Jenna inhaled deeply, allowing crisp fall air to invade her body. Feeling a nip of winter creep through the open window, she pulled the plush blanket higher around her baby’s shoulders. Jenna loved the precious time spent rocking her child to sleep while he snuggled into her breast. At these moments, she felt the most connected to her only love. She also missed him the most vividly.
Running her fingertips over Aaron’s tiny head, Jenna studied the perfect little features, so like his father’s. Daniel had never tried to conceal the pride he felt whenever someone mentioned how much his son resembled him. He considered the child his greatest work of art, and his most important. Jenna’s husband had been many things, but humble was never one of them. She couldn’t help a grin at recalling his admission that he was a very good-looking guy. And he really was, or had been. Even after he got sick and lost too much weight, his features had still been perfect and his eyes absolutely beautiful.
She snuggled her baby closer and returned her gaze to beyond the window. The view from their loft was breathtaking at this time of the year, with hundreds of maple trees along the banks of the Illinois River boasting their shades of red and yellow and green and brown. The Spirit of Peoria, a reproduction of the beloved old riverboats, often sailed by with passengers walking the decks or standing at the rails. Six years earlier, Jenna and Daniel watched the Julia Belle Swain together whenever they caught it floating along the river. Once, covered only with a sheet pulled from their bed, they had stood before the large window and talked of taking the short cruise on the old paddle-wheel. Some day.
“Some day” had never come. Neither had so many other days they planned. Their time together centered around his painting, but then, he told her to expect that. She hadn’t argued when he refused to go out because he was working or when she had to go to bed alone. She had been warned and willingly accepted his terms. The naivete of youth, Jenna mused. Now, there was no later for them. The Julia Belle and Daniel were both gone.
His baby stirred in her arms and Jenna coerced herself to rise slowly, moving across the loft to settle Aaron in his crib. Convinced he was still slumbering, she wandered into the kitchen to pour a cup of mint tea, a habit she had developed while carrying her first child. Daniel’s mother suggested it might help settle her stomach and it seemed to work. Even well after the morning sickness was gone, Jenna continued the routine and joked with her husband that maybe he should try it as well, to calm his nerves. He didn’t like mint tea. He didn’t like boats either, except at a distance. Alan once said Daniel’s work was the only interest they shared. Jenna quickly pointed out her advanced pregnancy proved him wrong. Her friend hadn’t been amused.
Finishing Touches was my first published novel from 2003. This one is set in my home area of Peoria Illinois, with jaunts into Chicago. It features the Illinois River and her riverboats, the trees Jenna loves, the Glen Oak Zoo, Illinois Central College, the architecture tour in Chicago, the Loop area, and the Lakeshore Drive, plus a few other places along the way.
Jenna is a very young widow with a new baby who has never figured out her own path as her mother tries to plan it for her and then her husband’s art career takes over. Left on her own, she begins to again dabble in her own artwork, letting it be both therapy and a guide to a new start.
“Jenna, I never disliked Daniel.”
“Then why did you stop coming over?”
“Because he didn’t want me here.”
“I wanted you here.”
“You could have come over any time. Cheryl loves visiting with you. You didn’t have to isolate yourself because Daniel wanted to be isolated.”
“He didn’t want to be isolated, he just…”
“Wanted to be left alone to work. I know, but he did isolate you. You always had a bunch of friends in school you never see anymore. Have you even talked with Karla recently?”
She shook her head. He was right. She missed running around with her cousin and chatting about anything and everything.
“I didn’t dislike him; I just didn’t like what he was doing to you.”
“It was my choice and I loved being with him.”
“But you lost yourself….”
“No. Alan, I found myself with Daniel. I was lost before him and I’m even more lost without him now.”
He began to argue but decided against it. “Jen, come spend the day with us.”
With the happy couple and their three kids? “No, thank you. I don’t really feel like going out.”
“Maybe not, but you need to. There’s a new art exhibition at Lakeview. Why don’t we go see it?”
“No. Alan, I can’t…”
“Okay, what about the zoo? The kids have been bugging us to take them again…”
“Then you should do that. We’re fine right here.”
Finishing Touches is free as an ebook download currently. Find it at Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, BN.com, Diesel, and iTunes.
It’s also the inspiration for a coming young adult novel filled with art and sketches, plus, a sequel to the original novel, expected in 2013.
The baby gasped as the light breeze hit his mouth and Jenna turned his head into her shoulder, running a hand over his shiny dark hair. She stepped closer to the sign, touching her fingers to the coolness of the stone. The sensation triggered memories of her bare legs resting on top of the granite while Daniel carefully but quickly captured the scene with his charcoal stick. He always sketched in charcoal. He said he could get more life in a charcoal sketch than in a pencil sketch.
The leg lying against the stone had taken a while to get warm again, the other propped up so only the bottom of her foot was cold. Daniel asked her to remove her sandals because it was more natural and fitting for a zoo sign. He was the one to convince her that true art was more felt than learned. It had to come from deep within the soul.
[Special thanks to my sister and niece for the photos of Glen Oak Zoo, The Spirit of Peoria, and Illinois Central College]