Sample Chapter from The Dream Chasers

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Chapter One
 

     The dream came again. I heard my sister’s voice in the distance. “Help me, Beej!”

       We were in a dark place, cold and damp. I sloshed through shallow water in a dark tunnel and the wind blew my bangs.  “Liz! I‘m here!” I shouted. “Liz, hold on!”

       “Beej! I beg you!” she pleaded.

       Frustrated, I had no idea where to turn. But before I could make any decision, the alarm went off on my cell phone.

       Relieved that I had been saved from my sister’s anguish, I reached for the phone and fought the desire to fall back to sleep. It was seven o’clock and I had to get ready for work.

       I was in the bathroom washing up when my iPhone started playing All My Ex’s Live in Texas by George Strait. The word CONNIE appeared. I grabbed my phone and answered it. “Hi, Connie,” I said, reaching for the towel.

       “Oh, did I wake you, hon? I know it’s early.” Connie’s voice with a touch of Texas spoke more rapidly than usual.

       “It’s okay, I’m up.” I glanced at the gray light growing brighter from the bathroom window.

       Connie squealed slightly. “I wanted to catch you before you left for work. There’s a couple that wants to see yer house, darlin’.”

       I released a sigh. “I thought we already discussed this.”

       “Oh, B.J., come on,” Connie pleaded. “They could be the ones! I know you said you didn’t want to renew our contract, but I have a feeling about this couple. I declare, I do believe they’re gonna be the ones to put an offer on your house.”

       My house was not in shape for a showing. “I still have last night’s dishes in the kitchen sink,” I told Connie. “My laundry is in heaps. Can’t you just tell them tomorrow would be better?”

       Connie went on to explain that her clients were only going to be in Dexter one day. “I know we talked about taking yer house off the market for a coupl’a months, but I don’t think they’re gonna mind a little mess.”

       After a little more convincing, Connie finally got me to agree to the showing, and we ended the conversation. I quickly got dressed while my coffee was brewing. Then, I couldn’t help it, I just had to rinse my dirty dishes and stash them in the dishwasher, hoping nobody opened it. I scurried around, doing a quick pick-up, all the while grumbling to myself that this was what I wanted after all. But after six months on the market with hardly any interest, last week I’d decided that maybe selling my house was not such a good idea. Besides, what was I supposed to do if it did sell? Where would I go?

       I drank my coffee and blended a smoothie for breakfast.  Too soon it was time to leave for my job at the Dexter Chronicle, our small-town newspaper. There was no use even hoping that things could change for me. I’d worked at the Chronicle for fifteen years and had made my way through just about every position, from receptionist to typesetter, to proofreader, to paste-up, and copy editor. I had delivered papers, I had sold ads, and in the last year I had been assigned work to the website, on top of my usual duties in the production department.

       As I wound through the residential streets toward downtown, I had a flash of memory from that snippet of a dream. My sister Liz had died two years ago in Blanca Hills, a town in southern Colorado. Unlike in most families, Liz and I had not been close. As girls my younger sister and I had competed for our parents’ attention. We had fought a lot. Where I had excelled in school and been the straight one in the family, Liz had deviated. She had gotten involved with the wrong crowd at an early age and had not finished high school. She ran away from home at 16, only to return a few years later to cause trouble that ended my short marriage to Dirk Martin.

       Liz and I had not spoken in years. She had been attractive in an alluring way, slender and tall. Her hair had been lush and dark like mine, and she had flashing brown eyes where mine were blue and more demure. She became an alcoholic, a drug addict, and had served some time in prison.

       I kept my distance from her. She had never attempted to ask for my forgiveness until two years ago, when she tried several times to contact me. I didn’t answer any of her calls or messages, and I begged my son, Jason, to have nothing to do with his aunt. As far as I knew, he only remembered her as the wayward woman of the past, who for some reason unknown to him, had turned me against her.

       Work was busy and we were in production for the next issue. I had little time to dwell on what may or may not be transpiring at my humble house on the edge of the mesa, nor did I think about Liz, although it had developed into a pattern that she would appear in my dreams from time to time, as if beckoning me. That day, I shut her out of my mind because there were other concerns that sprang up.

       I was typing corrections and laying out the classifieds page toward late afternoon when the managing editor, Zach, walked in and interrupted me. “Hey, Bridget, can I have a word?”

       I glanced up at the tall, thin thirty-something man with short brown hair, glasses and bushy eyebrows. He squatted beside my chair. “What’s up?” I asked, typing on as if he wasn’t there.

       Zach scratched his head, then sighed. “You know the web editor position you applied for?”

       I stopped typing and blinked at him with a hopeful smile. “Yes?”

       Last week I had brushed up my résumé and submitted it to the publisher because the Chronicle was planning to hire a full-time web editor for the paper’s website. For the last year or so, I had formatted the stories and pictures from the print issue and kept things current online. It had become obvious that the job was time consuming and required a full-time employee. The higher-ups decided they wanted to see what profits they could reap by developing the paper’s Internet presence.

       Nobody else seemed interested in doing such hard work, yet I had stepped up to the plate, mostly because Merle, my techie ex-boyfriend, had taught me a lot about formatting and designing web pages.  I was quite sure I was a shoo-in for the position. Of course, it would probably mean that Sally, my production manager, would have to find another assistant.

       Zach turned his eyes away from me -- not a good sign -- and let out a huge sigh. “We’ve hired someone,” he said.

       “Oh?” I stared at him.

       “His name is Stan Hammer and he’s got lots of experience. We’re negotiating a contract with him as we speak.”

       Negotiating a contract? I was floored and had stopped typing. Now I stared at the screen in front of me, not wanting to show my disappointment.

       “Stan runs a business,” Zach continued, drumming his fingers against a knee. “He works from home, maintaining other websites.”

       I looked at Zach and cocked my head.

       “So … we were wondering if you’d still be interested in helping out with the website,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

       “Well, we will still need you to convert all the stories each week and handle the images. We’ll leave the high-end technical expertise and marketing angles to Stan. He seems to think we can increase our revenue considerably in the next six months to a year.”

       I swallowed. “That’s … great,” I managed.

       “So you’ll still have your hours,” Zach added, standing up.

      “When does he start?” I asked.

      “I’m not sure yet. He’s driving up from  Junction tomorrow to look at our set-up, but we’ve agreed to let him work at home. That commute from Junction five days a week isn’t necessary.”

      “He lives in Junction?” I asked. Junction was fifty miles northwest of Dexter.

      Zach nodded. “He and his wife have two young children, and his wife works, so Stan prefers to stay at home with the kids.”

      As he walked back to his office, I turned to Sally, who was working at her computer and had caught every word. She stared at me and raised an eyebrow. I sighed and went back to what I was doing. Oh well, at least now I didn’t have to deal with Sally finding a replacement for me in production. She must have known that I had asked for the web job, but she made no comment.

      Five o’clock came just as my tasks were completed. Sally dismissed me, reassuring me that she had already begun sending the pages electronically to the printers in Junction. By tomorrow, the Chronicles would arrive on a truck for processing, mailing and delivery.

      When I pulled into my driveway ten minutes later, Merle Franklin was waiting for me on the front porch. My house was a white 1940s vintage two-story, solidly built, with a prominent covered porch that extended across the entire front. Shrubs and rose bushes that wouldn’t bloom for a couple of months yet grew along the wrap-around trellis.

Tall, lanky and red-haired, Merle sported a modest pointy beard that contrasted with his silver wire-rimmed glasses. He leaned against the porch wall with a toothpick in his mouth, watching me park and get out of my car.

      “Hey, Merle,” I called to him.

      “Hey, yourself,” he called back in a deep voice. Thin lips curled into a half smile.

      “What brings you by?” I climbed the porch steps and he waited for me to unlock the front door. The real estate company’s lock box banged slightly as I pushed open the door and Merle followed me inside.

      “Just thought I’d stop by and see how things are going,” said Merle.

      I set my things down on the small table in the foyer and looked around. “Good,” I told him. Merle and I had dated after we met more than two years ago. The relationship had been more of a friendship than anything else. I had this habit of starting a relationship and then backing out, concerned that my ex-husband would try to use it as a means to separate me from my son. Now, even though Jason was in college, I still resisted commitments.

      We wandered into the kitchen and I picked up the business card off the counter that Connie had left earlier, which confirmed she had shown the house.

      “Any luck with your house?” Merle asked, eyeing the card.

      “Connie showed it today,” I said.

      Merle looked around and said, “Maybe they’ll make an offer, Beej.”

      I sighed and opened the refrigerator. “Wanna beer?”

      “Sure,” he said.

      I reached in and grabbed a bottle, handed it to him, and then pulled out a bottle of lemon-flavored iced tea. “I didn’t get the web editor job,” I told him.

      “Well, why not?” Merle opened his bottle and took a sip of beer. “You’re qualified. Who’d they give the job to?”

      I grumbled. “Some nerd kid from Junction. And get this … they’re letting him work from home.”

      “That’s not uncommon,” said Merle.

      “But at least they still want me for the grunt work.” I smiled.

      Merle took a longer sip of his beer, then looked me in the eye. “Janie wants to get married.”

      “Wow, that was rather sudden, don’t you think?”

      Merle squirmed a bit and wiped some beer from his lip. “She doesn’t think so.”

      “Are you going to accept her proposal?” I asked.

      “Probably,” said Merle. “It seems like a good idea right now.”

      “Well, Merle, it’s time you settled down.”

      “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t mind.” Merle looked at me in a funny way.

      “Not at all.” I watched as he sheepishly stared at the floor. “Merle, we’re still friends. Yes, we had a relationship. But that part is over. We agreed.”

      He nodded his head and smiled at me. “She wants kids,” he revealed.

      I laughed. “That’s okay. You’re still young enough to be a dad, for goodness sake. Heck, you’re younger than I am.”

He was about to say something more when my cell phone rang. I grabbed it and saw that it was the real estate agent.

      Hi, Connie,” I answered.

      “B.J., good news. The people I showed your house to are making an offer.”

      “You’re kidding. Really?” I perked up.

      “We wrote up an offer this afternoon and I’d like to bring it over to you to sign.”

      “Wait a minute.” I turned to Merle. “There’s an offer on my house.”

      Merle gave me a thumbs up and took another swig of his beer.

      “Connie, before you come over here, tell me what their offer is,” I prompted.

      “It’s a hundred thirty-five thousand,” she revealed hesitantly.

      I frowned. “That’s crazy,” I told her. “I can’t accept a low ball. I have to pay off my mortgage, for heaven’s sake. And you need your commission. What the heck?”

      “I know it’s low,” said Connie. “But you have to consider the age of your house.”

      “No, Connie. Don’t insult me.” I watched as Merle slowly shook his head from side to side, obviously amused at my defiance.

      Suddenly, Connie erupted in giggles. “Girl! I’m only joshin’,” she exclaimed so loud that I had to move the phone away from my face. “They’re payin’ full price.”

      “What!” I shrieked. “What did you say?”

      “They like the house,” said Connie, “and they’re from Texas. An older couple looking to retire in western Colorado. They said the house was perfect. They’re givin’ you yer price, B.J. And I’ll email the contract to you tonight. Don’t worry, I’m not comin’ over with it. You can go through it and sign everything electronically.”

      Later, after Merle left, I felt like I was still in shock. My house had sold! What was I going to do now? Suddenly, I had to make some plans. I had to make a decision. I would also have to start packing.

 

      “Mom, that’s awesome,” Jason told me over the phone when I called him later that night. He was away at college in Boulder. “How soon do you have to find another place?”

      I had received Connie’s contract and had spent an hour reading it and signing electronically online. “The closing is supposed to happen in May,” I told him. “I’ve got sixty days to pull myself together.”

      “This is what you’ve been wanting, Mom,” my son told me. “Right?”

      “Uh … yes, I think so.”

      “Mom, are you going to stay in Dexter?”

      “Well, it’s where my job is,” I replied. “I’m not going to be independently wealthy, you know. By the time I pay off the house …”

      Jason interrupted me. “Mom, what about your dream?”

      For a few seconds, I was lost in thought.

      “Mom?” Jason prompted.

      “Uh … When is your break?” I asked to purposely change the subject.

      “In three weeks.”

      “Are you planning to come home?”

      “I haven’t decided yet.”

      “Are you going to your dad’s?” I asked.

      Jason cleared his throat. “Come on, Mom. Are you serious?”

      “Well, Utah’s gorgeous in the early spring.”

      “I might take off with a couple of the guys on campus,” said Jason. “They’re thinking about a backpacking trip.”

      “There’s still snow in the high country,” I protested. “Where were they thinking of hiking?”

      “Baja.”

      “Oh, Jason, can you afford that?”

      “Nope.” He chuckled. “But seriously, Mom, I think you should consider doing something outrageous with your life when you sell the house.”

      “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

      “Just think about it,” he replied. I heard male voices in the background. “Well, I gotta go now. Talk to ya later.”

He hung up before I could say another word.

 

      I spent my weekend cleaning out the spare room. The basement was going to be a nightmare and I was on my own with all of this. I didn’t want to think about buying another house right away. But I knew I’d have to at least find an apartment to rent or a condo.

      It was about two weeks later when we were notified at work that pay increases were coming. The owners were sporadic about giving raises, so everyone was excited. I had continued my website work for the paper and had been introduced, finally, to Stan Hammer, the newly hired web editor from Junction. He was quite young -- in his 20’s -- and was brimming with plenty of ideas to improve the cyber presence of the Chronicle. I took notice that Stan wanted me to continue doing all of the detailed tasks of formatting articles and converting the photos. I didn’t mind the nitty-gritty of all the work as I was used to slaving away for hours and I hoped for a decent reward for my efforts when the envelopes got passed out.

      A couple of days later, I was typesetting in the production room when the office manager dropped off the white envelopes. I finished the article I was typing, then took a sip of tea that was on my desk before opening mine. At first, when I read it, I thought it was a joke. My hourly wage was being raised twenty-five cents an hour. Twenty-five cents an hour! It was a slap in the face. I was outraged.

      Sally had been watching me from her desk as she worked at laying out the next edition on her wide screen computer. “Beej, is something wrong?” she asked.

      I was practically hyperventilating and must have turned beet red. Slapping the paper down on my desk, I blinked my eyes and stared across the room at her. “No. Nothing’s wrong,” I lied.

      Then, very calmly I stood up and walked off to the restrooms in back. Inside, I stared at my face in the mirror and watched as tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to scream in humiliation. A lousy twenty-five cent raise while Whiz Kid, not even 30 yet, had waltzed in and gotten the position I’d wanted, and then he didn’t even have to show up for work?

      Sally met me as I came out of the bathroom. “Beej, I can see that you’re upset.”

      I folded in my lip and blinked at her. “I don’t have anything to say.”

      “Well, okay, I won’t pry. Can you do the corrections on the obits?” she asked. “Marissa left the proof on your desk.”

      “Sure.”

      I was trying to concentrate on my work when Marissa, one of the advertising reps, came into the production room and started a gossip session with Sally. I found it hard not to overhear what they were saying, and my ears perked up when I heard Stan’s name mentioned.

      “They’re paying him fifty-five grand a year is what I heard,” said Marissa.

      Sally gasped. “Really? Are you sure? I mean, I don’t think Zach makes that much.”

      “It’s absurd!” cried Marissa. She turned to me. “B.J., do you think if you had gotten the web editor job, they would have paid you fifty-five grand a year? Plus … he gets to work from home.”

      I faked a smile, then buried myself in my work, all the while fuming inwardly. While I was the one doing all the grunt work, twenty-something Stan Hammer got to wear the label of “Web Editor” of the Dexter Chronicle while working from the comfort of his home fifty miles away. While I slaved away, he was tending to his other business customers and getting paid high dollars for being, virtually, a consultant!

      I wanted to cry, but I held it back. I wouldn’t give Sally nor Marissa the satisfaction of knowing how bitterly disappointed I was, and how my ego had just been badly bruised.

That was the turning point for me. I decided right then and there that I needed a change. I was disgusted with the Chronicle and I knew it was time to make a fresh start somewhere else. After all the years I had given them, all I had to show for it was a lousy twenty-five cent an hour raise. It was time to follow my dream.

Order your copy of THE DREAM CHASERS
Romantic Suspense Thriller by Ann Ulrich Miller
ISBN 978-0944851-56-2    Paperback $15.00  or ebook $5.99
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