Ditch Flowers has been released for a whole year+ and I sort of just remembered I never put an excerpt up on my website. Doh! Oh well, better late than never, right? Here is the first chapter. Check it out! 🙂 And if you want to read the first chapter of other Penner authors go download the FREE e-book.
When the phone rings, I somehow think it’s a dream. I realize after the ringing just won’t stop it’s actually my husband’s cell. Greg’s ringtone is a melodic blend of cheerful dings and blips. But I know it’s not a happy phone call. I can tell even before my eyes adjust to the dark, and I glance at the clock. Greg answers, and I know. This is the kind where something awful has happened, because it’s three in the morning, and a family member is on the other end sobbing. This is one of those calls you fear.
“Mom? Mom, what’s wrong?” Greg sits up, his usually deep voice high-pitched, bordering on shrill. “Is it Dad?”
With one hand, I fumble for the lamp switch and I blink through the light. With the other, I clutch Greg’s sweaty hand, as his mom cries out loud enough for me to hear even though it seems he can’t press the phone against his ear any tighter.
Yes, it’s Dad. Massive heart attack. Doctors don’t know if he’ll make it.
Completely helpless, I watch the shadows in the room, I stare at my husband, look away, see a basket of dirty clothes in the corner. Vaguely, stupidly, I think, that’s a lot of laundry. Greg takes a sharp intake of breath as his mother continues to sob out information. When he hangs up, we quickly dress, throw clothes in suitcases that still have airport tags from our honeymoon in Aruba on them, and together hurry to catch the first flight we can from New Orleans to Green Bay.
We don’t make it in time to say good-bye to my father-in-law Dale. Reeling from the news of his sudden death, Greg and I stand in the sterile hospital hallway. His mother clings to us both, but she has stopped crying. Her eyes are red and puffy and I know her lack of tears isn’t from lack of need, but rather lack of supply. There are just no tears left.
In a brief minute apart from Greg as he speaks with other family, I break away and walk to the waiting room down the hall. I sit in a hard chair, which fools me with its upholstery, and stare out the window until the light is burned into my retinas. The frigid Wisconsin winter has eased the previous couple of days and settled into a respite of gentle weather. It was beautiful this morning, with blue skies and mild temperatures, when we flew in from the south. And there is still sunshine streaming through every window in the hospital. The winter makes everything seem so bright, strangely so. I notice how the snow is reflecting the sun, which seems to reflect the snow right back. It lays like a brilliant white blanket on the grass, solid and crunchy. The fluffy clouds are puffed like little steam engine dedications and the trees are bare but in no way formidable. I wonder if the nice weather will last until after the funeral, when Greg and I will fly back home or if it will get cold and snowy again. Regardless, we’ll go home to our own mild Southern winter. And we’ll return to a basket overflowing with dirty laundry and a stillness in the air.
One week after the funeral, it is finally starting to feel concrete. Like it really happened.
“What are you reading?” Greg asks as he throws his work jacket on the couch and sits next to me, deeply reclining into the cushions and pulling me near.
“She Had Some Horses. Poetry.”
“You didn’t see the package outside?”
“No. Nothing was here when I got home from work.”
He rises and returns with a white box. “I think this is stuff my mom wanted you to have.”
“For me? What stuff?”
Greg hands it to me. I sift through bubble wrap and tissue paper. I pull out a wooden box the color of chestnuts, two silver pocket watches, and a small painting of flowers and stones.
“Your dad’s?” I say.
Greg nods. “My mom asked if she could send these things. Nothing particularly sentimental, but I thought you’d like to do something with them for the house.”
“So thoughtful,” I say. “And I would love to have your dad’s things here.” There’s also a box within, marked Fragile in curvy handwriting. I open it and pull off more layers of bubble wrap. Inside is a bottle of cranberry wine, made by Greg’s father.
I hold the smooth, clear glass bottle filled with pale, rosy liquid. I touch the edge of the clean, modern label which Dale had designed a few years ago. The logo is a circle of twisted grape vines and leaves surrounding the name of the wine beneath the words Twisted Circle.
Greg’s eyes are sad as he touches one of the watches. He returned home from the funeral with some photos, an old signed football from the Green Bay Packers, Dale’s wedding band, and a few other items. They sit atop his dresser now. He hasn’t wanted to put them anywhere else.
“Hey,” I say. “Should we cancel date night and stay in?”
“We don’t have to.”
“No, let’s. We can order pizza, watch bad TV.” I perform a suggestive little shimmy. “Have some sex.”
I finally get a smile out of him.
“Maybe try to make a baby.”
“That sounds like a good night to me.” He tugs me close again, kisses me deep.
“Right now?” I ask with a giggle.
He’s not laughing. He kisses me with a kind of built-up fervor. He reaches down to me, and I gasp. I pull him close as we recline on the couch and can’t help but feel a little thrill. I’ve been off birth control for a month, since right after our wedding. I remember how we discussed starting a family while curled up in bed by the light of the night. We spoke in eager, hushed tones as we planned our future and decided to take the leap into parenthood, in a way that felt both amazingly responsible and yet childishly exciting. The truth is I can’t wait. I wonder if tonight will be the night.
I squint at the test on a brilliant spring afternoon, about an hour before Greg’s arrival home from work. I re-read the instructions to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong. My heart is fluttering; my chest feels like it’s going to burst open. Pregnant. And after only three months.
We’re going to have a baby. My thoughts run, on and on. Possibilities, dreams all come rushing through my brain and stay there until I feel my heart bumping along in agreement.
When Greg’s car finally pulls up, I lean against the kitchen counter and wait, trying to appear poised. The test is in my shaking hand, behind my back.
“Hey,” Greg calls. “I’m home.”
As he walks in, I hold out the stick. “Positive!”
“Well,” he says, after a long moment of surprise followed by a grin, “congratulations.”
“Thanks,” I say with a laugh. “Congratulations back.”
I lift up my cotton shirt and touch my abdomen in delight. I marvel at the fact that there is something inside me besides boring stuff like my own blood and tissue and organs. Now I also hold something magical. Something so huge.
Greg touches my bare, flat stomach. “Pretty cool.”
“Isn’t it?” I say.
We kiss, our hands conjoined over the tiniest and most joyful of secrets.