Writing stories the heart remembers…

Her dream account just landed in her lap ...So did the future of her family. And she's got two months to save them both.

Cami Madison’s grandmother died, leaving her with a task she must complete or all the inheritance goes to charity. Plus her boss handed her the ad campaign that will win her the coveted vice presidency opening.

Both have the same time table.

When she realizes the projects are interwined, things really start to unravel. 

Kate Hanson raised her granddaughter after the child became an orphan in a car accident. But not all scars are on the outside.

Can Kate’s last request help Cami to heal?

Will Cami be able to step up to the job?

You will love this split-time women’s romance because when family is on the line, everyone knows the only way to survive is wrapped in prayer.

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Chapter 1

Cami

Present Day

“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today…”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s do this. Cami Madison flipped a wayward curl off her shoulder and glanced about the church where family, friends and the faithful wearing their best filled the pews. Weddings or funerals, they’re all the same. Experts yak and then the crowd gets a free meal while making nice to your face and smearing you behind their hands. She’d no time for this, not with her schedule.

Yep, all the same.

This time it’s a funeral.

Of course Cousin Morgan corrected her even in her thoughts — “Not a funeral, a Celebration of Life.” Morgie did her famous eye roll in Cami’s imagination.

Right.

Not according to Gram. She’d be all tapping her wristwatch saying, “I say funeral and time’s a-wasting. Drop me into my eternal rest and get this show on the road. We’ve got a schedule, folks.” The mind video made Cami snicker. She covered her mouth, but not in time to keep Morgie from noticing. That tiny squint used to send a shiver down Cami’s back. Maybe it still did. A little. She fanned herself despite the air conditioning which fought Phoenix’s spring heat.

Yeah, Gram was known for her promptness. A body could set a clock by her. In fact, Cami learned to tell time by the schedule at Gram’s house when she visited in the summers. Supper at five fifteen. Wheel of Fortune at six. Jeopardy at six thirty. And heaven help the salesperson who called in the middle of that.

But Gram also was there. For her. When she got trapped in the old orange tree while spying on Morgan and her first boyfriend (she ended up dodging the rotten oranges they picked up from the ground and chucked at her). When she needed a ride home because her prom date got fresh. When her parents were killed in the car accident. She rubbed her elbow that tingled weird at times, another reminder she’d been in the accident, too.

Even when she should’ve grieved the loss of her only daughter, Gramma still was there for Cami.

Now Cami was here for her. Which was only right.

But could we get moving? Please? The drive back to Tucson was long. Plus, this was harder than she wanted to admit.

“Kate Hanson was well known to all of us. Her quiet way of helping is legendary in our community. We’ve lost a dear friend with her passing. In the first two days after receiving the news, congregation members inundated my email with stories of how she’d supplied a dinner, cared for a child, given a ride, or sent a card at the perfect time.

“Kate didn’t crave the limelight. Instead, she served behind the scenes. I never heard of anyone having to request her help. Rather, she was the one to contact a leader when she learned of or even suspected a need.”

Gram was special, all right. Cami knew that firsthand. But she’d no clue her grandmother was that active in her church. Had she suddenly gotten religion?

She glanced around the room again. Many people attended, dabbing tissues to their eyes. They all seemed quite moved.

Well, Grams never let her skip that sort of training while growing up. Cami’d done all the normal things—Sunday School and Children’s Church, Youth Group, Mission Trips.  All this time, though, she’d figured religious instruction was Gramma’s way to make her a better person. Guess maybe her grandmother had been more involved than she remembered.

The pastor introduced Morgan to come to the podium. He’d suggested Cami speak, too, but she declined.

She wasn’t about to get all maudlin and fall apart in front of everyone, and if she steeled herself to stay stoic, they’d know she was the horrible, ungrateful, snooty granddaughter Morgie claimed she was.

“Thank you all for coming. I’d like to give you a little background on my grandmother, Katheryn Amelia Cummings Hanson. She was born—”

My grandmother, too, Morgie.

Cami knew the stats. Born in 1949, she was a Baby Boomer. An early one. She embodied the can-do spirit. Through her grandmother, Cami developed a love for sixties music, especially the Beatles. “The Fool on the Hill” was her favorite. Not something Morgan was likely to mention.

“—she was preceded in death by her husband of twenty-five years, Andrew Jameson Hanson, and her daughter, Saundra Marie Hanson Madison.” Morgan dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

Thanks, Morgie, I so needed that tossed in my face today.

Cami held her breath and counted to ten to hold herself together. Anyone other than her grandmother and she’d have found an excuse to not attend. But this was Gram. She owed her. Besides, Gram was the one who said she must be strong. It’d be a lot easier to be strong elsewhere. This was too reminiscent.

“Most of those who knew my grandmother realized she lived on an annuity from her husband’s estate. Gram did not need a job when he passed. This allowed her the freedom to help and serve her family and church.

“But most people didn’t know Kate Hanson was an accomplished author, writing under a pseudonym. She penned many children’s books, including the Adventures With Stinkerella series.”

What? Who was this woman? Not her Gram? When did she do all this? More important, why did Morgan know and she didn’t?

“Gram was also a skilled craftsperson, excelling in crocheted items. She taught not only her daughter, but her son, her granddaughters and her great grandchildren. My twins, Aidan and Addie, received lessons from her with single and double crochet stitches.” She held up little granny squares to oohs and ahs.

Cami remembered her own squares. Her mother’d been there, then, too. She’d sat between Gram and Mom while they taught and guided her into making her first. The memory brought a touch of moisture to her eyes, but she blinked before anyone noticed. She would not cry.

The sound of sniffing drew her attention. She glanced along the pew.

A tear scrolled down Addie’s cheek.

Cami spotted a box of tissues poking out from under the seats and plucked one for the girl. She was only seven. Too young to understand that the world chewed and spewed the weak. Cami passed the tissue.

Addie peeked up with a slight smile. Bet she was having a tough time, too.

An old memory prompted, and Cami dug a purple pen from her purse. She showed the child how to color the closed spaces in the letters on the bulletin. Like Mom did for her when she was young. And Gram during those summers.

One more song and the ordeal would mercifully end. Except for the meal. Cami hoped to hide out in the ladies’ room during that event. She might check her messages. Chatting with folks was more than she could handle if she were to keep her composure. And she would keep her composure. Be strong for Gram.

A lengthy list of texts waited, she knew, but she’d still turned her phone off for this hour, even though shutting it down for updates made her as nervous as a salesperson without a voice.

The music leader led them in “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and followed with an announcement inviting everyone to come eat in the fellowship hall, and as a courtesy to allow the family to arrive first. That meant Morgan would know where she was, making it harder to sneak away. Cami sighed. Would her cousin insist on a receiving line? Just to be perfectly proper?

Cami followed Aidan and Addie, who followed their mom. It was the four of them now. She barely knew the kids who glanced back messages stating that fact. She read it in their eyes—who was this person? Perhaps if she and Morgan got on better, the twins wouldn’t be such strangers.

Once Cami arrived at the fellowship hall, she started her circular path toward the ladies’ room, crossing her fingers that Morgan didn’t notice she’d disappeared inside its porcelain fortress.

It would be like Morgie to drag her into a conversation with some long-lost fourth-cousin-twice-removed named Elmer.

She peeked over her shoulder as she grabbed the door pull.

Morgan headed her way.

Cami raised her index finger, hoping the signal would let her cousin know she needed the moment, and hustled to hibernate in a stall. She pulled out her phone and turned it back on. Just as she thought. Sixteen texts alone from Ray, her boss. She scrolled through before answering any. A new merger between literary world and the movie industry that appeared to be a career maker called her name.

Literally, Ray was calling her. At that moment.

She answered.

“When can you get here?” No greeting or solicitude.

Cami blew out a breath. “Give me a few hours. We just finished the service and moved to the dinner.”

“Can you make it less?” Ray never allowed sentiment to waylay work.

“Travel will take two hours, at least. If the I-10 is clear. Once I’m out of the city, it should be fine.”

He sighed. “If that’s your best.”

“Ray, it’s not like I’m across town. I’m in Phoenix. I can’t move Tucson any closer. And it’s my grandmother’s funeral, you jaded soul.”

“Fine. But get here. I want my top person on this. This’ll put Chukshon Advertising at a rarefied air level of prestige. We’ve got to land this account.” Not waiting for her answer, he just disconnected, expecting she’d climb every obstacle to be at his beck and call.

Yeah, he knew her too well. The problem was, he didn’t know Morgan.

Cami slipped out of the restroom, scanning the room for her cousin.

Morgan stood chatting with the pastor while her kids sat at the nearby table picking at their tacos and enchilada casserole.

Good ol’ after-funeral fare, prepared by the ladies of the congregation.

Mexican food was Gram’s favorite.

No one tried to stop her to deliver their deepest condolences. Cami didn’t know whether to feel relieved or insulted. Maybe no one recognized her, but it made getting to Morgan that much easier. “Excuse me, reverend. Morgan. Sorry, I’ve got to go. I realize I’m dumping this all on you, but Ray called.”

Morgan’s hand went to her hip and she shook her head. “Your boss? He can’t even give you time to, Oh, what’s the difference. You’d prefer to be gone, anyway. Just leave. But be here Monday. We’re meeting with the lawyer and we must decide about Gram’s cremains.”

“I’ll do my best. Again, sorry.” She glanced at the kids who stared. “Gotta go.” With a sigh, she faced the door.

“Do better than your best, Cam. Be here.”

She exhaled, blowing her bangs off her forehead, and waved without looking back. Her exit was in sight and she dare not chance a retort slowing her down. She was outahere.

#

Kate

Fifteen years ago

Kate Hanson put the last item into the plastic drawstring bag. They’d done everything to make this hospital room homey and bright, but now they would leave. “I got it all, Cams.”

Cami’s eyes were bigger than normal, scanning the naked room, free of the get-well cards and posters. Even the gigantic window where the nurses let Kate paint fun cartoons gleamed scrubbed clean. “I’m not sure I’m ready, Gram.”

“What’s the problem, kiddo?” As if Kate didn’t already stare down that beaten path where this conversation headed.

She’d worried herself about this day for several weeks and couldn’t blame the child for being afraid.

“I don’t want to ride in a car.”

“I get that. It’s a natural response. But you can’t stay here, and we’ve got to move you to my house in Phoenix. I’ll be extra careful. We’re not in a rush. We can do this.”

Cami shook her head, the crocheted cap covering her starting to sprout hair flopping with the movement. “I know you’ll watch out, but others won’t, Gram. We shouldn’t take the chance.”

“So how are we to get home?” If she thought this through logically, she’d understand.

Cami sighed. “Um, why not live here in Tucson? You could buy a house close by and we can walk.”

Her thirteen-year-old granddaughter’s logic produced something other than the right answer. “Well, that’d require me to sell my home, pack up, find one here in my budget and hope that the sale goes through fast. And fast would mean in a month. Normal would be longer. You don’t have a month or even a week. They’re kicking you out today.”

“Can’t you talk to them?” Now her eyes pleaded.

“Sweetie, they’ve got their rules and orders. Higher ups on administrative teams, along with insurance companies, are involved. Those in power get to decide. They gotta ensure their company has a profit, so everyone gets paid. No one’ll ever agree with all their decisions, but someone’s gotta make them. They look at what’s most important.”

“Most important to them. They’ve never been in a car crash like me.”

Kate’s heart broke. The trauma, though Cami still couldn’t remember the event, fueled the fear that tinted her every word. Even in her sleep, the child cried out, often waking herself.

Kate spent the past six weeks at her side, sleeping in the convertible chair, and grabbing meals from the cafeteria and snack machines. She’d put on weight, her clothes told her that. But what’s an extra pound or ten when her granddaughter appeared mummified with casts and gauze. Two broken legs, a crush pelvis, a broken wrist and traumatic brain injury. Thank God she lived.

The only person to emerge alive from that crushed vehicle.

She shook her head. Not the time for memories of what she’d lost. “Sweet girl, it is time to be strong. You’ve already shown you are stronger than you imagined. Look how far you’ve come. Even tried a step in your PT class. And I have all that transferred to a Phoenix company so you’ll keep progressing. Pretty soon you’ll be running.” She glanced out the door to the empty hall. “They’ll be bringing your wheelchair any minute.”

“Gram, I can’t. I can’t get into a car.” Cami broke into sobs.

She grasped the child’s hand. “You can and you will because you are stronger than your fears. You rode in cars your entire life with no problems. People go their entire lives without an accident. It is more common to arrive at your destination than have a crash. You tell yourself that. Remind yourself of the favorable statistics. We’re going to make it. Together. We’ll be fine. And once we’re on the road, I’ll introduce you to the best music ever written. We’ll sing the songs all the way home. This’ll work, honey, I promise.”

“But Gram—”

“No buts. I  understand you’re afraid. I would be too. But you’ll be fine. You are stronger than your fear. You are. Keep telling yourself that until we get into the car.” She kissed the crocheted cap atop her granddaughter’s head.

Cami glanced her way and then at her sheets, which were as white as her face.

Kate heard the mumblings as the child picked at her bedding.

“A little louder, hon. You want to scare your fear away.”

“I am stronger than my fear. I am stronger than my fear.” She sat a little taller. “I am stronger than my fear. I am stronger than my fear.”

“Good girl. Keep going. I’ll find out about that wheelchair.” Kate stepped into the hall and spotted a nurse at the desk. After a brief explanation about her granddaughter’s reaction to leaving, Nurse Arlene checked on the wheelchair’s ETA and shared saying she’d seen this scenario before. With a sympathetic pat, she headed for Cami’s room, Kate close behind.

“Got to tell you, I’m set to wave goodbye. You might be a sweet kid, but as a patient, I’ve seen you a little too much. It’s time you hit the bricks, Cam.” The nurse smiled and winked at Kate.

“You’re sure I’m ready?”

“Abso-tively-lutely. You’re healing so fast, it won’t be long before you’ll be running and jumping all over the place. You want to stop and say hi when visiting someone? Fine, but no more being a patient. You’ve used up all your points.” She glanced out the door. “And your chariot awaits, princess. We’ll get you into your chair and roll you out.” Both the nurse and the aide worked to settle her in the wheelchair. Nurse Arlene rolled her out into the hall.

Kate walked alongside.

Cami reached for her hand and clung to it.

She squeezed some encouragement to the girl. “I need to bring the car around. Let me hurry ahead and I’ll meet you at the door.”

Cami held tight a moment longer. Then with a sigh, she released her hand. “Okay.”

Kate’s vehicle remained parked here since the day she’d gotten the call and raced south to Tucson. Six weeks ago. Did she even remember where she parked? Would it start?

Her little Nissan Sentra turned over without a fuss. One thing going right. She drove to the entrance and pulled up where Alene waited next to Cami. This would be the hardest part. Once  inside the vehicle, Kate would be able to help her, soothe her, comfort her. But until the child climbed in, she’d run out of options.

Leaving the car in park, Kate hurried around to toss the bags in the trunk while the nurse assisted Cami into the passenger seat and buckled her seatbelt. One last hug with Arlene, the no-nonsense yet compassionate professional who cared for them both, and Kate climbed back in the driver’s seat.

Cami didn’t even look up. Her eyes were closed and she mumbled, “I am stronger than my fear. I am stronger than my fear.”

Kate pulled out of the parking lot and punched the CD button. George Harrison’s voice filled the Sentra with “Here Comes the Sun” from her Abbey Road album.

Cami glanced up. “What’s that?”

“That, my dear, is the quiet Beatle showing he’s not as quiet as everyone painted him to be. He’s talented and thoughtful. Not my all-time favorite of his, but I do like it a lot and Abbey Road is my favorite Beatle album. Have you listened to much Beatle music?”

Cami shook her head. “I might’ve read about them, maybe. I kind of like it.”

“Shows you have excellent taste. They changed the face of rock-and-roll when their music came out. They’re from England and when American radio stations started playing their songs, along with those from other artists from over in the UK, they called it the British Invasion. The Beatles led it. They were only a group until 1970, but you can still find their music.” She turned up the volume a notch.

Cami leaned her head against the seat, closing her eyes again. “I like this song, Gram.”

“Good, I have about all their albums on CD so we’ll play all we can. Kick back and listen.”

Cami did just that. For the next two hours.

#

Cami

Present day

Cami started the engine and plugged in her iPod to her speakers. Between the Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and her phone showing her WAZE, she should be able to navigate this trip. Though she’d made this drive on several occasions, still tingles pinged in her belly every time. “I’m stronger than my fear.”

If she kept the music going, she might not relive all the memories. Better idea to concentrate on the info Ray texted about the new client. This would be a test of sorts. If they came through with this, they’d be tapped to provide the ads for all the rest of the projects this merger produced. From what she could tell, the first target would be something for the tween audience and J-14 Magazine’s heart-throb Liam Holsted. Cami considered how to spin press releases and kits. Wholesome to the parent eye yet inviting to the teenaged girls who’d be begging moms and dads to spend cash on all the soon-to-be collectibles. She could see Antiques Roadshow in thirty years when someone brings in a treasured whatchamacallit. That made her chuckle.

By the time she’d pulled into the lot at Chukshon she’d come up with a list of ten fresh pitch ideas and only needed Ray to point her in the right direction to learn which to develop.

Though a Saturday, the door stood unlocked. She flashed her ID at the security guard and headed for the elevator. When the doors opened on the fifth floor, Ray paced the hall. “About time you got here.”

“I realize you spawned from under a rock somewhere this side of Albuquerque, but even your rock would have the good grace to recognize the importance of a funeral.”

He stopped pacing. “Yeah, sorry. But you don’t enjoy that stuff any more than I do. And I know you’d rather work than get pulled down into that feely rabbit’s hole of muck. Consider this grief therapy and you are welcome. Come into my office. I’ll lay things out for you.”

He only got away saying that because that was true and he’d known her since her intern days while at U of A. They’d toyed with dating for a brief second, recognizing a shared aversion to emotions, but Ray became her boss and her friend. If either of them possessed the capacity to be a decent friend.

An hour later, she’d uncovered only a bit more information.

The client never revealed what book they’d chosen for the silver screen, only hinted at “legendary.”

Were any big fantasy or anime books ready for this step? The Marvel franchise still ran strong. Might they springboard from that?

She left Ray with a list of questions for the client and stuffed a to-do list of her own into her planner.

Arriving at her condo, she poured an iced tea and pulled out her laptop.

She planned to brainstorm and flesh out ideas to pitch to Ray on Monday while researching the publishing house’s properties.

However, after narrowing her search on Amazon to middle school audiences, still pages of possibilities stared back.

Yet, that’s not the first thing that jumped out, setting her pulse to pounding.

The number one bestseller, right up at the top of the page? Adventures With Stinkerbelle: Book Nine: The Chat by Amelia K. Sonhan. She’d found her grandmother clear as day. Sonhan, Hanson. Amelia K., Katheryn A. Why didn’t she tell Cami about this?

She pulled up all the books, one through nine, and looked at the date of publication. Gram wrote for more than a decade.

Ten years ago, Cami still lived with Gram. Technically. On beaks and summer vacations. When had Gram started writing? Did she sell at once? Wouldn’t she need an agent? Did the agent attend her service? Did Cami shake hands with him or her, never knowing the person?

Did that person know about her?

Cami’d heard of the books. Hard not to when the ad campaigns popped up everywhere and ads were her business. But, since they focused on the younger reader, Cami saw no reason to crack one open, or download it either. She did now, though, and went to Amazon to get all nine onto her Kindle. The rest of the weekend she inhaled the words of a voice so familiar, so comforting. She’d lain awake until the wee hours to finish book three The Code.

These books were fun, insightful and filled with enough clean adult humor that they could grow with a child. Gram was brilliant. More than once Cami ran across advice she should have heeded when the author’s lips spoke those same words to her. That brought a chuckle.

What made her tear up, though, came when she spotted the dedication at the front of book one. For my own Stinkerbelle and namesake.

They named Cami for Gram. Katheryn Amelia. But rather than have two Katies, her parents spelled Catherine with a C and took her initials C. A. M., added an I at the end and came up with Cami. Though it didn’t read Cami in the comment, she understood.

“I’m sorry, Gram. I never knew.”

Sunday she made a cup of coffee and started in on book four. By bedtime she’d inhaled the complete series. It might upset Ray that she didn’t do more research, but Cami’d grown more at peace, as if she’d spent the weekend with Gram receiving one more hug and a lot more practical advice.

Monday she worked at the office prepping for a meeting with Ray when her phone buzzed. Morgan. Though tempted to send it to voice mail, she decided to get it over with. “Hey.”

“Are you close? I’m in the parking lot. Thought we’d better talk before we go in.”

In? Oh, no. The lawyer meeting. “I’m sorry, I got caught up in work. Can we make it a teleconference? I’ve got Zoom, I can start the meeting.”

“I knew you’d do this. Never could count on you for anything. Well, just so you know, Gram made me the executor. Guess she recognized you’d flake on things.”

Cami wanted to reach through the phone and rip out Morgan’s photo-shoot perfect hair. “That’s not fair.”

“What? That Gram put me in charge, or that I stated the truth?”

Both, to be honest. “I don’t care that you’re in charge.”

“Right. You never have cared about our family.”

“Morgan, I care though you don’t make it easy. But if all we’ll do is argue right now, we won’t get to the important stuff. Tell me what you want to discuss before the meeting. What email address do I need from the lawyer to invite you all to the Zoom room?”

After a sigh, Morgan gave her the email address. “I just wanted you to understand that I’m executrix but also that Gram added a strange bequest for you. You’ll hear about it from the lawyer, at least part of it. I intend to follow Gram’s wishes to the letter. You need to understand that.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less of you, Morgan. Let me know when you are at the office and I’ll send the invite to get the meeting set up.”

“Fine. I’m there.” Click.

Cami pulled up her Zoom account, set up the session and invited the lawyer. She started to add Morgan but figured the feedback with them both in the same office might be too much so she texted Morgan to keep her in the loop.

A couple minutes later she added William Jones, Esq. to her chat room.

“Ms. Madison, I’m sorry we aren’t able to do this in person. Rather than read through the complete document, I’ll cover the part unique to you. We should discuss this.

“Your grandmother remained adamant that things be handled in this manner. She bequeathed a package to you. Inside it are instructions for what you must do on a precise timeline. If you perform it to the letter, you’ll receive your inheritance. I’m not at liberty to tell you more regarding that inheritance, only that if you do not accept the package and accomplish the task in the allotted time, you will give up your bequest and it will all go elsewhere. I cannot share with you where, either. Do you wish to accept the package and task?”

Gram, what possessed you? What did this task entail? Would she have time?

She envisioned Morgan with that smug Cami’s-too-flaky-to-do-what-Gram-asked expression on her Dresden-doll-perfect made-up face.

She’d love to chuck a rotten orange at it. “Yes, I’ll accept Gram’s package and task. I loved my grandmother and if she wanted me to do something, I’ll do it.”

A commotion started off-screen. “Excuse me, Ms. Madison.” Mr. Jones left the screen, but Cami could hear Morgan having a coughing fit and the lawyer offering her a drink of water.

He returned. “Very well, Ms. Madison. I’ll send the box. Will you take delivery at home or your office?”

“I’ll be here late so work is fine. What about the copy of the will?”

“You’ll receive that upon completion or failure of the task. I’m to hold on to it and not file for probate until after you’ve finished the assignment. Once you’ve read the enclosed  instructions, contact me with any questions. I want to add, aside from being my client, I considered your grandmother my friend. And I knew your parents. Please accept my sincerest condolences.”

Cami’s throat constricted. She reached for her water bottle and swiped a sip before responding. “Thank you Mr. Jones. I’ll be in touch.” She closed the meeting before he could add more.

The Stand Alone Stories

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