I’m honored and tickled pink to present a short story today that was written in honor of my characters’ first wedding anniversary.
Fan Fiction of Raspberries and Vinegar by Paula McGrew
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“This is the best picnic ever, Zach. You packed all my favorites. Thanks, honey.”
“You’re welcome.” Face beaming and spirits high, Zachary Nemesek stroked the back of his wife, Josephine’s, hand as they picnicked at their favorite spot—the base of his childhood tree house, a place of great memories for them, one they came to often to get away and spend time together.
The picnic basket, previously packed with ethically-sourced food, was now empty, except for the small gift he’d kept hidden beneath the apples and carrot sticks, the goat cheese and homemade crackers, the kale chips and dark chocolate brownies.
“You deserve it, Jo,” he said, lifting his glass of raspberry vinegar in a toast. He’d mixed the sweetened red concentrate with sparkling water for an added celebratory fizziness. “Happy first anniversary.” He gently clinked his glass against hers. “To us.”
“To us,” Jo echoed and took a sip of her cold beverage. “Mmmm, this is so refreshing.” She set her empty glass down on the picnic blanket and entwined her fingers with his. “I can’t thank you enough for the plane tickets you bought so we can go to the Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins next month.” She shook her head slightly. “Can you believe it? We’ve been married for one whole year!”
“It is hard to believe,” Zach agreed. “The last twelve months were wonderful, and you’ve been the best part of them.” Giving her hand a tender squeeze, he smiled. “Going to the summer harvest potluck tonight with all our friends and neighbors will be another great way to celebrate too. Claire hinted that she’s surprising us with a special dessert.”
Living with Jo was a fun, rewarding adventure, and today needed to be as special for her as she was to him. She smiled, the late August sun filtering through the treetops causing the highlights in her dark brown braid to sparkle. He sobered momentarily, hoping she would be pleased when she opened the other gift he’d brought along.
“I have something to give you before we leave,” Jo said, rising to her feet. “Wait here. I have to go up there to get it.” She pointed to the tree house. “I hid it earlier today and want to give it to you before we head into Galena Landing. Be right back,” she said and climbed the rope ladder leading up to the tree house.
Making sure Jo wasn’t looking, Zach reached inside the picnic basket and pulled out the gift he’d stashed beneath the food containers. After marrying Josephine Shaw—his lively, lovable locavore—and working alongside her as husband and helpmeet, he was positive he’d found something she’d like. He’d planned everything down to the smallest detail, even stopping at their favorite romantic spot, his tree house—their tree house now—before attending tonight’s community potluck that went hand-in-hand with their sustainable lifestyle and focus on locally grown food.
Jo’s gift was hidden inside a bag made of recycled wrapping paper, and he’d purchased an anniversary card from a neighbor who made them from dryer lint, dried herbs and flowers, and sold them at a gift shop in town. Nestled alongside her present, he’d included six beeswax candles, which when lit, would remind them of summer and perfume the air with the sweet scent of honey.
“Eeek!” he heard Jo exclaim. Looking up, he saw her foot miss a rung on the ladder as she came down from the tree house.
Startled, he stood to his feet and caught her before she fell to the ground. “What’s wrong, honey? Are you okay?”
Eyes wide, Jo shuddered and clutched a large package close to her chest. “I’m fine. I just th-th-thought I saw a mouse run by, but now it’s gone,” she stammered, scanning the ground for a few seconds. She took a deep breath to steady herself and made a face before giving him a small smile. Despite the midday sun shining down on them, she shivered before handing him his gift. “Have I ever told you how much I love and appreciate you?”
“Maybe a time or two, but don’t hold back.” Zack grinned, taking the paper-wrapped package. Kissing the top of her head, he led her back to the picnic area. “You know, that mouse you saw reminds me of something.”
“What’s that?” Jo asked.
He winked at her. “How we met.”
The first time they met, Jo had accidentally flung a dustpan full of mice at him. On the day she and her two friends had arrived in Galena Landing, they had moved into an old, filthy, mouse-infested, dilapidated mobile home. He chuckled at the memory and envisioned her expression when she opened her gift.
Jo made a face at him. “Those mice—what despicable creatures! Sometimes I’d like to go back in time and re-do that introduction.” She visibly shuddered. “If I ever see another mouse again—even Mickey Mouse—it’ll be too soon for me.”
Zach put one hand on his chest as if wounded. “I was thinking of buying you tickets to Disneyland so you can visit Mickey and Minnie on your birthday.”
Jo’s eyes narrowed and she placed her hands on her hips. “You were not.”
Zach shook his head and playfully pulled the end of her braid. “I’m kidding, Jo.”
“Really?” She sounded relieved.
“Really,” he assured her, a smile tugging at his mouth. “I’m getting you a hamster instead.”
Jo lightly punched his arm. “You better not! I don’t need one more reminder of any horrible little rodents.” She spied the gift bag he’d placed beside the picnic basket. “Is that for me?”
Before she could reach it, Zach grabbed it and held fast, strangling the poor package with a white-knuckled grip. After hearing her comments about the mice, he wasn’t sure his gift was such a good idea, after all. He wasn’t sure she’d see the humor in her present. He wasn’t sure if he saw humor in it now, either.
His hopes disappearing like a vortex of water heading down the drain, he suggested, “Maybe you could open this another time. The folks setting up the tables and chairs for the potluck are probably needing our help about now anyway.” His excuse sounded lame, and he knew it.
If he stalled long enough, he might be able to divert her attention, get into town and be able to sneak away while she was distracted with getting ready for tonight’s gathering. Then he could buy her something else, something besides . . . well, besides what he’d bought her. Sighing, he realized he might have blown it, and on their first anniversary, no less.
“Don’t be silly, Zach.” Jo held out her hand and he reluctantly relinquished the gift. She settled herself back down on the blanket, and patted the spot beside her. “Come and sit with me.”
Jo had a rather serious nature, and he wanted her to find his gift as funny as he did. He watched her expression carefully as she pushed past the tissue paper and pulled out a picture book. She took one look at the cover and slowly turned the book over and over in her hands. Once, twice, three times. She finally met his gaze, silence hovering between them for the space of several heartbeats, and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Jo, I’m sorry. I–I–” I don’t know what to say. He wanted to say the right words, but momentary shock stole his voice. Why did I buy such a ridiculous gift?
Pulling her knees into her chest, Jo wrapped her arms around her legs, buried her head in her arms and . . . sobbed.
Zach ran his hands through his dark blond hair. Oh, man. Crying wasn’t the reaction he’d been hoping for.
“Jo, I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing her right shoulder in soothing circles. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just wanted to—”
“Why, you . . . you . . . you . . . rat!” she exclaimed, looking up at him and brushing the tears from her eyes. “This gift is p—p—p—” Her shoulders shook and she seemed to be struggling to catch her breath.
He didn’t want her to finish her sentence. She was going to say it was pathetic or pitiful or—
What?” That wasn’t what he’d expected her to say at all. “You mean you like it?”
Laughter bubbled up out of her. “Yes! This is perfect,” she said, looking at the cover of the children’s picture book, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies. “Absolutely perfect!”
His heart nearly stopped, he was so relieved. “But you’re crying . . . and you called me a rat.”
“That’s because this is so funny.” She wiped the moisture from her face. “I’m not crying because I’m unhappy. I’m crying because I’m laughing!”
He reached out a hand and brushed one more drop of moisture from her cheek. “I’ve been planning this for weeks. I wanted everything to be just right.”
Jo beamed. “You succeeded.” Eyes twinkling, she pushed a package toward him. “Now open yours, and you’ll see why I’m laughing.”
Dispensing with the wrapping paper and lifting the lid off the rectangular box, Zack found a small leather-bound scrapbook documenting their first year together. He ran his fingers tenderly over the embossed cover and the words “Our First Year.”
“Jo, all those pictures you’ve been taking – they’re in here?” he asked, touched by her thoughtful gesture.
She shrugged, a soft blush coloring her cheeks. “Not all of them, but quite a few.”
“I love it, Jo. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now keep going. There’s more inside that box.”
He pulled out the rest of the tissue paper and saw what rested at the bottom. Along with a quart-sized canning jar filled with his favorite chocolate chip cookie mix, was a picture book, similar to, yet different from, the one he’d given Jo.
Unable to contain his mirth, he laughed until he thought he’d cry. “Jo, this is classic!”
“The bookstore was all sold out of this one.” Jo tapped the cover of the book he’d given her. “So I bought you If You Give a Mouse a Cookie since I know how much you like them.”
“No, the cookies.” She playfully twitched her nose at him and then threw her arms around his neck. “I love you, Zach!”
“And I love you, Jo.”
She pulled away, putting a small distance between them and said sternly, “Now, it’s time to ’fess up.”
Zach’s eyebrows puckered, leaving furrow lines in his forehead. “’Fess up to what?”
“How did you know this would be the perfect gift to get me?” Jo asked, tapping the cover of her new book.
His lips curved into a smile, and he couldn’t resist paying homage to the tiny creature that first brought them together. “A little mouse told me.”
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Paula McGrew is a Christian wife, mother and author whose number one priority is serving Jesus Christ in every area of her life and letting her light shine for Him. Born in North Dakota and raised on the prairie, she is a farm girl at heart. She lives with her husband, Kevin, and their two sons, Graham and Soren, on a hobby farm in northeastern Minnesota. They provide a home to Pygmy goats, chickens, honey bees, and their hunting dog, an Italian Spinone named Pesto. In her free time, she enjoys writing, gardening, canning and baking from scratch, riding horse, scrapbooking, and spending time with family and friends.
She is the author of a children’s picture book, Poodles at Play, as well as a book written as a love letter from God titled, My Heart Beats for You. Both are available in e-book and paperback form.