New Release!

Long time, no site updates, right? Well, I’ve been busy writing!

I’m thrilled to announce my latest novel, IRIS & IVY.

Wait, I can hear you saying. Didn’t you write a short story with that same title?

Yes. Yes, I did. Back in 2011 and 2012, I wrote 52 short stories as part of a challenge to write a short story a week for an entire year. (Writers do these crazy challenges all the time as a way to keep ourselves motivated, keep practicing and learning our craft, and just to see if we can.)

Here’s the cover for the short story:

(The cover for the novel’s much better, wouldn’t you say? *g*)

“Iris & Ivy” was a part of my 52 stories in one year challenge. So was “Famous.” Both stories are part of my Moretown Bay urban fantasy series, named for the fictional Pacific Northwest city where magic intersects with everyday life.

Well, I loved the idea behind Iris & Ivy so much that I decided to write a full-length novel with the same basic premise: a woman goes on the hunt for the killer who murdered her identical twin to help her sister’s ghost find peace. Only with a twist, because I’m me and that’s how I write.

I can just hear you saying, “But, Annie, if I’ve read the short story, isn’t the novel the same thing?”

Nope!

Novels have a way of taking on lives of their own. Even writers don’t always know where these things are going. Sure, I thought I had this great road map with the short story, but the novel surprised even me. Not only did Iris & Ivy take on new lives of their own in the novel, whole new characters showed up, including a character from “Famous” that I got to know a whole lot better, whether I wanted to or not. *shudder*

If you haven’t read “Famous” in a while, click on over to Free Stuff on this website. I’ve posted the story there to read for free. It’s a great way to get started on the dark ride of IRIS & IVY, the novel.

Great! you’re saying. So where can I get my hands on a copy of IRIS & IVY?

(I hope you’re saying that, especially if you’ve read this far.)

Boy, then, do I have a deal for you!

IRIS & IVY is currently exclusive to The Darker Realms Fantasy Bundle over at Storybundle.

Curated by editor/publisher extraordinaire Allyson Longueira, this bundle gathers ten great dark fantasy books (okay, two of them are humorous dark fantasy stories, but you get my drift) written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith, World Fantasy Award winning author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Hugo award nominated author Steve Diamond, kickass writer Stefon Mears (who’ll be featured in the next issue of The Uncollected Anthology), Walter H. Hunt, D. J. Butler, Mark Leslie, and me, plus an entire issue of Fiction River Presents.

Storybundles are easy to buy (you can even given them as gifts!), but there’s a catch – they’re only available for a short time.  This one will only be around for another seventeen days. I know that sounds like a long time, but we’re already almost done with September, and those seventeen days will fly by before you know it.

So don’t delay! Pick up your copy of IRIS & IVY, a Moretown Bay novel, at Storybundle today along with a bunch of other great fiction. You set the price, and part of the price benefits AbleGamers.

What a deal, right?

BTW, I have to mention how much I love the cover for IRIS & IVY! The novel cover was created by Deranged Doctor Design. If you’re in the market for some great cover work, check them out!

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Free Fiction Thursday – The Snow Queen

Just in time for the holidays, this story will be free to read for two weeks!

Snow Queen web

1

Gunther missed snow.

Back home when he’d been a kid, come the first of November, more often than not he’d wake to big, fat, fluffy flakes sailing down from the sky like soft little pieces of cotton candy.

Put enough of those flakes together and he could build a silly snowman, complete with his big sister’s favorite knitted scarf, because what else were little brothers for than to torment their older sisters?

By the first of December, enough snow would have fallen to turn the hillside behind his family’s farm into the perfect place for sledding. Gunther and his sister took turns swooshing down the hill on his dad’s old sled, avoiding the oak trees and rocky outcroppings that dotted the hill. They didn’t stop even when their noses turned red from the cold and their feet got numb, but just kept right on sledding until it got too dark to see.

Snow days started with steaming mugs of his mother’s hot chocolate and his father’s special omelets filled with home-smoked bacon and sharp cheddar and ended with everyone warming frosty fingers and toes before a roaring fireplace after an enthusiastic snowball fight or two. Even as he got older and strong coffee replaced hot chocolate and an apartment in the city replaced his parents’ farm, Gunther still got a thrill every morning when he’d wake up to falling snow.

Snow softened harsh noises. Snow took the rough edges off things. Snow made November feel like winter and made December feel magical, frosting strings of twinkling Christmas lights into blurry little stars of red and green and blue.

That had been December in the Midwest.

December in Moretown Bay, a coastal city smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, was nothing but dull and gray and dreary.

Icy rain pelted the shoulders of Gunther’s heavy winter coat and ran down the sides of his neck as he bent to unlock the iron security gate at Chocolatapus, a specialty candy store located in a trendy waterfront marketplace complete with cobblestone streets and an open-air craft market during the summer.

Unlike the used bookstore and curio shop next door run by a curmudgeonly old wizard who only opened the place to the public for an hour a day on the second and third Tuesdays of every other month (most of the wizard’s customers shopped by appointment only), Chocolatapus was open seven days a week, ten hours a day.

As the store’s manager, Gunther worked most of those days and hours, but to tell the truth, he didn’t mind. It wasn’t like he did much with his time off anyway, and besides, working at Chocolatapus had turned into the best job Gunther had ever had since he’d left home nearly ten years ago. Not that being the manager of a candy store was exactly where he saw himself ending up after all the time, not to mention money, he’d spent earning a college degree.

He might even like Moretown Bay if only it didn’t rain so much in the winter. Which made winter seem like spring and summer and fall, only a little colder. And which today made him miss his family and home and snow days all the more.

As for Chocolatapus, the store was pretty nearly perfect. It sold milk chocolate and exotic dark chocolate and every kind of chocolate in between, along with silky caramels and chewy taffy, salty-sweet kettle corn and crunchy almond brittle. In December, the store also stocked Gunther’s favorite: swirly peppermint sticks that reminded him of the candy canes that always appeared as if by magic on his family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning. With long glass display cases filled with sweet treats lining both side of the narrow shop, the store felt warm and cozy and smelled like his mother’s hot chocolate mixed with all the best memories of his childhood.

After Gunther pushed the heavy iron security gate away from the front door, he murmured the words of the spell that would disable the wards around the front door.

Gunther didn’t have any magic of his own—no one in his family did—but more magic folk than Gunther had ever seen anywhere else lived in Moretown Bay. Spells that could be used by regular old humans were available for purchase from licensed witches and wizards pretty much anywhere in the city. For all he knew, the curmudgeonly old wizard who owned the shop next door sold spells on the side.

Of course, spells could also be reversed for the right price.

(end of sample)

~~~

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

Free Fiction Friday – The Magic of Home

This week’s free fiction story celebrates the first issue of the Uncollected Anthology with my contribution, The Magic of Home.  This story will be available to read for free right here until August 15th.  Enjoy!

Annie MM for website

THE MAGIC OF HOME

Annie Reed

The motorcycle whispered to Twig as they zoomed past the shipyards at the south end of Moretown Bay.

Home.

Tucked safely inside her helmet, the tips of Twig’s long ears quivered in response to the motorcycle’s rumbling voice. She felt its yearning not only in the subtle change in its magic, but in the throaty roar of the engine as they increased speed, racing north on I-5 toward the city that shared its name with the bay.

Twig leaned forward. “Almost there,” she said. “Almost there.”

Her words tore apart on the damp night air rushing past her, but she knew their meaning would still reach the heart of the machine that had been her friend for a decade. Not all magical beings needed ears to hear or words to understand.

As much as she wanted to get them both home, they couldn’t afford to draw the attention of any police—or wizards—who might be patrolling the freeway.

I-5 passed through the center of the city as the freeway wound its way north into Canada, a wide ribbon of asphalt and concrete hemmed in by high-rise office buildings, luxury hotels, and apartment buildings too rich for Twig’s blood. This part of the freeway had always been heavily patrolled. Twig doubted that had changed in the years she’d been gone, so she throttled back on the engine to bring their speed closer to the surrounding traffic.

The motorcycle fought her, so Twig whispered soothing words to it until it accepted her decision. She hoped it was the right one.

Under other circumstances, just seeing the city itself might have taken her breath away. Tonight the sky was clear. No fog had rolled in off the water to obscure the view, and the tall buildings in the city center gleamed like jewels against the starry sky. She could make out the spires of the Justice Center, gleaming white and silver like a monument to law and order for all, human and magic folk alike. Spotlights had turned the modern glass and steel Trexler Towers blue and green, the colors for a local sports team.

Twig wasn’t surprised that the city was still celebrating the team’s world championship, even though that particular sport wasn’t truly played on a global scale. Everyone, magic folk and humans alike, needed something outside themselves to believe in.

Hurry, the motorcycle whispered. Gillfoil approaches.

Twig tensed. As sensitive as her ears were to the currents of magic in the world around her, the motorcycle’s senses far exceeded hers. If the motorcycle felt the presence of the gang’s enforcer, that meant he was near.

“Where?” she asked.

Behind. Less than a mile.

“Can we make it?”

The motorcycle hesitated. Twig could imagine her friend calculating speed and distance, and the effect of mass and magic on both.

No.

(end of sample)

~~~

The Magic of Home is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to check out the other stories in the Uncollected Anthology series!

Free Fiction Thursday – Rolo the Great

Rolo webMagic mixes with everyday life in this charming tale of hope and determination.

Rolo the Great, a courtly, pint-sized peddler of tourist trinkets, has at last found the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately for Rolo, she’s trapped in the belly of a brass pig.

In a place where magic co-exists with the mortal world, how can one small man with no magic of his own hope to rescue a damsel in distress?

Worse still, what if she doesn’t want to be rescued?

This story is no longer available to read for free, but it can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Rolo the Great

Annie Reed

Rolo the Great owned the corner of Sussix and Wales. Or at least, that’s what he called it.

In reality, Rolo’s home turf was a six-foot wide strip of concrete sidewalk on the southwest corner of Fourth Street and Madison Boulevard, just a mere two blocks from the tourist trap that was the fishermen’s and farmers market in Moretown Bay. Rain or shine, Rolo could be found on the corner hawking his wares, which this month happened to be spiral wires enchanted to sparkle in all the colors of the rainbow, with little trinkets of gold or silver jewelry or a small feather hanging off the ends. Given his courtly manner, not to mention more than his fair share of charm and wit and a smidgen of rugged good looks, Rolo was able to eke out a living by charming the ladies, tourists and locals alike. The spirals he sold were hair charms, which he was more than happy to show each lady how to wear, provided they bent down low enough for Rolo to reach their heads.

Rolo was only four foot tall, you see.

He wasn’t properly a dwarf or a halfling, and he was too tall to be a gnome. Whenever a potential customer was crude enough to ask him if he was an elf, he would happily brush back his unruly brown curls to show them his perfectly human-shaped ears, which meant he was also neither fairy nor nymph nor leprechaun. He was simply a somewhat short person who thought he was the King of England. In a past life, of course.

So it all made a certain kind of sense when he fell in love with a princess.

An enchanted princess.

Of course.

(end of sample)

# # #

“Rolo the Great”

Copyright © 2014 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Free Fiction Thursday – My Cousin, the Rabbit

Happy Thursday, everyone!

This weekend marks the second year I’ll be spending Easter at Sakura-Con in Seattle. Last year’s con experience had a direct influence on the brand new Diz and Dee story, “Here, Kitty Kitty,”  I wrote for Fiction River # 1 – Unnatural Worlds.  Who knows what kind of mayhem this year’s con will inspire. 🙂

You’ll be able to purchase Unnatural Worlds beginning next month. I’ve seen the rest of the stories in this volume, and trust me, they’re all kickass. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Fiction River family, and I’ll have some more cool announcements along that line as the year progresses. As they used to say in television land, “stay tuned.”

In the meantime, in honor of the holiday, this week’s Free Fiction Thursday story finds Diz and Dee tracking down Dee’s missing cousin Harold, who has a unique problem with the Easter season. I hope you enjoy “My Cousin, the Rabbit.”

my cousin cover art

My Cousin, The Rabbit

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2013 by Annie Reed

I was balancing my morning coffee and a bag of donuts in one hand and fumbling with the key to my office with the other when my cell phone rang.

I’m not a morning person.  I’m also not the world’s greatest cook.  Even though I live in the apartment upstairs from my office, I go out most mornings for coffee and something my mother would not approve of as breakfast food.  So when I recognized the ring tone I’d assigned to my mother — a snazzy little number that sounded like the music from Psycho right about the time Anthony Perkins goes gonzo on Janet Leigh with a knife in the shower — my first reaction was to drop the bag of donuts like a hot potato.

What?  Donuts?  Not me, mom.  I’m going upstairs to fix myself sprouts and granola right this minute.

Not that I had sprouts and granola in my apartment.  I barely had enough food for my cat.

The bag split open when it hit the sidewalk, spilling all that sugary goodness on the wet concrete.  So much for breakfast.  At least I still had my coffee.

I managed to get the office door unlocked and my cell phone out of my pocket before the call rang over to voicemail.

“Your cousin’s missing,” my mother said before I could even croak out a hello.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Chance of Bunnies with Occasional Toad

Good morning, everyone! Happy Thursday!

One of the things I love about where I live is the unexpected wildlife that shares our space. I’m not talking about spiders (yuck!) the cats sometimes chase or the bull snake that decided to make a kitchen cabinet his temporary home (don’t ask), but the bunnies who munch on my lawn, the little lizards who sun themselves on the deck, and the quail who scurry across the road in front of my car, because lord knows, quail will never fly when running really really fast will do. There’s a kind of quiet magic about sharing space with animals whose lives would normally have nothing to do with mine.

This week’s story is about that kind of backyard magic. “Chance of Bunnies with Occasional Toad” is now available in a brand-new paperback edition that includes a free electronic copy. Enjoy!

Chance v2 ebook small

 

Chance of Bunnies, with Occasional Toad

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 by Annie Reed

The house smelled dusty and abandoned.

Just like me, Cecily thought.

For a minute there, the old-fashioned lock, rusty with age, fought her.  Cecily worried the real estate agent had given her the wrong key, but eventually the doorknob turned, and she pushed the door open.

Even though Cecily was a grown woman with a place of her own, it felt odd opening this door with a key that now belonged to her, just like the house itself now belonged to her.  During all the summers when she’d been sent to live in this house with her aunt because her mother couldn’t deal with having Cecily home from school for an entire three months, Cecily had never unlocked the door herself.

She could have.  Cecily was one of a generation of “latch key” kids, a by-product of the feminist movement that saw women like her mother working nine-to-five jobs while their kids went to school from nine to three.  Cecily had worn her house key on a lanyard around her neck, and for two and a half hours every afternoon, she sat by herself at the dining room table and did her homework in an empty house.  Not because she wanted to, but because her mom would check Cecily’s work first thing, even before starting dinner, and if Cecily couldn’t show her mom two and a half hours’ worth of work, she was grounded from watching television for the night.

Her aunt didn’t place the same restrictions on Cecily as her mom had.

“Summer is a time for fun,” her aunt used to say.  “To read because you want to.  Eat in the living room, have dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner.  It’s not a time for kids to worry about keys.  Keys are for grownups.”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – First Steps

Good morning, everyone! It’s time for Free Fiction Thursday, which means it’s also one more day closer to Friday. Yippee!

This week’s story is “First Steps,” a blend of contemporary fantasy and women’s fiction. Fifty years ago Callie fell in love with her best friend. High-school sweethearts who spent their lives together, Callie still loves her husband, but most days Jed doesn’t even know who she is. Frustrated with her life and worried about her future, things look bleak for Callie until one magical night when everything changes.

Enjoy!

 

FIRST STEPS

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 Annie Reed

 Published by Thunder Valley Press

Cover and layout Copyright © 2012 Thunder Valley Press

The first steps were the hardest.

Jed used to tell her that back when they were both in junior high and she complained to him about having to walk the balance beam in gym class.  Callie didn’t have the world’s greatest balance on land, much less on a four-inch wide beam of wood three feet off the ground.

“I’m going to break my neck,” she’d said over a tray full of cafeteria food.  “You just wait and see.”

Jed had smiled at her.  “Not your neck.  Your arm, maybe, or your ankle.  You know… stuff you don’t need.”

He’d stuffed a piece of french bread pizza into his mouth, pleased with himself.  Callie would have smacked him a good one if Mr. Thedes hadn’t been on lunchroom duty.  Mr. Thedes had no sense of humor.  He was almost as bad as Callie’s dad, who would break her neck if she got herself suspended for fighting with her best friend in the cafeteria.

The first steps are the hardest.

Jed had been right, but he’d also been wrong.  Second steps weren’t any easier.  Sometimes all you could do was take one step after the next and let your body walk on automatic while your mind drifted away somewhere else.  Some place pleasant.

Wherever you needed to go to get yourself through what lay ahead.

Callie parked in an empty space in the back row of the nursing home’s lot.  Monday evening, only an hour left for visiting, no wonder the lot was only half full.  Callie could have parked her car closer, but she needed the time—the extra steps—to prepare herself, especially tonight.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Reunion

Happy Thursday, everyone!  How about a brand new story to celebrate this first Thursday in June?

This week’s story is a contemporary fantasy about a single woman struck with a sudden, inexplicable urge to cook enough food to feed an army.   Strange enough, but then she finds recipes for all the food she’s compelled to make in her mom’s old recipe box, only the recipes aren’t in her mother’s handwriting.

I hope you enjoy “Reunion.”

Reunion

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Cover and layout Copyright © 2012 Thunder Valley Press

Cover art © Shawn Hempel | Dreamstime.com

 

Beth started cooking three days before Jesse showed up.

She didn’t know he was coming.  She didn’t even know him, for that matter, or any of the others who came.  She didn’t like to cook all that much to begin with, but for some reason, late one Wednesday afternoon while she was in the middle of a customer service call with an elderly man who couldn’t navigate his way through her company’s online banking system, Beth felt a sudden need to bake bread.

Banana bread.  Pumpkin bread.  Zucchini bread.  Sourdough and whole wheat and cinnamon raisin.  She wanted to shove her hands into a huge ball of dough and knead the stuff until it had just the right measure of elasticity while the heady aroma of yeast filled her kitchen.

And that wasn’t all.

She wanted to cook a turkey.  And a ham, a huge one, all bristling with pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries skewered on toothpicks.  Roast beef.  Brisket.  Barbequed ribs slathered with homemade sauce, heavy on the brown sugar and light on the vinegar.  Roast pork with applesauce.

The thought of all that food seriously derailed her train of thought.  She couldn’t get the old man off the phone quick enough.  She was afraid he’d hear her stomach rumble through her headset.  She could practically smell all that food, and it was making her mouth water.

Once the call ended, Beth took herself out of the queue of in-coming calls.  She stood up and leaned over the top of the half-wall that separated her cubicle from Sherrie’s.

“You have any crackers left?” Beth asked.  “Gummy bears?  Pretzel sticks?”

Sherrie always had food.  She was the one person in Beth’s eight-person department who made it her duty to look out for everyone else, even though Sherrie was the youngest of them all.

“You pregnant, girl?” Sherrie asked as she handed over a bag of potato chips.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Rolo the Great

Good morning, everyone!  Happy Thursday!

This week’s Free Fiction Thursday story is a brand new addition to the stories set in Moretown Bay, the Pacific Northwest town my detectives Diz and Dee call home.  “Rolo the Great” is not a Diz and Dee mystery, though.  It’s a romantic fantasy about a courtly street peddler who finally finds his one true love.  Only one problem: she’s trapped in the belly of a brass pig.

I hope you enjoy “Rolo the Great.”

Rolo the Great

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Cover and layout Copyright © 2012 Thunder Valley Press

Cover art © 2012 Annie Reed

Rolo the Great owned the corner of Sussix and Wales.  Or at least, that’s what he called it.

In reality, Rolo’s home turf was a six-foot wide strip of concrete sidewalk on the southwest corner of Fourth Street and Madison Boulevard, just a mere two blocks from the tourist trap that was the fishermen’s and farmers market in Moretown Bay.  Rain or shine, Rolo could be found on the corner hawking his wares, which this month happened to be spiral wires enchanted to sparkle in all the colors of the rainbow, with little trinkets of gold or silver jewelry or a small feather hanging off the ends.  Given his courtly manner, not to mention more than his fair share of charm and wit and a smidgen of rugged good looks, Rolo was able to eke out a living by charming the ladies, tourists and local alike.  The spirals he sold were hair charms, which he was more than happy to show each lady how to wear, provided they bent down low enough for Rolo to reach their heads.

Rolo was only four foot tall, you see.

He wasn’t properly a dwarf or a halfling, and he was too tall to be a gnome.  Whenever a potential customer was crude enough to ask him if he was an elf, he would happily brush back his unruly brown curls to show them his perfectly human-shaped ears, which meant he was also neither fairy nor nymph nor leprechaun.  He was simply a somewhat short person who thought he was the King of England.  In a past life, of course.

So it all made a certain kind of sense when he fell in love with a princess.

An enchanted princess.

Of course.

You might think by now that I’m the headwaiter in the local looney bin, which in a way might be true.  I’m the assistant manager at Sessions, a sort of combination coffee shop/pastry shop/open mike night lounge (yes, such things really do exist), which means my customers range from the merely under-caffeinated office worker to the extremely over-caffeinated and severely depressed wannabe grunge rocker.  Sessions is located—you guessed it—on the corner of Fourth and Madison.  Since I’ve been at Sessions long enough to work my way up the non-corporate ladder from mere coffee brewer to coffee brewer with an official title, I’ve gotten to know all the regulars, including Rolo the Great.

“Matthew!” Rolo called out to me one night as he barreled in through the open front door.  “I have met the most extraordinary woman.”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Friday – Cleo and the Scout

Happy Friday, everyone!  Ready for a little free fiction?

This week’s story is “Cleo and the Scout,” a story about a curse, a little old lady who isn’t quite what she seems, and a very determined Cub Scout.  Happy reading!

Cleo and the Scout

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover art copyright Dvarg Vasiliy at Dreamstime.com and

copyright Anna Velichkovsky at Dreamstime.com

Cover layout by Thunder Valley Press

 

Cleo’s neighbors thought she was a witch.  She thought that was rather ironic.

She did look a bit like the witches of old, what with her hunched shoulders, humped back, and long, stringy gray hair, not to mention the black shawl she always wore wrapped around her shoulders.  She never wore designer jeans or fashionable boots like some of the other neighborhood women old enough to be grandmothers, and therefore old enough to know better.  Cleo wore long, voluminous skirts and used a cane, more for affect than need.  She’d learned long ago that people saw what they expected to see, and their expectations were always based on first impressions.  If the neighbors thought she was a witch, so be it.  She could live with a few evil eyes being cast her way whenever she made her way down the street to the corner grocer’s or the bank where that nice young man with the nice young smile spent far more time than necessary explaining to Cleo how to use her ATM card properly so she wouldn’t have to always come to the teller window to withdraw cash from her account.

It wasn’t that Cleo was too old to understand how to use such a thing as an ATM card.  She understood perfectly well.  She just preferred not to.  When a person got to be as old as she was, that person earned the right to be cranky.

She especially earned the right to be cranky with the Cub Scout who insisted on helping Cleo cross the street whether she needed help or not, which she most certainly did not.

“Can I carry your bags for you?” he asked as she made her slow way back home from the grocer’s.  He held out his pudgy hand for her bag of bread and cheese and olives and wine.

He was little more than a babe, though he spoke with the solemnity of a man.  The buttons on his uniform strained against his rotund little body, and his chubby legs looked like fat little sausages sticking out of his shorts.  His cheeks were round and altogether too rosy for a boy.  His hair, what little Cleo could see of it beneath his Cub Scout cap, was coppery red and poorly cut.

Cleo snatched her bag in closer to her body.  “I can do this myself, young man,” she said.

His arm dropped back to his side.  “I’m just trying to be nice.  Why do you have to be so mean about it?”

“No one’s nice just to be nice.”  They never had been, and they never would be, not in Cleo’s long experience.  Everyone, from babe in arms to the most powerful men in the land, had always wanted something from her, and she’d grown tired of it.  She thumped her cane against the concrete sidewalk.  “So tell me, my persistent young man, what do you really want from me?”

He’d looked crestfallen before.  Now he positively deflated.  “I get a citizen pin for helping old people,” he said.  “You’re the only old person I know.”

She blinked at him.  “I have seen grandmothers who live in this neighborhood.”  She could identify four or five that lived in her block of row houses alone, although not by name.  Cleo had no desire to know anyone in this neighborhood by name.

“But they’re not old,” the boy said.  “They don’t need me.”

(read the rest of the story here)