take us.” Even though I’d thrown in some sarcasm, he hadn’t seemed to notice. He made that look again. Soft eyes. He looked...nice.
My father glanced up. I turned to see what he was looking at. A woman in a blue suit had entered the bank.  
“Good morning, Mr. Pecore.” The woman locked the door and headed to a nearby desk.
Daddy talked in a whisper. “All right, you two. Don’t give me any reasons to put you on a time out today.”
“A time out? Daddy, I haven’t been on a time out since—” I almost said since Mom was alive, but I didn’t. My father’s stern face softened for a moment and I wondered if he’d read my mind. Then he took a deep breath, pointed to his big leather chair, and left the office. Teeta obediently climbed onto the chair while I peered through the doorway, watching him walk toward the woman in blue. She smiled up at him and touched her hand to his elbow. She tilted her head around my father’s shoulder and looked our way. I gasped and ducked behind the protection of the door. I knew it had to be her—the lady whose name made my dad smile.
“Well, hello there,” said a nice voice. “You must be Hanna.”
I peeked my head around the door and looked up at her. I nodded but didn’t speak.
 “I’m Jeanne.” She held her hand out toward me. Slowly, I reciprocated. “Pleased to meet you, Hanna.”
Jeanne’s hand was soft. She wore pink nail polish and she smelled like bubble-bath.
“And who is this?” She looked over at Teeta, sitting cross-legged in my father’s chair. Jeanne and I got a full-on view of Teeta’s polka-dot undies.
“This is my sister, Theresa. But we call her Teeta.” Teeta gave a timid smile, not making eye contact with Jeanne. “Teeta, what did we tell you about taking a picture?” Teeta sat up straight in the chair and pulled her dress down over her knees.
Jeanne smiled and looked over at me.
“That’s what my mom says when Teeta shows her underwear.” What my mom said. I didn’t correct myself in front of Jeanne.
“Oh, I see.” Jeanne giggled. “Did your father give you a tour of the bank?”
I was embarrassed to admit that we’d been banished to his office for the next nine hours, unless we needed a potty break. “I guess he forgot.” Then the truth spilled out of my mouth like a confession. “Daddy said we have to stay out of sight today unless we need to use the bathroom.”
“Well, the bank’s not open yet, so there’s no reason to hide in here. Would you like to see my desk?”
I knew we couldn’t get in trouble if we were with Jeanne. “Yeah, okay.”
We followed Jeanne toward the front of the bank. When we arrived at her desk, she patted the seat of a high-back, upholstered chair. “Have a seat.”
The chair swiveled as Teeta and I climbed into it. Jeanne rotated the chair a full turn and Teeta clapped her hands. Then one of Teeta’s pink galoshes slipped off and bounced onto the floor. Teeta looked wide-eyed at the floor, then at me. “It’s okay, Teeta. Just leave it.”
Jeanne hung her keys on a small hook attached to the inside of the bookcase and then took a chair on the opposite side of the desk. “You two look good in my chair. Maybe someday, you can get a job here.”
I’d never thought about working at a bank. Up to that point, I hadn’t even thought of the what-do-I-want-to-do-when-I-grow-up scenario, and I hoped Jeanne wouldn’t ask.
Jeanne reached across her desk and picked up a snow globe. When she shook it, tiny white specks swirled around an angel and Teeta was mesmerized. Next to Jeanne’s typewriter was a coffee cup that said ‘Shell We Dance?’ with a pencil sticking out of it. Its eraser was shaped like a fan-type shell.
As Teeta leaned forward to reach for the pencil, I was quick to intercept. “No, Teeta. Don’t touch.”
“It’s all right.” Jeanne plucked the pencil from the cup and held it out to Teeta. “You can touch anything you like. Just don’t touch the button inside that cabinet by your knee.”
I looked down to the right and noticed a series of drawers.
“I don’t see a cabinet. Just drawers.”
Jeanne rose from the chair and opened the desk drawers from the side, like a door on a hinge. The drawers were only an illusion.
“These are fake drawers?”
“Um hmm. And right inside here is the button.”
The cabinet was empty. It was deep, and easily the size of our toy box. I could see the black button protruding from the wooden wall inside. “What’s that button for?”
“It’s a silent alarm. If there’s an emergency, I can alert the police.”
“That’s a big hiding place for a little button.”
Jeanne smiled and returned to the chair. “The cabinet’s supposed to be kept empty so nothing obstructs access.” When I scrunched my nose, she added, “What I mean is that it has to be easy for me to reach it while I’m sitting at my desk. If I cram things inside, I might not be able to reach the button quickly.”
“Oh, I get it. I’ll make sure Teeta doesn’t go near it.”  Teeta hadn’t even been paying attention to our conversation. She tapped the eraser on Jeanne’s desk and then returned her focus to the settling flakes in the snow globe.
I noticed a photograph of an older woman with Jeanne encased in a small frame, adorned with tiny seashells. “Who’s that with you in the picture?” 
“That’s my mom. It was taken last summer at her beach house.”
“Your mom has a beach house?”
“She did. My mother passed away a few months ago.”
Instantly, my eyes had watered. Just hearing the words ‘my mother passed away’ had unlocked the dam of emotions I’d been so carefully repressing.
Jeanne made a pouty face. “Don’t be sad, honey.”
“It’s just that. It’s just that—” I turned into a stuttering mess as I blinked uncontrollably and tears streaked down my cheeks. “Our mom, too.” I didn’t even know this woman and my private thoughts were gradually exposing themselves to her like a Polaroid picture. I looked over at Teeta, glad to see she was still enthralled by the snow globe.
Jeanne handed me a tissue. “I know about your mother, sweetie. Everyone here at the bank knows.”  
Of course they all knew. How could my father hide a traumatic incident such as the death of his wife?
“I know you miss your mom.” Jeanne tipped her head toward the framed photograph. “I miss my mom, too. But it comforts me to know that our moms are watching over us.”
Without moving my head, my eyes wandered to the left, to the right, and then I looked up. I had felt exposed—like a hidden camera had displayed my face on a huge television screen in Heaven. “What do you mean, they’re watching over us? They’re gone.”
“Maybe they’re not here physically, but they stay with us, even though we don’t see them.” Jeanne stood and reached across the desk to retrieve a small wooden box from the bookcase. “See this?” She opened the lid. The box was filled with seashells, perfect and precious.
“Wow. Are they real?”
Jeanne nodded. “I found them when I was with my mom. I keep these here at work to remind me of her.”
Teeta finally pulled her eyes away from the snow globe when she noticed the wooden box. Her lips formed into an “o” and her eyes twinkled. I kept a firm grip on the box and shook my head. “No way, Teeta.” I turned my attention back to Jeanne. “Is that shell necklace you’re wearing from your mom?”
Jeanne touched her hand to the shell at the base of her neck. “Yes. I keep it with me always.”
“So how do you know your mom’s watching over you?”
“Let me tell you what happened at the mall. I was in a sad mood, you know, just thinking about how much I miss my mom while I window shopped. Then, all of a sudden, I saw this.” Jeanne held up the coiled shell on her necklace. “This shell was in the window display of a store. I went inside and told the saleswoman about how seashells remind me of my mom. She said that I could keep it.”
 “But how does that mean anything—“
“It’s like my mom was there, Hanna. She knew I missed her and this seashell was a sign.”
“You really think that?”
Jeanne nodded emphatically. I tried to make sense of her logic. Was she saying that all I had to do was to think about how much I miss my mom and a seashell would appear, like magic? I was skeptical, but hopeful. “I haven’t seen any seashells since my mom died. I guess she’s not here.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean you should look for seashells, Hanna. It’s a connection I had only with my mom. Didn’t you and your mom have a hobby? Something you did together?”
I bit my bottom lip and came up blank. “I can’t think of anything.”
“Did you ever collect postcards? Any old stamps, or coins—buttons?”
Wait—coins? “My mom used to find coins on the ground and she kept them in a mason jar on the sink. Every time we were in a parking lot or walking on the street, she would spot a coin and I’d pick it up. My mom was so funny—it would only be like five cents or something, but she had to brag to my dad about it when he got home.” As I had recited those memories to Jeanne, I’d felt exhilaration just sharing something about my mother with another human being. And Jeanne had seemed genuinely interested. “One time, we even found a quarter in the vending machine at the Laundromat.”
“That’s wonderful, Hanna. From now on, when you find a coin, it will remind you that your mother is watching over you.”
“But finding a lucky penny on the ground doesn’t mean my mom put it there. Somebody dropped it.”
“Ah, but God could’ve caused that penny to fall out of somebody’s pocket, just so you could be the one to find it later. God works in amazing ways.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my father accessing a file cabinet across the room. I kept my voice low. “Daddy says we don’t believe in God. He says if there was a God, He wouldn’t let my mom die.”
Jeanne nodded her head. “I suppose some people feel this way. They’re angry and sad because someone they love is gone. But we mustn’t blame God, Hanna. We all die eventually.” She leaned forward, placing her elbows on the edge of her desk. “What you need to realize is that both your mom and my mom are in a beautiful place right now. We are the ones who suffer, not our moms.” She patted my hand. “I’m going to try harder to help your dad realize that.”
Her statement had made me wonder about her opinion of my father. “Do you think my dad’s a mean person?”  
“Mean? Your father? Heavens no.” She clasped her hands together and giggled. “Your father’s a very important man here at the bank. He has a huge responsibility. He has to act professionally.”
“But he doesn’t have to be mean.” I’d mumbled it more to myself than to Jeanne.  
“Look, Hanna. Your dad’s having a hard time adjusting to the loss of your mom. Just like you are. But he handles his grief in a different way than you. He’s really trying.”
“But how do you know that?”
“Because we talk about it, honey.”
I was dumbfounded. My father shared his personal feelings with her and not me? “You mean my father talks to you about my mom?”
Jeanne nodded. “And I talk to him about my mother. We help each other.”
This last statement had opened the door to a kingdom of curiosity. My mind focused on the unthinkable. Although everything in my head rejected the idea, I couldn’t stop the words from spewing out of my mouth. “Are you my dad’s girlfriend?”
Jeanne giggled. “How old are you? Fifteen?”
I knew she couldn’t seriously think I was that old. “No. I’m nine.”
“You certainly are precocious!”
I’d had no idea what she meant, although somehow I had the impression she was complimenting me. But she’d avoided answering my question. It was a stall tactic. I was about to ask her again when she turned to look up at the large clock on the wall.
“It’s almost nine. I have to unlock the door for the employees.”
“Okay.” I set the shells back on the desk. Teeta held her hand out toward the box and I pushed it farther from her reach.
Jeanne told us to stay at her desk until she returned. She reached for the keys on the hook and walked toward the group of people waiting outside the door. Teeta pulled on my sleeve and pointed to something on the floor. She scooted forward to get down and I pulled her back.
“No, Teeta. You can’t get out of the chair.”
 Teeta pursed her lips and crossed her arms in a huff.
“Don’t you go having a tizzy either. You heard Jeanne. She said to stay in her chair until she comes back.”
Teeta pointed to the floor again and grunted.
“What? I don’t see anything.” Just as I bent forward to look under the desk, Teeta stood up in the chair and lunged for the box of seashells.
“Oh no you don’t—” I bumped my head on the underside of Jeanne’s desk and fell to my knees as a hailstorm of seashells scattered all over the carpet. “Oh great, Teeta. Now you’ve done it.” I rubbed the top of my skull and glared at Teeta holding the now-empty wooden box. “You get down here and pick up every one of those shells before Jeanne finds out!”
I collected as many shells as I could and returned them to the wooden box, paying no mind to the raised voices inside the bank. Teeta had conveniently disappeared under Jeanne’s desk, most likely in pursuit of whatever she’d seen earlier. As I reached for a spiral-shaped seashell beneath the chair, I noticed Teeta’s bare foot sticking out of Jeanne’s secret drawer-cabinet.
“Teeta no! Get out of there!” Twisting into a sitting position, I pulled at her ankle. Each time I made headway to extract her from the cabinet, Teeta dug in hard, propelling herself deeper inside. Determined to win our outlandish tug-of-war, I persevered, oblivious of the escalating commotion taking place outside the realm of Jeanne’s workspace. When a loud pop-pop-pop reverberated throughout the bank, I immediately released Teeta’s ankle and she crashed into the far end of the cabinet. Jeanne’s empty chair had spun around a full revolution, yet no one had even touched it. Terrified, I climbed into the cabinet with Teeta, then pulled the door shut.
A man’s voice was loud and frightfully commanding. “Everybody sit down on the floor. Nobody moves until I say so. You! Lock the door.”
Teeta’s fingers bit into my arm as the loud man yelled again. “I said lock the door!”
“I need to get my keys from my desk.”
I swallowed hard when I recognized the unmistakable voice. It was Jeanne’s.  
Another man spoke in a gravelly voice. “You got the keys in your hand. Whatchu gotta go to your desk for?”
Jeanne’s voice remained steady. “Nothing. I didn’t realize it.”
The loud man yelled again. “She’s lying. Go check out her desk. The rest of you—put your hands on your head and keep your mouths shut.”
My erratic breathing seemed to intensify within the confined space. Only a sliver of light shone where the cabinet door met the wall of the desk. I knew the gravelly-voiced man would be at Jeanne’s desk within seconds and we would be discovered. Teeta’s body trembled alongside mine. I tried to soothe her by stroking her arm, but nothing could calm my own shaking.
“What the hell’s this?” the gravelly-voiced man yelled.
Jeanne answered. “I have no idea where that came from.”  
“What’s wrong?” the loud man yelled.
“There’s a kid’s boot over here.”
My hand flew up to my mouth. He’d found one of Teeta’s galoshes. I shut my eyes tightly, even though there was nothing to see with them open. While my heart pounded faster than ever, Teeta’s fist pounded my leg. As I uncoiled her fingers to hold her hand, something dropped into my lap—a coin. Goosebumps enveloped my entire body and I leaned my head back against the cabinet wall. Then something poked at my scalp.
The silent alarm button.
I had no idea why I hadn’t thought of it before. Frantically, I reached behind me and pushed the button several times while the loud man continued to bark orders to the people in the bank.
“Why don’t you just take the money and go?” I heard Jeanne say from the other side of the desk.
“Shut up!” the gravelly-voiced man yelled. “Empty out the drawers. And don’t touch nothin’ else!”
A minute later, Jeanne spoke again. “You have your money. Now please go.”
I heard a smack, and then a thump.
My heart skipped a beat when I heard my father yell out. There was a loud scuffle, and then another pop. With chaos closing in all around us, I clutched the coin in my hand, hoping it was truly a sign that our mother was watching over us.
Moments later, the police had arrived. Jeanne found us hiding in her cabinet. With a nasty bump on her cheek, she had still managed a smile—probably because Teeta and I were unscathed. My father had not been so lucky; he lay unconscious on the floor with a bullet wound to his chest. Jeanne had tried to hold us back while the police attended to him, but Teeta couldn’t be contained. Finding her voice, she shrieked as she ran toward my father. It had taken two men just to pull her off of him.  
Teeta and I had been called heroes for alerting the police, although I’d felt my father had been the real hero. Fortunately for us all, he’d survived.
The investigation had revealed a bullet hole through the back of Jeanne’s desk chair. Teeta surely would’ve been killed had we remained in that chair; her discovery of the coin beneath the desk had caused a series of events that not only saved her life, but others’ lives as well. Jeanne had been right: God works in amazing ways.
I owed so much to Jeanne. Not only had she become my friend that day—five months later, she’d also become my step-mother.

The taxi‘s dispatch radio chirped, interrupting my thoughts. With watery eyes, I turned to look over at my sister beside me.
Theresa dug into her coat pocket for a tissue and handed it to me, then touched the taxi driver on the shoulder. “All right. I think we’re ready to go to the airport now.”
I dabbed at my eyes, then thanked Theresa for letting me take time to remember this place.
Theresa squeezed my hand. “I thought Jeanne’s memorial service was nice. It’s so hard to say goodbye to people we love, isn’t it?”
I could only nod in response. When Theresa and I stood beside Jeanne’s casket this afternoon, we silently said our goodbyes and placed her seashell necklace in her hand—we didn’t want her to be without it. Jeanne had taught us so many things about life over the last thirty years. She’d even taught our father how to love again. Most of all, she’d taught us not to just mourn our mother’s passing, but to celebrate her life and her spirit. And to this day, each time I find a coin, I always think of my mother.  
As we waited at the intersection for the light to change, the snow turned into rain.

Find Suzan on twitter @WhiteGardenia27


  1. Well done, Suzan. The imagery-infused dialogue made the story feel real. Despite the limited amount of opportunity short stories allow the writer to develop their characters, your depiction of the girls' father gives the reader enough detail, while leaving just enough mystery, so that any reader can relate the character to a paternal influence in their own life.

  2. What a beautiful and hopeful story.


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