As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt III

“As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence” is now off to the editor and I expect to have it available just before the Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales right after Thanksgiving. It is the second book in the “As Life Goes” series; As Life Goes: Elementary is already available.

Excerpts for the books in that series are available via:

As Life Goes: Elementary – Links to Excerpts

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt I
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-i/

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt II
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-ii/

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt III
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-iii-author-jason-zandri/

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Links to Excerpts

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt I
http://bit.ly/1knbsVe

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt II
http://bit.ly/1MycCaG

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt III

Matthew pulled away from Tim’s place on Valley Street and turned left up the steep hill to West Side Field. He took the right turn onto East Street and looked up in the mirror at Melissa who never came up front once Tim got out as she always did.
Matthew looked at the time on the clock, which read a little past nine and turned into the parking lot.

Melissa barely looked out the window and grabbed at her things around her seat. “Are you planning to make me walk down to Carlton Street from here?”

“Of course not,” Matthew answered, shutting the van off and turning to the side in his captain chair seat in order to look directly at her. “What’s going on with you today? You’ve been bi-polar all day. Happy half the time and upset the other half.”

Melissa fidgeted and tugged at her pull over. She then fussed with her hair. She tried to look up in the rear view mirror quickly and then fished through her bag for her brush.

“I presume you’re coming tomorrow and not seeing Paul tonight,” Matthew said looking at her affectionately, watching her combing out her hair.

“No, I’m not seeing him tonight. I have to comb out this rat’s nest of sand and salt water or I’ll look like hell tomorrow too,” she said, sounding agitated.

Matthew looked at her hair, “I get it, I suppose. You look fine. At least I think you do.”

“Ugh!” Melissa huffed pulling more of her hair with the brush.

“What?” Matthew responded defensively. “I meant that.”

“Of course you did; Matthew can do no wrong.”

“What the hell is going on with you?” Matthew said.

Melissa looked up at him, half mad and half upset. She dialed it back because she knew she was out of line. “Forget it. I’m sorry. Long day… it was fun and I want to go tomorrow but I’m tired a little and cranky. Too much sun and then too much pizza…”

“Anything else?” Matthew asked quietly.

A small grin stretched over her lips. “Well, I’m feeling a little crampy ahead of my monthly visitor…”

Matthew playfully winced. “I have to be the only male that gets subjected to this. Alecia and Carrie are getting to be TMI with me too.”

“What can we say,” she said softly and slowly moving up to the front seat. “We trust you. You’re a nice guy. You defend us. You never judge any of us.” She sat in the passenger captain chair sideways to face him and dropped her bag forward.
Matthew looked at her and just stared casually.

“Nothing to say?” Melissa asked. “I figured you’d chime in with one of your pearls of wisdom. We are going to have to start writing them down. Sanfordisms or something like that.”

Matthew shook his head. “No, I was waiting to see what you were going to say next.”

“You’re pretty humble, generally,” she quipped. “Did I miss something pertinent?”

“No,” he answered naturally, leaning backwards part of the way.

“Oh, no” she said in a mischievous tone and raising her right eyebrow upwards. “I am invoking friendship rules. You have to come clean with what you’re thinking…”

“You have to know the rule number,” Matthew said playfully.

Melissa scrunched up her nose and then rested her hands on her knees. “Four,” she said simply. “Unless divulging would break a trust, friends must speak what’s on their mind.”

“That rule can only be invoked once a day,” Matthew said glancing over at the clock. “Time limit?”

“Next five minutes,” she said boldly. “Communication; just the facts and no hurt feelings – go!”

“Okay,” Matthew said with a slight sigh. “I was thinking about the way you and the girls…”

“The guys do too; you’re like their rock,” Melissa quickly added.

Matthew held up his hand, “Okay.” He moved in the seat a little. “I was thinking about just the girls and two things dawned on me.”

“Go on,” Melissa said anxious to hear the rest.

“I realized that as nice as it was to hear, that you and the girls appreciate me and how and where I stand, it dawned on me at that moment that your opinions of me were the ones that mattered the most.”

Melissa smiled warmly. She started to reach over and then hesitated when she thought of Paul.

“Paul,” Matthew said, noticing her movement and then her stopping short. He looked into her deep brown eyes. “It’s okay, I understand.” Matthew looked to his left and casually out the windshield and then back to her. “So what were you so miffed about today?”

Melissa breathed in to respond but Matthew jumped back quickly. “And you can’t simply say, ‘dumb bitch Liz’ like you always do. I want you to tell me specifically what about her tagging along pissed you off today because I know that’s what it was in general.”

Melissa deflated her lungful of air and mulled over what she wanted to say. “Okay… honestly? No holds barred? No guilt involved? I speak my free mind and… you keep me as your best friend?”

“Yes,” Matthew said without hesitation.

Melissa flinched a little. She had tossed in the last part of her comment on a lark and it didn’t faze Matthew at all; he answered it wholeheartedly.

“Okay,” she said sitting upright. “It really pisses me off the way Liz is. Donna and Marie go to school with her at Lyman Hall and they hate how she is. She is conceited and inconsiderate. You made plans with Donna for tomorrow…”

“I made plans with everyone,” Matthew defended casually.

“Yes,” she retorted, tipping her head, “but you asked her in the vein of having her come specifically. Yes, you’d go if she couldn’t and she could have tagged along with Liz, but you asked her specifically so it’s sort of like a public date.”

“I wouldn’t presume to debate your point,” he said playfully smug.

“You would lose,” Melissa responded in kind with a smile. “I mean, you literally just finished asking her to go and Liz had to follow you all the way out to the water. Good thing when you came back out to cozied up to Donna. You scored back lost points…” Melissa trailed off in her comments as a brief unsettled look crossed Matthew’s face. “What happened out there anyway?”

“Oh you know, just chit chat; you know Liz,” Matthew said quickly.

Melissa pointed to the clock. “It’s never just chit chat with her; not since seventh grade when she was kicked out of Dag Hammarskjold Middle School for making out in the stairwell. You’re inside the five minutes.”

“No holds barred? No guilt involved? I speak my free mind and… you keep me as your best friend?” Matthew repeated Melissa’s ask.

“Yes,” she responded nervously. “Or course… to the end of our days.”

“She made a pass at me,” Matthew said quickly. He looked at Melissa’s blank stare. She really didn’t want to hear the rest; he could tell by looking at her.

“How?” she asked Matthew.

“Are you sure…” he started.

“How?” she repeated to him.

“Under the water…” Matthew said looking down and then away. He was somewhat embarrassed to tell her but it was what they both agreed. “I wanted to stop her and say ‘no’ but the second she touched me…”

“You had sex with her in the ocean? In plain sight of everyone?” Melissa said with a roar.

“No, no, no!” Matthew quickly defended. “No,” he continued squirming in his seat. “Firstly, I’ve never done that… I’m still… well… you know.”

A look of relief washed over Melissa’s face.

“She reached for my swim trunks under the water and touched me. I was excited. As much as I wanted her to stop, I wanted her to keep going. And she did. She reached inside.”

“And?” Melissa asked.

“And eventually I couldn’t take what she was doing anymore and I… well… you know.” Matthew said with a slight smile.

“Eeeww. In the water?” Melissa said puckering up her face.

“What?” Matthew said. “It’s the Atlantic Ocean, not a pool. There’s a ton of salt in the water already, and all the marine life, large and small, do far more than what I did in there.”

Melissa burst out laughing and Matthew was happy to have the tension broken so he laughed along with her.

He glanced over at the clock as it went past the five-minute mark.

“So have you ever?” he asked her. “You know… with a boy?”

“No,” she answered looking at the time as well. “Second base is as far as I let them go. If I touch them when we kiss it’s always on the outside of their pants, if at all.” She looked over at him and then at the clock. “So never?”

“No,” Matthew said. “I never tried entirely so I don’t know if I could have or not. I never went in prepared, you know, carrying a condom or anything, so I don’t know.”

“Third base?” she asked.

Matthew turned up the corner of his mouth slightly and Melissa asked nothing further.

“So I know we’re past our time and all, but why does my interest with Liz bother you?” he asked starting the van and turning around to face forward. “At some level it’s always bothered you. You’re the one with the steady boyfriends since ninth grade; what’s the big deal who I am infatuated with?”

“I don’t know really,” she said softly, moving to sit forward herself. “Maybe because I know it’s an infatuation and risky that I don’t want your feelings hurt… Maybe I think you’re this awesome person that deserves someone that can really appreciate all of you and what you offer to them.”

“She doesn’t?” He asked, dropping the van into drive.

“Hell no,” she answered loudly. “I supposed there’s someone for everyone but she doesn’t deserve you.”

“And you do?” he blurted out quickly and looked at her.

Melissa turned red and quickly responded “I never said I did. And I am seeing someone.”

“You never said you didn’t either,” Matthew said. He waited for her to follow up more but she stayed quiet the remaining two blocks to her house.

Once there Matthew turned off the van and hopped out. He grabbed the left over pizza for her to take in and she grabbed her things. The two of them walked toward the door of her mother’s apartment. Matthew looked up quickly to see the curtains move and come to rest. He smiled a little and then turned to Melissa.

Melissa opened up the front door and dropped her things inside. Matthew stepped inside to set the pizza carry out box down.

“So tomorrow then?” he said.

“Yep,” she responded brightly.

Matthew stood at the door and looked down into her eyes. He caught himself in the pause and taking half a step forward. He immediately stepped back.

“Okay,” he said leaning toward outside. “I’ll see you then.”

“Matthew,” Melissa said calling out quickly.

He turned around, looked right into her dark brown eyes, and only stared.

“We were talking just before, when I said how we girls thought of you. You said ‘two things dawned on me.’ You only told me one. I’d really like to know what the other thing was.”

Matthew breathed in deeply and turned to face her. “Do you remember fifth grade when we first met?”

“Yes,” she said, fondly recalling some of the memories that quickly flooded her thoughts.

“I was thinking of the kind things you were saying about me, that you and the girls thought. And then I thought about how it really only mattered to me what you thought.”

“Yes, you told me that,” she said softly. “What was the other thing?”

“I though how nice and warm it made me feel that you thought those good things of me. Like in fifth grade when you used to tell me I was the nicest boy you ever met. I realized suddenly that somewhere along the way, in middle school I think, you stopped saying it. I realized I missed it and I hoped I still was that ‘boy’ to you.”

“You remember that?” A flood of emotion poured over Melissa and she struggled to keep herself in check. “I still feel exactly that way about you.”

“It’s nice to know that.” Matthew smiled softly, took two steps backwards, and called out. “See you tomorrow.” Matthew hustled around the van and got in. Melissa closed the front door, pressing her right hand on it, leaving it there, and just stared at it.

Once she couldn’t hear the sound of the engine anymore because the van pulled away and around the corner, she burst into uncontrollable tears.

as-life-goes FINAL cover large

End of the Innocence

NaNoWriMo day seven – I, Hero: Phases – PROLOGUE

#NaNoWriMo day seven – I, Hero: Phases – PROLOGUE

Hephaestus stepped into the chamber and made his way toward Ares. “I make the assumption we are alone in here?”

“We are; is there some concern that you have?” Ares asked turning towards him.

“I always have concerns where your schemes are concerned; especially the ones that fly in the face of agreements with Zeus.” Hephaestus said lumbering into a seat near a large table.

Ares walked past him and around to the far side and sat. “You and I both know Ahzeem Ama’s eternal soul is still trapped between the Ethereal and Astral planes of existence. The evil essence that consumed him in the Prime Plane…”

“Is trapped within the mortal called Rebecca Farnsmith,” Hephaestus said, cutting him off. “The Olympians are aware of this. We are also aware that Lachesis finished her measuring work; that thread in now in Atropos’ hands.”

“Yes,” Hades proclaimed softly. “The issue is, the Hero Nathan.”

“Yes. He has become unpredictable to the point where the Watchers are confused and The Fates have been moved, continually. Even they are unsure of what force is re-guiding their hands.” Hephaestus replied.

“What is more likely is what has been seen regarding Rebecca Farnsmith. What we need to do is to be prepared for that end game.” Hades countered. “I do not have enough power alone; are you prepared to commit?”

“I am,” Hephaestus answered. “I will be here and ready when that time comes.”

“Are you also prepared to deal with Zeus?” Ares asked. “The time is near when the choice to close the circle is to be made; it will be the only way to eliminate Nathan.”

“The powers of the gods were meant for the gods; if a champion be needed I was always fine to go along with Zeus because it was never a permanent thing. I made one exception with Ahzeem Ama and we all know how that went. The total strain on the tie to the realms… I know that another will likely end our ability to hold our powers and our existence. The beings in the Prime Universe… as much as I find them interesting, I am not willing to end my existence in favor of allowing theirs.”

Ares nodded and said nothing further.

I Hero Phases

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt I

During the 4Wills Publishing blog tour, I offered an alpha read of Chapter ONE of “As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence”.

Today, as I wrap up the first half of the book, I am releasing the full first chapter as an excerpt, which you can find at the end of this post.

As Life Goes: Elementary is already available to purchase at Amazon and I am expecting to have As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence completed and released inside of the next four weeks.

Sales are finally picking up on book one of the series and the reviews are coming in now finally; I had a huge spike on sales from a marketing effort and no reviews. Then a bunch came in at once and I now have eleven.

as-life-goes FINAL cover large

As Life Goes: Elementary – Links to Excerpts

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt I
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-i/

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt II
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-ii/

As Life Goes: Elementary – Excerpt III
https://gunderstone.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/as-life-goes-elementary-excerpt-iii-author-jason-zandri/

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – (expected November 2015)

End of the Innocence


As Life Goes: The Reunion – (expected April 2016)
As Life Goes: The Wedding (expected July 2016)
As Life Goes: The Funeral (expected October 2016)

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt I

Matthew Sanford pulled his red Chevrolet conversion van along the curb in front of the three-family house where Melissa lived with her mother. He looked at the time on the dash; it read 6:15 a.m. He glanced back over at her sister’s apartment next door when Diane stepped out.

Matthew got out of the van and walked around behind it.

“Good morning, Matthew,” Diane Wakeford said to him while she pulled the door closed and locked the deadbolt with her key. “Are you taking Melissa and the gang to the beach again?”

“Hi Di; yes, we decided to go since none of us had to work today,” Matthew said dragging his fingers through his slightly long brown hair. “Well, Tim had to work, but then he got someone to cover for him.”

“I hope Missy is chipping in for gas,” Diane said stepping out to the sidewalk. “Having a car is expensive with the service, fuel, and the insurance. She works too; she can pitch in.”

Matthew looked into Diane’s striking blue eyes. Every time he did, he could see Melissa and he always graced the feeling with a warm smile. This conversation was no different. “She offers. Almost every time. I always tell her no. I get a few bucks from the guys. I just feel better about it like that.”

Diane smiled at the consideration the young man paid to her little sister, who was no longer as little as when they all first met seven years ago. “You know Matthew,” she said smiling at him and turning a little to keep the sun out of her eyes, “you’ve turned into quite an impressive young man in so many different ways, but least of all how you treat people.” Diane’s tone turned somewhat somber for a moment. “Don’t ever let the travails of life take any of that wind out of your sails.”

Matthew just looked at her for a moment. He wasn’t sure how to take the comment. “Is everything okay, Diane?”

“Oh sorry,” she said recovering her normal, happy tone, “I didn’t mean to be a wet blanket on your beach day. Just some things on my mind. So who are you picking up today?”

Matthew didn’t dismiss Diane’s demeanor but he let it go for the time being. “After I get your sister here, I’m going to swing around to get Tim and his girlfriend Patti. Then I am going to get Mike and Lesley,” he said dragging his foot a bit on the sidewalk. “I think Missy said Alecia and Carrie wanted to go, so I’ll get them too. It’s why I start so early. By the time we fetch everyone and get out of town it’s after eight.”

“And you go all the way to Misquamicut?” Diane asked.

“Yep,” Matthew said. “It’s a nicer beach. It’s a fun ride in the van. We listen to the music and then we spend the day there.”

“Are you still stopping on the way home in Old Saybrook for Pizza?” Diane asked taking a slight step backwards and glancing down at her watch.

“It’s the ritual,” Matthew replied with a grin. “I figure we have a couple more weeks or so of opportunity then it’s back to Sheehan for senior year. We might not get the chance next summer depending on who’s going where and doing what for college, work, and other things.”

The popping sound of the neighboring door pulled Matthew’s attention and he turned to see Melissa coming out in her yellow two-piece, covered only by a flimsy pullover. She smiled to the two of them and came down the stairs. “I was waiting for you to come inside and get me,” she said smiling with the early morning summer breeze blowing her long black hair behind her. “But I see I am no competition for the engaging conversation of the illustrious Miss Wakeford,” Melissa said playfully as she bounded over to Matthew’s side.

“Well good morning, Miss Bancroft,” Diane responded spiritedly. “I see you’re wearing the minimum amount of bathing suit as required by law.”

“Oh geez,” Melissa said tugging on her pullover and adjusting her top, “you sound like Mom now.”

“The only reason you get away with that outfit with Mom is because she knows you’re going with Tim and Matthew,” Diane said in a motherly tone. “Otherwise she’d never let you out of the back yard with it on.”

“Really?” Melissa said turning her comments away from the original playful tone. She looked herself over. “Matthew,” she said, “is this suit ‘too much’”?

“I think it’s fine,” he said looking her up and down once. “You could almost pass for a girl,” he said lightly teasing and quickly backing up.

“You jerk,” she responded back, playfully taking a swing at him. “Paul likes it.”

“Ah, the new guy,” Matthew said coolly. “What happened with Chris?”

“Well,” Melissa said switching her beach bag between her hands and stepping towards the van, “come to find out we wanted different things,” she said.

“Such as?” Matthew said moving over to open the passenger slider for her to get into the van.

“I wanted him to be… I don’t know, decent, I guess,” she said climbing in the van.

“And what did he want?” Matthew said closing the door part of the way.

“Dumb whore, Jenny.”

Matthew whistled lightly and closed the door. “Guess I won’t ask what that’s all about,” Matthew said looking at Diane.

“Good idea,” Diane said. Matthew came around to the back of the van to cross over to the driver’s side. “Matthew?” Diane said before he stepped all the way around.

Matthew turned back and looked at her. Diane hesitated for a moment with her mouth open. “Have fun today,” she said with hesitation in her voice.

Matthew stared for a moment and looked at her. “Okay,” he said with a small smile. “Was there something else?” he asked taking a small step forward towards her.

Again, Diane hesitated. “No,” she quietly responded. “Just have fun. And be careful.”

“Yes, Mom,” Matthew said jokingly.

Diane curled her hand up into a fist, shook it, and puckered her face tight. Matthew laughed aloud. “Did you want a ride to the store?” he said wiping his eyes, which teared up from laughing.

“No thank you,” she said politely, “I like the short walk and it’s nice out.”

Matthew waved and turned to get into the van.

***

Diane was at the main counter at Colony Convenience when Elizabeth Wellsworth walked through the door. “Fifteen on pump four, please,” she said handing a twenty to Diane.

Diane turned the pump on and made the change for her. “You’re Elizabeth, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” Liz replied with a slight smile. “You’re Missy’s sister right? Diane?”

“I am,” Diane said glancing out the window and over to her car. She noticed the girls in the car and all the beach attire. “I guess everyone is going to the beach today except me.”

“Really?” Liz said looking around the store. “Is Matthew going?”

“Oh,” Diane said surprised. “I assumed you were tagging along with them. Once in a while there’s a second car full when his van is loaded.”

“He’s going to be at Rocky Neck today?” Liz asked inquisitively.

Diane paused for a moment. She realized that Liz wasn’t going with them and then remembered that Liz and Melissa didn’t get along very well with one another. “Um… I’m not sure where they are going.”

Liz looked out the window of the store as Matthew’s van pulled into the lot. “I guess I can ask him now,” she said with a smile and turned to walk out of the store. She quickly shook out her long red hair.

Mark exited the back room and looked out the window to see his son’s van come to park in the open space. “I see everyone is going to the beach except us,” he said to Diane.

She laughed. “I just said that to Elizabeth,” she said pointing to her outside.

Mark nodded and scratched an itch on the side of his head. Diane looked at his graying hair and then reached up touched her own shoulder length black hair. She was staring at him.

“Do I have something in my hair?” Mark asked playing with it some more.

“Oh, no,” Diane said surprised, realizing she was staring at him. “Sorry.”

Mark walked around the counter to see his reflection in the small two-way mirror on the wall. He sighed. “Just like my Dad,” he said sounding somewhat resigned.

“How so?” Diane asked.

“Well,” Mark said turning around to look at her. “My Dad started getting gray hair in his forties as well. I’ll be forty three soon; I was hoping it would take a little longer.”

Diane turned her right eyebrow up and grinned. “I think it makes you look even sexier than you already are.”

Mark smiled at her. “Easy for you to say; your hair is jet black as the day I met you.”

“And if it wasn’t?” she asked.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Mark said turning to walk away into the larger area of the store, “I’d still want you more than I did yesterday, but less than I will tomorrow.”

Diane smiled at the comment as a warm feeling rushed over her entire body.

***

Matthew hopped out of the driver’s door and Tim pulled the slider open to grab the cooler. Michael Anderson popped his head out of the back seat area. “You guys need any help?”

“Nah,” Tim said, “you can stay with the girls.” He grinned and looked back. Michael shook his fist playfully. “I’ll keep them all warm.” Lesley Patterson, his girlfriend, lightly shoved him at the remark.

Tim smiled and looked over at his girlfriend Patti and then he turned to Matthew who came around the van.

“Hi Liz,” Matthew said to her as she approached the van.

Tim looked into the van to see Melissa scowl while she looked past Carrie and Alecia.

“So I see you’re all headed to the beach as well,” she said with a smile, overtly adjusting her top. Matthew followed her hands with his eyes.

Carrie gave Melissa a slight shove and pointed. Melissa turned back, looked at her, and whispered in a harsh tone. “What?”

Tim stuck his head back into the van slightly to listen inconspicuously.

“She’s going to bait him,” Carrie said quietly. “She’ll find out where we’re going; do you really want her there?”

“Not really my business,” Melissa said quietly. Alecia leaned in. “I have a new boyfriend now and…”

“And nothing,” Alecia said. “Paul was conveniently around and asked you to the movies when Chris pulled that bullshit stunt. I’ve never understood why you and Matthew never got together.”

“I know why,” Carrie said confidently in a hushed tone. Patti listened in as well. “It’s like Alecia said, you never really give him the chance. You end one boyfriend and end up with another one asking you to a movie or skating or something.”

“So it’s my fault that I like to go out and do things with boys?” Melissa asked defensively.

“It’s not that. You just never give him the chance.” Patti interjected.

“We’ve been friends for years,” Melissa responded, looking over fondly at him. “I never considered it much and always figured if he liked me more than friends he’d say something.” Her tone changed just slightly. “He never has.”

“That’s what we’re saying,” Carrie replied. “You’re never really giving him the chance. You are good friends; he knows that too. He doesn’t want to ruin that so when a chance opens, he treads lightly, but before he takes a chance you’re out to pizza with the next boy.”

Melissa didn’t respond immediately. She continued for focus on Matthew and Liz. She watched him look at her and then looked up and down her figure herself. “If I stepped out of the van now he wouldn’t even see me.”

Alecia looked over at Matthew. “You have a boyfriend now; he knows that. He’s not going to challenge.”

“Liz has a boyfriend too. More than one for that matter,” Melissa glared. “Not stopping him from looking at her like that.” Self-consciously, she pulled at her bathing suit top. “Maybe if I looked that… healthy…”

“Pay better attention, girl,” Patti said with a snap in her voice, undoing her sandy blond hair and pulling it back into a ponytail. “He looks at Liz like that when he sees her; when she’s front and present. Take a better look at him at other times. That look in his eyes; it’s always there for you, whenever someone mentions your name, even when you’re nowhere around.”

Tim took a couple of steps back. Liz reached up and hugged Matthew quickly.

“I’m sure we’ll run into you,” she said, letting go and turning to look into the van through the windshield. She smiled directly at Melissa and turned to walk away.

Tim looked over, saw Mark exit the store from the main door, and walked over towards the boys. “Live it up,” he called out warmly, “summer is almost over and then it’s back to the grind.”

“Hi Dad,” Matthew said turning to walk up. He glanced over to watch Liz head back to her car. “Can we pay for some ice to keep the sodas cold?” he asked while Tim followed.

“No,” he said simply. Tim and Matthew stopped dead in their tracks and turned to look at one another. “When have I ever charged you for the ice?”

“Man,” Tim said, “I never get used to your dry humor, sir.”

Mark smiled at him. “I like that you boys always ask to pay. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Is my Dad here yet?” Tim asked while they all continued over to the ice machine.

“Not yet,” he said. “He’s been working a lot; we’ve had a full schedule for weeks now but his back was bothering him. I told him to rest up a little this morning and that I would tackle the first couple of cars in myself.”

Tim nodded, “Thank you for that, Mr. Sanford; I know he appreciates it.” Tim looked over at the cars in the side lot. “I see you’re selling some used cars now,” he said, setting the cooler down.

“Yes,” Mark replied diverging slowly away from the boys and heading to the garage bay. “We finally got that dealer license we needed and I picked those up at auction last weekend. Your father has a keen eye; saved me from some potential lemons.”

“Didn’t you sell some cars before, Dad?” Matthew asked, shoveling ice into the cooler.

“We have been for a couple of years now but it’s been under the maximum since we didn’t have the license to do more. Diane got everything together for me at the state, forms and such, which allows us to sell more of them legally.”

Another car pulled into the pump area at the north side of the store. Matthew looked over to Liz who finished pumping her fuel. He then looked back at the fuel pumps on the north side of the property and closed the lid to the cooler. “How are the new pumps on that side working out?” he asked flipping his thumb backwards over his shoulder.

“Good,” Mark said stopping at the door to the garage. “People heading up and down Ward Street favor them and it keeps some of the congestion down at the front of the store.” Mark looked over quickly at the girls stepping out of the van to stretch their legs. “Not for anything guys,” he said with a smile, “I’m amazed that the girls’ fathers let you three boys take off with their daughters in a van to the beach.”

“Dad!” Matthew said while Tim chuckled.

“Kidding!” Mark said. “But you do have five of them in there; safety in numbers I suppose,” he said lightly.

“We’re eighteen,” Matthew said pointing at himself and then Tim. “Heck, Tim will be nineteen soon.”

“And aren’t the girls seventeen?” Mark asked.

“Well… yeah. They all will be eighteen over the next few months,” Matthew defended.

Mark waved both of his hands lightly. “I’m joshing with you guys; you’re good boys…” Mark paused for a moment. “Well, I guess, “men” now really. You’re good men; you do the right things and you treat people well. You work hard. I shouldn’t make light of that.” Mark smiled some more. “Have a good day at the beach today.”

Matthew and Tim nodded and picked the full cooler up together. Mark headed inside as the two of them head over to the van slowly.

“So I guess Liz is headed to the beach as well?” Tim asked cautiously.

“Yeah,” Matthew said. “Donna and Marie were in her car. They were going to Rocky Neck.”

“Were?” Tim asked.

“Well, when I told them we were heading to Misquamicut, Liz said she’d head there as well,” Matthew responded innocently.

Tim slowed his pace, tugging backwards on the ice chest.

“What?” Matthew asked.

“That’s going to go over like rocks in a boat with Melissa.” Tim said, setting the chest down.

Matthew looked over at the van. Melissa was looking at him past Carrie and Alecia who had stepped outside. “Look, we’ve all known each other since we were little; you guys more than me. Melissa has a boyfriend anyway. And Liz… well… Liz is Liz. She’s not going out with a guy like me when she has the pick of the litter. Heck, she never sticks to one anyway; she has more than one. I’m not interested in being one of many.”

“Even if it means being with Liz?” Tim asked.

“Well…” Matthew said with a pause, tugging slightly forward with the cooler full of ice and soda cans. “I wouldn’t say “no”; you’re right about that. If I could get her out on a date, I might ask. I will tell you there’s no way I am competing over a girl. I feel like I am a nice person and fun to be around. They should be able to see that; I see those same good qualities in them.”

Tim just nodded at his friend.

“Donna is nice,” Matthew continued. “I thought it might be nice, with a bigger gang at the beach, that it might give me a chance to talk to Donna… you know, maybe sit with her a while and such.”

Tim nodded again as they reached the van and dropped the cooler inside the side slider door.

“We all set?” Michael asked.

“Yep,” Matthew said looking about the vehicle. “Anyone need to use the bathroom in the store before we get going?”

Michael groaned. Upon Matthew’s comment, all the girls hopped out of the van.

***

The girls made their way back out of the bathroom in the store and Melissa hung back near the counter. Carrie looked at her. “I’ll be right out,” she said waving at her lightly and heading over to her sister.

Mark instinctively walked into the office, assuming that she wanted a quick, private conversation with Diane.

Melissa tugged at her pull over a little and looked at Diane who stood with a slightly smug look on her face.

“What?” Melissa asked sounding slightly annoyed.

“I find it somewhat ironic how many times I stand at this counter to find you coming to me for advice.” Diane said in a soft tone.

“Why is it ironic?” Melissa asked.

“Because it’s always about boys and you’ve dated more than I ever did.”

“Well maybe… yes,” Melissa said, quickly looking out at Matthew and flashing the “one minute” signal to him. “The numeric value hasn’t granted me any additional wisdom. Besides, it’s not as if I can ask Mom. She certainly can’t help.”

Diane’s look toned down a little at her younger sister’s comment regarding their mother. She then glanced out the window at Matthew. She then turned back to Melissa. “I have to scratch that,” she said definitively. “While you tend to ask some advice about boys, it’s not so much about them in general. It always seems to be about Matthew.”

Melissa looked over at him and bit her lip a little. Her expression turned very soft and timid. “He’s so nice to me; he always has been. I don’t even function well around him. He’s so calm and cool around everyone. I don’t know what to say to him half the time anymore. I want to say everything and I never can. I am so worried I am going to ruin everything if I pursue anything that I never do. I never let him. I make sure I stay away from him when I’m not with another boy…”

“But why Missy?” Diane asked. “If he makes your heart so light that it floats away on its own… don’t you want to try to capture that?”

“I do,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes. “Almost since the day I met him in fifth grade, you know, once I really started to like boys and all.” She turned and looked out the window to see him again. When he turned to look back in she quickly looked away and back at Diane. “What if I did and things didn’t work out? What if the friendship was ruined going forward from the end of that?”

“Loving anyone that much is a huge risk,” Diane said plainly.

“I don’t know if I would live. I would die if I couldn’t have him in my life at all.” Melissa said wiping a stray tear away.

“You won’t die from heartbreak,” Diane said trying to sound reassuring. “But it will likely hurt.”

“The way I feel when he’s around… I’d rather have that at a distance than to have it end somehow.”

Diane sighed. “You’re a smart girl Missy. I guess technically after your birthday I’ll have to call you a woman. Regardless, you know there is no right thing to do. You’re not leading him on so there’s nothing to fix or correct. You simply need to ask yourself “what do you want” and then make a choice. I wish I could offer you more advice than that.”

Melissa walked a little closer to the door so that none of the boys would come in looking for her. A car pulled in so she rushed out her thoughts. “Is that what you did? With Mark?”

“Yes,” she said softly, looking back at the hallway leading down to the office. “The jury is still partly out on that I suppose. He’s only come along so far.”

“But you risked more than just the friendship that started with him; you risked your job as well.”

“Yes,” Diane said smiling slightly.

“And if it all blew up? Would you change what you did and how you did it?” Melissa asked, putting her hand on the door.

“No,” Diane answered confidently. “I might have risked and lost it all but now at thirty years old I don’t have to sit here and ask myself “what if?” I am here now and I know that answer.”

Melissa nodded and started to go out the door.

“Hey,” Diane called back to her. Melissa stopped short. “Matthew is special. It’s a safer risk.”

“How so?” Melissa asked.

“Regardless of how it might go, unless one of you was completely horrible to the other, like a full break in trust or something, you will always be in each other’s life.”

“How are you so sure?” Melissa asked.

“Because of all the things that have happened over the years, with all of us,” Diane said waving her finger around in a circle. “Because of the kind of boy he’s been and the man he’s become. Because of how you are and how you feel… even if the two of you somehow don’t stay in love with one another, assuming it goes there; you will always love each other.”

Melissa wiped another loose tear away, nodded, and headed out the door to rejoin her friends.

Replay of my BLOG TOUR post – I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Excerpt II

Over the last week of July and into the first two weeks of August I took all of my past, present, and even my future, road-mapped works “on the road” so to speak with one very long blog tour. Across a number of very generous hosts’ blogs, I was featured as their guest and I had the opportunity to showcase my work.

A portion of that tour was for the “I, Hero” series. I not only talked about my current release “I, Hero: The Beginning” but also introduced readers to “I, Hero: Nathan Returns”.

If you want to check out my free excerpts from “I, Hero: The Beginning”, you can via the links directly below:

I, Hero: The Beginning – Links to Excerpts
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt I
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt II
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt III
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt IV

Book Cover (3)

It was on author A. G. Moye’s blog where I introduced “I, Hero: Nathan Returns” – Excerpt II and I am happy to once again deliver it here for you.

I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Excerpt II

CHAPTER ONE

Adia closed the apartment door behind her and sighed. She stepped into the kitchen and pulled her phone out of her pocket. It was nearly eight o’clock and there was a new message from her roommate, Melinda, “out with the boyfriend, don’t wait up.”

She smiled, dropped her purse on the table, and walked over to the couch. She flicked the television on, set the remote down, and took her shoes off. She tossed them aside and lay down on the couch.

“…World News with Mark Daniels; thank you for joining us for this special edition of America’s Roundtable. With us tonight…” Adia stopped paying attention, sat up, and grabbed the remote. She was just about to change the station when the topic grabbed her attention.

“…hero or menace? With me to discuss the implications of Nathan, his powers, and his impact, good and bad, on the people is tonight’s distinguished panel of guests.”

Adia set the remote down and fixated her attention on the television.

“To my far left we have U.S. Senator Mackenzie Kelly from New York, who is now serving his third term. To my near left we have General Kevin Westmartin, the most senior member of the US Air Command. On my far right we have Congressman Patrick Johnson from Texas who is now serving his sixth term in that office. To my near right, noted scholar, Professor Rebecca Farnsmith who is the head tutor of the Folklore and Mythology department at Washbury University. Welcome everyone,” he said looking around to the four people sitting around him, “and welcome to everyone at home, tuning in this evening for this special, live broadcast.”

Adia continued to watch as the view on screen changed to smaller news feeds along the right edge and the lower portion of the display. The overall video feed shrank to the upper left two thirds of the screen to accommodate the data streams from the network.

“To remind everyone here and the viewers at home of our format,” Mark said as the camera view focused on him, “this is an open, roundtable discussion. Technically, it can be on any topic; obviously the major topic this evening is Nathan and his extraordinary powers, but the conversation is free to go anywhere. We will only interrupt the discussion if we cannot maintain some semblance of order, which I am sure we all can agree, is needed to have a discussion.”

Mark smiled slightly and looked over to Professor Rebecca Farnsmith. “Let me open the discussion with you Professor Farnsmith. There has been a lot of speculation regarding Nathan’s powers. While they seem to equal, or in some other manner, mimic the fictional characters from EarthWorld comics, there has been a smaller discussion, mainly from your current and prior students, as well as followers of your work, that they are rooted in the characters from Greek Mythology.”

The camera panned past Congressman Johnson, who had a look of disbelief on his face over the comment, and stopped at Professor Farnsmith.

“Thank you for the opening, Mark. First let me say the beings from Greek Mythology were not ‘characters’,” she said turning casually, propping her seated position. She wanted to have presence, but she did not want to insult or dominate. “We believe through our studies of the writings and records, that these beings existed here on Earth for an extended period of time.”

“Oh please,” Congressman Johnson said in a burst of contempt. “I thought we were going to discuss this man Nathan and his threat to our society; not sorcery, or some such, from two thousand years ago.”

“What’s harder to believe Congressman?” Professor Farnsmith responded quickly, defending her position and turning towards him. “That there are very powerful beings that once visited us from another realm; where they once lived among us, and the people of that time thought of them as gods. Or is it easier to believe there is a man flying around, with the powers of the fictional character of Mister Atomic, helping dissipate wild fires by breaking down the molecular bonds of oxygen and thereby removing one of the required fuel sources that feed it?”

“Is that how he helped with the southern brush fires in your home state of Texas, Congressman?” Senator Kelly asked with a smug look on his face.

“Look,” Congressman Johnson responded with his hands open in front of him, with his southern accent becoming more pronounced, “I do not deny that this Nathan has done a great many things that has helped a great many people. There are so many issues and concerns with his powers. Where is his allegiance? What is he working on for the President? Or other nations for that matter?”

“I can tell you, unequivocally, Congressman Johnson,” Senator Kelly responded, “and you good people at home, the young man we all know as Nathan is extraordinary not only in the powers he wields, but the level of discretion under which he uses them. Or doesn’t, as is sometimes the case.”  Senator Kelly moved in his seat slightly and continued quickly, concerned that he might get cut off. “We, the United States government, have asked him for help on occasion on matters that I cannot discuss here. When it was applicable and he was able, he helped. When he felt it was too high a level of interference, in a gray area, where a sovereign nation was concerned, and we would not contact them to explain our incursion, he would decline to help us.”

“And who is he to question the Commander in Chief?” General Westmartin barked loudly.

“He’s an everyday citizen,” Senator Kelly countered. “He does not serve as an enlisted American, and as such, he has every right to decline something. At best, he working with us like a consultant might for the FBI or the CIA. And just like them, if he feels there is something off, he simply declines.”

“So what is he working on?” General Westmartin asked smugly. “I haven’t been in the loop on much of anything and yet I should be, more so than not.”

“Obviously General, I am unable to comment on that,” Senator Kelly responded plainly.

“And yet,” General Westmartin countered quickly, “it’s only you and the President with those special little phones to call him. Now why is that?”

“Well the choice of the President having one is pretty self-explanatory; if anyone is going to need to pull a major rip cord and need the help of a superhero, it would be the President of the United States.”

“Fair enough,” the General responded, shifting in his seat and leaning forward. “Then why do you have the other one?”

“Because he trusted me with it,” Senator Kelly responded calmly.

There was a brief lull and the Senator took advantage of that and turned back to Professor Farnsmith. “Professor,” he said plainly, “You commented before on your beliefs and studies of the Greek gods, Zeus, Hera, and so forth. Can you lend more of your knowledge? I am very interested in your theories.”

“Well,” Professor Farnsmith said unassumingly, “we believe these beings existed on another plane of existence, where the laws of time, nature, physics, and perhaps some others, like magic, apply very differently than in ours. For instance, it’s been hypothesized that those beings were few in number. There were not millions or billions like the number of us as we exist here on Earth. They may number in the hundreds, or even less. That is a theory as to why they are able to tap into the powers they have. They are connected to their version of nature and their universe at such a level that they can tap into the very energies around them and channel those for directed use.”

“Zeus and his thunderbolts,” General Westmartin responded sarcastically.

“We harness electricity with machines and technology; why couldn’t a highly evolved being channel it through his body with nothing more than his will?” Professor Farnsmith countered quickly. “We have Earth; we hypothesize that their Mount Olympus is where they reside. Because they were around for many centuries it is assumed they either live a very long time or that time moves differently on their plane of existence. Or perhaps it is both.”

“So those beings could be alive today?” Senator Kelly asked in a serious tone.

“They could,” Professor Farnsmith responded simply.

“WOO!” Congressman Johnson said loudly, “that blasphemy is going to cost you some nice votes come next year.”

“First off I never called them gods. Having said that, who said aliens have to be green and arrive on spaceships?” Senator Kelly responded coolly. “Why couldn’t they be “alien” beings, but rather than coming from another world far away, they instead live on another plane of existence?” Senator Kelly asked making finger quote marks in the air.

“Exactly,” Professor Farnsmith responded quickly. “In the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, the Book of Joshua, the Book of Job, and the two Books of Chronicles, to name just a few ancient writings, each mention a number of people that lived well beyond 400 years of age. They were the few; the exceptions. If we are to assume those as correct ages of beings on this world, it supports that the same could also be true for beings in other planes of existence. Additionally, if time moved differently there, where years here were days or hours there, they would seem to be immortal and seemingly live forever.”

“That’s an interesting theory Professor,” General Westmartin mused, “you wouldn’t happen to have any concrete proof to back any of it up?”

“I have as much proof to my beliefs as you might for whichever ones you hold,” she responded holding her ground. “As with all ancient texts, there are possible mistranslations from text to document, document to parchment, and so on. It doesn’t have to be egregious; even a minor one can throw something off. A decimal in the wrong place… that sort of thing.”

“So even your own hypotheses and theories are suspect?” General Westmartin countered.

“Of course,” she said plainly. “I believe in the work I do and the topics I study, but I am limited to the data and information I am given to review and work with.” She paused for a moment, and then continued. “I do believe in it wholeheartedly. And if Nathan has been given this gift by them,” Professor Farnsmith paused and quickly turned to see Senator Kelly nod slightly, “then it stands to reason that he is tapping the same energies that other heroes have in the course of history.”

“Helen of Troy? Hercules? Perseus? I think that if any are going to be somewhat household names, those would be it,” Congressman Johnson said loudly. “I might have to consult my grandson for some of the new age fiction ones.”

“Sarcasm is the tool of a weak mind,” Professor Farnsmith panned.

“I would like to know what the issue is, that certain factions of the government and the military, have with Nathan,” Senator Kelly said as be repositioned himself in the chair. “If the fact alone that the President of the Unites States has zero issue with him isn’t enough, what is it that bothers people? He’s not acting as law enforcement. He’s never performed any function as a citizen. He’s assisted when called upon but it’s not like he made citizen arrests. He’s been on the scene of the occasional crime, like when helping with flooding and holding looters while the police arrived, but he’s effectively never acted independently.”

“You tell them, Senator” Adia said to the television as she got up from the couch to get something to drink. She made her way into the kitchen and continued to look back at the television as Senator Kelly continued.

“The fact of the matter is, with all the powers he has, I think he’s shown great restraint. I wonder how many other people could do the same. Perhaps it’s why they chose him.”

“All this issue aside with the Greek gods, Senator, granting powers and all,” General Westmartin countered, “I have never seen, in man or nature, an imbalance to any one side, maintain. With man, when one side moved away from clubs to fire sticks, so did the other side. Right now, we stave each other off with tons of nukes pointed at one another. Oh, sure, they are dormant now, and the escalation is way down from where it was in the 60s and 70s, but they are all available to use when and if needed. As far as nature goes, I am far less the expert, but when too much ground water is tapped, we have sinkholes. When too much over fishing is done, other species suffer or die off. If there is so much of a counterbalance in a force of good, my concern is when the opposite of Nathan shows up.”

There was a quiet pause over the panel for a moment.

Adia walked from the kitchen with her glass of water and set it down on the coffee table.

“Would you care to elaborate further on that, General?” Mark asked to try to re-engage the conversation that stopped.

“There are two major issues on this point; let me start with the first one, Nathan himself. What if the power goes to his head? What if he suddenly does decide he is bigger than all of us and decides protecting isn’t enough and that he should rule? How can we possibly defeat someone so powerful?”

“His powers are not absolute,” Senator Kelly chimed in. “He confided in me that fact, and I hope he’ll forgive me if it was something he wanted kept more confidential. He never explicitly identified as such but… he indicated that his powers are… regulated, to a degree. He basically said, they were granted by the Greek gods. He knows this although he never explained how, and freely admitted he’s never seen or met any of them. Since he’s indicated that much, I believe that if these beings decided to intervene in such a way, to try to affect without directly getting involved, that they would also have a way to intervene should he become a direct threat.”

“What makes you so sure?” the General asked.

“Faith,” Senator Kelly responded. “It would seem to me that if they desired, these beings could directly involve themselves as they did millennia ago. For whatever reason, they left and decided to stay gone, as far as we’re all aware. Who knows if they indirectly influenced things along the way? We’ll never know for sure unless we could communicate with one of them. At the end of the day and for whatever reasons, they have decided to act in this manner through Nathan. From what I seen, in such an ordinary man, they have found someone extraordinary.”

Adia smiled. Her thoughts drifted to the last time she saw Nathan and the day he said goodbye. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“Excuse me,” Mark said, moving his hand up to his ear piece. “We are getting word now that there is an emergency at the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant. We are going to interrupt our broadcast… Stacy Martins for the local affiliate is on the scene. Stacy… we are live to you.”

“Yes, good evening Mark. Details are sketchy at the moment but apparently there was an issue earlier with one of the reactors and its cooling system. About an hour ago, the criticality level changed from Site Area Emergency, which is an issue that is contained within the site boundary, where no action is needed by the general public, to General Emergency. With that enacted, the evacuation order was initially given for the two inner zones around the plant, but that now has been escalated and emergency sirens have gone off. I have unconfirmed reports that containment loss may occur if they cannot get the situation remedied in short order.”

“Come on Nathan…” Aida said aloud. “Show them what you’re made of.”

***

Persephone stood in the garden by the reflecting pool on Mount Olympus. She smiled upon the chaos that was occurring on the scene. With the crisis at the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant escalating, Zeus and Hera also arrived.

“Fancy seeing you here daughter,” Hera disparaged while walking around the far side of the reflecting pool.

“My hand is not in this, as it is, of course, forbidden,” Persephone said feigning a smile to her and then turning to her father. “I am, of course, as equally surprised to see you here, both of you. It’s unusual to see either of you at the reflecting pool at all, let alone together.”

Zeus said nothing but only looked down into the pool at the scene.

“We all feel it too; I do expect you to realize that,” Persephone said looking at her father. “The hero Nathan is pulling power from this realm, and through all of us, as you commanded, father. We know when something is amiss. You may feel it first, but we know it too.”

***

Adia continued to watch the scene unfold on the television when suddenly Nathan appeared on the screen, landing in the background of the shot with the reporter. She clasped her hands together and prayed.

“Yes Mark, it does appear that Nathan has arrived.”

“We have confirmation here as well,” Mark responded. “We are getting the automated telemetry feed information from Nathan’s Computer Central network. As viewers might be aware, since enabling the Computer Central network a few months ago, Nathan makes available to all news reporting networks, via the AP feeds, all and any pertinent information for any major emergencies. You will see this information on the right side and bottom of your television screens at home. From time to time as well, the view on the screen may break away from our network control to live feeds that Computer Central provides. Nathan has maintained that he does this in an effort to provide clarity and transparency to anything that he is doing in the public interest.”

The camera in the studio zoomed out to show the entire panel and then the shot went back out to the reporter on the scene. Almost immediately, the shot then cut away to a raw feed from Computer Central.

***

Nathan entered the facility and raced toward the reactor core.

“Computer Central?”

“Enabled.”

“What’s the status of the core?” Nathan asked as he reinforced his personal shielding as Captain Delta.

“It will go critical. It will need to be evacuated.”

Nathan moved quickly to the area of the core. “Looks like I am going to have to pull the same move I did with the shuttle; I’m going to need to extend my own shielding and then move this whole unit.”

“Affirmative; you will not be able to contain the reactor once the critical level is reached.”

“I might have been better served today to be Mister Atomic; he could have simply absorbed all this radioactive energy until it became inert.”

“Confirmed,” Computer Central responded. “The known quantities of nuclear and radioactive material onsite Hanford Nuclear Power Plant are within Mister Atomic’s capabilities to neutralize.”

“I’ve learned not to second guess the compulsion to don one shirt over another,” Nathan responded while he focused and extended his personal force field around the failing reactor core. The action sheered electrical circuits and crushed much of the supports and the surrounding super structure. Once fully enveloped, he strained to raise the enveloped material while he gravitated alongside. “How far,” Nathan asked, straining under duress, “do I have to get this into the edge of space to jettison it completely out of orbit and Earth’s gravity well?”

“Scanning the mass of the matter you are now raising based on density. Scanning… Sending the information to your wrist monitor. It is based on the readings I have. I have added twenty five percent to the weight calculation and the speed requirement based on the read out. You will need to reach that altitude and speed away from Earth to send the matter away successfully. I have also plotted a course to allow it the best trajectory towards the sun.”

Nathan looked quickly at the display. He continued to strain as he raised the material. “That exceeds the highest altitude I’ve ever attempted as Captain Delta.”

“Affirmative; by 313 percent. It is within the parameters of the character’s abilities based on the fictional accounts of his powers.”

“Yes,” Nathan responded, continuing to lift the mass, under pressure, “nothing like the words ‘fictional accounts of his abilities’ to instill my personal confidence.”

The emergency crews on the ground watched the major portion of the reactor complex lift and leave the site within Nathan’s protective shielding.

“Segmented portions of Captain Delta’s powers are derived from willpower,” Computer Central responded as Nathan continued to lift the radioactive materials and the remnants of the reactor tower and core skyward. “Your supply of willpower, to date, does not have an upper measure.”

Nathan continued upwards for several minutes in silent concentration at his best speed to reach escape velocity.

“Distance from ground?” Nathan called out, interrupting the silence, with his voice beginning to break.

“Twelve, point three miles.” Computer Central responded.

“Is the radiation leaking outside the shielding?” Nathan asked looking around.

“Negative.”

“Storm clouds are forming out of thin air up here.” Nathan said as his tone shifted to concern.

“Analyzing… analyzing… conditions are not permissible for the formation of storm clouds at your location.” Computer Central responded.

“What?” Nathan asked slightly dazed as he began to slow his acceleration and move slightly lateral and away from his original position directly under the core materials.

Lightning strikes began to leap from cloud to cloud and then exchange down to Earth.

“The clouds should not exist given present conditions.” Computer Central responded.

Suddenly, Nathan grabbed his throat, gasping for air, with his personal shielding gone.

With the total loss of his powers, he began to plummet back to Earth with the reactor materials falling with him.

About I, Hero: Nathan Returns
Nathan Returns

Nathan is back in New York City; the place where it all started, nearly one year later. While he has been away, he has been establishing a base of operations and trying to follow the direction his life has taken – making a difference and answering the call for help where and when he is needed.

He has returned to this birthplace of his powers with more questions of why he is on the path he is on and what is expected of him.

During a dangerous rescue, his powers dissipate, and leave him critically vulnerable.

He connects back with old friends who help him rediscover the man he used to be to in order to help him be the man he has become and the man who he must be.

Magical forces come into play, pulling on nature itself, which introduces an unexpected challenge to Nathan while he is at this perilous juncture.

The pendulum swings even farther out of alignment; it is up to Nathan to respond before forces are set into motion that cannot be countered.

——

Books and links

Before Another Sunset (The Sunset Series Book 1)

Another Sunset (The Sunset Series Book 2)

I Hero: The Beginning

I Hero: Nathan Returns

As Life Goes: Elementary

BOOK RELEASE ROAD-MAP (PLANNED)

As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – (expected November 2015)
As Life Goes: The Reunion – (expected April 2016)
As Life Goes: The Wedding (expected July 2016)
As Life Goes: The Funeral (expected October 2016)

I Hero: Untitled Book 3 (Expected first half 2016)
I Hero: Untitled Book 4 (Expected second half 2016)
I Hero: Untitled Book 5 (Expected first half 2017)

Replay of my BLOG TOUR post – I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Excerpt I

Over the last week of July and into the first two weeks of August I took all of my past, present, and even my future, road-mapped works “on the road” so to speak with one very long blog tour. Across a number of very generous hosts’ blogs, I was featured as their guest and I had the opportunity to showcase my work.

A portion of that tour was for the “I, Hero” series. I not only talked about my current release “I, Hero: The Beginning” but also introduced readers to “I, Hero: Nathan Returns”.

If you want to check out my free excerpts from “I, Hero: The Beginning”, you can via the links directly below:

I, Hero: The Beginning – Links to Excerpts
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt I
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt II
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt III
“I, Hero – The Beginning” – Excerpt IV

Book Cover (3)

It was on author John W. Howell’s blog where I first introduced “I, Hero: Nathan Returns” – Excerpt I and I am happy to once again deliver it here for you.

I, Hero: Nathan Returns – Excerpt I

PROLOGUE

The morning sun rose over the horizon and immediately began to heat the crisp morning air.

A middle-aged woman sat on a park bench with a small, mixed breed dog on a leash. The dog sniffed around at the grass to the left rear of the bench and the woman turned her back to face her dog.

She was holding her smart phone and had ear buds in her ears. She listened to music that played while an older gentleman with white hair, dressed in a long suit coat, came along. He moved alongside the park bench in the grassy area off the paved path. The smaller dog immediately tugged on the leash to see the other dog.

The woman casually lifted her hand to her left ear, dropped the ear bud out of it, and glanced over at the pure-bred Labrador Retriever. “We might as well be having that affair we’re always accused of, meeting up like this as often as we do,” she said quietly without taking her attention off her dog.

“It’s better that the talk is of an affair that we’re not having than what we’re actually doing,” the man replied, turning his back towards her and allowing the dog to move him a couple of steps away. “Status and update?” he asked plainly.

“We still have no way to track him,” she said while getting up from the bench to pick up after the dog. She took the opportunity to scan the area for other people. There were none. “His powers… change, for a lack of better description. We are following a given signature then it disappears entirely. When it does come up again it registers differently. We track that for a while and then he just falls off the radar.” She dropped the small bag into a nearby pail and walked her dog near his so they could sniff each other. “He generally seems to head west before he drops out of sight. We’ve eliminated California, Oregon, and Washington because of the number of occasions he disappears heading east from those states. Intelligence is liking Nevada, but it’s still too loose and just a guess.”

“Do you think it’s deliberate? Do you think he knows we are trying to track him and he is masking his movements?” he asked tugging slightly at his dog’s leash.

“I can’t know for certain,” she said looking up at him and smiling slightly. She reached into her coat pocket to make sure her identification badge was still there. “His movements are too casual; if I had to guess I would say ‘no’. He’s young, not skilled or trained, and he trusts easily. Why his signature disappears and then shows up differently is something we haven’t figured out. It does repeat; there are times it matches prior signatures and we have a catalog of nine distinct ones to date, but why they are constantly changing is another unknown. We also see no detectable pattern in the changes. It appears random.”

“We know Senator Kelly is the direct link between Nathan and the President; have we had any luck with that route?” the man asked looking directly at the woman.

“No. He’s tight-lipped, he won’t budge, and he has to be the cleanest politician I’ve ever seen too; we can’t even find anything to leverage on him,” she said withdrawn.

“Everyone has a closet and there are always skeletons. I don’t want to have to go that way with him, but if I have to I will, even if I have to fabricate something. We need to figure out what is going on. It’s a matter of national security,” the man said looking over at his dog as it began doing its business in the grass.

The woman glanced over and then tended back to her dog. “I’ll put some more people on it but eventually it’s going to leak. The people like Nathan; once it gets out that the CIA and Homeland are trying to track him it’s not going to be good.”

“The CIA and Homeland are not tracking him,” the man responded matter of factly.

“Yes, two rogue groups within each organization are; without authorization, and without Presidential backing. That will go over so much better with the public,” she said in a sarcastic tone. “Is it such a smart idea to engage tonight on World News with Mark Daniels?”

“America’s Roundtable is the place for a discussion like this,” the man turned and stepped over to her near the edge of the paved walkway. “The top thirty-five most populous cities in the United States, with a total population that exceeds 40 million souls. Offshore, shell companies, buying, leasing, or otherwise occupying property in the dead center of each of those cities. We have been stymied on just about every legal front, trying to gain access to some of those locations, and others that we have been able to access have not produced anything worthwhile to date.”

She looked up at him with a steely look in her eyes. “I am as much a Patriot as you are. Have you ever considered that there is no conspiracy there? Even if there is one, how can you be so sure it has to do with him? Nathan has no income that we’ve been able to detect. We have no idea where he lays his head at night. As far as food goes, there are millions of families that would offer him dinner, if he even needs to consume food anymore with respect to the powers he has. He just doesn’t have the means for anything nearly as grand as what you’re assuming, based on all of our intelligence.”

“You’re naïve, Jane,” the man said in a stern tone. “His capabilities are unmatched. There are governments that would pay a fortune to exploit them. He has a commodity that no one else can provide in his abilities.” The man tugged at his dog slightly to bring him out of the grass and onto the paved path. “Everyone has a price and everything can be bought.”

“Said the man who has brokered his share of said deals,” Jane replied plainly. She pulled the other ear bud out and put the unit in her purse.

“It is exactly because of that, I know something is going on. I will get to the bottom of it,” he said as he took a couple of steps away from her.

“If you are right about this, then hopefully the people will understand the need for some of the illegal activity…”

“We are covered under the Patriot Act,” he said, stopping his departure abruptly and cutting her off mid-sentence.

“That’s a load and you know it, but if it helps you sleep at night, so be it. Sooner or later it’s going to surface, whether we want it to or not, Congressman Johnson, and I hope you’re ready for that.”

“I’ll be ready because there is just no way I’m that far off base on this. Those properties in those cities… they all tie back to Nathan somehow and I am going to figure it out. All that power he has and it’s not enough. Now he’s involved with something in the middle of all those cities…all those lives. I will find out what that is,” he said turning to walk away.

Jane turned back to where the Congressman was exercising his dog. “You going to pick that up?” she asked plainly.

“The park has paid caretakers; they’ll tend to it,” he said without turning around.

About I, Hero: Nathan Returns
Nathan Returns

Nathan is back in New York City; the place where it all started, nearly one year later. While he has been away, he has been establishing a base of operations and trying to follow the direction his life has taken – making a difference and answering the call for help where and when he is needed.

He has returned to this birthplace of his powers with more questions of why he is on the path he is on and what is expected of him.

During a dangerous rescue, his powers dissipate, and leave him critically vulnerable.

He connects back with old friends who help him rediscover the man he used to be to in order to help him be the man he has become and the man who he must be.

Magical forces come into play, pulling on nature itself, which introduces an unexpected challenge to Nathan while he is at this perilous juncture.

The pendulum swings even farther out of alignment; it is up to Nathan to respond before forces are set into motion that cannot be countered.

“As Life Goes – Elementary” – Excerpt III – Author Jason Zandri

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Pre-order “As Life Goes: Elementary” – General release – July 31, 2015

Matthew walked along the side wall of the school at recess, kicking the slushy snow on the ground dragging his feet a little. With the small spike of the late January temperatures into the forties, the teachers decided to take the fourth and fifth graders out for their short break. He looked across a group of boys swapping baseball cards a few feet ahead of him to see Melissa Bancroft and a couple of other girls talking to one another.

Since speaking with her older sister Diane in his father’s store a couple of weeks prior, he hadn’t had a good enough reason to engage her in a conversation. He had tried a couple of times, once in the lunch line and then once on the bus going home, but she always seemed aloof and indifferent to his efforts.

She’s pretty and all, Matthew thought to himself, but I don’t even know what else I could say to her to try to talk to her and to be honest, the whole, “chase me” thing is getting under my skin.

Matthew integrated himself with the boys looking at the trading cards but he casually looked past them at Melissa.

***

Melissa smiled a little as her friend Carrie Hoag tugged on her arm a little. “See! He did it again Melissa.” Carrie said as she let Melissa’s arm go and took off her hat and tucked the brown strands back up. “He stands there and tries to look busy doing something else but it’s always in a direct line to see you. I told you he likes you.”

Melissa smiled slightly, moving a falling piece of her black hair away from her dark brown eyes. “He’s friendly. We’ve talked a little. He lives in the neighborhood. Well, over on the far south side of it anyway. My half-sister works for his father.”

“Oh my God have you seen his father?” Alecia Parker squealed. “He’s almost as cute at Matthew.”

“I know,” Melissa responded almost embarrassed and giggling softly. “I think Diane has a crush on him.”

“On her boss? That’s totally…” Carrie began before she was cut off by Alecia.

“RAD!” Alecia said excitedly. “Come on! He’s gorgeous!”

“Matthew or his Dad?” Melissa asked giggling.

“Well they both are. Obviously Matthew is too young for Diane,” Alecia replied turning her head to look a little more carefully at Matthew. .

Partly being funny and partly to make a point, Melissa responded. “Well technically speaking he’s not. I mean my sister is twenty four and when I asked Matthew when he would be twelve he said “May” so that’s basically twelve years’ difference.” Melissa strolled forward slightly and her friends followed. “My sister said Mr. Sanford…”

“Mark. She calls him Mark all the time,” Alecia said with a big smile.

“Right…” Melissa continued. “Diane said that Mr. Sanford’s birthday was coming up in February. She had overheard Matthew talking about it to him at the store. So it’s a twelve year difference there too. My step father is ten years older than my mother. It’s almost the same.”

“That would mean that when Marrrky was in fifth or sixth grade your sister was just born,” Carrie said in a playful and teasing tone as she too turned her more of her attention towards Matthew.

“I don’t mind a little playful talk,” Melissa said in a quieter tone, “but I think Mr. Sanford deserves a little respect. I mean we can crush in him all day,” she said as her smiled widened, “but he only gave Diane permission to call him “Mark”.

Carrie let out a little squeal and pushed lightly into the other two girls as if she was swooning.

Melissa looked over at Matthew too. She lifted her hand slightly to wave to him and he just waived lightly back at her. He waved back to me without looking around. At least he has some confidence, she thought to herself. She opened her mouth slightly as he stepped away from the group he was with and began walking over towards the three of them.

“He’s coming this way,” Carrie said directly to Alecia, grabbing her playfully at the shoulders.

“Oh my God, Missy, what are you going to say?” Alecia asked.

“How can I know? He hasn’t said a word to me yet today. I didn’t sit near him on the bus,” Melissa said as she tried to steady herself, feeling her heart rate climb a little, something she never experienced with a boy before and it bothered her a little. Easy, she thought to herself. Since when are you nervous talking to people? She liked the idea that she was strong and in her own mind, as self-supporting and confident as she could be for her age. She didn’t want to fall into the same trap her mother did and the recent relationship that failed with her older sister. Seeing all of that around the house made her tough, but meeting Matthew had softened her thoughts in ways that surprised her and the way she was suddenly feeling caught her off guard.

“Hi Melissa, Carrie, Alecia,” Matthew said as he walked up. “Melissa, I was wondering if you were busy after school.”

The girls giggled as Melissa turned away from them. “Well I have a lot of homework.”

“Me too. I was thinking we might work on the Social Studies review together if that would interest you.” Matthew said plainly.

Melissa smiled at the thought of being asked and he had done it very directly. He didn’t seem nervous like the other boys that talked to her. At the same time, she suddenly realized she was far less nervous about talking to him than she was the past few days getting to know him better. “Well, I like the idea, but I’m not allowed out with boys. Even for school work,” Melissa said as she frowned. “That’s my dad’s rule.”

Without a pause, Matthew continued. “Is he home after school? Maybe if I came over and asked him? That way he knows it was an honest interest in homework.” Matthew smiled a little. “And maybe to listen to a little music.”

Melissa was grinning ear to ear. No one ever asked her to sit and listen to music together. The smile quickly washed away. “My step dad works until eleven so he’s not even home to ask.”

“Could I ask your mom? Is she home? I don’t mind staying there at your house.” Matthew said as he continued his efforts to get Melissa to agree to the time.

“She works until seven. I am sure she’d have a conniption if I had a boy over. I am supposed to call her when I get in now that Diane is working for your dad and I am home by myself until then,” Melissa said waving her friends off as they giggled at the two of them. She stepped away and tugged Matthew lightly by the arm to follow her. Melissa smiled, continuing to hold on to his arm for a moment after the tug to move him along.

“How about you ask her if you can come to the store to study with me?” Matthew said earnestly looking down at Melissa’s hands still on his arm. “It’s better than you sitting there at home alone. Your sister is there. My Dad is there. She can pick the two of you up at seven.”

Melissa quickly let her hands go. “I thought your Dad closed the store at six?” Melissa asked turning away from Matthew as the cold wind picked up and blew her loose strands of hair around.

“He does, that’s right.” Matthew said visibly embarrassed. “I was thinking of the time your mother comes home and not when my Dad closes the store.

“I guess you really wanted to spend time with me if you forgot when your dad closes the store.” Melissa said quietly trying to make it sincere sounding.

“Would you like to check with your mom and ask?” Matthew responded somewhat withdrawn and slightly defensive. “I could get off at your bus stop and walk with you to the house and wait for you to call her at work. If she says yes we could walk together to the store.”

“I’d like that,” Melissa said smiling.

“Okay, that’s great Melissa,” Matthew said a little louder and with some confidence. “I’ll see you on the bus.”

“Matthew?” Melissa called out as she turned to walk back to her friends.

“Yes?” he answered before he fully turned around to walk away.

“Do you have a nick name or does everyone call you “Matthew” all the time?”

“It’s just Matthew,” he said slightly withdrawn. “I favor it that way because… well I just do.”

“It’s a nice name. My friends call me Missy,” she said as her smile returned.

“Diane called you that as well. I wasn’t sure if it was something you liked or if it is something done slightly to tease. Like when my friends are goofing and call me “Matty” or “Sandman.” I was trying to figure that out. Your nickname, it’s pretty. Like you.”

Carrie and Alecia completely lost themselves on the “pretty” comment and screamed and laughed. Melissa looked over at Matthew who was visibly shaken for having said what he said and watching the reactions of the girls. Melissa looked over at the two of them with scorn and walked over to him.

“You’re the nicest boy I’ve ever met,” she said whispering in his ear and kissing him on the cheek. She didn’t want to see his reaction so she turned and ran from him and her friends. “I’ll see you on the bus.”

“Yeah,” Matthew said aloud as they disappeared up and over the small, snowy hill on the playground. “See you on the bus,” he said as Carrie and Alecia tried to catch up with her.

Matthew took a couple of steps to the side watching Melissa and then turned to walk and smacked right into another girl that was coming his way. She slipped in the snow and fell. Matthew quickly reached down to help her up. “I’m so sorry, that was clumsy of me. I wasn’t paying attention.”

The fair skinned girl with the red hair smiled as she extended her hand to be helped up. “It’s okay. Accidents and all,” she said as she stood and brushed the snow off.

“The snow got you wet; I’m sorry about that,” Matthew said rather embarrassed. He wanted to brush the snow off her but hesitated on touching her. The girl looked at him wondering if he’d follow through and smiled when he finally did.

“Recess is almost over. I’ll be okay. Well I suppose now that we’ve bumped into one another we could say “hi”. My name is Elizabeth. My friends call me Liz.”

“Matthew,” he said smiling at her. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Well I suppose knocking me over had a benefit,” she said as she laughed and brushed more snow off her pants.

“Oh?” Matthew said as he turned to walk with her. “Such as?”

“Well for one thing I finally got to meet you. You’re new here and I can’t get your attention from the back of the classroom. That and when you make a mistake you have only positive improvement from there, for the most part,” she said smiling at him.

“Well, when you put it like that, I suppose you’re right,” Matthew said as he smiled and looked at her as they both walked back toward the school building with recess ending.

“As Life Goes – Elementary” – Excerpt II – Author Jason Zandri

Mark had just finished moving the last of the items around the main part of the convenience store and he stepped through the adjoining door to the three garage bays with the design layout in his hands. He laid it down on the work station table when someone approached the glass walk in door to the garages. He made his way over to unlock the door.

“Hi,” Mark said swinging the door open in the late afternoon winter darkness. “Sorry about the lack of lighting outside” he said as he looked up at all the overhead lights that were turned off, “but we’re not open for a couple more days and I was trying to not attract people to the building early. I am figuring on a formal opening on Monday. Can I help you with anything?”

The young woman stepped inside and stomped off her boots to kick the freshly fallen snow off. “Hi,” she responded rather meekly taking her woolen hood off her head and removing her hat, “I saw your ad in the paper, for part time help, and I was hoping to catch you while you were in here to apply.”

Mark raised an eyebrow to the young woman, “Well you’ve already scored a couple of points with me for taking the initiative in walking here in the snow to put in the application,” he said as he looked out the door at the oncoming snow storm. “And fairly quickly too; I don’t think the ad ran more than one day.” Mark motioned for her to step back into the main store and he reached behind her to re-lock the walk in door to the garage area. Matthew peaked out of the office area where he had been finishing his homework to see who his father was talking to.

“So I see you had design plans,” the young woman said as she unzipped her coat part of the way and pointed to Mark’s hand with the paperwork, doing her best to make small talk and seem at ease. “Are you planning to expand the store side or re-open the garages for car repair?”

Mark could tell she was nervously trying to make small talk but she was fairly effective in her process despite being nervous. She came across as genuinely interested about it rather than simply making the comments for the only purposes of small talk. “Well, Miss…”

“Diane. Diane Wakeford.” She responded nervously and extended her hand to shake Mark’s.

“Miss Wakeford. Did you grow up around here?” Mark asked as he lightly and politely shook it.

“Oh no, I’ve lived here my whole life. Twenty four years.” Diane said as she took her hand quickly back.

“I see. Interesting.” Mark said as he walked behind the main counter and took out application paperwork for her and grabbed a pen and clip board. “Did you go to college for business or marketing?”

“Oh no sir,” she responded quickly and lowered her head slightly, removing her striking blue eyes from view by looking down at the paperwork she took from Mark. “I went to work right after high school. It was just what I had planned and it worked out for me, you know, going straight to work and all.”

“And are you working now?” Mark asked leaning back against the counter.

Diane looked up straight at Mark and quietly responded. “No.” She paused for a second and cleared her throat but never took her eyes off of him. “I was a couple of years ago, as a retail associate and in store product marketing associate. I’ll put that information down here on the application. It was at Barker’s, then King’s, but they are closed now of course. I’m sorry that you won’t be able to confirm the employment.” She set the paperwork down to take her jacket off. The room wasn’t overly warm for a winter temperature setting but she was clearly beginning to heat up. “I actually worked there part time while in high school as the retail associate and then closer to full time hours over the summers. Once I graduated I got the store product marketing associate position.”

Mark studied her for a moment and then said, “So you worked there until they closed, as a store product marketing associate?”

Diane quickly became attentive and answered, “No.” She still appeared to be nervous about the questioning but managed to plow through it regardless. “I left about a year before the company went out of business. It was a family decision.” Diane paused for a moment. “Well not my family as in my mother and father. Well stepfather. My father and mother are divorced. He remarried and moved out of town.” She suddenly became aware she was nervously rambling and offering up more information than she was being asked for. She quickly settled herself and continued. “I was living there prior. It was after that I moved out to live with my fiancé. So it was our decision.”

Mark held up his hand slightly. “That’s fine; it’s a personal reason you’ve given. You don’t need to divulge the details.” Diane smiled at the statement and it appeared to Mark as if a weight had lifted off of her. “So Diane, why don’t you start filling out the application and tell me what you’re looking for as far as weekly hours and shifts.”

Diane took the forms and the pen and stepped over to the counter nearest the cash register to begin filling them out. “Well I was looking for something full time but I don’t have a car right now so really anything nearby will do. This is only a mile from my house so walking to work is easy for me regardless of the weather. I guess the nice thing is that minimum wage just went up twenty five cents to $3.35 an hour so that’s basically eight percent more than I would have been making.”

Mark watched her fill out the form quickly and neatly. He noticed she didn’t have to pull anything from her wallet to reference for the forms like her driver’s license for that number nor her Social Security card. “I need to find someone that can cover four to six shifts in a part time capacity to start Diane,” Mark said walking over to the coolers and turning the florescent lighting out. “Depending on how things go with that person, how they work out, being dependable and working hard and all, I may add the hours and increase the pay.”

Mark noticed a slight shift in her behavior at the comments. He presumed it was a job she needed by her reaction. “So tell me Diane,” Mark said, mentally preparing to take note of her responses, “you noticed the design plans in my hand when you came in. I am planning to do something with the old bays there. I haven’t decided exactly what I might do. I could hire someone to do auto work or I could sublease out all the space for someone that has more capacity to do it than I do. Or I could expand the store into some or all of the three bays. What do you think I should do?”

Diane stopped, set the pen down, and looked up at him intently with her piercing blue eyes again. Mark took the time to look into them this time and felt uneasy, as if he was suddenly the one on the interview. “You want to know my thoughts?” she asked quietly.

“Why not?” Mark said quickly reclaiming his composure. “You’ve been in this town all this time. You probably know a lot of what young adults your age are looking for in and around the area. Yes; if it was your store what would you do?”

Diane took a moment to collect her thoughts and stepped over to the glass door between the store and the bays. Matthew who was still listening from the doorway of the back office backed up half a step to not be seen.

“I would keep the far bay with the heavy lift and highest ceiling and partition it off.” She seemed to say what she was thinking with confidence but Mark could still sense that “girlish” uneasiness, or something else, coming from the young woman. “That way if you have the capacity to do the work or find someone that does, you can use that area.” She tucked her head slightly and then pointed to the glass into the middle of the remaining area. “The other two bays; I would convert them for store space but I would lease the area like a kiosk in the Mall.” She turned her head to look at him to make sure he understood her. “You know. Like up at the Meriden Square. Where they sublet the spaces for other small businesses.”

Mark was genuinely intrigue by her idea. “What would you put in there?”

“Well you’re subletting the space so it could be almost anything. What I think you really want to have is something that compliments everything else that you already do here. Maybe someone who is interested in a sandwich shop? You could have the coolers and the counter areas all ready for them to go and they would lease the space and make the food. They sell from their counter and when people want soda or juice for the sandwich they come to you. That or you’re cross drawing. Someone that has to grab lunch, get their lottery tickets, cigarettes, and fuel on their break is going to come where they can do it all in one stop.”

Mark said nothing and just mulled her idea over. He walked over at her partly filled out application and glanced at it. RATE OF PAY – any. SHIFTS DESIRED (if applicable) – any. DATE AVAILABLE TO START – any.

“You didn’t like the ideas?” Diane asked with a detectable level of concern in her voice.

“Oh no,” Mark said quickly looking up from the paperwork. “They are quite progressive. I certainly hadn’t thought about subleasing chunks of space inside the store to a large degree. That’s a creative way to look at it because I don’t need to do the work myself, using your example, handling the food and the prep. That and I don’t have to hire another hand that may be interested in “just” working. With them leasing the space it IS a business of theirs to make or break. The more I think on your ideas, the more I like them.”

Diane smiled widely. “No one’s ever really expressed an interest in one of my ideas,” she said in an elevated tone backed by a rush of excitement that was evident on her face. She reached over and hugged him but immediately tensed up. Mark also tensed up as he was surprised by the sudden forwardness. She immediately let go and jerked herself back embarrassed. “Oh I’m so sorry for that.” Diane lowered her head and stepped back.

Mark stepped forward, feeling somewhat awkward and reached his hands forward clumsily and said, “Look, no harm done. You got a little caught up in the moment and excited.” Mark backed away just slightly. “When can you start?”

“I’ve got the job?” Diane said wildly.

“I don’t see why not. I have to hire someone and while I am sure I can find another worker, I guarantee they won’t be this excited and enthusiastic.” Mark said as he looked up in the security mirror and saw Matthew peering around the corner to see what was going on.

“Oh!” Diane called out putting her hands over her mouth. “I can start right away Mr. Sanford.”

“Let’s see,” he said looking over her partly filled out application. “You were born in 1957 so that makes you twenty four. Yeah, “Mr. Sanford”, my father, he’s down in Florida. “Mark” will be fine.”

Diane didn’t respond. She continued to have a huge smile on her face.

“I am not completely sure what hours I am going to need you, especially at first, Miss Wakeford but I am going to try to keep you at a total of thirty per week. More if the business can sustain and justify it.”

“Could you call me Diane?” she asked as tears welled up. “I would be uncomfortable calling you “Mark” if you’re going to call me Miss Wakeford.”

“Sure I suppose that’s fair. Look I am going to collect my son and lock up. Can I give you a ride home?”

Diane turned and looked out the window. The snow had picked up slightly. “If it’s not going to put you out of the way. Otherwise I would appreciate that.”

Matthew came around the corner the remainder of the way with his books and his father’s jacket. “I locked up the rear door. Here,” he said handing the winter coat to his father.

“Matthew,” Mark said as he took the jacket and pulled his keys out. “This is Diane Wakeford; she’s going to start working here next week.”

Matthew looked up into her eyes and just stared at her while slow extending his hand out. He meekly squeezed out a “hello” to her. While she was basically twelve years older than him, she was barely five feet tall. Matthew was not much shorter than her at fifty four inches.

Diane blushed a little at Matthew’s apparent attraction and reaction. She smiled and responded “hi” a little forcefully.

“I’m sorry for staring,” Matthew said somewhat embarrassed while his father turned the remaining lights off. “I could swear I’ve seen you before.”

“My sister is your age and in fifth grade over at Pond Hill; Melissa Bancroft. Same mother different fathers.”

“Ah,” Matthew said looking over at his father.

Mark fumbled around some papers behind the counter so he could listen in a little and get a better understanding of his new employee’s demeanor as well as to give his son the chance to talk to her a little.

“Are you friends with her?” Diane asked. Matthew just continued to stare at her. “Missy. My sister. I know school just restarted with the New Year and all. I’m not exactly sure how long you’ve been over at Pond Hill, but we just live down Ward Street right near the north end of East Street so I was wondering.”

“I’ve seen her,” Matthew said with his voice breaking an octave higher than it normally would. “I tried to introduce myself to her but she’s a little aggressive for a girl.”

Diane laughed aloud. “That’s Missy. She is everything I am not. Brave. Fearless. Indifferent to whether everyone or no one likes her. She’ll never admit it but she likes a challenge. If you engage her, you’ll get her attention. Don’t walk up and introduce yourself. I know you haven’t formally met her but if you walk up and just talk to her like you’ve known her a while, she’ll respond.” Matthew nodded his head slightly and Diane leaned in to whisper in his ear. “She’s starting to get interested in boys and you’re handsome… You’ll catch her interest before she even knows what hit her.”

Matthew’s smile grew wide as Diane drew back and looked at the expression on his face. “I see my sister already had your interest.”

Matthew slunk backwards slightly as he could feel the blood rush to his face.

Mark came around the counter with his things and the keys to the car. “Are we all set to get going?”

“I am Mr… Mark. Thank you again for the opportunity.”

“I’m looking forward to have you on board,” Mark responded moving past the two of them for the door. Both of them followed him out and he locked up the store for the evening.

And the story continues…

“As Life Goes – Elementary” – now available for order for the Amazon Kindle

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