Three and a Half Minutes – Contemporary Women's Fiction
“A story of forgiveness, fresh starts and what matters most.” ~Kristina McMorris, author of Letters from Home
Workaholic Camille Ashland is at the top of her game. She’s built a thriving business, has a lovely daughter, and lives in a newly decorated home. Her life is full until a heart attack and near-death experience change everything….
Günther Christove, instructor at the Vienna School of Language, lives for one thing—atonement for the death of his wife and son. When an American woman arrives in his class, dreams of hope and happiness begin to soften his heart. Turning to his brother, Father Florian Christove, for answers, Günther finds forgiveness from the most unexpected place.
It only takes Three and a Half Minutes to change the course of a life!
Camille Ashland breathed deeply and glanced at the clock on the wall. She ignored the slight queasiness in her stomach and handed a receipt to the young woman she was helping. No doubt about it, she loved and hated Valentine’s Day. As owner of Chocolate Blossoms, a chocolate, flower, and perfume specialty store, Camille looked forward to the day created for lovers even though it meant utter exhaustion.
“What’s wrong?” Suzie asked, touching Camille’s shoulder gently. “You don’t look well. Are you feeling okay?”
Camille rubbed her chest. “Just indigestion from that spicy shrimp scampi I had for lunch. One would think I’d know better by now.” She laughed. “Actually, I’m thinking about Mom too. Today’s the anniversary of my father’s death. Every year around this time, she gets a bit melancholy. Even after all these years. I wish there was something more I could do for her…”
Suzie tucked a sprig of dried baby’s breath into the bow of a package she was wrapping. “Go on and call her. Pam and I can handle this.”
Camille mentally calculated the number of people still waiting to be helped. They’d be here for another hour at least. “That’s a good idea. How about I take the next customer before I sneak off?” She leaned in and whispered, “He looks a bit impatient.”
Chocolate Blossoms’ tiny, yet charming display area was crammed with shoppers eager to find the perfect gift for their special someone. Camille smiled and waved the gentleman forward from the line that curled around the room. “Next.”
He stepped forward in a rumpled blue suit.
She smiled. “May I help you?”
He nodded, then pointed to one of the display baskets on the counter. “That’s nice.”
“Yes. That’s the Berry-Cherry Chocolate Basket. It’s filled with milk chocolate hearts, chocolate-covered cherries, and blueberries. White roses and baby’s breath adorn the center and handle. It runs forty-one ninety-five.”
His lips tipped up. “I’ll take it.”
At his quick decision, her smile widened. “Perfect. Are you registered here?”
He looked through his wallet, then handed Camille his Chocolate Blossoms card. She swiped the pink and green card thinking how much he resembled her husband, Bret, deceased now for eight years. How she wished he could be here to see her hard-won success. “Do you ever finish anything, Camille?” he’d asked her more times than she’d like to remember. “Just do it!” Bitterness threatened her mood. Even though spoken in jest, she knew his words were meant to hurt, just a little. He’d thought her a quitter. Had said it more times than not. But it wasn’t true. As was her habit, she glanced at the Post-it note she’d stuck to the front of her monitor. FINISH IT! bolstered her resolve.
The customer’s account flashed on her screen. “So, Mr. Snyder, how did Mrs. Snyder like the Sinfully Rich Chocolate Tower you purchased for her birthday?”
He chuckled softly and his brows rose in amusement. “She loved it. That’s why I’m back today. I’m sure she’ll be expecting something equally as wonderful tomorrow. You do have a racket going.”
Camille’s face warmed with the compliment. “That’s the idea,” she said as she hurried to the back room for a pre-made version of his selection. Back again, she took a few moments to check it over to be sure it was perfect, then nodded approvingly. “It’s actually a personal favorite of mine.”
Without warning, a white-hot pain seared through Camille’s chest and sliced down her left arm. Terrified, she wheezed, and struggled to get even a thimbleful of air into her lungs. Before she was able to say a word, a crushing force from within, more frightening than the pain she still felt, slammed into her torso with the strength of a truck, making her cry out in shock. She clawed at the neckline of her blouse.
A collage of horrified expressions spun out of control before her eyes. She slumped over the countertop, knocking chocolate-laden baskets, flowers, and colorful bottles of perfume to the floor. She wished she could cover her ears, block the cacophony of screeching, incoherent voices, and breaking glass. A macabre kaleidoscope filled her vision. She thought she heard Suzie’s panicked voice screaming for someone to call 911.
An awareness of her daughter, her beautiful, tenderhearted Kristin, flashed somewhere inside, followed quickly by an image of Bret and another of her parents. Bits and pieces of her life played out in fast-forward, flooding her heart with love, anger, joy, and sorrow. Compressed moments in time enveloped her, bringing with them the emotions she’d experienced and with whom. They shot through her at the speed of light, and she wondered how she could understand any of it. But she did. Every fleeting millisecond.
Was she dying? The thought of never seeing Kristin again produced an overwhelming agony, one far worse than the physical pain tearing her body apart. She wanted to live. There were too many things left to do. She wanted to find love again. Passion. She wasn’t ready to die, ready to give up her dreams, ready to go before finishing any of it.
She slid to the floor. Everything went black.
Almost instantly, a slight snapping sensation cleared her thoughts. Her panic evaporated. The pain vanished and she suddenly felt wonderful—the best she had in her entire life. Light and breezy. The shop seemed brighter, different.
Suzie and Pam, as well as Mr. Snyder, were huddled together as if looking at something on the floor. She called to them, trying to get their attention, wanting to tell them she felt better now, and that everything was okay.
They couldn’t hear her over all the commotion reverberating around in her small shop. People were whispering behind their hands. Others were crying. Customers left the store without completing their purchases. Camille tried to stop them, asked them to wait, but no one paid her any mind.
With a burst of frosty February air, two EMTs rushed in, one she recognized as Wade Moss, the other a stranger. They cleared the area where Pam and Suzie knelt.
Camille gasped. A woman was lying on the floor next to the display case. Her ghostly white face stood out sharply on the deep emerald and crimson of the floral tapestry rug.
Camille felt a resounding shock.
It was her face. Her body.
And yet, she looked different. Younger. Prettier than she remembered herself in the flat reflection of a mirror.
Was she dead? She must be.
Wade shook her shoulder. “Camille!”
He tipped her head back and pulled her chin up. At the same time, he placed his ear close to her mouth, listening. Putting a mask over her mouth and nose, he squeezed the air bag slowly once, then repeated the process. Placing two fingers on the artery in her neck, he checked for a pulse.
Camille watched with interest. These were people she loved. It hurt deeply to see them in such a state of distress. She needed to tell them she was okay. Happier than she’d ever been. It felt good and so natural to be rid of that encumbering coat of skin.
Wade’s companion cut away Camille’s blouse and bra in one quick motion. She was sure she should feel some embarrassment at being exposed to the bystanders like that, but she didn’t. He proceeded to apply two round pads, one centered above her left breast and the other more to the left side, and lower. He hooked them to a small machine he’d brought in with him. Wade continued with the chest compressions he was administering.
“Still no pulse,” Wade said, remaining steady and calm as he worked.
The other EMT flipped on a switch. His finger hovered over a button waiting for the signal. Wade nodded. A computerized female voice prompted, “Shock advised.”
Wade never took his gaze from Camille’s face as the numbers on the display raced up toward 300 joules. As the power climbed, an ascending hum of the machine mingled eerily with soft classical music that played in the background.
“Stand clear,” Wade commanded. At the exact moment he pressed the button, Camille’s body jerked violently as an electrical shock shot from one pad to the other.
Wade’s partner pressed the analyze button again. “Shock advised.”
“Charge.” The red light glowed.
Pam cried out and Suzie turned into her arms, weeping openly.
Camille watched from the ceiling where her spirit floated weightlessly. Even though she felt no pain, she didn’t like to watch as the electrical shock violated her body, making it react so abhorrently. It looked grotesque.
“Clear,” Wade said again.
Camille squeezed her eyes tightly closed and covered her ears.