Mainstream, 395 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans
Blurb: John Ross is retiring after many years working as a journalist. He contemplates about what he wants to do with the rest of his life. But along the way he finds out that there are some things you simply can't control. Life simply happens.
John learns that work has caused him to lose touch with the neighborhood where he has lived for many years. And he finds out that things weren't always as they seemed to be -- in many ways.
The kitchen was quiet when he opened the door. When he flipped on the switch, there was an instant shout in unison— “Happy retirement!”
Stunned for a moment, John glanced around the room at all the familiar faces. A banner draped across the wall in the adjoining dining room proclaimed “Happy Retirement, John!” in big red letters. He looked around to locate Sally. She stepped toward him with her arms spread wide and hugged him, then gave him a quick peck on the mouth.
“Did we surprise you, sweetheart?” she whispered in his ear.
“What do you think?” He grinned awkwardly as he looked around the room.
Before John could say anything else, friends and neighbors flocked over and patted him on the shoulders, shook his hand, and some of the women kissed him on the cheek. He was at a loss for words. He didn’t enjoy being the center of attention. He mentioned to Sally on several occasions that he didn’t like surprises, especially on his birthday. Maybe he should have included retirement. Too late now.
He made his way past multi-colored helium balloons strung to chairs and the streamers made from newspapers that dangled from the ceiling in the dining room. In the middle of the table was a large white sheet cake designed to look like a news page with a large “Happy Retirement” in black icing on white across the top like a headline. Brightly wrapped gifts sat on the folding table. Other than accepting the well wishes from the attendees, John didn’t know what to say, think, or feel.
“Congratulations, Daddy!” John turned around and his daughter, Chloe, gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek. A moment later his son, Brody, a half-head taller and thirty pounds heavier, firmly shook his hand before giving him a bear hug that felt like air was squeezing from his lungs.
“This is a surprise,” John said, who could feel some tears coming on. Chloe had flown in from New York City, where she worked for one of the television networks as an assistant producer. Brody, a certified public accountant, was in from Chicago.
“We wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” Brody said with a beaming smile. “It’s not every day a person gets to retire. That officially makes you old.”
“Gee, thanks,” John said. “I guess that makes you my old son.”
“You deserve this, Daddy.” Chloe was teary-eyed, holding his hand. “Now you get to do what you want to do. And, by the way, you’re not that old.”
“Sometimes I feel that way,” said John, slightly rolling his shoulders up and down. “Now I have all the time in the world.”
“Or what’s left,” Brody said.
“Would you stop it, Brody?” Chloe gave him a nudge with her hand.
“Only kidding, sis!”
Before they could say any more, Sally announced to everyone that dinner was ready in the kitchen. On the counter, she had set up two large platters of finger sandwiches, a veggie tray, buffet-style bowls of potato salad, cole slaw, and chips and various dips, along with plates, silverware, and beverages. People began making their way to the food, filling their plates and going to the dining room, living room and den to eat and chat.
John wanted to escape to the bedroom, if only to rest for a few minutes and catch his breath, but he knew that wouldn’t be the sociable thing to do at a party given in his honor. He didn’t want to appear ungrateful to his family and friends. And he’d never hear the end of it from Sally.
The doorbell rang and Sally hurried to answer it. She returned a few seconds later with Clay Rawlings, who carried a large wrapped box with a big blue bow on top. Several other newspaper employees followed him including Eric Walsh, sports columnist Dan Easteridge, and metro editor Heidi Snow.
“You’re not getting away that easily,” Clay said in a booming voice that drew everyone’s attention. “Since you wouldn’t let us give you a party at the office, we’re bringing the party to you!”