Sunday, April 28, 2013

Implicit Messages

Have you been to my website?  I think it’s a really great place.  I created the content (I’m especially proud of my icons) and my dad built it for me.  Dad also maintains it and solves problems any time they crop up.  My web site feels like a nice reflection of me and of my writing.  It tells you quite a bit about me.  Of course, there’s a section called About The Author and I’ve explicitly told you a bunch about me right there.  But there’s more than that.  There are plenty of implicit messages for those who look.  I’m not going to tell you what they all are, but I will tell you that they’re there.  Go look.  Look at any web site.  Any personal space, digital or RL (Real Life) and you can learn about the individuals who inhabit that space.  Today I’m going to blog about labyrinths.  What does that have to do with implicit messages and my web site?  I’ll let you do the detective work.  And, if you think that’s fun, just wait until you read my fantasy novel and try to figure out what all those implicit messages mean about me and my feisty brain!

There’s a difference between a labyrinth and a maze.  A maze is like a puzzle and has many wrong paths and dead ends.  A labyrinth is less of a puzzle and more of a meditation.  It has a single, winding path.  Sometimes that path draws you closer to your ultimate goal, the center of the labyrinth, and sometimes it draws you away and you wonder if you’re even on the right path.  You are.  There is only one path.  It surprises you with twists, turns and meanders but it is the right path.  Keep trucking along and you will reach your goal.

I was reminded of this by a wise Twitter pal Andrea, @PetSpeakArt, (If you’re on Twitter, follow her) who responded to my gleeful announcement that Head Buckets & Hashtags has garnered its first Amazon review.  Andrea wrote, “This is how it starts! I find the road to building a creative life + livelihood is often NOT linear…all truly creative enterprise has a more unpredictable path”.

In general, I tend to be a linear thinker.  I like life to be tidy.  I want to go from point A to point B, then to point C and on down the line.  You’ve been on this planet for a few years, I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that life doesn’t work like that.  Oh sure, I get a few tidy days a year that go precisely the way I plan and expect them to, but the other 362 days are anything but predictable and linear.  I’ve learned, over the years, that getting to my goal is less painful when I don’t push the river, when I don’t try to force reality to adjust to my plans.  Ignoring the path and blasting through the walls in order to take the shortest route is destructive.  I have begun to learn to go with the flow, to notice where I am instead of where I want to be.  I have begun to learn that life is like a labyrinth and that I can trust the path.  The path will take me places I never meant to go; never expected; places I need to go.  If I keep trucking along, I learn something with each circuit and, eventually, I reach my goal.  Like the hero’s archetypal journey, following the labyrinth path is about honoring the journey at least as much as the destination.

In two weeks, I will publish my fantasy novel Magic All Around.  I’m excited and eager and scared spitless.  As the deadline inches closer and closer, my anxiety ramps up and up.  I need to keep my feet moving and my eyes on the path ahead of me.  Every time I try to look too far ahead, try to see the end, the goal, the center of the labyrinth, I want to turn tail and flee.  So, if you wonder what I’m up to, I’m over here breathing.  Taking one step.  Then, another step.  I don’t expect to share many blog posts in the next two weeks.  Maybe I won’t post any.  I don’t know because I’m not looking that far ahead right now.  I am still editing and polishing Magic All Around.  I will be putting most of my creative energy into that project.  Then, after Mother’s Day, after the Twitter party and after a day or two of recovery, I’ll be back to blogging again.  And, I’ll be ready to begin writing the sequel to Magic All Around!

In the meantime, I hope you collect some fantastic perfect moment gems.  I also hope you’ll sign up for my e-mail list (1st 100 folks get an Alaskan postcard & entered into the yummy salmon drawing) and attend my Twitter launch party on 5/13/13!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Makes You Happy?

Perfect Moments:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happiness.  What makes you happy?

I’ve been asking people in my personal life and people on-line.  Everyone who’s answered my question has touched my heart and every conversation I’ve had about this has given me a perfect moment.  I heard from one person that it’s “who not what” that makes her happy and she shared that she’s in love; her beloved makes her happy.  Okay, stop reading here and just smile for a minute.  Love is beautiful, isn’t it? 

One person talked about the challenges of being happy with limited resources; how it’s difficult to see her children go without and how socially isolating it can be to have a very small, fixed income.  Several people talked about being outdoors and the beauty of nature.  Likewise, several folks talked about spirituality or religion making them happy. People cited various activities that make them happy including writing, running, dancing, cooking and gardening.

I’ve asked if certain types of weather make people happy and heard a resounding, “YES”.  One person talked about having power kites (I’d never heard of this before but looked it up and it looks TREMENDOUSLY fun!), one about snow-shoeing, one about fall colors and several talked about sunshine.

I’m not asking with any hidden agenda.  I’m not asking because I have all the answers or because I want to base a character on what you say or because I have some magic wand to make everyone happy all the time.  I’m asking because I feel a gentle but deep curiosity about what makes you happy.    

I’ll tell you a bit about what makes me happy. 

Ø My relationships, both human and canine

Ø Seeing, reading about & listening to others who are happy

Ø Laughing and seeing/hearing others laugh

Ø Puppy zooms and canine shenanigans

Ø The sound of rain on the roof

Ø Curry (thai curry, curried brownies, Indian curry…)

Ø The smell of springtime

Ø My prisms making rainbows in the house

Ø Reading a great book

Ø Mastering a new skill

Ø Giving gifts


So tell me, what makes you happy?



 Troll-caught Alaska Coho Salmon
Photo via Barbara Morgan

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Anti-Consumer Joys

Perfect Moments:

One of my favorite things is discovering that there’s something in my life that I no longer need to purchase.  Usually, these are things that, if I had only known the alternatives, I never needed to purchase in the first place.  I get such delight from eliminating these products or services from my life that utilizing an alternative solution produces a few of my perfect moments every week.  Here are my top three anti-consumer perfect moments from this week!

1-    I gave myself a haircut.  I like to wear my hair in a simple undercut bob.  Sometimes I like it ear-lobe length and sometimes I like it chin length but I always like it to curl under without having to use a blow dryer or product.  My hair is straight, but not always entirely cooperative and I’ve spent years explaining that I need that undercut to be deep.  The inner layer needs to be at least an inch shorter that the outer layer or my hair will get…flippy.  Really, I can’t stand it when my hair is flippy.  It’s not tidy.  It bothers me.  The trouble is, it’s rare for me to find someone to cut my hair who will really listen to what I want and follow my directions.  Last year, I grew weary of paying money to have someone cut my hair not-quite-right, and then try to gunk it up with product and blow it dry.  So I did something I haven’t done since I was a teenager; I cut my own hair.  Well, first I watched some YouTube videos.  Then, I cut my own hair.  I’ve cut my hair four more times since then and I figure that’s saved me at least $120 and a bucket of angst. 

2-    I’ve been on a popcorn kick.  For three days in a row, I’ve made popcorn.  In a glass bowl, with a lid.  In the microwave.  I’ve never mastered making popcorn on the stove so to avoid scorched pans and snack food, I used an air popper for years.  After my air popper went kaput, I switched to those bags of microwave popcorn.  Yuck.  Microwave popcorn always seems to have nasty stuff in it and it’s ridiculously expensive.  Then, someone told me that I could pop any kind of popcorn in the microwave.  Viola! It works wonders, saves money and tastes fantastic!

3-    Okay, another hair moment.  I've been bleaching my hair from a box since I was 17 or 18.  If I lived in a sunny climate, my hair would be blond, but I live in a rainforest. I’ve tried going natural for a year or so at a time, but I’ve never been pleased with my mousy brown color.  About the same time that I started cutting my own hair, I decided to explore alternative hair bleaches.  Have you noticed how expensive those boxes of hair color have become in the last couple decades?  The chemicals in that stuff aren’t very nice either.  Urg, the stink of it is the worst.  So, I tried chamomile tea.  Well, it smelled nice.  I tried lemon juice.  It smelled nice, too.  I tried hydrogen peroxide.  Nada.  Finally, I tried hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and found that it lightens my hair quite nicely.  I have to leave it on a lot longer than the boxed stuff but it doesn’t discolor my skin or make a nasty mess in the bathroom and it’s cheap!
Caution: play with chemicals at your own risk
Caution: bleach your hair at your own risk
Caution: I am not promising you that this method will work for anyone other than me and it may, in fact, wreak havoc on your hair, turn it some gawd-awful shade of orange and cause all your teeth to turn bright purple.  So, proceed with utmost caution, okay?

What anti-consumer methods do you use that bring you the most joy?  Please share, I’d truly love to know!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Flipping The Switch

Perfect Moment:

This bench has a special purpose. 
When I prepare food, I often ask Jeb to help me in the kitchen.  He closes the fridge and various cupboards and drawers on command.  He also operates the salad spinner for me.  Between tasks, I tell Jeb to “go supervise” and he jumps onto this bench to oversee matters.
Yesterday, as I was preparing dinner, Jeb began to sniff the bottom of the smoke detector.  I grinned as he glanced over his shoulder at me and he returned to his investigations.  A few moments later I noticed that he’d moved from sniffing the fire extinguisher to the light switch.  Then, with a push of his curious nose…TaaDaaa! He turned the light on!
Meal preparation came to an abrupt halt as I gushed praise and quickly chopped a handful of cheese cubes.  I was thrilled! 
With cheese cubes in hand, I stood next to the bench and prompted Jeb to repeat the process by touching the switch myself and saying, “touch”.  If I am thrilled by the behavior of my brilliant dog, he is thrilled by cheese cubes and in less than five minutes he’d turned the switch on three more times and eaten several ounces of cheese!  Several hours later, right before bed, we repeated the exercise with good success and this morning we did so again! 
At first he seemed to be pushing the switch with his nose but I caught it on video several times and have been able to slow down the action.  Check it out! 
He’s actually grasping the switch with his lips to turn it on!

I'll continue to practice this new skill with Jeb until he's mastered it and then I'll select a new command word ("touch" is too general) that I'll add to the mix until he can run across the room, leap onto the bench and turn the light on at my prompt!
Then all we'll have to figure out is turning the light OFF.
What perfect moments have you experienced lately?  Do you have 4-legged companions that provide you with perfect moments?


Saturday, April 20, 2013

E-mailing List: Drawing for FREE AK salmon!

All the sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology; they all explain a multitude of things about the world that used to be called magic.  I find it funny that as soon as something is explained by science, it’s not called magic anymore.  Explanation doesn’t render these things less wondrous or potent.

—Penny Sweeney

I’m starting an e-mailing list!

Do you find it difficult to stay caught up on what your favorite authors are doing? Does it seem like you're inundated with social media updates but still missing important announcements?
Sign up for my e-mail list and you'll never have to worry about keeping track of what I'm up to; I'll send you a friendly e-mail whenever I have writing-related news!
I won't send you spam and I won't share your contact information with anyone else.  If you want to be removed from this list at any time, just send me a quick “unsubscribe” e-mail & I'll remove your name & contact info.

The first 100 people (or canines!) to sign up for my list between now & 2p.m. (AKST) on Monday, May 13, 2013 will receive a hand-written Alaska postcard from me (complete with my not-yet-famous autograph) and will be entered into a drawing for a professionally vac-packed piece of wild Alaska-caught salmon! 
Drawing winner will be announced via Twitter & my blog.  Additionally, I'll e-mail the drawing winner to notify and to verify physical address prior to mailing the salmon.

To sign up: e-mail with your name and your mailing and email addresses.
Subject Line: e-mail list
If you do not include your name and full snail-mail address, you will automatically opt out of the postcard & drawing!
Family members & personal friends will receive postcards but are not eligible for the drawing.

Perfect Moment:

I had a loooong moment of perfection yesterday while I began purchasing postcards and give-aways for the upcoming Twitter Launch Party for Magic All Around!  I’m continuing to plan various activities and I know we’re all going to have a blast!  For more information about the party =>
Post cards & Party Goodies!

Paranormal.  It rolls off the tongue with such poetry but it means something like,beyond normal.  There is nothing paranormal about magic.  Magic is the norm.
 —Penny Sweeney

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Puppy Piles & Transformation

Perfect Moments:

Yesterday I saw a wonderful Twitter post from @PitbullSpooning (Cherokee & Charli) who are two of the cuddliest pibbles in the known universe!  If you’re on Twitter and you love dogs, I recommend following them; their photos are priceless!  This particular photo showed one of the pibbles cuddled up to their human mom’s foot and the caption pointed out that they will cuddle with any available body part.

That photo and caption transported me back to the summer of 1997.  I had just adopted my beloved Cavall and he was still training me.  The first item on his agenda was the silly business of sleeping on the floor.  Cavall had no intention of sleeping on the floor and, in fact, had no intention of sleeping on the bed or the couch, either.  Roughly five months old, he was still a puppy and so he demanded a puppy pile.  At the start of that summer, he probably weighed 60 lbs (ultimately he’d be 97lbs) and he insisted on sleeping on top of me.  Prior to that, I don’t recall ever having slept with a pet before and it didn’t seem like a great idea to me.  I was still experiencing PTSD-related nightmares almost nightly, and was a very light sleeper.  I expected having my legs pinned down by a snoring half-grown dog would be disturbing and painful.  It was, in fact, a bit uncomfortable until I fell asleep.  After that, it didn’t bother me all.  My sleep was deep and restful.  Not a single nightmare.  That summer I kept a dream journal and after Cavall started sleeping on my legs, it was four months before I had another nightmare.  As though a switch was flipped inside my brain, nightmares became a rarity instead of the norm.  That was the first gift of healing that Cavall gave me with his puppy pile ways. 

Cavall’s second puppy pile gift to me arrived about a month later.  I wore loose sweat pants for pajama bottoms and one morning I awoke to find that they’d crept up on one side, exposing my thigh.  Cavall was snoring with his nostrils pressed against the bare skin of my thigh.  In that moment, I realized that my dog loved me unconditionally and without reservation.  He did not care what I looked like or how I was shaped.  He was not disgusted by pressing his doggy snout against my naked thigh because there wasn’t anything inherently disgusting about my thigh…or any other part of my body.  Before that moment, I had an intellectual understanding that my body image issues were a result of surviving sexual abuse, but until then, I hadn’t been able to catch a personal glimpse of the reality that lay outside my bubble of self-disgust.  That was the second gift of healing that Cavall gave me with his puppy pile ways and was the beginning of a paradigm shift that transformed my relationship with my body.

These were perfect moments in 1997 and are perfect moments now, as sweet memories.

Today is a good time to think about how true love, whether given by a human or a four-legged, can be a catalyst for healing.  I hope you have an opportunity to both give, and receive, unconditional love today.

Marcy & Cavall

In Other News:

I had a fun time adding page tabs and fine-tuning this site yesterday.  Please take a look around and let me know what you think!

I will not post tomorrow, Friday 4/19/13 but I’ll be back on Saturday with some quotes from my upcoming novel!

I’m planning a Twitter Launch Party for Magic All Around!  Check out all the details on my Magic All Around: Book 1 page tab!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Musings On Trauma

Perfect Moment:

This is not the type of photo that I usually take.  I usually take dog photos!  Sometimes I take photos of people and scenery, but even those photos usually contain a dog.  Last night, however, as I was preparing for bed, I glanced at my magic mirror (yes, that’s how I refer to it in the privacy of my brain) and realized that it was getting quite dusty and that the rivulets of dust were wonderfully atmospheric!  It turns out that there are a bunch of  other things I really like about this photo, too, and it turned out to be a perfect moment.

1-    I love my periwinkle wall

2-    I love my books

3-    I really love the bookshelves that my husband built for me

4-    I also really love the molding that he stained and added in that room

5-    My husband really loves me.  He gave me the mirror, too. 

6-    I really love my husband!!!

 UPDATE: My delightful friend Mariah who also grew up in Edna Bay was inspired by this to take a photo of her own magic mirror! Do you have a magic mirror?  If so, please feel free to pop by my Facebook page and share a photograph or written description!  :-)

Thoughts About Coping With Trauma:

How much trauma can a person cope with?

The answer changes from person to person.  It also changes within a single person based on a whole fleet of variable factors including the type of trauma, their current energy levels, what supports they have in place, etc.

Whether we’re experiencing trauma right this moment, processing past trauma or processing our response to trauma that other people experience; we do it best when we actively work to stay in balance.  Too much trauma and we find creative (and not always pleasant) ways to shut ourselves down with dissociation, compulsive and/or addictive behavior and other distancing activities.  Too little, and we live in the dangerous land of denial where we never learn to cope and where a flashflood could rip through and drown us at any moment.

Years ago, my very wise therapist suggested that I think of this state of balance as a titrating portal; contracting to slow the flow at times and expanding or dilating to increase the flow at other times.

You may think of it like the pupil of an eye, the shutter on a camera, the doorway of a spaceship or a fantasy portal between worlds.  However you visualize it, I hope you keep this portal in mind today and titrate according to your own needs and circumstances.

May you have a gentle day and one filled with perfect moments.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Party Planning!

Gentle readers,

Today someone did something really crappy and hurtful.  I stumbled on the news while bopping my way around Twitter and immediately said cuss words and teared-up in sympathy. 

This kind of stuff happens, somewhere on this splendid blue-green sphere most days.  I don’t like it.  I makes me angry and horribly sad, but if I get stuck in those emotions or the thoughts that accompany them, I cannot be happy.   I’m sure that today’s events in Boston will make for a very busy news day.  I will not be watching or reading that news, not because I don’t care, but because I care deeply and I want to make my little corner of the universe safer, happier and better.  Immersing myself in these stories does not bring out the best in me, it sours everything I do and touch and often immobilizes me.

So, today, I will do what I try to do every single day.  I recognize that there is hate, violence and suffering out there, I recognize that I am just one person with a limited reach and I focus on the positive things that I experience and the good that I can sow.  I must stay focused.  I must stay positive.  I must collect perfect moments.

If you’re wired like I am, I hope you’ll enjoy today’s positive post and perhaps even share a perfect moment in the comments!

Perfect Moments:

  • Yesterday I got very little editing done on Magic All Around because I sat on the back porch in the sunshine for hours!  It was 48F and marvelous!  Jeb had a great time, too.
  • My relaxing interlude in the sunshine generated lots of creative energy and I began planning my Twitter Launch Party for Magic All Around!  Whoopee!  I’m excited and having a blast (and perfect moments) planning games and prizes.  You should know, this launch party will have fantabulous prizes!  I’m going to procure high quality, professionally vac-packed Alaskan salmon to give away.  Yup!  Also, I think we’ll need some Yummy Chummies (salmon dog jerky made locally) and other cool stuff!  As I gather prizes, I’ll send some photos out to whet your appetite!
  • Over the weekend, I got a record number of visits to my blog (over a hundred hits!) and a bunch of you read the first chapter of Magic All Around.  If that’s not an ENORMOUS PERFECT MOMENT for a newbie author, I don’t know what is.  Seriously, thank you for reading and for all of your feedback.  I’m over the moon to be sharing my words.
  • Finally, I’ve had a few perfect moments of happy anticipation as I look forward to seeing Arlo Guthrie live in concert in a couple weeks.  For a folk-music loving, hippy-dippy gal like me, it’s a very big deal!


  • YOU are invited to my Twitter Launch Party for Magic All Around on Monday, May 13th from noon-2p.m. AKST (4-6pm Eastern).  Please let me know if you need help sorting out the time zones!  We’ll be using the hashtag #magicallaround


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Magic All Around: Chapter One


Thank you for stopping by my blog!  Here is the entire first chapter of my fantasy novel, Magic All Around.
Magic All Around, and the sequel Magic Within, are available in paperback and e-book versions through Amazon. My short memoir, Head Buckets & Hashtags, is available in ebook, and my collection of very short fiction, A Flash Of Genies, will be available later this month (May, 2015).

Some Things Shift


Juneau, Alaska.  It’s my home.  It’s the place I was born and raised, the place I choose to live; but that’s not what I’m telling you. 

Some things shift.  Even words can shift.  At first, you think they convey simple concepts; ideas that everyone can agree on.  Once you start to think about a shifty word, though, it begins to wiggle and change shape.  Pretty soon, you realize the word doesn’t mean what you thought it did.  Or, it means six additional things.

Home is a shifty word.  I used to think that it meant the house someone lives in, or where someone sleeps at night. 

Reverse it, however, and you’ll see things in a different way.  Try it.  Homeless.  See how slippery it gets?  How difficult to pin down?  Are you homeless if you don’t live in a house?  I know plenty of people, right here in Juneau, who live in trailers, campers, and boats.  Are they homeless?  What about people who sleep in tents, caves, or cardboard boxes?  Are they homeless? 

That first morning, as I shivered in the cold March drizzle, standing on a stranger’s porch, I was not homeless.  I was right here in Juneau.  Juneau is my home.  Nor was I without a place to sleep.  I’d been sleeping in my car for two weeks. 

What was I, then?  Kitchen-less.  Shower-less.  Hot and cold running water-less.  Bathtub-less.  Toilet-less.  These were the absences that troubled me.  That is why I stood in the rain, behind Penny, playing along with her half-cooked plan to get me into an apartment I couldn’t afford. 

Chapter One


Our universe is a giant stew of magic.

—Penny Sweeney

I stood on a stranger's porch and shivered in the cold March drizzle.  My winter coat hung over the back of a chair at Penny and Roanan’s house, less than a block away and I knew that my decision to leave it there for this short outing was a classic example of seasonal denial.  Seasonal denial is common among Alaskans, particularly during times when other states (like Washington and Oregon) are experiencing warmer temperatures and sunshine. 

I shivered again and wrapped my arms across my chest.  Seattle might be experiencing temperatures in the low to mid 50’s with partly sunny skies and blooming daffodils, but Juneau was not.  Today, the expected high was 37 degrees and I hadn’t seen blue sky since the cold snap last month when temperatures were in the teens.  I love Juneau, but sometimes I wish spring would come a few weeks earlier.

Penny rang the doorbell and I heard a raucous explosion of barking, then a man’s deep voice, from within the house.  I grimaced.  Having a neighboring landlord with a dog would not be ideal for me.  A dog bit me when I was four.  I still have nightmares about it; visions of gleaming white fangs snapping at my face.  The bite wasn’t serious, only a nip really.  One tooth broke the surface of my skin alongside my nose.  I didn’t need stitches and I don’t even have a scar to show for it.  Nonetheless, I’ve been cautious of dogs ever since.

The first thing I noticed when the door opened was that there wasn’t one, but three big dogs.  Luckily for me, they all seemed intent on the man in the doorway, or more accurately, on the small blue can of Vienna Sausages he held in one hand.  I focused on his face, trying to ignore the dogs.  It was a nice face and had a warm, lived-in look to it.  I liked the crinkling smile lines bracketing green eyes.  Did you know you can learn a lot about a person by how they wear their face?  It gets easier the older people grow; their most frequent expressions carve tracks across their skin the way generations of animals beat down a game path through the forest.

Penny snatched the canned sausages away from the guy in the doorway and I lowered my gaze.  Sometimes I stare at people and I didn’t want to do that today.  I needed to make a good first impression.

“This is the perfect example of what I’ve been talking about.  You are the worst bachelor I’ve ever seen and you’ll die of malnutrition if you keep up like this.  How can you eat this garbage for breakfast?  And cold from a can, no less.”  I didn’t have to look at the man to know that Penny’s outrage delighted him.  He laughed.  He had a deep voice, a resonant chuckle.

Penny is about a decade older than my mom, and she’s a classic Earth Mother with an emphasis on mother.  She and her husband, Roanan, never had kids of their own but about half the population of Juneau thinks of them as surrogate parents.  At twenty-seven I usually consider myself too grown-up to need parenting, even from my own mom.  But the past two weeks of living in my car had left me smelling mildewy and feeling more insecure than I had in a long time.  I’d been visiting the Sweeney’s this morning, hoping Penny would offer to let me take a shower and do a load of laundry.  Instead, she’d announced that she’d found me an apartment and hustled me out the door and down the street.

My last apartment went up in flames.  Literally.  If I’d had renters’ insurance or even something more than a handshake agreement with the landlord, I might have been in a new apartment or even a hotel room at that moment.  Instead, I was focusing on the baritone laugh of a potential landlord while trying to ignore the presence of his three large dogs and my self-consciousness about projecting the body odor of a hobo.

Penny pushed her way into the house, past the mass of wiggling, wagging dogs, and I steeled myself and followed.  The dogs seemed well enough behaved but I could hear my pulse thumping in my ears.  Okay, I admit that a little of my pulse-thumping response was to that wonderful rich laugh, but most of it was fear. 

The potential landlord’s name was Norm and when he shook my hand and met my eyes I felt a hot, prickling, blush spill across my cheeks.  I could almost feel my pupils dilating.  Guys with deep voices always give me butterflies, but Norm gave me butterflies, goose bumps and a tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach.  He was far above average on the attractiveness spectrum, with his long-lashed green eyes.  He was dressed like a real Alaskan too, in Carhartt pants and Southeast sneakers (the famous XtraTuf boots).  He wore his long brown hair in a ponytail held in place with a white twisty.  You know…the kind you use on garbage bags.  He was quirky and sexy, and so far out of my league (even when I wasn’t grubby from living in my car) that I knew he’d make the perfect secret crush.  I immediately felt less self-conscious.  The advantage of a secret crush is that the object of the crush is so unattainable that attempting to impress him is futile. 

Norm invited us to sit which I did, but Penny bustled into his kitchen while scolding him about his nutrition and rummaging through the fridge with as much ease as she would have in her own kitchen.  Two of the dogs followed Penny and stood, wagging expectantly, while the third dog began snorting and snuffling at my Southeast sneakers.  The dog’s short brown coat was variegated, like irregular lines of paprika and brown sugar spilled across a chocolate cake.

I’ll tell you something about Alaskan women.  We take pride in being independent and tough.  Many of us hike, camp, hunt, trap, fish, build houses and operate our own power tools.  It should come as no surprise to you, then, that I loathe this business about being afraid of dogs, and that I do my best to avoid being a wimp.  Over the years, I’ve found ways to mask the signs of my discomfort, and to minimize my direct interaction with dogs.  Even when I’m in a room with a dog, I can usually manage to keep my anxiety under control by breathing deeply and avoiding physical contact.  The latter is typically simple; don’t make eye contact, don’t acknowledge the dog, converse in a calm voice and use body language to claim my personal space. 

This dog, though, did not cooperate with my coping methods and continued the interrogatory sniffing of my foot gear, ears folded forward and bouncing with each enthusiastic inhalation.  I angled my torso forward, put my hands on my knees and cocked my elbows outwards.  It’s not ladylike.  It’s a stereotypically masculine pose meant to make me look bigger and more dominant.  I clenched my jaw and imagined filling the space around my body with confident energy. 

Oblivious to my signals, the dog worked its way up my calf, past my knees, and began sniffing the outside of my thigh so hard that I could see the denim of my pant leg move from the nose suction.  The tip of the dog's upward arching tail wagged in a steady metronomic beat.  I guess my unwashed hobo smell must have been more inviting than my body language was uninviting. 

I looked up from the dog, right into Norm’s emerald gaze and felt my heart begin a calisthenics routine in my chest.

“Her name’s Teak,” he said.  “She’s a Staffordshire terrier.  I inherited her about two months ago from a friend who had to go down below to take care of her sick sister’s kids.  She’s three years old and one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”

“Hmmm” I replied.   Dog lovers always want to do this.  They talk dog the way some people talk shop.  Maybe if I stayed calm enough, I could bluff my way through. 

“Teak’s usually real reserved.  She never approaches strangers, so she must be taking a shine to you.”

Penny bustled out of the kitchen with two omelet-laden plates.  The woman’s like a short-order cook.  I swear she can prepare food faster than a drive-through restaurant.  The omelet wouldn’t help matters with the dog, but when I tried to decline the food, Penny gave me a sharp look.  Before we’d left her house, she’d made me promise I’d follow her lead and wouldn’t argue about anything.  I’d been miffed at the implication that I’m usually argumentative, but I’d made the promise.  Eating breakfast at Norm’s house, I concluded as I reluctantly accepted the plate, must be part of Penny’s grand plan for helping me procure an apartment that I couldn’t afford to pay the rent for.

I took a bite of the omelet and savored the thyme and melted pepper-jack cheese.  I’ve always loved the taste of thyme.  It’s my favorite seasoning.  My mom thinks this carries some special symbolism; says something about my personality.  She likes to say, ‘thyme is for the warrior: cleansing, protection and courage’.  So far, eating thyme hadn’t turned me into a courageous warrior.  It probably wouldn’t even help me deal with this nosy dog.  I swallowed another delicious bite of breakfast and Teak stopped Hoovering my leg and laid her blocky brown head in my lap.  I gasped.  It was a teeny tiny little gasp, but Norm heard it.

“Just push her away if she bothers you.  Teak, come here and lay down.”

I’ll give him credit; the dog seemed to understand him.  She raised her head from my lap, walked over to Norm, looked him right in the eye for about three seconds, then turned around and ambled back to me, where she collapsed dramatically to the floor, heaved a sigh like and dropped her head onto my booted feet.  I froze and tried not to blink or twitch.

“Teak!”  Norm sounded half amused, half outraged.  “I’m sorry Vivian, she’s usually more obedient.  I’ll put her outside.  These two beasts, as well,” he added as he glanced at the other two dogs who were watching Penny with long strands of saliva hanging from their jowls.  Norm had to grasp Teak by the collar to persuade her to leave me.  I shot him a grateful smile and nodded as he escorted the dogs to the door.

Penny sat down with a plate of her own and I took another bite of my eggs.  Hot food tasted fantastic.  I’d done a little cooking on my engine block the last couple of weeks but it was primitive, at best.

Norm returned to the living room, sat, picked up his plate and began shoveling food into his mouth.  I turned my head away, unnerved, but I couldn’t help sneaking a glance at him every few seconds.  He hardly chewed before swallowing and, while he kept his mouth closed between bites those bites were so enormous I was sure he’d choke to death if he tried to breathe.  I set my plate in my lap, appetite lost. 

Penny looked at my unfinished omelet and turned to Norm.  “Slow down dear.  It’s not a horse race.”

“Mmmmmm,” Norm said and loaded his fork with another enormous bite.  Penny’s hand swept in a graceful arc, her fork flashing as she moved, and then she held Norms’ fork pinned to his plate with her own fork.  Fork Kung Fu.  I was impressed by her restraint.  In her place, I’d have been tempted to stab his hand and call it an accident.  His table manners (not that we were sitting at a table), were atrocious.

Norm slumped and pulled his lips downward into an expression of woe.  “Was I doing it again?”  He was a ham, this one. 

“Yes, dear, and now I’m afraid Vivian thinks you were raised by wolves.”  

From my peripheral vision, I saw Norm sit up straight, look at me and I look at my cooling omelet.  “Helluva way to make a good first impression, huh?”  He tilted his head to the side and I got the sense he was trying to initiate eye contact with me.  I glanced at his face and saw his lips twitch.  “Please accept my apology, Vivian.” 

I thought he would say something else, make some excuse or joke, but he didn’t so I shrugged and mumbled, “Sure” before refocusing on my breakfast.  It was delicious and there was no sense letting an awkward moment upset me so much that I let good food go to waste.   

Norm was the first to finish eating but I noticed he had adequate manners once his attention had been brought to the matter.  He took reasonably sized bites, chewed thoroughly and even paused between bites.  I kept my eyes mostly on my plate and wondered if this discomfiting situation was part of Penny’s stratagem to get me the apartment at a discounted rental rate.  I hoped not, it didn’t seem worth it.

Norm cleared his throat.  “That was a treat, Penny.  Thank you for coming over and making breakfast.”  He crossed his left ankle over his right knee and leaned back in his chair.  “Now, what’s your ulterior motive?”

I swallowed wrong.  A bit of omelet tickled my windpipe and I coughed then cleared my throat several times before regaining my composure.

Norm uncrossed is leg and leaned towards me, looking ready to spring to my aid, as I sputtered.  

“Vivian needs an apartment and you need to rent the other side of this duplex.”  Penny seemed oblivious to my near choking and took Norm’s plate, then mine, raised her voice and kept talking as she delivered the dishes to the kitchen. 

“You’re asking way too much money and Vivian simply can’t afford that much.  She was living in a lovely little efficiency before and only paying $600 a month.  So, what I want you to do is charge her the same amount as she was paying for her last apartment and in exchange for the rest she’ll come over here for an hour or two, four days a week and teach you how to cook.  For four months.  At the end of four months, the lessons are over, but you can’t raise the rent for at least a year.  Oh, and I want you to give her all the furniture you have in that storage unit you’re paying too much for and that’ll save you some money.”

Penny returned from the kitchen with three mugs of peppermint tea balanced on a platter.  See?  How did she have time to even heat the water?  Norm accepted his mug of tea with a nod and scratched at the bristly stubble on his chin.

The mug I took sported the silhouette of a wolf in profile and read, ‘I © werewolves’.  I ran my finger along the lip of the cup while I waited for Norm to respond.  The quiet made me edgy and I shifted in my seat.  My throat still tickled and I coughed a few times.  Finally, Norm grunted and looked back at Penny.

“On two conditions.  First, the lessons are only three times a week.”  Norm tossed me a sly wink then turned back to Penny.  “Second, Teak moves in with Vivian.”

I jumped out of my chair, sloshing tea down the front of my shirt.  “What?  No!  I mean, that’s impossible.  I can’t do that.  Penny, I appreciate your help and all, but no.  I cannot live with a dog.  Thanks but no thanks.” 

Penny gave me a dark look and pointed her finger at me.  “Sit down, young lady.  You promised you wouldn’t argue and this conversation is not over.” 

"I know, but—” I began.  Penny shook her pointing finger and I snapped my mouth closed and sat down.  Under ordinary circumstances, I would have stormed out the door before I’d let anyone, even Penny, treat me like a child.  I wondered, again, if all of this folderol was worth it.  Then again, I really missed taking hot baths before bed.   

“Cooking three days a week and she goes with you to walk the dog once a week but the dog doesn’t move in with her.  Honestly, Norm.  Didn’t you notice she’s frightened of dogs?  Shame on you for trying to unload your responsibilities on Vivian.”

Norm said something in a near whisper.  It sounded like, “There’s a prophesy to consider”, which didn’t make any sense to me.

“Oh, drat!  My batteries are dying again,” Penny said and fussed with her hearing aid for a few seconds.  “All right, Norm.  Come again?  Louder this time.”

Norm lowered his brows.  “I said, do you remember what I told you about my Granny?”

“I don’t think this is a good time to discuss Amelia, do you dear?”

“Teak moves in with Vivian or we don’t have a deal.”  Norm’s expression had hardened and he met Penny’s puzzled gaze without blinking.  I saw a muscle in his jaw twitch.

“She needs a place to live, Norm.  She’s afraid of dogs.  Don’t make this impossible.”

“There’s a five day forecast, Penny.  Think about it.  It’s a matter of safety.”

“What do you mean, there’s a five day…Oh!”  Penny looked at me with an expression of surprise, then back to Norm.  “Really?  Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

“It’s so soon.  I wasn’t expecting…”  Penny trailed off and turned to me.

“Vivian, dear, maybe—” She stopped when Norm held up his hand.

He turned in his seat so that he faced me head on, leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees.  It crossed my mind then, that I should get up and leave.  Walk away.  Or run.  I didn’t understand what Penny and Norm were talking about, but I hate it when people act like they know things about you that you don’t.  Whatever they were discussing so obscurely, I wanted no part of it. 

Norm gazed steadily at me and there was something compelling in his stare.  My feet and legs felt heavy, like they were encased in cement.  My urge to run evaporated.  I relaxed into my chair. 

“Vivian.  I’ve just met you and we’re practically strangers.  I do know dogs though.  Teak is a good dog and she loved my friend.  They had a powerful bond.  She’s pining for that woman but there’s no way they can be together and that’s not going to change.  Teak isn’t happy living with me.  Some days she won’t eat.  She isn’t as playful as she used to be.  She’s not thriving.  I understand that you’re leery of dogs but there’s a difference, Vivian, between being afraid of dogs and disliking dogs.  I don’t think you dislike dogs.  In fact, I think that being loved by a dog like Teak might help you get over your fear and I think you might find then, that you like dogs quite a lot. 

Dogs are the best judges of character I’ve known and Teak is drawn to you.  If you took her in, you’d be giving her a chance at a happier life.  Dogs need to love and she doesn’t love me the way I can see she would love you.”

I stared back at Norm with a lump in my throat, struggling to breathe and swallow.  I’m not heartless and I felt sad for Teak; she’d lost the person she was devoted to, the person she loved most.  Norm was persuasive and I felt peculiarly charmed by his plea.  Maybe I would adopt Teak, rescue her from loneliness and become a dog person. 

I broke eye contact and rubbed my hands over my face.  I was having trouble thinking; having trouble responding to this situation.  I needed an apartment.  Not a dog.  If the dog needed a new owner, Norm could put an ad in the paper or enlist the help of the Humane Society.  After all, I’d heard we have a well run shelter in Juneau.

Norm leaned even closer to me, reached over and put his hand on my knee.  His hand felt warm and comforting and the touch, so intimate, sent an electric shiver from the pit of my stomach up to the crown of my head.

“I just can’t do it,” I whispered, longing to do what he asked and knowing I could not.  “I’m sorry.”

Norm let go of my knee and took both my hands in his.  “Look at me, Vivian,” he said.  I lifted my chin and looked into his eyes, feeling my breath hitch in my chest. 

“You are strong-willed.”  How would he know such a thing?  Was this his version of flattery?  A compliment?  It didn’t matter, my qualms faded.  I was enthralled by his voice, his touch, his eyes.

“A compromise.  A trial period.  Would you like that, Vivian?”  I nodded, hearing him speak my name but not really listening to what he said.  “Let’s say two or three days, huh?  If, after that, you don’t want to keep Teak, I’ll take her back.”

I nodded again and Norm released my hands. 

What?  What had I just agreed to?  How could I live with a great big dog that I was afraid of?  For two entire days?  What was wrong with me?

I stood up.  I needed some fresh air.  Norm rose and, before I could side step him, enveloped me in a hug too tight to wiggle free from and too blissful for me to want to.  He smelled musky and woody like fresh cut red cedar.  When he let me go and stepped back, I think I saw tears in his eyes. 

“Thank you, Vivian.  I know this doesn’t make much sense to you, but it’s all for the best.”  He seemed like such a nice guy. 

“C’mon, Vivian, let’s go check out your new apartment,” Penny said.  Once again, she hustled me out the door.    

Five hours later, I stood in front of the bay window in my new apartment.  It was a terrific place.  It had a kitchen.  It had a bathroom with a shower and it had a deep bathtub.  The bay window overlooked Gastineau Channel.  On the opposite side of the channel, Mt. Juneau and Mt. Roberts were hidden by thick fingers of heavy fog and drizzle, but I knew that when the clouds lifted, the view would be spectacular.  I’d buy binoculars before summer so that I could sit by this window and watch the mountain goats and occasional bear foraging on the steep slopes. 

The water of Gastineau Channel was glassy smooth and as grey as pewter in the flat, afternoon light.  There was still snow in the front lawn and the weatherman was predicting freezing rain tonight.  Brrr.  March in Juneau could be bitter cold.  I thought of the bed we’d hauled upstairs and felt lucky.  Tonight, I wouldn’t have to wake up every couple of hours and start the car to warm my cold-numbed fingers and toes. 

I looked around the comfortably furnished apartment.  It was enormous.  What was I going to do with a two-bedroom place all to myself?  Never mind, I’d adjust.  Every time my mind strayed to thoughts of how generous Norm was being with free furniture, (I couldn’t stop ogling the green velveteen couch) and low rent, I’d squirm in embarrassment.  Then I’d look at Teak and feel my embarrassment swoosh away and be replaced by a wave of anxiety.  Currently, she was sprawled, belly up, four paws in the air, on that sumptuous green couch.  I wanted to snuggle into those soft verdant cushions, but I wasn’t about to squeeze in next to her, nor was I prepared to make her move.  My heart palpitated at the mere thought.  The prolonged proximity to Teak was making me feel sick in the same way that caffeine does, with that jittery and sweaty-palmed nausea.

Penny bustled in the front door (my front door, yay!) with her husband, Roanan, carrying two large cardboard boxes.  I’d have to start locking my door.  Penny and Roanan are dear to me, but I didn’t want them walking in without knocking.  I like privacy.  Lots of privacy.

“Hi Vivian!  We’ve got a bunch of food for the party.  I made some of my smoked salmon spread and there’re chips and dip and Brie cheese and several kinds of pop and some other goodies here, too.”  Penny hurried toward the kitchen with Roanan trailing in her wake.

“Penny?  What party?”  It had been a hectic day; had I forgotten something important?  Were Penny and Roanan going to have dinner with me in my new apartment?

“Oh.  Didn’t I tell you?  Well, it’s a surprise party, then.” Penny swept through my kitchen and emerged with a bottle of root beer that she handed me as she steered me towards the dining room table and urged me to sit, which I did with a shocked plunk.

“Surprise party?”

“You’re having a house warming party tonight.  Let’s see, in about thirty minutes.  Oh, don’t look so alarmed.  You don’t have to do a thing.  I just figured you could use a lot of household items and it’s always nice to celebrate a big move like this.”

 “Just put everything but the chips and crackers in the refrigerator, would you Love?” She called to Roanan over her shoulder.

“Sure thing.”  Roanan stuck his head out of the kitchen and shook a finger at me.  “As for you, Lassie, don’t get yer britches in a twist.  You’ll have a rollickin’ good time, see if you don’t.” 

“Ha!” I said and stuck my tongue out at Roanan before he ducked back into the kitchen.  Although he’d been born in Ireland, he’d lived in Alaska since he was a boy and only brought out his accent for effect, usually when he was teasing someone.

“Have you eaten anything since breakfast?  You do look a little pale, Vivian.”  I shook my head at Penny and flapped my hand dismissively. 

“I’m always pale.  I’m a redhead, see?”  I pulled the purple bandana off my head and shook my blunt-cut bob forward.  “Doesn’t matter what I eat, or even how much sunshine I get.  I’m permanently pale.  So, tell me about this party.  Who’s been invited?  What’s the plan?”

Penny smoothed my tussled hair back.  “It’s a potluck and I’ve told everyone to bring gifts.  Opening presents should be the main entertainment.  Roanan and I will be here, and of course, Norm and Lawrence.”

Lawrence had helped move all the furniture from storage to my new home and I had gathered he was Norm’s nephew and lived with Norm.  There was something unusual about him that I couldn’t pin down and I opened my mouth to ask Penny about it, but she steamrolled over me.

“I invited a few of the folks from the neighborhood; you’ll like getting to know them.  You’ll fit in just fine into this neighborhood just fine.  I also invited your mother and her coven sisters, of course.” 

My mothers’ coven sisters meant her twelve roommates.  I guess my mom was going through her mid-life crisis or her spiritual phase, or something, because she was living in an immense house with a crowd of women and they considered themselves to be a coven of witches.  You know, thirteen?  A coven?  

When my apartment burned down, Mom had invited me to stay with them instead of in my car, but I’d declined.  No way was I staying in that house!  The whole arrangement gave me the heebie-jeebies.  Mom and her roommates talked about casting spells and worshipping Goddesses and all sorts of freaky stuff.  They had a giant pentagram painted on their living room floor.  They even had a black cat that lived with them.  Well, black with white paws. 

It wouldn’t be so bad, except that it was my mom.  Moms are supposed to be stable and unchanging.  Rational.  They’re not supposed to give up a lifetime of atheism to become neo-pagan hippy chicks who read auras and believe in magic.

“Don’t roll your eyes, dear, you’re not a teenager and your mother is happy.”  “Mom say she’d come?”

 “Your mom will be here.” Penny patted my arm.  "She’s been worried sick about you living in that car.  You’re so stubborn.  The day she phoned and said that you refused to stay with them, I told her that the mule must be your animal totem.  Ha!  She said you’re the only person she’s ever met who was born under the sign of the ass.  You lucky girl!  A whole new zodiac sign just for you.”

Penny tittered and I offered up the most exaggerated eye roll I could muster.  My mom had been joking about that since I was in high school but it must have been the first time Penny’d heard it. 

“I don’t know how many of her sisters will be here, but you have plenty of room for a big party.  Besides, the more people that come, the more gifts you’ll get,” Penny added as she playfully swatted at the arm she’d just been patting.  “Now go take a quick shower and clean up; you’re the guest of honor.  Or, the hostess.  Or something like that.”

It turned out that every person Penny had invited came to my house warming party.  All forty-seven of them.  My new apartment was crowded and noisy and all the commotion set me on edge.  My idea of a party is three or four close friends.  I guess that makes me an introvert.  Add to that my short stature and dread of being trampled and you have a woman who does not like going to craft fairs, parades or big cities.  You never know when a crowd might turn into a mob.  I did my best to be gracious and warm and to thank everyone for the housewarming gifts, but I kept catching myself hyperventilating.

The plethora of gifts was overwhelming and I muttered to Penny, as I opened another box, that I’d need to hold a garage sale next weekend at the rate things were going.  Penny either didn’t hear me, or chose to pretend that she didn’t.  I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to have hearing aids and could use that tactic.

My mom and her coven sisters had hit all the second-hand stores in town and scored every type of pot, pan, plate, bowl, glass, mug, silverware or kitchen doodad that I could possibly want.  They’d even managed to find a lovely old-fashioned glass blender, a crock-pot and a rice cooker. 

The coven also brought along enough dried sage, essential oils, crystals, prisms and assorted other new age paraphernalia to open up a head shop in my new living room.  Every nook and cranny in my apartment was getting cleansed, smudged and blessed.  I made a brief escape to the bathroom (hoping for a few moments of solitary time) and discovered three of the coven-sisters painting the bathroom walls an earthy brick red.  The youngest of the coven-sisters, Janice, was a self-proclaimed Feng Shui expert and she assured me that the flow of chi in my bathroom was going to be “abso-freaking-lutely perfect.” 

I retreated towards my bedroom with Teak glued to my left leg as she had been all evening, and contemplated locking myself in the walk-in closet.  It was not to be, however, as I discovered a larger group of coven-sisters in my bedroom chanting prayers and burning incense. 

I returned to the living room, jumpy from having Teak in such close proximity and feeling a frantic desire to escape.  I aimed for the front door, but only made it a few feet before my mom and the founding coven-sister, Cecillia, ambushed Teak and me and proceeded to back us into a corner with smudge sticks.  Teak sneezed and snapped at the acrid smoke, making Cecillia take a swift step backwards.

“Enough, you two, stop it!”  I said, fanning the air in front of my nose.

“Pshaw.  Don’t belly-ache Vivian, we’re almost done.”  My mom said, wearing an expression of serene concentration.  Mom was wearing her favorite beige pantsuit with a pair of huge gold hoop earrings, a gold pentagram necklace, gold bangles on both her wrists and at least five gold rings on each hand.  She was also wearing the stained glass monarch butterfly lapel pin I’d given her last Mother’s Day and a gaudy sunburst stud through her left nostril.  My mom.  With a nose piercing. 

Cecillia still held her smudge stick, but she didn’t look as serene as my mother; she looked confused.  Maybe because she wasn’t wearing her tri-focals tonight.  Mom had threatened to attach a GPS device to the wire frames of Cecillia’s frequently misplaced glasses.  Perpetually absent-minded, Cecillia always struck me as being rather dim, though my mother assured me this wasn’t so.  She wore her short, thinning hair in tight curls against her scalp and dressed primly in cardigans and skirts.  She’d spent her career teaching in the bush but I couldn’t imagine her coping with outhouses, much less cultural barriers.  She looked like an uptight, middle American grandmother.

Teak snapped, again, at the smudging smoke and Cecillia took another step back.

“This dog may be quite vicious,” she said in her soft voice.  I was surprised I could hear her over the din of the other partiers.

“Don’t think so, I think she just doesn’t like the smoke.  Sure looks terrifying though, doesn’t she?”  I knuckled my itching eyes and coughed into my elbow.

“She’s a muscular dog but attractive” my mother said, stroking Teak’s broad head with her empty hand and arching an eyebrow at me.  “How you came to have a dog will be a story you’ll have to tell me privately.  Perhaps tomorrow.  Congratulations on starting your journey, Vivian.” 

Yup, that’s my mother: cryptic.  Before I could be cross with her, though, the Feng Shui expert bounced down the stairs and whisked her away to go appreciate the amazing chi of my bathroom.  I watched her ascend the stares, her curly red hair beginning to work itself loose from the severe twist she pinned it up in on work days. 

Cecillia wandered towards the kitchen and I returned to Penny’s side to continue opening gifts.

Penny kept detailed notes of who brought what gift, which I was grateful for since I was inundated.  Folks brought me everything that I would need in my new home, from bath towels, to a radio.  From bed linens to books.  In addition to several second-hand novels, I received a paperback copy of The Joy of Dogs by Nigel Maas and a hard cover book entitled The Breed Temperament Encyclopedia.  There were even dog toys.  Yes, Teak got her share of presents and one neighbor even brought two gift-wrapped beef-basted rawhide bones that Teak delicately unwrapped with her teeth.  She must have thought the bones were from me because she licked my hand right after unwrapping them, as though thanking me, and my eyes started to leak.

I pulled a crumpled paper towel from my pocket to wipe away the damn water works.  I hate crying in front of people.  Before I could finish blowing my nose, Mom was there with a tall glass of water and her Grandpa’s fancy monogrammed hanky.  The former I accepted gratefully and the latter I waved away with a tremulous smile.  I just can’t blow my nose on that beautiful thing.  When had she come back downstairs?  How had she known I was thirsty?  My mom says she’s always had a sixth sense when it comes to me.  I can’t count the number of times she’s shown up right when I needed her most.  She calls it her ‘Momma Magic’.  It’s just one of the many things I love about her. 

Someone seized my shoulders and I went rigid.  I don’t usually cope well with being grabbed from behind, but Norm’s earthy, cedar musk registered before I had a proper chance to get worked up.  His hands felt warm and heavy and I couldn’t help relaxing. 

“Ms. Marshall, I’m Norm, Vivian’s new landlord.” 

Mom arched her eyebrow.  It’s her favorite expression.  “How, ah… interesting… to meet you, Norm.”  Norm didn’t offer his hand and kept massaging my shoulders.

“It’s my pleasure, entirely, Ms. Marshall.” 

“Please, call me Maeve.”

I felt like I should be fidgeting in embarrassment, but Norm kept kneading, easing away the knots in my neck and shoulders and I felt calmer than I had since the party began.  Teak pressed firmly against my thigh and I wondered if it were for her own comfort, or for mine.  I handed my empty glass back to my mom.  My eyelids felt swollen and my face was probably splotchy and flushed, but the need to cry had passed and I felt lighter somehow; floaty, like if I took a few steps, I’d bounce like an astronaut in low gravity.

Roanan was gathering the crowd around him; telling some tale, half joke, half story.  He pulled his fiddle out of its case and played a lively tune for a short interval before lowering it and continuing to weave his tale.

Norm gave my shoulders a final squeeze and leaned down to murmur in my ear.

“Enough gifts for now, folks can just pile them up on the table and you can get to them in the morning after you’ve rested.  It’s better now for you to sit, enjoy your party and eat some of Penny’s salmon spread before it’s gone.  She makes the best.”

Keeping his hands on my shoulders, Norm steered me to the couch where I sank gratefully into its’ mossy green embrace.  Teak climbed up beside me and settled her rear end on my left thigh.  I giggled into my hand.  Teak had to weigh at least a hundred pounds and she resembled a gargoyle with her bulging muscles, short sleek coat and long teeth, but she thought she was a lap dog.

“Teak, get your bony ass off Vivian.”  Norm gave her an affectionate slap on the thigh and Teak shifted so that instead of sitting on me, she was sitting next to me, albeit, close enough that I could count the individual whiskers on her muzzle.  Norm sat down on the other side of Teak and Mom handed me a plate she’d filled with crackers and salmon spread. 

As I ate (the salmon spread was as delicious as Norm had promised) and listened to Roanan’s rambling yarn, I tried to watch Norm from the corner of my eye.  I estimated he was in his mid-thirties but he carried himself with the same nonchalant confidence that I admired in Roanan, who was probably twice Norm’s age.  He didn’t posture and swagger the way I’d seen so many guys do.  He sure seemed awfully touchy-feely with me and there was something about that; maybe the fact that he didn’t seem that way with everyone, that puzzled me.  Not that I was complaining, precisely.  I enjoyed it, but it definitely wasn’t the sort of thing I was accustomed to.  Was it his way of flirting or was he just being friendly?  I have plain features and I’m a little on the plump side.  That, combined with how disheveled I’d been earlier today when we’d first met, made me think it was doubtful he was flirting.  I wouldn’t mind if he was flirting and that was the other thing that made me uneasy.  I liked him entirely too much for having just met him this morning.  Physical attraction can happen fast, but being the introvert I am, I’m slow to like people; slow to warm up to their personalities.  Norm already felt like a friend.  Someone I could rely on. 

I was so engrossed in thought that I forgot entirely about being afraid of the massive dog snuggled against me.  It wasn’t until Teak gingerly licked my earlobe and then slumped over to rest her muzzle on my shoulder that I came back to myself.   Her breath was warm and moist puffing against my cheek.  Maybe it was exhaustion or maybe I was simply getting used to her; I smiled instead of tensing up or jerking away.  Without moving my head, I glanced at Norm.  He was watching me with an intent green gaze.  He nodded, perhaps in approval, before turning to focus on Roanan.

Slowly, and with the utmost caution, I wrapped my arm around Teak’s body in a side-ways hug.  I rested my palm on her ribcage, feeling it expand and contract with each deep breath.  I fell asleep.  

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