I finally get to share with you the cover of Wild Blue Wonder Press' first anthology, Springtime in Surrey. It's crazy to think back when I wrote the first draft of my story The Odd Duck Society, we were dealing with dreary rains and the very first buds were appearing on the trees, while here I am, trying to beat ninety-degree heat.
I've had the privilege of reading some of the other stories in the anthology. I love how diverse and unique they are, even with us starting from the same prompt. I'm so excited to be able to share them all with you in July.
For your reading enjoyment, check out this blurb for the anthology and get a little sneak peek as to just what those stories look like!
Springtime in Surrey is a Christian anthology featuring eight lovely stories. With a mix of historical and contemporary, romance and women’s fiction, a dash of mystery here and there, real-life themes presented in a loving way, and a vintage feel, this story is sure to charm lovers of Christian women’s fiction.
Jesus, I Am Resting by Faith Blum
Elinor Chapman, an orphaned laundry woman, must fight to survive after WWI breaks out. She prays her beau doesn’t die on a foreign battlefield like her father did 14 years ago. She is forced to take on nursing, but her passion for helping other orphans distracts her from this job, leaving her little time for rest. Will she run herself into the ground … or will she learn to rest in Jesus?
The Cottage on the Hill by Andrea Renee Cox
During every teatime at her cottage hideaway, Moira struggles to discover hope amongst her lost ballerina dreams. Unsettled by elusive goals of his own, sheep farmer Adrian observes his uncle’s neighbor crying into her tea and wonders why… and what he can do to cheer her up. While facing their regrets, can Moira and Adrian trust that God has a good plan despite crushed dreams and far-off hopes?
If I Knew You Were Coming by Bailey Gaines
With her husband off to war and two evacuee children staying in her home, Joan feels duty-bound to contribute to the war effort via her participation in the Women’s Land Army. She is thrilled to learn that her husband has leave. But when the London Blitz ruins her plans to see him, Joan must decide what is most important in her life: her contribution to the war effort or her calling as a mother?
Her Heart’s Home by Grace A. Johnson
Forced from her childhood home after her father was killed in action, Meredith Tate is forced to seek employment at the Deepdene Hotel until she discovers the next step. Which most certainly does not include the brooding Captain Trevor Seaton, a guest who always manages to catch her at her worst. Despite his gentle magnetism, Meredith is determined not to fall for a military man—but God may have other plans.
The Tussie-Mussie by Katja H. Labonté
Caitrìona is determined to rescue her family from poverty by making a brilliant match. She is on the verge of success when her brother is arrested for a sensational crime. Banished to the country, she meets Ewart, a fearful recluse with a younger sister in need of aid. Ewart and Caitrìona grow together through shared goals—but as mysteries are uncovered and characters tested, what truth will be revealed?
The Odd Duck Society by Rachel Leitch
Jessamy Aubertine is too much for her university classmates, too little for her overstressed mum, and nothing in between. Then a mysterious letter signed by Jane Austen brings her back to her family’s fading tea shop and a pair of unlikely comrades. Will they find the letter writer—and perhaps discover themselves along the way? Or will their friendship fade with The Muses?
Fear Not Tomorrows by Erika Mathews
Hardworking Margaret Enfield is thrilled with her engagement to her lifelong best friend Lester. When his brother’s sudden illness forces Lester’s prolonged and indefinite absence, every tomorrow feels bleak to Margaret as lonely drudgery overtakes the once-rosy springtime. As she throws herself into her tasks, can she learn to trust her tomorrows with Jesus—one day at a time?
Courage to Stay by Kellyn Roth
Rosalind finds herself engaged to Matthias after her former fiancé, his brother, perishes in battle. Determined to forge a connection, she embarks on a risky mission. When Matthias retreats into his own turmoil on a hunting trip, Rosalind disguises herself as a man and follows him to the forest, vowing to fight for their love. Will Matthias summon the courage to stay, or will his fractured mind drive them apart forever?
They all sound so amazing! And if you think so, too, you can preorder the Kindle version on Amazon, add it on Goodreads, and read longer blurbs and details at wildbluewonderpress.com. Comment below which story sounds like your cup of tea! (I'm finding it impossible to choose.)
I'm so excited to share with you all the official(ish) blurb for my novella releasing this summer!
This novella is contemporary women's fiction--my first time writing contemporary in seven years, and my first time ever writing women's fiction. A preorder and cover reveal will come soon enough, but for now, I hope you enjoy this little sneak peek of The Odd Duck Society!
Jessamy Aubertine is too much for her university classmates, too little for her overstressed mum, and nothing in between. In an attempt to make herself useful, she takes on a spring holiday at her childhood home in Box Hill to sell the family's fading tea shop and somehow work out how best to tell her mum that she's switching study plans.
When mysterious letters signed by famous authors show up, can Jessamy and an unlikely pair of comrades find the writer behind the missives--and perhaps discover themselves as well? Or will their friendship fade with The Muses at the end of spring holiday?
The Odd Duck Society will appear in Springtime in Surrey, releasing from Wild Blue Wonder Press this summer. Stay tuned on my blog, newsletter, and Instagram (@racheljleitchauthor) to keep up on the Society's current adventures!
*All questions taken from Christine Smith's Know the Novel blog post.*
What first sparked the idea for this novel?
I came up with the concept of a flower seller who fought these poisonous thorns as a flash fiction concept (while listening to an epic version of Clair de Lune) and wrote it for Inktober on the Young Writer’s Workshop community. Several people commented that they enjoyed it and would be interested in seeing more.
And I didn’t do any more for years.
Believe me, I tried. But the plot WOULD NOT fall into place. But once it finally did, it really did. The plot to this one came very naturally, I didn’t have any parts I had to majorly change in my content edit (unlike The Romanov Scheme).
In the original concept, Fleur was going to accidentally steal Aster’s memory somehow when she healed him. The version I have now doesn’t have this anywhere, their relationship has drastically changed, and the setting is a lot more rich.
Share a blurb.
Where does the story take place? What are your favorite aspects of the setting?
It happens in 1889 Paris, France, as the World’s Fair is going on. The only thing that’s changed is the culture is steeped in petalemagie—this ability to control plants. Training is required to legally use it (since untrained users caused the French Revolution), but training is usually only available to the wealthy elite. Developing the magic system as it wove into French history was so much fun.
Tell us about your protagonist.
There are, once again, two.
Fleur LeBlanc is a sixteen-year-old flower seller who never seems to let much get to her. Her family fell on hard times, so she was never able to get training, despite having unusually strong petalemagie powers. She has a little bit of a rougher edge to her that I’m hoping to lean into in my final draft. She also compares herself a lot to the people around her and even to her past, worrying that people think she is weak.
Aster DeRose has changed so much from the first concept. He was originally supposed to be Fleur’s seventeen-year-old best friend, a nerdy gardener who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He now is part of the wealthy elite that have access to training, but his petalemagie is one of the few cases that is actually fading as he gets older. This is a huge deal, because his verbally abusive father was a petalemagie legend. He struggles a lot with anger.
Who or what is the antagonist?
How do I explain this without spoilers? I mean, obviously, there are these poisonous thorns that are a pretty big deal. There’s Aster’s dad. There’s someone else that I shall not name that ends up stabbing them in the back. But the characters also wrestle very deeply with the evil inside of them. And that’s all I can say.
What excites you most about this novel?
The chance to represent a very underrepresented struggle. Aster’s side of the story deals heavily with verbal abuse, a reality that is often ignored because it doesn’t leave physical wounds. It also deals with the resulting anger of feeling unable to speak or defend oneself, and where that anger might rage if left unchecked.
Is this going to be a series? A standalone? Something else?
A standalone. I do have a spin-off book planned, but as of now, most of the original cast will not be returning for that one. Although by the time all is said and done, they will probably cameo.
Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?
Plotting. This is the first novel I plotted using Three Act Structure from the get-go. As I said, it took a while, but it did finally fall into place very naturally.
Name a few unique elements of this story.
I honestly haven’t found many books about the Paris World’s Fair. I’ve been trying to find comparative titles and it took a fair bit of googling. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place. Historical fantasy isn’t really a thing in Christian YA right now (aside from Nadine Brandes), so I’m excited to possibly develop that aspect more. It also deals heavily with verbal and emotional abuse, which is a topic not often discussed.
*all questions from Christine Smith's Know the Novel blog series*
What first sparked the idea for this novel?
Reading Romanov by Nadine Brandes. It is a gorgeous book and if you haven’t read it, you totally should. I was immediately intrigued with all things Anastasia, so the summer after I read it, I wrote a short story about a girl pretending to be Anastasia, which really did happen in the years that followed the Romanovs’ exile and deaths. It won first place in the contest I’d submitted it to—my first win ever.
I developed it into a novel from there. This is the first novel that had really strong plot structure or character arcs. I love looking at how Zakhar changed from my original concept to the book. He started out as this kind of dark moody orphan who lived at the boys’ orphanage near Aleksandra and was constantly escaping. Now . . . yeah, there’s nothing dark about him, he’s basically this sunshine inventor boy who everyone wants to adopt.
Share a blurb.
Where does the story take place? What are your favorite aspects of the setting?
*points to Europe* Right here, right here, right here, right here, everywhere! Not really.
Significant parts of the story happen in Ekaterinburg, Russia; Paris, France; and London, England. It all happens during 1919, so I’m dealing with the Bolshevik Revolution and the aftereffects of World War I. I loved digging into the Russian culture and the lore of Anastasia. I kind of want to try out some of these Russian words now. I doubt they will sound as cool if I try to say them.
Tell us about your protagonist.
There are two, actually, Riley. (If you got that reference, let me know in the comments.)
Zakhar Gavrilov is the side character who stole half the story. His voice came so naturally to me and I had such fun writing him. He’s a sixteen-year-old gearhead with a passion for creating. A passion that often gets him into trouble, but that’s a long story. He struggles to trust people sometimes, but he’s also just so bright and positive even when things hurt.
Aleksandra Shatalova is the actual main character. She’s a seventeen-year-old orphan who knows a good trade when she sees one. She’s very caring and thoughtful, but desperately wants to be loved so that she’s willing to do anything to get it from anywhere.
Who or what is the antagonist?
Again, there are two.
Sasha Zhabina is a twenty-something thief with a grand plan to pass Aleksandra off as Anastasia and also conveniently make money from it. She has an eye for color and design (not that she lets anyone see it) and notoriously clashes with Zakhar in many humorous ways.
Evgenii Arefyev is the real antagonist though. He was the best friend of Zakhar’s father and became Zakhar’s guardian. Now he works as a general in the Red Army. While he does genuinely care for Zakhar and wants to protect him in uncertain times, he allows his desire to make the White Army pay override all of that.
What excites you most about this novel?
Zakhar, honestly. He was so easy to write and came so naturally and vibrantly. Readers connected with him as much as I did and I’d love to see his story out there in the world.
Is this going to be a series? A standalone? Something else?
A standalone with the potential for a sequel, although I think I could write about Zakhar for a very long time.
Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?
I plotted this novel. But as I was content editing it, I learned about Three Act Structure, which explained why a lot of the pacing was off in my story. I overhauled it using a new outline (which left the beginning and ending largely unchanged, but everything in the middle changed. Seriously. I don’t think any of the middle was in the original draft.)
Name a few unique elements of this story.
Is Russian culture not unique enough? While Russia may not be everybody’s favorite right now, they do have a very unique culture. I think Zakhar’s scientific leanings also give it a unique vibe—I was way out of my ballpark on that one and had to do quite a bit of research. And there’s always the nostalgic Anastasia feel.
I hold my violin closer to my chest and stare up at the rings of spectators.
All calling. All cheering. All clamoring.
For my death.
Jago holds out one hand.
“I’ll keep it with me, thanks.”
He scatters the weapons the other fighters will use when they come out. All the city council leaders who tire of hearing my violin in the park every day. “You know it’s why you’re in here, right, Marisol?”
“No one can outlaw music.” I dig my feet deeper into the sand.
He shakes his head. “If only you weren’t so crazy.” He raises his hand and walks backward from the ring.
But as soon as his feet leave the sand, he spins and faces me again.
And pulls out a dagger sheathed inside his coat.
No one told me I’d be fighting my best friend.
He charges at me. I can’t think of anything beyond what I’m seeing.
But I can feel the timing of the rhythm deep in the ground. So I count it off. “One, two, three, four . . .”
I tuck the violin under my chin, taking my eyes off him. Let him come. I force my muscles to relax.
Just as he would have landed his final blow, I raise my bow.
And music pours from the violin.
A few of the chants in the crowd die away.
Jago pulls off at the last second. His dagger nicks my shoulder.
I clench my jaw. One off-key note sounds. I keep playing.
“You have to fight! Those are the rules!” Jago calls from several paces away.
“I am,” I whisper in time with the music.
With each dance of the bow across the strings, the crowd falls a few notes more silent.
Jago strengthens his pose, preparing to go at me again.
I prepare myself, too, and lose my mind in the music.
One, two, three, four . . .
Jago pauses and turns to a new angle, as if he’s forgotten how to fight.
One, two, three, four . . .
Somewhere in the crowd, someone claps.
One, two, three, four . . .
And with that one person rises an army. One by one, across the crowds, person after person stands, clapping their hands with the folk song that tumbles from my violin. A folk song of the nation that used to be.
My eyes open. Jago still stands a few paces away, his dagger raised, but still.
“Magic,” he whispers.
I let the note dangle in mid-air.
One lone person calls for his death.
I shake my head. “No. Just music.” I take two steps toward him and hold out the violin.
He stares at it numbly.
“I think we wound up on the wrong sides of this war.” I hold out my other hand.
Slowly, as if swimming in a dream, Jago places the dagger in it.
I toss the dagger into the sand on the outskirts of the arena.
That leaves only the violin.
And Jago takes it softly. Tucks it under his chin. Raises the bow.
And I lose my mind in the music.
Her hair is black. I stare into the mirror and straighten the folds of my gown.
Her hair is white. I pick at my sleeve. "It doesn't suit you."
"I'm expected to wear blue for the ceremony." They must see me as a strong future commander.
"I wish…" My husky voice cracks. Those words never work.
"You can't come."
"Don't you need me?" I twist a strand of my hair and curl deeper into the glass. "No, of course not."
"I have to establish myself." Not as a girl who talks to mirrors. "Then you can come."
My dark hair falls over my face. I'm only good if I bring something to the table.
Maybe I'm tired of serving others' convenience.
I lay one hand against the glass. "Don't worry. I won't forget you."
But she already has.
I peel my hand from the cool glass and leave.
I slip silently from the glass.
*This is my first place winning story from Story Embers' Fourth Annual Short Story Contest. Their editors were amazing and so was working them--it doesn't seem fair that I get to take the credit for all their hard work. I'm amazed at how much this story has improved from the draft I entered in the contest. So here is both my work and theirs, for your enjoyment.*
Mother’s favorite waltz warbled from the corner of the garage. I must have left the phonograph on a few hours ago, before the party. Behind me, the chipped door closed on the clink of crystal, the swish of silk, and the thrum of a cello.
I flicked the light switch. The bulb popped on, glinting in the Model A’s blue finish. I never imagined I’d touch one of these, at least not for ten more years when I might have a chance at rescuing a relic from Glancey’s scrap heap. Ford had only begun production last year.
I wove around the jars and cans that cluttered the floor until my reflection swayed across the automobile’s bonnet. Each blonde curl had been coifed into submission, my pale yellow dress belonged in a motion picture, and not a speck of grime hid under my fingernails. As the daughter of a famous fashion designer, I had an image to upkeep, or so Mother insisted.
I lifted the bonnet and traced my finger over the engine. Pistons, crankshaft, camshaft--
“Isla, what on earth are you doing?” Mother’s heels clicked across the concrete. “You’ll smear grease all over your outfit.”
Five minutes. I couldn’t even escape for five minutes. And I wasn’t tearing the engine apart. Just admiring it. “Mr. Ethington, the owner, gave me permission to take a peek.”
Mother rested her palm on the bonnet, and I slipped my hand underneath before she could press down. The metal slammed onto my wrist, stinging like the time I whacked myself with my largest wrench while trying to loosen a bolt.
Shaking her head and huffing, she stalked back into the house.
I massaged my wrist and raised the bonnet again. Father didn’t mind that I enjoyed fixing autos more than styling my hair. Why couldn’t he have come out instead? He never showed an interest in my tinkering anymore. At first I thought that work kept him in his study. Then I wondered if Mother’s parties tired him too. Now I’d run out of guesses.
“Fourth auto to the left, Chevrolet Series AA Capitol, 1927.”
I lost my grip on the bonnet and had to catch it with my elbow to stop it from clamping shut again. My cousin, who also happened to have earned the title of my best friend, chuckled and rounded the fender.
“Archibald Baines, how did you sneak in here? Is Percy with you too?”
“Guilty as charged.” Arch’s brother propped his foot on the running board, his ever-present grin crinkling his face. “We knew you wouldn’t be able to resist this beauty.”
“It’s much more thrilling than modeling Mother’s latest creations, that’s for sure. Besides, she doesn’t need my help.” The confidence in my voice almost convinced even me. I lowered the bonnet and crossed my arms. “Except this is a 1926 Superior, not a 1927 AA Capitol.”
Percy fished in his pocket and offered me a stick of strawberry gum. My favorite flavor. His too. He only sacrificed a piece when I was upset. I thanked him with a smile as the sweetness rushed over my tongue.
Percy exchanged glances with Arch, and their mouths twitched in unison.
“All right, what are you two scheming?”
Arch leaned over and cupped his hand around his lips. “How would you like to get behind the wheel of a Model A coupe?”
“Do you have to ask?” I crumpled the gum wrapper and tossed it over Arch’s shoulder. It bounced against the wall once, then fell into the rubbish bin. “But they’re rare.”
“Not if you work for the Aylesworths. That’s where we’ve been all summer. Got jobs as handymen. Their last chauffeur retired, and now they’re looking for a replacement. Percy happened to mention your remarkable mechanical skills—a fact the lady of the house found most intriguing.”
“I most certainly am not. The man they had before couldn’t remember which end of a car was which. You’d be responsible for driving once or twice a week and making repairs as necessary. Once people hear that the most prestigious family in London has entrusted you with their Model A, they’ll have to respect you and your hobby. No more high-society parties promoting frippery you don’t care about. Just you.”
Percy spread his hands. “What do you say?”
“When can I start?”
I cut the engine of my 1920 Model T—christened Clementine because I loved the name as much as Mother did. Her first dress design bore the same label.
Arch had instructed me to park a couple blocks from the Aylesworth mansion and wait for him to bring the coupe out. Though I’d patched up my rattletrap eighteen times, it would still be an eyesore on the meticulously manicured lawn. Even here, people wearing servant uniforms gawked at all of the rust and dents as they shuffled past me on the sidewalk.
An engine revved, and the Model A whipped around the corner. As it skidded up to the curb, a small cluster of household staff scrambled backward. No wonder Arch hadn’t won the position. But I couldn’t scold him after the favor he’d done for me.
Arch flung the door open, then scrunched himself next to Percy on the passenger side. “Get in.”
Slowly, I wrapped my fingers around the handle, half expecting the coupe to disintegrate like the remnants of a dream. Its purr vibrated up my arm.
“Hurry up, will you?” Arch swiped at his forehead with a handkerchief as he tugged his cap even lower.
Since when had he become so impatient? I settled onto the cushion. “Aren’t you going back to the mansion? I thought you were both handymen. Why are you—”
“Just go!” Percy drummed the seat, and Arch glanced over his shoulder at the servants pointing their fingers at us and whispering.
I couldn’t make sense of my cousins’ behavior, but perhaps the Aylesworths needed them to tend to an urgent errand in town. I reached for the gearshift. “Where?”
“We’ll tell you.”
I checked the rearview mirror—this auto had mirrors! As I pulled out, a boy broke away from the group and darted toward the mansion as if he had a message to deliver. But no one had handed him any paper.
Arch elbowed his brother. “Did you get it?”
“Of course.” Percy jiggled a tin with contents that clanged.
With a nod from Arch, I spun the wheel to the right. “Are we taking something to the repair shop?”
Percy lifted the lid, his mouth quirking. “Unless you mean we’re fixing your life so you can stay in your garage and putter with any auto you fancy, no.” He angled the box so that Arch could peer inside, and silver shimmered in the sunlight before he closed it again.
I stomped on the brake. “I’m not budging until you explain what’s going on.”
“He just did. Blimey, Isla, you can’t stop in the middle of the street.” A truck screeched around us, honking, and Arch cringed. “We won’t make a farthing from this auto if you wreck it.”
But this auto, and whatever loot they had in that box, didn’t belong to us. “Fine.” I roared forward and jerked into a parking space inches from a Model T. The memory of glass shattering ricocheted through my mind. Twisted metal. Smoking parts. Pain radiating through my body. And silence from the passenger seat.
Too close. Must be more careful.
Someone shook me. Arch. “We need to keep driving. I won’t let you throw away this opportunity. We’re the only ones who have ever stolen anything from the Aylesworths, much less a Model A coupe. We’ll be the top of society.”
“No, we’ll be the bottom of society.” I put the auto in reverse, wanting to shout, Who are you? But my throat burned like I’d poured gasoline down it.
Arch dug his nails into my arm. “If you turn around, Percy and I won’t be arrested. You will. We have an alibi, a lumber order that we left to pick up a quarter of an hour before you, the prime suspect, were seen behind the wheel of the getaway car. And we planted a swatch of grease-stained yellow fabric in the Aylesworths’ garage. The coppers will recognize it as an Esme Medlock original from the party last night.”
I gritted my teeth. “You’d dare to harm my mother’s reputation? She’s your aunt!”
Arch folded his arms behind his head and leaned back. “You both owe us. Don’t you?”
An image of Arch prying open a mangled car door flashed through my vision. If he’d arrived a few moments later…
I hit the gas so hard that Percy’s head banged against the window. “I hold the controls. Remember that.”
Arch had the nerve to pat my knee and begin the game we’d been playing since we were children: identifying car models. “1921 Duesenberg Straight 8.”
A cheerful voice piped up with the correction I refused to grace Arch with. “You need a pair of spectacles. That’s not a Duesenberg.”
My foot jolted on the pedal, and the coupe lurched. Arch twisted around, grappling the seat like he might claw through it. “Who’s there?”
“The other chauffeur you left out of all the fun.” A boy in his early teens with freckled cheeks and an explosion of reddish hair rose from the backseat. “Jay Foxcroft, at your service.”
The veins in Arch’s neck bulged. “What the dickens are you doing here?”
Jay shrugged. “What are you doing with Lady Aylesworth’s bracelet?”
Arch clenched and unclenched his fists, his glare flitting from the stowaway to the road ahead. He pointed to a faded sign. “Take the next right. Get off at the Red Quill Tavern.”
“Lovely idea, old chap.” Jay stretched out his legs and winked at me in the rearview mirror. “I’m starved.”
I eased into the alley behind the tavern, a bottle crunching under my tires. Arch yanked the key from the ignition. “You two stay here. Percy, out.” He hooked a thumb toward an alcove ahead.
After the brothers slammed their doors, Jay blew out a long breath. “My, we’ve both landed ourselves in a mess.”
I snorted. “Seems to me like you chose to jump in. Why were you in the boot anyway?”
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and crawled in here like a dimwit. But I did stay quiet long enough to eavesdrop. Now I can witness on your behalf. Isla, is it?” He extended a hand, and I shook it. “My mother adores the Medlock designs. She follows the line in all the magazines. Rabidly.”
I adjusted the rearview mirror, scanning the road behind us and mentally measuring the distance we’d traveled. How would I retrieve Clementine? Or even go home?
I needed to learn what my cousins were plotting. I pushed on the window crank. It squeaked as the pane rolled down, and Percy frowned in our direction. Their tense stances and agitated gestures indicated they were arguing.
Jay fidgeted with the lapel on his jacket. “I don’t need to hear their conversation to know they’re talking about me. I’m a complication.”
Stray words drifted in about a “ransom” and a “worthless scamp,” but nothing that would alert me to their next move. “If only they hadn’t confiscated the key. Perhaps I have something in my purse that could—”
Jay dangled a chain in front of me. “You mean like this one?”
“You have a key to— How?” I grabbed it and shoved it in the ignition.
“I am a chauffeur, after all.”
At the rumble of the engine, Arch and Percy whirled, but they couldn’t jog fast enough to catch up. I switched from reverse to drive and tore off down the street, the breeze raking through my curls. “For heaven’s sake, why didn’t you mention you had a key earlier?”
Jay met my gaze in the rearview mirror. “I wanted to make sure you were willing to accept the risk. You’re the one who’s been implicated in this crime.”
I hadn’t thought that deeply about it. “Right. I can’t prove my innocence.” I scrubbed at my brow. “I doubt the police would believe the testimonies of two chauffeurs with all the evidence my cousins manufactured. We need that bracelet.”
“And they need this auto. To elevate their status.” Jay punctuated the statement with a stuffy accent that would have cracked me up under different circumstances. “They’re apt to chase after you. Any clue when and where they’ll attempt a reunion?”
My answer ebbed out as a groan. “My mother’s next design party. Tonight. It’ll be the ideal diversion.”
To recover the stolen property and clear my name, I’d have to face Mother.
“Where are the rest of the deviled eggs? I told you to prepare six dozen, not five—” Mother’s reprimand died as I folded my hands on the scratched table. The cook glanced from me to her and rushed off to the pantry.
Mother propped one hand on her hip, her posture as perfect as if she had a photographer tailing her. “Are we in the habit of receiving visitors in the kitchen?” She jutted her chin at Jay. “Or should I call him your accomplice?”
I combed my fingers through my hair, which must have been a nest of tangles. “Mother, I—”
“The police questioned our entire household, reporters have picked up the story already, and five neighbors dropped in to feed their gossip.” She swept a newspaper off the counter and waved it at me. “Do you realize the damage you’ve done? To your reputation? To the business? To your father?”
“Arch and Percy set her up, Mrs. Medlock. I saw everything.” Jay tipped his hat. “That’s a ravishing dress you’re wearing, by the way.”
Mother slapped her other hand onto her opposite hip. “And who are you?”
I stepped between them. “A chauffeur. Listen, Arch and Percy are coming here tonight, looking for me. I can’t explain what happened right now, but please use caution.”
“I always do. Unlike my daughter.” Mother turned on her heel, leaving the swinging door flapping.
I slumped into a chair and laid my head on my arms. Would she never forgive me for that?
Jay plopped down beside me. “What was that about?”
“Two years ago, I crashed my Model T. Mother was with me. Obviously she survived. Only a bump to the head and a gash to the leg.” But when I regained consciousness, she was silent for the first time in my life. I worried that I’d killed her.
“That must have been”—he cleared his throat—“terrifying.”
“Arch and Percy found us. Hauled us out before…” I stood and headed for the back door. “Before my engine burst into flames. Now Mother hates autos. And me.”
Oil dribbled onto my curls. I’d been operating on the underbelly of this 1926 Model T for over an hour. Jay rethreaded wires underneath an identical Model T to my left, pausing now and then to smile at me. The tinkle of music and laughter floated from the house. Maybe my cousins had scrammed with the bracelet and wouldn’t show up at all.
Gravel crunched outside, and headlights washed over the concrete floor. Or maybe they would.
The engine squeaked like Arch’s auto always did when he changed gears. Two pairs of shoes appeared beside the tires.
“Do you honestly think Isla will speak to us?” Percy.
“She needs us.” Arch.
“Or we need her. Let’s scope the party first in case Aunt Esme pressured her into modeling.” Their footsteps tapped onto the veranda, and the soft melody that had been playing for the past minute grew louder as the door opened.
I squeezed my eyes shut for a few seconds to stopper the tears. Arch and Percy had protected me from bullies, walked me to school. We’d traded gum sticks and repaired autos together. We’d daydreamed of the models we’d buy and the cities we’d explore. How had we fallen into this ditch? And how did I not see the signs?
I motioned to Jay. We tiptoed outside, and I wiggled a long pin into the keyhole of Arch’s auto. I’d done this trick with my cousins so often while rummaging through Glancey’s scrap heap.
The lock clicked faintly, and Jay scrambled in to search the rear. I watched the main entrance and the garage door through the windscreen as I groped along the footwells in the front of the auto. Under the passenger seat, my fingers brushed metal. Still keeping an eye on the house, I removed the box and cracked the lid.
The bracelet sparkled even in the moonlight. Jewelry didn’t usually affect me, at least not as much as polished nickel or the hum of a well-tuned engine. But the swirls of silver inset with sapphires arranged in floral shapes resembled the style of Mother’s designs.
I clasped the piece on my wrist and slid my sleeve down over it. After I tucked the box back into its hiding spot, I thumped on the seat to get Jay’s attention. He didn’t respond, and the next instant a hand clamped onto my shoulder.
“Practicing your thieving skills, eh?” Arch nudged me aside to feel for the goods, and his lips curled in satisfaction. He didn’t bother to open the box. “So where’s the Model A? In the shed out back, perhaps under some greasy tarps?”
“What kind of fool do you think I am?” Apparently I was a huge one, because that’s exactly where I’d stashed it. Arch could predict me too easily.
Jay hopped out of Arch’s auto. “I can fetch it for you.”
What? He was volunteering? He was in on this? My mind stalled like an overheating roadster.
“Already sent Percy after it. Carry on.” Arch strode away, but his shadow haunted the north wall of the garage.
Jay averted his eyes and jammed his hands into his pockets. “Isla, I’m sorry—”
Oh, how funny I must have sounded when I asked him to stake out with me. “Why?” I jabbed his chest. “Why would you destroy your life, and mine, for a bauble and a machine?”
“You’re focusing on the wrong part of the story.” He lowered his voice. “I’m merely pretending to be a chauffeur who has a grudge against the Aylesworths. I overheard your cousins discussing the value of the coupe and offered to pay them to pull off a robbery. I suggested they sell both the car and the bracelet and split the profits with me, but I had every intention of returning the items as soon as—”
“You hired them to commit grand larceny so you could be a hero? That’s the most selfish, crazy, unscrupulous—” I couldn’t finish the list. No description could do his actions justice.
His face reddened. “You don’t understand. My family, particularly my father, doesn’t have any faith that I can handle our estate because of one mistake I made. I need to prove that I’m smart and capable.”
A pang of understanding cooled me off a degree. Every day, I dealt with Mother’s sigh when I came from the garage and her flat “of course” when I shared an accomplishment that involved autos. “And your real identity is?”
“My full name is Newton Aylesworth—Newt to my friends.”
I gaped at him. If he’d meant to imply that we were friends, I didn’t see how we could be now.
An engine whirred out back, and Arch’s shadow faded around the corner of the garage. Newt wrung his hands. “Please. Your cousins tried to double-cross me. They weren’t supposed to take the coupe today, or drag you into it. If you help me recover the bracelet, I can vouch for you.”
I folded my braceleted arm behind me and edged backward. “Why should I trust you? You don’t care who you hurt as long as you impress your ritzy family.”
He flinched. “Maybe I genuinely like you.”
My cousins liked me too, and they’d used me. “I’m not going to play a role in your charade. It’s deceitful.” I fled across the lawn to the veranda, stumbling up the steps.
“Isla! Wait. Together we can—”
I thrust the door open and slammed it in one motion. Gasps rippled through the parlor, probably more due to the rumors about my shady activities than my disheveled appearance.
I stormed past the row of white-gloved ladies with upturned noses. Their opinion of me didn’t matter. In the kitchen, I snatched up the phone and dialed the first few digits of the police station’s number.
Headlights blinked in the window. Newt sprinted to the Model A and leapt in while Arch started up his clunker. Tires squealed, and both autos careened down the lane.
I’d only spent one afternoon with Newt. Not enough time to truly know him. So why did I ache?
I let go of the receiver, and it thudded against the wall. Ratting on them wouldn’t solve anything.
I trudged upstairs to swap my splotched dress for a pair of coveralls, then wandered out to the shed. Either the police or Father, if he’d detached himself from his armchair, had returned Clementine. I sank down beside her and drew my knees up to my chest.
No more listening to others telling me who to be. Just me. Resting here until the police barged in and handcuffed me.
Hinges creaked, and my eyelids fluttered open. I’d dozed off, whether for a few minutes or hours, I couldn’t say. A shaft of moonlight in the doorway blinded me. Mother’s silhouette, all attractive angles and curves, darkened it. “You’ve a phone call.”
I rattled around in my toolbox and rapped on a pipe. “I’m busy.”
“It’s from someone named Newt.”
I dropped the hammer. Mother might be uppity and fussy, but she wasn’t a liar. I trailed her to the kitchen, where the busboys she’d engaged for the evening were washing a mound of cups and platters. I crept the phone up to my ear as if it might spray oil all over me. “Hello?”
Newt’s breath heaved in and out. “Isla. I need help.” He’d lost his jaunty tone.
I plugged my free ear with my pinky to block out the clatter of dishes. “What’s going on?”
“They figured out who I am. Arch spied on us. And the bracelet is missing. They’re convinced you have it.”
Coldness stabbed me like a bucket of water tossed on an engine fire. Like the inferno Arch had doused that would have cooked Mother and me if we’d been trapped in Clementine a minute longer.
“If you bring it to the Red Quill, they promise to…” His voice quivered. Was he crying?
They were proposing a trade: Newt for the bracelet. But would they stop there? Why not demand a ransom from his rich parents?
Arch muttered in the background, and a scuffle created momentary interference before Newt managed to talk over the noise. “Isla, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. You were right. Please. I need you. I can’t—”
The line went dead.
I had to rescue Newt before my cousins resorted to more desperate measures—and because his pleas echoed the loneliness in my own heart.
Mother bustled about, issuing orders to the kitchen staff, but she’d kept her eyes on me the entire time I held the phone.
“Ring the police and send them to the Red Quill Tavern. I’m going after Arch and Percy.”
Clementine coughed and sputtered to a halt in the bottle-strewn alley once again. The Model A gleamed beside me in the dim glow from the tavern’s windows, but Arch, Percy, and Newt were nowhere in sight.
I climbed out and smacked into a figure with a chest made of bricks. Percy latched onto my arm, a whiff of liquor perfuming his presence. “Over here, behind these crates.”
I considered screaming, but in this part of town, nobody would even cock an eyebrow. “Why are you doing this?”
Percy tightened his grip. “You’ve always had nice clothes, a big house, and lived in comfort. Never appreciated any of it either. Arch and I are sick of straggling along.”
They envied me? I realized that money had been in short supply after their father passed away, but they’d seemed so footloose and contented growing up.
“Ah. Finally we’re getting somewhere.” Arch emerged with a gun aimed at Newt’s temple, and the direness of the situation crashed in like a tree limb flattening a windscreen. I hadn’t expected my cousins to be armed. Newt, with his smudged cheeks and skinny build, looked far younger than I remembered.
If I could stay calm, we’d have a chance. And maybe my cousins wouldn’t be as greedy as I feared. I rolled up my sleeve to reveal the jewels circling my wrist. “Now release Newt.”
“Nope. Both of you are coming with us.” Arch dug the gun’s barrel into Newt’s skin. “March.”
He herded us into the coupe, and Newt trembled as he scooched over beside me. I squeezed his hand. “Hang on. We’ll be fine.”
Arch triggered the ignition. The engine wheezed. He joggled the levers and wrenched the key again. Nothing.
Newt’s eyes, and then his smile, widened. I toed him in the shin and pressed on the door handle.
Arch cursed. “Of all nights! How can an auto in top condition…” He stomped out to the bonnet, his gun still at his side.
Paper rustled. Percy unwrapped a stick of gum and popped it in his mouth. To my surprise, he wriggled around to give me one. I needed to break eye contact, but I couldn’t. Sweat slicked my palm. The strawberry flavor would taste sour now.
Newt and I dove out and into Clementine. Arch swiveled, firing a bullet that lodged in the door. The second round embedded in the seat cushion as I threw Clementine into gear. Police sirens wailed in the distance.
“How’d you do that?” Newt beat a jazz solo on the dash to vent his nervous energy.
I tried to concentrate on maneuvering through the intersecting streets. The racket made my head pound. “Simple. I parked several blocks away and snuck up on foot. Removed the drainage plug and let it leak. Then I drove up as if I’d just arrived a few minutes later.”
“That’s genius. I wish…” Newt rubbed his arms as if he were cold. “I never should have partnered with your cousins. They were more cunning than I accounted for. And once you were in on it, I thought that befriending you would flip the outcome back in my favor. But I’d planned to leave you for the police along with both of them because I didn’t trust you to keep my secret. I’m so sorry.”
Police autos whizzed past us, except for one that slowed and urged us over to the curb. Newt straightened and smoothed his clothes and hair. “I can’t undo today, but I can take responsibility for it by telling the truth.”
A smile tinged my lips because his preening didn’t help—and because maybe today had been more than a bad ending to an old friendship. “Well, I’m still just Isla Medlock to anyone who asks.”
Relief brightened Newt’s expression. He pushed his tongue into his cheek. “Someday I hope to just be Newt Aylesworth.”
The passenger door of the police auto swung open. But instead of an officer, Mother stepped out. In heels, no less. I cranked my window down and braced myself for a scolding.
Before Newt or I could utter a word, Mother bent over and wrapped her arms around me. “Thank God you’re safe.”
A single tear glided down my nose onto her shoulder, blotting her crisply starched collar. How long since we had hugged?
Since the wreck.
“We’ll get this sorted out,” I mumbled into her neck. The scent of her rose cologne embraced me too, stirring up memories of afternoon teas and leisurely drives through the country.
“Maybe we don’t have to.”
And for those few minutes, I was just me, and she was just her.
Sorry I stole your bicycle.
To be fair, it hadn’t moved for two days. I mean, that alone is a feat with a war on.
And, well, I needed a bicycle.
But I figured I would check the bags first, see if there was anything I could sell. For the record, I didn’t find anything worth selling.
But I did find an envelope with my name on it.
I’ve never gotten an envelope with my name on it. So I opened it. Maybe I shouldn’t have. But I did and I can’t change it now.
The message didn’t make much sense at first. But I read it again and again, and each time it got a little bit clearer. Code, right? Does it do that for you, too?
I wasn’t quite sure I had it all figured out, but I did know one thing.
This message wasn’t for me.
And if it didn’t get to the actual Andre? I had a hard time imagining the consequences. Maybe it would mean they just didn’t pick up the umbrella they left at the university. Maybe it meant the war would drag on for another two years.
How would I know?
There was a list of addresses in the pocket of the bag. You seem like an organized fellow, so I matched the seventh address on the page with the letter I held in my hand. Smart, marking the code number on the back frame of the bicycle.
And then, I just got on and pedaled to that address.
I know my father has really been after you and the other spies, and I don’t even know if you’re still alive or free to see this, but I’m not like him.
I’ll return the bicycle tomorrow.
Hi, everyone! I entered this piece in Kingdom Pen's March short story contest! I'd entered their contests before and have learned a lot from doing them. I was so excited when mine was their choice for the March winner! Check out the link to their site here, where you can sign up for their newsletter where these contests happen every month (as well as writing articles and videos and a bunch of other cool stuff): https://kingdompen.org/. Now, without further ado, Confession to a Pigeon!
P.S. Here's the picture prompt I had to write from for this month's contest!
You know, sometimes I see things that shouldn’t belong here.
I know, I know, I’m not supposed to tell people. But since you’re a pigeon, I’ll tell you.
It’s always on this stretch of sidewalk—right here, from my house to the end of the cul de sac and all the way back. Especially right next to that old gray building, where the sidewalk gets bumpy.
I play out here a lot, you know. Sometimes I just walk and collect treasures. Sometimes I find a stick—they make great swords, did you know that? Sometimes I ride my bike.
And sometimes, the breeze gets big at the weirdest times, where there wasn’t any breeze before. Red leaves scamper across the street, when it’s not even fall. And those leaves don’t like the ones crunched in the street by cars. They look like fire.
But when I ride my bike, my stick at my side, I see things. As pigeons like you scatter into the sky—I promise, I didn’t mean to hurt any of your noble ranks. But the occasional scare does keep you lively. Sorry if you ever lost a feather because of me.
Where was I? Oh, right.
I see other creatures.
Dragons, unicorns, griffins, and pegasuses. Pegasuses . . . pegasi . . . pega . . .
Some monsters, too.
Past my shadow on the brick wall, I see flashes of lightning. Past the rustle of litter, I hear battle cries and cheers. And they call my name.
Sometimes I see angry men. Sometimes I see tears. Sometimes I hear shouts.
Sometimes I sit on my porch steps all by myself.
But when I’m on my bike, with my stick and an army of most honorable pigeons, I feel different. Kind of like a knight, I guess. I always defeat those monsters, you know. I watch the angry men go away.
And I hear the cheers.
There. At least now someone knows. Even if you are a pigeon.
Hello, everyone! I entered this flash fiction piece into The Writer Games' Arena Mini Contest. I was so excited when they announced it took first place for the round! So very grateful for the work they put into this contest every January. Check out their site here: https://thewritergames.weebly.com/*
Dear Captain Teahan,
You forgot about me, didn’t you?
You thought no one saw death sail close enough to shake your sails. Or the crew member that raised his gun. Or how you failed, turned too late to save yourself.
You though no one heard the shot shatter the air.
But it didn’t shatter you.
Because my father, the captain you so despised, jumped in front of you. The bullet meant for you smashed into his chest.
And he fell.
And you didn’t even flinch. You only scoffed. “The hero dying for the villain?” You had the nerve to kick his motionless body. “Try a new tale, brother.”
You strode back across the gangplank to your ship, your coat billowing in the wind.
But you forgot about me.
You didn’t see me take the wheel.
And now . . . we’ll meet again.
Sincerely, the next hero of the seas we sail.
Hello there! Rachel again, with some of the short stories and flash fiction I've written. Enjoy!