Here is Chapter 1 of my new novel. If it whets your appetite, you can pre-order it at Amazon. Those who pre-order The Upside of Down by November 18, 2010 can be entered into a drawing for a $50.00 gift certificate from Amazon. Details for the contest are here.
Natalie unlocked the front door to let Spence into the house. He stepped into the entryway, his sandy hair windswept, and Natalie attempted to smooth it back into place. Spence pulled her into a hug and then gently kissed her.
“Daddy!” Mariah squealed. She and Bradley both rushed their father, pushing Natalie out of the way.
Spence embraced Mariah and then picked up a giggling Bradley. “How’s my little man?”
Bradley let out a few more giggles. Spence set him down, and he ran off down the hallway.
“Hi, Dad,” Justin said when he rounded the corner from the living room. He gave his dad a hug, his light brown hair peeking out from under his Arizona Diamondbacks baseball cap, reminding Natalie he was due for a haircut.
“Something sure smells good. What’s for dinner?” Spence said as he and Natalie walked into the kitchen while Justin and Mariah trailed in behind them.
“Lasagna,” Natalie said.
“My favorite,” he said with the familiar sparkle in his pale blue eyes. He leaned against the beige-tiled countertop in the kitchen.
“Every dinner is your favorite, Daddy,” Mariah said. She was wear¬ing a pink tutu and a glittering crown.
“Are you a ballerina today?”
Mariah placed her hands on her hips. “No, Daddy, I’m a princess.”
“Oh, I see.”
She smiled and turned abruptly, her long braid whipping around her head as she ran off after Bradley.
“Has Ryan fed the animals?” Spence asked.
“He’s not home from practice yet, but he should be here in a few minutes. The Kings picked him up tonight. Andrea called and said she’d be home soon too.” Natalie opened the oven door to check the lasagna. The blast of hot, garlic-spiked air made her blink. She pulled the lasagna out and set it on top of the stove. “Dinner’s almost ready. Time to set the table.”
“I think I need another kiss.” Spence swept Natalie into his arms and gave her a long kiss.
“Eewww. That’s so disgusting,” Laura said from the dining room table. “Do you have to do that? I’m trying to do my homework.” She shook her head, and her dirty-blonde hair fell around her shoulders.
“You have one hot mama,” Spence said. He gave Natalie another squeeze. She enjoyed his playful, romantic side. Even more, she enjoyed Laura’s protests.
Laura overacted a dry-heaving motion. “You’re so embarrassing. The kids at school don’t even act like you two.”
“Aren’t you glad we love each other so much? You wouldn’t be here otherwise.” Natalie moved her eyebrows up and down.
“Okay, that’s gross. No more details.”
“What’s gross?” Justin asked, sitting at the table.
Laura rolled her blue-green eyes. “Nevermind.” She gathered up her books and headed down the stairs to her bedroom.
“Dinner is in five minutes,” Natalie called after her.
“How was your day?” Spence asked.
“The doctor’s office was incredibly fun, as usual. We waited for a long time. Bradley rolled all over the floor, went through all the draw¬ers, and then climbed up and jumped off the examining table. How such a cherubic-looking child can be so mischievous is beyond me.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help. I had one meeting after another and couldn’t get away this morning.”
“No worries. Both the kids got their immunizations.” Natalie tossed the salad inside a large red bowl. “Why so many meetings?”
“Discussions about some new legislation and how it may impact the company.” Spence reached over and grabbed a cookie from the cup¬board.
“Should we worry about your job?”
“I don’t think so.” He snatched another cookie.
Natalie gave him a look. “You can’t snack on cookies when dinner’s ready. You’re as bad as the kids.” She turned to Justin, who was still sit¬ting at the table, absorbed in playing his Nintendo DS, an extravagant gift from her mother. “Go wash up for dinner and tell the other kids it’s ready.”
“Huh?” Justin didn’t look up from his game.
“Justin,” she said in a loud voice.
“I’m going to take that thing away.” She took a few steps toward him, intent on taking the handheld device and disposing of it. She dis¬liked Justin’s obsession with it, and she was still angry with her mother for giving it to him against her wishes.
“Okay, okay, I’ll turn it off.” He slipped it into his pocket.
“I better not see it the rest of the night. Now, go wash your hands and tell the other kids that dinner’s ready.”
Justin scurried out of the room.
“How was the rest of your day?” Spence asked.
“I took Bradley and Mariah to lunch and witnessed a disturbing scene that hasn’t left me. A young man treated his wife and his little daughter with such contempt. He was downright mean to them.”
Natalie grabbed some bottles of salad dressing from the refrigerator. “His little girl had Down syndrome, and he was calling her names. It broke my heart. His poor wife seemed so scared.” She placed the bottles on the counter.
“Did you say anything?”
Natalie nodded. “He told me it was none of my business, among other things.” Reliving the experience brought back the fear she’d experienced at the restaurant. “I can’t seem to get it out of my head. I don’t know why it’s affected me so much.”
“Because you’re a compassionate and caring person. That’s one of the reasons why I love you so much.” Spence ran his finger along her cheek.
“Even after all these years? With all of my gray hairs?”
“If I didn’t pluck them all out, there’d be plenty.”
“You’re as beautiful today as you were twenty-three years ago.”
Beautiful wasn’t how she’d describe herself. Exhausted, bedraggled, wrinkly, frumpy—those were much more descriptive terms. “I think you need your eyes checked.”
“You are. And I love you.” He squeezed her around the waist.
“I love you too.”
The front door opened, and Natalie’s tall, lean son, Ryan, walked into the kitchen. He dropped his backpack with a thud. “Yes! I love lasagna.”
“Hurry and wash your hands for dinner,” Natalie said.
Ryan returned from the bathroom, and the rest of the kids filed into the dining room. After the usual argument of who would sit next to Natalie, Bradley said the blessing, as he did for nearly every meal. Everyone began eating.
“How was soccer today, Ryan?” Spence asked.
“Good. Coach says I’ll probably be a starter for the next game.” He piled lasagna on his plate and then reached for a piece of garlic bread.
“You’ll need to feed the animals after dinner. Be sure to take the slop out to the pigs and check on the horses’ water,” Spence said.
The front door flew open. Andrea shouted from the entryway, “Sorry I’m late. I had to stay longer than I thought. Mmmm, smells de-lish.”
Andrea found her seat at the table.
“How was school?” Natalie asked.
“Interesting,” Andrea said.
“Must be about that guy,” Laura said with a smirk that exposed her braces.
Andrea’s blue-gray eyes lit up, and a smile appeared her face.
“What’s this?” Natalie asked.
“His name is Tristan. He’s Ali’s cousin. He’s living with them until he finds an apartment, and he’s going to San Juan College,” Andrea said.
“We’re on student council together. I’ve talked about her before.” Andrea flipped her long auburn hair behind her shoulder.
“What about this boy?” Spence asked.
“Dark, thick hair and green eyes. He’s from Grants, and he’s almost twenty-one. I wish he’d ask me out,” Andrea said.
“Is he a member of the Church?” Natalie handed the bowl of salad to Justin.
“No, but there’s no one to date from our ward. It’d only be for fun. Stop worrying. I’m sure he’ll never ask me out, anyway.”
After dinner, according to the job chart, Laura cleared the table, Justin unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, and Ryan wiped down the table.
Natalie grabbed hold of Bradley. “I think you wore more of your dinner than anything. How about a bath?”
Natalie and Bradley ascended the stairs together, one step at a time. They walked into the bathroom, and Natalie laid Bradley on the dark green bathroom rug to remove his diaper. “Remember, potty in the diaper? No, no.” Natalie shook her head. “Potty in the toilet? Yes, yes.” She nodded. “Let’s make a deal. I’ll pay you one million dollars if you potty train. How does that sound?”
Bradley nodded, his blond waves bobbing. “Potty in toilet.”
“That’s right.” Natalie finished filling the tub and was placing Brad¬ley in the mound of bubbles when the phone rang.
Be sure to check back Monday for the next installment . . .