(Day 7 of 7-day challenge)
(Bringing our four bridge ladies together)
When she stopped to think about it, Val was amazed by how close she and Bonnie had become in such a short time. It was as though they had known each other for years rather than months, and their age difference didn’t matter at all. Bonnie Dixon was like a sister, a mother, and a friend all rolled into one lovely gift. A gift for which Val was grateful.
In the years that followed, their friendship grew. Val and Andy spent so much time with Bonnie and her husband, Frank, that they were like family. Their son, Craig, adored his ‘Uncle Frank’ and, as he grew up, would often ask him to retell his stories of our country’s history. Frank Dixon made history come alive for Craig whose fascination led him to become a lifelong student and teacher of history himself.
As he grew older, Craig also admired the loving relationships he’d seen modeled by both his parents and the Dixons. He knew that’s what he wanted for himself. And he found it when Jenny came into his life. He thought it was almost too good to be true. Jenny was the most sincere, genuine, and loving young woman he’d ever met so when she walked down the aisle to become his wife he spoke a silent prayer of thanks. And he wasn’t alone in his gratitude. His mother also whispered her thanks to God for sending this angel to be with her son… and to be a part of their family.
Valerie Reed loved her daughter-in-law like a daughter. It hadn’t taken long to discover that Jenny’s adoptive mother wasn’t there for her in any way—which was inconceivable to Val—so she was more than happy to fill that void. The icing on the cake came when she discovered that Jenny knew how to play bridge and loved it.
Val and Bonnie were avid bridge players and enjoyed the game whenever they could talk their husbands into playing… but that wasn’t often enough. It was on a sunny, September day that an idea was born.
“You know, if we could find a fourth, we could play without dragging Andy and Frank into it.” It was Bonnie who suggested it, but it was Jenny who came up with the solution.
“I might know somebody who’d like to play. We were just talking about this the other day… one of the nurses on my floor, Susan, plays bridge. I could ask her if she’d like to join us for a game sometime.” Jenny had become friends with Susan soon after joining the nursing staff at Madison General Hospital.
Two weeks later, on a Thursday evening, Valerie Reed, Bonnie Dixon, Jenny Reed, and Susan Walters gathered around a table, and began their weekly game. But none of them had any idea where it would lead them—no idea what was in the cards.
(Day 6 of 7-day challenge)
(More about Val’s backstory)
Andy and I had a beautiful courtship. We had a beautiful wedding. A year later we had a beautiful child. We had the whole fairytale, beautiful life.
Then we decided our little boy should have a baby brother or sister. We were living such a charmed life, we couldn’t imagine anything but a fairytale ending.
But life isn’t always what you dream it will be. Sometimes your dreams can be interrupted by nightmares. That’s what happened to us. Even though I was fortunate enough to conceive as soon as we decided to have a second child, even though I had a perfectly normal pregnancy, even though I gave birth to a precious baby girl, Craig grew up as an only child.
Our Lilly had ten fingers and ten toes. She looked perfect in every way. But she must have been too perfect for this world. She was our angel, but not ours for long. I held her until she took her last breath, stroked her tiny, tear soaked head and then had to kiss her goodbye.
I don’t remember the details of the days that followed. I know we had to go on living and loving the child we did have, but the loss of Lilly took every bit of joy from my life. I was physically there for little Craig. But he had lost his mother as surely as I had lost my little girl. I’m not sure how long I would have walked in that fog of grief if it hadn’t been for one extraordinary woman.
Of course, Andy was there for me, but he was grieving in his own way. He tried to hide it—he put up a brave front for me—but it was his mentor who held us both up.
I had met Bonnie Dixon a couple of times, and she and her husband attended the same church we did. But we weren’t friends back then. That is, until she intervened in our grief. Bonnie came to our house one day—with a casserole, cupcakes and building blocks for Craig—and asked if it would be okay to come in and visit a while.
I wasn’t in the mood for ‘visiting’ with anyone, but I didn’t know how to say no. So, I said yes. Andy came in from the study and joined us as I tried to think of an acceptable excuse to leave. I couldn’t think of a thing.
Well, Bonnie didn’t mess around with small talk for very long before she surprised me with a question I wasn’t expecting.
“Valerie, Andy, would you mind if I prayed for you?” Okay, people often prayed for each other so I thanked her and said I would appreciate that. I thought she’d add us to her nightly prayers or something. Nope, she meant right then and there. She stood—I thought to leave—and put a hand out to each of us and began to pray aloud.
I was terribly uncomfortable at first, but something happened that day. By the time she said ‘amen’ I had tears rolling down my cheeks… but they were different from the tears I’d been shedding since I said goodbye to Lilly. I was different. And in those few minutes Bonnie and I made a connection that would last a lifetime.
(Day 5 of 7-day challenge)
(A little backstory on our fourth bridge lady)
Jenny had no memory of her biological mother. She’d been told that the woman who gave birth to her was a mere child herself. At fifteen, and with strong urging from her parents, she had chosen to give her newborn a better life than she could provide.
And so, Jenny was adopted by the Martins. Mr. Martin was over the moon in love with his precious baby girl from the moment he laid eyes on her. And Jenny was definitely daddy’s little princess. He made her feel so loved that she almost didn’t mind how distant and cold her mother was… almost.
Mrs. Martin had no motherly instincts, no desire to have children interrupt or interfere with her life of privilege, filled with afternoon tea, cocktail parties, and charity affairs–no desire to trade all that for changing diapers. But she had given in to her husband’s will when she realized her only other option was to lose him… and all of his money.
The first twelve years of Jenny’s life, she was loved and cherished. But then the unthinkable happened. At the age of forty-four, Don Martin, a fit and healthy man, suffered a fatal heart attack while playing tennis. When she kissed her daddy goodbye that morning, Jenny could not have imagined that he would never be coming home again or how drastically her life would change.
She staggered through the rest of her school years in boarding school, focused on her studies, and accepted that her mother preferred not having her around.
Jenny started dating by the time she was fourteen, but most of the boys she dated fell short of her standards. Her daddy had taught her how a lady should be treated, and they just didn’t measure up–that is until she met Craig.
Theirs was a whirlwind romance, and Jenny knew by their third date that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.
She wasn’t bothered by the fact that her mother had ‘plans’ and couldn’t make it to her wedding. She had no memory of her biological mother and no real connection to her adoptive mother (who had grown even colder when she found much of her husband’s fortune had been left to Jenny).
Jenny felt like she had no mother at all until she got to know Valerie Reed. Her husband’s mom was the mother Jenny had longed for her whole life. The void was filled at last.
(Day 4 of 7-day challenge)
(This is a look back at the early life of another one of the women in the bridge group, Susan. From Deception Bridge, Book 1 of The Bridge Series.)
“Mom, I’m home!” Susan Norris tossed her backpack on the bench by the door and looked in the kitchen. “Hey Mom, where are you?” she called out again as she yanked open the refrigerator door and grabbed a Coke. Still no answer. Damn it!
Her mother was usually there when Susan got home from school, but the house was empty. After going from room to room searching, she plopped down on her bed with her journal and started scribbling.
Mom isn’t here. I don’t know where she is, but it doesn’t really matter. She doesn’t care about my awards anyway. She’ll smile and say that’s nice, Sue, and then go right back to her stupid TV show or magazine or whatever. But this one is really special. Getting first place in the whole school might impress even her. And I worked so hard – she knows I’ve been working on this project forever. I bet Dad will be proud when he sees my science medal.
Susan dropped her journal on her desk and jogged down the steps and back to the kitchen.
“Mom, are you here?” She had to be sure she was alone. She took one last look around the first floor, made sure the garage was empty, and got the half-gallon of chocolate ice-cream out of the freezer. The first few bites went down easy. Susan’s breathing slowed with each bite—until the brain freeze. Slow down. She grabbed the loaf of bread off the counter and shoved almost a whole slice in her mouth ‘til her cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk. After two more slices went down, she alternated between that and the ice cream.
Her breathing was slow and even as she stared at the bottom of the empty ice cream carton. Carefully closing the bread, she put the loaf back on top of the fridge and pushed the empty half-gallon to the bottom of the trash can.
She dragged herself back up the staircase, paused at her doorway and listened. The garage door was opening. Wide-eyed, Susan looked from side to side, then dashed into the bathroom slamming the door behind her.
Mrs. Norris pushed the button to close the garage as she entered the house through the kitchen. “That damn door needs some WD40,” she muttered. “Susan,” she called raising her voice. “Are you home?” The sound of the toilet flushing upstairs answered her question.
Susan rinsed her mouth, wiped her watery eyes, and took several deep breaths before going to brag about the award she’d won. She was confident her mother hadn’t heard her retching. She never did.
(Day 3 of 7-day challenge)
We talked for a while, and before I knew it, I had told him all about my miserable life with my parents. I moaned and groaned and whined, and he listened sympathetically. It wasn’t until after we went our separate ways that I realized I had totally dominated the conversation. I didn’t know anything about him except his name, Andrew Reed. He said to call him Andy.
After he left, I forced myself to go back to the house to face the consequences. Of course, I was sure I’d be in trouble for leaving without permission and not telling anyone where I was going. And I’m sure I would have been if anyone had noticed. They hadn’t.
Nothing had changed. The temperature in the beach house was still frigid for the middle of summer. Oh, it was plenty hot outside, but the chill Mom was putting in the air made me shudder. She and Dad were so busy avoiding each other, they’d gone their separate ways. And neither of them had noticed my absence.
The next day my father said goodbye. I guess I should have been shocked he was leaving, but I wasn’t. I was only saddened. Now the only real warmth, the only gentle, loving tenderness, would be gone. Now it would just be me and Mom. Don’t get me wrong. My mother loved me. She just didn’t show it. And I just didn’t feel it.
Somehow, we got through the rest of our vacation at Cape May. Mom acted as though nothing had occurred. I, on the other hand, knew exactly what had happened, and I wasn’t pleased… not that it mattered to Mom.
But my parents’ separation wasn’t the source of my despair as we left the resort and headed for home. I had spent the few days between meeting Andrew Reed and leaving for home, searching the streets, the beach, and the waves for the young man I knew I would marry someday. But my search was futile.
My mother was prattling on about something or other—I have no idea what—as we drove up Rt. 109, but all I could do was choke back tears. I was sixteen, and my life was over. Yes, it sounds over-the-top now, but when you’re sixteen there is melodrama. Everything is intense. I was intense. I knew I would never see him again. I would never know true love.
I was wrong.
I didn’t see him again for two years. Imagine, two years of longing and feeling defeated. I was so filled with self-pity, even my mother noticed something was wrong. She didn’t do much about it except ask why I was always moping, but at least she noticed.
I dated. But no one could compare to the memory of my future husband. They didn’t stand a chance. Now, you might think I’d built him up so much in my mind that when I finally did see him again, it would have been a disappointment. It wasn’t. Like I said, we’ve been married for a very long time.
(Day 2 of 7-day challenge)
I met him in Cape May, and I knew I would never forget that day. It had started off badly with my parents having another one of their fights. Well, I guess that’s what you’d call it. But they couldn’t even fight like normal people.
I wish they would yell and scream, and maybe even throw things at each other. Yeah, that would be normal. I could handle that. What I couldn’t stand was the snide remarks and sarcasm that always ended the same way… with icy stares and cold silence. Once the silence started, there was no telling how long it would last.
And it was a smothering quiet. Not a calm and peaceful quiet—no—it was a strangling, killing silence. I had to get away. We were on vacation. It was supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be relaxing. Ha! I knew if I stayed in that beach house one more minute, I would break that ugly stillness with a blood curdling scream.
So, I left.
I ran down the beach carrying my sandals and kicking up sand behind me. I didn’t know where I was going, and I knew they would be furious, but none of that mattered. All that mattered was getting out of that craziness.
Eventually, I slowed down. I made my way up to one of the benches on the boards, brushed the sand off my feet, and slid them into my sandals. I let my breathing slow as I watched the waves lapping the shore. It was hypnotizing.
I was so mesmerized by the sight and sound of the sea, I didn’t see him coming toward me.
“Are you okay?” I looked up into the most amazing hazel eyes filled with concern. I guess I must have looked like a fool staring like that, but I was dumbstruck. I was speechless. I was in love.
Yeah, I know that sounds crazy. Love at first sight? Ridiculous, right? I don’t think so. We’ve been married for twenty-seven years, raised a wonderful son, and survived storms that would have wrecked the mightiest ships. If that’s not love I don’t know what is.
(Day 1 of 7-day challenge)… based on a character from upcoming novel Deception Bridge.
Bonnie Reynolds was an only child for the first thirteen years of her life, and that’s the way she liked it. Oh, at first she was excited when her parents told her she was going to have a baby brother or sister, but the excitement faded as her little brother grew.
Bart was a beautiful baby, and Bonnie loved holding him. It was like having a real live baby doll. That is until that baby doll got old enough to walk, to run, to get into absolutely everything. And until everything in the world was about Bart. Bonnie vied for her parents’ attention, but to no avail. She was certain she had become invisible.
By the time Bart was five, he was spoiled rotten in his big sister’s opinion. Bonnie had just turned eighteen, was ready to go off to college, and was totally ready to get away from him and her parents. It was time to have a life of her own, and she knew she wouldn’t miss any of them at all.
As she busily packed up the treasures she couldn’t leave behind, Bart was under her feet and wouldn’t stop talking.
“Oh my God! Bart, you are such a pest!” she yelled at him. “Go find something to do and leave me alone.”
“But I’m bored. What should I do?” he whined.
“I don’t care,” she hollered, “just go away and leave me alone.” They were the only two in the house. Mr. Reynolds wasn’t home from work yet, and Mrs. Reynolds was talking to one of the neighbors. Bonnie heard a door slam.
Good, now he can be somebody else’s problem. Bonnie was glad her mother had come in—or maybe it was her father—so they could deal with the little pest. She couldn’t wait to get away from him and his whining.
Then she heard the sound she would never forget. The series of sounds…
First came the screeching brakes and blaring horn. Then a woman’s screams. Then chaos.
Frozen in fear for seconds that stretched into eternity, Bonnie broke through it when she recognized a voice calling her name. Mom?
“Bonnie… Bonnie, help… Bonnie…” Her mother kept screaming. She pulled her feet from the wet cement holding her there and gained speed crashing through the front door, onto the sidewalk, and into the street.
Bart wasn’t moving. Her mother knelt by his side cradling his head in her lap and looked from him to her daughter. Bonnie looked at her wretched, tear-streaked face. Noooo
Bonnie didn’t remember much after that. But her little brother was gone. She had gotten her wish. He would never bother her again. And she was filled with self-loathing. The only person she hated more than herself was God.
Bonnie spent most of the following year angry and confused—mostly angry—and was more or less oblivious to the fact that her mother blamed herself for Bart’s death. She blamed herself for being across the street talking to the neighbor. Her little boy saw her and excitedly dashed to cross and be with her.
But for a while Bonnie knew whose fault it really was. At least in her mind, she had sent him to his death when she told him to go away. He had gone away. Forever.
Before long though, she found someone else to blame. God did this. And she hated Him for it. All that stuff she’d heard in Sunday School and Church growing up about a loving God went down the toilet.
Bonnie raged against God and the entire world, and all through her freshman year of college she rebelled, breaking every rule she’d followed so closely for the first eighteen years of her life. The high school As and Bs became college Cs and Ds. And she might have quit altogether had it not been for a sudden, almost inexplicable attraction to a bright, good-looking guy on campus. They only had one class together, and that was the one class she never cut.
Bonnie knew he often snuck glances at her, but she’d just about given up hope he’d ever ask her out when he finally did just that.
“Hi, my name’s Frank. Do you mind if I walk along with you?” She didn’t mind.
Frank Dixon walked Bonnie to her next class. Then later, he walked her to the coffee shop. They were pretty much inseparable after that, but it was six weeks later that Frank changed her life forever.
The date he had suggested wasn’t what she’d had in mind for that weekend, but when she looked in his eyes, she found it impossible to say no. That’s how she found herself at a Billy Graham revival. That’s the night she was saved. And that’s the night she forgave herself as her Lord had forgiven her.