Excerpt for Moonstone Book Four of the Precious Stone Series by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Book 4 of the Precious Stone Series

M. A. Silver

Copyright © 2018 by M. A. Silver

This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is coincidental.

All rights to reproduction of this work are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced to a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the permission of the copyright owner. Thank you for respecting the copyright.

For permission or information on foreign, audio or other rights, contact the author.

Want to know when the next book in this series will be released? Log into my face book page or go to my web page.

click the Precious Gems page

Cover Art by:


Jesse Gordon





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12



If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson (Proud to call this man my relative.)

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.

–Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

So many books, so little time.

–Frank Zappa

Thanks to all of you for reading.


What follows is information for entertainment purposes only and taken directly from several internet sites. It is not meant to provide any kind of medical advise. So, if you’re sick or have any of the malaise mentioned below, seek medical help. But maybe take a bit of the metaphysical to heart. I mean, what could it hurt? MAS

The milky radiance of this crystal represents tenderness, and is believed to bring lovers closer together. Moonstone is a magical stone that connects you to your divine feminine and inner Goddess. It helps unlock the energy of the Moon that resides within to keep one in a more balanced state.

Moonstone acts as a guide to help you do what’s necessary to become more balanced, healthy and in-sync.

Moonstone is said in crystal healing to help calm responses and stress, and avoid overreaction. It brings hope, enhances feminine energies, sensitivity, intuition, and psychic abilities. It is also said to bring strong energies of abundance to one's life.

Moonstone is a stone of protection, especially during childbirth, pregnancy, and travel at sea. It is a stone of calm and relief from emotional stress. It is also associated with love of all kinds.

Physically moonstone is used in crystal healing to aid the pituitary gland and digestive system, obesity, water retention, hormonal and menstrual problems.

Moonstone is also used as a stand in for pearl, when pearl is not available. Moonstone is associated with the crown and third eye chakras, and sometimes with the heart chakra.


The first Friday after the new year, Drew met the sisters in Mark Monroe’s office. Sara’s cast was due to come off and they would all have lunch after to celebrate.

After removing the cast, Dr. Monroe pronounced Sara’s leg healed. Or as healed as possible without physical therapy. Grabbing a wheel chair for Sara, the four made the trek from one building, to the main hospital building and to the cafeteria, where they met up with Lizzie Connor-Mackenzie.

The day before Christmas, Lizzie and Mack had followed Drew and Ruby’s example and with only Diana, Jake and Mack’s parents, who’d flown in for the ceremony present, tied the knot at the little church on Monterey.

The group pulled two tables together in order to have enough room to accommodate them all. Lizzie, as always greeted those around them, accepting congratulations on her wedding and baby. She made a point to stop at the one table, with only one occupant, to say hello. The morbidly obese young woman smiled at Lizzie and they talked for a moment before Lizzie rejoined the group.

“Mere doesn’t look well.” Lizzie speaking softly, leaned toward Mark Monroe, who looked at the woman as she pushed her bulk out of the chair.

“Well, what do you expect, Lizzie. She’s so heavy, she can barely walk. I know her doctor suggested gastric by-pass, but she hasn’t decided yet. I mean, she’s such a sweet woman and if she lost some weight, she’d be beautiful. It just isn’t healthy for her to be so heavy. But it’s like an alcoholic, Lizzie. When she’s ready… Oh Shit!”

Before he could finish, the young woman he was watching, rolled her left shoulder and as gracefully as possible for a two hundred plus pound, five foot two inch woman, slumped to the ground. Even in a hospital, in a room full of doctors and nurses, the scene was hectic. Drew and Mark got to the young woman first, with Mark trying to find a carotid pulse.

“Lizzie, A.E.D. On the wall. By the door.” One of the orderly’s heard and ran to get the Automated External Defibrillator positioned by each door and handed the case to Lizzie. Lizzie handed the case to Mark as Drew opened the buttons on the young woman’s blouse to start compressions. Security arrived and moved everyone back and out of the room to give the doctors room to work and young woman privacy.

Sara watched and fretted. She’d felt the young woman’s pain, even from this distance, when the pain in her chest exploded.

“Ruby, take me to her.” Sara turned pleading eyes to her sister.

“Sara, let them work on her. Everything will be alright. Drew and Mark know what their doing.”

“No! Ruby, you don’t understand. She wants to let go! We can’t let her go.” Sara turned pleading eyes to her sister. “I have to connect with her. Tell her there’s so much more.”

As the two doctors worked on the young woman, Ruby helped Sara to her feet and helped her hobble closer to the woman laying on the ground. Before they got to her, they heard the electronic voice of the AED telling everyone to stand clear. “Three… Two… One…” The sound of an electrical current caused the woman to jolt. Silence.

“Drew, help me, please. Let me touch her.” Sara pleaded with her brother in law.

“Sara, stay back. We’ll take care of her.” Drew knew what Ruby could do and after speaking with her about Sara, he was afraid for her. Her heart and capacity for giving could cause her such pain.

Sara heard the electronic voice telling everyone to stand clear again. Then the count down and jolt.

“Drew! Let me!” Sara begged, tears filling her golden eyes.

Mark felt for the carotid pulse, looked at Drew and shook his head. Drew rose and picked up Sara, then kneeling next to the downed woman, gently placed Sara next to her.

Sara looked back at Ruby, holding out her hand to her. Ruby came over and kneeled next to her sister. Sara gently laid her right hand over the young woman’s heart, grabbing her sister’s hand with her left. Ruby completed the circle by laying her hand next to Sara’s on Mere‘s chest. It seemed like hours, but was less than ninety seconds. Mere gasped and her body jerked. She rolled her head to the left away from the two women and vomited. Tears flowed from her eyes.

Two orderlies arrived with a gurney, and with the help of Drew and Mark Monroe, loaded the woman. Mark walked along as they took Mere to the emergency room, just down the corridor, to stabilize her and get her admitted to the hospital.

The small group standing around the three women would later say that when the sisters completed the circle and laid hands on Mere, the hair on every part of their bodies stood on end. Some would even swear that Sara’s hand, where it laid on Mere’s chest, glowed.

* * *

“Ruby? Would you take me to the hospital?” Sara had been so proud the day her sister came home with her drivers license. Drew had insisted on car shopping and Ruby had settled on a little VW Bug like Diana’s. Ruby knew that since that day, three days ago, that Sara had been concerned about the young woman who’d had the heart attack during their lunch.

“Sure, love. When do you want to go?”

“Can we go after lunch?”

Ruby nodded. “Yes, we can go after lunch.”

They arrived at the hospital and Drew met them at the nurses station desk on the third floor Cardiac Care Unit. He walked with them to the room and knocked lightly on the door. When they didn’t get a response, they stepped quietly into the double room and walked to the furthest bed, where Mere lay, feigning sleep.

“Hello Mere. How are you feeling today?” Drew asked when the younger woman finally turned her eyes towards them.

“Better, thank you, Dr. Mathews. Mere’s eyes went to the tiny woman, standing partly behind the handsome surgeon. She recognized her. She’d never met her before today, but she knew who she was. “Why did you do it?” she asked, confusion evident in her voice. “How did you do it?”

Sara never took her eyes off the woman in the bed. Ruby took Drew’s hand and led him from the room, giving the two women a bit of privacy.

“You’ve been though so much, Mere, and I know you didn’t want to go on. But there are so many beautiful things in this world. I could see those things for you. You have so much to give. You just needed someone to remind you of that. You have such a giving heart, Mere, but you have to be strong and keep your eyes open. There are those who would take advantage of your giving nature.” Sara told her softly as she pulled the chair closer to the bed. Gently, she laid her hands on Mere’s arm. “You’ve already earned your wings, Mere. But it wasn’t time for you to go.”

Mere looked at the child sitting next to her bed. Mere recognized her as an old soul. But she was so young and fresh, Mere felt old and work worn.

“No, Mere. You aren’t old, just tired. Let this be the rest you need before the coming fight. Build your strength, heal your heart and soul. You need to be strong for the journey ahead. Remember, Proverbs 11:14 - Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory” Mere knew she heard the words, but watching Sara, knew she hadn’t spoken. It was as before. When she knew she’d finally died and would find peace. It was the voice that come to her, drawing her back, telling her she wasn‘t done yet.

Chapter 1

“Okay, here we go.” Mere inhaled and opened the spiral note book, similar to the one she’d used in school.

Diary. Day 1: Dear diary. Oh my god. That sounds so corny. Maybe I should name you, Diary. Like Miss Frank did with her diary. Altho, I don’t think that my words will make anywhere near the impact on the world that hers did. But she and I do have some things in common. She, was trapped in an attic with her family. I, am trapped in my body. People hated her for her beliefs, people hate me because my body.

“Shit. Maybe this is why the shrink wanted me to write a diary. So I could see how pitiful I am.” Mere spoke aloud, as she read what she’d written so far. “Well, if I can’t be honest with this, then who can I be honest with?”

Okay, Diary, here we go. I have decided that I can lie to myself and those around me, but with you, I have to be totally honest. Let me start with my death, two weeks ago. Yes, my death. Dead, muerto, pushing up daisies, taking a dirt nap, bit the big weenie. DEAD! I was in the cafeteria at work when my chest exploded. Well, exploded might be a bit dramatic, but that’s what it felt like. I don’t remember much, except how I hated looking like an idiot as I dropped. Then, nothing. Well, nothing until a sweet voice told me I wasn’t done yet. I still had things to accomplish here. I think now about Luke 4:10 - for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU'. That’s what she was. His angel, come to guard and watch over me.

Anyway, I could see two of the most beautiful doctors in the hospital working on me. Even then, I just didn’t want to go on. It wasn’t until that voice that I realized what a coward I was being. I was giving up. And if nothing else, I have never been a coward and have never given up. I have a new resolve. It’s time I started living for me. They’re both gone now. And they wouldn’t want me moping around. They are together now and they are resting in the arms of the Lord. And no matter that I know I will see them one day, TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY!

Mere got up early the next morning, showered and pulled on a pair of old sweat pants and a 4x tee shirt. She grabbed the bottle of water out of the fridge, tapped her ‘Fit-Tracker’, grabbed her key and let herself out the door. She walked across the street to the elementary school, looking around. A very tall, lean man waved at her from the track and she slowly made her way towards him. The closer she got, the taller he got. Geez, he had to be close to seven feet! When she finally reached him, she was out of breath and panting. She popped open the top of the water bottle and took several gulps.

Meredith? Hi, I’m Tom.” He extended his hand and Mere took it, shaking the way her father taught her. Strong grip.

“Hi Tom. Most people call me Mere.” Geez, she could barely talk.

“Good to meet you Mere. Your cardiologist said you had a Myocardial infarction,” he looked at his notes, “two weeks ago?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

“And since then, he’s been monitoring you and figures you’re ready to start a little cardio rehab.”

Mere didn’t think that warranted a reply, so kept quiet.

“May I ask why you didn’t want to go through the hospital’s facility for the rehab?”

Mere exhaled. How could she explain her shame to this man. “I work at the hospital, Tom, and would prefer not having my personal life and struggles on display there. It was bad enough when I went over in the café.” God, she hated admitting that. “I also know most of the people because of my mother. She was in rehab after her valve replacement.”

“Okay, we can work with that. But at some point, if you continue with the program, we’re going to have to go find a gym for weight training and a track for the summers. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on this track in August when it hits 120 degrees.”

Mere sighed. The ‘if you continue with the program,’ bit pissed her off. Even if she didn’t continue with him, she would continue. This was her last chance.

“Well, there’s a gym where I live and they have everything from treadmills to weight machines and free weights. I thought about going last week, but… Well, truthfully, I was scared.”

Tom nodded. He knew, not from personal experience, but from doing this job for the last twenty years, that most people after a MI were afraid. Mere wasn’t the largest person he’d worked with, but was by far the youngest person to date. He just hoped she would stick with it.

“Okay, that’s good to know. But, let me warn you. You can’t over do it. I will work up a plan for you and I want you to stick with it. Even when you want to push, don’t. Please.” He tried to be as honest with his clients as he could be. “So, Mere. Let’s talk while we walk. We’re going to take it easy this morning. One time around, okay?”

Mere nodded and they slowly started walking. “So Mere, how much weight do you want to lose?”

Breathing in through her nose and out through pursed lips, Mere watched her feet. One in front of the other. One step at a time.

“One pound.”

She could tell by the way Tom missed a step that she’d surprised him.

“Just one pound. Then one… more… pound…” she could barely walk and talk, so Tom placed his hand on her arm and slowed her down.

“You should be able to talk easily when exercising Mere. If you can’t, dial it back. You’ll get there eventually. So, just one pound, huh?”

“You have to understand,” Mere slowed her walk, more to a crawl, before she continued, “If I think that I have to lose a hundred and fifty pounds, that seems insurmountable. But if I tell myself, ‘just one pound,’ that’s doable.”

Tom looked at the woman walking next to him. He admired her courage for at least starting this journey. Weather she would be able to continue and reach her goal, was another story. He hoped so. Even as heavy as she was, he could see she was a beautiful woman.

Diary. Day 2: Well, Diary, I walked today. And as tired as I am right now, and as much as my hips and knees are killing me, it felt good. According to my tracker I walked almost 5,500 steps. Yeah, I know. I should be walking 10,000, but what a great start! Tom agreed to meet me the day after tomorrow at the track again, but I will get up early and walk the track again tomorrow. Oh yeah. Weight today two hundred fifty five pounds. Geez, how did that happen?

* * *

Her alarm went off at 4 A.M. the next morning and Mere rolled out of bed, grabbed the cup of water she kept on her bedside table and took a gulp. She then made her way to the kitchen where she measured out two tablespoons of 2% milk, two packets of sugar substitute, into her cup and poured herself her coffee. She logged the entry, times two, and pulled her iPad towards her. She checked her mail, nothing but spam, then pulled up the games she loved to play. After a second cup of coffee, she pulled out four hard boiled eggs, cutting them in half, throwing away all but one half of a yolk. By the time she finished it was light enough, so she changed into her sweats and another tee shirt, grabbed her Shuffle, ear buds, water and key and walked out the door. She walked across the street and headed for the track.

She was half way around her first lap, enjoying the music coming through the ear buds connected to her Shuffle, when she became aware of the four men across the track from her. She put her head down and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, while surreptitiously watching the men stretch. One by one, they fell into an easy rhythm, jogging around the track, talking and laughing. When the first two went by her, she didn’t stop herself from admiring the easy way they ran. She didn’t stop herself from admiring their muscular torsos and firm backsides, either.

When the next two jogged by, she had to admit that they too had really nice butts. But when the one, stopped, jogging in place to look back at her, she wished that a hole would open and she’d drop through.

“Mere!” Mark Monroe smiled and greeted her. Jogging back to her, placing a hand on her arm, he fell into step with her.

“It’s good to see you, Mere. How are you feeling? When will you be coming back to work?”

When Dr. Monroe’s jogging partner turned, Mere saw that it was Dr. Mathews and really did wish she could fall into a hole.

“Thank you, Dr. Monroe, I’m doing well. Please, don’t let me keep you.” God he smell good. A hint of aftershave, mixed with manly perspiration. Who knew sweat could smell so good.

Drew Mathews jogged in place until they caught up with him. He smiled kindly at Mere asking her how she was feeling.

“Fine, Dr. Mathews, thank you. But don’t let me keep you. Please go on.” Drew nodded, looked at Mark, waved and took off, trying to catch up with the other two men further around the track.

Mark Monroe walked with Mere, waiting for her to answer his question. He’d always liked the younger woman. She’d worked at the hospital since he’d been there, her job as training coordinator had her dealing with pretty much every employee at one time or another. He’d never heard anyone say a bad word about her.

“Please, Dr. Monroe, go on. I’m fine.” She looked up at the handsome, popular physician and could feel the burn in her sinuses, a sure sign she was going to cry. She watched as the three men who’d come to jog, lapped her.

Mark saw the tears welling in Mere’s pale blue eyes and squeezed her arm again. Nodding, he turned and jogged to catch up with Drew, Jake and Mack.

* * *

“I’m telling you Drew, she was going to cry. It just about ripped my heart out.”

“Mark, I think she was embarrassed. I mean, the last time either of us really saw her, she’d just keeled over from a heart attack. I’d probably be embarrassed too.” Drew pointed his fork at his best friend. After finishing their run, the four men hit their favorite greasy spoon for breakfast. “She wasn’t expecting to see us this morning.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But I’ve always really liked her and would hate to think that when she comes back to the hospital, she’ll be uncomfortable around us.”

“So that was the young woman Lizzie told me about?” Mack asked, forking the perfectly cooked hash browns into his mouth, chewing with relish. “The one that Sara did her ‘thing’ on?”

“Did her ‘thing’ on? Geez, Mack, it wasn’t a ‘thing’. We shocked her twice, it just took her a moment to come round.” Mark told him.

“Not what Lizzie says. She said that you’d lost her and it was Sara and Ruby laying hands on her that brought her back.” Mack continued, knowing the two doctors would never admit it. But he’d seen a lot of things that defied logic, and while he might not totally believe, he did love to needle the two physicians.

Jake looked at the two doctors who’d become part of the rapidly growing group his wife seemed to collect. “You’re talking about Meredith Koonz?”

Mark wiped his mouth and grabbed another napkin from the holder. He swallowed the bite of egg and sausage and looked at the oldest member of their little group. “Yes, I think that’s her last name. How do you know her, Jake?”

“She and my wife go to the same church. I didn’t realize that’s who you were talking about. Twenty eight-ish, five foot two, brown hair about shoulder length? Extremely heavy?”

“Yes, that’s her.” Mark bristled at the last bit. Mere might be heavy, but still… The fat didn’t had the person inside. And Mark really liked her.

“Yeah, I know her. What a voice that woman’s got.” Jake continued.

“Yeah, I guess she has a nice voice.” Mark seemed a bit puzzled. Her voice was soft and sweet, but why would Jake bring that up.

“Nice? Mark, have you ever heard her sing?” Mark shook his head and Jake continued. “I don’t go to church often. Hell, I go when Diana drags me kicking and screaming, but we went for the Christmas program? The church normally has a five piece band, that plays and sings during services. But at Christmas, Mere got up and sang.” Jake shook his head. “I’m telling you, it gave me goose bumps. And if any of you repeat that,” Jake said, pointing to each with his knife, “I’ll make sure you get pulled over and ticketed daily for the next year.” Jake took another bite of his French toast chewing thoughtfully. “As a matter of fact, I’d go anytime I knew she’d be singing. She could go on any one of those TV show’s and beat the hell out of the competition.”

Mark looked over at Drew, who nodded in agreement. “She did, what four or five songs.” Drew continued where Jake had left off, “The church congregation wouldn’t let her go. She finished with “Oh Holy Night” and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. I think it’s still on the web-site for the church, if you don‘t believe us, watch it.”

After finishing breakfast, the men shook hands and agreed to meet at the track again, same time the next day.

Mark got into his car and drove home to shower and change before heading to the hospital. After his shower, he pulled out his lap top and Googled the church he knew Drew, Ruby and little Sara went to, found the web site and brought up the video of the Christmas concert. The first four songs Mere sang were up beat, positive, holiday tunes with a Christian rock flair and Mark found his foot tapping with the beat. But when Mere started her final song, Mark felt the hair at his nape and on his arms stand up. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Microphone in her left hand, right hand up, open faced to the crowd, eyes closed, Mere sang acapella. Jake was right. She’d blow away any competition.

Chapter 2

After finishing her walk, Mere let herself into her mobile home and stripped off the tee-shirt and sweat pants. Without looking in the floor to ceiling mirrors on her closet, she walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower and leaned against the faux marble counter waiting for the water to warm. God, she really hated this bathroom. Actually, she hated the entire mobile. But it was paid off, the ground rent was reasonable, rent controlled and close to most everything in the city. She wasn’t crazy about living across the street from the elementary school, but thank goodness it wasn’t the high school.

She tested the water and finding it close enough to the temp she wanted, she grabbed the hand rail with her right hand and left knee with her left, lifting it up and over the tub wall. She carefully lifted her right leg in and released the rail. Shampooing her hair, she closed her eyes and inhaled the herbal fragrance, before rinsing and pumping conditioner into her hand, massaging it into her scalp. She loved this shampoo and sighed at the thought of having to give it up. She’d learned to save money where she could over the last year. And the shampoo was a luxury she could do without. With no income coming in until she returned to work, she’d find other little ways to cut back.

After washing her body and rinsing off the soap, she climbed out of the shower/tub and grabbed the bath towel to dry off. She brushed and combed her hair, put on deodorant and brushed her teeth. Walking into the bedroom, she pulled up the top sheet on the bed, then walked to the dresser, pulling out panties, a bra and socks. She then walked to the closet, making a point to not look at herself. She knew she should. She should probably take a picture for a “before” reference. Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen.

After dressing, she went to her car, buckled up, back out of the car port and headed to the store. Her shopping list was greatly reduced, due to the list of no-no’s her cardiologist gave her, so that would help with expenses. She cranked up the radio and sang along, finger tapping on the steering wheel of her 1999 Galant. She pulled into the parking lot of “The Neighborhood Market”, locked the car and walked into the store. She waved to Vivian and several of the other checkers she knew, grabbed a cart and headed for the produce section. She grabbed several plastic bags and pick out her apples, bananas, spinach and others vegetables. She grabbed a container of low-fat vanilla flavored yogurt and added it to the cart. Continuing down the aisle, she picked up a pack of chicken breast and lean pork chops. Eggs, vanilla, coffee and other groceries rounded out her shopping list. She headed for the medicines and picked up a tube of muscle ointment. She had a feeling she was going to need it from now on.

She paid for her purchases and left the store, putting everything in the boxes in the truck of her car, so they didn‘t spill. She then climbed in and headed to the Alki-Bar to buy her weekly lottery tickets. She waved to the clerk, the son of the owner, and headed to the back aisle on auto pilot. She stood in front of the glass fronted freezer case holding the ice cream, her friends B & J calling to her, and she wondered how she’d gotten there. She turned around and headed back to the front.

“Hello Mr. Choi. How have you been?”

“Mere! MERE! Where you been? We look for you? You don’t come!” The little Asian owner of the store was talking so fast and lapsing into his native tongue that Mere could barely understand him. The younger man manning the register, spoke to the owner who was pointing at Mere and gesturing wildly.

“My father says you won.” Thomas, the young man said.

Mere looked at the older man who had a mega watt smile on his face. He was ringing and clapping his hands and nodding his head.

“I’m sorry? Won what?” The owner and his son talked for a moment and the son smiled, turned to Mere and said the one thing she never thought she’d hear.

“The Lottery! You won the big one!”

Mere smiled at the young man, waiting for the punch line. “Okay, and…?”

The younger Choi, looked at his father and shrugged his shoulders. Mr. Choi started speaking quickly while his son translated.

“My father says you come in weekly and buy tickets, yes? You came in between Christmas and New Year and bought several. After the drawing, the lottery board contacted pop and told him a winning ticket had been bought at this store.” The younger man continued, “The board gave him the time and date the ticket was purchased. Pop’s pulled up the security tapes,” he pointed to the camera over the counter, “and you were the only person who bought a ticket around that time.”

Mere still didn’t quite understand what the young man was telling her. “Okay, but how did the lottery board know that the ticket was purchased here?”

“Oh believe me, they keep track of all that stuff. Do you have the tickets you bought that day? Thomas asked.

Mere pulled out her wallet and opened the flap. Inside were more than a dozen tickets. She pulled them out and shrugged her shoulders. “I tend to forget to check them. I don’t throw them away for months.”

The son laughed. “Guess that’s a good thing. Come over here and we’ll scan them. Hopefully the winner is in this bunch. Or do you have more at home?”

“No, I think this is it.” Mere went through the tickets looking for the date in question. Hands shaking, she found the tickets she’d purchased and she walked to the scanner. She looked at the Choi’s, both with huge grins on their faces and couldn’t help but return their grins, yet strangely afraid to find out. She put the bar code into the machine and the red laser scanned and the machine beeped as the green digital message scrolled across the screen. “Please see lottery ticket agent, or call the California Lottery Office.”

“Oh my God! Are you serious?” Mere started to laugh. The Choi’s, father and son joined her and together they hugged. Mr. Choi talking, laughing and crying all at once.

“My father says thank you. He says, with the money the store will get from selling a winning ticket, he will be able to send me to college.”

“Oh my! What should I do? Do you know how much the prize was?”

“Well, the first thing you need to do is sign the back of the ticket. That way no one else can cash it. Then I think you need to talk to an attorney or money manager.” Thomas spoke to his father, his eyes going round at what his father replied. He turned to Mere with a stunned look on his face. “Father says that jack pot was twenty two million dollars!”

Three hours later, after putting her groceries away, Mere sat at her kitchen table looking at the lottery ticket that would change her life and thought about the voice of the young girl, Sara. Was this the “beautiful things in the world” she’d alluded to that day at the hospital? And if so, why would Mere need strength for the coming journey? This windfall would make her life so easy, wouldn’t it? Mere got up and went to her desk and pulled out the church directory. She didn’t know what to do, but she thought she knew who to call. She opened the book to the C’s and ran her finger down the page until she got to Diana’s name.

Mere picked up the phone and dialed. Diana Connor picked up on the third ring.

“Diana, this Meredith Koonz.”

“Mere! What a pleasure. How are you feeling, sweetheart?”

“I’m doing well, thanks.”

“We’ve missed you at church the last couple of weeks. Will you be coming back soon?”

“Yes, I should be there Sunday. And I’ve missed being there. But listen, Di, I didn’t call about church. I need some advice and I was wondering if we could get together and have a chat.”

“Sure Mere. We’re having a bar-b-que this weekend. Would you like to join us? Mack, Lizzie, Drew and Ruby will be here.”

Mere thought about it for a moment. She knew that Diana was a wonderful cook and also knew she needed to really watch her intake. “If you don’t mind Di, can I ask what you’ll be serving? I don’t mean to offend, and really hate to ask, but…”

Diana chuckled. “No, Mere, don’t be sorry and no offense taken. We have chicken breasts, green salad and vegetables. And if you want, I can not put anything on your chicken. A little salt and pepper be okay?”

Mere smiled. She’d loved Diana from the moment she’d met her. She and Mere had a lot in common. Both had given up a lot to take care of elderly parents. But where Diana’s parents had been comfortable, money wise, Mere’s parents had worked until the day they couldn’t work anymore and had lived from paycheck to paycheck.

“Thank you, Di. What time should I be there?”

“Come around 4:30 and we can talk while the guys do their manly thing at the grill.”

Mere chuckled. “Thank you, Diana. I’ll see you then.”

Diary. Day 3: Well Diary, what can I say? It has been one hell of a day! Let’s start this morning. Not only did I get up and walk, (very proud of myself for that) but I ran into Dr’s. Mathews and Monroe while doing it. I’m pretty sure the other two men with them were Diana and Lizzie’s husbands. It wouldn’t have been too bad, but Dr. Monroe recognized me and stopped. Total honesty with you Diary. That is one beautiful man. Those beautiful Persian blue eyes alone would be enough, but combined with that wavy sun streaked brown hair, and his butt? What can I tell you? Gold medal worthy. And not just his butt, he has a totally fine body. I could see the smattering of hair peaking out of his tank top. Well, what can I say? I do love men with hair on their chests! Yeah, like he’d look at me twice…

Well anyway, I thought I was going to have another heart attack. What I really wanted was to find a hole and crawl in it when he stopped. Instead I almost cried. I know he was just being kind, but shit! (Pardon the language dear diary). Anyway, after that, I didn’t think my morning could get any more eventful. Boy, was I wrong! Did my shopping and nothing unusual there. Then went to get my lottery tickets and guess what?! SCREAM!!!! Yeppers, hit the big one. I will have to let it sink in, but for right now, I don’t know what to do with the ticket. What if I lose it? Steps today 8897.

Weight this morning. 253. Just one more pound…”

* * *

Mere didn’t sleep well for the next three nights. She kept getting up and checking the ticket. Yes, it was there every time she checked, but she had to check anyway. She met Tom the following morning and again on Friday, hating each time she left the house for fear she’d get home and the ticket would magically no longer be in her purse. She’d even started hiding her purse, just in case. Good thing she would be going to Diana’s tonight.

Mere thought about what she would say. She’d watched enough of those shows about people winning big lottery‘s, only to lose it within a few years. Hopefully she could learn from their mistakes. She knew she could trust both Di and Lizzie to keep the secret that she‘d won. She’d known Lizzie since they had both been in nursing school. But where Lizzie had completed and gotten not only her RN, but her Masters, Mere had to drop out to take care of her father after his stroke.

It was during that time that Mere started putting on weight. After her father had passed away, Mere had gotten a job at “The Medical Center”, but hadn’t been able to afford to go back to complete her RN. Then, when her mother had started showing signs of Alzheimer's, Mere had been able to continue working until her mother had been close to the end. This was when she really put on a lot of weight. She’d taken Family Leave, when she’d had to have her mother put on hospice, until her mother passed away three months later. She’d then gone back to work. She’d been back to work three weeks before she’d had her heart attack.

At four o‘clock, Mere grabbed her purse, checking to make she had the ticket, got into her car and drove to the Connor residence. She pulled into the drive and looked at all the cars. Diana had mentioned Lizzie and her husband would be joining them along with Dr. Mathews and his wife. But there seemed to be a couple of extra cars. Well, maybe everyone drove separately. Mere walked up to the door and knocked. She heard someone call to come in and Mere opened the door and entered the beautiful home. She’d only been here once before for a church committee meeting and headed for the dining area. Diana and Lizzie came out of the open kitchen, to greet her, Diana hugging Mere, whispering in her ear how glad she was to see her. Lizzie stepped up and hugged Mere, Lizzie’s five month baby belly bumping Mere. Lizzie then turned and introduced the beautiful, small red-headed woman.

“Mere, I don’t know if you remember Drew’s wife, Ruby?” When Mere extended her hand, the young woman stepped forward and embraced her. Mere could feel warmth radiate though her body when the young woman made contact. Pulling back, Mere looked closer at the Ruby.

“You were there. I remember, now.” Mere said softly.

Ruby smiled and nodded. “And I’m glad we were. I would ask how your feeling, but I can tell you are doing very well. I’m very happy for you. And I know Sara will be pleased to hear your doing better.”

“Sara? How is she? Is she here?”

“No, she started school recently and is actually at a study group tonight. She’s so happy to be able to meet people her own age. We didn’t have the heart to make her miss hanging out with her new friends.”

Mere wasn’t sure if she was happy about that or not. Sara had visited her several times while she’d been in the hospital, and truthfully, Mere wasn’t sure what to make of the thirteen year old.

“Come sit, Mere. What would you like to drink?” Diana drew Mere towards the dining table that was set for eight. “We are all having Jamaica.”

“That would be nice, thank you.”

“So, what did you want to talk about Mere? I’ve had all these thought going through my head. Please don’t tell me your moving? I‘m not sure what we‘d do at the church without you.”

Mere smiled. “No, I’m not moving. But I do need your advice.” Before she could say more, she heard a door open and close in the back of the house and the sound of male voices getting close. The smell of bar-b-que wafted though the house and Mere felt her mouth water. She’d tried to eat light at lunch, knowing she was coming tonight. Eat? What a joke, she thought. She made a smoothie with spinach, celery, cucumbers, flax and ice.

Jake came down the hallway followed by Mack and Drew Mathews. Bringing up the rear was Mark Monroe. All the men greeted Mere, Mack and Jake hugging her and kissing her gently on the cheeks. Drew nodded and asked her how she was feeling. She smiled at him as he stood next to his wife, kissing her on the cheek and placing his hand on her belly. It was then Mere noticed the very slight bump. Her smile widened. Mark Monroe walked to her and surprised her by taking her hand, kissing her gently on the cheek. The action wasn’t missed by the six pair of eyes.

“How are you Mere?” Mark asked softly, looking into her baby blue eyes.

“I’m doing much better, Dr. Monroe, thank you.”

“Mark, please. We’ve known each other long enough, I think, that you can call me by my given name.”

Mere looked at him, smiled shyly and nodded. “Thank you, Mark.”

“So, we need to let the chicken sit for a moment, but if everyone will take their seats, we can start passing the rest of the food.” Diana, indicated where Mere should sit and Mark pulled out her chair and took the seat next to her. Lizzie took the seat on the other side of Mere, her husband across the table and Drew and Ruby next to him. As everyone settled, drinks were refilled, then a platter with grilled vegetables and green salad was set next to Jake.

Diana held her hands out and one by one, everyone took the hand next to them for grace.

“Bless this food to our use, and us to they service, Lord. Bless all our family, where ever they might be. Amen”

Then the chicken was brought out and started around the table. Mere filled her plate with the vegetables and salad then passed the bowls. Mark Monroe held the platter while Mere looked for the smallest breast. She picked up a chicken breast and placed it on her plate, thanking Mark, then took the platter and passed it to Lizzie. When everyone was served, conversation drifted to everyday things. The women talking about babies while the men talked sports and local government. Mere watched the dynamic around the table. Being an only child, she’d rarely experienced what this group seemed to find so comfortable.

Mark watched the woman sitting next to him. She smiled and answered quietly when asked a question, but seemed content to sit, smiling and watch the people around the table. She was very deliberate about the way she ate, and Mark was fascinated watching her. She cut the chicken breast in half and moved part of it over to the side of the plate. With every bite, she would put her fork down, then chew. Swallow. Drink water. Pick up her fork, take a bite, chew, swallow, water. He knew what she was doing and silently applauded her.

When everyone had eaten their fill, dishes were cleared and coffee was poured for those who wanted it. Finally, Diana turned her focus to Mere.

“Okay, Mere. You have our undivided attention. What advice do you need.”

Mere looked around the table. These people, she felt, would keep her secret if she asked. But she was still a little hesitant.

“I find that I’ve come into a bit of money. And frankly, I‘ve never really had or needed much. So I don‘t quite know what to do?”

Mack looked at her. He didn’t know Mere well, but he could sense her hesitancy. “Mere, if you feel uncomfortable talking about this with all of us her, you can do it another time.”

“No, Mack, I know that if I ask you all to promise, to not let this go any further, you won’t. So I will asked you. Please, what I say here at this table, can’t leave this house.” Mere looked around the table. Each person nodded. She looked at the man sitting next to her. Mark shifted towards her and placed his arm around the back of her chair.

“I won’t tell. It goes against the Hippocratic oath.”

Mere smiled and nudged him with her elbow. “This isn’t a medical thing, Doctor. But I guess I’ll take that.”

“Okay, Mere,” Mack asked, “what are we talking about here?”

“Well, it’s sort of a settlement. I‘m not exactly sure how much it is, right now. Which is why I need advice.” Looking around the table, Mere could see the confusion on many of the faces. Mack looked at Jake, who smiled. Mack looked back at Mere his laser blue eyes bored into her.

“You won the lottery, didn’t you Mere?”

Mere looked at Mack and nodded.

Diana shrieked and Lizzie let out a holler! Both women jumped out of their chairs, pulling Mere from hers and hugged her, talking and laughing excitedly.

Drew Mathews looked at her wife, sitting serenely beside him, smiling gently. “You knew didn‘t you, love?” Drew kissed his wife on the nose. Ruby smiled and put her index finger against her lips. “No tell.”

When Diana and Lizzie finished hugging Mere and they were once again all sitting, Mere looked at Mark Monroe. He had a thoughtful look on his face, and Mere couldn’t read what he was thinking.

“So, Mere, what do you want to do?” Mack asked.

Mere sighed. “That’s the whole problem. I’m not sure, Mack. I know I don’t want to quit my job at the at the hospital. That’s why I need advice. I haven’t even contacted the Lottery Board yet. I’ve seen those programs where people just dive in and start spending. Then, in five year’s, they’re broke. I don’t want that to happen.”

For the next several hours, the seven discussed options. Mark Monroe was strangely silent during the discussion. Since Ruby had a similar experience recently, Mack suggested Mere might want to talk to an attorney, set up a trust and have the trust claim the money on her behalf. That way, unless someone really dug, they wouldn’t know who’d claimed the money. Diana suggested that Mack might be able to help Mere once the trust claimed the money. Help her with financial planning. Mere agreed and Mack said he’d draw up a contract and after they met with an attorney, they’d start.

Around nine, Mack stood and gathered Lizzie in his arms. “Well, little mama is tried, so thank you Diana for the wonderful dinner, and thank you all for the wonderful company. Mere, it couldn’t have happened to a better person. I’ll be in contact soon.”

Drew and Ruby left shortly after, also thanking Diana and Jake. Mark and Mere also expressed their thanks, and Mark placed his hand on Mere’s back as he escorted her to her car. Before opening the door, he leaned forward and placed a gently kiss on Mere’s cheek.

“Mack’s right, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. I’m happy for you Mere.” He kissed her lips gently, then opened her door and helped her into her car. “Drive carefully.”

Diana and Jake watched from the front door as Mark watched Mere’s car exit the driveway and turn left. Diana walked out and put her hand on Mark’s arms. Mark looked down at the woman who had taken him into the extended family, simply because he was a friend of Drew’s, who was a friend of Lizzie‘s. Well, that and the fact that he’d saved Mack’s life when he’d been shot.

“She’s a remarkable woman, Mark. Her story isn’t mine to tell, but know that she has such a capacity for love and giving. When you get to know her, really know her, you will see the beauty.”

Mark leaned down and kissed Diana on the cheek. “She’s not the only remarkable woman, Diana. And, I already see the beauty. But now, will she know it is her I‘m interested in, or will she think it‘s the money.”

“Well, start with being her friend, Mark. Let her get to know the man I’m coming to know. The rest will follow. Just give it time.”

Chapter 3

Diary. Day 15: Well, Diary, today was my first check up with my cardiologist since starting my new regimen. He said all in all, things are looking good. I have to go back in two weeks and he’ll tell me if I can go back to work. Mark Monroe was in the office as I was leaving and asked me if I would have lunch with him. I didn’t know what to say, so I made up some stupid excuse and ran (okay, didn’t really run) out the door. He’s a nice guy, but I can’t help thinking he only asked me to lunch out of pity, or even worse because I won the you-know-what. I’ve seen him the last week, since the dinner at Diana’s and he always stops to ask me how I’m doing and walks along with me if Tom isn‘t with me. I do enjoy his company. I didn’t realize what a wicked sense of humor he has. Weight today, 245. Ten pounds down! Yeehaw! Just one more pound.

* * *

“I saw Mere yesterday after her appointment. She seems to be doing well.” Mark threw the basketball to Drew who threw it back. Mark fainted right, then took off to the left, charging the basket. Before he got to the key, Mack stepped in front of him and Mark passed the ball to Jake. Jake did a neat lay up, sinking the ball into the hoop. “20 to 20. Next basket wins.” Mack passed the ball to Drew who threw it to Mark who passed it back and Drew fainted right, left and catching Mark flat footed, went right and passed the ball to Mack, who stopped at the head of the key and landed the jump shot. Drew and Mack high fived each other, did some sort of victory dance then thumbed their noses at Mark and Jake. Mark, bent at the waist, flipped the two men the bird, then turned to Jake.

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