A TIME TO PUSH DAISIES by Marion Ueckermann
Not every woman is fortunate enough to find her soulmate.
Fewer find him twice.
JoAnn Stanson has loved and lost. Widowed a mere eighteen months ago, JoAnn is less than thrilled when her son arranges a luxury cruise around the British Isles as an early birthday gift. She’s not ready to move on and “meet new people”.
Caleb Blume has faced death and won. Had it not been for an unexpected Christmas present, he would surely have been pushing up daisies. Not that the silver-haired landscape architect was averse to those little flowers—he just wasn’t ready to become fertilizer himself.
To celebrate his sixty-fourth birthday and the nearing two-year anniversary since he’d cheated death, Caleb books a cruise and flies to London. He is instantly drawn in a way that’s never happened before to a woman he sees boarding the ship. But this woman who steals Caleb’s heart is far more guarded with her own.
For JoAnn, so many little things about Caleb remind her of her late husband. It’s like loving the same man twice. Yet different.
Or is it?
CALEB BLUME SHUFFLED OUTSIDE ONTO the wooden deck of his posh Camps Bay apartment, feeling three decades older than his sixty-two years. Raising the glass of sparkling water clutched in his hand, he toasted the African sun, slowly inching its way toward the watery horizon of the Atlantic. The summer solstice having passed merely days before, the golden ball wouldn’t set for a few more hours.
“Merry Christmas, world.” Even those few words sapped his breath. But then he had just walked twenty meters from his living room without stopping to rest.
He sank into the comfort of the reclining patio chair, made of weather-resistant rattan and topped with ivory-colored cushions. From his lofty home, Caleb narrowed his gaze to stare at the azure ocean below, frothy waves lapping the white beach. Would this be his last Christmas on earth? Or would he live to see another? Not if a suitable donor heart didn’t become available soon, that much was certain considering his declining health.
He pursed his lips. His bitter snort resonated. How his life had changed. Pitiful. Sitting here waiting for someone to die, so that he could live. Or at least have a fighting chance at life.
Everyone had thought it was the winter flu. But it wasn’t. Viral myocarditis a few months ago had damaged his heart and turned his entire world upside down. Now instead of spending his days getting his hands dirty in rich, compost-laden soil, creating beautiful gardens, he was confined to his home with a live-in nurse cum housekeeper as his only companion.
Gone was his carefree bachelor lifestyle. Gone were the parties and “friends”.
He had never felt so alone in his entire life. If only he didn’t live so far away from his brother in England.
“Janine...” Caleb barely had enough volume to call his nurse.
Thankfully the forty-something woman’s ears were tuned to his every call. She hurried through the frameless sliding-folding doors that gave security and shelter during the night but were now pushed open wide, merging his home with his garden deck.
“Could you bring my cell phone to me, please? I need to…return my brother’s call,” he sucked in a deep breath, filling his lungs, “before Christmas is over.”
When Joshua had phoned earlier, Caleb had still been asleep. He’d put off phoning back, knowing Joshua would be at church with his family, after which his brother and his wife, Viola, would be frantically busy cooking their traditional Christmas fare for the family. He would have loved to be spending this particular Christmas with his brother and nieces, seeing as it could be his last, but traveling was out of the question for him for quite a while. By now though, his English family’s Christmas dinner should be finished, as should the washing of the dishes and cleaning up—what with seven daughters there to help.
After first making sure that Caleb was comfortably reclined, Janine hurried back inside, soon reappearing with Caleb’s phone. She dialed the number and then handed the device over.
“Caleb!” Joshua’s voice boomed through the speaker. “Merry Christmas. I tried to call you earlier.”
“I know. Merry Christmas…to you…too.” Caleb gasped for a breath.
“How are you doing, brother?” Concern edged Joshua’s voice. “Do you need help? I could fly out, or one of the girls could—”
Caleb shook his head, even though Joshua couldn’t see. “I’m…hanging on. Enjoying the…sunshine.” The fresh, salty smell of sea air filled his nostrils as, once again, he breathed in deeply. “How are the…girls?”
“They’re all doing just fine. Getting married one by one. Oh, did I tell you I’m going to be a grandfather again?”
“No. Who’s expecting?” An ache formed in his chest. While life was flourishing for the Blume’s in England, he was dying a slow death on the other side of the world. Alone. He envied Joshua having a legacy to leave behind. Caleb, on the other hand, would leave nothing. No wife or children to mourn his passing. He would have loved to have a son, a wife. Perhaps he should’ve sought someone to share his life decades ago. Too late now—for children and for love.
“Maggie. Sometime in April.”
“And you’re only…” He sucked in a breath. Maybe he should ask Janine to bring his oxygen bottles. “…telling me now?”
“We only just found out. Maggie and Davis have managed to keep it a secret for five months. They wanted to get way past the first trimester, and then it wasn’t that long until Christmas, so they decided to save the big news for today—thought it would be more special.”
“A wonderful gift. Congrats to…you all.”
“I’d best not keep you,” Joshua said. “I can hear you’re weary.”
Caleb closed his eyes and swallowed hard. His lip quivered and he clamped it between his teeth, holding it in place. “I–I am. Send my love…to the girls.”
“I will.” There was a pause before Joshua continued. “Caleb, I’m praying for you—for that new heart.”
No doubt Joshua didn’t only mean the actual organ. He’d been preaching to Caleb about getting his heart right with God for years. Maybe if he had listened, the one that beat so sluggishly in his chest wouldn’t be dying a slow death.
Was it too late to try a little prayer too? It surely couldn’t hurt. He raised his gaze heavenward.
Oh God, if You save me, if You get me a new heart, I will spend the rest of the days You give me on this earth, living for you. Somehow, I’ll learn how to.
“Caleb? A–are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry…wandering mind.”
An incoming call beeped in his ear, and his heart thumped against his ribs—just as it always had in the past few months every time the phone rang. Every time he’d been disappointed. No doubt this call would be no different.
“Josh, incoming call. I…must go.”
They said a hurried goodbye before Caleb answered the interrupting call. “Caleb Blume.”
“Mr. Blume. Are you sitting down?” If Dr. Le Crouse, his cardiologist, was excited about something, he didn’t show it, his voice a monotone as always. And for sure, the use of his surname was merely for effect. His doctor had called him by his first name from the moment Caleb had insisted, and only used his last name when he wanted to make a point.
“Lying down. Doctor’s orders.” Caleb managed a soft chuckle.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re an obedient patient, but you might want to get up and hurry over to Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. You’re being given the best Christmas present of all.”
Caleb eased forward. He swung his legs around, and his feet fell to the deck with a soft thud. “W–what?” Could it really be that he was finally getting the one thing he wanted? Needed? A new heart.
“A perfect match, at last. Your new heart is being harvested as we speak and will be flown to Cape Town. You’ll be on the operating table within four hours.”
“Th–that’s wonderful news.” Caleb choked, surprised to be this emotional.
“Are you able to get to the hospital, or must we arrange for an ambulance transfer?”
“I–I can get there.” This was one of the reasons he had 24/7 care. Janine could drive him wherever he needed to go.
“Good. And, Caleb, I know it’s Christmas, but don’t eat or drink anything from now on. Please.”
“I won’t, Doctor. See you…soon.”
Caleb paused for a moment after cutting the call. He bowed his head, first in thanks to God for answering his prayer so swiftly, and then out of respect for the one who had lost their life. Did they have a husband, a wife, children, whose Christmases would never be the same again? For them, the sun had set. For him, it was about to rise!
DREAMS COME TRUE by Mary Manners
A Chance to love again...
Naomi Taylor is putting her life back together following the sudden death of her husband, when eldest son Austin shows up at her doorstep with grandson Max. The troubled teen wants nothing more than to escape the cozy little town of Serenity and get back to his friends in the city. But Naomi’s not giving up on him, and hopes next-door neighbor Ben can help her find a way to reach him and turn things around—before it’s too late.
Ben Miller lost his wife to a long and ruthless battle with Alzheimer’s. Coming to terms with the loss has shown him he still has much to live for. When his needs intertwine with Naomi’s, their long-time friendship blossoms into something more.
Can the two discover a way to move into the future and love again, without betraying memories of the past?
“HEY, NAOMI, WILL YOU RUN away with me?” Ben asked as he strode into Blooms and Blessings later that afternoon.
“What?” She looked up from the flower seedlings she’d arranged along with an assortment of greenery into a hanging basket. Deep violet blooms spilled over the rim, their sweet fragrance weaving into the musky scent of potting soil and rustic homemade soaps for gardeners.
Ben snatched a mint from the dispenser Naomi kept near the register and added a five-dollar bill to the charity pot for Serenity Children’s Hospital. “I said, let’s close up shop and run away together…just for the afternoon.”
Her mouth rounded into a surprised little oh. “Sounds dangerous.”
Her reaction encouraged him to proceed. “Only if the boat sinks, and then I’d carry you to shore.”
He unwrapped the mint and tossed it jauntily into his mouth.
“Now, you’ve really lost me.” Naomi swiped a lock of hair from her forehead, leaving behind a smudge of dirt at the corner of one eye as she laughed. “English, please.”
He placed his hands on the counter and leaned in. The scent of Naomi’s perfume mingled with the mint and coffee that swirled from the mug at her elbow.
“I met Max as he was heading into the ice cream shop with Becky Carpenter. He handed me the keys to my truck and said driving lessons will have to wait until tomorrow. He’s heading over to the church to meet with some of the kids, then having homemade fried chicken with Becky and her parents.”
“He also told me you’re overdoing it here, and that your foot is hurting, but you refuse to take a rest. He mentioned that you’re as stubborn and hardheaded as his father.”
Her cheeks pinked. “He did not.”
“Well, maybe not in so many words, but the idea was there.” Ben winked conspiratorially. “He asked me to try to talk some sense into you, though I’d probably get nowhere.”
“His exact words?”
“Yep, pretty much. But, I figured I’m up for the challenge so I stopped by Connor’s Deli and stocked my cooler with a couple of their hoagies and that mustard-based potato salad you like so much, hoping you’d see things my way and close up shop a little early. I’d like to take a ride with you.” He used the pad of his thumb to brush away the dirt at the corner of her pretty blue eyes, and then a dab that clung to her cheek. “It’s a beautiful day for a ride, Naomi.”
“That it is.” She gazed out the window longingly. He figured she was just as eager for a little fresh summer air as he was, since she’d been cooped up in the shop all day. And he’d heard Martha Cruetzinger had made an appearance this morning—something that was sure to put a wrinkle in anyone’s day. “Sunny and what—about eighty?”
“A pleasant seventy-eight.”
“Oh…perfect.” She gave the arrangement a sprinkle of water and then handed him the finished basket to hang from a shepherd’s hook in the display window. “Where were you thinking of taking this ride?”
“I hoped you might enjoy a little treasure hunt along Serenity Lake.”
“A treasure hunt?” Her eyes widened in amusement. “What sort of treasure are we talking about here?”
He lowered his voice to a murmur. “How long has it been since you’ve been out on the lake?”
“Too long.” She squirted sanitizer into her hands to clean them and then wiped them with a paper towel. “A couple of years.”
“That’s a shame.” He clicked his tongue as his head wagged. “Do you miss the caress of a breeze, the shimmer of sun-dappled lake water?”
“Hugely.” She lobbed the paper towel into the trash can. “More than you know.”
“In that case, I’d say it’s time to stretch those sea legs of yours.” He reached for her hand. “Come with me and I’ll explain our mission as we go.”
CARAMEL KISSES By Cecelia Dowdy
Childless, Michael Gray longs to find the daughter his deceased wife gave up for adoption years ago. His search takes a detour when he meets candy maker Dara Greene.
Dara is also widowed and she’s determined to make her business, Caroline’s Candy Shoppe, a success. But Dara suffers from stage fright and due to a recent traumatic event, she seeks Michael’s assistance.
Can he help her win the Annual Cruise Ship Candy Competition and convince her to take a chance on love?
MIMI DIDN’T DESERVE THIS. HECK, nobody did, but especially not Mimi…not his Mimi. Michael Gray fingered the crisp white sheet before sliding his hand underneath and grasping her wrinkled fingers. He gripped the railing of the hospice bed with his other hand. He sniffed. The vivid scents of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic filled the air as he studied her small chest barely moving. She breathed from the oxygen tubes through her nose. He briefly glanced at their wedding picture which was displayed beside her bed. They’d been in love, young and he’d just joined the Navy.
He focused on Mimi again. Her vitals were no longer stable and hospice had called him, letting him know that she didn’t have much time left. That’s why he’d rushed over as soon as he could. He eased into the chair beside the bed and continued holding her hand. Her eyes fluttered open. Her dark brown eyes focused on him with unusual clarity. “Michael.” Just hearing his name softly uttered from her sweet lips made his heart skip.
“Don’t talk, Mimi.” She barely nodded and closed her eyes. Her nut-brown skin looked a bit waxy and laugh lines fanned from her eyes. Up until a few months ago, his Mimi was always laughing, happy, talkative. She loved running the bakery with him, and she made a mean batch of candy. They’d often sold her candies, right beside their baked goods, in their privately-owned bakery. Although they’d been married forty years, she still shooed him from the kitchen whenever she made her candy. She still kept her recipe a secret from him after all these years. At sixty-eight, his Mimi would be breathing her last breath, passing on into heaven, within the next few hours, according to hospice.
“Michael?” she struggled to open her eyes again. The staff had warned him over the last few weeks that his Mimi would not be herself due to the level of medications that they were giving her.
“Honey, don’t talk.” Thankfully, her eyes closed again. He studied her, the memories rushing through his mind like warm sunshine. He recalled the first time he met Emilia Rose Sanderson. It was back in 1963 during the March for Civil Rights in Washington. They’d only been sixteen years old and he’d been enamored with her smooth brown skin and deep, soulful eyes. With her sultry voice, full of courage, she’d told him she was called Mimi. As they’d fought for civil rights, he’d thought of her as his Mimi. They’d married two years later and had been together ever since.
So many years…so many memories. They’d shared so much. He continued clutching her hand. Salty wetness slid down his cheeks. So many good years. He stood on his shaky legs and kissed her cheek. Yes, he’d spent most of his life with his Mimi. It had been a good marriage. His only regret was that they’d never been blessed with any children. He squeezed his eyes shut, unable to stop the stream of tears. He’d imagine his grief wouldn’t be as raw if he’d had children and grandchildren who’d loved Mimi, too.
“Michael.” She mumbled his name again. “Listen…to…me.” He lowered his ear toward her lips. “Baby…I have baby.”
A baby. What in the world was she talking about? They’d never had any children so maybe she was confused. She was probably thinking of all the time and effort they’d put into trying to have a child. “Mimi, it’s okay. You’re confused. Just close your eyes and get some rest.”
“No.” She grabbed his hand with surprising strength. “Baby. Make sure baby is okay. Bank. Safe deposit at the bank.” She then dropped his hand and closed her eyes.
She had a baby? How could that be? As his Mimi stopped breathing, tears slid down his cheeks. Lord, I’m so hurt and confused right now. Please help me with this pain. Amen.
Moosed The Boat By Jan Elder
Clare Evans, church secretary, Malamute breeder, and single lady of a certain age, resides in Moose Creek, Maine, where men are men and moose are enormoose. Her life is full to the brim, or almost. There’s only one thing missing—one of those manly men with a desire to love, honor, and protect her.
Travis Gibbs, forest ranger and recent widower, is grieving a broken heart. With his son off to college, he’s tired of being alone and ready to rejoin the living. When Clare invites him to a dinner dance and follows up by sending him home with a puppy, his interest is piqued.
Next, the two senior citizens win a cruise in a bowling tournament. But will they make it to the ship on time? Or, moose the boat and their chance at true love?
The scent of chocolate and coconut—with a smattering of chopped almonds, Clare’s own personal touch—tickled Travis’s nose with delight. She plucked out a chocolate and gripped the rounded morsel between her fingertips. She drifted closer to him, tantalizing him, her face full of promise, and … then she popped the tasty treat into her own generous mouth. In a flash, she made a grab for the box of candy, and quickly moved to the other side of the kitchen table, taunting him with a smirk of challenge. He dodged right while she minced left, and round and round the mulberry bush they went.
Oh, she was a slippery thing. He changed his strategy. Feigning a left, he planted his feet and stayed stock still. It worked. She plowed right into him. With lightning-fast reflexes, she slipped the hands holding that coveted container behind her. Backing her up against a wall, Travis captured her in a bear hug and reached both arms around her, his goal to rip the candy from her hands, and perhaps start another merry chase.
And then he gazed at her face, her parted lips laughing, her eyes doing that sparkly thing again. Before he had another conscious thought, his lips were on hers, sampling chocolate, coconut, almonds … and an inexpressible joy that tasted like sweet heaven.
Just one delicious kiss, but that’s all it took. He was well and truly smitten with the amazing woman who made his senses soar. She relaxed in his arms and tucked her head under his chin. They fit together as if made for each other. He relaxed and pulled her closer, handling her with great care as his nose enjoyed the floral scent of her silky hair.
Heart lifting to the sky, he held her tight and they stood wrapped together in awe, like two people who’d rediscovered what love was all about.
Tempted to continue what they’d started, he stepped back and let her go instead. A bit dazed, he made a conscious choice to rein himself in and be a gentleman. Besides, they had the rest of the afternoon and into the evening to enjoy each other’s company, and there was always tomorrow.
Oh, he was so looking forward to a lazy Sunday afternoon with his … girlfriend?
Girlfriend. Yes. What an amazing concept.
He tumbled the word in his brain, loving the idea.
OCEANS APART By Clare Revell
A romance 48 years in the making...
Dragged half way across the world by his parents, the only contact Oliver Voight has with his native England is his friend Matt’s kid sister, who keeps him up to date with her rambling, winsome letters.
When Connie Falcon promises her brother’s best friend she will keep in touch, she has no idea where that assurance will lead. But Connie always keeps her promises, so forty-eight years later, she is still writing.
As the years have flown past, both of them have been transformed into different people by what life has thrown at them. When they finally meet face to face, everything begins to change. Forever.
Southampton. 30th July 1971.
You don’t want to know how many times I crossed out and started over writing you this letter. Technically you’re not my dear anything cos you’re Matty’s friend and not mine. I’m just the little kid who tagged along with the big boys and drove you nuts. You probably won’t even reply, never mind read this, but I’m keeping my promise and writing to you. Once a month or thereabouts.
Oh, and I apologise now for my spellings. Never was any good at it and you probably can’t read my handwriting either. But oh well. This is a special air letter that comes already franked and I just have to seal the edges and shove it in a post box. Mum got me a pack of six from the post office when she got the family allowance on Tuesday.
Oh, and the reason there aren’t any crossings out on here is cos I already wrote it out once and I’m copying it out.
We played Battleships yesterday. Matty insisted on doing a sheet for you, although I reckoned that wasn’t fair as he knew where both yours and his ships were at the same time. I still managed to win. Not sure how. And he also insisted on using your call sign when you made your shots. Oscar Sierra Victor. Still not sure what the S stands for as you never did tell me.
Can I guess? Simon. Shaun. Shane. Simone (yes I know that’s a girls name )
We’re going to Scotland tomorrow on holiday. The weather looks colder there than here. We’re staying with my aunt and her foster kids. Think she has five right now, so that will be a laugh. Bit of a crowded house though.
The new people in your old house aren’t very friendly. The kids are posh and stuck up. There are four of them—all boys, mind you. Ezra is 16 like Matty (and you), Malachi is 13 like me, Joel is 11 like Sandy, and the other one, Amos, is 9. Their parents have Biblical names too. And we’re guessing very religious as all the kids are all named after Old Testament prophets. They’re Solomon and Esther. They must be rich as they have a bike each! And a new car. A brand new car, not an old one like ours.
Better go as out of space and Mum wants to go to Nanna’s. I can post this one the way.
From Connie Annabelle Falcon.
New York. 30th August 1971.
I promised to write didn’t I? And as Dear Whoever is the correct way to start a letter, unless you’re really mad at the person you’re writing to, Dear Oliver is fine.
You know something? School has already started over here! It’s so weird, and so unfair. I hardly got a summer break at all. Sometimes it’s September and sometimes not. Apparently it depends when Labour Day is. Or rather Labor Day—if I have to spell it correctly. And it’s nothing like in England. Here you need a hall pass simply to leave the classroom during a lesson and everyone is sport crazy. Oh and they call proper football ‘soccer’. What they call football is actually rugby but played in armour. They have rests or time outs, every few minutes and what should be a ninety minute game takes several hours. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. The entire country’s obsessed with it. That and baseball.
No one plays cricket. Which is a shame, as I love cricket.
Mind you, I did get to play basketball the other day. The teacher reckons I’m good at it. So I guess my long legs are good for something. Haven’t made any friends yet.
Dad’s new job is going okay. He’s working really long hours. The house is huge. Way too big for just the three of us, but then everything is big here. The roads, the cars—oh and I get to go to school on a yellow bus. No one walks anywhere.
I ought to go. I have an essay to write. Or an assignment as they call it. Either way, it’s simply homework under another name.
Your friend, Oliver S Voight.
PS. No it’s not Shane or Shaun or Simon (or Simone.) I would say keep guessing, but you’ll never guess. It’s an old family name. First male of every generation gets it somewhere (that’s Mum’s side, not Dad’s).
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