Writing Challenge: Welcome to our town!

 

by Deirdre McCluskey, Administrative Coordinator, Harlequin Series

 

 

One of the most appealing settings for Harlequin romance readers is the small town. Whether it’s a western ranching community, a New England hamlet or a coastal resort town, there’s plenty of opportunity for evocative descriptions and quirky characters. And showing your hero and heroine within the context of family and community helps illustrate where they came from, what’s important to them, and why.

A favourite location of mine from television is Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow. The series creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino created a cast of likeable secondary characters who conformed to “type” (crusty diner owner, bombastic mayor, flamboyant dance instructor) while still feeling fresh and original. Whenever I go to Stars Hollow, I never want to leave!

Your challenge this week? Write a short 3-5 paragraph scene of your heroine returning to her small town, introducing us to the town and one (or two) secondary character(s). Can you put your own fresh twist on the small town? Maybe your heroine’s the sheriff, the salon owner’s a former Hollywood stylist, and the ranch hand grew up as a horse-crazy ballet dancer who didn’t have the body for a professional dance career.

For tips on secondary characters, see our posts Romance 101: Secondary Characters and Special Edition Authors Confess: Balancing Secondary Characters with the Main Couple.

Ready? Post your scene in the comments below any time between now and Sunday, June 3, 2018, and we’ll check back with you on Monday!

62 replies on “Writing Challenge: Welcome to our town!”

Love writing these challenges! Always gets me in the right creative mood.

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They clambered out of the rental car, the odd trio in the small town Nic once called home. Not shockingly, nothing had changed in the rundown storefronts of Solmont, New Hampshire. Well, almost nothing. Nic spied the new ‘For Sale’ sign outside the bakery, considered the opening sign was flipped to closed in the middle of the day, and noted the notice fluttering in the clammy, late spring breeze.

She crossed the pothole-riddled road, aware of the two shadows stalking after her. Under the shade of the white-and-purple striped awning, Nic gently peeled off the note, her eyes running over the familiar, loopy cursive staring back at her. It was signed with her estranged grandmother’s full name.

“Why are we here?” The whine came at Nic’s left. Sixteen-year-old Morgan wrinkled her nose, her disgusted look sweeping over the businesses lining the main thoroughfare. She ran an agitated hand through her choppy black hair. “When I said ‘take me anywhere,’ I didn’t mean the nearest ghost town. And before you get weird ideas, I’m not staying in Tumbleweed Town.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Ms. Teen Runaway,” Joel quipped from Nic’s right. He awarded her his winsome, slightly crooked smile—the same smile that charmed Nic into helping him escape the media hounding him after another disastrous scandal. Nothing like a disgraced, handsome actor’s great fall from his high perch to get the paparazzo-sharks circling for blood.

For his effort, and what had to be the first time, Joel got a different reaction from a human female: Morgan flipped him an inappropriate gesture, turned on the heels of her scuffed Doc Martens, and stalked back to the rental sedan. She slammed the car door shut.

Wide-eyed, Joel plucked his dimpled jaw off the floor and blurted, “What did I say?”

Nic hid her smile, shaking her head at his clueless behavior…and at her bewilderment. The last thing she’d ever anticipated was returning to this town, jobless and floundering for new purpose. She certainly hadn’t dreamed she’d have this homecoming with the famous heartthrob Joel Bell and a hitchhiking, runaway teenager.

Interesting. Maybe he could bring the teen back to her mother starting a romance with concern for the teen. Nice set up also!

I really enjoyed the cast of your story. You included three very different people, so I would be curious to see how they would interact with each other and the setting following this scene.

Sara Jane pulled her car to a stop. “This is it. Darling. Population, 2500.” She looked in the rear view mirror. It was hard to say who looked sulkier: the twelve year old or the chug sitting beside him. Cody hated both her and the dog, the dog loved Cody and hated her, and she hated her life right now.
She’d shaken the dust of Darling off her feet so hard she’d left skid marks. No one had been sorry to see her go. Half of the town hated Sara Jane for personal reasons, and the other half hated her based on what the first half told them. And the reasons were valid, she’d have to admit.
Ahead of her was city hall. There was a picture of the mayor: Harper, who’d been in the same class with Sara Jane. Harper had gone on a dating show, and been publicly humiliated, but had found her feet in Darling as mayor with a seriously hot husband who had his own renovation show. Harper’s best friend Gemma owned the only place Sara Jane could get her roots touched up. Sara Jane had been so miserable to Gemma in school that she seriously expected Gemma would fry her hair if she ever sat in a salon chair in front of her.
And right behind her was the lawyer’s office, where she needed to pick up the keys to the house she’d inherited from her grandfather. The lawyer, of course, had also been in her class. He was the guy she’d broken up with after calling him a loser in front of everyone just before she left town.
Yeah, it was great to be back in Darling.

You’ve created a strong set-up for intricate, complex relationships here between Sara Jane and her former classmates, as well as with Cody (and whatever relation he has to Sara).

Now I’m getting the vibe Sara used to be a mean girl…am I wrong? Only because she was miserable to Gemma.

Either way, wonderful work here, Anne. You have to write this story now, of course. I have to read more about what happens to Darling…especially when Sara Jane’s memories of it are hardly darling. 😀 Aptly named town, btw.

While I really enjoyed your whole post, I especially enjoyed your second paragraph. I loved the way you described Sara Jane’s efforts to erase Darling from her past. You evoked some really interesting images.

After her quick stop in the office, Kayla hopped into her hybrid hatchback and drove the two hours to her hometown of Smooth Lake, Ontario in the Kawarthas.

As she turned the last corner onto the gravel road that lead to Smooth Lake Inn, all the thoughts about work that had been clouding her brain as she eased through the Toronto traffic faded away. Instead her heart fluttered with excitement at the thought of seeing her parents and nieces again. Sure, she wished the circumstances were different, but at least they could catch up in a way they hadn’t had an opportunity to do since before Rachel died. It was completely her fault, she knew, but as the road winded toward her destination and sunlight shone down at her through the thick forest of maple, oak and pine trees, that fact didn’t matter. All that mattered was they were going to be together for two whole weeks, and she felt happier than she had in a long time.

The gravel crunched under her tires as she pulled into the parking lot. She couldn’t help but let out a sigh as the lake came into view. The sunlight on the water shimmered like strobe lights almost too perfect to be real. A neat row of orange Adirondack chairs lined the grass along the water’s edge—a perfect place for parents to relax and watch their kids swim. Right now, there was only one couple sitting in the chairs watching a pair of boys bounce on the bright yellow inflated water trampoline as it floated on the calm water. With each bounce they soared higher and higher. Finally, they catapulted off into the water with two nearly simultaneous splashes. The mother and father clapped and shouted out scores for their jumps, both perfect tens of course, and the boys cheered.

So this is what life is like for people who don’t spend all their time working.

I have to say this: Toronto traffic is a headache! All the reasons I’m a paper driver.

Which is why this worked for me. You paint a relaxing scenery here, Marcy!

And I loved your closing line: “So this is what life is like for people who don’t spend all their time working.” Lol. xD Ah, what I wouldn’t give to be sitting on Smooth Lake right now. Especially with summer heat creeping in. Not that I’m complaining. 🙂

Wow! I felt like I’d just picked this up off a shelf at the bookstore and I wanted to keep reading. Love your short glimpse into Smooth Lake, and love your voice even more.

After reading your submission, I really want to visit Smooth Lake! You did a fantastic job of creating a setting that readers could picture.

When Jane locked the café doors at two o’clock, she did so with deep satisfaction. Her first day went better than she ever imagined it would.
It was true she’d experienced a couple of hiccups. Among them, the ancient coffee machine hadn’t ground the beans fine enough in Jane’s opinion and several customers requesting espresso, which she couldn’t supply. Two things Jane needed to resolve.
One, to read the manual again for grinding the coffee beans and two, follow up on the delivery of her espresso machine from her supplier in Victoria.
Even so, those issues could not dampen her mood. She’d greeted a few old acquaintances and met tons of lovely new people. She’d also given her sister a new challenge. Best of all, there was actual money to deposit into her bank account. She could now pay some bills.
Jane hiked her purse strap higher onto her shoulder as she turned and came face-to-face with her neighbour, Arlington Birch.
“You quitin’ already?” The elderly man said the words like an accusation. His wrinkled, seamed face scowled at her. Jane edged back from the tall, spare man. Several days’ growth of grey and white whiskers coated the lower half his face and neck. Above his watery blue eyes, bushy eyebrows drew together in a frown. His navy coat and trousers hung slack on his lean frame and it looked like a good wind might knock him down, except there was steel in the old man’s spine.
There were hints of Jack in his father’s face. The son was taller though, and Jack’s hazel eyes came from his mother. Jane wondered where the man she’d had a teenage crush on was right now. Over the past weeks, she’d half hoped to see him around the village.
“Yes, sorry Mr. Birch. I close around one-thirty, after the ferry leaves. There’s no point in staying open. The next trip on the schedule is at four-thirty, with the commuters travelling home.” Hardly anyone stopped at the café at that time of the day when Aunt Ethel ran it. People just wanted to go home after work.
“Keeping Ethel’s hours?” His eyes examined Jane as though he was looking for flaws.
“Yes, that’s the idea.” She thought about letting him in and was about to offer to serve him when he gave her a sharp nod.
“Makes sense,” he said, looking down at his feet for a moment.
Was he disappointed?
“Long day otherwise,” Mr. Birch said in a clipped tone as he looked back up at Jane and his frown eased slightly.
He turned his glare on to the tulips, grass, and weeds in the flower boxes and planter. Jane waited for him to say something about the tangle of plants on the street side of the building. She really needed to get going on the landscaping.
“That’s true,” Jane said, waiting for the old man to leave.
“I’ll stop by tomorrow, earlier.” He turned on his heel and walked briskly back up the hill.
“See you then,” Jane called after him.

You introduced us to some really interesting characters! I could certainly picture this conversation taking place in Stars Hollow, so you did a great job of responding to the challenge.

Two weeks later, Lexi had the day off. She’d just dropped Jade at nursery and had several hours to kill before she collected her again. It was a glorious autumn day, the kind that made you want to kick up piles of leaves and search for conkers. She decided to stay outside in the warmth as she felt an unusual reluctance to return to an empty cottage.
She had no money to buy anything and window-shopping had never appealed to her; she had never seen the point of gawping at things she could never afford.
There was a crowd of people at the bus-stop waiting for the bus she should catch to get home but, on a whim, she kept walking and turned left away from the main road and towards Manor Park.
As soon as she walked through the open gates and made her way across the grass to the children’s playground, she felt the peace and quiet sinking into her bones and she lifted her face up to the gentle warmth of the autumn sunshine.
It was a different place to the one she and Jess took the kids to on the weekend. Then, it was full of the sound of children’s laughter, the tinny tune of an ice-cream van and the shouts and cheers of a football match in progress.
Now, on an ordinary weekday it was almost deserted except for elderly pensioners ambling along the path, alone or in couples, many accompanied by ancient dogs who staggered after them, their tongues hanging out of the side of their mouths.
There were young mothers pushing their babies in buggies. Lexi remembered taking Jade for walks when she was very young, before life on benefits had forced her to go back to work. She missed those days when it was just her and her daughter, spending time together and bonding. Much as she loved nursing, no job she has ever done or ever could do, compared to being a mum to that little girl.
She reached the swings and, after glancing around to see if anyone was watching her, she sat down and started to swing. She pushed her legs out as far as they would go on the forward swing and then tucked them underneath on the backward. Soon the swing was moving fast, and she grinned at the feeling of being a kid again.
The rhythmic motion of the swing, lulled her and her thoughts drifted. They drifted, as they usually did when she let her mind wander, to Dr Casey O’Connor. Lexi had waited for him to talk about his feelings, ask her about hers, but he had been stubbornly silent. Their night of passion hadn’t been mentioned. In fact, it seemed to be business as usual as far as Casey was concerned and Lexi was confused.
She didn’t know how he felt about her and wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about him. There was a strong sexual attraction, that couldn’t be denied. But was that it? She was growing used to having him around and Jade adored him. They needed to talk, to discuss how they both felt about the other, and to lay down some ground rules. But somehow, that never happened.
Leaning back as far as she could without falling off, she looked up at the tops of the trees that stood sentry along the edge of the path. Ancient deciduous trees that would have been there for centuries. The leaves were a mass of different colours that shimmered in the sunshine, like multicoloured glitter. Yellow, red, gold, russet, green and some that looked so dark they were almost purple. Lexi stared in fascination as if she had never seen autumn leaves before. The leaves were falling gently to the ground and she focused in on one and watched its journey from tree to grass. It spiraled gracefully and settled on top of some that had already fallen.
Leaping off the swing, she strolled over and started picking up the prettiest leaves to take home to Jade. Maybe they could make a collage together. She quite enjoyed crafts and perhaps it was time to introduce her daughter to the joy of making stuff. It didn’t have to be any good; it was the joy and satisfaction of creativity that was important.
When she’d collected enough leaves, she had the bright idea that she would make a cake for them all to enjoy after their tea. It would be an angel cake, Jade’s favourite, and they could ice it together and cover it with hundreds and thousands. Jade would love that. The thought made her feel happy and she realized how much she had to be grateful for.
She also realized how much she had enjoyed her solitude and the opportunity it had given her to think. She’d come to a decision. She and Casey needed to talk honestly about their feelings for each other.

One of my favorite things about your post was the way you used and described time. You showed the way that the playground changed over the course of a week, but you also explored how its meaning changed from when the main character was a child. Great job!

I write m/m so my heroines are boys! Welcome back to Selli’s Falls, Vermont, Puck!

* * *

Selli’s Falls was, by and large, a collection of rugged individuals determined to grab life with their own two hands and make their own way. It claimed a handful of small coops, several family owned farms, a husband and wife run brewery, maple syrup mill and a single small restaurant. The small three office building that passed as the town hall was nominally the center of town, but Theodore’s General Store was where the true pulse of the Falls could be felt. It stocked a few emergency groceries like pouches of tuna, cans of spaghetti Os and hearty stew, although most locals dropped by for creemees, pop and conversation. Knives, ammunition, beer and bait were common purchases as well. There was even a small display with locally made maple candy and jewelry as well as a refrigerator unit with local beer, cheese, butter and milk.

Three days after Aribi’s visit, Puck maneuvered his Chevy into the graveled lot outside Theodore’s and hopped out. He started for the door, but paused midway to look up as the whispering of ravens drifted downwards on the wind. A single large raven circled lazily on the currents above Main Street.

“He’s really something, ain’t he?” William called out. Theodore’s hadn’t had an actual Theodore running it in three generations. It was currently owned and run by William Reardon, a solid brick of a man who was rumored to have wrestled a bear over his last can of beer during a three week storm that had cut the Falls off from the rest of the state. Puck wasn’t certain if he believed it had happened, but he certainly believed it could have. “Been up there all day, just lazing around.”

“He’s a beauty,” Puck agreed. There was the ominous sound of wolves on the wind, faint but distinct, and he took comfort from the sight of the drifting corby above. He carefully avoided thinking about just why ravens had taken on a comforting role within the past few days.

“Gran would’ve called it a bad omen and shut up shop,” William shook his head, leaving it uncertain if he disapproved of Gran’s sentiments or the fact that he was still open. “It’s been a while. How’s Martha?”

“She’s fine,” Puck replied. “Complaining about the weather and her hip. Telling me I spend too much time taking care of an old woman. You know how it is.”

“Yeah, I sure do,” William agreed. “Gran was the same.”

You did a great job of building a believable town in your post. I especially loved how you said that the general store was the heart of the down. It was a detail that helped make the town feel real.

This is my first attempt at romantic fiction. Please let me know what you think.

Jeanne Wilkins climbed out of her red hatchback and took a deep breath. “It’s nice to breathe the clean air of home,” she said to no one in particular. She imagined the town of Willobrook, with a population of just over 1,500 people on Colorado’s eastern plains, hadn’t changed much at all since she moved to Denver to become an elementary school teacher.

Feeling hungry, she entered the Willowbrook Café hearing the familiar ding-a-ling of the bell letting everyone inside know the door was opened. “Jeanne! It’s good to see you!” exclaimed the woman sitting at the counter wearing the sheriff’s deputy uniform. “Hello, Michelle,” Jeanne answered as she walked over to give Michelle Baker, her best friend while growing up, a hug. “I’m sorry about your mother,” Michelle continued, her tone changing to mournful. “Thank you. Will you be there for the funeral?” “I’ll be working it, escorting you from the church to the cemetery.”

“Hello Jeanne, welcome home.” Dolores Jones said from behind the counter. “What can I get you?” “Do you remember what my usual is?” Jeanne asked with a smile. “French toast with sausage and a large orange juice coming right up.” The fact that Dolores still remembered her favorite breakfast warmed Jeanne’s heart. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother,” Dolores added. “Thank you,” Jeanne said, unsuccessfully trying to prevent a tear from forming in her eye.

“How long are you going to be in town?” Michelle asked as she took a bite of her Denver omelet. “Probably not more than two weeks. Just long enough to put mon’s affairs in order, pack up the house and put it on the market. Does Frank Joy still run the real estate office on Vine Street?” “He retired about a year ago. His son Peter runs it now.” Dolores said as she put the orange juice and syrup containers in front of Jeanne on the counter. “Well, I guess I’ll have to give Peter a call, then. Do you have the phone number?” “Yup.” Dolores said, pointing to the advertisement on the placemat. “I’ll get you a clean one.” “Thank you. I look forward to working with him.”

If this is your very first attempt at romantic fiction then I think you are to be commended. You’ve set up the story well.

Setting, characters and situation are all established without too much exposition in this short scene – well done! For a stretch goal, think about how to make your scene stand out from the crowd with unusual details or a surprising premise. Thanks for taking part in our challenge!

This is my first attempt at these things! So here’s my shot!
***
Everything felt too much the same. The sound of the snow under her feet, the needless and obviously fake smile of Ms. Liz, who owned the town bakery, and lastly the terse nod of recognition from Quinn—the one who got away or rather the one she ran screaming from—as he passed. Oh, to be home again. Scarlet wasn’t ready for it, part of her wanted to lock herself back up in her car and high tail it back to New York City. She could have handled the snow, she was even certain she could wrangle Ms. Liz and her gossip, but not Quinn. Guilt nipped at her as much as the biting wind did and she was certain that as all eyes were on her as she trudged her way toward her family’s deli.
How many years had it been? Six? Seven? Eight? Entirely too many by any calculation. The vivid memory of running out into the chilly November rain, played out in her mind and she could practically see herself catching one bus that rolled through the center of town all those years ago—and the look on her father’s face when he realized he couldn’t catch up with the bus. Shaking the thought from her head she continued back toward the small corner shop with BARNARDS written in wooden letters painted gold.
There wasn’t a doubt in her mind before she pushed through the door that everyone already knew she’d returned. Passing Ms. Liz aside, there was the simple fact that she walked right through the heart of town where most were still decorating for the Winter Wonder festival—like they did every year. Faerie lights were strung through the square and decorated the gazebo that had white cut out snowflakes hanging from it. She remembered cutting them out when her mom volunteered for it the year before her grand escape. Through the large glass window of the deli she caught a glimpse of her mother working behind the counter, her brother waiting tables and Quinn seated at the same table he used to sit at during high school as she approached with slow measured steps. She almost didn’t want to open the door, doubly so when her father came out of the back, grayer than she remembered or even imagined. Could she really just walk in after all this time? She chewed on her bottom lip and gathered all the courage she could muster, just as she was reaching for the door someone tore around the corner and pushed her out of the way.
“Out of my way! Scarlet’s back and Maggie’s only going to want to hear it from m—” It wasn’t until the near end of his rambled diatribe that recognition made Sal’s eyes go wide. Scarlet blushed and nodded a little.
“Yup, that’s me I’m back.” She smiled tensely, and Sal sighed running his hand back through his messy salt and pepper waves. For years he edited the Whisper Hill Gazette, supposedly he always had his fingers on the pulse of the town. The reality was he was just as nosey as Ms. Liz. Scarlet held the door open for him and walked in after. Everything grew deadly silent as each patron stopped eating and talking as all eyes turned on her. Her father was in the middle of wiping off the counter, he paused what he was doing. “Hi Da—” before she could finish he left into the back. The silence continued but tears blurred Scarlet’s vision as tears filled her eyes. In the quiet someone touched her shoulder and she wiped the tears away to find her standing inches away from Quinn. His blue eyes were sad now, they were once mischievous but the weight of every struggle he went through without her was still there. She knew what those lips used to taste like before the thick stubble really set in and that mouth which used to always smile turned with a frown. She did that to him. She made him look gruff and tired it was all because of her. Someone in the back grumbled about how she should be ashamed of herself and slowly but surely every nasty thing she’d envisioned the people that used to be her neighbors saying spilled out as Quinn stood there like her bulwark against it all, keeping her stable. She went her lips and after a few slowly breaths found her voice. “How’s our son?”

I love this! So much tension and emotion. You really painted a great word picture of the town and the people who live there. I wanted to read on.

Aria, the emotion of this scene comes to life most effectively when you describe the actions of your characters – Scarlet’s father turning his back on her, the cruel comment of a patron in the shop. Nice description as well – good job!

Lauren couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that someone was watching her. Intently. It may be natural to feel a little eerie when one was standing in an old cemetery at dusk. But this was more than that.
No more Walking Dead binges for her on the nights she couldn’t sleep after Wyatt went to bed. She fingered her shawl. Now that the temperature had dropped, the period custom wasn’t so bad. A slight smile curved her lips at the sight of lanterns bobbing about the cemetery in the falling dusk. Neither, she wryly admitted, was participating in St. Benedict’s annual Spirit Walk, at her grandma’s encouragement. Her lips quirked further. Make that insistence. Encouragement was too subdued a word to describe Grandma’s persuasive tactics.
Smoothing her expression into character as a middle-age couple approached with expectant faces, Lauren launched into her saga of having died in the cholera outbreak that devastated the riverside community in the mid 1800s. Her patter had been getting better as the evening wore on. Practice made perfect and all that. Maybe it was the beautiful late October evening and the ambiance of the hilly cemetery. Or maybe she was readjusting to living in a small town. Who said you couldn’t go home again?
Actually, her chest would have swelled with hometown pride if there’d been room inside the corset. After all, how many could boast that they were from the first European settlement west of the Mississippi – established in 1735, thank you very much – and that they had represented a spirit buried in the oldest cemetery in Missouri?
As the couple applauded her performance, the woman regarded her quizzically. “I feel like I should know you? We’re the Aubuchons, but the way.”
Lauren smiled. Small-townness in action. The couple looked familiar to her as well. Theirs was a common surname in the area. “You probably do. Or at least my grandma. Evelyn Thebeau?”
“Oh yes! She was great tonight as a wife of the one of early settlers that lived on Main Street.”
“That sounds like Grandma.”
“That makes you… Rob’s daughter?”
Lauren was familiar with the drill. It had played out with slight variations a number of times over the past month whenever she went into town. “Yes. Lauren, his youngest.”
The woman smiled at having sorted out the relationship puzzle. Moments later her face clouded with dismay. “Oh, that means… I’m so sorry to hear about Jeremy.”
This part had played out numerous times as well. Even after eight months, Lauren’s stomach hollowed with grief. She swallowed and widened her eyes to ward off traitorous tears. “Thank you.”
Her husband unintentionally resurrected more pain. “Oh. You married Jeremy Campbell.” His face also softened into sympathetic lines. “He was a great guy. One of the best young men to come out of our community.” Mr. Aubuchon shook his head. “I remember when he was quarterbacking the Raiders. What a team they had those years. He and Mason Bishop were the dynamic duo. They were unstoppable.”

Crazy how hard it was to force a smile against the weight of grief and cynicism. The man meant well, but he was wrong. Mason wasn’t a duo with anyone. Lauren had thought so once. But she’d been wrong.

Jocelyn, I loved your unique setting, touches of humor, and how naturally you’ve introduced details about the town and the heroine through dialogue and brief description. Very nice!

It was as hot as the fourth of July. Because it was the fourth of July. The sun beat down on everyone who attempted to relax at Holly Beach. Everyone in the small town was there today. Cook outs were sending the scent of food in the air causing the sea gulls to go a little extra crazy that afternoon. Kids screaming “Macro Polo” in the waters. Teens were playing volley ball by the net. Everyone was trying to hold out and wait until it was time for fireworks later that night because you could see them from the beach. Reena was in town for the holiday. Here she agreed to help with her sister’s niece. Baby-sitting. No matter how grown Reena was she always got stuck baby-sitting for someone in her family. Another reason not to come home much. Reena sat on her beach towel pouring over work emails from her iPhone.
“Aunt Reena, can I have another dollar for an popsicle? And one for my friend Steven?” begs her little eleven-year-old niece Katrina. Kat stood over her dripping icy water on her aunt.
“Here get lost” Reena says as she lifts her shades up on her head and thrusts cash at the kids. There was something oddly familiar about Kat’s little friend. She could not place her finger on it.
“Thanks aunt Reena” Kat answers as she rushes off with the boy.
Reena goes back to her emails. It maybe a holiday. But she could catch up on her work load. Suddenly a shadow gets in her light. Causing her not to be able to read her emails on her phone. She looks up to see her old high school flame standing there. He still looked the same. Tall, dark, and handsome. She blinks surprised to see him. “Trigger?” she gasps.
“Hey, have you saw my son travel through here? I have to drop him off at his mother’s soon. He was with a little girl who was here a moment ago” he informs her. He had kids? Divorced? She was not interested in someone with kids. Forget that.
“Over there” she says with a shrug as she points to where the kids took off to.

I love a second chance/reunion story, Dalaina! *happy sigh* It sets up all these possibilities, and I KNOW I’m going to get a satisfying HEA. And I kinda like it when kids are involved. The family-bonding scenes really get to me. ❤

The contrast of the sunny beach setting with your heroine’s dour mood was funny and surprising – although I was a bit concerned about the kids’ safety considering her lack of interest! Tip – it’s a good idea to proofread your work (or get a friend to do so) to watch for typos, tense changes and so on. A fun scene, and intriguing – thanks for writing!

Molly ripped the CONDEMED notice off the glass door of her father’s drugstore on Main Street. Now it was hers. The initials at the bottom of the notice—J.T.B., City Commissioner—could belong to only one person in this small town and if memory served her right, at about this time of day he would be taking a refresher break at the pool hall two doors down the street. So would half the town, but this ten-year-overdue confrontation was best out of the way as soon as possible.

She marched down the street and yanked open the door to Riley’s Pool Hall. The door slowly shut behind her and she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Sure enough, it looked like at least twenty people crowded around the three pool tables, most of the tables were filled with Sycamore Falls’ citizens and the counter seated several others. All eyes focused on her as she searched the large room for J.T. He was easy to spot because he wore the black western shirt she had given him just before he had dumped her in front of everyone at the annual Christmas party ten years before. Close beside him stood Britney Sawyers who had been the popular head cheerleader all through high school. She stared at Molly with wide eyes and open mouth, taking in Molly’s wrinkled clothes from the long drive back home and her red, sweaty face from the heat. Molly felt a little vindicated that Britney hadn’t left their home town and become anything more important than the local pool hall girl. Anyway, she hoped that was her occupation. Unlike Molly who had left and became a pharmacist like her father.

“Uh, oh, J.T.” Luke Westin, J.T.’s best friend, leaned over the pool table toward J.T. and spoke in a hushed tone, but his voice carried in the quiet room. “Looks like she’s seen your sign.”

All eyes were on her as Molly approached the pool table where J.T. and Luke played. She threw the notice down on the center of the table where it landed between three billiard balls. “What is this, Jared Theodore Bixby?”

J.T. looked away guiltily and wiped a hand across his mouth as he grimaced.

“Theodore?” Britney gasped, staring at J.T. “Your middle name is Theodore?”

“Molly Alberta Grant,” he enunciated each syllable loudly though her name wasn’t as embarrassing to her as his own was to him. “It’s exactly what it looks like.”

“How can it be condemned? Which, by the way, you misspelled.” He’d never been very good at spelling, one of the reasons she had proofread all his homework since first grade. “It’s been a business since before you were born and my father’s been dead only two weeks.”

“The place is filled with faulty wiring that has to be fixed or it will be torn down in one week. Your father received notice a year ago.”

“Tell you what, J.T.” Molly snatched a cue stick from the holder on the wall. “I’ll play you for it. You win, the place gets condemned. I win, you take down your notice.”

“You’re on.”

An hour later the whole town knew that Molly saved Grant’s Drugstore from condemnation and J.T. Bixby had finally met his match.

Another scene that effectively uses dialogue and action to introduce us to the town and the situation. Nice use of humor too – especially the “Condemed” sign! Thanks for taking part in this week’s challenge!

Nora tucked a stray wave of reddish-brown hair behind her ear and then adjusted the microphone and headset to sit more comfortably across the top of her head. She scrutinized the feedback from the instrument loop. Ramon patiently waited on the other end of the phone down in California.
“Hey Ramon.”
“Si, Dulce?”
“Check the flow meter. I don’t see any signal.”
“Which one?”
“The one for the tank outlet,” she replied, “maybe we’ve got a loose wire to the flow meter, or maybe a bad card.”
“Okay, un minuto.” She paced back and forth in her small bedroom. The Seattle drizzle tapped against the small single pane window. The old hardwood planks creaked under her feet as she anxiously waited for his response. She ran a hand through her hair as she pondered what other problems could be preventing the bottle machine from operating properly. Nope, it had to be the meter, it was showing no signal. Without it, the process would not work.
She glanced at her alarm clock by her bed, realizing she was running late for meeting up with her friend Val. She changed from her comfy sweat pants to a pair of soft blue jeans that accentuated her long slender legs. She decided the teal long sleeved t-shirt she already had on was good enough for tonight. They were just going to the pub down the street.
“Found it Mija!” Ramon shouted into the phone triumphantly.
Nora jumped, a little startled. Then she laughed at herself. “Well, what was it?” she asked eagerly.
“Loose wire from the meter back to the controller.”
She looked back at her screen. The flow meter now had no errors. “Great, try to start the bottling process again.”
She watched on her screen as he hit start. She heard the bottle machine in the distillery buzz to life over the phone. She felt a rush of satisfaction as she saw the process begin to count through on the screen.
“Mija, it’s working!” Ramon shouted.
“I can see that. Looks good on this end too. How’d the wire get loose? You’ve been bottling for few days.”
“Not sure, maybe just not made up well.” Ramon replied. “Thanks for your help, Dulce, you’re a smartie.”
“Not a problem Ramon. I will work on the controls for the masher next, now that my project at work is done.”
“When are you coming home?” Ramon asked.
The question hit her in the gut, she struggled for a vague reply. “I don’t know…I hadn’t made any plans to.”
Ramon hit stop on the bottle machine. The background suddenly got quiet and he no longer had to shout.
“Didn’t you get the message from Paul? They have settled your Tia’s will. He needs you to come down soon and take care of paperwork and go through stuff for the estate sale.”
She blinked away tears from her green eyes. They trickled down her pale cheeks. She wiped them away before responding, confused and sad at the same time. “No, I didn’t get his message.”
“He said he called you this morning and sent you an email.”
Oh boy, she thought to herself. I better check my messages.
“You’re actually the only person I have talked to today other than people from work. We just wrapped up our project last night and got it released this morning,” she said apologetically.
“Well make sure you call him tomorrow, Mija.”
“I will.” She sighed again then looked at the clock. “I need to get going Ramon. I’m supposed to meet a friend for dinner. It’s getting late for you too. You guys going to bottle all night?”
“You know how it is during bottle season. But your new program is boss. It goes so much faster now. We should be done by tomorrow.”
“Be sure to give me a call if you need anything.” Nora insisted.
“You too. Let us know when you are coming down. Lupe will come get you from the airport.”
“I will let you know. Buenos noches Ramon, give everyone my love.”
“Por supuesto, Buenos Noches, Mija.”

This dialogue felt natural and authentic, and I like how you’ve woven in a few details about the heroine’s situation. I wanted to know a bit more though! Perhaps a few explanatory words added, and feel free to take out dialogue that doesn’t further the action or reveal character. Well done!

Thanks! This is an excerpt from one of the first novels I wrote. It needs a lot of editing.

SECOND GLANCE

As soon as she parked the car, she felt like an idiot. Her long white Lexus beamed pretentiously among the late model SUVs and dusty, antiquated pickups. She hadn’t been back in six years, but nothing had changed. Quaint, for sure, with three-foot high curbs to channel the summer monsoons, studded with metal rings where a body could tie up a horse. Spiritual bookstores, second-hand clothes, and window displays of dreamcatchers and Navajo blankets. Nothing that would change her mind about the choices she’d made. June loved her apartment in San Francisco with its view of the Bay, and her job as a software engineer. She’d never move back to Cuprite after being jilted at the altar by someone who, it turned out, had impregnated her best friend.
She couldn’t get into her B&B for a few hours, and she had an appointment with her father’s attorney at one. So she headed for Calixtos, with its guaranteed comfort of chicken enchiladas and a honey-drenched sopapilla. On the sidewalk out front a converted black oil drum rotated with a load of roasting chilies. She missed those green chilies. The fragrance lured her towards the door like some kind of hypnotic agent.
As soon as she entered, Arnulfo rushed over in his white apron. He looked older, and more portly, but as happy as ever to see her. “Mi hija!” he cried, his grizzled curls escaping below his chef’s toque. “Where have you been!” Grinning, he kissed her cheeks and towed her into the kitchen to say hello to his wife, Marisol, and the family.
Marisol hugged her. “I’m so sorry to hear about your dad.” Tears glinted in her black, luminous eyes. “How long will you be here?” On a chair in one corner sat two little granddaughters, one pretending to read a book to the other.
“Three weeks.” June envied the children in their grandparents’ restaurant, surrounded by food and love. How could they be so tiny! With a jolt, she realized how much she missed children. She lived in an electronic world, full of technologically savvy adults on ketogenic diets.
When she went back through the swinging doors to find a table, she immediately caught the unmistakable profile of the last man she wanted to see. Goddam Stetson. His confident stance and the muscular jean-clad legs. He turned to her, instantly fixated, with his piercing blue eyes. “June,” he said. “June Mae Morrison.” And a phalanx of emotions passed through his eyes: Love, sadness, anger, and regrets. He looked older, more mature, with a few sun lines at the edge of his eyes. In a single fluid motion, he moved to give her a hug.
She jumped back and held up her hand, as though warding off a snake. “That’s close enough,” she said.
—–

Christine, your opening lines drew me in and I can really picture how the heroine is a fish out of water here. You’ve done a great job showing us the setting and situation with dialogue and small details, and nice job establishing tension between the H&H, too!

Melanie opened the door on memories that seemed like a long time ago. She looked at the dusty shelves and the remains of the bakery her aunt used to own. She remembered the joy she would have helping bake cookies in the enormous kitchen so early in the morning, and eating a few. The smell was wonderful, emanating from the massive mixer and blending with the morning smells of dew and sunshine, and chocolate and butter and vanilla. She remembered how proud she was of her aunt and helping in the store when she was eight. That was all gone now, or was it? She left Jordan’s Plaza to make a name for herself and build up her career, and she did, but at what expense? She had missed Jordan’s Plaza so badly. I mean where else can you get a 35 cent doughnut, walk over to the church and hear the choir belt out Hallelujah, pick up a used book, and go over to say hello to the puppies at the Vet’s all before 8:30 am. They opened early in Jordan’s Plaza, they didn’t have a lot of people, ‘bout 300 to be exact.

The bell on the door rang. It was her more than a friend Peter. He had a brightness that extended out into the atmosphere, comforting people like a warm elixir. He was hot, and painfully eligible. Why did I leave him? She thought to herself. When she left she knew she hurt him, badly. “Peter! I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Bit of a welcoming committee.” He had with him a loaf of fresh banana bread. “Nothing like a slice of banana bread to make you feel better.” The warm smell of bananas and spice wafted into the room, brightening it. Taking the stale bitter odour and replacing it with a deep rich essence of community.
“Do let me grab us some coffee,” she said without thinking. How was she going to make coffee?
“Too late,” he said pulling out cups of coffee from the bag he had been holding. The cups were in a container and well packed.
“So glad to see you again Peter,” Melanie said baring her soul.
“I’m glad you came back too.” Peter said holding her hand to his heart. Your aunt would be proud of you taking over Barbara’s Bakes. We’ve had to make do with our own baking since you left, and your wonderful aunt died.”
“Yes I remember how she loved your ranch. How the kids you help just took to her and we’re comforted by her presence and her light. They were starved for love and sometimes food. But she gave them both. Oh I miss her Peter.”
“Why don’t we go for a walk to our tree and see if it’s still there,” he said before gathering her up in his warm embrace and reminding her what she gave up. What she might get back now.
“Yes, I’m sorry I left. Just had big dreams, didn’t think Jordan’s Plaza was good enough for me. Now it’s the only place I wanna be.” He looked at her steely eyed.
“Because I’m here?” He said kissing the side of her hand, sending warm bolts of electric energy down her arm, delightfully.
“Yes,” she said as they walked out together embracing what might’ve been and would be.

Well done, Cheryl! I found myself wanting a few more details about the situation here, though — they seem to be getting along quite well despite that she left Peter behind. Is there any tension between them because of this? Overall, great details on your small-town setting; you’ve really established the sense of community here!

The air was colder than she expected. A crispness that belied the clear blue sky and lush greenery on the nature strip down the centre of the main street of Wirrawong. It had been eight years since Allie Fielding, Alberta to her Canadian born mother, Bertie to her Aussie dad, had visited the small town. In the intervening years she had lived in a lot of places, most of them larger than a rural village with a population of not much more than a thousand souls. It hadn’t changed much, with one main street comprising a handful of shops, one hotel and the small school and hospital invisible to passing traffic in a side street.
With a reassuring smile at her daughter, she grasped her hand and stepped onto the pavement.
“What do you think May? Should we stay?”
May looked around with her deep grey eyes, so familiar yet with an innocence her father’s eyes had never shown. Her eager gaze lingered on a dog sitting patiently outside the local pub, a tin bowl of water beside it’s front paws.
“It looks nice. Can we have a dog?”
“We’ll have to check with your grandad.”
An older woman with heavily styled blond hair who looked vaguely familiar and a younger one that looked like her daughter came briskly out of a gift store beyond the hotel. That was new. “Joyce’s Jamboree.” Allie could remember a couple of Joyce’s. Joyce McNamara must be in her seventies by now, still ruling over her family with a rod of iron, no doubt. It was likely to be Joyce Taylor in the shop. One of the Taylor boys had been in Allie’s class at school.
His older brother had been best mates with Matthew Graham. Allie looked down at her daughter, seeking again the resemblance. Apart from the grey eyes, she was her mother’s daughter. No-one in town was likely to make the connection between them. Least of all Gloria Graham, Matt’s mother, and a chip off Joyce McNamara’s matriarchal block.

You’ve established the heroine’s situation so smoothly here, Fiona! All the details about your setting and the community really draw the reader in. Well done!

As soon as she stepped off the stuffy Bonanza bus, Athena Rush filled her grateful lungs with the once familiar tang of Cape Cod air. Aaahhhh, there it was… the Atlantic Ocean, fried fish, and sweaty tourists. In other words, Heaven.
Suitcase rolling behind her, Thena headed up the brick sidewalk to Rock Point’s main street, where gift shops and restaurants vied for tourist attention. Boats, buoys, and gulls bobbed in the harbor across the street. Thena paused on the corner next to a cafe, which added a delicious whiff of coffee and cinnamon to her olfactory orgy. She closed her eyes and sighed with sheer pleasure.
“Athena? Is that you?” The creaky voice made her eyes fly open. And there was dear old Doc Tyler, family lawyer and substitute father when she was a teenager, holding a take-out cup of coffee and staring at her from behind his wire-rimmed spectacles.
Thena emitted a joyful squeak and threw her arms around the old man. “Doc! I just this minute got off the bus! I was heading straight to your office for our meeting.”
Doc’s bushy eyebrows flew up to meet his receding hairline. “My goodness, you’re so grown up I’m surprised I recognized you.” The brows plummeted into a solemn position as he added, “I suppose I should say I’m sorry for your loss, but…”
Thena cringed. “No need.”
“Well, she was your mother, my dear,” Doc said reprovingly. “Good or bad, she brought you into this world.” Noting the stony look on Thena’s face, he chuckled. “You were always her worst critic. And God knows she got plenty of bad reviews from the professionals. And yes, she deserved it all.”

Laura, I wish I was in Cape Cod right now! Nice job establishing this coastal setting with great details, and the engaging voice is also intriguing!

Jack pulled up to the hangar at Merrill Field. He was glad to see his brother Sam had the plane ready. He was running late and was not happy about it. It had taken longer to order the specialty welding machine and boat parts then he thought it would. Then the traffic across town have been slow for no apparent reason. He parked in the garage attached to the hangar and rushed into the office to grab his paperwork. He saw Sam leaning across the desk flirting heavily with a sexy, tall brunette. He thought about smacking him upside the head and reminding him he had a fiancée. He could not blame him though; the woman had an incredible hourglass body. The blue denim Carhart cargo work jeans only enhanced the muscled thighs and backside and narrow waist. Her gray, long-sleeved T-shirt showcased toned, strong arms and large high breasts. He found himself swallowing hard as she smiled seductively at him through her mirrored aviator shades. He smiled back but continued on into the back room to gather stuff together. Glancing at the clock, he scowled. He sure hoped Alyssa got her butt here soon. He wanted to get back to the RV park and get the boats ready. The river would be open any day now. The rest of their mining crew would arrive in another two weeks, but he, Sam, and Ralph could start setting up camp. They had moved their new loader and Cat this winter while the river was frozen, but now they needed to set up living quarters.

“Hey Sam, have you heard from Chunky Monkey yet? I really want to get moving.”

“Uh, yeah. Jack come out here.”

Jack came out scowling. His brother was smirking at him ear to ear. The woman was still standing at the counter, but her expression was peculiar. She took off the shades and looked him up and down with her piercing, glacier-blue eyes.

He was completely floored. Wow, she had changed. He felt like a creep, like he had been ogling his little sister, but man she was sexy.

“Wow, I know it’s been a while Deuce, but I can’t believe you forgot me altogether.” Jack cringed a little at her calling him by his old nickname, reminding him yet again of his stupidity as a teenager. “But I suppose I should take it as a complement. And I haven’t eaten Chunky Monkey in years.” She finished with a smile. “It’s good to see you Jack.”

“Yeah, let’s get your stuff loaded and go.” He said gruffly, feeling flustered.

“Sam and I loaded it when I got here, on time.” She said, eyes flashing.

He scowled deeper reminded that he was the one who was late, not her. “Well, let’s get moving then. Make sure use the bathroom. I’m not stopping until we get to Spruce Hen.” He replied condescendingly.

“Fair enough.” She disappeared in the restroom at the back. Sam was still snickering at his brother.

“Shut up.” He snapped.

Daniella, nice job opening this scene up and establishing his attraction to the heroine. Found myself wanting more details on the situation (there seems to be lots of stuff going on here, with references to hangars, mining and setting up camp, and then the nicknames, so a few succinct lines could help the reader piece it all together). Overall though, nice job using small details to show us your setting — this sounds like an intriguing story!

Thanks Katie. This came from my WIP about a small mining town in the Alaska interior. Not having done this before, I wasn’t entirely sure how much to include (length wise)

Okay, so I found a few minutes to write a beginning to another story. It just happens to fit this challenge. 🙂

Mary Wright was home from the looney bin. She climbed out of the taxi and hauled her small suitcase of belongings with her. Glancing around as the cab pulled off into the two-lane street she could toss a stone across with little effort, she swallowed her pride, her prejudice, and her fear. Back home to Seaport village, a small town in North Carolina, she knew what she had to do. She had returned to say goodbye for the last time.

All the neatly painted and attractive shops along the one-sided boardwalk were open and their goods were strewn on their front porticos like tempting treats luring visitors to buy. A beach town, a tourist trap, and her home for the past twenty-five years, she couldn’t say it was always a depressing place. Not a long time ago. Not before the accident.

Her gaze turned to the ocean, waves crashing along the beach and begging youngsters to trust Mother Nature and her powerful pull. Families picnicking, sunbathing, and frolicking as though they hadn’t a care in the world. And most likely they didn’t. Why should they? They were on vacation and they would be safe. Or maybe not.

Her heart wrenched and she swiped a tear as she gazed skyward. Gulls lifted off the beach in a clatter of cries. The gentle wind blew her hair around her face and filled her nostrils with its salty scent. Two hundred and thirty-six people lived year-round in this coastal town where summer tourists flocked by the hundreds, filling the streets and brightly painted beach houses scattered along the main road. But she lived here, on Main Street, right above the Seashell Café. The last place she’d seen Roger, and the last place she’d held and cuddled Cory.

Wow, Chrissie! You packed it all in here and it almost seems like a whole story in one entry. You have drama, characterization, backstory, and fabulous setting description. Well done!

Sarah drove through the rolling hills, past the picturesque horse farms with bluegrass so lush and green it didn’t seem real, until she reached the old farmhouse. Even after a decade away, it was as familiar as her own face. Sure, it had aged a little, but so had she.

She walked up the steps to the front porch, smiling down at the paw prints of her favorite cat. Daddy and that cat had battled constantly and he’d sworn she walked through his wet concrete on purpose. Sarah’s eyes immediately moved to the towering maple, its leaves turned up and silver in the sunshine. The marker was still there, beneath the tree, though the name painted on it had faded long ago. Even Daddy had tears in his eyes the day they buried that cat.

Sarah sat down carefully on the old porch swing. The rusty chains creaked in protest, but held her weight. She looked out over the yard where the chickens pecked and scratched the ground, searching for bugs. Her mama loved a colorful egg basket and always had a mix of breeds. This flock was no different. Sarah spotted Black Australorps, Wellsummers, Barred Rocks, and a Cream Legbar. They’d lay eggs ranging from the darkest brown to the palest blue. Colors that couldn’t be found in a store.

Beyond the yard were acres of hay fields, with green and golden stalks swaying in the breeze. It was gorgeous, but after dark it would be magical. The fields would come alive, a million fireflies looking like stars that had floated down for a closer view. She inhaled deeply, taking the fresh air into her lungs. It felt like she was breathing properly for the first time in years. She hadn’t even realized how stressed she’d been in the city until now.

“Sarah?” The deep voice was as familiar as the house. She twisted in the swing to look at him. Jake stood near the silver maple, leaning on a shovel. He hadn’t changed much. His muscles seemed bigger under his dirty white t-shirt, but his face was as freckled as it had been when they were kids. Back then, her heart had thundered in her chest as he dared her to jump from Bald Rock into the deep part of the creek. A few years later, it was his kisses that made her pulse race. Now, it seemed just the sound of his voice could send her heart into overdrive.

She was home, and things hadn’t changed much at all.

I love this, Ashley! You do a great job of describing this setting, so much so that I can actually see it. Also, you describe in a way that doesn’t take over other elements like characterization and point of view. Well done!

“You know who that is don’t you? That’s Crystal Meth’s little sister.” The loser playing pool whispered to his friend.

Sébastien’s head jerked in the direction they were looking. Sure enough, Grace Howard stood at the other end of the bar. Sébastien watched as Louella, the owner, clutched Grace to her ample chest in a bear hug. Her thick, straight, honey-blonde hair gleamed under the old incandescent lamps, pony-tail swishing as she spoke to Louella. Her green-gold eyes warily searched the bar after she spoke with the proprietors. There was much to admire as she ignored the lustful looks from the majority of the men in the bar as she walked with her head held high to a booth near the front. A little above average height, maybe about five-foot-six or so, with strong and toned legs and arms. She moved with a cat-like grace that made him guess she practice martial arts or some other form of self-defense. Her denim shorts showcased the firm figure the loser had commented on. Her navy-blue tank top dipped low to reveal large, nicely proportioned breasts. She sat quietly in the leather booth, staring down at her hands. Before long, Louella and Max joined her, bringing her a burger and a beer. She smiled genuinely at both of them, her heart-shaped face losing its tired, suspicious look.

“Hey Bastien,” Max called, waving his arm. “Look who’s back in town.” Sucked in, Sébastien nervously walked over, wondering if she would remember him. Sure, they had played together as kids, but she had been only about ten when he left. That was now twenty years ago and she was about four years younger than him.

Wow, he thought to himself, she was even more lovely up close, her skin glowing with a soft peach tan under hazy light filtering through the faded beige vinyl shades. When they were kids, her sister had always been dubbed the beauty of the family, with white blonde hair and ice blue eyes. Grace had never been what you would call plain, but she had lived in her older sister’s larger-than-life shadow. As teenager he considered her to be far too young for him, but he remembered helping watch after her when she lived in the trailer park as a kid. Crystal on the other hand, had only been a year younger than himself. He remembered lusting after her with all the other boys when she started to develop at the young age of nine. But she jumped right over their age group into seeing much older guys. He remembered his mother pursing her lips and saying things he did not really understand about her behavior. In hindsight, she had already been on her way back then to her final, fatal train wreck.

“You probably don’t remember me,” he started to say.

Her full mauve lips turned up in a small, but sweet smile as she replied, “No, I do. Your mom used to watch me and my sister. You taught me how to ride my bike when I was three. When I was seven, you taught me how to ride my first dirt bike.” He was surprised at her memory. He had forgotten until she mentioned it.

He gave her a genuine smile. “It’s good to see you again, given the circumstances.”

Her smile vanished. “Yeah, it’s hard coming back here. But it is nice to see you as well.”

“Why don’t you have a seat, we’ve got to get back to the bar,” Louella said to Sébastien. She patted Grace on the shoulder as she got up. “I’ll bring your key over with your next round. You said you can start Friday, right?”

“Yeah, anytime really,” she replied quietly as she toyed with her french fries, smearing her ketchup around on the wax paper in the basket.

“Would you like me to box up the rest of that for you, babe?”

“Yes, please,” she replied politely.

“Would you like me to join you?” Sébastien asked.

“Sure.”

“So, you’re just in town for your sister,” he paused tactfully as the old vinyl settled under his weight, giving out squeaking and crackling noises as he eased into the booth, “Or are you moving back? Louella mentioned a key.” He watched as Grace drew a deep breath and looked out the window.

“I’m going to hang out for a month or two and settle my sister’s affairs, and some lingering things from when my mom passed. I’m going to work part-time here in the bar and stay in Louella’s old management trailer.”

He nodded, “So you’re not currently employed?” The agent in him started to investigate.

She smiled, genuinely this time and said, “I just graduated from college. I got a little bit of a late start after doing eight years in the Navy.” He nodded again, smiling in return. “I’m working remotely for a company I interned with in college. I’m fortunate, they’re really eager to have me on board, and originally I was going to start in July, but when I told them about my sister’s death, and my need to be here for a little while, they worked out a way for me to work remotely from here for the summer, reviewing test data.”

“What’s your degree in?”

“I graduated from UW back in May with a degree in metallurgy engineering. I also have a degree in non-destructive testing. My specialty is in corrosion and the integrity of metals.” Sébastien was fascinated. He was dying to ask more, but he had to reign himself in. He was undercover as a tattoo artist/biker, not a chemical engineer.

“That sounds cool. So, if you have a good job, why are you working here? This is kind of a rough place.”

Grace’s face flushed and her eyes went wide. She drummed her fingers against the tabletop for a moment and looked down at her beer before speaking. “Louella needs an extra waitress for a little while, and it will help occupy my time. And I get a free place to stay too. It’s the least I can do after what she and Max did for me,” she looked out the window again as she finished talking, evading his eyes. He had been an FBI agent long enough to know when someone was not quite telling the whole truth. At the same time, he did not want to push too hard.

Dear Daniella, You definitely have a knack for describing physical traits of the characters. Would have loved more details of the bar itself and the town. A very descriptive entry in general, which is great!

Thanks Patience. This entry came from another of my stories I completed, so some of the details got lost when I selected what to cut and paste. Still putting this one through the editing process.

A sign on the building lettered in faded black paint read Woolly Creek Nursing Station. The sign was exactly the same as when Trish had grown up here, but the clinic had a new addition and a paved parking lot now. She wanted to walk in and get to work, but she was not ready for the memories that caused tears to rise in her eyes and turned away.
She wasn’t due until noon and it was one of those clear, warm days you get in Colorado, the air bright and sharp. She could walk to the café and get something to eat before she started her first shift as a nurse. Now that the highway connected the town, maybe people wouldn’t remember her. A few years ago, she had been waiting for JJ’s beat up pickup truck to roll up the driveway to the farm. Too young for responsibility, but she was grown now.
“Cup of coffee and a piece of pie?” the woman asked. She was big and strong, wearing a white shirt and jeans, with a shock of purple hair. Her face didn’t look familiar.
Trish nodded and let out the breath she had been holding. The counter was the same but there was enough aluminum edging to please any hipster.
The waitress reached for the coffee pot and started to fill a mug. “You the new nurse for the station?”
The “yes” was barely there, but the woman didn’t seem to notice.
“Hope you stay, I didn’t like it when I first came to Woolly, but after a while you can’t leave the people.” The cutlery rattled. “I came to help my sister and bought this place.” She paused, “where are you from?”
“I did my nursing training in Seattle,” she said starting on the pie.
She laughed and sat down. “Wet winters, I’m Connie by the way.”
“Trish,” she said.
“You might like to come to dinner; my sister’s boy is in town. Johnny his name is, Johnny Wright.”
“I don’t think so,” Trish said, her head reeling.
“Nonsense, we need an even number for dinner on principle.”
“What principle is that?” Trish asked.
Vera grinned, “The principle that a pretty girl changes everything and his mum wants JJ to come home after he finishes medical school.”

Dear Kathryn, I like how you build in nostalgia here with the heroine’s memories of her time in the town. That can be an important part of character development, as well as setting. Well done!

Hello Patience, Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I appreciate your insights.

My quick submission! These are great practice! Love them.

Lindy pulled up to her high school bestie’s house after the last vestiges of orange glow had faded away and the sky was a deep indigo. Light pollution did not exist out here, and she had found herself straining to see the Milky Way as she rounded the curves. Past the reservoir, over patched asphalt, and dropping down into Apple Valley. About a half mile in from the highway, Lindy inched her car through the crowded tiny downtown and up the hill to Lauren’s driveway. She was thankful to see kitchen lights on, meaning Lauren had made it home from work to meet her, after all. They had always had a pact that if either one of them needed a place to crash, for any reason, their homes would be open to each other, for life.
It had been a long weekend of packing and moving, and the exhaustion was overwhelming. She had the foresight to prepack a backpack for the first night there, knowing that after the 5-hour drive from Denver, and puzzle-piecing her essentials in the back of her SUV like a sardine, would be about all she could handle that night. She swung the side door that she had opened so many times as a teenager and saw her best high school friend, Lauren, perched at the counter having a glass of white wine. Had to be pinot grigio, her favorite. Lauren whooped and hopped off the barstool and embraced Lindy in a tight, long hug. They both sniffled, laughed, and wiped off tears with their fingers.
“How does it feel to be back in mining country?” Lauren rolled her eyes, and they both belly laughed, knowing that, although the mines were still operating, this was winery and tourism town now. Lindy’s grand dream was to take over one of the wineries on the mesa, and after she had finished college at DePaul in Chicago, and gotten her father’s blessing, along with his investment, she was ready to do just that. Starting over was hard though, as she was living on a shoestring until the finances came through, and she had moved over with very little furniture or other household items.
“It was so awesome of you to let me come stay with you until I find the right winery. I hope that you will have time to come and check them out with me!” Lindy pulled out an adjacent barstool and flopped down heavily on it, heaving her backpack underneath the counter.
Lauren poured her dear friend a glass of wine.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me?” Lauren’s smile was like the cat that had gotten the canary. They had met in 7th grade, when they were randomly placed next to one another in homeroom class, and had been practically inseparable until graduation. Lauren had chosen to stay in Cedar Mesa to be near her family, especially her ailing mother and young sister. Lindy had gone off on a scholarship to college, and returned, ready to make a great life here in Apple Valley, but things had changed–so much!– in just 5 short years. Lindy wouldn’t know just how much they had changed until the next day dawned.
“Are we taking about you-know-who?” Lindy held back a yawn, grinning, but it would have to wait for now. Lauren’s couch, made up with sheets and pillows, was calling.

Dear Lisa Marie, I love descriptions of sky and anything close to the Southwest! I like how you create a cozy atmosphere here with the heroine going to see her BFF. And with wine, you can’t really go wrong.

Sara rubbed her hands together in an attempt to dispel the cold. Her sister’s mother-in-law, Judy, fiddled with the fan in the Prius which let blast a shaft of icy air that caused Sara’s teeth to clench.

“Won’t take a minute for the heat to kick in,” Judy said.

“It’s probably not worth it,” Sara replied forcing her tensed jaw to relax. “We’ll be at Tom’s by the time it warms up.”

Judy ignored her comments, turned the fan to max, and set the car in motion as the windscreen wipers swooshed a brisk tempo in a valiant attempt to fight the deluge. While the grey sky was reminiscent of London, that was where the similarities ended. London didn’t have the wide, maple-lined streets that delineated Brooks Falls, Massachusetts, and she had to walk a long way to find a park that offered a similar expanse of space and sky.

Judy stopped at one of the two traffic lights that patrolled the main street and Sara rubbed the fog off her passenger window. The forest-green sign on Mack’s Hardware Store had been given a coat of paint since she was last here two years ago, and the diner had installed a small neon sign which declared it was “open” in flashing blue and red. It wasn’t exactly Piccadilly Circus.

“How long are you home?” A condensation cloud accompanied Judy’s question.

“A little over a week,” Sara replied. The London Symphony Orchestra couldn’t have been kinder when Sara received the news, two days ago, that her sister had died in a car crash. They had given her as much personal leave as she needed to return to the States but Sara wasn’t intending to avail herself of their generosity.

“That’s not long,” Judy tutted. “Considering the flight time and all…”

The traffic light turned green and Sara remained silent as the car continued along the four-block main street then turned right into National Avenue.

“Well, little Emma certainly needs you for however long you can manage,” Judy said, pulling into Courtney and Tom’s driveway. Sara willed her queasy stomach to retain its contents.

Seconds later the cottage’s front door opened and Tom stepped out slipping an anorak over his broad shoulders. He opened the car’s rear seat door, shot Sara a look of gratitude and regret, then grabbed her small suitcase.

“Thanks for the ride, Judy,” Sara said as she felt the first wave of warmth come from the car’s heater.

She stepped out of the car and felt the icy wind bite through her pants as the rain pelted her from all directions. Despite knowing she would freeze within minutes of staying out in these weather conditions it seemed preferable to entering the house her sister had shared with Tom, the man Sara loved, and their toddler Emma, whose distress was the reason Sara had agreed to stay.

Dear Marianne, I love how you bring in the weather, the description of the streets, and landmarks to the town. Well done!

Peering through the wet windows of the ferry, Rayna struggled to make out the dim shapes of buildings along the waterfront. Through the raindrops the ancient Co-op sign blurred like running paint. The deluge was heavy and dismal and the town looked as faded as the old photos she had dug out of her childhood boxes of albums. Where was the vibrant town of her memories? Images returned of bright warm days and charming, freshly painted houses; houses that could have been plucked from the Finnish seaside and transplanted, complete with profusely blooming flower gardens spilling through white-washed picket fences. She remembered the perfume of wild roses, lilacs and ocean mist. Perhaps November wasn’t the best time to arrive. Things felt sad, like this past year.
Sammy stirred and opened sleepy eyes. She had James’ eyes; warm brown with dark, golden-tipped lashes. Rayna’s eyes were charcoal grey, but mother and daughter shared the same coppery auburn hair, only Sammy still had curls that had relaxed with age on Rayna.
“When will we be there, Mom?”
“Take a look, we are just about to reach the dock. Grandma’s old house is on the water, down that way. She gestured, finger bouncing with the ferry on the rough seas. “I’ll show you one day. You will love it here”. She forced a cheerful note into her voice.
“I miss my friends” Sammy’s cupid lips turned down and there was a tiny crease above the six-year-old’s dark brows.
It had been a difficult decision to leave their home, but there was no other choice. Rayna had sold their beautiful house because she could no longer afford the mortgage payments, and in desperation she had done a search on the internet for ‘cheap houses Vancouver Island’. When the house in Sointula appeared, she was flooded with happy thoughts of her childhood. It felt like fate, and the house was an amazing price. The next search was for ‘massage therapists Sointula’. It came up empty. Cheap house-check, employment-check. She had contacted the real estate agent and found that the owner was very motivated to sell and willing to ‘rent to own’ with a small deposit. It felt like a godsend.
Rayna held her daughter’s hand as they descended the narrow staircase to the car deck. The rain and wind were heavy with saline, stimulating their senses. The ferry was fully loaded. They squeezed between the cars and she awkwardly opened Sammy’s door. Unfortunately, the door caught in the wind and there was a ‘bang!’ as it hit the truck next to her. The driver leaned on his horn. Off to a good start, she thought wryly. She recalled how everyone knew everything about their neighbours in this town. She felt nervous and alone as the man emerged from his vehicle to check for damage. Protectively, she quickly closed the door so Sammy wouldn’t hear.
“I’m so sorry, there’s not much room and the wind is blowing so hard!” Rayna struggled to be heard over the wind. The man, somewhere in his sixties, seemed about to give her a lecture as the woman in his truck frowned over his shoulder from the window above, but another male voice interrupted.
“Doesn’t look like any damage to me, this truck’s a piece of crap anyway, Roy!” Even though he called out loudly, the tone was light, joking.
The comment seemed to diffuse the tension and ‘Roy’ seemed placated. After taking a quick look at his truck he was satisfied enough to climb back into his vehicle. Rayna turned to the man who had defended her. Whoa! He was imposing and she fumbled for words. His dark hair was flattened against his scalp and droplets of rain ran from the wet strands over the arched brows, momentarily settling on the lashes of his deep-set eyes before dropping and congregating in the darkly whiskered grooves of his cheeks. He was tall, and even though he wore a rain coat, the wind pressed it tight against his solid body and she could clearly see his lean physique. She felt like she looked a mess.
”Thanks for your intervention.” she leaned toward him, so as to be heard “I’m Rayna.”
“Nice to meet you Rayna, I’m Jake.” He extended his hand, which she took. “Visiting?” his eyes studied her face intently, his grip strong.
“We are new to town, just bought a house. It’s been on the market for more than a year. Do you know it?”
A darkness passed over his face. Rayna shivered. He dropped her hand and she felt an unreasonable stab of fear, but his expression disappeared so quickly that she couldn’t read it. There was silence, then his face broke into a white smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I know it. Welcome”.

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