Love, Lies, and Pumpkin Pies: A Short Story

Matthew Campbell leaned over the chain-link fence he shared with Ramona Stocks and said, “Ah, don’t you just love these crisp October mornings?”

“I do,” Ramona replied as she tugged her summer flowers out of the soil. The first frost had arrived and done them in. She didn’t mind, though. Ramona possessed an infinite amount of patience, and so the endless planting and replacing of flowers each season did not bother her. “In fact,” she resumed, “fall is my favorite time of the year.”

“Mine, too,” Matthew agreed. His hands clasped together and hung over the fence, just a few feet from Ramona’s head as she toiled in her flowerbed. He twisted his wedding band around his finger—something he’d started doing after his wife passed away many years ago. “Whenever the leaves start changing and a chill enters the air, I always think about my mom’s cooking. Dad mostly grilled our meals in the summer time, so fall meant Mom was back on the job.”

Ramona smiled. 

She’d been a high school science teacher, and because she’d given every ounce of time she had to her profession, remained single. She enjoyed retirement, and as she glanced up at Matthew, thought perhaps it was the right time to finally start dating.

She moved into the house next to Matthew two years ago after occupying an apartment for most of her adult life. Renovating it was something she did for amusement, and gardening quickly became a passion for her, too. It also gave her an excuse to chat with Matthew, who never failed to appear when she was outdoors.

“Was your mother a good cook?” Ramona asked after pulling out the last of her impatiens.

“The best,” Matthew answered. “She kept my brother and me plenty fed, let me tell you.”

Ramona stood and removed her gardening gloves. “I bet she could bake well, too.”

“Oh, yes.”

Sensing an opportunity, Ramona said, “Well, baking is something I’ve been meaning to take up. What’s your favorite treat?”

Also sensing an opportunity, Matthew wasted no time in answering, “Pumpkin pie, without a doubt. Mom’s were to die for, but I’ve never found one quite like hers.”

Ramona patted away the dirt on her knees while asking, “Maybe I could practice by baking you a few? You could sample them and then offer some advice on how to make one like your mom’s. Once I get it right, I’m sure I’ll start winning contests in no time.”

Matthew adjusted his cap, grinned, and said, “Why, it’d be my pleasure, Ramona. You just bring those pies over whenever you like.”

Two days later, Matthew’s doorbell rang. When he opened it, there stood Ramona with a fresh pumpkin pie. She beamed when she saw him lick his lips.

He practically sang, “Let me put on some coffee.”

Once the coffee brewed, they both sat down at his kitchen table. “Some people put whip cream on their pumpkin pie, but not me,” he informed. “I appreciate it for what it is. Of course, that doesn’t apply to my coffee.” He then dumped two spoons of sugar into his mug.

“I can’t wait any longer, Matthew,” Ramona said. “Go ahead and take a bite.”

Ramona saw a flash of ecstasy on Matthew’s face followed by what seemed to be a concerted effort at looking disappointed. Teaching had given her the ability to read body language without error, and Matthew proved a poor actor.

Nonetheless, she asked, “Is something wrong?”

“No! No, it’s delicious,” Matthew responded between chews. 

“But?”

“Well, if you’re really trying to make it like Mom’s, she always served it after it’d spent the night in the refrigerator.”

Ramona chuckled and said, “So you like it cold.”

“Yes, but you couldn’t have known that,” Matthew said. “I should have remembered to give you that detail the other day. I can’t really comment on the ingredients unless it’s cold, you know, because the coldness changes the flavor.”

It was all Ramona could do to keep from laughing. “I understand, Matthew. Think nothing of it. Why don’t you keep this one and I’ll bring you another one—a cold one—in a few days and we’ll take it from there.”

“Perfect!” Matthew agreed. They then passed several hours talking while Matthew nibbled away the entire pie.

As the weeks passed, Ramona brought pie after pie to Matthew, and though each pie was delicious in its own right, Matthew always recommended a few things. A bit more ginger; a little less salt; a dash of extra cinnamon; add lots of sugar; just a hint of vanilla extract; go easy on the ground cloves; and on it went.

But after each sampling, Matthew and Ramona spent an increasing amount of time together. They went to the movies, out to dinner, took drives in the country, and even rode the train to the city for a few days of sightseeing. A relationship slowly developed, and both of them were perfectly happy with the way things progressed.

Finally, near the end of October, Ramona dropped a pie off at Matthew’s while his younger brother, Peter, happened to visit. 

She didn’t stay long because she didn’t want to intrude upon the brothers’ time together, but also because she didn’t want any complications thrown into the farce. 

After exchanging some friendly words with Peter, Ramona told Matthew to tell her later what changes needed to be made to get it more like his mom’s. The stunned expression upon Peter’s face did not go unnoticed.

The boys sat down to try Ramona’s latest incarnation. It was, as usual, scrumptious. Before they knew it, Peter and Matthew devoured the entire thing.

Leaning back in their chairs, Peter finally asked, “What was that about Ramona trying to make pie like Mom’s?”

Shame spread across Matthew’s face as he said, “She wanted to learn to bake well. I really like Ramona, and I really like pumpkin pie, too. I told her she could practice by making it like Mom’s. I wanted to continue seeing her, so I kept suggesting little changes to the recipe here and there.”

Peter’s mouth hung open. At last, he revealed, “Matthew … Mom hated pumpkin pie. She couldn’t even stand the smell of it. She always bought it for you at Parlier’s Bakery!”

“I know,” Matthew confessed.

Later …

“Good to see you again, Ms. Stocks.”

“Hello there, Jeremy. How are you?” Ramona asked her former student.

“I’m doing very well, ma’am. What can I get for my best customer today? Yet another pumpkin pie?”

“That’s right, Jeremy,” she said as she stood inside the bakery Jeremy inherited from his father, Robert Parlier. “Yet another pumpkin pie.”

“You sure you don’t want something else?” Jeremy asked. “I would think you’d be tired of it by now. At least let me make you one fresh with some different spices.”

“No, thank you, Jeremy,” Ramona said with a sly wink. “Your pumpkin pie is perfect. Don’t change a thing.”

________________________________________

Copyright © 2009, 2017 by Scott William Foley

This work originally appeared in Bloomington News and Views for the Young at Heart, October 2009

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Gunsmoke’s All-In: A Short Story

When my mother asked me to invite her friend’s son to my poker game, I didn’t think much of it. Sure, we like to keep our games closed, but she explained that this guy was new in town, a medical professional, single, and simply looking to make some acquaintances.

Since, like us, he’s in his early forties, I figured it didn’t hurt to include him. My friends would understand.

… If only I’d known.

My mother gave me his number, and, when I texted him, I purposefully had him arrive after everyone else. I wanted to explain the situation to my friends. For the most part, we’ve been playing poker together every other week for fifteen years. He would be the first novel face in our group in quite a while. Honestly, we were excited to have a new dynamic to the game.

Of course, we soon found out it was the wrong dynamic.

My wife took the kids to her parents’ house for the evening. This allowed us to drink, curse, insult each other, and otherwise try to act macho in ways only middle-aged men can manage. Of course, we had to fit all this debauchery in before ten o’clock at night because none of us could stay awake much later than that.

Our poker games were pretty low-stakes. Five dollars bought you in. Everyone got the same amount of chips. Second place won his money back; winner took the rest. We normally had a total of six guys who, like I said, have known each other for a long time.

As we all sat around the table waiting, Tomas, a fellow teacher, asked, “So what’s this guy’s name again?”

“I told you—I don’t know,” I replied.

Marcus, who’s in marketing, questioned, “But he’s a doctor?”

“Maybe,” I answered.

“Doctors have money,” Dewey said. Dewey’s a travel agent.

“What’s it matter with a five dollar buy-in?” Tomas laughed.

Karl added, “Nobody’s getting rich off these games.” Karl’s also a teacher.

I nodded and said, “And no side-hustles, okay, Dewey? I don’t know this guy and I don’t want any trouble.”

“A little trouble might be nice nowadays,” Jalen chuckled. Jalen’s the most financially successful among us—an orthopedic surgeon.

Jalen, by the way, probably sealed our fates with that comment because at that moment we heard my doorbell ring. The guys all looked at each other and tried to hide their nervousness. You could say we had become a bit set in our ways.

I opened the door and heard, “Heeere’s Johnny!”

As a twenty-year veteran teacher, it’s hard to shock me anymore. Let’s just say that the sight of this man … well, it surprised me.

It was obvious at first glance that he was taller than any of us, and broader, too. Though he wore a baggy Hawaiian shirt and frumpy cargo shorts, his exposed arms and legs showed sinewy musculature. He might have even been handsome, but large, mirrored sunglasses covered most of his face. A semi-transparent green visor partially concealed his wavy, dark hair.

“Hi, there,” I said. “Welcome. So, the name’s Johnny?”

“How ‘bout … nooo,” he droned while entering.

“Okay, yeah, come on in,” I muttered.

He made his way to the table, lifted up a hand, and said, “Greetings, Earthlings.”

“Uh, hey,” Karl replied. “Have a seat.”

“I’m Tomas.”

“Marcus.”

“Jalen.”

“Karl.”

I said, “You know me already.”

“Gunsmoke,” he revealed. He slowly started to grin, exposing huge, perfectly white teeth.

Jalen laughed, “A nickname. Got it. What’s your name for real, though?”

“Kiss my grits!” Gunsmoke exploded.

Everyone at the table jumped. Marcus even knocked over his beer.

“Damn, man!” Dewey cried.

As I ran to the kitchen, I heard this awful sound. It struck me as a cross between someone sobbing and a tiny dog howling. I realized it emanated from Gunsmoke.

I tossed Marcus a towel and then took my seat.

Gunsmoke stopped giggling, pointed at Marcus’ beer, and squeaked, “Did I do that?” He next started that awful laugh all over again.

“This is too weird,” Tomas said.

Dewey looked at me and asked, “Is this a prank or something?”

“You got some explaining to do,” Gunsmoke sang.

“Okay, um, let’s just get the game started,” I said. “So, uh, Gunsmoke, it’s a five dollar buy-in—”

He interrupted with a childish tone, saying, “You got it, dude!”

“Right,” I mumbled. “We’ll start with a dime and quarter blinds.”

“Alll-righty, then,” Gunsmoke barked.

Marcus complained, “Bonkers. Totally bonkers.”

I started dealing the cards.

“So, Gunsmoke …” Jalen began. “I understand you’re in the medical field? Me, too. What do you do?”

“Yes, that’s right, thank you for asking,” Gunsmoke responded.

He used such a pleasant voice, a voice we had not yet experienced until that moment, that it took us all aback.

“I serve as an intermediary between doctors and patients in the telemedicine industry. My primary focus concerns mental health, though I would like to expand my reach into the field of addiction as well, since the two sometimes go hand-in-hand.”

“Wow. That actually sounds really interesting,” Dewey said.

“Yes, thank you,” Gunsmoke answered. “It’s highly rewarding, fascinating work. Connecting patients with the appropriate caregiver is a fulfilling passion of mine.”

“Very cool,” I said. “Read to play?”

“Oh, you betcha, yeah,” Gunsmoke replied through his nose.

The charming, articulate version of the man dissipated. We all looked at each other, utterly confounded.

“Texas Hold ‘Em is the game,” I said. “You know how to play?”

Gunsmoke put his hands together as though they were cuffed, adopted a sultry, serious voice, and grumbled, “I know.”

“Oh, my God,” Tomas murmured.

“Here we go, then,” I said.

Gunsmoke sat to my left. He’d already tossed in the small blind. Karl was next and had thrown in the big blind. Tomas raised to fifty. Marcus matched. Jalen matched. I matched. Gunsmoke threw in enough to get to fifty, as did Karl.

Next came the flop.

Gunsmoke checked. Karl checked. Tomas tossed in seventy-five. Marcus folded. Jalen matched. I matched. Gunsmoke matched. Karl matched.

Finally, the river arrived.

Gunsmoke bet one twenty-five. Karl folded. Tomas raised to one-fifty. Jalen matched. I matched.

Gunsmoke pushed his chips while saying, “All-in.”

Tomas screamed, “You can’t be serious!”

After frowning behind his sunglasses, Gunsmoke shouted, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

“Um … Gunsmoke,” I said, “it’s the first round. You sure you want to go all-in? We’ve still got a few hours left …”

He replied with a big smile before saying, “How you doin’?”

“This is nuts,” Jalen chortled while shaking his head.

“Are you crazy or something?” Tomas asked.

I held up my hands and said, “C’mon, Tomas, don’t—”

“My mama says that crazy is as crazy does,” Gunsmoke slowly replied.

Marcus shrieked, “That’s not what mama says, you—”

Gunsmoke interjected with, “What we’ve got here … is failure … to communicate.”

Jalen asked, “What happened to that professional dude we were talking to?”

“If he dies … he dies,” Gunsmoke growled.

“I don’t even know what the hell that’s supposed to mean,” Dewey said.

I suggested, “Let’s just play, okay? Sound good, everyone? Tomas, you in?”

Tomas threw his cards down and hissed, “I’m out. This is ridiculous.”

“Okay,” I said. “Jalen?”

Jalen grinned while offering me a wink. He tossed down his cards. “Out. Up to you, my man.”

“Okay, I’ll stick around,” I said. “We’ll see if Gunsmoke knows what he’s doing.”

Gunsmoke bellowed, “I’m just getting warmed up!”

I pushed all of my chips in and said, “I call. What do you have?”

After laying down his cards, Gunsmoke said, “Three of a kind.”

A warm rush pulsed through my body when I saw his three twos.

I laid my cards down in a neat row. “Flush—diamonds.”

“Nice!” Tomas yelled.

Gunsmoke’s mouth dropped open as he moaned, “Ohhh, fuuudge …”

“Now that’s a first round,” Marcus added.

“You’re not going to stick around, right?” Dewey asked Gunsmoke. “You’ll be leaving now?”

“This is unbelievable,” Karl uttered.

Jalen caught my eye. I looked at him. He glanced at Gunsmoke’s cards. I followed his sightline.

Damn it.

Yes, Gunsmoke had three twos. But he also had two sevens. Three twos and two sevens—a full house. Which beat a flush, by the way.

Karl shook his head at me, silently begging me to keep my mouth shut.

Jalen smiled with a shrug.

“Guess what, Gunsmoke,” I said.

He wouldn’t make eye contact when he replied, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls.”

“You actually won.”

Gunsmoke lifted his head and faced me.

“You’ve got a full house there—twos and sevens,” I informed.

“That beats a flush,” Jalen clarified.

Dewey squawked, “Damn it. You could’ve gotten him out of here.”

“That’s a little rude, Dew,” Tomas chided.

“Thank you,” Gunsmoke said. “Your generosity does not go unnoticed. It’s the epitome of fair play.”

“No worries,” I replied.

Karl looked at me while saying, “Guess you’re just hanging loose tonight, huh?”

Gunsmoke quickly crooned, “Thaaat’s what she said.”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

Some Nice Words About Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga

My thanks to Dr. Jane Thomas for writing this about Dr. Nekros: “You will never find a more creative, time-turning, plot-twisting, character-revealing, surprising story anywhere in the fantasy genre. And you will come to love the totally real, frustrating but likable characters.”

Find your copy by clicking HERE. Thank you.

Dr. Nekros The Complete Saga

Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga Is Ready For Your Enjoyment

Dr. Nekros The Complete Saga

At long last, Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga is now available in paperback format.

Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga focuses upon the disfigured Dr. Nekros’ pursuit for vengeance and his estranged loved ones’ quest to save him. Micah Vadenburgh suffered mutilation by the demon Xaphan. The trauma drove him from both his wife, Zetta, and his doctoral degree. Years later, living off the money he swindles from hapless victims, Micah has transformed into Dr. Nekros. He travels the countryside in a haunted 1936 Packard while searching for the monstrosity that ruined him. As Zetta and her new husband, Jason, work to reverse Micah’s downward spiral, an intricate trap has been set—one that began a century ago by something far more evil, far more conniving than anything Dr. Nekros has ever before encountered. A supernatural thriller with a wickedly dark sense of humor, Dr. Nekros: The Complete Saga plays with time, reality, and imagination. Readers will immerse themselves in a tale filled with psychological suspense, nightmarish horror, and … redemption?

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