Buddy the Duckling

It was an absolutely spectacular day to be six years old. The sun was shining, a few fluffy clouds spotted the bright blue sky to give it a bit of texture, and there was a breeze that was just cool enough to raise the goosebumps on my arms. It was the kind of day that required a light spring jacket which would be uncomfortably hot about halfway through a bike ride. Coincidentally I did exactly that, after asking my mother’s permission, of course. I told her I was going to the park just across the street to play on the playground. I may have had every intention of swinging on the swingset or sliding down the dark-green, plastic slides that would charge me with static electricity. It made the hair on my head stand on end after simply thinking about taking a trip down the chute, the funny thoughts inside personified as the thin, blonde fibers whipped and bobbed in the wind, my little legs carryied me swiftly to the next fleeting whimsy.

But that’s not what I did. Instead, I looked both ways to cross the street, scurried across like my life depended on it, and saw my target: a flock of pigeons just asking to be spooked. I wove between the humongous maple trees that stood like Roman pillars, holding a canopy of light green between the cloud-spotted sky above, and me. Miniature clearings developed naturally between the trees, and in the middle of one of the clearings, the soon-to-be horrified fowl. The trees whirred past as I reached breakneck speed; I swore I was dragging knee as I turned sharply between them.

I always had dirt-and-grass stains on the knees of whatever pants I happened to wear. I was always kneeling to look at bugs, pretending to be an animal (usually a proud lion or stealthy tiger), or falling because I was woefully uncoordinated, and I usually was fighting an adversary that inevitably would knock me to the ground as I protected the princess’s honor. Usually something ginormous like a dragon or tyrannosaurus-rex, but they were still no match for me. I was fearless, intrepid even.

On that gorgeous day, I had no such intentions of scuffing my jeans (though I hardly needed any), but as fate would have it, I’d be nearly bloodied by nemesis.

As the trees swished past my face in a blur, I acquired my target: a flock ripe for the terrorizing. I lined the bike up, pedaled harder and faster than ever before and ever after that day, the birds bolting off the ground, one by one at first, and then all as one mass. But something was wrong. Nearly all of the birds flew away. My mission was nearly accomplished. The single, lone bird that refused to flee happened to be standing right in front of me.

I had no time to dodge. I had no time to bob and weave as I had done with the trees. I wasn’t a horrible kid, I had no intention of shooting to kill. I was just having a little fun. My mind raced faster than my bike (which was a wonder since I was already nearly as fast as a race car), but I didn’t have time to consider options and consequences. In one deplorable motion, I laid the bike down. It sounds so much calmer when I put it that way… In one catastrophic, decisive movement, I torpedoed into the ground, leaving a crater the size of the Grand Canyon in my wake. Sticks, leaves, dirt, and debris plumed into the sky in the shape of a mushroom cloud, and before I knew what happened, I was twisted on the ground. I’m pretty sure I lost a shoe. That was the day my helmet saved my life.

As I gathered my sprawled limbs, I patted myself down to make sure I hadn’t lost an ear or anything important like that. My bike continued on without me for a couple hundred feet, but my mind hadn’t turned to that yet. Still in the army-crawl position, I turned my head with a premature flinch, certain that all I left behind of the poor, aloof bird was a smoking pair of legs, still standing, bodiless, like the kind you’d see in the cartoons. As I slowly surveyed my crash site, my heart leapt; the victim turned to become the attacker, and frozen in place, I shut my eyes tight, muscles clenching as I braced for the onslaught.

A few seconds passed and I didn’t feel a peck or a body slam or any other sort of barrage as one would expect from a put-off bird. Instead, I heard the most adorable, petite chirp. I opened my eyes and let out a chuckle as, staring me directly in the face with something resembling sympathy, a little, golden duckling scanned me for injury. I supposed that was the intent, anyways.

I sat upright, noting the deep brown and green scuffs in my jeans, the right knee exposed and frayed threads holding the now-asunder denim. The duckling jumped up onto my lap and scurried beneath my jacket, shaking. I was now mother duck, and my jacket fold was my shielding wing. I giggled as it ran around me, prodding every once in awhile to decide what all of me was. I didn’t know if I should touch it or pet it or simply leave it alone. What I did know was that I wanted to go home and have my mother assess my injuries because I still ached.

So I made the trek to where my bike’s journey ended, stood it up, and made my way home. As I walked, I thought I’d hear the duckling’s voice grow more distant, but it seemed to stay at the same level as when I hit the ground. I turned around and looked down and at my heel was the little duckling. I didn’t want to hurt it or pick it up, so I tried shooing it by waving my hands halfheartedly, secretly hoping it wouldn’t listen to me.

The walk home was a slow one, I didn’t want to lose my new friend, especially since it had chosen to follow me, and what kind of mother duck would I be if I left the little soldier behind? We looked both was and started across the street. Something inside me felt awry since I was not able to hold the duckling’s hand or wing or whatever you hold on a duck to cross the street, but we had to continue on despite our flaws: such is life.

My house was the second on the left, and my new friend and I made it all the way there all by ourselves. I knocked on the side door, which I’m sure caught my mother off-guard, since I rarely even knocked the bathroom door when I needed to use the potty. She looked me up and down with a questioning look of, “What have you done this time,” and saw the duckling standing politely next to me, not making a peep so as to win over my mother’s heart.

“Can we keep him?” I implored. She laughed and stooped over, startling the little guy as he ran to put me between him and her, “I don’t see why not. What should we name him?” “Buddy!” I smiled and hugged her. I had always wanted a pet.

She gently scooped him up with the care of a real mother and grinned from ear to ear. Keeping him tight yet tenderly in her hands, we searched for a cardboard box to house him in, lined it with a soft towel, and placed two dishes on the bottom: one for water and one with grass (because every child knows ducklings eat grass). We kept his new house in the back room which was open to the elements, but closed in as part of the house so that if he tried to escape, he would never get too far.

In truth, I don’t remember how long we kept him. I remember putting on my same spring jacket and kneeling on the ground so he could be comforted under my wing, flipping a Frisbee upside down and filling it with water for his bird bath, and playing other games with him in the back yard. I won’t tell the story of what happened to him just yet because I’m having too much fun with this happy memory, but he was small and cute and golden the whole time I knew him, and he was my buddy.

Buddy the Duckling

We don’t have trees and parks like this in Arizona, and there’s something about huge cacti that is not nearly as whimsical as a maple tree. If you look directly behind the octagon of the “Stop” sign and a little to the left, you can see the clearing where I nearly ran over Buddy, and he followed me from there to the street crossing in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture. Two houses to the left is my childhood house where I lived fifteen years ago.

She Loves Me

“She loves me… she loves me not… she loves me… she loves me not… uh oh…” and then I picked another daisy from the garden and continue, “She loves me… she loves me not… she loves me… she loves me not… SHE LOVES ME!”

With the biggest grin a five-year-old is capable of, I held onto that pedal like my life depended on it, and to some extent, it did. It made me giddy, even though the little game was slightly fixed. And by slightly, I mean entirely. But it wasn’t fixed by me.

I ran inside as quickly as I could, cheeks ruddy in my brazen yet bashful state. It was only a few hundred feet away, but for me, I traversed the Great Plains and hiked Mt. Everest by the time I reached the kitchen. And there was my mother, looking out the window, watching over me the whole time as she cleaned the dishes. “Mommy!” I ran up to her and she immediately dropped the dish she was slaving over to stoop and pick me up, bringing me to rest on her hip. I held the pedal out for her to take, “It’s a ‘she loves me’ petal.” Chuckling at my childish candor, she asked, “Who loves you, honey?”

“You do.”

I swear I don’t remember her tearing up from that because my attention span was likely already off to the next thing, but she claims she did. I do remember her saying, “I do love you, honey,” and giving me a kiss and the best hug I’ve ever received in my life.

I hadn’t fixed the game, she had. She always has, and continues to until this day. She taught me how to Love, and that’s the most critical lesson I ever learned.

Divide and Conquer, My Love

I swear I’m not a romantic simply because it feels good. In fact, it has hurt me more than it has helped. But I refuse to let go of it. Mayhaps it’s my youthful heart. Mayhaps it’s immaturity. But today, the hurt is so real, and so worth it.

Love is not a word to be taken lightly. It has been describes as a battlefield, hell, a struggle, bliss, blind, and even weakness. Now, I know one of those words doesn’t quite fit with the others, but ignorance is also called bliss… I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you think calling Love “bliss” is actually a positive thing. But, by God, I fell in Love. The worst and best thing about Love is that it is uncomfortable because it causes you to think about another person much more than you think about yourself. Say, for instance, you have a new relationship, but in a very short time, you’ve fallen in Love with that person.

What are the reasons you fell in Love? For me, it was that she treated me better than any other girl ever has. That’s because she’s not a girl, she’s a lady. It’s because she liked my silliness and laughed at my jokes. Some of it was pity, no doubt, but the other side is that she chose to enjoy me as I am instead of judge who I am. She and I could have intelligent conversations… Like, really intelligent. She would indulge my requirement of myself to be cerebral, to discover aspects of the universe I’m sure not many consider. This is not because we have god complexes, but because she knows I need more than silliness and physical affections. She desires to meet me half-way. She would also shower me with compliments, encouragement, and kind words. This is not because she thinks I’m insecure or need any puffery, but because she desires to make me feel Loved. To let me know I’m Loved. She would touch my hands, my sides, my neck. She pulled me close for passionate kisses and whispered words. This isn’t because she just wanted sex. It’s because she wanted me. It’s because she wanted me to smile in that goofy way you do when you’re dumbstruck by the kiss that comes with fireworks and speechless awe. She wanted to pull away and stare into my eyes and see that we make each other happy, just as we are.

She would stare into my eyes. This is not because she thinks my eyes are any prettier than the million other eyes that pass by every day. It’s because she saw me in a way I can’t fathom seeing myself. She hoped that, as I look into her eyes, the reflection of myself in her deep pupils would reflect her perspective of me, in all its shining glory. I stared because I desire the same thing for her. I held her close and told her she’s beautiful, but that’s never quite enough. She’s so much more than beauty, and if she could see herself through my eyes, she would know. I think she did see that at least on one or two occasions. I know I saw it.

When she stared deep into my eyes, smizing (smeyezing?)… I don’t know how to spell it. Smiling with your eyes (thank you, Tyra Banks)… I was reminded that this is how God looks at each and every one of us, every single moment of our lives. He vies for our attention against all other things. I would never feel unloved or unwanted again if I remembered that. Unfortunately, we are but momentary creatures of the Fall. We are so transient. That’s why He sends people like her into our lives, so they can be glimpses and reminders of Himself and His affections.

The sad thing is that not everyone shows that Love He wants us to display.

But she did.

“If you Love me, then let me go.” This is a popular line in a million cliché love songs. I get it now. Arizona is going to feel a bit more like a desert when she’s gone. London is going to win itself an angel.

Through all the tears and heartache, I rest assured that people on the other side of the ocean will be graced with her fire. And she will take in theirs, and with any luck at all, they will start an insatiable inferno, and infallible blaze. With any luck at all, at least one more will finally understand Love.

Before you say I should chase her, win her over, not give up… She’s not mine to cage. If you want more people in the world to understand something as deep and incalculable as Love, you let the bird share its song with all those willing and aware enough to listen.

The bird chooses the nest.

And life will move forward, and we will live lives. And because we part on bittersweet terms, the Love will live forever in the moments we had together, and it doesn’t have to be spoiled by strain. And if there comes a time when it may be reignited, it will be reignited. But what if’s and enslaving hope are a captor whose greed knows no bounds.

She is Love, as I am.

Maybe we were meant to divide and conquer.

Maybe It’s Because You Said Please

Dear Bob,

I’m so so sorry. It’s been about a year since we last spoke, and though for close friends that’s no time at all, it’s a lifetime between you and me. And I still don’t know what to say to you. Part of me wants to tell you how pissed I am at you. How confused this entire situation makes me. The worst part is that I just don’t understand why it affects me so much still. Every time I think about it for too long or talk about it, I either become stiff as a board without a quiver in my lips or fingers, or I cry so much that I am unable to control the steadiness I am so accustomed to in my voice. In the company of others, I maintain some small composure, but alone, I weep bitterly, the sobs taking my breath for granted.

There is just so much I don’t understand. Maybe you were right to tell me I was in over my head. That I wouldn’t understand. That was the last conversation you and I had – the last words you spoke to me. Do you realize that? I don’t want you to feel any remorse or regret, it made me stronger. And weaker. More susceptible to introvertisms and less likely to break down my own walls. More likely to realize when I’m starting to open up, and as a result, freeze in place long enough to barricade my heart. Luckily I’ve always been pretty resilient, as required by my life’s circumstances, and open myself to complete strangers. Perhaps that’s how we got here in the first place. Ultimately, it is my fault that we don’t speak anymore. It was my fault that we started speaking, after all.

I have a few questions for you, Bob. I never expect to get an answer to any of these questions. In fact, I expect to die many years from now without any progress made or any deeper understanding of you or why. But I must ask anyways, if only to finally know I asked them.

What made you fall for Rose Ann? Was she so much to you that you’d find your exodus from Carol acceptable in any way? What is it that she said or did to you to hold you so tightly, so loyally? And when did you finally see how wrong you were? I know you knew you were wrong.

How were you even capable of walking away from all those who know and love you? I imagine I wasn’t terribly significant to you in your life, but that makes my intrusion and involvement that much more puzzling and damning. But how could you walk away from your son? Why didn’t you even attempt to make amends? At least enough to pacify the hatred I know he had. Did your hatred match his? And how could you hold your daughter at arm’s length?

When you spoke with my dad after ten years of absence, what gave you the audacity to ask him out to get drinks? What made you think that was not disgusting and rude, when you had no intention of seeing your word through again?

Fast forward an additional ten years… What went through your mind when you received that letter from me? I know you know that I shouldn’t have known your address. You probably assumed where I got it from, but you’re wrong. Your daughter had nothing to do with my acquisition of your personal information. Luckily, all information can be purchased for a price.

Why didn’t you come to my graduation? I thought you’d show up. You’ve been there before, and I know you’d be proud of me because you know how hard it is. In the end, it may have been for the best. It may very well have done in my broken relationship (though I’d count an early extermination of that a blessing), but I cannot say what my father’s reaction to your presence would have been. I thought that, at the very least, it would have given us both a spot of closure.

When I asked if you wanted to get drinks some time to help you keep at least some small portion of your word, why did you say it was even possible? We both know now it never could have happened. Rose Ann never would have allowed it, and we both know why. I am just so baffled… How did she keep you from us so successfully. Every story I hear about you, you were the badass lady’s man that could find his way around a car and a twelve pack as well as he could tenderness or other things that win women over so easily. Did you use this crap on Rose Ann, or did she use it on you? Did you know she would make you miss your grandson’s birth, countless birthdays, or wreck your princess’s heart? She’s doing fine, by the way. Her son is in the United States Army now. He ships out today. I know you’d have been proud. You’ve been there before, too. How many shots did you fire as a soldier? Did you have nightmares? Sometimes I have nightmares because I neglected that path in my life.

Bob… Robert… Mr. Cleland. I don’t even know how to address you. Perhaps sir is most fitting. It’s the last thing I called you, your final title from me. Do you remember that? Do you know I had utmost respect for you and your wishes? I’d have followed you into war. I knew I’d be able to rely on you… Well, I did believe that, once.

Sir, do you believe what you told me? Do you really believe I wouldn’t have understood? Is telling someone you love them grounds for dismissal? I don’t recall it being a damnable offense in any context, not the way I said it. And my intention was clear, I know that for certain.

Did you know you’d never see me again? Did you know I had an envelope prepared for you? A third piece of paper, a final attempt to reach out. Did you know that I’d regret not sending it to you? Did you know I’d blame myself for your death? Did you know I blamed myself for the deaths of two of my friends? I’m only 24. The only people I know my age that blame themselves for deaths are soldiers and some vein of terrorist. Maybe there is, in fact, no difference but a few blurred lines.

Did you know how much I wanted to meet you? Did you even have any inkling how much meeting you meant to me? I don’t even remember the last time I saw your face, though I hear you did. I was four, you were rolling around on the ground, entertaining me. I hear you loved me once, too. With such distant non-memories, I’m not sure I can see it. I’ll believe it if your daughter tells me you talked about me at all.

Uncle Bob, when you left my family twenty years ago, I know that must have been tumultuous hell for you. I know because everyone else in your family have hearts the size of Texas that cry at even the mention of bagpipes. I know you love your daughter, my cousin. I know because I saw the picture of you two together. One of the last photos of you. You both looked so happy together, despite the hospital bed. Thank God there’s photo evidence, otherwise I’m not sure I’d trust anyone if they told me, even if they all told the same exact story. I know your brother, my father, was strong once, and that he earned some of that strength through your presence in his life. I only hope I may inherit a fraction of your strength. A man with cancer that still has the strength to smile is an admirable and honorable sort of man.

Did you know it would take you before I ever got to see you in the span of my memory? I don’t remember you at four. I wish at twenty-three I’d have known you. Twenty-three was supposed to be a big year for me. Twenty-four so far is full of stumbling, reminiscing, regretting, and attempting to pick myself up enough to move forward one step at a time. That letter I was supposed to send to you before leaving the country for a month could have been a better final conversation between us. Do you remember our final conversation?

“Chris, we got your letter in the mail… You’re in way over your head. This is twenty-some years in the making, and you can’t possibly understand it. Please don’t try to contact me again, and don’t even think about seeing me in the hospital.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t want to hear from you again. Goodbye.”

“Yes, sir. Bye.”

That wasn’t supposed to be our last conversation. I was bringing you back to the family in a way no one else could. I was supposed to see you. I earned my right to see you. I’m the reason you got to spend time with your brother, his wife and daughter, and your own daughter at the end of your life. I’m the reason you talked to your two sisters and second brother on the phone. I’m the reason you got to speak to your son in a civil way for the first time in ten years. I hear it was actually a good conversation, too. I’m the reason you had two days of freedom with your family at the end of your life. I hope you know I do love you. I’m just sorry I never sent that letter.

Maybe it’s because you said please.

Full Time

Yesterday, I received the email that I waited six long years to receive. It reads,

“Dear Christopher Cleland,


Your Bachelor of Science in Engineering Degree has been posted to your Northern Arizona University academic record…”

At first, I was pretty excited. And I mean that in a way where I was, at best, only mildly thrilled to receive this notification. I was sitting at work, my first engineering job, when I got it, and thought, “That is the reason I am here now.”

Let me explain something: I know I am blessed by the opportunity to be here, the opportunity to go on to higher education and earn a degree in something people consider “prestigious,” and to have a job right out of college. But I will not pretend this is the happiest day of my life, nor the happiest I’ve ever been. Some people may think, at this point, I am ungrateful. I can assure you I am not, I know all of this is a privilege that some don’t have the opportunity to pursue.

I decided to look at my transcript to see how my employer will see me if they choose to look over this transcript, this glimpse at the nutshell that was my college career. As I looked it over, I couldn’t help but question what the devil it was that kept me going. First semester: and A, two B’s, a D, and an F. The only positive grade towards my major was a B in Calculus, and I remember my professor telling me that she gave it to me, that I had likely earned a D, if she was being honest.

Okay, no worries. First semester of college can be rough on some. Let’s look at semester two: Two B’s, two C’s, and an F. Okay… not so good. No matter, it usually takes a year to get into the swing of things. Year 2 of college was no better, most of my good grades achieved in media classes (that was my minor for awhile), and the poor grades were typically the math or engineering classes (but I’ll remind you, they start out quite simple). The overall GPA trend was rocky, at best. I have no shame admitting I ended on a 2.69.

So why am I even writing this? Because someone needs to hear this: I didn’t follow my heart, I didn’t follow my dreams, and it landed me exactly where it promised it would. In a cubicle at a job I don’t really like, doing work I cannot invest myself in because, as good as it is for the greater portion of society, it is not where my heart lies. I am getting paid more than I ever have (six times as much as I was making at Home Depot), and yet my lust for life and the skip in my happy-go-lucky gait is all but worn down.

Now, this job does afford me the opportunity to follow my dreams as I am recording new music, flying to other cities and states regularly to visit friends and record on other artists’ projects, but what’s the use if I wake up every day dragging my feet, and come home sapped of the little energy I started with and the will to move forward or to create?

The question remains: why am I still here? Well, I had to pay for that degree somehow, and seeing as I lost my scholarship after my first semester, I am paying full price for that schooling. So I’m here to pay off a debt for something I didn’t want to do by doing something else I don’t want to do, while looking for the silver linings in every 45-minute car ride to and from work. I’m afraid I’ll be comfortable even after the debt is paid, I’m afraid the energy I started with will be completely gone by the time I am done here, and my paycheck will be THE motivator (and trust me, it’s a very strong motivator).

I’m not bitter (well, maybe I am a little), but this is also just my life path. This is the direction I have been given to walk along; it is a culmination of conditioning, action, and reaction. I have learned a lot from it, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it someday when I am much older, wiser, and more patient.

But this is here for you, not me. I lived this so you (and you know who you are) don’t have to. And I won’t say “you don’t have to make the mistakes I did” because it was no mistake and you’re going to make mistakes of your own. But don’t be afraid to shift the paradigm, to question those that “know better.” Don’t be afraid to upset mommy and daddy. This is YOUR life, and if you want to be a musician or a writer or a school teacher or an entomologist or a circus clown, you go write ahead, ya little weirdo. Be you. Let your heart do the talking for you. And know that it is never too late.

I mean look at me. I am sitting at an engineer’s desk, pretending to be a writer when no one is looking, pretending to be a musician when I get home, a coffee shop barista on the weekends, and a full time dreamer.

I guess I haven’t lost my spark yet, but I am afraid I will lose it. Something that will help me maintain the ember glow is encouragement, so please let me know if you got anything from my little rant here. And more importantly: make sure you encourage anyone you see with the same symptoms as me. The losing hopers and unsure man-childs. There are tons of us around, and we can usually be seen acing absurdly childish or giddy in the most commonplace, mundane situations, making the best of ordinary situations because the ordinary conversations are the ones that light up our world.

At the center of the brightest lights is a black force which threatens to absorb the light simply because it is easier to succumb than it is to fight. But if there’s a dream in which we can believe and other believers to water the seed, the darkness is extinguished, or at least  remains at bay, and life grows like a golden tree.

The Children – Rachel and Jonathan (to be continued)

A fire burns low in the hearth, emitting a deep, velvety red glow that swaddles the room in shadows and warmth. Across from the hearth sits an oversized but broken in dark brown leather couch, now appearing nearly black as a silhouette, guarded on either side by knotted wood side-tables topped with a glass of undoubtedly warm milk and a napkin displaying a few crumbs. Laying upon the couch, the most curious young lady I have ever beheld. Eyes crystalline blue as topaz now tightly shut, knotted golden hair strewn across every surface it can reach, flowing down her right shoulder like the cascading confusion that fills her mind. Breathing in steady, deep draughts, the serenity of the scene is a fine masquerade in comparison to her dreams. Her eyelids quiver as her eyes shift back and forth, desperately hoping beyond hope that they’d open to release her from the horrific scenes playing out behind them. To no avail, her night terror continues on with vigor.

“Go back from whence you came, you spiggity liggle jobbity!” This may seem quite humorous to you and I, but how often do terrors in the night actually make sense to those foolish enough to wake up? “I’ll globble your brigobrough with my nuffinty blumputs if it’s the las’ thing I do!” With that, the jobbity shot its fearsome gaze in her direction, threatening to petrify her arms and disintegrate her toes, but she blocked it with a happy thought of a knight in shining armor just in the nick of time. She lunged back with a sunflower and a cup of chai tea, aimed directly at its focal point. The jobbity dodged most of the attack, but a pedal and a few drops clipped its shumpty, knocking it slightly off-balance. This bought her enough time to get back to her feet and send a slurry of nostalgia that was sure to hit its mark. Her aim was straight and true, but her belief in herself wavered, causing the direct hit to weaken even as it approached the beast. With a gurgling chortle, the jobbity flobbed at the jib. This was it, she knew it. Why did she always always always have to have an explanation ready for why she can’t do it? She spent what seemed like an hour hopelessly watching the flob when it finally was mere millimeters away from her face. “I am ready,” she said. With that, the jobbity collapsed and imploded. Simultaneously, the scene melted into a canvas of watery chalk on a rainy day, and she slowly opened the lids of her eyes, finally free and yet tragically devastated that she could not have reveled of her victory for more than a moment.

“Rachel, sweetheart,” a hearty, merry voice whispered as a coarse yet tender hand lovingly smoothed her hair, gathering the bits that poured over the arm of the couch, “I made you some eggs and toast for breakfast. You fell asleep on the couch. Did you have bad dreams again?” “Don’t be silly, da. There’s no such thing as a bad dream. I started sleeping in my bed, but the jobbity threatened me… I knew I’d need the glow of the fire for this one. It warmed me up, and I think I got it in the end, but then it all melted.” With a chuckle, he helped her sit up and escorted her to the table, still trying to correct the rogue strands of hair. She hopped into the seat in front of the plate of sunny side up eggs and lightly toasted wheat bread, cinnamon sugar sprinkling onto the plate as she bit into it. He turned to ask if she wanted some coffee with her breakfast, but she was so contented by the toast that he didn’t bother to ask and poured her a tall, steaming mug, adding just a splash of cream. She smiled brightly and garbled, “Shanksh da.”

Some peoples smiles light up a room, but not Rachel’s. Hers could light up the whole of the night sky, even with a full moon and all the stars. They say smiles are contagious, but the epicenter and origin of that contagion is Rachel. I myself have been in such a foul mood that I literally couldn’t think of one decent thing to say about myself or anyone else, and so I stayed silent for the entire morning. (I’ve been told by several sources that if I have nothing nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all.) It was a miserable morning to be miserable on and there wasn’t a darn thing anybody could say to make me think differently. I hit my head in the shower, dropped my soap several times, bruising at least three of my toes, ripped my pants while trying to put them on in a hurry because I was running late, and discovered to my chagrin that I had not prepared my pantry for the next day, so I had nothing of substance to eat for lunch. So I gave up on the day and decided I’d at least do one thing I enjoy: sit at a coffee shop.

Head low and bobbing lazily, feet scraping the pavement with my shoulders hunched, I slumped over to a café called Cultured, and as I reached out to open the front door, who but Rachel should greet me with a big, toothy-grinned and squinty-eyed smile, and say, “Top ‘o the Monday mornin’ to ya, mister! It’s quite the lovely day we’re having!” Without a hesitation or second thought, I returned the greeting, “Sure is, kiddo!” and bounced my merry way over to the counter to order my coffee, whistling the happiest tune I think I may have made up on the spot, the hint of a skip filling my gait. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! The cashier laughed at how goofy and wide my smile was. It wasn’t until I looked to find a table that I thought about what I was there to do. The goal was to improve my mood in some minute way, but that had been done for me already and in such a way that I could hardly believe I’d ever been unhappy before in my life.

I was perplexed. I had to think about what it was that turned my day around, and when I had finally figured it out, Rachel was already out the door and down the street, dragging her dad and brother along as she bounced and sang something about being a silly cherry tart, her father laughing and trying to hush her because she didn’t know what she was saying.

Back at the breakfast table, Rachel’s dad put the dishes in the sink and poured three more coffees- one for himself, one for his wife, and the third for Rachel’s brother, Jonathan. He beamed as he watched her hum, chewing her eggs and slurping her coffee. He was so proud of his little princess. “BRUCE! What’s my name again?!” Rachel’s mom called to her dad. “What the devil are you talking about?” He shouted back, knowing that this would be some sort of silly setup. “WHAT’S MY NAME?” she asked again “Uhh… Deborah?” With that, she slid into the kitchen, arms outstretched and theatrical, and said, “No! It’s Deboooooraaah!” She was dressed in electric blue sunglasses, a lime green, feathery boa, and a large yellow sunhat in addition to her pajamas. Humorously suave and sassy, as she called it, she strutted over to her place at the table, lifted her glasses to wink at Rachel, and blew a kiss to Bruce, both of them laughing from their stomachs, Rachel fell off her chair.