For a taste of HOME FIRES, here’s scene one:


Chapter 1

Early September.

Myra Benning stood on the patio and watched as the orange of poppies emerged from the fog, then the shadowy forms on the ridge became eucalyptus, and finally the sea appeared. The fennel dotting the meadow that ran between house and sea was ripening, adding its licorice smell to the salt air. She inhaled and inhaled again as she waited for Santa Cruz Island to appear across the Santa Barbara Channel. Every morning she did this, marveling that it was really so, that she, the towering girl from the clapboard house sitting naked on the Minnesota prairie could have ended up in such a place.

For most, paradise was Santa Barbara itself, where palm and bougainvillea vied with the blue, blue sea beyond groomed beaches. Not her. She was far happier with this untended meadow and untamed beach tucked away in Goleta, Santa Barbara’s ne’er-do-well second cousin to the north. Here she and her family could search for salamanders, encounter skunks, muck about in tide pools. Here bluebirds, swallows, meadowlarks, and cedar waxwings marked the changing seasons. They sank into it, became a part of it. Her morning ritual never failed to erase rumblings of anxiety and unease over the years, returning her to that moment, almost twenty years ago, when she and Derek first discovered this stretch of coast and rented the bungalow behind her.

The sharp tone of a teenage retort drew her back into the house.

“You tell her, Mom,” Peter called as he spotted her. He unwound his six-foot length from the chair and headed for the sink with his cereal dish. Blond and blue-eyed, he’d inherited her Minnesota complexion, but otherwise looked like his father. “She needs to get with it.”

“With what?” She poured a cup of coffee and went to the table.

“Guys. I see them looking, trying to … you know … get her interested, and she’s just … like they’re invisible.” He flicked at his sister with the last word and headed for his sneakers. He’d begun to grow into his height in the last year and move with his father’s easy grace.

“I see what I want to see, thanks.” Susan bent her coppery head and scowled into her cereal bowl.

Peter knew nothing at all about being fourteen, a girl, and a head taller than the boys. Susan was already as tall as Myra, who well remembered the torture of those days, though some part of her worried about the cocoon that enveloped Susan at the mention of the opposite sex.

“But why?” cried her brother. “You’re going to miss out on … all the fun!” He stomped a foot into his shoe and rose.

“Everybody doesn’t have to be like you,” Susan retorted, “with a new girl every month.”

“Ease up, Peter,” Myra urged, gazing from one to the other. She never tired of gazing at the happy blend of genes they had produced. “You only know the boy’s side of the scene and you’re a senior.” She spoke with certainty, though she couldn’t remember a time Peter hadn’t been at ease in any social scene. That, too, he shared with his father. “But right now you need to move it along, Susan.”

Susan raised her brown eyes to the clock, pushed her half-eaten cereal away, and rose as though being dragged to the feet.

She watched them pull their bikes from the front porch and disappear up the street just as the sun broke through the haze. For a moment, they were a pair again, in sync, pedaling off to some childhood adventure. She breathed in the beauty of them and the to-soon-to-be-adult energy the left in the room, forever amazed that she had produced such children.

Only one more boy to send on his way, she thought, smiling. Derek was still the boy who had beamed at her, astonished, on the Southern California beach. “You surf!”

She’d been as surprised as he was, if truth were told. She’d fled the Minnesota prairie to be an art student, never dreaming that the body trained to basketball and track would convert to sea sport, much less attract a man like Derek, who could have any girl. “Pretties gone in the blink of an eye,” he’d said of the girls who hung about him like gnats. She, he declared, as they made love on a La Jolla beach, was a piece of ass you could get hold of.

She turned from the door and saw that the message light was blinking on the phone. Derek hadn’t checked it when he came in last night. Let him do it. He was still a product of the Sixties, rebelling against boundaries—holding seminars at home, printing this phone number on his syllabi. But she didn’t want to hear them. Every year, it was the same when his graduate students arrived on campus—sweet, breathy voices whispering through her house. She scoffed at herself for wanting the boundaries they’d both rejected back in their college days, but every year they ate a little further into her peace of mind. She turned away, then turned back. Maybe it was her mother; maybe Dad had fallen again. She jabbed the button.

“Derek—Professor Benning. This is Gina. Call me.”

The nervous young voice clicked off, leaving Myra staring at nothing. The only motion was the drifting fog, the only sound her own breathing; if she stood here long enough, the fog and the sea would lift all else away; gradually all would grow faint, diaphanous and vanish. But it didn’t. Not this time. The mistaken use of his first name—the urgency, even anger, in her voice. The breathy intimacy of the tone. Gina with no last name or phone number. Like rocks, damning lumps crashed through her barriers and lay inert.



To read the entire Chapter One of HOME FIRES, click on the link to give us the name and email address where we can send your copy: http://eepurl.com/MznLT



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