|Posted by Valerie Maarten on January 10, 2011 at 9:58 AM||comments (11)|
Contest / Giveaway - Expires 1/11/11@ 11:11pm EST
Rules: For the first eleven (11) people that read this excerpt and leave a comment about the story (in addition add comment - "I want Joy") you will receive a Smashwords Coupon code to download your copy for free. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or PM me on my FB http://tinyurl.com/4ustcfa
The Set up:
After returning home to be with his family for the Christmas holiday, Gabe begins to wonder about the girl from across the street, Joy. Though he ignored her most of her life, she was never far from his mind. Now, as an adult, he's ready to make all of that change.
Gabe couldn’t remember the last time he laughed so much. His sides ached from laughing. God! It’s good to be home. All during dinner his sisters and mother reminisced about all of his mischievous exploits, some of them shocking his nieces and nephews. Not that it was hard for them to believe that their favorite and only uncle had such a playful streak. Even they knew that he was a practical joker with no bounds. H ewas a “take no prisoners” type of guy.
“But, what you don’t know about your uncle is that he also has a tender side, ”Annette teased. All of the children guffawed at that bit of news. “He does, ”she said.
“Are you trying to spoil my reputation?” Gabe said in mock outrage. “I do not have a tender side. Everyone here can attest to that.”
Jeannie laughed at his dramatics. “I remember one time he gave Mr. Chester a bloody nose,” she teased. The girls looked genuinely appalled by the thought of blood, but the boys piped up, intrigued. Mr. Chester was the mean man from down the street with fire-red hair and three little imps that no one wanted to play with.
“When was that…I wish I could have seen that…did he bleed a lot?” All the boys spoke at once.
“Well, it was a long time ago,” Jeannie began, ignoring Gabe’s pleas for her to cease. “We were about your ages when it happened. You see, it may be hard to believe, but Mr. Chester was a bully…making little girls cry and stealing the other children’ toys and candy. But your uncle,” Jeannie looked at the embarrassment on his face, which fueled her even more, “…he was not afraid of him. One day, the little girl across the street had come out to play with us and you runcle hit her with a snowball, making her cry.”
“You hit Ms. Joy with a snowball?” Lana, histen year old niece asked. If at all possible, she looked even more appalled.
“I didn’t mean to hit her,” he said. You could hear the exacerbation in his voice. He was going to flay Jeannie for telling this story. He was going to tell them about that one embarrassing time when he caught Jeannie…no he couldn’t tell a bunch of children about that. But he could tell them about the time she…no…not that either.
“…and when Mr. Chester began teasing her and making her cry harder, well your uncle jumped up and pummeled him into the snow, ” Jeannie finished her tale, a satisfied look on her face.
“Oh…you did that uncle Gabe?” Lana asked dreamily. She jumped up and gave him a tight hug. “You are a hero. That was very gallant of you to come to her rescue.” Lana beamed at him, making his heart melt.
“Gallant? What have you been teaching her?” He asked Jeannie, a teasing smile playing on his lips.
“That’s enough stories for the night. It’s time for you ragamuffins to get ready for bed,” Annette announced. She was the drill sergeant in the family. If anyone could control a passel of children, it was her.
“Awww. Do we have to go to bed now? We’re just starting to have fun. Besides, we don’t have school,” they all complained at once.
Jeannie, the most docile of the three, made a compromise. “If you do as you’re told, tomorrow I’ll tell you about the time Mr. Chester gave your uncle a bloody nose.” She smiled up at Gabe when he looked to leap from his chair in protest. Jeannie, Annette and their mother smothered their laughter behind their hands.
With the promise of more humiliating stories about their uncle, the children did not argue about having to take a bath, brush their teeth or their early bedtime. Within an hour, the house was silent and peaceful. Peaceful. It was something Gabe craved for all his life, living with two sisters that constantly fought over everything. But now, being home…he wasn’t so sure. He loved the raucous play and laughter of his family. They were happy children that made happy noises. It made his heart swell with pride and love.
Af amily of his own was not something he thought about often…until he came home. Until he’d see Joy. Then he couldn’t get the confounding thought out of his head. His thoughts were consumed by Joy with her white smile, her slender frame…and she smelled nice today. She’d grown from that timid, little cherub that used to watch them play from her bedroom window, into a strikingly beautiful, vivacious woman…that now watched them play from her living room window. He could still see the sadness in her eyes…the loneliness. The desire to play with the others, but was forbidden by her cruel father. My God, what had she endured at hishands…what has she seen?
“Why such a serious face, brother mine?” Annette asked as she sat next to Gabe on the couch. She reached for the remote control to turn the television down. “Don’t tell me you’re mad at Jeannie for telling that story?”
“No, of course not. I was just thinking…never mind,” he shook his head.
“Go on. You were just thinking abou twhat? Joy?” Annette was also intuitive. She always seemed to know what he was thinking or feeling, which was what made her a wonderful mother.
“Yeah,” he admitted and wiped his hand over his face. “Why hadn’t we been more persistent in asking for her to come out with us? And don’t tell me it was because we were afraid of her father, because that’s not it. She lived in that house with her aunt for another twenty years after her father left and we ignored her,” now his tone was self-loathing.
Annette leaned back on the sofa, laying her head back and closing her eyes. She let out a long, suffering sigh. “I don’t know. Maybe we were selfish…or maybe we were just children and we didn’t understand all that was happening, just that we were told never to go over there and we didn’t. Or, maybe we were afraid.”
Her explanation was simple and true, but it wasn’t enough to rid him of the guilt he felt for all these years. In a strange way, he felt responsible for her, like he was with his other sisters…except she wasn’t his sister.
Annette placed her hand on his back. “We were young. We can’t blame ourselves for what happened in the past. We can only account for now. That’s the best we can do.”
She was right, of course. But what had they done so far, except continue to ignore her, knowing that she was still the same, lonely little girl they spent their entire life overlooking. Somehow, the story Jeannie told the children about his chivalry earlier, didn’t quite measure up. He was not the gallant knight his niece wanted to believe him to be, he was a clod. An uncaring, insensitive clod, at that. But tomorrow that was all going to change. In the morning, he was going to talk to the lonely, little girl from across the street and try to discover why he can’t seem to get her out of his head…after all these years.
Copyright © 2010 Valerie Maarten
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