Missy let her rushing thoughts whirl for a few minutes in a frenzied competition with her racing heartbeats. Neither side was winning, and certainly Missy would be the loser no matter how it came out, so she slung the sofa pillow across the room and scrambled off the couch.

It had been a long time since she had needed any blood pressure medicine or tranquilizers, but she desperately hoped that there might be a lone leftover pill in her medicine cabinet to quiet her mind and body.

Rifling through the bottles of lotion, self-tanner, and other health and beauty staples, she spotted one amber prescription bottle with a child-proof cap. She grabbed it, her hopes surging. “Metoprolol!” she whispered hoarsely. “Yes! A double whammy!”

As a nurse, Missy knew that Metoprolol was one of the blood pressure meds that provided the extra benefit of calming a panic attack. She had seen plenty of patients receive the benefit of settling both their mind and their body with this drug.

Knowing full well that she legitimately had the exact symptoms that this little white pill was meant to treat, she reached for a fresh paper cup from the dispenser near her bathroom sink, filled it with water, and swallowed the pill. “In about twenty minutes, the world will make more sense,” she said aloud to nobody there.

A relaxing shower would help, too, she knew. It seemed that Missy could always do her best thinking while the warm water washed over her, sending at least a fraction of her stress down the drain. As she stepped out of the shower stall and wrapped a towel around her, she could hear Norman raising the garage door. He had arrived home after running errands – arrived at the “homiest” home he had ever known.

Simultaneously, Norman was ruminating on just how much better his life had become since he had moved in with Missy, and Missy was contemplating how

much more stressful her life had become since she had met the Wrigley brothers. Norman and Ruston had piled trouble on Missy in great heaps. She thought of her favorite Yiddish expression borrowed from a Jewish friend – “Oy!”

Grabbing her favorite comfortable pink velour yoga pants and long-sleeved soft top, Missy could feel herself easing down from “Misery Mountain.” Comfy socks and slip-on shoes completed her ensemble. She ran a brush through her hair, then swept it up into a messy bun. She felt pretty close to ready to deal with life.

She joined Norman in the kitchen and helped him put away the items he had picked up for her at Walmart.

“Look what I got for our lunch, Missy,” Norman said with a grin. “There was a food truck in the Walmart parking lot.” With that, he produced from a paper bag two huge Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. This explained the enticing aroma Missy had picked up for the last few minutes.

“Oh, boy,” Missy chuckled. “Just what my waistline needed today.” She put crushed ice from the dispenser in the refrigerator door into two of her largest glasses and filled them with sweet tea. “Let’s eat.”

By now, her mind’s dramatic movie was playing in the background of her thoughts instead of taking over the entire show. She reasoned that by the time she and Norman were both stuffed to the gills with Philly Cheese Steak, they could quietly and calmly discuss some of the issues that Missy had been nearly hysterical over earlier.

Meanwhile, the honeymooners, Lance and Jezebel were about to reach “Critical Mass” with the brainstorms that were raging inside them. Jezebel was pretty sure by now that she was pregnant, and Lance was certain that he was running out of resources to support himself and his bride.

Being the self-centered individuals that they both were, preservation of “Number One” was front and center in their thinking. Jezebel cared about Jezebel, and Lance cared about Lance.

Jezebel also knew that Lance would explode like a Roman candle if she told him she was pregnant. She desperately needed to get to a drugstore quickly to purchase a test kit. She had to have the definitive answer as soon as possible, and she didn’t want Lance to know anything about it until there was no alternative.

Jezebel had a five-dollar bill in her pocket. Other than that, Lance controlled all the money. That very evening the opportunity finally presented itself when Lance stopped at a truck stop/convenience store for gasoline, and Jezebel strolled down the aisle where the travel-size headache remedies and tummy soothers were. “Oh, my! Look at that!” she thought when she spotted it right there next to the Rolaids. A pregnancy test! “Boy, these truckers must have need of all kinds of stuff!” she thought. She looked around quickly, and Lance was not in sight. She snatched the pregnancy test and quickly headed to the nearest cash register. Thankfully, there was no line of customers waiting, and she was able to complete her business in a minute or so. Stuffing her treasure into her pocket, she hurried back outside and nonchalantly stood by the door when Lance came out shortly. “Let’s go,” he said.

In the village, Marcus Breen was dealing with a buzzing hornet’s nest of his own. Oh, not literally, of course, but his efforts to start preliminary rehearsals for the upcoming show had met with the kind of estrogen-fueled catfights as could only be produced by putting Susan Croissant and Kay-Renee together on a stage. From the moment their eyes met, the hate was palpable. Susan was the torch-song siren that raised the temperature of the village’s “gentlemen,” and Kay-Renee was the crowd-pleasing raucous reincarnation of Phyllis Diller who stole every show she had performed in. They had both walked into the auditorium, intent on being the star of the show. They did NOT intend to share their limelight.

Neither woman had her show costume on for this rehearsal, of course, but they each had stepped into the stage persona they planned to wow the audience with, and the feedback coming through the monitors probably had more to do with the static electricity produced by these two females than it did the malfunctioning sound equipment.

Susan was first up, and it was obvious to everyone there that she was pouring on several degrees of extra heat. Her voice was extra throaty, and her sly head-tosses and purposeful eye contact with the other members of Rising Voices sitting where the audience would be were very unsubtle clues that she was there to dominate.

When her song was over, her fellow cast members cheered and clapped loudly. She smiled and slinked offstage, knowing she had gut-punched Kay-Renee.

However, this wasn’t Kay-Renee’s first time to fight for top billing, and she was not intimidated to the point of helplessness. On the contrary, she went full-on comedy queen and strode to the microphone like Phyllis Diller had come storming back from the afterlife with renewed strength. Her every movement and sound was perfect. An audience would believe with no doubt whatsoever that this woman really was married to a guy named “Fang,” and she really was nine years behind on her ironing. Yes, her mother-in-law was morbidly obese, and yes, her house was a disaster. Never had the brazen “Hah-hah-hah-hah” poured through the microphone with more intensity than the laughter Kay-Renee forced out of her Phyllis Diller reborn.

Marcus knew he had a winner of a show in the works, but the tension between these two females could affect every member of the cast. He knew this for sure.

Not knowing how to handle the dilemma, he simply sat quietly, making notations on his script and then called for “Close Shave” to please take the stage next. He hoped that this wholesome men’s quartet would return some equilibrium to the proceedings. They did, to some extent.

Maureen Morgan was sitting in the second row throughout all this, waiting for the part of the show where she would take the stage and take everyone on a sentimental journey with her friend, Lena, who had arrived late. They were both pleased with the two crowd-pleasers from the nineteen-forties they had chosen – “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Sincerely.”

By the time they had finished and the entire chorus was up next, the mood in the auditorium was fairly peaceful. Kay-Renee had left after her bit was finished, and Marcus was breathing easier.

At Missy’s house, she and Norman had talked for a good two hours. Bits and pieces of hitherto undisclosed information had begun to leak out. There would be much more to come.

Back in Jezebel and Lance’s world, the evening had come with surprises. Lance had somehow managed to check them into a really nice hotel. Jezebel didn’t even ask him how they could afford this luxury. She was afraid of the answer. She decided to just accept this pleasantness and enjoyed it while it lasted. Besides, she knew she had another matter to attend to, and it would have a bearing on how her evening went – and how her life went.

She sprawled across the firm king-sized bed and sighed tiredly. Lance announced he would be back as soon as he walked to the pizza place next door and got them a large supreme to share.

The second she heard the door to the room close, she was up and into the bathroom. In a couple of minutes, the test stick was wet, and she was waiting for the two stripes to appear like the ones in the diagram that had come with the test. Ten minutes, it would take. She sat on the side of the bed and watched the clock on the nightstand. She looked at the clock, then at the test stick. Back at the clock, back at the stick. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. No second stripe. Not a trace of one.

She blinked. She took a deep breath. She was not pregnant. Grabbing up the box, the instruction sheet, and the stick she slipped into the hallway after peeking cautiously out the door. She would need to dispose of the evidence in a trash receptacle that was not in any way connected to their room. She found one near a vending machine in a small alcove. “Whew!” she said.

Digging in her other pocket, she found six quarters, which was enough for a Dr. Pepper, so she got one. Suddenly she was feeling carefree and light as a feather. That is because she had not yet had time to realize that the symptoms she had been experiencing and mistaking for pregnancy might actually be signs of something else entirely. Something terrible.

Stay Tuned for More to Come