Seasons Change

DSC04398In a memory so clear I can practically taste the dust I kicked up, inhale the sweet scent of cottonwood pollen, and feel the heat of the packed earth—and the occasional sharp bite of gravel—against the winter-tender soles of my feet, a moment from a school day over thirty years ago has always stayed with me.

I was in grade five, the final bell had rung and we’d been dismissed. I’d been held back after class for something, however, and by the time I was outside (feeling hard done by and blue) and ready to walk home, there wasn’t another kid in sight. It had been cold and wet when I left for school that morning, so I was wearing boots and a heavy jacket—but it was late March or early April, meaning the weather could go from snow to beach-ready seemingly overnight, or in this case, over the seven or so hours I’d been inside. As I left the school grounds and started my trek past the then neglected, vacant lots, something pulled me from my sadness: the realization that it was warm.

I peeled off my coat. Stopped to admire dandelions. Noticed buds on a bush that had been tightly closed earlier now revealed tiny green leaves. The birds were noisy. The air was delicious. My feet sweated. I considered the well-worn dirt path snaking through the unkempt bright green grass and made a decision. Tying my coat sleeves around my waist, I bent down, tugged off my boots, ripped off my socks and stuffed them inside said boots. Then gripping my footwear in one hand, feeling weirdly proud, I walked the rest of the way home barefoot, sure that each passing car was envious of me and my unconfined toes.

That evening, when my mom asked how my day was, I answered, “Great.” And I wasn’t lying or forgetting. It had just . . . changed.

Over the years, that memory, so tiny and seemingly insignificant, grew to have . . . significance. It was, in my young brain, vivid evidence that moods and circumstances—and nature/life itself—changes. Of course, in terms of what life would throw at me, what I’d go on to endure, a bad day in elementary school was a walk in the park, but it remained a tangible encouragement, regardless.

For almost as far back as I can remember, I’ve been deeply affected by the seasons. I’m at my height of happiness and peace (I bloom so to speak!) in the hottest heat of summer. I turn to inward things, literally and metaphorically, in autumn as everything around us dies or settles into dormancy. While I’m not unappreciative of the beauty of snow and ice, winter is my hardest season. I feel a bit frozen too, and if I’m going to have gloomy thoughts, they’ll hit hardest in November and then again in January and February.

Spring, however, ahhh—although not my favourite season (because remember summer, guys, summer!)—always feels like a gift because it reminds me of deep truths I intuited all those years ago walking home from school: Hard times (winters) eventually end and easier times come again. Things that appear dead can rejuvenate, come back to life, bigger, stronger, and more resilient than ever. Root systems, the supports for growth and health, are often invisible, yet they exist.

There have been times in my life—and unfortunately, there will be more, I’m sure—when it seems like a particularly difficult season (grief, heartbreak, loneliness, financial hardship, a crisis of faith, you name it . . .) will never end. Yet just like spring always eventually comes, those heavy, hard to deal with things inevitably lighten.

Spending time in nature (throughout the year and every kind of weather) helps me take heart and remember: seasons change and so do we.

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“Seasons Change” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, April 27, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” It’s part of a theme I’m exploring this year–“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know”–and feels very apropos as I’ve been spending every minute I can outside in my garden, watching things grow.🙂 Missed the first three? Find them here:

1) What do you know? (Jan. 2016)
2) Kindness Matters (Feb. 2016)
3) Beauty in the details (Mar. 2016)

Beauty in the details

Once upon a time . . . Photo by Ev Bishop

Once upon a time . . . Photo by Ev Bishop

When I was little, I was enamoured with the Wade collectibles that came inside boxes of Red Rose tea. Some of you may remember the tiny ceramic creatures and people, their enchanting details and soft colours. My favourites were the nursery rhyme characters: The Queen of Hearts, Little Boy Blue, Little Miss Muffet, Jack and Jill (each with their sad faces and spilled bucket of water), Little Red Riding Hood, just to name a few.

My mom collected them for me, and seeing that what I loved most about them was playing make-believe and dreaming up elaborate fairy tales, she didn’t insist I keep them on shelves. She bought me a small plastic table. Its round brown top was patterned to look cushion-topped and its pedestal base was like gingerbread lace. A circle-shaped mirror from an old suitcase became a pond, and in the glow from my bedside lamp, the works became a magical land.

Many things about that memory stand out as important. My family struggled financially when I was small; my parents married young and had three children while putting my dad through school—which demanded moving a lot. I’m sure porcelain doodads were very low on my mom’s personal list of priorities, but she chose to assign value to something I wanted just because they were little and pretty. And she wasn’t the only one in my family to instil this notion that it was okay, was important even, to seek out moments of beauty or to collect trinkets, purely because they were lovely.

My Grandma Nora was the epitome of hard work and thrift. Orphaned young, enduring severe deprivation during the war, immigrating to England from Holland to work as a maid, she cut the paper off wherever she ended a note, so she could save and use however-small-the-remaining piece for another missive. She formed balls of salvaged elastic bands and aluminum foil to re-use. When soap bars grew too small to use, she kept the tiny slivers in a jar, so she could melt them down and make new ones. Yet she adored cut flowers and had small vases in surprising places. She adorned her letters with fanciful stickers. When she opened her own flower shop, she carried whimsical accessories.

When I became a young wife, both my mom and my grandma encouraged me to A) be frugal and try to live within my means, and to B) try to bring beauty to my home in small, inexpensive ways—not because it would make me a good wife or mother, but because it would bring me pleasure. One of the first gifts my mom gave me when I had a home of my own was a white wicker tray and a square of gorgeous floral-print fabric. Its Victorian-look card read simply, “For your tea, love Mom.” I still feel incredibly blessed, rich in every important way, when I set my table prettily. 

But please don’t think my idea of beauty centres on things. My dad routinely encouraged us to “take time and smell the roses”—a cliché, yes, but one he meant literally. He took huge joy in flowers and plants. And when we were outside doing seemingly unending chores, he’d often pause to stretch and breathe deeply, then comment on the quality of the air, the colour of the sky, the beauty of the mountains.

One summer he and I were driving through the Cache Creek area. He loved the scenery, but I, ever appreciative of Terrace’s lush greenery, thought it was ugly. He was shocked, almost horrified, and said, “There’s beauty almost anywhere if you know how to look.”

We should all seek and create small moments of beauty and creature comfort—nice blankets, the mug that fits perfect in our hand, good food, pieces of art or pottery . . . They are tiny boons for our souls, comforting pleasures. And we should encourage those we love to appreciate—and see—the beauty in small things and everyday settings, too. Days always come when the ability to see some bright spark when everything at first seems grey and bleak is very important.

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“Beauty in the details” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 30, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”  Its thoughts form part of a theme I’m exploring this year—“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.”  Missed the first two? Find them here:

1) What do you know? (Jan. 2016)

2) Kindness Matters (Feb. 2016)  

Kindness Matters

"Representation of Kindness " Photo by Moyan Brenn

“Representation of Kindness” Photo by Moyan Brenn

I’m ashamed to admit that kindness used to be way down on the list of what I valued as a character trait in myself and in others. Actually, it didn’t place at all. Sometimes I’d even scoff at people I dubbed (as if it were the worst of all things to be) “nice.” I thought intellectual ability mattered more. Or work ethic. Or strength of conviction. Or sense of humor. Or, or, or . . . so many things.

I no longer feel that way. In fact, the older I get, the more stridently I believe the reverse is true. That at the end of the day, at the end of all our accomplishments, struggles, learned lessons and journeys, only kindness—how we treated other people—will matter.
It’s important to look back at what has shaped you (and continues to shape you), to consider where you’re at presently—and to contemplate what you might want to change in the future. And when thinking on said topics, I’m always struck by two truths:  
1) The things that molded me most for the positive, that helped me mature, survive hard times, endure pain, find joy . . . have been the kind actions and words of people—some of whom were completely oblivious to the huge help their kindnesses, big or small, were.
2) The things that damaged me, that I still find myself having to work through (usually just after I’ve thought something like, “Ah, phew. I’ve finally dealt with all my crap and put it behind me”), were, well, to put it mildly: unkind things.  
Realizing that—that more than any class I’ve taken, lecture I’ve attended, or book I’ve read, I have been changed by role models, friends, and kind strangers—was (is!) a huge challenge to me. Am I someone who positively affects the world around me, or am I someone who poisons the atmosphere with the things I say and do?  
There’s a piece of wisdom, quoted by and attributed to many, but first coined by Carl W. Buehner, “They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I’ve found it true in every facet of life.

I think our problem with “kindness” is that it gets a bad rap; we’re confused about what it is. People, using “being kind” as their defence, let all sorts of shoddy behaviour slip by—and we see that and think, Not me. I won’t be that abused, co-dependent, taken for a ride sucker. I’d rather be a bitch, thank you very much.
But kindness isn’t being a doormat or letting everyone use you. In fact, martyr-types often hurt those around them, because they’re bitter, angry, sad, confused people, and they lash out in subtle but poisonous ways. Kindness sets boundaries, just doesn’t build walls.
True kindness is saying I value myself—and I value you. I need to be me, and I respect that you’re you. You are possibly quite different than me—but you’re equally of worth. Really believing that will affect how you treat and relate to other people. It can’t not.
It’s more than just a “live and let live attitude” though; it’s trying to live the best you can, with passion, with joy, with healing, with hope—and helping others do that too, via politeness, words of encouragement and cheer, and actions that speak louder than words.
Sometimes being kind is difficult, requiring great self-control and self-discipline. Other times, kindness just seems to flow. Either way, whether it comes naturally or feels like a sacrifice, kindness has an effect. And it matters.
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“Kindness Matters” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February January 24, 2016, as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”  It’s part of a theme I want to explore in 2016—“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.” If you missed January’s, you can read it here: What Do You Know?


What You Need

kelly-rae-takewhatyouneedJanuary and February can be low months for me—low energy, low funds, low light, low . . . And this year, a series of tough situations conspired to bring me lower—the rotten kind of events, where people I care about are being kicked in the face by life in ways I’m powerfulness to help in any practical, lasting way. You relate, perhaps?

On the flip side, however, waging war with the gloom, I’ve also experienced some intensely lovely moments this month—things that reminded me of all the good in life—in people—that coexists with the . . . not so good.

The one with the most impact came totally out of the blue, and occurred, of all places, in the post office.

After receiving hard news the other day, I treated myself to a London Fog and wrote a note to my sister as a pick me up. Afterwards, I went to the post office to mail it, then checked out the lobby’s bulletin board. A poster with tear-away tabs grabbed my eye.

It was photocopied in black and white, but no less beautiful for the lack of colour. Funky block letters on a collaged-background made a strange but lovely request: “Take what you need.”

Beneath the words and the artwork were scissor-cut tabs, but they didn’t hold contact numbers. They carried things the creator thought you might need:

Hope. Courage. Forgiveness. Love. Laughter. Peace of mind. Faith. Tenderness. Beauty

Strength. Rest. Passion.

Half the tabs were already missing. (In fact, I only know what each one said because minuscule font on the poster’s edge gave copyright to Kelly Rae Robert and I googled her along with “Take what you need” until I found a copy of the same poster, intact.) I don’t know what I found more encouraging: that someone randomly posted it for no other obvious reason than to put some kindness and inspiration into the world—or that people were moved, like I was, to take something away with them.

I chose “Faith” because it’s something I could use more of in multiple areas of my life right now. Which would you have taken? What do you particularly need?

I left the post office feeling a little lighter and a little stronger, more capable.

And as so often happens, one positive moment opened my eyes to an abundance of other encouraging, buoying things.

I had wonderful coffee visits with friends who simultaneously challenged me and affirmed some of the ideas percolating in my head.

An old acquaintance from the past reconnected via e-mail—triggering good memories and excitement about new inspirations.

A complete stranger offered, uninitiated by me, to advertise the launch of the first novel in a series I’m going to publish and to help with any questions I had along the way.

Someone gave us a beautiful new chicken—her “nicest, kindest” one—because she’d heard our solitary hen was lonely. Funny, but it really moved me.

In a coffee shop, a young woman out for coffee by herself, slipped out to the washroom, leaving her bag and laptop on the counter where she’d been sitting. Some people might say it was stupid or asking for trouble, but I thought it was a good lesson. Sometimes we have to stop thinking of—almost expecting—worst case scenarios. We need to remember that a lot of people are decent. Are trustworthy. Are kind.

If you’re a little—or a lot—low these days, or if you’re experiencing hard things that you have no idea how to resolve, or worried that you or someone you love might not make it through something, I pray you experience some high notes this week—that you, like me, get what you need and find encouragement in some small, unexpected way.

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“What You Need” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 29, 2014, as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” I’m resharing it here because I was feeling a little blah today, happened to come across it in my files–and found it encouraging. I hope you did too.🙂

SPOONS, River’s Sigh B & B, Book 3 by Ev Bishop


EvBishop_Spoons_800pxThat’s right! SPOONS is ready for your reading pleasure. I’m beyond excited to share Cade and Noelle’s story with you, and I hope you love it.

There’s an extreme heat wave at River’s Sigh B & B, but things have never been colder between Noelle and her husband Cade. When has too much gone wrong for a relationship to be saved? Can shattered love ever be restored?

Buy SPOONS today: ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~ ibooks/Apple ~ Kobo 

*Paper books will be out in a few weeks, available through select bookstores and online*


Haven’t read the other books in the series yet? Don’t hesitate to start with SPOONS. It’s a great standalone read and then maybe you’ll want to grab the other books in the River’s Sigh B & B series, too.🙂

Okay, buy your book, put on tea . . . and spend some time at River’s Sigh B & B! And thank you so much for reading!



What do you know?

Beauty in the shadows

“Beauty in the shadows” – Photo by Ev Bishop

I’m trying something new with my [Terrace Standard] column this year, a theme if you will. At this point, it’s set to continue for a full twelve months. I wonder if I’ll stick with it—oh, the mystery, oh, the intrigue! And what is this theme of which I speak? Well, though I’m being kind of silly in this introduction, it’s sort of serious. And it intimidates the heck out of me.  

Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.
See why it’s terrifying? It’s bad enough when you say things aloud when there are witnesses, especially if it becomes dreadfully apparent that you were totally out to lunch. But with verbalized opinions, at least you can always say you were misquoted or taken out of context (and if it’s my kids or husband quoting me, 99 percent of the time I am being purposely misrepresented!). With written ponderings? They’re always there to haunt you.
And I already know that some of the things I think I’ve learned will change. In fact, I look forward to it and even jotted a note in my journal, “Revisit this when I’m 63!” It can’t be helped, nor would I want it to be. Sometimes we fail to speak about deep subjects because we’re so aware of all we still don’t know, all the ways we fail to live as we believe we should, and all the things we have yet to figure out. But that’s a mistake. Hopefully we’re always learning and growing; I’d better know more in twenty years than I do today!  
So what brought on this lofty goal of sharing any so-called wisdom I may have gleaned to date? A number of things, but I’ll just share the biggest one.   
Many years ago, when I was a very young teenager, I went out to the shop in our yard to get my dad for dinner and I found him talking into a tape recorder and crying. Even now it’s a really hard memory for me. He was horribly embarrassed. I was horribly embarrassed.
He apologized and tried to explain. He was just very lonely, and didn’t have anyone to really talk to about certain things. And so he talked into a recorder while he worked. It helped him sort through and make sense of some stuff.
While the explanation made the whole thing even harder for me, or I should say, sadder, it was also a very good lesson—on being a grown-up (something that at that point I still equated as being a magical state of everything-wonderful) and on being human.
People are meant to ease the loneliness of existence by communicating and sharing the load of all the questions, worries, fears and doubts that come hand-in-hand with living—and the flipside is true too: we’re meant to share the joy and delight and the good, too. But so often, for so many reasons, we don’t, or can’t, or feel we shouldn’t.
Sometimes the reasons we hold back are valid. Over-sharing adult problems with children isn’t healthy for them. And some details are private or, at the very least, not ours to tell. Other times, however, it’s the result of flawed thinking—feeling we have to appear strong or infallible before sharing an opinion. Or it’s because we’re deeply insecure. The list could go on and on. . . .
Yet there are things you learn as you travel through life, insight gleaned through hard knocks—and good times—that you want to pass on. Sometimes we just have to be brave enough to risk looking dumb and rest easy, knowing that whether our thoughts are received in the spirit we mean them or not, at least we tried to convey them.
I won’t be breaking any taboos over the next year, but I will tackle some of the things I care about and have come to believe are important—maybe even critical—to a happy life.
I hope you’ll explore with me.
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“What do you know?” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 27, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
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P.S. 4 more sleeps ’til SPOONS!


5 more sleeps ’til SPOONS launches + a sneak preview!

EvBishop_Spoons_200pxAnd the countdown continues! Just 5 more sleeps ’til SPOONS, River’s Sigh B & B, Book 3 hits digital shelves everywhere (paper books to follow soon after). To celebrate and introduce you to Cade and Noelle a bit ahead of time, please enjoy chapters one and two!

SPOONS by Ev Bishop

~ Chapter 1 ~

Noelle’s girdle chewed at the flesh under her ribcage and the chub at the top of her thighs. And speaking of thighs, an itchy friction rash was forming. How on earth could her legs chafe when she wasn’t even walking? Good times. Sweat trickled under the unintentional cleavage bursting forth from the cotton V-neck she’d thought would travel well—thought wrong. Over the barren miles of highway, it became a stretched out, shapeless mess, like the rest of her come to think of it.

Eva and Emily, thank God, had finally stopped their incessant bickering and the manic buzz of some cartoon was the only sound blaring from the middle seat in the minivan. Normally she, and they, insisted they sit on separate bench seats, but the van was packed so full this trip, they had to share. The horror, the outrage!

When she was a kid, she and Melissa—Oh, God, sometimes the small, silly memories hurt the most, like her heart was being peeled—and their two brothers had traveled smashed into a big station wagon, sweaty legs sticking to the vinyl seats, miscellaneous elbows jabbing tender bits, not a gaming device or portable DVD player in sight. And yes, she used to walk to school up hill both ways, too. Her inner attempt at humor didn’t make her smile.

Noelle remembered those cramped road trips as happy times—or she did now, by comparison. Full of takeout chicken, raucous sing-alongs, and the glory of arriving at their destination, welcomed by their cousins and grandparents like they were long-lost, beloved relations, instead of people who lived just hours away and visited every holiday and random weekends too. So the beloved bit was true then, wasn’t it?

The white noise of the tires and the hazy blur of passing scenery didn’t have its usual soporific effect. Everything about this trip was the opposite of her family’s holidays those long years past. It was just her, the girls, and Cade. Except when punctuated by fighting—the kids’ or her and Cade’s—it was quiet. Dull, if she was generous. Joyless, if she was blunt.

And this second leg of their twenty-hour drive wouldn’t end with family fun to look forward to. Family would be there, yes, but at best, Cade and his parents and brothers tolerated each other. At worst, well . . . they were strangers, weren’t they? Cade had left after the last big blow out and said he was never going back. So why were they going to Greenridge? She’d asked, of course, but he’d just shrugged and muttered that a thirty-fifth wedding anniversary was nothing to sneeze at.

Noelle wasn’t so sure. Once she would’ve wholeheartedly agreed, but now she didn’t know if thirty-five years of marriage should be honored if it was the loveless, soulless union her in-laws were mired in.

She sighed heavily. Man, it was hot. So hot. They should’ve stayed one more night at the hotel and got the air conditioning fixed. She glanced at Cade. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and his well-muscled arms were taut. He always reminded her of a Viking or something, bear-like in size, with tawny hair, skin that turned honey brown with even the slightest sun, and glacier blue eyes. She hated that after all they’d been through, she still thought he was the most attractive man she’d ever met. Did he even look at her anymore? Did he see her at all?

She sighed again, but Cade didn’t so much as blink to register she’d made a sound. Nothing new there, either. When had he stopped asking if she was okay? Ah, well, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like she was beating down any doors to find out what latest thing was stressing him out. And in some ways she didn’t blame him for kyboshing the extra hotel night to fix the air conditioning. It wasn’t the expense, not at all. Of all the marital stresses they could lay claim to, money issues weren’t one of them. It was sharing confined space that was tough. The hotel only had one room left, and even though they’d slept in separate beds, Emily tucked in with her, Eva on the couch, the room was awkwardly intimate.

She shoved the last thought away and wondered, not for the first time, if their financial ease wasn’t almost a curse itself. She had appreciated and fueled Cade’s determination to get ahead, but what if that hadn’t been their primary focus? Scraping by financially took a toll on a relationship, yes, but maybe the reverse was true, too. Maybe too much affluence had its own price. Maybe if they hadn’t been so focused on money and accumulating things, they would’ve risen to the challenge of being each others’ source of pleasure, comfort, entertainment, etc. and avoided this complete disconnect. No, she was just making excuses. For them both. As usual.

She fidgeted. Cade still ignored her, his eyes intent on the road. How was it, she wondered, with him always focused on where they were going, that they’d gotten so far off track?

She turned her head, willing away tears. Trees, trees, and more trees whipped past. How was she going to make it through the next month? And why did Cade insist on them staying for so long? If his reasoning behind the trip was unsatisfactory, his explanation for the trip’s duration was bizarre—especially timing wise. Who announces a big family vacation right after his wife asks for a separation?

“I just don’t get it,” she’d said for the umpteenth time before they left. “Pretending for a moment I understand your burning desire to have your first visit home in years coincide with some big dramatic anniversary shindig, why on earth does it have to be for so long? It’s way too much, and the kids will miss the first weeks of school.”

His response had been weary and resigned, like he considered talking to her some almost-too-heavy cross to bear. “I just want one more vacation with the girls while they’re young. Is that so much to ask? I want them to visit their grandparents, to get to know them a bit, before everything changes.”

Noelle’s eyelids were heavy and she was finally, mercifully, about to nod off when a bouncing motion in the backseat jolted her back to consciousness.

Emily was twisting in her seatbelt, peering at something out the window, and vibrating with excitement in that way only small children can, going from dead asleep to high alert in a heartbeat. “That was the sign. That was the sign!”

Her high-pitched glee sent a fire bolt of pain into Noelle’s brain.

“We’re almost there, Mom. Right, Dad?” Emily yelled at top volume.

“Inside voice, please,” Noelle said, about to add that yes, it was exciting, but Cade interrupted.

“She’s just happy. She’s not hollering to bug you.”

“Yeah, Mom. I’m just happy,” Emily parroted, and Noelle wanted to leap out of the vehicle. Cade was still talking to the girls.

“Just wait ‘til you see this place, guys. You’ll love it.” Cade’s voice couldn’t have been warmer—and it hammered yet another nail into the coffin of their marriage. Noelle knew it made her a fundamentally bad person, or at least the kind of person she didn’t want to be, but she was jealous of her daughters. No matter how things deteriorated between her and Cade or how distant he was from her, he was always there for his kids with every fiber of his being. It was one of his good qualities too, of course, but sometime in the past year or two she’d been left out and hadn’t been able to get back into the circle.

She wouldn’t change his love and support for the girls one iota—that wasn’t really necessary to say, was it? She hoped it wasn’t. Maybe it was something she needed to repeat like a mantra. You do not begrudge your children their father’s love. You do not begrudge your children . . . and she didn’t. She really didn’t. But she also didn’t like how he so easily and so consistently undercut her authority. Sometimes they’d even look at him after she’d issued a direction, as if to confirm that yes, they had to listen to her. And all too often he did what he’d just done now: joke it away or dismiss it, like he was somehow defending them from her when whatever she was asking for was perfectly reasonable.

If you’d told her in their early years together that one day she’d curse—or envy, at least—the very thing she loved most about him, she would’ve called you an idiot or worse.

She struggled upright, grabbed a container of citrus-scented wet wipes from the floor, and waved them over the backseat.

“Wake your sister,” she said as Emily took the wipes. “And clean your face and hands and straighten your hair. We don’t want Nan and Pops to think we’re a bunch of ragamuffins.”

Was it her imagination or did Cade grip the steering wheel even tighter? What did he want from her? She was so sick and tired of always having to guess what was crawling through his head.

In the backseat, Eva scrubbed her eyes blurrily.

“Don’t!” she shrieked as Emily jabbed her in the ribs.

“Mom told me to wake you up.”

“I’m already awake, stupid.”

“Don’t call me stupid. You’re stupid.”

And with that oh-so-witty comeback, the fight was on. Doing her best to tune out the rising volume of sisterly love—they were completely impervious to her pleas for them to knock it off—Noelle flipped the van’s sun visor down and surveyed the damage in its small mirror. She attempted to smooth her heavy auburn hair and to blot away the feverish heat in her cheeks.

The girls’ bickering increased. Great, just great. Even if, by some miracle, the family didn’t think they rolled in looking like a complete mess, it would be harder to hide they were a grouchy, broken disaster.

Why did the best things in life always turn out to be fiction? True love. Happily ever after. Teleportation machines. What Noelle wouldn’t give for a Beam me up, Scottie moment. What.

~ Chapter 2 ~

The oval sign loomed huge and unavoidable to their right. “You won’t be able to miss it,” his younger brother Callum had promised and as usual he was right, Cade thought gloomily. Still, the sign was attractive. To him anyway. He wondered if it was Noelle’s taste at all and a familiar leaden weight pushed in on him, making it hard to breath. But how long had it been since he’d had any clue what his wife wanted, what she liked, what would make her happy? Years maybe. Shouldn’t he be used to it by now?

As he turned into the long driveway, he slowed the minivan and studied the sign more closely. It was made from carved cedar and featured two mountains topped with glinting tin that looked like snow-topped peaks. A yellow sun rose up behind them. Block letters announced River’s Sigh B & B along the bottom. Somehow the effect was both artsy and businesslike. Cade wondered if his mother was behind its creation.

He shot a glance at the girls in the rearview mirror. They were squabbling as usual, but had listened to their mom and straightened their clothing. Eva was pulling her ebony curls—hair that always reminded him of his brother Callum’s—into a ponytail. Emily was scrubbing at the orange Slurpee stain that ringed her mouth. When had Noelle gotten so concerned about appearances anyway? He missed the woman who used to decorate with wooden plaques that said things like, “If you’ve come to see me, welcome. If you’ve come to see my house, make an appointment!” and who let the kids dress themselves no matter how outlandishly they did it. But she was gone because of him, so what could he really say?

He knew he overcompensated with the kids, was too soft which forced Noelle to be too hard. She was always the bad cop. He wasn’t even a cop. But after the battlefield that was his childhood with his dad, all he wanted was to keep the peace. He didn’t share every negative thought he had. He didn’t get enmeshed in long, pointless conversations about their problems. But instead of harmony in their home, it seemed to create the opposite.

And now they were on “holidays” with her suggestion that they separate, made just days earlier, burning a hole in his gut. She’d called it a “trial,” but he knew full well, even if she hadn’t voiced it out loud, what she really wanted was a divorce. She was just biding her time. He wanted to punch a hole in a fucking wall thinking about it—but, of course, he didn’t. He wasn’t like his dad. Not in all ways, at least. He could control himself. And he would. Why couldn’t Noelle see that? He was always working so hard to keep things together. Always.

“Wow,” Noelle said suddenly. “It really is gorgeous here, isn’t it?” The awe in her voice was cute and made her sound, for the briefest second, like the woman who used to love him.

The whole van went silent, as they each took in the ancient forest surrounding them. Massive cedars reached for the sky, some of them so big that Cade didn’t think the four of them, holding hands, could make a loop around their trunks. Other assorted conifers also crowded in, and random names came back to him. Hemlock. Spruce. Jack Pine. Fir. He was shocked by the variety of needle shapes, colors, and textures. How had he forgotten what a forest looked like? He’d grown up in Greenridge, for crying out loud. A leafy plant with jewel red berries drew his eye to the forest floor and its velvet carpet of gleaming moss.

Cade wasn’t an outdoors guy, not really—he spent his time obsessing about room dimensions and floor space—but he found himself wanting to get out of the van and rub some of the bark or touch the moss. He didn’t though. Instead he sped up. And then they were there, pulling up in front of a cedar shake home with a huge porch and old-fashioned multi-paned windows.

“Oh, look at the door!” Emily squealed. “I love it!”

Eva agreed with her sister for once, and they chattered on, pointing out log cabins visible here and there through the trees. Cade studied the bright blue door and wondered at it. Why paint it such a glaring, impractical shade? A neutral color would be better, less out there, more appealing to the masses—and Callum was running a business, after all. Maybe it was a gender thing. Maybe the color was the mysterious new wife’s idea—this Jo woman his old man couldn’t stand. Probably.

The door opened and Callum strode out, one hand raised in greeting, the other linked with the hand of a short woman with wild curls and a welcoming smile.

Cade almost restarted the van and threw it into reverse. This wasn’t the place for them. It was too cutesy. Too overtly cozy and cheerful. It would only highlight everything he and Noelle no longer had, everything they weren’t. It wouldn’t help her see they’d once had something good, something they should try to salvage.

It was too late though. Eva had pushed the release button on the side door, and she and Emily were piling out.

What had he done?

He patted his chest pocket and felt the reassuring outline of the letter folded there. At least he had a back up plan if this one failed, right?

Noelle climbed out of the van just as slowly as he did. Her forehead creased and her wide brown eyes narrowed. The weight on his chest increased. A huge desire to be anywhere but here might be the only thing he and his wife had in common anymore.

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Read the whole story Tuesday, February 9!