Excerpts from SWIMPLES


Stella regarded the sad expression on the dog’s face, especially the pitiful, soulful look in his dark brown eyes. With a heavy heart, she agreed. “All right. I'm coming.” Leaning forward, she took Oro's face between her hands and gently waggled it from side to side. “You be a good boy, you hear me, Oro? Mommy's going to call Auntie Amelia every night to see how you're doing. I'll talk to you on the phone when I do. It's just six days, old man. I'll see you again before you know it.”

Getting up from the bed, she grabbed her backpack purse and hurried out of the bedroom. She heard Oro trotting after them, but didn't dare look back. She was fighting tears as it was, and she'd already learned how empathic the animal was to the feelings of others.


Ava glanced over at where her daughter was checking around the campsite, apparently searching for the missing article. No. Where did you have it last?”

“Over on the picnic table.” Franny pointed in that direction.

Ava turned around in her lounge chair to see for herself. “What were you doing bringing your hairbrush outside of the RV?”

“Well, geesh, Mom. Is there a law that says a girl can't brush her hair outside?”Franny asked in that tone Ava was very familiar with. Although she couldn't see her doing it, Ava was pretty sure there was an eye roll included with the remark. Such was life with a teenager.

“Maybe you just thought you'd left it on the picnic table. Have you checked everywhere? What about the RV, just in case you took it back inside?”

There was an exasperated grunt, followed by the sound of her daughter returning to the camper. Instead of returning to the romance novel she was reading, Ava waited for the inevitable answer. It didn't take long.

“It's not in here!” Franny called out from the doorway.


“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” she called out.


Maybe it was his wallet.

Her gaze shot over to the top of the dresser where he normally unloaded it and his spare change every night before taking his shower and going to bed. The familiar brown cowhide duo-fold was there. Knowing she’d seen him look directly at it when he’d been in the bedroom, she deduced it couldn’t be his wallet he was seeking.

“What’s left to lose?” she murmured.



After a quick debate about whether to make hot chocolate from scratch, or to go with a powdered mix, she went with the mix. That way the girls could make themselves some without the hassle. Gazing at the picture on the cover of the box, she noticed the miniature marshmallows floating temptingly in the mug.

“Oh, yeah. Gotta get some marshmallows. A good cup of hot chocolate isn't complete without marshmallows.” She smiled to see someone at the supermarket had wisely placed bags of the confection next to the boxes of mix. “Should I get the little ones or the big ones?” The choice was easy. “The little ones. They melt faster,” she told herself, grabbing a sack. After picking up a sheet of poster board and a bottle of glue from the school supplies aisle, she went through the self-checkout. By the time she arrived at the house, she could already feel the first tangible drop in the temperature. Chelsea paused momentarily to breathe in the scent of fallen leaves before entering the house.


She looked down at the money. They hadn’t been left there by accident, as if a technician had been checking out her computer station after she’d left yesterday to go home. She envisioned the man reaching into his pocket for his keys or something, and extracting the coins along with whatever he was seeking. Then forgetting to scoop up the money before he left.

No, these three coins were sitting in a deliberate row, all nice and neat and tidy. And in order of denomination, too.

Dime, nickel, penny.

"Who thought I needed sixteen cents?” she murmured.


They continued on with their day, but every so often they’d check to see if the Caddy was still there. He was when Bess went to retrieve the mail. He was when Sid took Elmer for his daily walk. He was when Sid went outside to place and turn on the water sprinkler, and when it was time to turn the sprinkler off.

He was gone when Sid dragged the trash can to the curb for pick-up the next day.

“I think he gave up and went home.”

“Think he’ll be back?” Bess inquired.

He shrugged. “No telling.”

“What if he does?”

“Hey, as long as he doesn’t bother us directly, I’m good. Don’t worry about it.”

Nothing more was said about the stranger in the green Caddy, but Bess double-checked out the window when it was time to go to bed, just for her peace of mind.

The car wasn’t there.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t shake the feeling that they were still being observed. Maybe the guy had parked in a different location. Heck, with those binoculars, he could be anywhere.