Writing Challenge: Meet the Parents

(American) Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and the holiday is so much more than food. And a good thing, too, since our last writing challenge already focused on all the heat that can be generated in the kitchen. In switching gears from stuffing and pumpkin pie (my personal favourites), we decided to turn to those who gathered around the table to share that meal.

Regardless of whether you share blood or you chose them (or vice versa), family is an integral part of Thanksgiving. It’s not just avoiding the big three forbidden topics of conversation (money, religion, politics), or enduring that one person you’re glad you don’t have to see the rest of the year. For the truly brave at heart this is an opportunity to have their friends, significant others, or friends who could become significant others over for dinner to better understand who made them the way they are.

While a number of our books feature heroes meeting children they never knew they even had, this challenge is about parents. That could be an aunt or uncle or grandparent, any adult who was a mother or father figure to the hero or heroine.

In three to five paragraphs we want to see you describe how one member of your couple first comes into contact with the person or people who raised their eventual happily-ever-after.

In keeping in my tradition of adding a bonus element, this meeting cannot take place over a meal. That said, maybe the hero is out buying groceries and sees a familiar silky black ponytail, only to be shocked that it doesn’t belong to the woman he thought it did. Maybe the heroine stops by to drop something off only to find out that he still lives with his parents (shoutout to Taffy, who won the last challenge!). The possibilities are limitless!

You have until the end of Sunday, November 24th, 2019, to send in your submissions. Swing back around Monday afternoon and we’ll be announcing the first, second, and third place winners! We’ll be keeping a close watch on every one that comes in.

I also want to acknowledge that I said the next challenge wouldn’t be until December, but honestly, who’s complaining?

UPDATE: Having read through all 21 submissions I will say this: you really love twists! There were some truly wonderful first meetings between hero(in)es and their future in-laws, but these three favourites made it into our Editors’ Choice Top 3:

1st Place goes to Yvonne, whose revelation that the heroine arrested the hero’s mother grabbed our attention (and that of a few commenters, too!).

Following close behind is Joice in 2nd Place. Having the doctor conducting the ultrasound also be the baby’s grandmother was a delight, as was the chaotic fallout when she realizes this.

Renee Toton won 3rd Place by taking a graveside visit and having the scene skew more heartwarming than morbid. It may not be how the hero thought he’d meet her family, but it was touching nonetheless.

Thank you to absolutely everyone who submitted to this challenge, and here’s to your good luck in the next one!

25 replies on “Writing Challenge: Meet the Parents”

The cattle startled in the sale yards as his satellite phone ring pierced the air, “Yeah Jimmy?” Alex’s foreman’s voice was hard to hear above the lowing beasts, “Reece has gone into labour.” He stilled suddenly unaware of the searing sun as he strained to hear the rest, “They’ve air lifted her to Broome hospital, but she’s asking for you Alex.” His stomach fell, as his heart leapt. “She’s asking for me?” His foreman stressed, “Screaming’s more like it, but yeah. Get your butt back quick Boss, you’re going to be a Daddy.”
Hanging up the phone he yelled, “My woman’s gone into labour. I need a charter plane and a pilot?!” There was a call as a hand shot in the air about fifty metres away. His hurried gait and long legs ate up the dusty distance easily to discover a man in his mid fifties, his well weathered face serious as he offered an equally weathered hand, “Patrick Murphy.” “Alex Roebourne.” Gratefully shaking the older man’s surprisingly strong hand he found himself faced with a pair of probing vibrant green eyes accompanied by a trace of Irish lilt, “Ai, you’re Reece’s partner aren’t you?” Alex shifted in slight annoyance, even in normal circumstances he wasn’t much for small talk, “She’s having our baby, I’ve got to get to Broome.”
With a nod the older man grabbed his sleeve urging him to follow him as they started to jog through the crowd towards the adjoining dusty excuse for a paddock used mainly as a light aircraft runway. This was a more appropriate pace to match his racing mind. Focused entirely on getting to Reece, he barely registered the good natured slaps to his broad back and well wishes from familiar faces partially hidden under their best Stetsons. It didn’t take long to get the four seater Cessna in the air, but his fingers only paused in their impatient drumming on the plane’s door with the older man’s prying question, “You got any plans to marry her?” Alex grunted, “I do, she doesn’t. It’s a long story.” The greying brows he now recognised as belonging to one of Reece’s long standing seasonal workers, lifted, “She’s a strong woman. Just like her mother.”
His startled gaze flicked to the older man who implored, “Don’t let her force you away like I let Hallie do me.” His head shook, “I’m trying not to.” The older, greying stubbled jaw clenched and those vitally familiar green eyes burned into his, “You’ll regret it, if you do. My daughter’s thirty six, having her first baby, and she has no idea that this nosey, opinionated old bloke that’s worked her family’s property every dry season for thirty seven years, is her father.”

” Wow. You’re finally going to meet the parents?! You’re okay with this?” Her twin sister, Farrin Adams-Dunham implored.
Karrin shrugged a shoulder, absently, as she  carried the platter of cheese and crackers and teakettle beside two ceramic tea cups into her family room. Karrin heaved a sigh,  placing the platter atop of the coffee table in front of her older, twin sister of all 5 minutes. Her sister had no qualms letting her know she will always have the older-twin advantage. ” I’m just saying…” Farrin’s voice trailed off.  ” You did say she appeared to have an arrogant air that you picked up on. In what, all of the two conversations you’ve had the pleasure to discover.” She let out a slight chuckle. Karrin rolled her eyes in annoyance.

” Yes…Wait. I think”…her voice now bartering on an hesitancy timbre. She furrowed a brow. Was she really ready to finally meet Cortonthian Gage’s parents?  Their engagement was a quick one–they met, dated for six months, and were engaged the next month. Was she certain she was prepared for all the questions that would be siphoning from his parents? Especially Mrs. Ethelda Gage? Socialite-Mrs. Ethelda Burnham-Gage.

The doorbell dinged, invading  Karrin’s thoughts of impending doubt. Were things moving too fast? Engagement and new silent business partner of her Youth Enrichment non-profit for inner-city kids?

” Mrs…G-Gage?”
The older lady lifted a sardonic smile. ” Yes, dear it is I? I thought it was high time to reveal my identity. I’m your new business associate.”

Bradley stood in the foyer of Mary’s elegant home, his heart racing at the thought of meeting her parents for the first time. It wasn’t their money; he was wealthy too. Being a top attorney at a prestigious law firm he dealt with his share of celebrities, the rich and famous, and other clients he didn’t talk about. None of this mattered. What did matter was how her family perceived him and whether they would be a good fit. That led his thoughts back to the rumors. He’d heard things from some of Mary’s co-workers. Quirky things that may or may not be true. Tonight, he would discover for himself if what was circulating her office like wildfire was correct.

He’d planned to ask Mary to be his wife. What better time than an after-dinner toast with those she loved surrounding her? He had no family. Never knew his dad, and his mother was shot and killed by a passerby when he was a toddler. His grandma raised him and since she passed, he’d been on his own. He had no idea what being part of a family meant. Mary nudged him as a stream of people entered the hall. This must be the family. Big grin smiles, relaxed and natural, and looking like a group of hippies from the sixties.

Mary slipped her arm through his and proceeded to walk him in front of each individual family member as though he was a prize she’d won at auction. “Everyone, this is my boyfriend, Bradley Holmes. Bradley, this is my mother, Cher. My brothers, Peter and Paul. My sister Petula. My cousins George, Paul and John. And, not to forget our Border collie, Starr.”

Had he just stepped back into rock and roll history? The rumors appeared all too real. He needed a strong drink. He wasn’t prepared for this. The next thing he knew they’d all break into song. In truth, he couldn’t wait to get to the liquor store and down a bottle of anything to get through this night. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I forgot something.”

As Bradley looked over the selection of hard liquor on the shelf, he noticed an older gentleman with dark glasses, a handlebar mustache, and black hair. He shook off the resemblance of who came to mind and reached for a bottle of rum. At the checkout, the same man approached. It was uncanny, and he was about to speak when the man spoke to him.

“Sorry I ran late. I understand you’re Mary’s new boyfriend?”

“Huh?” How did this man know who he was? He’d never seen him before.

A familiar grin with perfect white teeth. “It’s okay, I’m her dad. You can call me—”


He chuckled. “What can I say? Our parents were flower children and we kept up the tradition. Wait ‘til you get to sing-along with us tonight. It’s a blast from the past. You’ll dig it!”

Odd warmth spread over him like honey melting in the sun. Mary’s family had welcomed him without question. Yes, his family-to-be was a little odd but in the best way. For the first time, Thanksgiving felt like coming home.

Benjamin walked through the polished door with the brass nameplate. “Anne Madison, psychologist. I hope she is as competent as they say she is,” Benjamin said as he took a seat in the ample waiting room, which was well furnished in shades of golden wood and brass. She obviously was doing well for herself. He busied himself with a poetry magazine while he waited. He was just reading a William Blake poem when the door opened. A stunning, albeit older woman with a deep beige suit and proper shoes walked up to him. She was compelling, but where had he seen her before?

“Hello Benjamin. I’m so glad you phoned me. Come right in.” They sat in chairs that were deep and rich like everything else in the office. The word mahogany would apply here, and leather, plenty of leather.

“Well hello.” Gosh he felt awkward. “Hello Dr. Madison.”

“Anne’s fine,” she said smiling benignly at him.

“Well, I’m here to speak about relationships. I mean I’m seeing this wonderful woman and I don’t want to mess it up. She is so remarkable, you know.” She smiled, she did know. “But I didn’t come from auspicious beginnings. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made my way, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve got some pretty extensive attachment issues and I want to make this relationship work, “he said wringing his hands.

“It’s okay, Benjamin. Everything will be okay. Why don’t you tell me about this woman? What is she like?”

“Well she’s like the sun. I know what that sounds like but it’s true. She makes everything she’s involved with brighter. She is sweet and funny and bloody brilliant. But what if I’m not enough for her?” he ended with suddenly.

“You seem a decent person to me Benjamin. What is her name?”

“Emily. Even her name is perfect. What chance do I have?” he mentioned bereftly.

“Emily? Why that is a lovely name. My daughter’s name is Emily.”

“Well, what do you know about that? But then I guess Emily is a pretty common name.”

“Yes, my husband and I just loved the name and thought it would be perfect for our daughter. But enough about me. What can I do that would be helpful?”

“Well I’m just so afraid. I’m going to be meeting her parents for the first time at Thanksgiving and I want to make a good impression. They are well to do and live in a enormous mansion over in Willoughby. It’s intimidating.”

“Well have you told her you are a bit worried about it? I’m sure if she is what you say she is, she would want to help you. Just tell her what’s in your heart and you won’t go wrong. But I know meeting new people at this time of year can be challenging. I believe my daughter is even bringing a new beau to our house whom we’ve never met. We are wondering what he will be like, given her taste in men lately,” she said jovially. His name is B.J. of all things.” Anne laughed an affluent laugh, like one who has everything.

Benjamin sat bolt upright. He suddenly knew where he knew her from. “Emily’s pet name for me is B.J. Would your daughter be Emily Bartholomew?”

“Why yes,” Anne said suddenly shocked.

“I think I’m dating your daughter.”

A familiar ache coiled around Alejandra’s chest, making it impossible to breathe. She’d been wrong. Jax hadn’t returned from the distillery. Someone else was in his office. A pair of someones whose voices she recognized, if only from phone calls and media announcements, confiding in each other terrible truths.

Truths that lay buried beneath the mountain of Montgomery family lies.

Alajandra gripped the molding dissecting the papered half of the wall from the sleek wood-paneled bottom, needing something to help keep her from melting onto the parquet floor. Why couldn’t she have just texted him from her…from his…from their…bedroom and asked if he had returned? Why did she have to be so curious?

Because she’d wanted to see him, that’s why. Because even though it had only been a couple of hours since she’d held him in her arms, since he’d confessed to her his fears of taking over Montgomery Industries, since she’d thought for a moment that he might kiss her, it had felt like much longer. It had felt like forever.

She would give anything to go back to that moment, to hold onto it as tightly as she could. Anything to go back to before she’d heard those devastating truths.

The voices lowered into whispers, then quieted altogether. Heavy footsteps traveled quickly out the side door, closing it with a snap.

“You can come in now,” a woman’s voice called from inside the office. “I know you’re there. There’s no use pretending otherwise.”

Alajandra’s heart stilled for a beat. She sucked in a deep breath, something to ward the tears from her eyes, and righted herself as she stepped inside.

Jasmine Montgomery, matriarch of the Montgomery family, was shorter in person than she appeared on TV, even in four-inch designer heels. She leaned casually against Jax’s large desk, somehow dwarfing it despite her petite frame.

“I didn’t mean to—” Alajandra began.

“I won’t insult your intelligence if you won’t insult mine,” Ms. Montgomery said. Her dark skin and eyes were reminiscent of Jax’s, but lacked any of the warmth. “I know who you are. And I know why you’re here. So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?”

Alajandra nodded.

“What was discussed in this room just now is a secret that goes back even before you were born. My son can never know.”

“He’s not your son,” Alajandra said quietly.

“He doesn’t know that. He can never know that.”

Alajandra wrapped her arms around herself, needing help staying upright. “You’re asking me to lie to him.”

“No,” Ms. Montgomery said. “I’m not asking you to lie. I’m asking you to keep a secret. If not for his good, then for your own.” She inched forward, her movements slow and deliberate. “I see the way you look at Jax. I know that you have feelings for him. If you tell him the truth, that he isn’t a Montgomery, if you take his family, his legacy, away from him, he will never forgive you.” She moved past Alajandra, leaving her struck numb, immobile, as she exited the room. “Think long and hard about that before you do something we all regret.”

I close my car door quietly and glance around with the holiday bouquet of flowers I purchased this morning hanging limp by my side. I’m slightly confused by where we ended up. I mean obviously I know where I am, it’s the only burial plot in our town, but why did she come here today of all days. She’s supposed to be somewhere celebrating with her family, sharing turkey and gravy and family recipes, or bickering with cousins and listening to an uncle get a little too drunk on dinner wine.
When my eyes catch the stunning woman leaning against a headstone a few rows away, I’m stuck. I wanted to surprise her with her family, show her that she has nothing to be embarrassed about and spend the day laughing about how I forced my way into a family introduction, but now I feel like I’m intruding on a private moment, standing here watching how the wind blows her ponytail around her face while she tries to eat a sandwich through the swirling strands. I can tell it’s annoying her and that makes me want to laugh, but it’s obviously not a big enough problem to slow down the rapid-fire conversation she’s having and that makes me want to laugh, too. It’s just so her.
Inhaling strength to confront emotion I hadn’t planned on today; I convince my feet to move forward. I don’t want to be caught staring like a creeper but still my movements feel like a snail’s pace, my Magnanni’s crunching a little too loudly on the rocks that line the pathway. I’m not sure if I’m afraid of startling her or if somehow any noise is going to disturb those resting in peace, but these people haven’t been bothered for quite some time and I realize when I’m a few stones away that I don’t have to worry about startling her either.
“So, Gran, this is Luke.” I overhear her whisper to the tombstone like she’s letting her grandmother in on some secret.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask when I get to her side.
“You mean, why didn’t I tell you that my Thanksgiving is spent in a graveyard, eating a deli sandwich with my very own bottle of wine?” She chuckles darkly and I’m wondering how far into that bottle that she’s gotten.
“I would have brought you to my family’s, or come with you, or hell… we could just stay in bed and let the day pass.”
“Because of that!” She shouts, flailing her hands wildly enough that some of her sandwich falls onto her lap. “You’ve got the perfect family to spend the day with and I’m not going to be very good company. You don’t need my mood today.” She finishes with an exhale, picking the meat off her lap that fell. At least she has some turkey, I think while I squat down to be eye level.
“Look.” I put my finger under her chin and have to pull with more effort that I would have thought to turn her sad, waterlogged eyes to look at me. “I told you before, I’m in this. I want the good, the bad, and the ugly… which in your case is always going to be beautiful to me. I told you that I want to meet your family and I meant that.”
“But…” She started to interrupt, but I can’t let her. I pull the flowers around to eye level.
“I brought these for your grandmother and I still plan for her to have them. Now, if you don’t mind, proper introductions please.”
“Gran, this is Luke, the most infuriating, pushy, amazingly sweet man I’ve ever met.” She motions toward me with that smirk I love back on her face. “Luke, this is Gran.”
Gently, I place the flowers at the base of the stone. “It’s an honor to finally meet you, ma’am.”

“What do you mean your parent’s are on there way to my house?” Chasity spat out.
“Just that, I told them about you. My mom is over eager and now they are on there way here.”
“How could you do this to me Brynn Allister?” Chasity began to pace her front yard. She looked down at her rain boots that were about ten years old, her jeans covered in holes and dirt, her shirt also with holes and dirt on them and began to laugh until tears rolled down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” Brynn took a step towards her.
“Look at me?” She demanded. “I am about to meet your parents and I am covered in dirt and my clothes are baggy and full of holes. I’m in no condition to meet anyone’s parents.”
“You look beautiful,” he ran his hand through his hair as the tears continued to fall and her laughing had her doubling over.
“What on earth would possess you to even tell your parents about me?” She shook her head as she started walking around her yard picking her gardening tools up to put them away. “I mean we have been dating for less than five minutes and you run off and tell your parents you have a girlfriend.”
“Yes, I told them about you. I love you.”
She stopped and looked at him.
“What did you just say?”
“I said I love you,” he stepped closer to her.
“You idiot,” she shoved him getting dirt on his light blue dress shirt. “How could you say that to me now?”
He only smiled at her.
“Your timing is impeccable. How long do I have before your parents arrive?” She asked as they heard a vehicle coming up her drive.
“I would guess five seconds,”
Chasity took a deep breath and attempted to dust off what dirt she could. Brynn was rich, he came from money. Chasity was a single mom who worked two jobs and could barely make ends meet. She was about to meet not only his parents, but his mother who was the senator. She was the senator, rich, classy, beautiful, and elegant. And Chasity was plain and ordinary.
Brynn had promised to keep their relationship low key. They were having fun. Now he says he loves her. Is he crazy? He couldn’t possibly love her. He had to be messing around. Two months, they had been dating for only two months.
A white Sedan SUV comes to a stop in her driveway.
“Oh my gosh, I am about to not only meet your parents, but the senator. And look at me?” She all but threw her hands up in frustration. “A warning would have been nice.”
“I’m sorry,” he grinned at her, “but once my mother gets an idea in her head there is no stopping her.”
A woman in her early 60’s stepped out of the backseat. Her hair was short, styled, and flawless. The woman removed her sunglasses to remove a very long and slender face, with disapproving blue eyes. Of course she disapproves, look at me.
“Hello mother,” Brynn stepped forward and kissed both of his mother’s cheeks.
“Hello Brynn,” she said quietly, disapproving eyes still on Chasity. “You must be my son’s newest fling,”
Chasitiy gasped audibly,
“Mother,” Brynn warned.
“I’m only looking out for your best interest,”
Brynn ignored her and greeted his father. “Mom, dad, this is Chasity, the woman who has stolen my heart,” Brynn announced proudly.
“I’m not sure I would go that far,” Brynn’s mother stated dryly.
“Chas, this is my lovely mother, Katherine and my father Richard.” He stated obviously ignoring them.
“Hello, it’s nice to meet both of you. I apologize for the way I look. I was working in my garden and I wasn’t expecting any company today, or I would be more presentable.” Stop rambling Chastity. “I would offer my hand, but as you can see all of me is covered in dirt.”
“Oh, it’s okay sweetie, don’t mind us. My wife has no patience at all,” Richard stepped forward and patted Chasity on the shoulder. “I am truly sorry to show up unannounced like this.”
“I’m not, I feel you get to learn a lot about a person that way.”
Chasity took a deep breath, “I would have to agree,” she smiled nervously at the senator.

“Raj? Are you hiding in here? Our guests are waiting to greet you.”

He broke away from her with a jerk and shoved his hands in his pockets as a genteel woman in an embroidered yellow sari rounded the corner. Claudia recognised the fine tilt of her chin. She’d seen Raj make the same gesture.

His mother spared Claudia a short glance, then turned her gaze expectantly on her son. Claudia bit her lip against a smile as Raj squared his shoulders and tried to get his breathing under control after that blazing kiss. His hair was mussed. The longer he hesitated, the more his mother’s eyes narrowed. Her second glance at Claudia was longer, with a brighter glint of suspicion.

“Yes, amma, I’m coming,” he muttered. Claudia cocked her head to catch his eye, enjoying his full-body blush. “We’re coming. Uh, this is Claudia, my… associate.”

Stopping by the local hardware store was not what Tom had in mind the day before Thanksgiving, but Ariel had asked him to get something to soften Richard up. Apparently, her stepfather could be a little overprotective. Wandering the aisles, not sure what to get this guy, he saw a man at a table with saw attachments. Since her stepfather worked with wood, he thought he might just strike up a conversation and get his advice.
“Hello there, can I ask you what probably seems like an awkward question?” he stuffed his hands in his pockets, nervous to be asking a stranger like this.
“Sure thing, I’ll see if I can help,” replied the man, a smile playing at his lips.
“Well, you see. It’s like this. Okay. I am about to meet my fiancee’s stepfather and he’s protective and all of that. So, she wanted me to pick up a little something for him, a gift. He makes toys, works with wood. I just thought when I saw you here, with the saws, maybe you could help a guy out. Especially if you remember what it was like when you first met “the dad.” Right? What do you say?” Even as he finished, he knew he had fumbled through his speech sounding like some sort of fool, but the man’s smile had grown, so maybe he would at least have pity on him.
Holding out his hand to shake, he then proceeded to tell him what blade would be the ideal gift, right before he added, “And that is how I would win me over, Tom. I’m so glad you came along, because I had just realized I left my wallet at home and I sure could use that blade without having to make another trip.”
Slapping him on the shoulder as they walked to the counter, he laughed a hearty laugh, then added, “I’ll pay you back later, son. Welcome to the family.”

Mark stopped the sedan three feet from the white garage door and put the car in park. He hear Bethany take a deep breath in and slowly let it out as he shut off the engine. Just by that action he knew she was nervous. “It’ll be fine. She’ll like you,” he said as he turned to take her cold hands in his and gave them a reassuring squeeze. “And when she gets to know you, my mother will love you, because I love you.” He knew his word sounded trite, but they were still true.

Aquamarine blue eyes warmed as Bethany looked back at him. She gave him a soft smile and Mark relaxed as some of the stiffness left her fingers. He released her hands to gather up bags of food from the back seat.

Bethany opened the car door. “I hope so. I’m not good with mothers, not even my own.”

“Come on, let’s get the worst over with and you’ll see.” He got out of the car and waited for her to join him.

She carried the ceramic covered dish which contained the creamy chocolate cheesecake, is favourite. Mark leaned in and brushed a lock of thick black hair off her flushed cheek and placed a kiss there instead. “Thank you for coming with me, I know you don’t like holiday gatherings.”

“It’s because I don’t know how to make small talk, I’m terrible at it.”

“It’s a skill that just takes practice.” Mark’s tone was cheerful.

The pair moved down the red brick sidewalk, toward the black lacquered front door.
He caught the twitch of the lace curtain from the window to the right of the entrance, and his smile broadened. Abruptly the door was flung open. “Mark!”

A sixty-plus, grey-haired woman dressed in a festive red pantsuit stepped out on to the mat, her arms open wide to receive a hug. Mark obliged and then stepped back to include Bethany.
His mother turned her attention onto his fiancée. Her navy-blue eyes iced over as her smile devolved into a curled lip as her gaze fell on the younger woman. Her tone stabbed. “You!”

Mark frowned as he glanced at Bethany.

“I see you made bail, Ms. Flete.”

“What?” Mark asked, feeling the day’s happiness unravel.

Mark’s mother pointed a boney finger at Bethany. “She arrested me.”

Ah, damn it all, it is too soon to bring mothers into this, Zav thought. He suppressed the urge to prevent the two women from meeting. He could hardly hustle his mother out of the house.
First, because it would be rude, and Charlotte could see the older woman standing there beside him. And second, his mother would never allow it.
“Hello,” Charlotte said. She sounded uncertain.
“Charlotte, this is Maria Boyko. She’s applied for Trudy’s old position,” Jess said, her eyes sparkling with mirth as she looked at Zav. He would need to come clean or the Jess would make him. “Charlotte Fistbinder is our head of security.” She handed the resume to Charlotte.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Maria said as she grasped Charlotte’s hand firmly and looked intently at her face.
“For me as well.” Charlotte smiled and her eyes touched first Jess then Zav for a cue.
Zav opened his mouth to explain when Charlotte, with a slightly puzzled expression, looked back at Maria. “Are you related to Zav?”
“Maria is my mother.” Zav admitted and hoped it didn’t sounds as stiff and awkward to Charlotte as it did to him.
“Seriously,” Charlotte said, drawing out the word, and added a wicked smile. “I thought I detected a similar accent.”
“Yes, yes, we are originally from Kiev in Ukraine. Zavie was ten when we immigrated to Canada. I suppose the accent was already imprinted into his speech. I never thought about it before.” Maria gave her son a considering look, and he knew she was thinking about more than accents.
Zav didn’t like her expression. He also didn’t feel like answering awkward questions. He signaled toward the front door with his eyes in a desperate attempt to get his mother moving. Hopefully, before she said something which could, or would, blow up the situation. And she was good at explosions, of all kind.

Mark’s father had shown little interest in anything or anyone since his daughter Leigh had died. There had been grief that had manifested in a swift retirement from his business, then a growing silence that had grown deeper and more uncomfortable with each passing year. His mother leaving had seemed to seal the old man’s fate.

Sophie Phillips, Mark thought, as he watched his father setting the table for their dinner, had changed that in a moment’s meeting, with her sweetness and that tentative kindness that he found so charming. It was on Leigh’s death anniversary weekend two weeks ago that Sophie had finally caught his father’s attention. They’d been headed towards the burial site, he and his father, and Mark slowed the car when he saw a thin sleek figure standing at the end of the winding trail that led deep into the cemetery, shifting uncomfortably in her usual too-high heels. She’d been clutching a bunch of wet violets in her hands, so hard they were nearly crushed; when he leaned out the window, called her name, she’d jumped. She’d looked absolutely mortified.

“These are for your sister,” she’d said quickly, pushing the flowers into his hands; “I’m sorry. I didn’t know where she was…buried. It was silly….I’m sorry, Mark. I’m sorry, sir,” she added to his father. She shook her head vigorously at an invitation to join them, told Mark she’d call later, apologized again and disappeared into the misty afternoon. His father stared at him. Until this point he’d never indicated he recognized Sophie from anywhere, although Mark had been dating her casually for weeks. “Did you invite her to meet us?”

“I didn’t know she was coming.”

Later after tracking her down at work he’d gotten the story out of her. With much stammering and blushing, she’d said she’d remembered the date and thought– well, it would be nice to visit her, sometime, and she’d had no idea they would come the day before and not the day of, and she was so, so sorry—

He’d told her to stop, kissed her hard. And now– well. His father was acting the way he had when before the Leigh had died, before his mother had left, when he was still himself. He’d insisted Mark invite her to dinner. They hadn’t guests in years. “That was kind of her, very kind,” his father mumbled from time to time, shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe it. “And she didn’t know Leigh at all.”

Emma waited in the semi dark examining room after George, the nurse, got out to bring the obstetrician. She was dressed with the paper light green hospital gown and her hands were sweating, she could help but be nervous. She heard the door of the room opening, and a attractive woman in her later fifties or early sixties with gorgeous blonde hair, came in. “Hi, I’m Doctor Hayes. But, please, call me Olivia.” She smiled at Emma, a calm reassuring smile, and Emma felt her nerves start easing. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but there you something in Olivia hazel eyes that were very friendly, almost familiar. She probably had met the obstetrician in some kind of Medical Event, she considered with a dismissive though, she sure had attended lots of them recently.
“Hi Olivia. I’m Emma.”
“Nice meeting you Emma.” Olivia said while she sat down on the chair in front of the ultrasound machine. “So tell me, what brings you here?”
“Well…” Emma started while the doctor began to prepare the machine for the ultrasonography. “You know, the usual I guess…” She tried to joke, but her chuckle got out forced. However if the doctor notice she didn’t let anything transpire on her polite smile. “This will be a little bit cold.” Olivia warned as she spread the cold lubricant gel over her belly, Emma shuddered. “Is this your first ultrasonography?” Emma nodded. “How many weeks are you?”
“78 days.” She answered with a small voice. “That’s a very precise answer.” Olivia said, while she passed the ultrasound cursor over Emma’s belly. “Was it planned?”
“No.” Emma whispered, and now she could feel herself on the edge of tears. “Oh, sweet.” Olivia said, and hold her hand. “Does he knows?”
“Not yet.” She said with a broken voice, she was very grateful for Olivia’s hand on hers. “We aren’t exactly dating and…” She started slowly. “And was just this one time, really… And we both work together. Actually, he works for me, but that’s not really the point…” Now that she had started she couldn’t bring herself to stop. It was relieving to finally talk about this, after these stressful 2 months, even if were to her poor sympathetic doctor. “And I’m pretty sure that being both surgeons and having a 100 hours work week schedule, doesn’t help either… Oh, God! We are rivals, and I’m not even sure he doesn’t hate me…”
“Are you a doctor?” Olivia tried to hide, but she still sounded a bit shocked, maybe by the avalanche of information Emma had just blurted out. “I don’t remember seeing you before.”
“Yeah, I’m a pediatric neurosurgeon. I just recently moved here, I was asked by a colleague to fill in the chief position of the Pediatric Neurological Team. I thought would be a good thing, but the other guy who also wanted the position sure think otherwise. Oliver Hayes-Henderson can’t help but make my life hell. And if this wasn’t enough, I even slept with him, and, of course, of all things, now I find myself pregnant…”
The words dying in her mouth, Emma raised her head to the gasping sound that had left Olivia. She was pale, and her face had freeze in a apoplectic grimace, the obstetrician started to faint. Frightened, Emma jumped from the examination bed and tried to grab the doctor before she reached the ground.
“HELP!” She started to scream. “SOMEBODY, PLEASE, HELP!” The nurse guy from before, George, rushed in less than a second, not seeming a bit disturbed by the scene he found inside, and what scene must had been. A pregnant woman dressed in a paper hospital gown, with her butt out trying to hold her doctor, who appeared to be having a stroke or a heart attack or both. Very calm, George took Olivia from Emma’s shaking hands and started to talk to her in a very soothing voice.
“Breathe, doctor, breathe…” Feeling almost out of her body, Emma tried to remember what might have caused such an episode, she was talking about the guy who got her pregnant and then… Then something snapped inside of her. ‘Oh, God!’ What was the name that the obstetrician had really given her? Olivia Hayes? Was she divorced? This kind of thing really happened? Emma looked to Doctor Hayes in horror. ‘Oh, God!’, she thought, while the consequences of what just had happened started to down on her. ‘OH, GOD!’
“George!” She heard Doctor Hayes state in a breathless, but very, very much indeed, delighted tone. “I’m gonna be a grandmother!”

OMG!!! I’m screaming!!!
Thank you very much for this!! I’m so happy!!
I never won anything, if we don’t count the gifth grade Christmas Writing Contest (I won a Monopoly Game! And I still have it… hahah)
But being serious know, I can’t even describe hou much pleased I am with my 2nd place, being picked between so many awesome reads is amazing and certainly a indicator that I’m on the right path! It’s sure gonna help me to build up the confidence to continue writing!
Thank you!! <3

Hi, Joice, that’s so wonderful to hear! It’s never easy picking through the incredible submissions we receive, but we really do read every one. Please keep writing, and we’re excited to see what you might have for our next challenge!

“You’re who?”

Amanda blinked open-mouthed at the woman standing on the other side of her apartment door. Dressed in her Sunday best, the diminutive woman beamed at her in the proud and possessive way of every Mother of the Church Amanda had ever met.

“I’m Henry’s mother. Name’s Sevilla,” the woman declared. She strode into Amanda’s tiny studio apartment, bringing the scents of Ivory Soap, Evening in Paris perfume and Johnson’s Baby Powder with her. She turned then perused Amanda with a thoughtful gaze. “You’re a skinny little thing, but so was I when I was newly wed.”

She stepped forward, arms open wide. “Come on and give me the hug I’ve been waiting five long months for.”

Amanda stiffened in Sevilla’s bear hug, smothered by those scents from her youth. Her arms pinned at her sides by Sevilla’s embrace, she couldn’t escape the memories of other hugs full of those scents bestowed by her mother, her grandmother, her Sunday school mentors. Hugs of congratulation or comfort that neither congratulated nor comforted, but controlled and constricted.

Maria entered the jungle she had loved since her childhood. Thanksgiving was not celebrated here in her native Ecuadorian town of Misahuallí. But this year was a year of a big exception. The first year she spent with James. With an American doctor envied by all her friends. Maria was determined to hold the best Thanksgiving dinner he’d ever had. Pumpkin pie included. And no one had better pumpkins than the Indians who lived nearby.
The green gloom deepened. Maria felt happy. Working with James at the medical center was her dream come true. Yet she was delighted every time she could tun into nature. She was also looking forward to Irami. An Indian who always kept the best fruits and vegetables for her.
In the village, however, Maria looked around in surprise. No one welcomed her. Something was wrong. Irritated voices could be heard from Irami’s hut. Curiously, Maria peered into the shed and shouted softly: “Oh! James!” That wavy blond hair couldn’t belong to anyone else.
They all turned in surprise. Maria suddenly looked into the face of a thirty-years-older copy of her James. She had no doubt who she was looking at. James’ father. The one who hadn’ t talked to his son for a year because he didn’t agree with his departure for Ecuador. Nor did he agree with his relationship with Maria. Now he was sitting here with a wounded leg and an embarrassed expression.
Maria was looking at him now with tears of emotion in her eyes. She had no doubt, he also knew who was standing in front of him. She walked up to him, and he whispered: “So sorry for the way I behaved.” Maria gently stroked his hand. Everything was forgiven. Before them was Thanksgiving and Maria knew that now she had the most beautiful surprise for James.

Emaline took a deep breath. “We’re just friends,” she whispered to herself as she pressed the doorbell on the white, wooden door frame. Her heart raced in anticipation of meeting the handsome soldier she’d been communicating with for the past two years. Months of time and a hundred or so phone calls had led to this moment here. She rocked back onto her heels then bounced on her toes as she waited impatiently. But the second Emaline turned her head to look back toward the drive was the exact moment the heavy navy door swung open. She felt a smile stretch across her face even before she saw him. And then, just as quickly, she deflated, a puzzled look replacing the broad grin. “Oh, hello, you must be Emaline,” cheered a graying blonde who appeared to be in her mid fifties as she pushed open the screen door.

“Yes, ma’am.” Emaline stepped into the house only to be greeted by another stranger who obviously wasn’t Chase. This man held a close resemblance to Chase but looked to be at least twenty years older. Emaline’s eyes widened as she realized who these people were.

“Chase, you’re pretty teacher friend is here,” his dad called back up the stairs he had just come down. “It’s so nice to finally meet you,” the tall, solid man took her hand into his in a friendly handshake. “I’m Chad, Chase’s father. And this is Lorie, my better half,” he winked at the blonde.

“We truly are quite thrilled to meet the woman that finally brought our Chase home from the military,” the slightly heavy-set Lorie added.

“Oh, I didn’t…,” Emaline began but the elder woman was already pulling her into a bear hug.

“Mom, let Emaline go before you scare her away,” she finally heard the familiar voice of Chase as he hurriedly padded down the stairs. Emaline’s smile returned as the woman released her, allowing her to turn toward the sound. There he is, her heart told her. Here, standing before her was the muscled soldier with the blonde military haircut which she’d only ever seen in pictures. Her heart picked up its rapid pace again as she realized he was even more handsome in person.

“Oh, yes, of course,” the merry woman clasped her hands together. “We’ll just leave you two alone to get better acquainted.” And the look exchanged between the man and wife as they made their quick exit nearly made Emaline’s jaw drop. What did they think was about to happen here in the foyer? But any anger she might have felt toward Chase for having to endure the odd encounter without warning melted away as she turned back toward him.

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