MICHELLE’S STORY: FAST CASH IN SLOW TIMES - Cash in a Flash: Fast Money in Slow Times - Mark Victor Hansen, Robert G. Allen

Cash in a Flash: Fast Money in Slow Times - Mark Victor Hansen, Robert G. Allen (2009)

MICHELLE’S STORY: FAST CASH IN SLOW TIMES

Prologue

While the rest of the country was preoccupied with personal electronic gadgets and the transition from oversized SUVs to luxury hybrids, the quaint Colorado town managed to hold on to its small-town charm. It was a life without the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses. Here, an automobile was transportation, not a status symbol. Houses were full of life and love. Calendars marked weekly PTA meetings and soccer games, and four times a year a town fair would celebrate the change of seasons. Yes, life in Idyllwild, Colorado, was simple and people liked it that way, but everything was about to change. The lives of five women, including Michelle Erickson’s, would never be the same.

It had been eighteen months since Michelle Erickson won custody of her children, Nicky and Hannah, from her overbearing father-in-law, Anthony Erickson. Her husband of ten years, Gideon Erickson, had died in a violent car crash on a cold January evening as he drove home from work in Deer Creek, Colorado. His parents, Anthony and Natalie, had never liked Michelle, but that didn’t bother her much, because the feelings were mutual. “They are stuffy and condescending,” she often snarled to Gideon. He didn’t disagree; Gideon disliked the fact that his parents were rich braggarts. Michelle had loved this about her husband. She once whispered to Gideon as they drove past the guard gate of the Erickson estate that visiting his parents was like having a tooth pulled, over and over again. He laughed.

Michelle would often whisper things out of the children’s earshot. This was her way of keeping the adult friendship with Gideon alive and spunky, while preserving the children’s perception of their egotistical grandparents. No matter what Michelle thought of the Ericksons, they were still Gideon’s parents. As long as she had Gideon, she didn’t care what the Ericksons said about her parenting skills. She knew the love she shared with Gideon was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. It was a love that made her feel like she was forever standing in the afternoon warmth of the setting sun.

For ten years, her life, as she saw it, was perfect. Then it happened. The day she would never forget. It was a cold, lonely day in January. Michelle walked in with an armful of groceries when she saw the flashing red light of the answering machine. She wasn’t sure how many times she would listen to the message in the weeks that followed. With each listen, she hoped the ending would somehow miraculously change. It never did. Gideon was singing the kids’ favorite song, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” during the message when Michelle first heard the horrific sounds of crushing metal. Gideon had been involved in a four-car pileup caused by a drunk driver. Hoping to ease her pain, the highway patrolman told Michelle that Gideon had died instantly. It didn’t work. Gideon was dead, and she was devastated and now alone. Nothing could change the emptiness in her heart.

Upon hearing the news of his only son’s death, Anthony Erickson released a team of high-paid intellectual muscle on Gideon’s financial affairs. They quickly discovered that Michelle and Gideon had let the life insurance policy lapse and that Gideon’s business venture, a new product invention firm known as Gideon’s Gadgets, was bankrupt. Their savings account was minimal, and now with Gideon gone, Michelle was broke. Michelle couldn’t afford to raise the two children on her own. She would have to sell the house, but even then, she wouldn’t be able to afford the costs of raising two children on a minimum wage job. Seizing the opportunity for control, Anthony Erickson immediately filed for custody of Nicky and Hannah and won a questionable decision when Michelle was found to be an unfit mother, unable to care for her children.

She wasn’t sure how it happened, partly because she didn’t understand how someone could be so cruel, but Anthony Erickson was used to getting what he wanted. Somehow, Michelle found the strength to fight back when she remembered, almost instinctively, something Gideon said about being an inventor and living an entrepreneurial life: “When you risk big, you win big.” After carefully checking with her intuition, Michelle drove to her father-in-law’s house and asked, “How much is it going to take? How much do I have to make before you consider me a good mother? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million dollars?”

“A million.” He laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. You made thirty-five thousand dollars last year, and that was before taxes.”

Michelle dug in and fired back. “Care to make a wager?”

“Excuse me?”

“If I make a million dollars in twelve months, will you agree to give me back my children?”

A condescending smile crept across Erickson’s face.

“Very well, but you’ll have to earn it.”

“Fine,” Michelle shot back.

“And it cannot be gifted to you.”

“Fine.”

“And… the time limit is ninety days.”

“Ninety days? That’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t fair, Michelle. That’s the offer. Take it or leave it.”

“Fine. Ninety days. Have your lawyer draw up the papers.”

Based on her limited education and the ability to hold nothing more than a salesclerk position in the past, Anthony Erickson chomped down on the bait like a hungry shark. What he hadn’t counted on that day was Michelle’s sudden discovery, albeit crisis-driven, of a sense of self-worth. These were her children. This was serious. To Michelle, this was war.

With the help of her newfound mentor, Samantha Munroe, a self-made, enlightened millionaire, and a ragtag dream team of newbie entrepreneurs, Michelle was able to make a little over a million dollars in ninety days. Through a combination of hard work, real estate deals at the last minute, product inventions, and Web-based businesses, Michelle’s life was changed forever. She got her children back and discovered that a person can do just about anything as long as she truly knows—not just believes but knows on the most basic, soul-filled level—that her mission is connected to her heart. What seemed like a roadblock at first, this million-dollar challenge from Anthony Erickson, enabled Michelle to discover her true, authentic self. She was powerful. She was unstoppable. She was finally becoming the woman she used to dream about as a little girl. “Life couldn’t be sweeter,” she thought to herself in the months that followed her victory. She beat up the bully and she was proud of that. (Read the complete story in The One Minute Millionaire.)

The hardest thing for Michelle now was learning how to face the truth about who she had become during that ninety-day, million-dollar challenge. It was a series of hypothetical questions that would haunt her each time she found herself truly happy in a given moment. If it weren’t for Gideon’s death and the Ericksons’ cruel intentions, would she have come to this place of empowerment on her own? Why did she have to lose Gideon, and ultimately her old self along the way, to come to this level of self-awareness? Why couldn’t this discovery of inner peace be manifested on her own volition, without the loss of her beloved? Was Gideon an angel sent into her life so she could become the person she was today? It was this sobering debate of spiritual enlightenment that was a daily struggle for Michelle.

Over time, her thoughts of happiness began to overpower her thoughts of guilt. She learned to be grateful for who she was, her role as an enlightened millionaire, and the mother she was becoming. She was a living testament that wealth was an energetic vibration, not a possession to hoard. Money comes and goes in life, but spiritual enlightenment and self-awareness last forever. Which is why, when Michelle woke up in the middle of the night and felt the call to move away from Deer Creek, Colorado, she didn’t think twice. She sold her house, making a tidy profit, of course, and began the transition to a new life.

The Ericksons tried to put up a fight when Michelle told them she was moving away with the kids, but the fight was short-lived because Michelle could now afford the same powerful lawyers as the Ericksons. Anthony Erickson lost his ability to bully Michelle. Ironically, it was his bullying that had caused her to overcome the poverty mind-set she had carried with her ever since her mother died of cancer when Michelle was fifteen. However much she disliked him personally, she found a way to be grateful for Anthony Erickson because he pushed her to become more of the woman she now was.

Knowing the importance of family, Michelle agreed to periodic holiday and birthday visits. Gideon would’ve liked this, she thought before calling Anthony with the news. She enjoyed the conversation that day, which caught the bitter Erickson off-guard. Michelle was learning that her happiness had nothing to do with the circumstances or appearances of her life. Happiness was up to her, and she was now learning to be happy from the inside out. Michelle was finally learning to like herself.

Even though she was happy with her decision to move away, Michelle had trouble silencing the pestering doubts associated with facing the unknown. As these thoughts came into her awareness, Michelle tried to remember the spiritual principle she’d learned during her ninety-day ordeal with the Ericksons: once you determine the why, the how will soon follow. It was one of the laws of the universe, and who was she to think otherwise? But, where would she go? What would she do? As the uncertain thoughts raced through her mind, she decided that she would wait for a clear message before she made her next decision concerning the move out of town.

The message came to her while visioning one night in her living room. These visioning sessions, otherwise known as conscious dreaming, was a practice Samantha had taught her. It was a practice of sitting still with her thoughts. She loved looking into the unknown of tomorrow by opening herself up to the grand possibilities of who she was and what she was doing, moment by moment.

It had been three weeks since she’d first made the decision to move. The house had been sold, the closing was imminent, and Michelle faced the formidable task of packing up their lives. She laughed at how much stuff she and Gideon had accumulated over the years. But now she was yearning for a more simple life. It was hard for her to throw anything away that evoked a connection to Gideon, but she knew possessions were just things. To Michelle, love was a dance between two souls and wasn’t defined by achievements or the possessions of things. The love she’d shared with Gideon was pure, and trinkets had nothing to do with that love.

The children were fast asleep in their beds when the message came to her. The summer rain had begun to lightly drum on the rooftop. This was one of the things Michelle loved about living in Colorado, the unpredictable weather. For her, the sound of rain somehow came with a soothing, romantic view of life. It calmed her soul.

Sitting on the living room floor, she closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift toward her new life … in a new town … away from the watchful eyes of the Ericksons. It would be a fresh start for everyone, she thought. The message came almost in an instant, like a lightning bolt of inspiration! She would open a small bookstore in Idyllwild, Colorado. She knew opening an independent bookstore was a counterintuitive notion given the presence of superstores and the downturn in the economy, but she trusted the message. She knew if she opened a bookstore, it would have to be unique. It was in that moment her idea took shape. She wanted to open her eyes and rush to the computer to write down the inspiration, for fear of losing it, but she reminded herself that nothing is ever lost in the mind of God. If an idea is connected to a person’s soul-filled purpose, any fear of lack will dissolve away into nothingness. This was her understanding of faith: trust the small stuff, because in the end it’s all small stuff.

Letting go of her own perceptions of what she thought might be possible in life, Michelle began to concentrate on the idea further. Deep, soul-filling breaths calmed her soul. After fifteen minutes inside this visioning stillness, Michelle began writing what she would later refer to as her vision manifesto—which, to her, was nothing more than a to-do list for dreamers. She was a single mother of two, thirty-five years old, and about to start her life.

1
The Wealth Menu
What Are You Ordering?

Drifting in and out of focus, the images were confusing at first. Colors blurred into each other like a Salvador Dalí painting, melting in the hot Colorado sun. The video camera jerked back and forth before landing on Michelle, tailgating the rusty pickup truck in front of her, as it dodged in and out of the morning rush hour traffic. She checked her watch, hoping the time had somehow stalled on her behalf, but it hadn’t. She was late.

Moving to pass the pickup truck and get away from the choking black smoke belching from its tailpipe, Michelle looked over her shoulder to make sure the road was clear. As her eyes came back to the road ahead, she saw the crimson brake lights of the pickup truck coming directly at her. The driver of the pickup heard Michelle’s screeching tires but didn’t care as he casually made the illegal left-hand turn onto Oxnard Street. Michelle jammed on the brakes with both feet, but it was no use—she was about to smash into the pickup.

Michelle took her foot off the brake pedal, yanked the steering wheel to the right, and hit the accelerator, narrowly missing the edge of the truck’s dented, spray-painted bumper. They were safe, but the momentary sigh of relief was cut short as she slammed into a large pothole in the middle of the street. Loose change from the ashtray jumped into the air like popcorn in a hot pan as the camera jerked back and forth again.

“Mom, I’m rolling back here,” Nicky, her nine-year-old, blurted out, attempting to steady the video camera. Hannah, Michelle’s excitable seven-year-old, buckled into the seat next to her brother, reacted as if this were some kind of an amusement park ride. Michelle managed to smile at her daughter in the rearview mirror. Ever since the move to Idyllwild two years ago, Hannah’s personality had finally begun to blossom. She was no longer a shy little girl who had trouble making friends in school. She was fearless for a seven-year-old, Michelle thought as she focused on the road ahead.

During the months following Gideon’s death, Michelle had spent many sleepless nights, worried how her children would react to the violent and sudden death of their father. Would they blame her for his death somehow? Perhaps suffer a crippling dysfunction at school, struggling to fit in with the new kids in Idyllwild? At first Michelle thought Hannah’s sudden transformation had something to do with the distance from the Ericksons, now some two hundred miles away, but it was her big brother, Nicky, who made the difference in Hannah’s life. The two had become friends and rarely fought since their father died. Their friendship had a sweetness that couldn’t be taught by a parent. It was instinct, Michelle thought. She was proud of who they were. With the exception of Nicky’s newfound love of filmmaking, Nicky and Hannah were inseparable.

Armed with a digital video camera Michelle had bought him for his ninth birthday, Nicky was at work on his latest short film, Another Endless Summer Without a Dog. Nicky loved the title. It was his way of lobbying with his mother for a golden retriever puppy. Michelle, on the other hand, was lobbying in return for Nicky to learn how to keep his room clean. Nicky had become somewhat of an artist, calling the room his “creative expression.” Michelle called it a pigsty, which left the puppy negotiations at a standstill. She knew she’d give in to the demands soon enough, perhaps for Christmas morning, she thought, but for now, she was intent on teaching Nicky the valuable lesson “chores before stores.” Michelle thought if you wanted something bad enough, you had to be willing to work for it. The pride of ownership follows the pride of earnership. It was a good ideal and she stuck to it. It was important to Michelle that her children learned about money.

Nicky now framed his camera on Hannah, who was busy brushing her Barbie’s hair. Sensing the camera, Hannah slowly looked up and scowled at Nicky before turning away. Nicky’s first piece of work had been a three-minute exposé on Hannah’s life, aptly titled My Baby Sister, Hannah Banana. As a result, Hannah was on strike. It wasn’t so much the nickname Hannah Banana that bothered her as much as the notion that she was still considered the baby of the family. Hannah was seven years old and about to start the second grade. “Babies wear diapers,” she’d yelled after seeing the film screened in the family room that Sunday night.

Nicky pushed in for a close-up on Hannah. Clearing his throat, he asked in his best anchorman voice, “So, Hannah Erickson, what do you think about golden retriever puppies? Shouldn’t every kid have a dog?”

“Mom,” Hannah quickly protested.

“Come on, don’t be a baby.”

“Mom!”

Turning onto the frontage road outside Idyllwild Elementary School, Michelle spun around.

“That’s enough, Nicky. Put the camera away.”

“Mom!”

“We’re almost there.”

“But I’m working.” Nicky took his new hobby seriously and had begun watching the nightly news so he could research how the professionals did it. He was nine years old going on twenty-five.

“And you know the rules, mister. Your sister’s off-limits.”

“It’s not like I posted it on YouTube or nothing.”

“Stop it!” Hannah shouted.

“Nicky. Hand it over.”

“But Mom—”

“Don’t but Mom me, hand it over.” Nicky’s eyes narrowed in frustration, but he quickly relented when he caught the single look from his mother in the rearview mirror.

“Okay, fine. My chip is full anyway.” Slapping the viewfinder shut, Nicky muttered something about freedom of the press before handing over the camera. They rode in silence until Hannah giggled and said, “That sounds funny.”

“What does, honey?” Michelle asked.

“‘Don’t but Mom me.’”

Michelle ran it over in her head a few times before she started to laugh. Nicky tried to hold out, but when it was isolated, “don’t but Mom me” did sound funny. He joined in the laughter, and just like that, the pouting was over.

Michelle loved the relationship she had with her children. No matter what the Ericksons thought of her skills as a mother, they couldn’t deny she was raising two great kids. Nicky’s laugh reminded her of Gideon, and there wasn’t a day that passed where she didn’t think of her husband. She missed him dearly, but was forever thankful for the beautiful reminders sitting in her backseat, now laughing hysterically with each other.

As the car pulled up to the drop-off curb in front of Idyllwild Elementary School, the doors flung open in unison as the school bell rang.

“Okay, guys, Justine will pick you up at three-thirty. I have book club tonight, so don’t give her any trouble,” Michelle said. “And no dilly-dallying, Nicky. I don’t want you to keep her waiting.”

“Mom, nobody says dilly-dallying anymore,” said Nicky, who in the past five weeks had discovered what “being cool” really meant, at least to a nine-year-old.

“You just be on time.”

“Will you please think about the puppy today?”

“Honey, I think about the puppy every day, and until you learn how to keep your room clean, the answer is still no.”

“You’re so mean,” he said, hanging his head, which was a bid for sympathy. Michelle wasn’t buying it.

“I know, I’m horrible. Now give me a kiss.” He rolled his eyes as he leaned forward and gave her a kiss good-bye. Hannah quickly did the same, then dashed out the door, catching up with her brother as he entered through the main doors of the school.

When the kids were safely inside, Michelle eyes drifted upward to the leaves falling from the giant maple tree hanging overhead. Fall had arrived, and it was the first day of school. The skies were dark with an approaching storm. The air was crisp, and Michelle couldn’t believe that another school year was about to begin.

Down the street at Lei Kim’s Diner, Mayor Brady Wilson sat in the front booth reading the newspaper. He was forty-three, but his wavy blond hair kept him looking like a man in his early thirties. He was on this day, much like every day, impeccably dressed in a black pinstriped suit with a crisp red paisley tie. He was a big fish in a small pond, but he preferred it that way. “Small-town living with a big-city mind for progress” was the platform he’d used to win his second election as the mayor of Idyllwild. He was well informed, educated, and a student of the game. Mayor Wilson pushed the importance of current affairs, not just for the politicians of the world but also for every citizen of the community. You’d think he owned the Wall Street Journal the way he recommended reading it daily. “How can you vote on the issues if you don’t know what’s going on in the world?” he often lectured to anyone who would listen.

Lei Kim, a Korean-born woman in her late sixties, wiped her hands on the floral print apron tied around her plump waist as she retrieved Mayor Wilson’s order from the pickup counter: scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, one crisp piece of bacon, a sausage patty, two slices of fresh avocado, and double-toasted wheat toast. Lei Kim never minded the special order—after all, he was the mayor, and he was sitting in her diner, something he did five days a week. The diner had a faithful following, not because the food was so good, which it was, but because Lei Kim made everyone feel as if each meal was prepared by the loving hands of the customers’ own mothers. She was sweet, caring, and knew her way around the kitchen.

Balancing the plates like a pro, Lei Kim hipped her way through the double doors next to the lunch counter. As she passed the back booth, she saw her only son, Johnny Kim, texting on his phone in the back booth.

“Put the phone away and get back to work,” she said with a disapproving glare.

“You see a customer who needs waitin’ on, and I’ll snap to, Mom. I promise,” Johnny said, continuing to type away on the keyboard of his phone. While he was certainly the poster boy for a lazy, self-entitled generation, Johnny did have a valid point. With the exception of three tables and two counter jockeys—a term Johnny had coined for old customers who dined alone—the diner was all but empty.

The decline in meals served had begun ten months ago when a Starbucks moved into town. It was a sign that the get-up-and-go lifestyle usually reserved for big-city America had finally arrived in here Idyllwild. But it wasn’t just Idyllwild, and Lei Kim knew it. People everywhere were becoming more and more impatient with daily life, and it was this fast-food mentality that somehow had caused a shift in traditional values. And now, sadly, small-town America was being replaced by strip malls and corporate chain stores.

Lei Kim stopped dead in her tracks. If you listened hard enough, you would probably have heard her sneakers skid to a halt. She did an about-face and with silent authority she took a step back toward Johnny.

“Get up, grab the dustpan and the broom, and sweep up around here. I’m not paying you to text your friends.”

Lei Kim didn’t need to tell him twice. While Johnny did have a smart mouth, Lei Kim ruled. Johnny grabbed the dustpan-and-broom combination from the utility closet and began to carelessly sweep his way through the diner. Making sure his mother was busy delivering the mayor’s breakfast, Johnny pulled out his iPod Nano and snuck the earbuds into his ears. Like most kids his age, Johnny was a walking LCD light if you counted all the electronics he carried at one given time.

“Okay, here we go, Mr. Mayor,” Lei Kim announced over his Wall Street Journal.

Folding his paper, Mayor Wilson thanked Lei Kim, and smiled as Michelle entered through the front door in a rush. He’d liked her from the minute he first saw her standing in line at city hall nearly two years ago. Michelle had been applying for her business license, and Mayor Wilson had been on the campaign trail for reelection. For the past six months, Brady Wilson had been a man on a mission. He was attempting to court Michelle, but she didn’t think it was appropriate yet to introduce a new man in her children’s lives, so they remained just good friends. Her spirit was light and he needed that in his life. It had been three years since he’d lost his wife to a long battle with cancer. He was ready to start again, but Michelle wanted to take things slowly. He understood this, but liked her nonetheless.

Lei Kim greeted Michelle with a warm hug.

“Are you hungry, dear?” she asked.

Michelle was running late and didn’t have time for breakfast. “Just a coffee to go.” While Michelle greeted the mayor with a quick smile, Lei Kim began to lecture, something she often did, on the importance of a healthy meal.

“Breakfast means breaking the fast. Now you can’t do that with coffee and a doughnut, now can you?” Lei Kim didn’t wait for an answer, as her attention was drawn to Johnny trying to sweep a piece of paper into the dustpan. After his third stroke, he braced the broom against his neck and tried to sweep the trash into the dustpan.

“Maybe just bend down and pick it up next time.”

“Stupid broom gave me no leverage. What am I gonna do?”

Mumbling to herself out of frustration with her son, Lei Kim crossed back into the kitchen with a purpose.

Michelle turned to Mayor Wilson and delivered an apologetic smile.

“Sorry I can’t stay—first day of school has put my morning behind. I have to get the store ready to open up. Are we still on for Thursday lunch?”

“Actually, I have a better idea. What time do the kids go to sleep?” he said, leaning in with a smile. “I could come over, make dinner, and we could… watch a movie or something?”

“Brady…” Her words trailed off. “I think it’s probably best we keep with lunches for now. I’m just not ready for anything serious right now. Is that okay?”

Before he could answer, Lei Kim returned with a brown paper bag for Michelle.

“What’s this?” Michelle asked.

“Fresh fruit and oatmeal. You can eat in the car.”

“But I didn’t order—

“No, you didn’t. Your body did, and you can thank me when you get to be my age,” Lei Kim said with a smile. Even though she was probably thirty pounds overweight and a recent convert to veganism for medical reasons, the woman was an expert on food. Nobody could doubt that.

Michelle thanked Lei Kim and said good-bye to the mayor. His eyes followed her out the door. Michelle looked back and delivered the smile he loved so much. Mayor Wilson smiled back and returned to his breakfast, but Lei Kim was still standing over the table.

“She’s one of the good ones, you know,” Lei Kim offered.

“Yes, I know.” He was about to take a bite of toast when she leaned forward like an overprotective mother

“Have you ever visited New Orleans, Mr. Mayor?” she asked.

“I believe I have.”

“Did you try the gumbo?”

“It’s a little early for me to start thinking about gumbo. I’m still trying to eat my breakfast.”

Lei Kim stopped his hand just as the toast was about to reach his mouth. She looked into his eyes. “It’s never too early to talk about gumbo, and the secret to a good gumbo is to not rush it. If you rush the roux, you’ll ruin the gumbo.” Then she walked off. The mayor caught the eyes of the old man sitting at the counter.

“I guess she told you,” he chuckled to the mayor, sipping his coffee.

The mayor offered a “thanks for playing” smile, then bit into his morning toast, which was now cold. Tossing it onto the plate, he returned to his Wall Street Journal.

2
The Last-Minute Millionaire
The Birthing of Desire

With rustic awnings hanging over the old wooden sidewalk, Idyllwild’s Main Street was a throwback to Colorado’s silver-mining days. The Heartlight Bookstore occupied part of a two-story brick building that ran the length of the short city block between Cedar and Van Ness Boulevard. There were three distinct spaces in the bookstore. The one to the left was called “Book of Dreams” and was specifically designed for children. The name of the room came from a workshop Michelle had held last summer that taught children to dream out loud. This merely meant she taught them how to express their creative impulse. Through the process of journaling, she was able to teach children the expression principles of “Don’t think it, ink it” and Speak it, then see it.”

Equipped with Apple computers, toys, and zebra-patterned beanbag chairs scattered about the floor, the Book of Dreams was meant to foster creativity and learning through the practice of free writing. The only thing missing from the experience for the children were the latest titles in video games. It wasn’t as if Michelle was taking a stance against video games in general; she was simply for creativity. She had a habit of never being against anything. Rather, she was always for something, and she wanted kids to come to the store to expand their ability for conceptual thought, not to learn how to shoot a gun through computer simulation or learn things by memorization. The decision to exclude video games from the store was applauded by parents and teachers alike, which only added to the community appeal of the Heart-light Bookstore. At any one time during the weekends, the room was filled with ten to fifteen kids, buzzing with creativity.

While other shops along Main Street discouraged schoolkids from hanging out after school, Michelle welcomed them because the Heartlight Bookstore was “more than just a bookstore,” as she was quoted in the local paper’s community profile section. In two short years, Michelle had managed to turn the store into something of a community center where people came to mingle and engage in fellowship. The Heartlight Bookstore was indeed more than a bookstore; it was an interactive book-buying experience.

The room off to the right was known as the “E-Book Room.” Filled with more Apple computers and high-speed Internet connections, the room offered customers a place to purchase and print out what had become known as the “ten-minute e-book.” Ten-minute e-books were the latest phenomenon to hit the publishing world, and one that had become Michelle’s hottest-selling item in the store. The e-books offered customers a condensed version of most every literary title available. Publishers thought this “drive-through” approach to the written word ultimately would lure customers back to purchase the entire book. The idea worked. Michelle was selling more books as a result of the e-book system than ever before. The idea was first conceived as a promotional tool by the publishers, but turned out to be another source of revenue for everyone involved.

In the middle of the main room sat a giant coffee table in front of two comfy slipcovered couches. If it weren’t for the retail activity going on inside the store, it would appear as if you were sitting in someone’s living room. This had been Michelle’s intention when she first conceived the idea for a bookstore—she wanted people to feel at home. If she was going to compete against the online and brick-and-mortar giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, she knew she had to offer something more than a good price. She needed to sell the entire book-buying experience. Which is why when she saw a print-on-demand machine in Europe, which could print and bind any book while you wait, Michelle did research to find out more about the process. Foyles, the European company that perfected the print-on-demand business model, offered all types of books. They had softbound, hardbound, oversized trade, ancient, out-of-print, and specialty textbooks instantly available in print or to be put on your memory stick, iPod, Kindle, or any PDA, for that matter. The one thing they didn’t have, however, was the desire to bring the service to America. When Michelle discovered this, she immediately saw the opportunity. She wanted to do for books what Tom Black had done for ATM machines in the United States. Tom Black was an entrepreneur she’d read about in Fortunemagazine who started the ATM terminal machine business in America and subsequently made millions. Every entrepreneur has at least one billion-dollar idea, and the print-on-demand idea for America was Michelle’s.

She also installed a self-service popcorn machine, and each table carried a candy jar, just like her Grandma Mohagen had always had. There was something inviting and soulfully warm about the smell of freshly popped corn and Michelle knew it. Every time a new batch was popped, sales would jump, and as a result, people in town were talking about the different bookstore on Main Street. Word of mouth was more than good—in fact, business was great—but Michelle knew fads would come and go, so she kept thinking of ways to keep things fresh. To bolster weekend foot traffic, Michelle began “Acoustic Night at the Heartlight.” Every Saturday evening, a local artist would perform as customers shopped. The concept was a perfect combination of artistic expression, community fellowship, and retail promotion.

The outer walls were lined with old wooden bookshelves, which held the literary works of fiction. The rest of the bookcases were like the spokes of a wheel, angling outward from the center couch area. Michelle was particularly proud of her financial book section, but the section with the highest purchase volume was romances. On the other end of the spectrum were the nonfiction titles, which barely made the sales needle move. It must be the weather, Michelle thought, and the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Curling up in front of a fire with a self-help book didn’t sound as inviting as curling up with a romance novel by Nora Roberts as the snow fell outside.

The Heartlight’s book-of-the-month club met the first Tuesday of every month. Francie Huffington was the first to arrive, but this wasn’t unusual for the rich Texas-born socialite, who had trouble filling her days since her husband’s death three years ago. Her husband, Christopher R. Huffington, had been a third-generation oilman from Texas who took up the habit of smoking at the age of thirteen. The habit Christopher referred to as “the only thing he could count on” killed him two months shy of his fifty-seventh birthday. The death was hard on Francie, but she never let on. She was fifty-nine, beautiful, outspoken, and egocentric. The combination made it hard for most people in town to like her, but that was the thing about Francie—she didn’t care about other people or what they thought of her.

Sharply dressed with perfectly styled, platinum-blond hair, Francie entered under the protection of a large black umbrella, dripping with rain. Peeling off the purple Calvin Klein raincoat she’d special-ordered from Barneys New York, Francie announced a weather update to Michelle, who at the moment was across the room, preparing to close up shop.

“Storm’s gonna be a gully washer for sure,” she said, hanging up her raincoat. Even though she and Christopher had moved to Idyllwild some ten years ago, just before he got sick, Francie’s Texas accent was still evident.

“Is it starting to come down?” Michelle asked, removing the cash drawer from the register.

“Oh yes. She’s puddlin’ up over there on Maple Drive, gonna make it hard for folks to get home,” Francie said, looking around at the empty store. “Just you and me tonight?”

Before Michelle could answer, Lei Kim entered through the back door, as she often did. Carrying a tray of her latest culinary invention, she shook off the rain and closed the door behind her. While she made her reputation as the best short-order grill chef around, Lei Kim’s food inventions had become something of a legend. Her latest was fueled by her customers’ on-the-go lifestyle and her own diet restrictions. Lei Kim was constantly searching for something that would not only provide the necessary nutrients one would get from a full meal but would taste good as well. The latest culinary concoction was a vegan chocolate chip raw food bar, which was sweetened with a slight touch of molasses, which made the bar irresistible despite the lack of butter and sugar in the ingredients.

Michelle looked at the grandfather clock near the front counter. The oversized hands indicated that it was 6:45 P.M.

“Let me put this in the safe and we’ll get started,” Michelle said as she moved around the front counter to enter the hallway. She noticed the somber look on Lei Kim’s face. She was preoccupied with something and it showed.

“You okay?” she asked quietly.

“Oh yes, thank you,” Lei Kim replied, offering a half smile. She was perhaps one of the sweetest people in all of Idyllwild, Michelle thought, forever polite and always with a smile, but Michelle had come to learn how to read Lei Kim and she knew when something was wrong.

“Married life?”

“My son,” she said, almost embarrassed.

“Trouble at school?”

“That would mean he’d have to be registered in school.” When Michelle’s eyes widened, Lei Kim continued. “He just informed me that he won’t be going back to Boulder.”

“I thought he was on a scholarship.”

“He did not attend class last semester, so they pulled the scholarship.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“No it’s not,” Francie shot as she dug in her purse for a piece of chewing gum.

“Francie….”

“Worst thing you could do right now is to help him out. Young people today need to understand that actions have consequences. Just my two cents, mind you, but Lei Kim… you have to stand firm with the young man. It’s about the only way he’ll learn.”

“She’s right,” Michelle said.

“I don’t know what I did wrong,” Lei Kim said, frustrated.

“Honey, it’s not your fault,” Francie said. “Free will has to account for something. He made his bed, now he has to lie in it. You just take my advice.”

“I’m worried about him,” Lei Kim replied.

“He’s young. He’s got many mistakes to make, and this isn’t the last of them. Trust me, he’ll be fine.” Francie smiled.

“I hope you’re right,” Lei Kim said, unable to hide her concern.

As Francie led Lei Kim over to the couches, Michelle put the cash drawer in the office safe.

Next to arrive was Lisa Garcia. Entering through the front doors, dressed in her usual Marmot jacket, blue jeans, and worn-out Asolo hiking books, Lisa fit the part of a woman who loved to go camping. But that was the funny thing about Lisa—she had never been camping a day in her life. She couldn’t stand mosquitoes, and she’d never been one for roughing it. Lisa just liked the way the warm clothes made her feel comfortable and safe.

Shaking the rain from her jacket, she fought with her umbrella, trying to close it as she entered. It was a losing battle because the umbrella refused to cooperate. She tried to force it shut, but nothing worked. Just when she was about to throw a fit, something she was good at, Lisa froze.

“I smell chocolate,” she said as her eyes searched the room like a satellite dish looking for a signal. Lisa had a thing about sweets, but chocolate was her weakness. She was never without it. Some people had a gum fascination, but Lisa was a chocoholic.

Lisa had met Michelle two years ago at the semiannual parent-teacher barbecue for Idyllwild Elementary. Held each year, the party gave parents a chance to network with other parents as well as teachers in hopes of making the most of their children’s educational experience.

Lisa had grown up in Idyllwild, and she spent a year in California with a girlfriend before finally starting college two years after high school. Once in college, Lisa became something of a loose cannon. Late-night parties and missed classes was her major for her first year. During her second year, at the age of twenty-two, Lisa became pregnant. The problem for Lisa was she didn’t know who the father was. After all, she was dating three different guys during the summer before her sophomore year, so when a visit to the doctor confirmed she was indeed pregnant, Lisa packed up and moved in with her parents on the south side of Idyllwild. Nine months later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy she named Russell. Russell was the same age as Nicky, which seemed to strengthen the friendship between the two single mothers.

When Lisa lost her job at McGregor’s Department Store after payroll cutbacks, Michelle had hired her to help run the day-to-day responsibilities of the Heartlight. After only six months of work, Michelle gave Lisa a raise that eclipsed her salary at McGregor’s. Michelle’s entrepreneurial philosophy was simple—“pay more to get more.” If you wanted an employee to perform at their highest level, reward them. The philosophy worked. Lisa gave the job 110 percent and Michelle, in return, treated her not like an employee but as a business partner. The problem with Lisa, however, was that she was always short on two things: time and money. She made living paycheck-to-paycheck an art form.

Michelle and Lisa shared the most reliable babysitter in town, Justine Dawson, a college student majoring in child development, which in the end was like having a schoolteacher as your babysitter.

“I know it’s here. I can smell it,” Lisa said, slowly taking off her jacket.

“Special batch, just for you,” Lei Kim answered, rising from the couch.

“Are you going to make me share like last time?” Lisa joked.

“There’s plenty for everyone. And I tried something new this time. These are 100 percent vegan goodies,” Lei Kim said, peeling back the aluminum foil covering the chocolate treats.

“You know, Cameron Diaz is a vegetarian,” Lisa said, scooping out a chocolate chip bar.

“Who’s that?” Lei Kim asked.

“Who’s that?” Lisa said with a mouthful. “Lei Kim, come on. Don’t you watch the movies?” The blank look on Lei Kim’s face quickly answered the question. “Here, look,” Lisa said, grabbing a copy of People magazine from the magazine racks. She quickly flipped to a page about celebrity vegetarians. Lisa was an avid reader of the celebrity rags and knew the who’s who of Hollywood like a preacher knew the Bible.

“She’s pretty,” Lei Kim replied, digging out a second helping of the dessert.

“Vegetarianism is really popular in Hollywood. I’m even thinking about doing it,” Lisa said as she took another huge bite of the vegan bar.

“Thinking about what?” Michelle asked, exiting the office.

“Lisa’s turning vegetarian because it’s popular in Hollywood,” Francie said with a tone of skepticism.

“Don’t make fun, Francie. I’m really considering it.”

“No more turkey at Thanksgiving?” Michelle asked with a smile.

“They have that Tofurkey thing, don’t they, Lei Kim?”

“Yes. But I will admit, Tofurkey is not as good as the real thing,” Lei Kim answered.

“If you cook it, I’m sure I’d find a way to eat it,” Lisa said, popping the last bite of her second bar into her mouth. Blessed with an overactive metabolism, Lisa was never shy when it came time for sweets, especially anything with chocolate. Lei Kim loved this about her, but was envious Lisa could eat whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it. Lei Kim, on the other hand, had always said she could gain ten pounds just by smelling dessert.

Looking around the store, Michelle checked her watch and decided to close five minutes early. It was, after all, Tuesday, and the approaching storm, which promised to pack a punch, seemed to have driven most people home early. The weather was hard to predict along the Rockies. Storms could arrive in an instant, or never materialize at all. This storm, however, seemed to have vengeance on its mind.

“I’ll get the front door,” Francie announced as she straightened her perfectly ironed blouse and moved to the front of the store. Just as she reached out to lock the antique stained-glass doors, they were pushed open by a young black woman. Disheveled and unkempt, with baggy clothes, the young black woman was about to step out of the falling rain before Francie stopped her.

“I’m sorry, but we’re closed for the evening,” Francie said, blocking the door with her arm.

“It ain’t seven o’clock.”

“It isn’t seven o’clock,” Francie said, correcting the young woman’s grammar, “and that doesn’t matter. We are closed.”

“Your sign right there says seven o’clock.” She pointed to the hours of operation posted in the front window.

“Like I said, we are closed for the evening. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

“Please, I need to look for a book,” the young woman said, not backing down from Francie. She was maybe seventeen or eighteen years old. Her hair was cut short, but tangled and badly in need of a shampoo and a brush. Dripping wet, her honest face wore the hardship of life on the street. Her eyes were sad.

“I’m sorry,” Francie replied after a quick beat of consideration.

“I said please,” the girl fired back, putting her hand on the door to push it open.

“Young lady, remove your hands from this door.”

“Francie, it’s okay. She can come in,” Michelle said, approaching from behind.

Francie kept her arm up, blocking the young woman from entering, while she whispered back to Michelle, “Look at her, she’s obviously homeless.”

“It’s okay. Let her in,” Michelle whispered back.

“Michelle, the girl stinks,” Francie said as she leaned in closer.

Michelle gave Francie a compassionate smile, then welcomed the young woman into the store. “You can come in, but I need you to make it quick. We have a meeting starting in five minutes.”

“No problem,” the young woman said as she stepped out of the rain. As she passed by, she shot Francie a nasty glare. Francie’s eyes narrowed, not willing to be bullied by the younger woman.

“What kind of book are you looking for?” Michelle asked, leading the woman into the store.

“Parenting. I mean, ya know, stuff about babies,” she replied quietly, suddenly embarrassed that Lei Kim and Lisa were now watching her as well. Before Michelle could get a word in, the young woman offered up that her sister was about to have a baby. Michelle smiled and tried to make small talk with the woman, who mumbled more than spoke, but she grew quiet when Michelle showed her the section on parenting.

“I’ll be right over here if you need anything,” Michelle said, but the woman picked up a new release and began thumbing through the pages.

Michelle smiled and walked away. Watching the events closely, Francie delivered a condescending huff and crossed back to her purse for a quick shot of antibacterial gel. Francie was a clean freak. She was, after all, a Virgo. Just as she snapped the cap onto the antibacterial gel bottle, a giant thunderclap announced the hailstorm arriving outside.

Ice pellets the size of marbles began to bounce off the cars parked along Main Street. The women gathered around the front of the store to watch as the street quickly became white as snow. The howling wind whistled through the cracks of the old building like in a spooky Vincent Price film. The storm, however violent it appeared, made Michelle smile because the white streets made her think of Gideon and their honeymoon in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It was hard to believe so many years had passed since that amazing week.

The two had planned on hiking to the hot springs, kayaking the river, and many nights with good food and better wine, but none of that ever happened. Michelle and Gideon spent the entire week in the cabin, buried in a sea of down pillows and blankets, as the biggest storm on record hammered the area. Looking back on it, as she often did when the streets were dusted white, Michelle could feel the love they’d shared as if it were yesterday. Fond memories she would never soon forget.

She wasn’t sure how it happened, but Michelle’s past had become a source of celebration and not pain. She’d learned in losing Gideon that there were no good or bad situations in life, just varying degrees of what is. The pain and pleasure of life were there to make each moment, each day, a little bit sweeter. There were tears for times gone by, but for the most part, Michelle felt blessed to have shared a once-in-a-lifetime love. It was this kind of love she’d hold out for, but there was no rush, she told herself whenever she felt lonely. She wondered at times if she would find that with the mayor. Was he the one for her? All she knew right now was that she was enjoying the storm outside, which was beginning to show off its sharp, jagged teeth.

Francie, on the other hand, was visibly shaken each time the lightning hit, dimming the lights of the store with every strike.

“Makes you feel like a kid again, doesn’t it?” Lei Kim asked with a smile.

“Not really,” Francie said.

“I love it,” Michelle said, putting her arm around Lei Kim.

Lisa cleared the coffee table to get ready for the meeting. Lei Kim eased into one of the antique rockers by the front door. Her smile seemed to widen as the wind whistled through the antique front doors of the shop.

With all the action going on, they forgot about the young woman still inside the store. Oblivious to the storm raging outside, the young woman flipped through the pages of a book like a student looking for the answers to a pop quiz. Suddenly, the wind became deafening as the hail began to pelt the windows, which rattled beyond their limits. The chorus of violence finally exploded as a tree limb, about eight inches in diameter, crashed through the store’s front window.

Broken glass flew inside the store and the wind rushed in uninvited. Lei Kim’s chair tipped over backward. Lisa quickly hit the deck, scrambling under the coffee table like a rabbit down its hole. Francie fell back behind the front counter, more startled than hurt. Behind a stack of new arrivals, Michelle peered out in fascination. The violent storm, once outside, was now inside her store, wreaking havoc. Hail mixed with rain began to pelt the new carpet. Paperbacks were getting soaked, loose papers flew into the air like confetti, and cardboard displays toppled over without argument.

Over the howling wind, Michelle yelled over to Lei Kim, but there was no answer. Lei Kim was motionless, facedown under a large portion of the tree limb. Worst-case scenarios shot through Michelle’s mind in an instant. Was Lei Kim dead? Had the tree limb crushed her?

Shielding her eyes from the pelting hail and rain, Michelle crawled her way over to Lei Kim’s side.

“Is she okay?” Francie yelled over to Michelle.

“I don’t know. She’s shaking.”

As Michelle leaned closer, she realized Lei Kim was shaking because she was laughing.

“I think I peed my pants,” she said, wiping the rain from her eyes.

“You scared me!” Michelle said.

“Scared you? How do you think I felt?” Lei Kim returned as they began to laugh together. Just then Michelle remembered the young woman. She glanced over to the parenting section, but she was gone.

“Where’d she go?” she yelled out over the wind.

“Where’d who go?” Lisa shouted from under the table.

“Lisa? Where are you?” Michelle asked.

“Under the table,” Lisa said, crawling out. “Hey, I wasn’t taking any chances when I saw that tree coming at me. Stop, drop, and roll, right?”

“That’s for a fire,” Francie said, correcting her.

“Where’s the girl?” Michelle asked again.

“She was right there a second ago,” Lisa replied.

“Hopefully the stinky thing got the message and left.”

“Francie, be nice,” Michelle said, rising.

“You see, that’s your problem, Michelle. You’re too nice. What that girl needs is a good swift kick in the pants,” Francie offered.

“Poor thing. I hope she’s okay,” Lei Kim added.

“Oh, enough about the girl. What are we gonna do about the window?” Francie added.

Looking down the hall, Michelle saw the young woman lying on the floor just inside the open bathroom door.

“Call 911!” Michelle said, running down the hallway.

“For a window?”

“Oh my God,” Lei Kim said, getting to her feet as she saw the young woman.

“Is she breathing?” Lisa shouted as she slid to her knees next to Michelle, who was bent over the young woman.

“I think she fainted. Here, help me turn her over,” Michelle said.

“All circuits are busy,” Lei Kim yelled from the phone.

“Keep trying!”

“What’s wrong with her?” Francie asked from a distance.

“Straighten her legs out,” Michelle ordered.

When Lisa moved around to grab the young woman’s legs, she made the discovery. “Oh no!”

“What’s wrong?” Michelle asked, gently brushing the young woman’s hair from her dirt-smudged face.

“I think this girl’s pregnant,” Lisa replied.

“What?”

Before Lisa could repeat what she’d said, a bolt of lightning struck a power pole outside, lighting up Main Street like the Fourth of July. Sparks showered down from the power lines hanging overhead, plunging the women into complete darkness. Francie screamed.

“What are we going to do? I don’t know how to deliver a baby,” Lisa said, panicking.

“Still no answer!” Lei Kim screamed, beginning to panic as well.

“Calm down! Lisa, get the flashlight from the supply closet. Lei Kim, you keep trying 911,” Michelle said in the darkness. Before Michelle finished, Lisa was scrambling to her feet and digging into a utility closet for the flashlight.

“I got it,” she said, snapping it on. The single beam of light cut through the darkness like a scalpel.

Michelle called back to Lei Kim, “Any luck with 911?”

Lei Kim appeared from out of the darkness. “No. I think the lines may be down.”

“Oh dear God,” Lisa said quietly to herself, looking down on the unconscious girl.

The grim situation sank in for all of them.

“Fine, we’re on our own,” Michelle said in realization. “Lisa, grab the blankets out of the closet. Francie, get my keys out of the office. You’ll need to pull the Range Rover around back.”

“I’m not driving anywhere.”

“Then you stay with her and I’ll drive,” Lisa said, springing to her feet.

“I will not.”

“Francie, we have to get this girl to the hospital,” Michelle told her.

“No. Please. I can’t go to the hospital,” the young woman said, sitting up and grabbing Michelle’s arm.

“Sweetie, you’re about to have a baby on Berber carpet—I don’t think that’s the best way to start a life, do you? If I can get you to a doctor, I’m gonna get you to a doctor.”

“Aaaaahhhhhhhhh!” The young woman fought back the contractions and pulled Michelle closer. “I don’t have insurance. I don’t have any money. Please, you can’t take me to the hospital.” She was screaming now.

“This baby’s coming out right now,” Lei Kim announced. “We don’t have time.”

Lisa shrieked with panic, “What are we going to do?”

“Let’s carry her into the office. Francie, grab her legs!” Michelle ordered.

“I said I’m not touching that girl.”

“Dammit, Francie, get over here,” Lisa barked.

“I’ll do it,” Lei Kim said, moving past Francie.

“I don’t know who that girl is, and I don’t really care to, either. You heard what she said. She’s broke. She’s got no insurance, and God forbid something happens to her—y’all be held responsible. If you want to help her, you go right ahead. I’m going home.”

Before anyone could react to Francie’s cold declaration and abrupt exit, the young woman screamed from another painful contraction. The wind howled through the hallway. There would be no time for doctors. There would be no time for any more discussions. The baby was coming.

3
The Agreement of the Soul
It’s Up to You

Located on the south side of town, Idyllwild Memorial Hospital looked more like an upscale retreat center than a corporately owned hospital. Utilizing the abundance of trees and plant life native to the Idyllwild area, the architects had designed a building that was inviting. It was a stark contrast to the usual stale construction of most hospitals and fit into the community perfectly.

The morning air was crisp and the streets were still damp from last night’s storm. Leaving behind a wave of destruction, the five-hour storm had dropped power lines, littered sidewalks with fallen leaves, and snapped tree limbs. Residents and city employees had risen early and were hard at work on the cleanup. The downed power lines had canceled school and shut down city hall for the day.

Talking on the phone with her son, Johnny, Lei Kim paced the hallway outside Kanisha Peterson’s hospital room. That was the name of the young woman who had given birth to a healthy baby girl just twelve hours earlier on the floor of the Heartlight Bookstore. Lei Kim had been up all night and the diner was about to open, so while Johnny wanted to talk about borrowing money, something he often did, Lei Kim first reminded him to turn on both burners of the stove. It was an older stove and needed adequate warmup time. Her cell phone battery was dying, so Lei Kim talked fast.

“And I said you’re welcome to move in with your father and me, but I don’t have the money to support you. You drop out of school, you get a full-time job—that’s the deal,” Lei Kim said as she smiled to Michelle, who was rocking the newborn baby inside the room. “You should have thought of all this before you quit school.” Beep— the battery was reminding her that it was about to die. “My battery is low. Don’t forget—make sure you turn on the burners of the stove. The left burner won’t ignite, so you have to—” Beep. The battery was now dead.

Lei Kim looked at the phone and shook it a few times, just to make sure it was dead. It was. She stopped a nurse passing by.

“Excuse me. Is there a phone I can use?”

“Yes ma’am. You can use the phone inside the room, but they charge an arm and a leg,” the nurse said. “There are pay phones by the elevators.”

“Thank you,” Lei Kim replied.

The baby had ten fingers and ten toes, and although she was only twelve hours old, she seemed to smile up at Michelle from the soft blanket wrapped around her. Michelle bounced her lightly up and down. Looking down at the newborn baby reminded Michelle of the feeling she’d had when she held her children for the first time. It made her think about Gideon.

Slowly Kanisha opened her eyes and smiled for a brief second at the sight of her newborn baby. Then, suddenly, she panicked.

“Is she okay?” she asked, sitting up.

“She’s fine. See?” Michelle said, turning the baby so Kanisha could see her.

“Can I hold her?” Kanisha asked, her voice trembling. Michelle gently laid the baby in Kanisha’s arms. Kanisha had tears in her eyes as she looked at the baby, then up at Michelle.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Did you talk to the doctor? Everything where it should be?”

“She’s perfect.”

Relieved, Kanisha finally smiled widely. “Yes. She is perfect.”

“Have you thought of a name for her yet?” Michelle asked, pouring a glass of water for Kanisha from the plastic water pitcher sitting on the nightstand.

“Her name is Faith.”

“That’s beautiful, Kanisha.”

“She’s beautiful. A little wrinkled, but look at that cute face.”

“Don’t worry, the wrinkles won’t stay… they just come back when you get to be my age,” Michelle said with a laugh.

Kanisha’s smile slowly faded as Faith seemed to look right into her mother’s eyes. Kanisha was struck by the innocence and helplessness of the newborn baby squirming in her arms. It was a sobering moment for the young mother, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Michelle. Before either of them could comment on what was going on, a nurse entered and announced it was time for the baby to return to the nursery.

Kanisha lay back in her bed and watched as the nurse carried Faith out, but she was crying even before her head hit the pillow. Michelle recognized what was happening—Kanisha was crippled with thoughts of fear.

“It’s going to be okay,” Michelle said, patting Kanisha’s arm.

“No it’s not.”

“Kanisha, you can’t talk like that.”

“I told you not to bring me here,” she said sternly, keeping her voice down.

“I figured it was better than the carpet of my bookstore.”

“I can’t pay for all of this,” she said, indicating the room, her hospital gown—basically everything around her. “And where are my clothes?”

“Kanisha, you have to trust that everything is going to be okay.”

“Lady, I’m from Torrance… everything isn’t going to be okay. I know better.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because unless you got a wand under that shirt of yours, you’re no fairy godmother. Why are you here, by the way?”

“What?” Michelle asked.

“What do you want from me?” Kanisha said.

“What are you so afraid of?” Michelle finally asked.

“I got a baby…” Kanisha’s emotions suddenly welled up and choked her quiet. She fought back the tears before gathering herself to continue. “I got a baby who’s gonna look to me for guidance and I haven’t even graduated from high school, okay?”

“Maybe it’s time you did.”

“Do I look like I got time to go back to school?”

“What about getting your GED? My father always said that a diploma is just a piece of paper. What you do with it—what you do next, he’d say—that’s what is important.”

“We back to the fairy godmother again? What world do you live in? I need to get a job, that’s what I need to do next. So, what, you gonna wave your magic wand and make my life all better? I’ve been poor my whole life … nothin’ you can say or do is gonna change that.”

“Just because you’ve been poor, that doesn’t mean you have to stay that way,” Michelle said, smiling back at her.

“Why are you smiling at me? Don’t you get it? I don’t have anywhere to go,” Kanisha fired off.

“I’m smiling because you remind me of myself. A much younger version, but…” Michelle got momentarily lost in the realization of how life seems to race by without permission.

“But what?” Kanisha asked.

Michelle snapped out of the thought and continued, “I want you to come live with me until you get back on your feet. You can work at the bookstore—if you stay long enough, you can qualify for health care—and during that time, I’m going to teach you about making money, big chunks of money. And we’ll find a way to get that piece of paper too.”

The look on Kanisha’s face was more skepticism than excitement.

“How?”

“First I’m going to help you change your mind.”

“About what?”

“About what you think is possible. A good friend of mine—her name was Samantha, you’d love her—Samantha said money is energy, which is why they call it currency. Isn’t that cool?” Michelle didn’t wait for an answer. “You say you’ve been poor all your life. Well, it’s time we change that current into one of abundance, filled with possibilities.”

“Would you mind if I joined in?” Lei Kim said, standing from the doorway. “The way my family’s going, I will need to make more money.”

“Sure. Why not? We could start a group,” Michelle replied.

“A group? What are you talking about?” Kanisha asked, sitting up.

“A group of women who want to learn about money. Not only learn about money, but how to make it… lots of it,” Michelle said, liking the idea the more she talked about it.

Just then a nurse walked in. “Well, that sounds great, ladies, but you can’t have your little group in here. Not right now, at least. Visiting hours are over. Time for you to go.”

“Can’t they stay a little longer?” Kanisha asked.

“They’ve been here all night, and honey, I’m a real nice lady, just ask anyone, but rules are rules,” she said. She was the kind of nurse you didn’t argue with. “You’ll just have to come back later.”

“But when can I get out of here?” Kanisha asked.

“Honey, if all goes well, you could be released tomorrow.”

“If all goes well? What does that mean?” Kanisha said, sounding panicked. “Is there something wrong with my baby?”

“Your baby’s fine. Sure is a cute little thing. I saw Mary with her down in the nursery when I came on my shift,” the nurse said as she pulled the lid off the water pitcher to refill it.

“Who’s Mary?” Kanisha asked.

“You just relax—your baby’s fine. Right now you need some rest. And you two—out you go,” the nurse said, ushering Lei Kim and Michelle out the door.

“I’ll call you later!” Michelle said just as the nurse shut the door in her face.

“Kind of a bossy nurse, don’t you think?” Lei Kim asked as they walked toward the elevators.

“She’s doing her job.”

“This sounds exciting, this group about money. Do you think Lisa and Francie might want to join us?” Lei Kim asked as she pushed the down button.

“We’ll have to see,” Michelle replied as they stepped onto the elevator.

Back at the store, Michelle couldn’t stop thinking about Kanisha. While Lisa had written last night off as a freak occurrence, Michelle knew that the combination of Kanisha’s arrival, the fact that she was pregnant, the violent weather, and the members of the book club all arriving at the same time were the makings of a tipping point for change, where each woman, if she was willing, could begin to reach for an agreement with her soul. The idea of a financial Mastermind Group would be the perfect arena for this agreement to take place, Michelle thought, but it wouldn’t come without a challenge.

Knowing there was a thirty-day waiting period before health coverage could begin, Michelle had Lisa fax in Kanisha’s health insurance forms, listing her as a new employee of the Heartlight Bookstore. Lisa thought the move was odd at first, since they didn’t need the extra help, but understood why Michelle was doing it.

Standing by the fax machine as the papers fed into the machine, one after another, Michelle pitched Lisa on the idea of the financial Mastermind Group.

“Who’d be in the group?” she asked.

“Kanisha, of course. You. Me. Lei Kim. Maybe even Francie.”

“Probably not a good idea for me,” Lisa said.

“Why not?”

“Ah, let’s see. How shall I put this? Maybe because you’re my boss?”

“So?”

“So what happens when I don’t agree with what you’re saying? You of all people should know I’m not the type to just keep quiet.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” Michelle replied.

“Like I said, probably not a good idea.”

“You have to trust me. I’m not there as your boss.”

“Okay, then, who’s leading the group?”

“I am, but—”

“Michelle, I like you. I like what you’re trying to do for this girl. I think it’s great, but I want to keep my job. I need this job!”

“Why?”

“Why do I need this job? Kind of a stupid question, don’t you think?”

“No, really. I’m curious. Why do you need this job?”

“Because I gotta pay the bills just like everyone else.”

“And if you worry about just paying the bills, that’s what you’ll get… just enough to pay the bills.”

“I’m worried about getting fired,” Lisa said.

“Okay, then—if you don’t come, you’re fired,” Michelle quickly replied.

“Excuse me?”

“If you aren’t willing to learn how to get unstuck, it’s probably not a good idea for us to work together anymore.”

“You’re joking.” Lisa stood in shock.

“Try me,” Michelle said as she walked back to her office.

“Wait a second. You can’t say that and just walk away,” Lisa called, moving after her.

“Don’t you get it? I want to teach you about money so you don’t need this or any job ever again.”

Lisa remained silent. Michelle waited for a beat, then continued down the short hallway to her office.

“Fine. I’ll come to your stupid meeting,” Lisa said just as Michelle was about to close her office door.

“Great. Now figure out a way to get Francie to come too and you can keep your job,” Michelle said as she shut the door to her office. She smiled to herself. Challenging Lisa was a risk, but Lisa was predictable with her fear. Her life ran on it and Michelle knew she didn’t want to babysit Lisa any longer. If she didn’t like the group, she could leave.

Looking at her watch, she grabbed her keys and left her office.

“She’s not answering her phone,” Lisa told her, hanging up the receiver behind the front counter.

“Then if I were you, I’d figure out a way to find her,” Michelle said, crossing to the front doors.

“I don’t get it. Why can’t you just call and invite her?”

“And then what happens when she finds out Kanisha’s going to be part of the group? You heard her the other night.”

“Right,” Lisa said, seeing the difficulty in the situation. “You think tricking her is going to work?”

“You just get her here. I’ll handle the rest,” Michelle said, about to exit.

“Wait a second—you’re leaving?”

“Is that okay?”

“Yeah. I mean, no. Michelle, what is going on here? All of a sudden, everything seems out of whack. You tell me I’m going to lose my job if I don’t join the group, and also that I’ve got to trick Francie into joining a group I know nothing about. What is all of this?” Lisa said in protest.

“You’ve been working here a year, right?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So, I’m trying to help you.” Michelle stepped closer. “Look around. Look at all these books in here. Yet I haven’t seen you crack one of them. Not one book that might improve your life.”

“I didn’t know my life needed improving,” Lisa said, now getting defensive.

“Two weeks ago you sat right there on that counter after we had Thai food and said you were bored,” Michelle reminded her.

“I said I was bored because it was slow in here,” Lisa replied.

“So boredom is a result of your surroundings?”

“What? No, I didn’t say that.” Lisa was getting confused.

“Boredom is just something people do when they don’t want to be creative. So here’s your chance to get un-bored and keep your job at the same time,” Michelle said with a smile as she turned and walked toward the front door. “I have to go. Somehow I have to convince Hannah to move into Nicky’s room to make room for Kanisha and Faith.”

“You’re having this stranger move into your house?” Lisa asked in amazement.

“That’s the idea.”

“Michelle, I’ll play along—I’ll get Francie down here somehow, but… I don’t get it. Why are you doing all this for someone you barely know?”

“Because I can,” Michelle said as she left the shop.

4
Finding a Balance
Letting Go of Yesterday

Michelle took the kids for dinner at Gary’s Outdoor Grill. Located near Idyllwild High School, Gary’s was known for its incredible hamburgers and french fries. While she knew this was her chance to do something special for Kanisha, the way Samantha had helped her, Michelle wouldn’t go through with it unless both Hannah and Nicky agreed. Through all the struggles of the past few years, Michelle had managed to develop a strong friendship with her children. Some said it was impossible to do this, to be friends with your kids, but Michelle thought the best way to get her children to act like adults was to treat them like adults.

Michelle was not surprised that Hannah loved the idea of having a little sister to watch after, but Nicky, forever the eccentric artist, objected to sharing his bedroom with his sister. His room, he said, was his “creative workshop,” and he needed his “space.” Michelle couldn’t help noticing how much Nicky was like his father already.

After some debate, as well as a second chocolate shake with extra whipped cream, Nicky finally agreed to have Hannah move into his bedroom… but not without negotiating two conditions. First, he would be allowed to make a movie of the entire experience. He confessed he wished he’d caught on film the storm tearing through the bookstore, but the aftermath of the blown-out window was “brilliant footage,” he told his mom. “Brilliant” was the new catchphrase he’d picked up from watching the BBC, his favorite channel after the Discovery Channel. As long as it wasn’t a music video channel, Michelle was happy. The second condition was simple: before the year was out, Michelle would agree to finally get a golden retriever. Michelle smiled because she knew Nicky was going to be a fine businessman one day. His negotiating skills were keen.

Kanisha and Faith settled into Hannah’s room the day they got out of the hospital. Michelle was impressed with Kanisha’s ability to adapt to her new surroundings. The kids liked her from the very start. Hannah said it was like one big sleepover. Although Kanisha wasn’t getting much sleep with the night feedings and diaper changes, she was eager to help around the house. Through all of this, Michelle couldn’t help wondering about Kanisha’s past and how she’d ended up here.

On day three of the new living arrangement, while Nicky and Hannah got ready for school and Faith was sleeping, Kanisha helped Michelle clear the breakfast table. Michelle noticed that Kanisha had a sweet habit of humming while she worked. The habit reminded Michelle of her own mother. After the last plate had gone into the dishwasher, Michelle turned to Kanisha.

“Have you thought about what you want to do?”

Putting away the orange juice, Kanisha answered, “We have an appointment with Dr. Carlson at ten-thirty, and…”

Kanisha’s words quickly trailed off as she turned and realized by the look on her face that Michelle was asking a bigger question. Michelle was asking a life question, and these were the types of questions Kanisha had spent a long time running from. Michelle watched as the young woman’s body language quickly changed, almost daring Michelle to challenge her. Michelle could see that Kanisha was scared inside, and talking about that fear was something that frightened her even more.

Fear had arrived in Kanisha’s life right after her father was killed two months shy of Kanisha’s ninth birthday. The victim of a gang-related shooting, her father was dead at twenty-six years old. Her mother, Shantal Peterson, had become pregnant with Kanisha when she was just seventeen years old. Now Shantal began to use drugs as a way to mask the pain of losing her husband, who’d been her high school sweetheart. Unskilled and a high school dropout, Shantal began to sell marijuana for a living. Kanisha tried to think her life was normal, but the late-night parties and the string of different men in the house the morning after the parties made her finally face the truth. It was this truth she wanted to run away from, but it was choking her.

They lived in a tough section of Torrance, California, and while Torrance wasn’t South Central L.A., it was still a battleground for gang life and drugs. At fifteen years old, Kanisha was arrested for selling pot at school. Other than taking a sip of wine with some friends one Saturday night in the summer, Kanisha had never touched drugs or alcohol. When she found her mother’s stash one day after school, Kanisha devised a plan. If she could make enough money selling the drugs, she could find a way to get out of Torrance. A few of her friends wanted to go to college after graduation, but all Kanisha wanted was to get away from her life. She wanted to start over somewhere new. But the idea backfired when she sold the marijuana to an undercover officer.

The arrest sparked a string of events that would change Kanisha’s life forever. A search of the house brought about her mother’s third strike. Shantal Peterson was sent to prison for ten years, and Kanisha was sentenced to two months in a juvenile facility. Then she was transferred to a group home.

The summer before her senior year, Kanisha finally found a way to escape her dismal life. She would take the city bus to the neighboring town of Redondo Beach. For her, being there was like living someone else’s life. Even though she stuck out like a sore thumb in the predominately white city, Kanisha found her escape. For a few hours every day, she felt like she was someone else.

Things started to look up when she got a job working as a cashier in the gift shop at the Redondo Beach Yacht Club. The job paid minimum wage, but the association with the success and money displayed by the yacht owners was all Kanisha wanted. She didn’t know how to make lots of money, but knew she loved being around it. Kanisha’s good looks quickly opened doors, but her attitude often closed them just as fast.

Even though it was against policy for employees to fraternize with yacht club members, Kanisha met a boy two years her senior. Jake Underhill was born a millionaire and his family had more than a few yachts around the harbors of Southern California.

One day, when Kanisha was working alone in the gift shop, Jake came on to her. She turned him down, trying to explain the club rules for employees, but Jake said he was an Underhill. That meant he was used to getting what he wanted. It had been this way his entire life. For his seventeenth birthday, his father, a luxury yacht designer out of Newport Beach, gave his only son, Jake, his own yacht. At just over fifty feet, it was small compared with his father’s, but the yacht was Jake’s haven for parties.

Lined with polished teak and outfitted with a flat-screen television, the inside of the yacht was nicer than any home Kanisha had ever lived in. Being there made her feel like she was finally someone, and Jake treated her nicely. Summer love had taken her over. At nineteen, Jake was already six-two. This was ideal for Kanisha because she already stood five foot eight. Jake had perfect teeth and his tan redefined the term “California golden boy.” During their second week together, the relationship became physical, and then the unthinkable happened: Kanisha became pregnant.

When she told Jake the news, he told her not to worry, that everything would be okay. But it wasn’t. Jake soon started acting differently. He became busy with his father’s business in Newport Beach and stopped returning her phone calls altogether. She was devastated.

When she took the bus to pick up her paycheck, she saw Jake in the yacht club, laughing and carrying on with his golfing buddies, preparing to end their day of drinking on his boat. Jake caught her eye and dismissed Kanisha without a second glance. She knew it was over and she was alone again. Humiliated, Kanisha turned to walk away, but her anger took over. She wanted answers from this rich kid. When she confronted Jake, he denied ever spending time with her. The commotion brought the yacht club’s security, but it immediately escalated into something of a Jerry Springer episode when Kanisha punched Jake in the face. She was mad, kicking and screaming. Jake was furious at being assaulted by a club employee. He demanded she be fired on the spot.

Inside the manager’s office, Kanisha was informed she would be fired for the incident. When she tried to explain what had happened, the manager said he didn’t want to hear it. She could tell it to the police, because Jake was pressing assault charges. Knowing this would send her back to juvenile hall, Kanisha bolted out the back door of the club and ran across the street to catch the bus home.

Sitting on the bus, dazed at how in just a few weeks’ time she could go from bliss to this, Kanisha didn’t get off at her stop in front of the group home because there was a police car parked outside. She rode the bus until its last stop near East L.A. Cashing her final paycheck, Kanisha bought a bus ticket and left town with the clothes on her back.

With little money and no family to speak of, Kanisha was leaving California for good. She had no destination. She had no home. She lived on the streets and traveled by bus when she could afford it. She’d already had a lifetime of hard-knock lessons and she was only eighteen years old.

Michelle asked the question again: “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?”

“Why do you ask?” Kanisha replied, folding her arms across her chest and staring back at Michelle with a challenging glare.

“Because it’s an important question to consider.”

Kanisha didn’t reply. Michelle continued, “If you don’t choose your life, life will choose for you. And you’ll end up with a bunch of things you don’t want.”

“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Kanisha fired off.

“I didn’t say that. I was asking the question to—”

“Do you want us to leave? Is that it?”

“Now hold on a second.”

“Because we can be gone this afternoon, no problem. I don’t need—”

“Stop it,” Michelle barked at the young woman.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Nicky complained, entering from the hallway with his video camera rolling.

“Nicky, put the camera down and go brush your teeth.”

“I would, Mom, but Hannah’s been in the bathroom forever,” he answered, moving into the kitchen for a better shot.

“Well, girls tend to do that.”

“Well, I tend to not like it,” Nicky quickly replied. “You said I could make a movie.”

“Not right now! Put the camera away and get ready for school.”

“But you said—”

“I know what I said, baby. Please. Not this morning.”

“You guys fightin’?” he asked.

“Go.”

Nicky slapped the viewfinder shut and disappeared back into the hallway. Michelle turned her attention back to Kanisha, who was staring out the window.

“I know what you’re going through.”

“No you don’t,” Kanisha said, her voice cracking as she fought back the tears.

“You’re right. I don’t. But I know you’re scared. It’s not the end of the world. It’s only the beginning.”

“The beginning of what?” Kanisha asked.

“That’s up to you. And I know you’re unable to see this right now, but you’re going to look back on this whole situation, this time of your life, and you’re going to smile.”

“For what?”

“Because your life has finally started. Your future is happening right now, and God has a plan for you.”

“Then God sure has a funny way of showing it.” Kanisha felt embarrassed because the truth was, she hadn’t thought of her future. “I am scared,” she said softly.

“I know… and that’s okay.”

“Why?”

“Because that fear is telling you that you’re about to make changes in your life. Use it. Feed on it.”

“I thought fear was a bad thing.”

“Only if you allow it to consume you. Trust in what you’re doing,” Michelle said with a smile.

“What am I doing?”

“Asking bigger questions from your life. Bigger and better questions will eventually bring bigger and better answers,” Michelle said, allowing the words to sink in.

“I don’t understand,” Kanisha confessed.

“You want to ask yourself how you can make enough money now so that you can survive—and ultimately thrive—without giving up your freedom as you get older.”

“Oh,” Kanisha said, still a bit confused.

“I’m going to take the kids to school and then I’m going to work. I should be home around five-thirty. We can talk more about this kind of stuff tonight.”

“Michelle?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We have lots of work to do.”

While she loved owning the bookstore and working real estate deals from time to time, Michelle had enjoyed the mentoring session with Kanisha more than she’d anticipated. As she drove to work, her mind raced with all sorts of moneymaking possibilities. Would she focus on real estate? Product inventions? Brokering? Her mind then drifted to Francie. She wondered where she’d fit into the mix. After all, she was already rich. What help did she need? She lived in a large house on the east side of town and drove a Jaguar. Maybe Michelle could convince her to co-chair the group. She loved the fact that Francie was older—it would bring a different level of life experience and insight to the group. What good would it do to have all the members the same age, the same race, with all the same sensibilities? Diversity would be their strength. It would keep them honest.

In her office later that day, the idea finally came to her. She would first focus on the mental energy it takes to become a millionaire. Sure, she could teach them the ABC’s of making money, but the mental energy—that’s where people falter. That’s where the juice was, Michelle thought. They had to think like millionaires first. “Yes, that’s it,” Michelle said to herself. “That’s the focus.” She was certain this was the reason they’d all come together. And she knew the best way to do something was not to start at the beginning, where questions and fear usually reside, but at the end, where she held the vision that these women were already living extraordinarily rich lives.

Exiting the office, Michelle found Lisa behind the counter, reading a magazine.

“I’m going to Starbucks. You want anything?” she asked, crossing to the door.

“No thanks. I’m trying to quit,” Lisa said, flipping the page of the magazine as if she was annoyed at the declaration.

“You? Quitting coffee?”

“I know. Absurd, isn’t it?” Lisa snapped.

“How you holding up?” Michelle smiled at Lisa’s playfulness.

“I’ll let you know after I get through the morning.”

“Day one?”

“Yeah, and I’m already not happy about it. First they take away coffee. Then it’s red meat. Carbs. Hell, even blow-drying is going to kill you now. What’s next, chocolate?” She shook her head. “If they say I’m gonna die from eating chocolate, then you better bury me in the largest Nestlé’s 100 Grand bar wrapper ever, because I will not give up chocolate.”

Michelle smiled and turned back toward the door.

“Oh, by the way, I guess I get to keep my job,” Lisa said, not looking up from her reading. “Got an idea to get Francie to come down to the shop.”

“Really?” Michelle said. “How?”

Before Lisa could respond, the front door opened and Francie walked in. Michelle glanced at Lisa with a look of amazement and then said to Francie, “We were just talking about you.”

“Slow news day?” Francie said, joining them at the front counter. Michelle noticed Francie wasn’t making eye contact with them. She wasn’t sure, but it looked like Francie had been crying.

“Francie? You okay?” Michelle asked.

“Oh yes. My allergies got a good hold on me this morning. Just out doing my morning shopping. I need a few books today,” she said, tearing a page from her leather Filofax planner. Even though Francie was quick with a smile, Michelle couldn’t help sensing there was something wrong with her.

“Francie, when are you going to trash that old-school date book you’ve been luggin’ around and get yourself an iPhone?”

“If you haven’t noticed, dear, I am old-school. I like to write it. When I write it, I see it. When I see it, I remember it,” she said, handing the list to Lisa.

“Real estate?” Lisa asked, looking up from the paper.

“Yes. I’m thinking about some investments and wanted to see if you had anything on foreclosures. Buying them, I mean.”

“Well, this is perfect,” Michelle said, looking first at Lisa and then at Francie. “We’re starting a new discussion group about money and investing. Every Tuesday night at seven, here at the shop.”

“A discussion group?” Francie asked.

“It’s more than a discussion group… it’s a financial Mastermind Group for women who want to make money,” Michelle said.

“Francie’s got money. Why would she wanna sit around and talk about it with a bunch of women who don’t?” Lisa joked. But just as the last word left her mouth, she realized from the look on Michelle’s face what she’d done. “I mean, I can’t answer for you, of course, and I’m sure it’s going to be fun.”

“Thank you, but no,” Francie replied with a smile. “Life is a bit busy at the moment. Maybe another time.”

The phone rang. Moving to answer it, Michelle shot daggers at Lisa. Saved by the bell, Lisa took Francie over to the real estate section.

“Good morning, Heartlight,” Michelle said.

“Any baby deliveries today?” the mayor asked jokingly.

“Nothing yet, but we might have a death later,” Michelle shot back, still watching Lisa.

“What?” he asked, confused.

“Nothing. I’m kidding. What are you doing calling me at eleven-thirty? I thought you had back-to-back meetings today.”

“I did, until my budget meeting got pushed to the afternoon. The controller’s kid got sick or something, so now my morning’s wide open. Thought I’d swing by and take you to an early lunch.”

As he spoke, Michelle noticed Francie’s Filofax sitting on the counter. An official-looking letter stuck out from the pages. Looking closer, Michelle could partially see a word in bold, just below a bank’s letterhead. Making sure Francie was still preoccupied with Lisa, Michelle eased the letter out just enough to see that it was a foreclosure notice on Francie’s house.

“Michelle?” the Mayor finally asked.

“What? Yes. I’m here. Sorry… lunch might be difficult today.” They chatted a bit longer, then agreed to meet for breakfast another day.

As Francie and Lisa brought a pile of books over to the counter, Michelle smiled at Francie. “What are you doing later? Maybe you and I could have lunch. I don’t think we’ve ever gone out to lunch, have we?”

“Neither have we,” Lisa said to Michelle.

“What do you say, Francie? Would you like to have lunch with me today?” Michelle asked, ignoring Lisa.

“Thank you, but no. I… have lots of reading to do,” Francie replied, giving Michelle a polite smile.

“That’ll be $42.53,” Lisa announced. “That’s with the 20 percent book club discount, of course. Pays to be part of the family, doesn’t it?” Francie handed over her American Express, and Lisa ran the card. The credit card machine beeped with a decline message.

“Hmmm,” Lisa said, leaning down over the machine.

“Is there a problem?” Francie asked.

“Says your card was declined. Probably just something wrong with our phone lines. Been hinky ever since the storm. Here, let me run it again.”

“No,” Francie said quickly, “I’ll pay with cash.” Francie retrieved her American Express card and dug out the exact change from her purse.

“Wow, right to the penny.” Lisa smiled as she counted the money. Francie collected her books and headed toward the door.

“Francie, wait. Your receipt,” Lisa called out after her.

“That’s okay. I don’t plan on returning them.” And just like that, she was gone.

“That was weird,” Lisa said, looking out the window as Francie pulled away in her Jaguar.

“Maybe she’s having a bad day,” Michelle offered, not wanting to reveal what she’d discovered.

“By the way, what did you say to get her to come in?”

“What?” Lisa asked, a bit confused.

“You said you had an idea to get her to come to the store.”

“I did, but I never talked to her—she just came in. That was just a coincidence.”

“Yeah, maybe. But what was your idea?”

“I thought if we said we found her Calvin Klein scarf here at the store, she’d come in to get it. We could tell her that if she didn’t come get it, we’d give it to Goodwill or something. Ya know, scare her into action.”

“Did she leave a scarf?”

“No, but that doesn’t matter. If Francie hears anything Calvin Klein is about to go to the Goodwill, I’m bettin’ five bucks she comes a-runnin’.”

“Well, try it out. See if you can get her to come in tonight around seven.”

As she walked to Starbucks, Michelle was preoccupied with the thoughts running through her head. Should she just go over to Francie’s house and see how she could help? Or was it better to wait until Francie came to the shop? There were no answers.

5
Whatever It Takes
Finding a Way to Begin

When Lei Kim walked into the store that evening, Lisa was excited to see her, but soon she realized that Lei Kim wasn’t carrying her usual tray of fresh-baked goodies. Dejected, Lisa returned to the copy of Us Weekly spread out on the front counter.

Just then the front doors opened and Francie stepped in, dressed to the nines in a black Dolce & Gabbana suit with a Marc Jacobs purse. The woman had great taste and knew her fashion.

“Francie, you keep showing up at the store like this, we’re going to have to give you a time card,” Lisa joked.

“Come sit down and have a cup of tea,” Lei Kim urged.

“Ladies, I can’t stay. I’m just here to pick up my scarf.”

Lisa and Lei Kim exchanged a look, and Francie immediately became suspicious. “All right, what are you two up to?”

When Michelle came out of her office and joined Lisa and Lei Kim, Francie sighed. “I didn’t leave my scarf, did I? What’s going on?”

Michelle spoke up. “You want to come back to my office?”

“No. I want you to tell me why Lisa lied to me.”

“Because if I told you why I wanted you to come down, I didn’t think you’d come. I tried to talk with you today, but you blew outta here like there was a fire.”

“So you had Lisa lie to me?”

Michelle flipped the sign in the front window to read Closed. “If you’ll just give me five minutes to explain, I’m sure you’ll—” Before Michelle could finish her sentence, Francie saw Kanisha exit the stockroom with a box of books. Without saying a word, Francie moved to the front doors.

“Francie, please.”

“Good-bye, Michelle.”

Not knowing how else to get her to stay, Michelle blurted out, “I know what’s going on. I saw the letters in your Filofax, Francie. I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have looked, but it was right there on the counter.” Francie froze.

Michelle continued, “I’ve been there and it’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

“Go through what alone?” Lisa asked, clearly puzzled. “What’s going on?”

“Francie, it’s only the beginning,” Michelle said, stepping closer.

Francie was like a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching car. Standing in the doorway, with all eyes on her, she was speechless.

“I can help you get out of this,” Michelle said softly. “You just have to trust me.”

In an icy voice, Francie replied, “How dare you presume to know anything about me?” Her voice shook slightly from the anger raging inside her petite frame.

“It’s not like that,” Michelle returned softly.

“Leave me alone,” Francie said, and stormed out.

After a tense beat, Lisa joked, “Okay. That went well.”

“Be quiet, Lisa,” Michelle said exasperatedly.

“What are you getting mad at me for?” Lisa said defensively.

Michelle hung her head in defeat. The plan to get Francie to join the financial Mastermind Group had backfired.

Francie’s black Prada high heels were moving fast down the sidewalks of Main Street. She crossed the street toward her Jaguar, which was parked on the corner of Seventh and Main. She was a proud woman, and she didn’t want anyone to see her like this. She was embarrassed. “If I can just make it back to my car, I’ll be fine. Just keep walking,” she said to herself. “Don’t look back and don’t you start to cry. Not now. Not here.” She was determined. “Just a little further and you’ll be fine,” she said, coaching herself through the mental chaos.

“Francie. Stop. Please, just stop for a second,” Michelle called, running after her, but Francie only sped up.

“Please stop. Allow me to explain.”

When Francie continued to ignore her requests, Michelle finally grabbed her arm. “I didn’t say that to embarrass you.”

Francie ripped her arm from Michelle’s grasp and kept moving toward the safety of the car. Why was this happening to her? She just wanted to be left alone. Was it too much to ask?

“Francie… He’s gone. It’s been over three years and he’s not coming back.”

Francie’s heels skidded to a halt, but she didn’t turn around. She knew her husband was gone, but she didn’t want to hear it said out loud. Not now. Not ever, in fact, and especially not from someone who was younger than she was. Who was Michelle to tell her about her life?

“I lost my husband and I was left with a pile of debt,” Michelle said softly. “I lost my house and I almost lost my kids. Foreclosure is a scary thing, but there’s a way out, I promise you.”

“I’m fine, Michelle,” Francie said, digging into her purse, looking for her car keys as if she’d just turned down an invitation to the movies.

“No, you’re not, and I’m sorry to keep on you like this, but if you’re going to walk away from me, I want to know I did everything I could to try to help you.”

“Who said I needed your help?”

“Francie, you came into the store today because you didn’t know what to do.”

“How do you know I don’t know what to do?”

“Because you’re out buying books on foreclosures, which is something I’ve already been through. You have to know that we met for a reason… and that young girl in there, she’s part of it. You might not think you need any help, but I’m certain she could use yours. Hell, what else have you got to do?”

Francie shot her a nasty glare, so Michelle softened the message.

“Imagine if you’d had someone as smart as you offering you guidance and mentorship when you were her age. You have to ask yourself whether or not you’d be in the situation you’re in now.”

“I don’t owe that girl anything,” Francie said.

“Why, because she’s black?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Francie quickly shot back.

“Or is it something else?”

“I don’t know, Michelle. You tell me. You seem to have all the answers about how to fix my life.”

Michelle paused for a beat. “Okay. And this is just a guess, but… maybe it’s because you see a woman who’s homeless and broke, and it scares you to death because you think maybe her situation could happen to you.”

Francie said nothing, but her face showed that Michelle’s guess had been dead on.

“Come on, Francie. You can do this,” Michelle said after a moment.

“Do what?”

“Start over.”

Francie opened the car door and placed her purse into the car.

“Running away won’t solve anything,” Michelle said urgently.

“I’m not running away.”

“Then what would you call this?”

Francie didn’t answer.

“I’m forming a money Mastermind Group for women, and we’re going to focus on making money, fast money. Right now that’s your only choice to turn this foreclosure thing around. The bank will take the house and you’ll have to file bankruptcy. But I can help you. This group can help you. You just have to trust me.”

Another long silence passed between the two women.

“Being in debt and running away from your life is no way to live. I’ve been there, but someone taught me the way out. When I thought my life was coming to an end, she taught me it was actually just beginning. After thirty-three years, I finally discovered what living really was. The way you’re feeling right now, Francie … I know the other side and it’s beautiful.” Michelle waited to see if Francie had anything to say. She didn’t, so Michelle kept going. “Tell you what: if you don’t like what I have to say, I’ll leave you alone. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in this life, it’s this: what has happened does not define what will happen. The final chapters of our lives haven’t been written. All of this is happening for a reason.”

“And what reason is that?” Francie finally said.

“So you can begin to forgive,” Michelle offered softly. “Forgive your husband for leaving you behind. Forgive your parents for what you think they didn’t give you.” Michelle stepped closer now. “But most of all, Francie, forgive yourself.”

Francie stood there for a minute, looking Michelle in the eyes. She somehow found a smile, but there was something different about the smile this time. It was a distant smile. She was lost.

Kanisha joined Lei Kim and Lisa on the couches as the front doors of the Heartlight opened. Michelle walked in alone.

“What happened?” Kanisha asked Michelle.

“Michelle, what’s going on? What was in her Filofax?” Lisa asked.

“She’s in foreclosure,” Michelle told them.

“What? Francie?” Lei Kim said, surprised.

“I thought she had tons of money,” Lisa added.

“Did you ask her to join the group?” Kanisha put in.

“Yes.”

“She didn’t go for it, did she?” Lisa sat back, almost as if she knew the answer to the question.

“Nope. I thought I had her, but she just drove away. Left me standing right there on the curb.”

“Was it because of me?” Kanisha asked shyly.

“No, honey. It’s not because of you. It’s because of her.”

“Why?” Lei Kim asked.

“Because I’m guessing she’d rather live her life in fear. And you know what? That’s her choice. This goes for everyone, by the way. If you don’t want to be part of this group and learn about how to make some real money, then there’s the door… and take your poverty mind-set with you.”

“Wow. That’s kind of harsh, don’t you think?” Lisa asked.

“You want harsh, Lisa? Try waking up one day and realizing you’re out of money and you aren’t sure if you can feed your kids that day. You don’t want your kids to know what’s going on, so you play it like nothing’s wrong. But deep down, you’re in pain. You’re in the kind of pain that doesn’t go away, no matter how many glasses of wine you have. I’m telling you this because I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. How’s that for harsh?” Michelle gathered her notes from her briefcase, frustrated.

“Let’s drive over to her house and get her,” Lisa suggested.

“If she doesn’t really, really want to be here, it won’t happen. We don’t have time for whiners. You don’t want someone like that around you. If you want success, you have to surround yourself with winners,” Michelle fired back. “If you want to stay, we’ll get started in a minute. If you don’t… then good luck.” Michelle went to her office.

A somber mood quickly fell over the group. Michelle had thrown down the gauntlet, but she was right and all of them knew it.

Lei Kim took a deep breath and tried to lighten the mood.

“So, Kanisha. How are you feeling, sweetie?” Lei Kim asked.

“Other than this big fat belly, I’m fine,” Kanisha replied with a laugh.

“Don’t worry, that will go away,” Lei Kim said.

“At your age, I’m guessing you’ll be back to normal in a month,” Lisa offered.

“And Faith? How is she?” Lei Kim asked.

“Hungry. All the time,” she said with a laugh before getting serious. “Thank you for all that you did. Michelle told me about…”

“The incredible mess you made in the office?” Lisa said, laughing. “Looked like a war zone in there. Don’t worry, I took care of it. Should’ve been a commercial for Resolve carpet cleaner. ‘So you had a baby on your carpet? Use Resolve carpet cleaner. It’s one tough baby,’” Lisa said in her best advertising voice. Lei Kim and Kanisha laughed out loud. The mood was light again.

“Okay, let’s get started,” Michelle said, joining them again.

Still a bit preoccupied with Francie’s state of denial, Michelle took a deep breath to clear away the negative energy. “Who’s ready to make some serious money?”

“I am,” Francie said, stepping inside the bookstore. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen. She said nothing and didn’t look at anyone as she took off her coat and hung it on the coatrack next to the door. Michelle quickly nodded to Lisa to scoot over so Francie could sit down. When she did, Lei Kim reached over and patted her hand in support. Francie gathered herself and then looked up at Michelle. “So, where do we begin?”

“Yeah. What’s a mastermind?” Kanisha asked.

“A Mastermind Group is based on the idea that when two or more are gathered, a mastermind is created,” Michelle replied.

“Kind of like two heads are better than one?” Kanisha asked.

“Exactly. When one person stumbles, the others are there to catch ’em, stand ’em up, and get ’em movin’ again. The biggest thing to understand here is this: you can’t do it alone, no matter how smart you think you are. If you really want to make some serious money, you’re going to need a team. Some of you will pick this up right away, because there’s always at least one thoroughbred in the group. One snap of the whip, and they’re off and running, making money, and living a happier life in no time. For the rest of us, it takes a little longer, but don’t give up. Don’t be shy to face your problems, because as you will learn, your problems are your solutions.”

“Hey, I’m not shy. I could stand to make some money,” Kanisha said.

“It’s not just about money, Kanisha. Focusing on money alone will create a disturbance in the balance of your life. If you aren’t happy, what does it matter how much money or things you can accumulate?”

“Are you saying there’s something wrong with making money?” Lisa continued.

“Absolutely not. I want you to make lots of money—piles of money. So much money you need a dump truck to take you to the bank.”

“This sounds good to me,” Lei Kim said to Francie.

“But how many times have you used the phrase ‘Money is the root of all evil’?” A few hands shot up.

“What about ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’?” Lei Kim suggested. That opened up the rest of the group for suggestions. Michelle could barely keep up writing them onto her yellow legal pad.

It takes money to make money
I’m too young to be rich
I’m too old to start over
All the good ideas have already been taken
.

“This is what is known as the critical voice inside your head,” Michelle told them. “It’s the voice of the ego, and it talks you out of stretching beyond your comfort zone.”

“Why?” Kanisha asked.

“Because your ego doesn’t want you to change. All these lies we’ve written down here have been driven into our heads by this critical voice ever since we were young girls. That keeps us from making serious money. Sure, we make money here and there, but when was the last time we got a check that made us say ‘Wow’? That’s what I call money.”

“So, you want us to think about ways to make money?” Lisa asked.

“Exactly,” Michelle replied.

“How?” Francie wanted to know.

“There are infinite ways to make money. There’s long money…”

“Long money?” Kanisha asked.

“Long money means the work is all front-loaded and the money arrives later. Like creating a product or even writing a book. If you started writing today, your book won’t reach the shelves for another year at the minimum, and that’s if you get it published. But you should write a book if you feel the calling. Likewise, you should always be on the lookout for new product ideas, even though obtaining a patent can take up to eighteen months. You can sell the product with a patent pending, but you still have the design phase and the manufacturing phase, and then finally you have market entry. There’s no guarantee your product is going to take off, but if it does and you’re able to hold on to a majority of the rights, you could do well. The profits for creating products are spread out over time, which is why I call it long money. The key is to make enough money from your endeavors so when the unexpected arrives, you can handle it. Emotionally and, most of all, financially, you’ll be ready.” Michelle looked around at the faces of the women in the group and continued.

“The other kind of money is fast money. You lose your job, you face foreclosure, or you’re a victim of a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina, and you need money right away. If you don’t have the cash on hand, you need to find a way to make it fast. One of the best ways to make fast money is to start with your problem,” Michelle said, energized.

“Wouldn’t it be better to start with the solution to the problem?” Lisa asked, confused.

“No, and we’ll talk about this at great length as the weeks progress. But in short, your problems are your solutions. When something happens, it’s leading you to something better. If you ask anyone who’s seen the other side of a problem, they often tell you the problem showed them something about themselves that they weren’t able to see before the problem.”

“I understand what you’re saying, but how do I—” Francie started to say.

“Yeah, how do I make fast money from my problem?” Kanisha interrupted. Francie gave her a look.

“When I lost my kids in a custody battle, I looked for help and found nothing online whatsoever. I wrote an e-book called Money Loves You and generated over $400,000 in a week,” Michelle said.

“You published it yourself?” Lei Kim asked.

“Yes. You can do it all by yourself—publish it on your website, put in a shopping cart with PayPal, or go with YouPublish.com. You can start making money tomorrow,” Michelle said.

Francie started making notes in her Filofax.

“I’ve never written anything longer than my return address when I pay my bills, plus I don’t have any money to start a project,” Lisa said.

“You don’t have anything?” Michelle asked.

“I think that’s what I just said.”

“It doesn’t take money to sit down and write an e-book, does it? The thing I want you to know is that it doesn’t take money to make money—it just takes a great idea and the recognition that when a problem arrives, the problem is trying to lead you to something better. You can worry about finding the money later,” Michelle replied.

“You don’t get it—I don’t have any money to spend right now,” Lisa told her.

“The goal of our money Mastermind Group is to come up with great ideas. If the idea is good enough, I’ll lend you the money,” Michelle told Lisa. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to launch a great idea. I made my first million with my mentor on a few thousand dollars, and recently I’ve been inspired by a guy they call the ‘banker to the poor.’ He won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize because his bank has lent money to over a hundred million poor women to launch their small businesses.”

“Who is this guy?” Lei Kim asked.

“His name is Muhammad Yunus. He’s a Bangladeshi banker and economist. Once we get through what it takes mentally to become a millionaire, I’m going to loan each of you some money to help get your projects off the ground. If you need it.”

“How much money?” Lisa asked.

“Anywhere from $1 to $500 will help foster the start-up of any great idea or project.”

“What project?” Francie asked.

“That’s up to each of you to decide. And we’ll get to all of that, but right now, let’s go back to the mental chatter that goes on inside of your head when you are looking to make chunks of money.

“In addition to the critical voice that tries to talk us out of success, there’s another voice,” Michelle continued. “It’s a voice that cheers you on, pulls you to your feet and dusts you off when you fall. That voice is called the true voice of your soul. This is the voice of your Inner Winner. It’s this voice that reminds us that when you are in step with something that is connected to your soul, the money is a by-product and that work is no longer ‘work.’ This is the voice that causes you to leap out of bed in the morning, excited to go to work.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever leaped out of bed excited to go to work,” Lisa said jokingly.

“That’s because you haven’t found something you love. When you do, you won’t ever work another day in your life.”

“Are you saying I’m unhappy?”

“I’m saying there’s something deeper to consider. When you find something you love, you make a difference in the world, and that’s what this group is all about—discovering how we can help each other find our greater purpose in life and, yes, make lots of money while doing it.”

“I’m sorry, I like my life just the way it is.” Lisa shook her head.

“I’m not saying you don’t like your life, Lisa.”

“Then what are you saying, Michelle?”

“Do you like living paycheck to paycheck?” Michelle asked, but Lisa didn’t answer. “I seriously doubt you want to work here forever, right? No, you want what everyone should want, residual income to fund your endeavors. You want to make money while you sleep. You want money to show up in the mailbox each day. That’s what financial freedom is all about. Creating multiple streams and chunks of income so you can do what you want when you want.”

“Chunks?” Lei Kim asked.

“Real big checks, Lei Kim. I’m talkin’ about windfalls of cash. This is no different from creating a new recipe in your kitchen, only now the ingredients for this new recipe are all of you. By working together, you have the ability to create the results you’ve all been dreaming about.” Michelle turned to Lisa. “Lisa, right now you’re tethered to your job. I give you, what, two weeks off a year? Two weeks a year? Is that what your free time is worth? Lei Kim, what about you? When was the last time you took a vacation?”

“A long time.” Lei Kim laughed. “Too long.”

“All I’m saying is if we help each other expand our vision to what is possible, we can achieve greatness and make lots of money in the process.”

“How?” Francie spoke softly.

Michelle smiled. “First you have to learn to take risks.”

“Haven’t you read the newspapers, Michelle? I really don’t think it’s a good time to be taking risks,” Lisa said.

“Why not?” Michelle asked.

“Um, hello? The economy is in the dumper.”

“Do you think God reads the newspaper? All you get from the newspaper is the evidence of a world lost in translation.”

“What do you mean?” Lei Kim asked, leaning forward in her chair.

“The newspapers are filled with stories of greed and fear. If it bleeds, it leads. When you read this kind of stuff, all you do is react to the bad news. That’s why the concept of the Mastermind Group, the team, is so important. We focus on the good news we want to create in—”

“I don’t think burying your head in the sand and ignoring what is happening in the world is a very good concept,” Lisa put in.

“You know, every time you interrupt me—”

“It’s annoying to everyone else.” Francie finished her sentence for her.

Lisa snorted. “Well, if you would make some sense, maybe I wouldn’t have to interrupt.”

Michelle stalled for a second because she suddenly realized that the look on everyone’s face was the same. She was dropping down too much information too soon. As she stared at the framed painting of the Rocky Mountains hanging over the fireplace, she wondered what her mentor Samantha would do, but quickly dismissed the thought. She knew she couldn’t think about Samantha right now. This was her group. She had to do things her own way. What was she going to do right now?

The painting seemed to be calling out to her. It was oil on canvas, and if you stared at it long enough, you felt like you were standing in the middle of a meadow. It was that kind of painting. The shading was so perfect it was almost three-dimensional. Michelle smiled and turned to the group.

“Tonight’s a full moon, right?”

“I think it was last night,” Kanisha said.

“Why?” Francie asked.

“Because I have an idea… it’s something that might help explain things better. Who’s up for a little adventure?” Michelle said, looking at the women like they were all twelve years old again. One by one, they nodded.

“Great. Lisa, you grab the flashlights from the storage room. We’re going out. Francie, we’ll have to swing by your house so you can change your clothes.”

“I’m not dressed appropriately?” Francie asked, sitting up.

“Well, I don’t think you want to go hiking in those heels.”

“Hiking?” Lei Kim asked.

Kanisha stood up. “I can’t go.”

“Why?”

“I’ve got to be home … I mean, at your house,” she said, correcting herself midsentence. “My baby. I can’t leave her.”

“I wouldn’t worry about her,” Lisa said from the hall closet.

“Why not?”

“Because your babysitter Justine is studying to become a teacher. A If she can handle our three kids, she can sure handle a cutie like Faith.” Lisa returned with the flashlights.

“She’s right,” Michelle added. “And we’ll only be gone for an hour or so. I know how important it is for you to be with Faith. Grab the flashlights—we’re going hiking.”

6
The Adventure Begins
The Art of Changing Your Perception

As they gathered in the damp parking lot at the trailhead leading to Mirror Lake, Michelle began to notice the tone of uncertainty trickling throughout the group. One by one, the women’s eyes shot into the dark shadows of the trail before them. The scraggly limbs of the giant pine trees hanging overhead only enhanced their fears that something bad was about to happen. They all liked the idea of a spontaneous adventure, but hiking at night?

“This is crazy. What if someone gets hurt?” Lisa said.

“What if we get lost?” Lei Kim muttered.

“What kind of animals they got up here?” Kanisha added.

Michelle quickly reassured her that there were very few bears in the area.

“Very few?” Kanisha said as as her eyes grew wide.

“Bears? Nobody said anything about any bears!” Francie said, standing up from tying her shoes. She was dressed in a black workout suit with silver trim and her shoes were fresh out of the box.

Lisa handed out the three flashlights she’d brought from the bookstore.

“Where’s mine?” Francie quickly asked.

“We only had three,” Lisa replied.

“Three flashlights will be more than enough. Trust me, your eyes will adjust and you won’t want a flashlight,” Michelle said, closing up her car.

“No, I want a flashlight,” Francie said.

Michelle saw that Francie was serious. She wanted a flashlight. “Okay, Francie. We’ll take turns as we move up the trail. Will that work?” Michelle replied, but Francie was like a child. She wanted a flashlight all to herself. She stood with her arms folded.

Either I get a flashlight or it’s time for me to go home,” Francie said.

Kanisha extended her flashlight toward Francie. The older woman didn’t like Kanisha, and the kind gesture only seemed to annoy her, but she took the flashlight anyway.

The smell of the damp soil wafted upward as their feet hit the trail and the adventure began. Walking without a flashlight, Michelle took the lead. She turned and smiled. She knew getting them this far was an accomplishment in itself, but bigger hurdles lay ahead.

To keep their minds occupied so they wouldn’t think about turning back, Michelle told them the story of the great Colorado explorer Sir Walter Kennington. While he was famous for his expeditions and photographs of the Colorado Rockies, the discovery of Mirror Lake was legendary by the mere nature of the discovery. While following a mountain lion and her cubs for National Geographic magazine, Kennington got turned around and became lost in the wilderness for five long days. It would turn out to be his finest hour.

Disoriented and on the verge of severe exposure, Kennington stumbled upon Mirror Lake simply by accident. Mirror Lake became one of his greatest discoveries, and although the governor of Colorado at the time suggested the lake be named after him, Kennington explained the discovery was not about him but about the majestic beauty of the Rockies. To this day, however, nobody could talk about Mirror Lake without telling the story of the great explorer of the Rockies who got lost.

Coming up the last section of the now well-traveled rocky trail, the women were tired and walking in silence. Kanisha’s left heel had a blister forming, Francie was out of breath from the elevation gain of the hike, and both Lei Kim and Lisa were dragging behind, ready to turn back whenever anyone suggested this was far enough. Suddenly the women stopped in unison. They heard something… something in the distance.

“What is that?” Francie asked with hushed concern.

“It’s nothing. Come on, we’re almost there,” Michelle said, continuing up the trail without fear.

“Almost where?” Lisa said, struggling to keep up, but Michelle didn’t answer. As Michelle began to disappear in the darkness before them, the women looked at each other for guidance. There was none. So, with no other choice, they pressed on.

The low rumble grew even louder. “What could it be?” Lei Kim asked herself as she tried to catch up with Michelle, but something was wrong. She suddenly grew dizzy. “It’s nothing, keep going,” Lei Kim coached herself, but she stumbled and fell to her knees.

“Michelle,” Francie called out.

Michelle turned around and saw Lei Kim on the ground. The others rushed to her side.

“I’m okay. I’m okay,” Lei Kim assured them. “Just got a bit dizzy there for a second.”

“You sure?” Michelle asked, concerned.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Have a drink of water,” Lisa said, pulling out the water bottle.

“Thank you,” Lei Kim replied, and took a swig. “Really, I’m okay.”

“We can go back if you aren’t,” Michelle said, but Lei Kim stood up on her own.

“Really, guys. I’m fine,” Lei Kim replied, so the group continued. Michelle kept a close eye on Lei Kim, who she thought looked pale, but Lei Kim smiled back at Michelle and even picked up the pace a bit.

As they came around the last of what seemed like a million switchbacks, they were treated to an amazing view of a waterfall, aptly named Kennington Falls. The full moon glinted off the water as it crested the top of the eighty-five-foot waterfall. Tumbling like a ribbon in the sky, the water landed on the jagged rocks below. This was the same stream Sir Walter Kennington had followed down to safety into the small Colorado mining camp of Idyllwild. Michelle explained to the group that this was one of the last times the falls would be visible until spring. Winter was on its way and the entire area would soon be covered in six feet of snow. There was a moment of silent appreciation.

“Great. Can we go home now?” Lisa finally asked.

“Not yet. We’re almost there,” Michelle replied without breaking stride. “Just around the next switchback, I promise you.”

Cresting the trail, the group quickly fell silent, for before them stood Mirror Lake.

“Turn off the flashlights,” Michelle ordered. One by one, the beams of light winked off. Their eyes quickly adjusted, and with the full moon, they could see the entire lake and the massive mountain range behind it. The night air was crisp and the smell of pine trees was strong.

“Now, imagine being lost in the wild for five days and then discovering this. What a gift.” Michelle looked around at the immense beauty surrounding them. The moonlight shimmered across the still lake, and one could understand why Kennington had named this discovery Mirror Lake. It was a mirror for all the beauty that surrounded it. Michelle was right. It was a gift, and the women looked in every direction, taking it in. It was a magical moment, a spiritual awakening of sorts. Even Lisa was silent, and that was a miracle in itself, Michelle thought.

Gathering the women in a clearing, Michelle convinced everyone to find a place to sit down. Kanisha found a fallen tree. Lisa sat directly on the ground. Lei Kim joined her. Francie looked unsure what to do but, with a few swipes of her hand to clear away the dirt, she finally perched on a large rock as Michelle finished the tale of Sir Walter Kennington: “Sometimes in life, you need to get lost to find your way.” The women just sat there and absorbed the profound thought. Michelle then directed their attention to the lights of the town in the valley below.

“Kind of gives you a sense of perspective as to what’s important, doesn’t it? All those lives going on down there, rushing about, fighting with each other, falling in love, falling out of love… And it’s all up to us. We get to choose how we want to live. Which is the reason I brought you up here. Have you considered what you want?”

“I have a clear idea of what I want,” Lisa cracked.

“Lisa, please. I’m serious. When was the last time you stopped reacting to life and actually asked yourself the question ‘What do I want?’” The group didn’t respond. They all remained silent until Michelle continued. “It’s something to think about. Life is about claiming the thoughts in your mind. If you don’t choose these thoughts directly by asking yourself questions like this, uncertainty will rule. That brings about frustration and anger because at the end of the day, you know you should’ve chosen a direction. So, if you would, I’d like everyone to close their eyes.”

“Close our eyes? What are you talking about? Look at that moon. Turn around, look at that lake,” Lisa said to Michelle. “You want me to close my eyes and miss all this?”

“Yes. But you’re not missing anything. What I want you to do is to look for that kind of beauty on the inside. I want you to stop worrying about money. Don’t think about your to-do lists or how you’re going to get out of debt. We can think about all that stuff later. Right now, I want us to look for… well… for whatever shows up.”

“You’re serious?” Lisa asked.

“What am I looking for again?” Kanisha asked, opening her eyes.

“That’s the thing. You’re not looking for anything. When you’re busy looking for something, you’re missing the point. Clear your mind so you can receive the message from your soul and stop worrying about your problems. Problems are good. They make you stronger, wiser, and more courageous. See yourself fully funded in all of your endeavors by imagining a life where all your dreams are accomplished. What does that feel like? What does it look like? Have you thought about it lately? Don’t you think it’s time you started living the life you dream about? Why not begin right now? I want you to transport yourself virtually, because you are explorers of the undiscovered territories in your mind. This virtualization process helps you clear out the chaos in your mind and learn how to accept greater things, things you thought were reserved for other people. Well, guess what, ladies? You are other people, and it’s time you start getting what you want from life. And listen up, because this is the most important part of this virtualization process: do not think about how you’ll achieve the things you see. Thoughts like that are just your ego adding more chaos in your mind. Your recipe for your new life is free of any mental activity that keeps you from knowing that all your needs are met right now. So virtually transport yourself to the end result and leave the beginning alone. Trust that if you can see it, you can achieve it.”

And so it began. A peaceful silence engulfed the women like a warm blanket. Looking around, Michelle noticed her surroundings one more time before she closed her eyes and joined the women in this now sacred moment. As her eyes shut, the sounds of the distant waterfall grew louder. She could still hear the lake lapping lightly against its narrow shoreline. She took a deep breath and could smell the moisture of the pristine lake water drifting toward her as a slight breeze gently kissed her skin.

Several minutes passed in silence. Then Michelle began to take them on a journey into the future. “Imagine the lifestyle of your dreams. How good could it be? That kind of lifestyle is awaiting you, right now.” She paused to let this thought sink in. “Where do you live your ideal lifestyle? What kind of home do you live in? Walk up to the front door of your dream home and open the door. Walk inside and notice what kind of life you dream of creating for yourself and those you love. What kind of people do you see yourself sharing this dream life with? Notice the abundance surrounding you. Spend a few minutes wandering through your dream home. I want you to experience everything in all five senses. What do you taste, smell, feel, hear, and see inside your new home? Remember, this is the reward you’ve earned for actively following your dreams.”

Several minutes passed before Francie began to fidget. Struggling with the sounds of night going on around her, Francie finally opened her eyes when she heard an owl hooting. Her gaze quickly shot up to the tree above, and she spotted the giant bird. Its head swiveled toward her, its eyes reflecting the moonlight. Wanting to call attention to the creature, she discovered that everyone’s eyes were still shut, including Michelle’s. Hadn’t they heard the sound too? But evidently they hadn’t. It was as if this majestic creature was there, on that branch above, just for her to see. Was this owl trying to tell her something? She began to smile. For here, directly above her, was one of the grandest animals in the kingdom, sharing this moment with her.

A rustling sound suddenly came from somewhere behind her. She jerked her head in reaction. Was it a bear moving in for the kill? A pack of wolves arriving to devour a delicious five-course meal? Remembering what Michelle had said about runaway thoughts, Francie returned her gaze to the owl above. When she did, however, she saw something on the branch behind the great owl. Was she seeing double?

Everything soon made sense when the owl bent to fluff its feathers. Standing behind it was another owl. It must be a male and a female, Francie thought. When the two owls began rubbing their necks together, she realized that she was witnessing a mating dance.

Francie slowly closed her eyes, to internally register the beauty of this moment, but soon she opened them again, because she didn’t want to miss anything. When she looked up once more, however, the owls were gone. A feeling of sadness quickly washed over her. She wondered if she’d imagined the entire experience. But what did this mean? Was it somehow a metaphor about her life and the time she’d wasted? And what about the impending foreclosure? She wanted answers.

She felt alone again, and she found herself suddenly missing her husband, Christopher. She wanted to break the silence and ask for help. She was panicking. Her palms were sweaty and her chest grew tight, until finally she took a deep breath. It seemed to calm the thoughts swirling in her mind. Filling her lungs with deep, soulful breaths, she shut her eyes again and returned her mind to a place of calmness. As she released another breath, Michelle broke the silence.

“Slowly bring your attention back to your awareness and gently open your eyes.”

The women’s eyes seemed to scan the landscape as if they were seeing the lake for the very first time—all except Lisa, who shrugged, stood up, and announced, “Okay, I’m ready.”

Michelle ignored Lisa’s comment. “I’m sure there’s a lot you’d like to talk about, but let’s remain quiet as we hike back to the parking lot. Listen to the sounds of your feet touching the ground. Listen to your breath moving in and out of your body. Feel your heart beating and stay present. Know that where you have taken yourself in the last forty-five minutes of silence—” “Forty-five minutes? Really?” Francie said, astonished.

“Yes, believe it or not, it has been forty-five minutes since we closed our eyes. As I was saying, know that where you have taken yourself in the last forty-five minutes of silence is a sacred place you can return to whenever you want to. You don’t have to be sitting next to a lake, though it doesn’t hurt. You can carry that place with you… inside of you.” She smiled. Michelle liked knowing that her thoughts could become a sanctuary of the mind and that this place was always available, no matter what life was doing on the outside.

“So when we reach the parking lot, I want you to get in your car and drive directly home. Don’t turn on the radio. Don’t call home before you get there. Just continue with the process of letting go of any attachments you might have about money. About what you don’t have, or what you think you should’ve gotten in life, or the financial pressures bearing down on you. Let it all go now and concentrate on the ideas welling up from within your soul. Then, when you get home, sit down at the kitchen table, climb into your bed, or sit on your couch, and write. Write about what you saw. What you felt. Whatever. Just put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and write.” Michelle stood up.

Slowly, the women nodded and climbed to their feet as they began the journey back to the parking lot. Lisa seemed not to have gotten anything out of the process, as she led the way and put more and more distance between herself and the rest of the group, who walked in silence. With their minds swirling, the women were so focused they forgot to turn on their flashlights. The walk home was a different experience than the walk up. It seemed like everyone, except for Lisa, was now walking with a sense of wonderment and awe. Their step was lighter. Their spirits were lifted, but Michelle knew this was only a momentary experience. She knew trouble lay ahead.

Michelle knew they would fight tooth and nail to remain the same by holding on to their preconceived notions about money. They would fight because it was the devil they knew. The process of becoming awake and aware was not for the fainthearted, and Michelle couldn’t help wondering who would break down first. Would it be Francie, who up to this point had been locked in a life of sameness and fear? Was Lisa going to quit the Mastermind Group as if she’d gotten nothing from this experience? Would Lei Kim fall back into a workaholic pattern again, spinning on a treadmill of linear income living? Or perhaps Kanisha would run away altogether. Would she leave the baby behind? Despite all the questions running through her mind about the others, Michelle’s thoughts soon began to drift to her own evaluation. Had she been too tough? Not tough enough? Had this hike been a good idea? What would Samantha have done?

The thoughts continued until she finally smiled, let go of her critical voice, and knew that what had just happened was perfect. This was a different group from Samantha’s, and she didn’t need to spend any mental energy on comparing and competing. This was her group, and right now she was pleased with the first session. Ideas raced about their next gathering. Michelle couldn’t wait.

7
Trusting the Process
Knowing You Can Do Anything

During the next week, Michelle handed out copies of Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill to each of the Mastermind Group members. She chose the book because it was the bible of finance and spiritual intention. While it taught sound financial advice, it also taught the feeling behind making money, and Michelle knew it was a perfect choice for the group. She delivered the books with the following note:

Thank you again for participating in the moonlight hike last week. I am really excited about our next gathering, which will be Tuesday at 7 P.M. Please read the enclosed book before our next meeting. Again, thank you for being open, and I’ll see you all next week.

Kanisha read the book in one sitting and was eager to discuss it at the dinner table, but Michelle told her to wait for the group. As time passed, Michelle was fast learning that Kanisha wouldn’t be the one to run from her life. She was embracing change beautifully. Lisa, on the other hand, was back to her normal self and resisted any discussions about the moonlight hike. While she did agree to read Think and Grow Rich, Lisa became very busy with other things. Michelle knew this was Lisa’s way of keeping herself safe. In reality, being busy revealed Lisa’s desire to remain small in life. Lisa wasn’t the type of person who responded well when pushed into a corner. Michelle knew she would have to lead her out of the corner. For now, all she could hope for was that Lisa would read the book.

Pulling into Francie’s driveway to bring her a package of herbal tea as a gift, Michelle gazed at Francie’s home. With its wraparound porch, the white house with black trim resembled a plantation house from the Old South. The leaves hadn’t been raked up, an obvious sign the gardener had been let go, but for the most part the house was in great shape. Michelle knocked on the oversized door.

The door opened and Francie stepped into the sunlight. She looked terrible, like she’d been up for days. She was wearing the same black track suit she’d worn on the moonlight hike, but it looked slept in. Michelle wondered if she had even taken a shower since they last saw each other, and worried that Francie had gone off the deep end.

“Francie? Are you okay?” Michelle asked, stepping forward with concern.

“Michelle! What a surprise! But it’s perfect timing. Come in, I need to show you something,” Francie said, grabbing Michelle’s arm. She pulled her inside and swung the door shut behind them.

This was Michelle’s first time in Francie’s house. It was beautiful, and immaculate throughout, just like she expected. Michelle thought it looked like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. The study, however, was a mess. Papers and opened books were strewn about and the blinds were drawn. With the exception of Francie’s laptop computer glowing like a digital campfire in the middle of the floor, the room was completely dark. The book-lined shelves were merely a faint shadow in the background.

“Francie, what is going on?” Michelle said, looking around.

“It’s amazing. I don’t know what to say,” Francie told her, barely able to contain her excitement.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Everything is great… and it’s all thanks to you,” Francie said, digging through the papers. Suddenly a thought arrived, and she quickly jotted it down. “Yes. I must meet with my lawyer… file the LLC. Can’t forget that.”

“Francie. I don’t understand. What is all of this?”

“Yes, well, after the hike last night—”

“The hike was three days ago, Francie.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?” Francie smiled.

“I’m worried about you.”

Francie picked up her laptop and placed it in Michelle’s hands. “Look at this.”

Michelle focused on the computer screen showing a very basic website:

FORECLOSURE HELP: Funding a Way Through!

“Here, look. Scroll down,” Francie said as she tapped the down arrow on the keyboard like someone who’s had way too much coffee. From the looks of her, she probably had.

“Eighty dollars for a handbook? I think we might have a cheaper alternative for you down at the Heartlight,” Michelle said.

“Honey, there are people out there charging a thousand dollars, if you can believe that, for CDs and DVDs on this stuff, but the thing they don’t understand is, someone in foreclosure doesn’t have a thousand dollars. I know I don’t.

“After the hike the other night—three days ago,” she said, smiling at Michelle, “I got home and couldn’t stop thinking about what you said. About how if we don’t fill our mind with thoughts about what we want, other things fill it up for us. Well, I thought the only way for me to get out of this foreclosure was to see what I could learn, but every time I read a book or went to a new website, I found maybe one useful bit of information. Nobody seemed to have all the answers. I thought, what if we could put all the answers into one place in simple language so anyone could understand? So I came up with this.”

Francie took the laptop back, opened up a PDF file, and spun the laptop toward Michelle once more.

“You wrote all of this?”

“A little. Mostly I assembled it,” Francie said, looking at Michelle. “All I did was take all the research you see scattered on the floor and put it into a simple twenty-five-page guide for people in foreclosure to help them understand what they’re up against and how to get out of it.”

“And?” Michelle asked, scanning the document.

“Then I set up a PayPal account and a website, just like you suggested.”

“You built the website too?”

“Don’t be silly, dear. I barely know how to get e-mail, but there’s this place called GoDaddy.com. They do it for you. I just told the nice young man from California what I wanted and he did everything. The site went live two nights ago. We had a few glitches here and there, but look at that… one hundred and thirty-six orders.”

Beep. Her inbox chimed with another order.

“I’m sorry, one hundred and thirty-seven orders,” Francie said with a laugh.

“Are you telling me you made… how much in two days?”

“One hundred thirty-seven orders at $80 each. Eleven thousand dollars.”

“Francie, that is great. Will that allow you to keep your house?”

“When you showed up I was just about to go over to the bank to see if they’ll take a PayPal transfer.”

“Might I suggest a shower first?” Michelle said.

Francie laughed and looked down at herself. “Yes, perhaps.”

“The group will need to hear about this,” Michelle said. “Will you be there on Tuesday?”

“Certainly. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Wonderful. I have to get back to the store, but you have fun at the bank,” Michelle said with a smile.

“I can’t wait to start paying off those bills again.”

“I’m really happy for you.”

“Happy for us,” Francie corrected her.

“Yes, happy for us. Great job, Francie, I’m proud of you,” Michelle said as she turned to go. “I’ll see you Tuesday.”

Lisa was helping a customer with a print-on-demand order when Michelle returned to the Heartlight. They shared a smile of acknowledgment as Michelle made her way to her office. As Michelle set her purse down, her cell phone beeped with a voice-mail message.

She listened to a message from the mayor. Brady said he’d be coming over for lunch and bringing Chinese takeout, her favorite. He also said that he wanted to talk. This was unusual, Michelle thought; a man who wanted to talk? She smiled at her little joke about men and their unwillingness to share their feelings, but soon Michelle began to experience a myriad of emotions, ranging from trepidation and fear to curiosity and wonder. “What would he want to talk about?” she asked herself. They hadn’t crossed the bridge to officially dating, so it couldn’t be about normal relationship stuff. They hadn’t even so much as kissed.

Whatever his intentions were, he was on his way over. With a quick check of her watch, Michelle realized he would be there any moment. How did she look? Did she have time to freshen up? Pulling out a small compact mirror, she made sure her lip gloss was okay. It was, as usual, perfect.

As she snapped the mirror shut, the mayor cleared his throat in the doorway. He was fifteen minutes early, holding a spring bouquet of flowers and two bags of Chinese takeout.

“Szechuan beef, kung pao chicken, brown rice, and flowers… which are for you.”

Wondering what he was up to, since he’d never brought her flowers before, she rose and thanked him as she placed the flowers into the empty vase next to her filing cabinet. The vase hadn’t seen a bouquet of flowers for more than a year and a half, when Nicky and Hannah had picked wildflowers on a school field trip.

Her eyes moved from the flowers and met his, gazing down at her from his six feet four inches. His blue eyes seemed to make her stomach do flip-flops, like she was on a roller coaster at the county fair.

What was she waiting for? He was good-looking, smart, and a better-than-average dancer. Plus he liked kids. Perhaps her standards were too high, or perhaps she was afraid of commitment after losing Gideon. Michelle snapped herself out of her momentary daze.

“Shall we eat?” she said, sitting in her chair.

The mayor didn’t say a word. Instead, he set the bags of food onto the desk and moved his chair next to hers. Brady took her hand and looked deep into her eyes. Her heart stopped.

“Relax, I’m not going to do anything stupid,” he said, watching as the color drained from her already pale-skinned face. “I just want to talk about a few things before we dig in.”

“What do you want to talk about?” she said, clearing her throat.

“Do you like me?” he asked.

“Do I like you?” Michelle echoed, letting out a nervous laugh.

“Yes. Do you like me? It’s been over six months since we…” He searched for the words. “Exactly what would you call what we’ve been doing here?”

“Getting to know each other?” Michelle offered.

“Right. For six months,” he offered with a deadpan look on his face.

“And?”

“And I’m starting to feel like Switzerland over here.”

“Switzerland?”

“Yes. Neutral. You. Me. It all feels so neutral, and I don’t want to be neutral with you. I like you, Michelle. I like spending time with you, and while being friends is nice, I want…”

“Something more,” Michelle said, finishing his sentence.

“You make it sound as if that were a bad thing.”

“Not at all.”

“But?”

“There’s no but.” She paused as she gathered her racing thoughts. “But sometimes things should just happen organically. What I mean is, if we need to have this kind of conversation, maybe—”

Before she could finish, he leaned in and gave Michelle the kind of kiss that would have buckled her knees on the spot if she’d been standing. It was a passionate kiss and spoke volumes about the kind of lover he would be. It wasn’t an overly aggressive kiss, but rather an invitation to something special. Michelle and Lisa had often talked about relationships and the countless bad kisses they’d had to endure in life. While they disagreed on many things, like whether or not a woman should ask a man out, they both agreed that everything came down to the kiss. If a man couldn’t kiss, nothing else mattered. But, Michelle realized, as Brady released her, this man knew what he was doing.

“Something like that,” he said, looking closely into her eyes.

Michelle couldn’t move. She couldn’t talk. All she could muster was a smile, which grew ever so wide.

The silence between them seemed to last forever. Then Michelle moved in for another kiss, just to make sure the first hadn’t been beginner’s luck. As their lips touched for the second time, and Michelle began to feel the same electricity she’d felt in the first kiss, Lisa walked in unannounced.

“Oh, geez, I’m sorry,” she said, backpedaling into the hallway.

“No, it’s fine,” Michelle said, collecting herself.

“I can come back.”

“Lisa, it’s okay. What’s up?”

Lisa slowly appeared in the doorway again with a giant grin on her face. “I was just going to step out and grab something to eat and was going to see if you wanted anything, but…” She smiled, enjoying the obviously uncomfortable moment Michelle was having. “It seems you have everything you need.”

Michelle shot from her chair. “No. Hey. Here. Grab some plates from the kitchen. You can join us. You love Chinese food, don’t you? Of course she does.” Michelle looked back at Brady. “Everyone loves Chinese food. Why would I think you wouldn’t, right?” she said to Lisa.

“Oh, I don’t want to be a bother,” Lisa began with a wry smile.

“Don’t be silly. I’ll help you get the plates,” Michelle said, grabbing Lisa’s hand.

“We’re getting the plates,” Lisa said to Brady before Michelle ripped her from his view. He smiled.

In the kitchen, Michelle looked back to make sure Brady hadn’t followed them. She whispered to Lisa, “You can’t leave me alone in there.”

“You’re not alone in there, girl. Mr. Hunkalicious is in there with you.”

“Would you stop messin’ around? I’m serious.”

“Oh, stop. What are you so afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid. I’m just not sure I’m ready to jump right in and make out with the mayor in my office like a couple of horny teenagers.”

“The way you two were goin’ at it, I thought he’d just asked you to the prom.”

“Stop!”

“Would you go back in there and kiss the man already!” Lisa ordered.

“Great advice, Lisa. What if the kids walked in?”

“The kids are in school.”

“You know our kids. They could get expelled.”

“Right, and then Nicky could steal the principal’s car keys and drive everybody down here because they know you’re making out with Brady Wilson!”

“You think this is funny, don’t you.”

“No, I think it’s great—and about time,” Lisa said, grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl next to the refrigerator.

“So you’ll stay?”

“I didn’t say that,” Lisa replied as she took a big bite out of the apple.

“Lisa!”

“Calm down, I’m kidding. Of course I’ll stay.”

“Great,” Michelle said, relieved.

“If I can have a raise.”

Michelle spun around, but Lisa was obviously kidding. She took another bite of the apple and watched Michelle work things out.

“Okay. This is good. This is good,” Michelle said, straightening her blouse. “All right. We better get back,” she said, moving into the hallway.

“Michelle?” Lisa asked, leaning against the counter with a big smile.

“Yeah?”

“The plates?”

“Yes. Right. The plates,” Michelle said, obviously still flustered. Lisa couldn’t help laughing.

“Don’t laugh. It’s not funny.”

“Yes it is.”

“So, you think he’s cute?” Michelle asked, leaning in like a high school cheerleader talking about her quarterback boyfriend.

“Are you kidding? He’s gorgeous. And hey, an added bonus—if you ever get into trouble with the law, he’s not a bad guy to have around, ya know. He can bail ya out.”

“Yeah, like I’m going to start knocking over banks.”

“You’re the one who wanted us to start thinking about money. I could drive the getaway car, Francie could be the bag girl…”

Michelle wasn’t amused. This was serious business—she hadn’t kissed anyone besides Gideon in over fifteen years. She wondered if she’d done it okay. Maybe she was out of practice. She hoped Brady would want to kiss her again, because her body was alive and her mind was racing with all sort of possibilities.

8
The Great Mental Debate
Yes I Can, No I Can’t… oh, but I Really Want To!

Still energized from the kiss, Michelle all but ran up the steps of the bank to make the store’s weekly deposit. As she opened the doors, Francie came out with a huge smile on her face.

“Hello there. Fancy meeting you here,” Francie said cheerfully.

“How’d it go?” Michelle asked with a smile.

“PayPal takes three days to deposit, but it will go directly to my account and I will be officially off foreclosure.”

“That’s wonderful, Francie.”

“Yes it is, and I’m glad I ran into you. I need some advice. On the way over here I saw a piece of property over on the north side of town, just off Van Ness.”

“Nice area. What shape is the house in?” Michelle inquired.

“Beautiful,” Francie quickly replied. “I think somebody should buy it.”

“Ever think that somebody should be you?”

“Michelle, I just got out of foreclosure, I don’t think—”

“Oh yes. You should think about it,” Michelle said, cutting her off. “What are the particulars of the property?”

“About twenty years left on a thirty-year mortgage, a balance of $255,000 at 6 percent. The owners are about four months behind on their mortgage payments. They’re scared because they just got a notice of default from the bank. It should take about ten thousand plus costs to assume.”

“Any appraisal?”

“Three hundred and twenty-five thousand,” Francie replied. “But there’s a problem. The owners are such a sweet couple—I don’t feel right taking their house like this and putting them on the street.”

“If you don’t, the bank will.”

“Yes, I understand that, but this was me just seventy-two hours ago. I felt so scared, and I don’t want anyone to feel the same way. I just want to help if I can.”

“And make money in the process?” Michelle reminded her.

“If there a way to make it work and not put them out, yes.”

Michelle smiled. “This is what it means to be an enlightened millionaire, Francie. Making money while doing good for other people. I will say this, though. It’s hard to extend a line of credit to someone who can’t make the payments on the loans they already have. Sweet couple aside, this is still business. You’d be throwing good money after bad. What you could do is take over the loan and then negotiate a lease with an option to buy. That will keep the bank off their backs and they get to stay in their house. Hopefully they can weather the storm and buy it back when they get right side up, but you have to know that at the end of the day, you’re the owner of the property. If they’re delinquent just once with the payments…”

“Yes, I understand. See? I knew you’d know what to do,” Francie said with a smile.

“Question is, do you know what you’re going to do?” Michelle asked.

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On how well my e-book does in the next few days,” Francie said.

“Well, keep me posted.”

“Indeed I will. See you Tuesday,” Francie said, continuing down the steps.

Michelle smiled. This was a good day.

On Tuesday the wind decided to rest for the evening. The glow of the setting sun outlining the distant Rocky Mountains had faded as night fell. Main Street was empty.

Kanisha opened the front door of the Heartlight and quickly stepped inside. Checking the time on the antique grandfather clock sitting next to the front register, she exhaled a sigh of relief as the old clock began to strike seven. Kanisha was on time. Before shutting the door behind her, she took in the harmonic strikes of the clock as it gently filled the room. The music it produced demanded a smile, like an hourly wind chime. Michelle said she liked this because she felt it made customers feel at home. The truth was, Kanisha thought, the sounds of the old clock made Michelle feel at home, and that was all that mattered.

As the clock finished echoing throughout the store, Kanisha closed the door and moved to where Francie and Lei Kim sat on the soft couches.

“Hello,” Kanisha said, sitting down. “I thought I was late.”

“Right on time,” Lei Kim said with a smile, but Francie didn’t even look up to acknowledge Kanisha’s presence. She was too busy penciling something into her Filofax planner.

Kanisha didn’t let Francie bother her. She asked Lei Kim, “Where’s Michelle and Lisa? Are they coming?”

“In the back. Michelle told us to wait in the bullpen,” Lei Kim answered.

“The what?” Kanisha asked.

“This couch area is known as the bullpen.” Lei Kim leaned closer. “Clearly a baseball reference she picked up from her late husband.”

“The rules?” Francie said to Lei Kim.

“Ah yes, the rules. There are two rules of the bullpen: don’t ask small questions and don’t engage in small talk.”

“That’s right!” Michelle said, coming down the hallway. “We want this place to be filled with large thinkers who choose to live large lives.”

“Rah rah,” Lisa said, carrying a whiteboard and a large wooden easel.

“What’s the motto, Lisa?”

“I’m busy setting up the easel. Why don’t you ask Francie?” Lisa said.

“Francie?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Francie said in a lackluster tone. Michelle didn’t repeat the question. She just carried on.

“How we do anything is how we do everything.”

“That’s kinda cool,” Kanisha said in response.

“Kinda cool? This is super cool!” Michelle said with enthusiasm. She truly believed it too. If you weren’t asking big questions about your life, you weren’t looking for big answers. Michelle had found a way to use the problems she’d faced in her past to form the solutions of her future. This was the secret she wanted to teach the Mastermind Group, and Francie’s foreclosure was a perfect example of this ideal.

“What’s the whiteboard for?” Francie asked.

“Yeah. Are we going to play Pictionary?” Lisa asked, kicking off her shoes like they were about to have game night.

“Before you can go anywhere, you first have to know where it is you want to go,” Michelle answered, setting up the whiteboard at one end of the couches.

“What?” Lisa replied, tilting her head in confusion.

“In order to achieve what you want, you have to become clear on what it is you want. What do you want? Do you know? Have you asked yourself the question?”

Lisa looked back at her with a blank stare. Michelle then turned to Francie.

“Francie, maybe you could help us out here and tell the ladies what you came up with after our hike.”

“Well, I am in foreclosure—”

“Was in,” Michelle said, correcting her.

“Thank you … I was in foreclosure, and I made a website that took off.”

“A website?” Lei Kim asked.

“What kind?” Lisa inquired.

“On what to do when you receive a foreclosure notice from the bank,” Francie explained. “I put together a twenty-five-page guide of information that helps you see through the mess of foreclosure.”

“Tell them why,” Michelle prodded.

“Because when I got the notice in the mail, I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do,” Francie admitted.

“But how did you know to write the guide and make the website?” Lei Kim asked.

“Lei Kim, I honestly don’t know, but it has something to do with what Michelle said the other night, and the hike.” She smiled, almost apologizing. “I don’t know—something just happened.”

“Come on, Francie. Tell ’em the good part. Tell ’em how much money you’ve made,” Michelle said, smiling widely.

“Does it matter?”

“A number with four zeros after it is a lot different from a number with only three,” Michelle said, noticing how Francie shifted her weight. She seemed uncomfortable—completely different from the woman Michelle had heard explain how the idea came about and how excited she was about paying her bills.

“So, how much?” Lisa prodded.

“Before I left the house, the PayPal account was up to about fifteen thousand.”

Lisa jolted upright. “Dollars?”

“Yes,” Francie said, half smiling. “In ten days, if you’re in foreclosure, I can teach you to be stress free, debt free, and walk away without owing a penny.”

As the women clapped and carried on, Michelle caught Francie’s eye. Something was indeed amiss. She’d just gotten herself out of foreclosure, but she wasn’t fully enjoying this moment. Maybe she was just tired, Michelle thought, and moved on with the discussion.

“Fifteen thousand dollars in just a few days. While this is great, Francie, the thing you need to start thinking about now is how to have supplemental products to support the popularity of your initial product. You always want to think of new ways to monetize the popularity of your website traffic.”

“I don’t want to be greedy,” Francie said.

And there it was. Michelle now realized what was wrong. Francie was having trouble with making money. She could confront her about this, but she knew there would be opportunities for Francie to discover it on her own, so Michelle decided not to press it.

“I want to know where she found all those people to buy her book,” Lisa said, thoroughly engaged in the conversation now.

“There’s a website that gathers e-mail addresses of people in foreclosure. I’m assuming they get them from the county clerks’ offices. Anyway, I gave this website my credit card number and they did a blast to a couple hundred thousand people all over the country. I started getting orders the next hour.”

“How come I can’t find something like that?” Lisa asked, sitting back into the cushion of the couch.

“The easiest way to answer questions like that is to become single-minded in your intention. Your attention has to be on your intention. If you are engaging in back-and-forth, ‘yes I can’ ‘no I can’t’ self-talk, you are simply playing mental ping-pong. Discernment is good, but back-and-forth is a waste of time. The universe is a friendly place and abundance is available for everyone, no matter what you might think. Did everyone get a chance to read Think and Grow Rich?”

“Yes. I loved it,” Kanisha erupted first.

“Yes, very good,” Lei Kim said.

Francie nodded, but Lisa missed the question altogether, preoccupied with arranging the cushions behind her. Looking up, she noticed that all eyes were on her.

“What? Sorry. The pillows,” she mumbled.

“Did you read the book, Lisa?” Michelle asked.

“Yeah. It was cool, from what I read. I mean, I could tell it was good,” she said, looking away.

Michelle thought about Lisa’s reaction. While Lisa was a good employee, her personal life was a mess. She was chronically late and oversubscribed, but she wasn’t willing to do the work. That was her problem—by keeping “busy” with a life of chaos, she was able to continue the drama. This would soon change, Michelle thought.

“I encourage you all to review it as often as you can. If there’s any book out there that captures what it takes to be an enlightened millionaire, it’s Think and Grow Rich. Okay, let’s move on.” Michelle said, moving to the whiteboard.

“Hold up. We’re not even gonna discuss the book?” Kanisha questioned.

“No, and I’ll tell you why,” Michelle said, picking up Kanisha’s highlighted copy of Think and Grow Rich. “There’s nothing in here that you don’t already know on a soul level.”

“Soul level? I thought we were here to learn how to make money,” Lisa asked.

Michelle moved to the financial section in the bookstore and gathered an armful of titles. Returning to the bullpen, she dropped them onto the coffee table one by one.

“There’s a million books out there on the ABC’s of making money, but unless you carry a consciousness of wealth, you will always be just over broke… which is another name for a j-o-b. The work we’re doing here is deeper because what we want to do is cultivate a foundation of wealth.”

“I don’t understand,” put in Lei Kim.

“When we’re born, we already possess all the knowledge and instinct we’ll ever need to get through life. The things you read in any of these books are simply reminders of what we already know. It’s great to absorb what other people have said. Absolutely, you should attend seminars and you should read books. Take in as much as you can handle. But at some point, we must begin to rely on who we are. What we think. It’s that kind of self-reliance that propels us toward self-mastery and our greatest yet to be.”

“Question,” Francie interrupted. “That phrase, ‘greatest yet to be.’ What does that mean?”

“Your life, fully expressed.”

While this sounded great to everyone else, Kanisha was hung up. She was still snagged by the thought that the hours she’d spent studying the book were wasted. She was shaking her head, looking away from the group.

“Kanisha? Is there something wrong?” Michelle asked.

“No, I… well, yeah. I did all that studying like you asked, and we ain’t even gonna discuss it?”

Before Michelle could answer, Francie snapped, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. Surely there should be a requirement for us to speak in proper sentences,” she said, as if Kanisha wasn’t even in the room.

“Excuse me? I’ll talk however I damn well please.”

“Then you talk like a tramp,” Francie shot back.

“Whatever, Grandma. I ain’t here to impress your droopy ass.”

“All right, that’s enough,” Michelle said.

“What? The bitch came at me.” Kanisha slammed her notebook onto the coffee table.

“Kanisha, stop it.”

“Me? You should be talkin’ to Ms. High and Mighty ‘I made fifteen G’s’ sittin’ over there. I ain’t done nothin’ wrong except stick up for myself. The woman been throwin’ dirty looks at me since we started this thing.”

Suddenly everyone felt uncomfortable.

“I think it’s time we talk about the rules,” Michelle said, finally breaking the silent tension.

“Rules? For a book club?” Lisa said.

“Yes, the rules. And this isn’t a book club, Lisa. This is a Mastermind Group, and you’re here to do big work and think even bigger. The first rule, like it or not, is that we always support each other, no matter what.”

“I don’t wanna be friends with her,” Kanisha said, indicating Francie, who sat with her arms folded across her designer blouse like a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

Michelle addressed Kanisha. “Well, that’s good, because I don’t want to be friends with you either, Kanisha.”

Kanisha’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “What’d I do to you?”

Michelle didn’t answer her. Instead, she addressed the group with authority.

“Ladies, we aren’t here for friendships.”

“We’re not friends?” Lei Kim asked quietly.

Michelle’s shoulders grew heavy. This wasn’t how she’d seen things unfolding. She’d thought for sure the excitement and success of Francie’s foreclosure idea would energize the group with more moneymaking ideas, but that wasn’t the case. Somehow she was losing control.

As the women began to bicker back and forth, Michelle finally smiled, because she knew this was the beauty about life. It had a way of unfolding perfectly no matter what it looked like on the outside. She knew this firsthand, but she needed to do something. She needed to lead this group past the mental roadblocks they had before them.

“Quiet! That’s enough!” Michelle ordered. “When we’re in session, I am not here to be your friend. If you want a friend, go buy a dog. This is business, and if you can’t hack it in here, you’ll never make it out there. We’re here to learn how to make money, and we can’t do that if we’re stuck in the quicksand of old thought patterns and bad habits, like bickering about nothing. We need cooperation from each other. We don’t have time to compare and compete with each other.”

“There’s nothing wrong with friendships, Michelle,” Lisa cut in.

“I never said there was, Lisa. I said inside this group, we have no time to worry about the delicate nature of friendships.”

“Why not?” Lisa continued.

“Because friends buoy you up. Friends hand over approval like change at a fast-food restaurant. Why? Because when you’re friends, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by telling the truth. I’m serious. We have to trust each other to tell the brutal truth. We have to rely on each other, and if we don’t, we are wasting our time and we should all go home right now.”

“I don’t want to rely on her for anything,” Kanisha snapped, tossing her head in Francie’s direction.

“And I think you should go back to where you came from,” Francie shot back.

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere, lady.”

“That’s enough. What, am I talking to myself here?” Michelle was upset now. The tension was thick, the silence even thicker, and it lasted for a good thirty seconds as Michelle processed her next move.

Francie put her purse on her lap; she was certain things were about to end. Kanisha stared at her, but Francie didn’t even look anywhere near the end of the couch where Kanisha was. It was a standoff.

“What do we do now?” Lisa finally asked. It was the question on everyone’s mind, so all eyes turned to Michelle. She took her time to answer.

“We’re going for a ride,” Michelle finally said, standing up and gathering her keys.

“Another hike?” Lei Kim wondered.

“No. We’re just going for a ride,” Michelle said.

“Where?” Lisa asked.

“Will I need my purse?” Lei Kim asked.

“No. You can leave everything right here. We’ll be back in ten minutes, tops. We can take my car.”

Not sure what they were getting themselves into, the women stood up and followed Michelle down the hallway.

Michelle waited at the door as Kanisha went back to retrieve her sweater from the couches. Francie was not happy.

“That girl needs to learn some manners.”

“Don’t we all,” Michelle said. “So, did you make a decision on the Van Ness property?”

“Yes, I did,” Francie said as she headed into the back parking lot to join the others. “I decided it’s not a good time for me to buy property.”

Lisa sat between Lei Kim and Kanisha in the backseat while Francie sat in the passenger seat. Michelle was behind the wheel and driving faster than normal. The drive to the edge of town took longer than the promised ten minutes, but Michelle didn’t care. She was through playing around and was ready to draw a line in the sand.

When she pulled onto a dirt road, the Range Rover bounced from one bump in the road to another.

“You think now would be a good time to tell us where we’re going?” Lisa asked. Michelle didn’t answer. She kept her eyes on the twisting road ahead. The trees became more and more dense, choking off the moon, which had begun its slide from full to crescent. The Range Rover finally slowed in a clearing.

“Okay, we’re here. Everyone out,” Michelle said with her foot on the brake.

“Michelle? I have heels on,” Francie said.

“That’s okay.”

“Very expensive heels,” Francie said to clarify.

“That’s okay. It’s not another hike. We’re just going to gather in the lights of the car so we can see each other. I’ll explain everything.”

As Francie and Kanisha stepped out first, Michelle turned to Lisa in the backseat. “Shut the door.”

“Why?” Lisa asked, staring back at Michelle.

“Lisa, shut the door.”

“You’re going to leave them here, aren’t you?”

“If you’d like to join them, now’s your chance,” Michelle said with a steely gaze.

Lisa didn’t move and she didn’t shut the back door of the car either. It was another standoff, but Michelle wasn’t in the mood for Lisa right now. Her eyes narrowed, and without so much as a word to Lisa or a look forward, she jerked the car into reverse and stomped on the brake. The back door slammed shut. Michelle quickly hit the auto-lock button and jerked the Ranger Rover forward. Francie and Kanisha stepped out of the way and Michelle rolled the window partially down. The dust from the dirt road drifted past the headlights like a San Francisco fog.

“You can’t leave me here with her!” Kanisha said to Michelle.

“Michelle? What is this?” Francie demanded.

“This? This is a Broad Squad road trip.”

“A broad what?” Kanisha stepped closer to the window, which was rolled down only halfway.

“Broad Squad. It’s the new name of our group. Kind of catchy, don’t you think?” Michelle replied. “And a road trip is reserved for members who aren’t willing to communicate with each other. So if you two can’t work together to get back home, then we’ll have to reconsider the membership of the Broad Squad.” Michelle turned to Lei Kim for effect. “I sure like the new name.”

Lei Kim smiled, looking a bit confused as to what she should say, if anything.

Michelle turned back to Kanisha and Francie. “So, ladies, we’ll be meeting tomorrow night. If you don’t kill each other in the meantime, we’ll see you at seven o’clock at the Heartlight. Have fun,” she said as she rolled up the window and drove away.

“Michelle, you can’t do this!” Lisa exclaimed.

“Do you think they’ll be okay?” Lei Kim added with growing concern.

“That’s up to them.”

Lisa turned and watched the bewildered faces of Francie and Kanisha disappear in the distance as the car drove away.

9
The Road Ahead
You Never Know What You Might Discover
About Yourself

Francie and Kanisha glared at each other as the fading taillights washed over their faces. Both were wondering how they were going to get out of here—and why this was happening to them.

Kanisha’s eyes searched her surroundings. Darkness, everywhere she looked. There was the moonlight, of course, which at this point was just a distant glow because of the trees that lined the small dirt road. She was in the middle of nowhere. While her concern for her situation was obvious, her mind began to drift to her daughter. Surely Michelle would handle things, she thought, but Kanisha couldn’t get Faith out of her mind. The predicament before her somehow caused her love for her daughter to grow even greater than it had been before, if that was possible.

Francie, on the other hand, wasn’t thinking about anyone but herself. Her mind was racing. She looked down at her shoes, wondering why she’d chosen these particular shoes to wear tonight. If she’d known she was going hiking again, surely she would’ve chosen something more appropriate. Francie took pride on making good wardrobe choices, but this had to be the worst choice to date. Her eyes lifted to the trail ahead, where the red taillights were now mere dots in the far-off distance. Suddenly the dots began to glow; Michelle had braked. Perhaps Michelle was satisfied that she’d made her point and would be coming back for them. But when the lights disappeared to the left, Francie knew Michelle wasn’t coming back. Without saying a word, Francie started down the trail, her heels crunching on the trail.

“I wouldn’t walk in those shoes if I was you,” Kanisha said, following after her.

“You aren’t me.”

“I said if I was!”

“Do me a favor—don’t talk to me.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

If they weren’t so physically different, one would have to guess these two women were somehow long-lost siblings, catching up on years of much-needed arguing.

“Why are you such a bitch to me?” Kanisha blurted out.

“Because I don’t like people like you,” Francie shot back, snapping more than talking as she struggled with a rocky section of the trail.

“Oh, so you have a problem with black people, is that it?”

“Why is it that you people think if someone has a problem with you, you immediately draw the conclusion that it’s because you’re black? I don’t like you because I don’t like people who use other people, and you are obviously using Michelle!”

“You people? See there, you said it again,” Kanisha said, laughing. “Wow, that’s kind of funny. I didn’t take you for being a racist, but you are white, and you are from Texas.”

“And I didn’t take you for having a victim complex either. Honey, if that’s the case, that’s your problem, not mine.”

“I ain’t got no problem,” Kanisha said defensively.

“You ain’t got?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“When are you going to learn that if you talk like an idiot, people will treat you like an idiot? Didn’t your mother teach you that?”

“No, lady, my mother taught me how to sell drugs. Is that what you want to hear? Does that somehow make you feel superior to me now? Sorry I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Oh wait, that’s right. You married money, which makes you worse off than me. Least I know I come from the ghetto. You aren’t sure where you come from, ain’t that right?” Kanisha quickly moved past her on the trail.

Francie remained silent. She hadn’t expected to hear so much information from Kanisha. She didn’t want to feel sorry for her. “What a nightmare,” Francie muttered under her breath. “I’m sorry,” Francie finally called out. “I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know? Gee, I thought you knew everything,” Kanisha fired back.

“I never said that.”

Kanisha stopped, turned, and walked right up to Francie. “Well, that’s how people like you make people like me feel. You walk around with your nose in the air. Why, ’cause you got money? You’re just an old lady with expensive shoes she can’t afford.”

Francie was actually trembling. She was afraid of Kanisha right at that moment.

As the silence hung between them, a low grunting sound suddenly emerged from the darkness behind Francie.

“What the hell was that?” Kanisha whispered.

Francie stood frozen in her tracks.

The grunting sound came again, but this time it was closer. Francie wanted her feet to start moving, but when she told her legs to step forward, nothing happened. Kanisha’s mouth was wide open in fear. She too was unable to move.

Suddenly a dark shadow appeared behind Francie. In the dim moonlight bleeding onto the trail, Kanisha saw a huge black bear, grunting and snorting as it scratched the trail beneath its massive claws. It wasn’t happy.

“What is it?” Francie whispered. “Kanisha, what is it?”

Kanisha’s lips moved, but nothing came out.

“Kanisha. What is it?” Francie repeated.

“BEAR!” Kanisha finally blurted out as she spun around and ran in the other direction. Francie didn’t look back as she followed, her high heels barely touching the ground.

Suddenly, Francie went down hard, turning her ankle in the high heels.

Hearing Francie go down with a thud, Kanisha skidded to a halt and spun around. The bear slowed. The massive beast began to stalk Francie, who was too scared to turn and face her assailant. Kanisha’s heart jumped through her chest when she got a good look at the huge animal. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” she whimpered as the bear moved in even closer. Grunting and huffing, it was a nightmare realized.

With her knees bloody and her legs tangled beneath her, Francie slowly turned her head as the large bear rose onto its hind legs, announcing its superiority with a loud roar. Amidst the fear rushing throughout her body like a raging river, Francie felt sure this was the end. Her vision blurred for a second and the images before her slid into slow motion.

Kanisha screamed for her to get to her feet, but Francie couldn’t hear anything over her own heartbeat. She turned back to the bear and watched it open its mouth. Saliva slid from its jagged teeth like a monster in a horror movie. But this wasn’t a movie. It was real life.

Suddenly, Francie wasn’t afraid anymore. Faced with the situation before her, all she could feel was a sense of peace. Time seemed to slow nearly to a stop.

Out of nowhere, the giant bear suddenly began to flinch, again and again. It landed on all fours and bellowed. Finally snapping back into real time, Francie looked up and saw Kanisha firing rocks at the bear like Cy Young winner Greg Maddux striking out batters. Picking up rocks and throwing in one motion, Kanisha moved closer and closer toward the bear, which finally turned and scampered into the cover of darkness.

Firing a few rocks into the darkness for good measure, Kanisha bent down next to Francie and ripped off her high heels. Kanisha quickly found a large rock and hammered the high heels like a blacksmith shaping a horseshoe. In two lethal strokes, the heels broke off at the base of the sole, transforming the expensive shoes into a pair of flats. Kanisha dropped the rock to the ground.

“Are you okay?” Francie asked her.

“Am I okay?” Kanisha repeated with a shaky laugh as she put Francie’s shoes back on her feet.

“Yes. Are you okay?” Francie asked again.

“I’m cool, but we gotta get moving. That thing’s bound to come back,” Kanisha said, keeping an eye over her shoulder. She finished putting Francie’s shoes on her feet. “There. That oughta be easier.”

“Thank you,” Francie said.

“Can you walk?”

“I think so.”

“Good, because it’s probably the time for us to get outta here as fast as possible,” Kanisha said, helping Francie to her feet. Kanisha turned to start down the trail, but Francie halted briefly and took Kanisha’s hand.

“What’s wrong?” Kanisha asked quickly.

“Thank you.”

Kanisha smiled. “You’d’ve done the same for me.”

“No. I’m embarrassed to say I wouldn’t have,” Francie said with great humility.

“That’s okay. I’m used to taking care of myself.”

“No. It’s not okay. And I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry for being a bitch.”

“Hey, it’s your nature.”

“Yes. I guess it is,” Francie said with a laugh as another moment of recognition passed between them. Kanisha smiled and leaned forward a touch.

“While this little kumbaya moment we have goin’ on here is cool and all, we still got us a bear out there wantin’ to take a bite outta your ass.”

“My ass? What about yours?”

“Girl, I don’t know if you noticed or not, but that bear didn’t seem to like the dark meat.”

For the first time since they met, the two women laughed together. There was a new look between them. Despite what Michelle had said about there being no room for friendship in the group, the look between them was one of a beginning friendship. It was still very different and volatile, but they were now friends nonetheless.

“How’d you learn to do that?” Francie asked.

“Girlfriend, when you spend time on the streets, you learn to adapt quickly or you die. Gotta throw whatever you can get your hands on to keep away the bad guys.”

“No, I mean, the shoes.”

“Same reason. Gotta take what life gives you.”

“I think maybe it’s time we change that. What do you think?” Francie asked.

“Sounds good to me.”

They began to make their way down the trail.

“What should we tell the others about our little adventure?”

“I have an idea about that,” Francie said with a smile.

10
The Beginning
“Getting Up from Here!”

From the looks of the dark puffy clouds that began to form over town just before lunchtime, the storm moving off the Rockies was no longer a rumor. It was indeed coming. “High winds and buckets of rain” was how the local weatherman described it during the morning forecast. Raincoats and rubber boots hit the sidewalks just after four-thirty as people began to head home early. It wasn’t like there was a hurricane approaching or anything; people just liked to be off the roads when the Rockies delivered the weather, because you never knew what you might get.

The energy of the three kids running around the store almost knocked Lisa and Michelle over, but it was a good energy, the kind they needed in the group—the energy of youth and the joy of being at play in life. Michelle knew she would have to reel them in a bit if they were going to have a productive Broad Squad meeting tonight, but as long as they weren’t breaking anything, she let them carry on.

Every so often the kids would accompany Michelle and Lisa to the Heartlight for book club meetings and gatherings. Michelle liked the idea of having the kids in the store for adult gatherings. She thought the kids’ energy was a great reminder for everyone to not take life too seriously, and the kids benefited by watching how adults interacted in a social setting. She felt this was an important element to becoming a well-rounded kid. Hannah said it was like show-and-tell when Michelle brought them anywhere because Michelle often bragged about them. The reason they had to come for tonight’s Broad Squad meeting was because Justine had biology class and wasn’t available for babysitting duties.

Michelle was worried, though. When she’d woken up this morning, there was no sign of Kanisha, and Faith was gone too. And it was five after seven and Francie wasn’t there yet, either. She couldn’t help thinking that her road trip idea had backfired, but if that was the case, so be it. The group had to learn how to work together despite their differences. It would be a group of unconditional support or nothing at all.

Nicky had been filming his mom and her friends secretly, from behind the shelves of the kids’ section of the store. He’d started out thinking it’d be like a mix of surveillance footage and music video, but he was getting bored. There wasn’t enough action. Grown-ups’ meetings were often like that. So he turned the camera onto Hannah, sitting behind him in the middle of the floor with Lisa’s son, Russell, playing a board game. While this shot wasn’t a chase scene or something dramatic, it was better than a bunch of old people sitting around talking, he thought. As Russell hammed it up in front of the camera, Hannah secretly moved her game piece two spaces forward when Russell wasn’t looking. Nicky lowered the camera.

“Hannah, what did Mom say about stuff like that?”

“I didn’t do anything,” she said, acting innocent.

“Do you wanna go to the videotape evidence?” he asked, flipping open the viewfinder of the camera. “Mom said that how we do anything is how we do everything.”

“I thought you were making your new movie,” she replied as she moved her game piece back to its original spot.

“This is boring,” Nicky said, lying back on the floor to stare at the galaxy system Michelle had painted on the ceiling.

“You can say that again,” Russell agreed.

“We could spy on ’em,” Hannah said, sitting up.

“Okay,” said the boys, perking up with excitement. One by one, they crawled around the row of shelves to get into position.

Nicky turned on the camera, thinking about whether he would give Hannah a producer credit for the film if something interesting happened. He decided to wait to see the footage, because if he said something now, Hannah would probably want to direct, and that he couldn’t allow. “Everyone thinks they know how to direct,” he said under his breath as he crawled up closer with the camera, like a soldier moving into position for a shot at the enemy.

Lisa was confronting Michelle about her choice to leave Francie and Kanisha the night before. “What if they got hurt out there? Did you think about that? You’re going to be responsible, you know.”

“Lisa, we could sit here all night and argue about this. What happened last night was supposed to happen. We have to learn how to work together, or this group will never work. And I refuse to put my attention on the fear of anything going wrong.”

“Why?” Lei Kim asked, sitting up.

“Because when you do that, you call forth the very thing that might go wrong.”

“They sure aren’t here, so something isn’t right. Aren’t you worried in the least?” Lisa fired back.

Just then there was a knock at the front door of the Heartlight. Thinking it was Francie and Kanisha, Michelle spun her attention around to the doors, but it wasn’t them. It was Mayor Wilson, smiling from the sidewalk outside the locked doors.

“Oh shoot,” Michelle said.

“What’s he doing here?” Lisa asked.

“I forgot, we had a date tonight. Give me a second,” Michelle said, crossing to the doors. Smiling at him through the glass of the antique doors, she turned the lock and stepped onto the sidewalk to join him.

“Am I early?” he asked with a smile.

“No, Brady, you’re right on time. I’m sorry, I know we had a date tonight.”

“You okay?”

“Yes. And I’m so sorry, but something came up. Something good, but… I meant to call, but the day just got away from me.”

Gesturing to the group in the bookstore, he said, “I thought you only had meetings on Tuesday nights.” He was obviously disappointed.

“We do, but…” Michelle said, offering an apologetic smile. “The girls wanted to keep going.”

“That’s okay, I understand.”

“Yeah?”

“How’s it going?”

“Well,” Michelle said with a slight laugh, “I took a pretty big risk last night, and I think it might’ve backfired.”

As she said this, Michelle saw a pair of headlights round the corner up the street. They slowed and parked under the streetlight at the end of the block.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?” the mayor said, taking her hand.

When the headlights shut off, Michelle recognized the car. It was Francie. She always parked her car under the streetlight, Michelle remembered. Stepping from the car and setting the alarm, Francie walked toward them.

“Francie,” Michelle said, acknowledging her as she approached.

“Michelle, Mr. Mayor,” Francie replied, going inside the store without another word.

“Everything okay?” the mayor asked.

“Hard to tell with Francie, but… she’s here. That says something,” Michelle said. “I’m really sorry about this. Can I take a rain check?”

“Of course,” he said with a smile. She stared fondly into his eyes like she wanted to say something.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Why are you so understanding?”

He laughed. “Is that a bad thing?”

“No, it’s just…” She paused for a second. “It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that.”

He smiled and took her hand. “We have plenty of time. Not to worry.”

“How about I check with Lisa and see if she can take the kids tomorrow night? We can make dinner and—”

“Sounds wonderful,” he said before she could finish.

Although he had yet to say the words, she could tell he was in love with her. Normally, this would cause Michelle to run in the other direction, but she knew deep in her heart she felt the same way about him.

“Then it’s a date?” she said.

“A date. Sounds official,” he replied with a smile as he dug for his keys in his pocket.

Michelle kept looking deeply into his beautiful blue eyes. There was a longing in her soul for a feeling like this, and she now knew why she had resisted dating for so long after Gideon died. It wasn’t just out of respect for Gideon or a need to mourn the loss. It was the right choice because she’d felt something special coming her way. It was this anticipatory feeling that assured her everything was going to be okay. The man standing before her was the evidence of that feeling. She finally leaned forward and kissed him. While it was only their third kiss, Michelle packed what seemed like a year’s worth of romantic dates into the kiss. He wrapped his strong arms around her, pulling her in close. In his arms, she felt safe … comforted and loved. She could spend hours in his arms, something she looked forward to very soon.

The sound of heels clicking on the sidewalk pulled her attention from their passionate embrace. It was Kanisha. She was wearing a stunning black dress with red high heels. Faith was in the small carrier Michelle had given her the day she came home from the hospital.

“Hello,” Kanisha said, offering a confident smile. “I hope I’m not too late.”

“Not at all. You’re right on time,” Michelle said, her mouth hanging open.

“You okay?” Kanisha asked.

“Yeah, I’m great,” Michelle replied.

“That’s good.”

“You look very nice tonight, Kanisha,” Mayor Wilson said with a smile.

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor,” Kanisha said, and went inside.

“What’s going on?” the mayor asked Michelle.

“I’m not really sure, but I should get inside and find out.” She turned to face him again. “Thank you for supporting me in this. It means a lot.”

“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” he asked. She looked at him with an inquisitive smile. “I’d do anything for you,” he said, kissing her lightly on the cheek. She wasn’t sure how he did it, but every time he kissed her, she felt giddy as a schoolgirl. She liked the feeling. In fact, she loved it.

Locking the door behind her, Michelle turned around as Kanisha crossed from the office.

“She sleeping?” Michelle asked Kanisha as she looked at Faith.

“Yes. She’ll be out for a while.”

“It’s really good to see you,” Michelle said, smiling. “You look amazing.”

“Shall we get started?” Kanisha replied. Michelle could see Kanisha was purposely keeping her in the dark as to what exactly had happened last night, but Michelle was game to play along. Whatever it was, Michelle thought, Kanisha was a different person somehow. Sure, the dress did a lot for her appearance, but there was something different about her. She stood taller. She walked with confidence. Somehow, overnight, Kanisha had grown up.

When everyone was settled on the couches, Michelle immediately turned to Francie and Kanisha.

“So?”

“So?” Francie echoed.

“Anything you two want to talk about? About last night, I mean?”

Kanisha and Francie simply smiled at each other like two Cheshire cats.

“Nope,” Kanisha said, straightening the folds on her dress to cover her knees.

“What did we miss?” Francie asked.

Smiling at the obvious success of the road trip idea, Michelle stood up and addressed the group with revived enthusiasm.

“I was explaining to Lisa that with adversity comes enlightenment, and I was about to say how we are either pulled or pushed by a vision. I was defending my choice last night because the way you two were going at each other, there was no way a vision could find its way in without a little help. I’m sorry if it was—”

“And I was about to ask Michelle,” Lisa interrupted, “why she thought she could play God with other people’s lives. What if they’d gotten hurt? Did you ever think about that?”

“Francie? Kanisha? You both seem… better than okay. Anything you’d like to share?” Michelle asked, but the two women simply smiled at each other again.

“Oh great, so now we have to sit here and watch the smarmy smiles back and forth like we’re back in high school?” Lisa spat.

“Does that make you uncomfortable, Lisa?” Francie asked.

“No.”

“Sure seems like it,” Kanisha added.

“I was just saying,” Lisa muttered defensively.

Lei Kim shook her head.

“Lei Kim? You want to add something here?” Michelle asked her.

“No, it’s fine.”

“Ladies, I want to reiterate that dialogue is a good thing. Feel free to speak your mind. Nobody’s feelings will be hurt, because we all agree this is a place to learn. This is a place to grow, and if the truth hurts, well, then that’s something we need to take a look at.”

Lei Kim cleared her throat. “I was about to say, and I mean no disrespect to Lisa,” she said, turning to face Lisa, “but now you’re fighting with Francie because she’s smiling? Isn’t that what this is about? To find a way back to happiness?”

“I thought this was about making money, and I wasn’t fighting with anyone. Why is everyone ganging up on me here?” Lisa replied, now in full defense mode.

“Because you worry more about what other people are doing than what you do.”

“That’s not true,” Lisa retorted.

Lei Kim reached over to Lisa’s folder. “May I?”

Lisa shrugged, and Lei Kim opened Lisa’s folder. She pulled out two celebrity magazines tucked behind a stack of notes Lisa had taken from their meetings. “Why do you care what a celebrity is having for lunch?”

Lisa scoffed. “You’re kidding, right? It’s an entertainment magazine. What’s the big deal?”

“It’s escapism,” Michelle pointed out.

“Gee, thanks, Freud. Appreciate the help,” Lisa said. “Okay, Michelle, if these magazines are so bad, why do you sell them here in your ‘sanctuary,’ as you call it? Doesn’t that make you something of a hypocrite? I’m tired of sitting here taking all the criticism.”

“Selling them and reading them are two different things, Lisa. But you know what?” Michelle thought for a brief second. “You’re right. We should stop carrying them altogether.”

“Just to make a point? That’s stupid. They sell, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but aren’t we in the business of selling things? And isn’t that the point of this group? Making money, not psychoanalyzing whether or not someone wants to read a magazine? What do you do for fun, read the dictionary?”

“I’m not saying the magazines are bad, but you make a great point.”

“Glad to help. Now can we talk about something else?”

“Actually, we’re right on topic. Let’s stay on you,” Michelle answered.

“Let’s not and say we did,” Lisa said, amusing only herself.

“Let’s talk about why you came to work here in the store. You were fired—”

“I was laid off, Michelle. We wouldn’t want you to spread gossip, now would we? Being laid off and being fired… there’s a big difference there.” Lisa was feeling the heat of the spotlight.

“Fired, let go, laid off, whatever you want to call it. It’s not the point.”

“Then please tell me the point.”

“The point is you lost your job, which was the universe showing you a new path. Just because the external appearances might not fit into your comfort zone, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t being led to something higher.”

“What does this have to do with what the group is about? My back is up against the wall. I got bills to pay, okay? I thought this was about making money, not whether I read a frickin’ magazine or Think and Grow Rich. Really, what is the difference?”

“You can’t look at it as if your back is against the wall,” Michelle said.

“What would you call it, then?” Lisa said, getting emotional, but instead of giving in, she grabbed her purse and started for the door. “I’m outta here.”

“Honey, wait,” Francie said, rising to stop Lisa. “Running away won’t make this any better.”

“It’s… just… when you say this stuff, it makes me take a look at my life, and I don’t want to.” Lisa was crying now.

“And that’s a good thing,” Francie said. “We’ve wasted too much time hiding…. Please stay.”

Drying her eyes, Lisa gathered herself before sitting back down on the couch with the others. She folded her arms. She would stay, but she would be ready to strike back if attacked again.

“Sometimes life can make us feel hopeless,” Michelle said, to make Lisa feel at ease. Deep down, she knew that life couldn’t do anything to us we didn’t allow to happen, but she continued anyway. “We feel helpless, like we have no place to turn. When I was broke and about to lose my kids, that’s exactly how I felt. But when I look back on it now, I realize that my back wasn’t against the wall at all. I was standing in a doorway, a doorway to riches, and all I had to do was change my mind—change my perception of what was happening and what was possible.” She paused for a beat. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, our problems are the doorways to our solutions. Francie, if you hadn’t faced foreclosure, do you think you would’ve come up with your idea?”

“No. I would’ve bought more shoes,” Francie said jokingly.

“What’s the number this morning?” Michelle asked, eager to hear the latest on Francie’s idea.

“Another twenty-five hundred,” Francie said with a smile.

“No way.” Lisa was amazed at Francie’s good fortune. Truth was, however, she was jealous, though she’d never let on. This is how most people looked at rich people, with a sense of jealousy or wishing harm would come to them somehow. Instead of putting her mental energy toward what she would do, Lisa was jealous.

“That’s great, Francie. And it’s good to see you smile about this. You seemed very different yesterday,” Michelle said, hoping Francie might finally tell them what had happened last night.

“That’s because I was different.” She smiled at Kanisha.

“How do you mean?” Michelle asked, sitting down.

“I was ashamed of making the money.”

Lisa interjected, “Hey, give it to me. I won’t be ashamed.”

“Lisa, please. This is a good example for us to talk about. It sounds crazy, but sometimes people think they don’t deserve wealth.”

“That’s because it’s… embarrassing.” Francie took a deep breath. “Not only do I now believe I have been bitter for much of my adult life, I feel like I caused this foreclosure to happen. I was angry. Not at Christopher for dying. I was angry because before this week, all I really cared about was shopping, the great American pastime, and for what? So I could fit in? So I could own the finest things money could buy?” She paused for a moment. “Last night I realized I’ve never really done anything with my life. I didn’t have to, because Christopher handled our finances and I spent the money. That was our agreement.”

Michelle wondered for a moment whether Francine might start crying, but she didn’t. While it seemed like a perfect time to let go, Francine’s letting go came in the form of empowerment. She was excited for her tomorrow.

“And now how do you feel?” Michelle asked, smiling widely.

“I’m looking for every way possible to monetize my situation. I want to add a zero to each bank deposit,” Francie said proudly.

“Problems are our solutions. I’ll have to remember that,” Lisa said.

“So the problem I have been experiencing with food… that might apply here too?” Lei Kim asked, eager to join in.

“Unwrap that for us a bit,” Michelle asked, sensing what Lei Kim was trying to do.

“Unwrap?” Kanisha said, looking for help.

“Fancy way to ask someone to explain something further,” Francie clarified.

“The problem with my stomach has changed my cooking,” Lei Kim began slowly. “And…”

“And?” Kanisha prompted her.

“And … I have been thinking… maybe other people might like the goodies I’ve been making. I don’t know if I could sell them… maybe I will try to see if anyone likes these raw food bars before I get too excited.”

“No. You should get excited,” Michelle quickly put in.

“It’s your job to get excited,” Francie joined in, “don’t you think?” Michelle got up and wrote two words on the whiteboard:

WOW
NOW

“What’s that?” Lei Kim asked.

“Wow Now is the mind’s ability to discern what it is we want to do. It’s the mental activity, which we often refer to as an idea that wows you. What we want to do is direct that mental energy, the wow, and bring it into the now. The right now of our lives.”

“Wow now?” Lisa asked quietly, more to herself than to anyone else.

“That’s right,” Michelle said. Just as she was about to continue, out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of the kids spying from behind the bookshelves.

“All right, kids, that’s enough. Come in here. I want you all to hear this.” Like the expert spies they were, they froze, refusing to surrender their position. But, being the mom that she was, forever engaging her children’s desire to be at play, Michelle tiptoed around the shelves and surprised them from behind. They screamed with laughter as she tickled them. Then Michelle picked up Hannah and carried her into the group like a sack of potatoes. The boys followed like two thieves walking to a perp lineup.

“Mom! Come on, we don’t want to study,” Nicky said. “It’s no fun.”

“We’re not studying, we’re sharing ideas. You guys are good at that, and I need your help.” Russell reluctantly found a place next to his mother while Nicky dragged over a zebra beanbag. Lisa put her arm around Russell and Hannah sat next to Kanisha.

“I like your dress,” Hannah said, looking up at Kanisha.

“Why, thank you, Hannah,” Kanisha said, pulling the little girl closer to her.

“What are we doing?” Hannah whispered.

“Right now, we’re listening to your mommy. She’s really smart.”

“I know,” Hannah said with a smile.

“Okay. If the Wow Now, the mind, is our mental energy behind an idea, then the Inner Winner, the heart, is the feeling tone of the idea.” Michelle began to illustrate on the whiteboard again. “You can have an Inner Winner, the heart energy behind the idea, or the Inner Whiner, which is the energy you expend talking yourself out of an idea.”

“Example?” Hannah asked.

“It’s like when you say, ‘It’s too hard. I can’t do it. Nobody will like me if I do this,’” Michelle replied.

“Like when I don’t want to go to school,” Russell piped up.

“Absolutely,” Lisa said with a smile.

“That’s very good, Russell. The Inner Whiner will defeat us, but the Inner Winner will give us power, propelling us to the success, to the riches, we know in our heart we are deserving of.

“Francie and Lei Kim have tapped in to something that applies to this Inner Winner philosophy that I want us to talk about for a second,” Michelle went on. “And that’s the hunch, the gut feeling, you get when you feel something good or bad is about to happen.” She looked at the kids and rephrased it for their sake. “When they got their ideas, they knew for certain that the decision they made was right.” She returned her attention to the adults. “Some people refer to these impressions as your intuition.” She wrote the word on the board. “Others call it the sixth sense, but we’re going to call it the Inner Winner. If we want to be more successful, wealthier, happier, and healthier, we need to heed the signals from this Inner Winner. Francie just went ahead and fleshed the idea out, and look what happened. What I’m saying is any one of you could have a product idea that may reap financial rewards. If you don’t try, you won’t discover. This may be the most important success tool in our tool kit.”

Michelle turned to Nicky on the beanbag. “Nicky, have you ever heard one of your teachers talk about something like this in school?”

“You know they only talk about problems and homework, Mom,” Nicky replied.

“That’s right. School is all about solving problems. There is little or no focus on teaching us to tap in to our creative expressions. But what I’m saying is that if we want to be successful, everything starts with a mental focus on what isn’t written on that chalkboard in school.

“Everyone close your eyes for a moment. I want you to think back to a time when you had a strong hunch about something or someone.”

“Like wanting a golden retriever?” Nicky said with a laugh.

“Yes, kind of like wanting a golden retriever, Nicky. As if you knew having a dog was going to somehow bring you closer to happiness. Which is not far off from what we’re talking about here.” Nicky beamed from the attention.

“I want you to scan through your memory banks and look at the moment your hunch or sixth sense kicked in. Go back to that time as if you were reliving the experience in real time. In other words, remember what it was like to be in your body at that time and experience the hunch all over again. Now, rewind the memory to the point just before you had your hunch. Everyone have that kind of moment?”

They all nodded.

“Great. Now play the scene forward until the moment when the hunch happens and then freeze it at the moment of the hunch so you can isolate the intuitive experience. What were the clues you received that let you know that the message was special, true, or real? How would you describe it? Open your eyes. I want us to harvest some of those feelings,” Michelle said, sitting down with the group. “Lei Kim? Will you go first?”

Lei Kim nodded.

“Would you mind standing up?” Michelle added.

“Do I have to?”

“In the span of, what, a week, you’ve had two breakthough ideas, but you still insist on playing small? Lei Kim, if you want to stand in the company of greatness, you have to learn how to accept greatness in your life. And that goes for all of us. We are here to stand tall and move confidently in the direction of our desires, because if we won’t, who will? If you don’t learn how to consciously accept money, the money will find someone else’s bank account to go into. You don’t want that, do you?”

Lei Kim got the message and stood up. She cleared her throat. “While part of me is afraid to change the menu at the diner, I wonder if having these stomach problems was showing me a new path, like you said before to Lisa.”

“And?” Michelle encouraged her.

“And … I wonder if I marketed the bars I made last week…”

“If it was made with chocolate, I’d be the first to buy it,” Lisa said in support. To Hannah she said, “You should taste it. It’s yummy.”

Hannah smiled. “I love chocolate.”

“Have you looked into manufacturing the bar?” Francie asked Lei Kim.

“A little, but…”

“But what?” Nicky said. Lisa gave him a “good for you” nod of approval.

Lei Kim smiled at the inclusion of the kids. Somehow this made her feel comfortable enough to continue. “With everything that’s going on at the restaurant, my husband, my son, the house … I just don’t know where the time will come from.” She sat back down.

Michelle stood and wrote on the whiteboard: “Whatever it takes.”

“Whenever we receive a gift of insight, especially when it comes to making money, we have a duty to do whatever it takes to see that gift to realization. This is the holographic expression we talked about the other day. There’s a part of you that knows if you move forward, the idea will make you money. If you can see it, you can achieve it.”

“That all sounds great, but I think what Lei Kim means is that taking on another thing can put your life into a tailspin,” Lisa added.

“You can’t look at it as ‘taking on another thing.’ It’s all part of one thing,” Michelle said, erasing the board again.

“You have the diner here.” She wrote the word diner and drew a box around it. You have your family here. You have your social life… this group… your health… working out… stuff like that. You have cleaning your house, laundry, and other household things on a daily basis. Then you have this… we’ll call it a meal in a bar, for the sake of discussion.”

“I actually like that. Meal in a bar,” Francie said.

“Me too,” Hannah said, joining in.

“I do too.” Lei Kim smiled broadly.

“Maybe that’s the name. We can brainstorm names and slogans later. But the point is, you can’t look at every single thing in your life as ‘another thing.’ If you pile all these boxes of things to do on your back, you will most likely topple over. However…” Michelle drew a large box on the whiteboard, then drew smaller sections inside the box, which made it look like a Rubik’s Cube.

“If you look at all of these things as part of the whole, the one, the one being you”—she turned to face them—“then you have something more manageable. You aren’t doing a number of things. You are simply doing one thing. And that one thing is you. As the authority on you, you are unleashing your talents, your gifts, the things that make up who you are—an enlightened entrepreneur. All of these variables we’ve listed here are part of the journey into your spiritual awareness, this ‘one.’ One thing. That’s all we have to do.” She turned to Lei Kim. “You think you’re oversubscribed, but I assure you, if you think of life with this oneness factor in mind, you’ll never feel overwhelmed—or alone, for that matter—ever again. Does that make sense?” Though Michelle was addressing Lei Kim specifically, the rest of the women nodded.

Michelle cleared the whiteboard and wrote at the top, “Lei Kim—meal in a bar. Francie—foreclosure e-book.” “Okay, who’s next?” Michelle asked, looking around, but she realized all the kids were drifting off to sleep. A quick glance at her watch told her it was close to eleven o’clock. “I guess we should call it a night. Is everyone okay with same time next week?”

“Can’t we meet again tomorrow night?” Kanisha asked, sitting up.

“I’m free,” Lei Kim added.

“Francie? Lisa?” Michelle asked. “We’ll have to bring the kids again, but I’m game if you are.” Francie and Lisa nodded as everyone climbed to their feet.

11
Life’s Little Emergencies
How We’re Pushed or Pulled by a Vision

It was the end of another beautiful day in Idyllwild. The cold October breeze was moving down Main Street like the ghost of Halloween. Lurking. Drifting. Promising the arrival of winter, which was only weeks away. Soon the playgrounds would be covered in snow and kids of all ages would spend hours making snowmen, practicing for the annual snowman contest, held the first Saturday in December.

Lei Kim bolted the large doors of the diner. Built in the early 1900s, the building was a historical landmark, something Lei Kim loved about her diner. Just like the building, most everyone in town had a story, and the lunch counter was their soapbox. Some of the retired customers would tell stories of the “good old days” in Idyllwild, while others complained about city hall, which was just three short blocks away. Having heard most of the stories before, Lei Kim listened intently nonetheless, nodding like a bartender behind the counter of a saloon.

She often thought about staying open for dinner, but the people of Idyllwild seemed to prefer to stay home for dinner. Lei Kim learned this the hard way during her first year in business. She tried dinner specials and free desserts, but nothing worked. People were set in their ways and change took time. But Lei Kim would need something to happen soon, because profits were shrinking. With the exception of last year, when summer seemed to last forever, the restaurant was barely breaking even. She kept the doors open for her older customers who liked to have dinner at four-thirty, but after that, usually around five-thirty or six, Lei Kim would call it a day.

It was almost two years ago now that Lei Kim had become very ill and nearly closed the doors of the diner for good. After flying to the wellness center in Denver, Lei Kim finally learned the source of her cramping stomachaches. Tests revealed that somehow she had become allergic to most everything and her system was rejecting cooked foods. The discovery baffled even the doctors, but Lei Kim thought of it as a sign. Maybe this was a way to get out of the business altogether and do something else with her life. Relegated to a strict vegan diet, consisting primarily of raw foods and juices, Lei Kim had to learn how to adapt gracefully to preparing raw foods.

When she grew tired of salads, Lei Kim began experimenting. To her, eating had always been a social event, which was why she’d opened the restaurant in the first place—to foster community and fellowship. But now, eating had lost its flavor and no longer had the lure of comfort. She found herself wanting to simply “feed the monster,” a term she coined to refer to quieting her growling stomach, so she could get back to work. Fortified with all the nutrients and vitamins one could get from a full meal, the bar she eventually created incorporated yummy ingredients like dates, peanut butter, freeze-dried green vegetable powder, and vegan dark chocolate. One bar kept her system happy for nearly six hours. Her husband, however, still wanted a hot cooked meal every night at home. Having lost his leg after stepping on a land mine during the Korean War, Mr. Kim lived off his military pension and disability, which wasn’t much at all. Although he had been outfitted with a prosthetic limb by the VA hospital, his confinement was somewhat self-induced. In essence, Mr. Kim had lost his desire for life and quickly adopted a victim mentality. He was angry at life, and on some days he wished he had died on the battlefield. He was, at times, verbally abusive to Lei Kim. She knew he didn’t mean some of the things he said, but she wondered how much more she could take.

Lei Kim was under emotional and financial pressure but managed to not let it show on the outside. She was strong-willed and always ready with a smile. This was something her mother had taught her at a very young age—that it was a wife and mother’s job, if not her duty, to place the family first and herself second. This was probably why Lei Kim had waited to open the restaurant until her mother passed away five years ago.

Her son, Johnny, was now a college dropout, and was about to become more of a financial dependent than a financial asset to the family. This put a strain on Lei Kim. She wasn’t sure how she was going to make it work. She wasn’t sure if she could carry another full-time employee at the diner.

Although Lei Kim wanted him to make more of his life, Johnny was content to spend much of his time playing video games. Now that he had dropped out of school, Lei Kim wasn’t sure what was going to happen. She’d suggested he look for a programming job within the video game industry, but ever since he’d dropped out, Johnny hadn’t done much of anything. The truth was, Johnny lacked self-discipline. Overworked and underearning, Lei Kim was the sole breadwinner of the family.

Checking her watch, Lei Kim saw she had enough time to go home, cook dinner for her husband, take a shower, and be at the Heartlight in time for the meeting. It would be close, but she could fit everything in, so she folded her arms against the cold air and headed toward her 2003 Prius. Just as she was about to get in, she realized she’d left the light on near the bathrooms in the back of the diner. She checked her watch. “You don’t have time,” she said to herself. “You don’t want to be late to the meeting. Just leave it, you’ll get it tomorrow.” Given her financial situation with the diner, though, every dollar counted, so with another check of her watch, she went back and unlocked the door of the diner.

Just as she stepped inside, Lei Kim suddenly felt dizzy, as she had the night of the hike. She tried to shake it off, but something was wrong. Her palms were clammy as her keys slipped from her hand. Her breath, moving quickly in and out, grew shallow, and she could feel her arms beginning to tingle. Bracing herself against the open door, she dug into her purse, frantically searching for her cell phone. She needed help, but it was too late—she was going down, and she knew it. Her vision began to kaleidoscope, twisting and turning out of focus until she finally fell. Her faced pressed into the cold tile floor of the diner.

She was dazed, but she wasn’t unconscious. Lying on her side, her eyes focused into the hallway, where the light was still on. She’d never left the light on before; why tonight? And what was happening to her? Focusing, she saw the dustpan and broom that Johnny had forgotten to put into the closet. It was leaning in the corner where he’d left it, and somehow it was being framed by the overhead light. Suddenly, Johnny’s voice began to echo inside her mind: Stupid broom gave me no leverage.

The words echoed again and again until they finally began to fade away because Lei Kim was now passing out. Just before her eyes closed, she saw the top end of the broom handle bend over on itself as her vision continued to play tricks on her. What was she seeing? Was this an idea for a new product? Before she could answer the questions rattling inside of her head, her eyelids began to flutter, and everything went black.

Down the street at the Heartlight, Michelle and Lisa were closing up shop and getting ready for tonight’s meeting, which was a little over an hour away. Lisa finished counting the money in the cash drawer and Michelle turned off the lights to the sign outside. Checking her watch, she thought for a minute.

“Russell’s at my house, right?” Michelle asked grabbing her keys.

“He better be,” Lisa answered, counting the pennies in the drawer as the loud siren of a police car rose and fell outside. “Why? Whatcha thinking?”

“We have an hour before everyone gets here,” Michelle said.

“Yeah? And?” Lisa asked.

“You feel like grabbing some dinner and surprising the kids?”

“How about pizza?” Lisa said like she was twelve again.

“Okay. I’ll call Justine and have her hold off on the tacos,” Michelle said, dialing her cell phone.

“Oh man, Taco Tuesday. I totally forgot. Tacos are cool with me,” Lisa said.

“No, pizza’s fine. The kids love it, plus it will give Justine a break.”

“Let me put the cash drawer in the safe and I’m ready,” Lisa answered as an ambulance raced by the front windows, sirens wailing and lights flashing. She and Michelle shared a quick look, but when the siren stopped just up the street, Lisa put the cash drawer back into the register and moved to the front doors to see what all the commotion was all about.

“Hey, Justine, it’s me.” Michelle spoke into her cell phone. “Lisa and I thought we’d grab a couple of pizzas and come home for dinner.” Michelle paused when she glanced up and saw the look on Lisa’s face. Something was wrong.

“Hold on,” Michelle said, putting her hand over the cell phone. “What is it?” she asked Lisa, but Lisa didn’t answer—she just took off running. To Justine, Michelle said, “I’ll call you right back.”

Just as Michelle stepped onto the sidewalk, she saw a crowd outside Lei Kim’s diner. Someone was being loaded into the ambulance.

Michelle paced back and forth as Lisa sat slumped in a chair. Over an hour had passed since Lei Kim had been brought in. The doctors were running tests, but there was still no word on her condition.

Francie arrived in a rush, out of breath. “Where is she?”

“They have her upstairs,” Michelle told her.

“And the doctors? What are they saying?” Francie wanted answers.

“Nothing,” Lisa replied.

Francie didn’t miss a beat. She marched out of the waiting room and directly to the nurses’ station. She smiled as the young nurse looked up at the sound of her heels approaching.

“Hi there,” Francie said in her nicest tone. “I have a friend who was brought in not too long ago. I’d like to talk to someone to see how she’s doing.”

“Name?” The nurse said, rolling her chair to a computer station.

“Lei Kim.” Francie spelled it out.

“Your friend is… hmmm… let’s see here.” The nurse was reading through some notes on Lei Kim’s file when Lisa and Michelle arrived.

“Anything?” Michelle asked.

“She’s checking,” Francie said.

“Looks like they’re going to hold your friend overnight for observation, but you can go up to the third floor and see her if you want,” the nurse said.

Michelle about lost it. “Excuse me? I’ve been sitting over there for over an hour and not one word. ‘Waiting room’ means I’m waiting for you people to let us know something.”

“Well, I’m sorry, ma’am, I just came on my shift.”

“You’re sorry? Don’t you people talk to each other?” Michelle said, becoming uncorked. Francie put her hand on Michelle’s arm to calm her down.

“Won’t do you any good, dear. I learned my lesson when Christopher was sick. Let’s just stay focused and go see how Lei Kim is doing, okay?” Francie said.

“Can you believe that?” Michelle grumbled as Lisa led her away.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I can,” Lisa replied, looking back at Francie with a nod.

Francie stayed behind for a moment and leaned closer to the young nurse. “I’m not saying any of this was your fault, but for some of you, this is just a job. For the people on the other side of the counter, though, it’s life and death, and it’s not fun. And that is the tip of the day,” Francie said with a compassionate smile. “Next one will cost ya.”

Francie walked away, leaving the nurse with her mouth open. She might be only five-four, but Francie was a force to be reckoned with.

“Room three-oh-seven,” Michelle said, as she, Lisa, and Francie walked along the third floor. “Here it is.” Slowly Michelle opened the door to see Lei Kim sitting up in bed and watching television.

“Hey, great. You’re here,” Lei Kim said, flipping off the TV with the remote control.

Michelle was beside herself. “I’m going to go strangle that nurse.”

Lisa held her back. “Easy, tiger.”

“What’s wrong?” Lei Kim asked.

“Nothing’s wrong. Michelle’s just a bit—” Francie began.

“Upset,” Michelle said quickly, cutting Francie off. “Yes, I am upset. She’s up here watching TV.”

“Which is a good thing, isn’t it?” Francie said with a smile.

“Yes, you’re right. But still, somebody should…”

“Get a talking-to?” Francie finished the thought for her.

“Exactly,” Michelle said, finding a smile through it all. “I’m sorry,” she said, finally turning to Lei Kim. “What happened?”

“Yeah. Are you okay?” Lisa asked as they gathered around the hospital bed.

“Ah, just got myself a little tired, that’s all.”

“A little tired? Lei Kim, this isn’t the Holiday Inn—you’re in the hospital,” Lisa said.

“What did the doctors say, dear?” Francie said, taking her hand.

“I’m fine. They just want to make me rest. My blood sugar got a little low, and I fell down and went boom,” Lei Kim joked. “But I have to talk to you about the meeting,” she added to Michelle.

“We can do that tomorrow. Is that okay with everyone? Meet at the store around seven?” Lisa and Francie both nodded. “You need to rest.” Michelle told Lei Kim.

“Tomorrow can’t wait. I’m fine. Please, I have an idea I need to tell someone about.”

“An idea for what?” Lisa asked.

Lei Kim was talking in broken thoughts, her mind racing with excitement. “When I fell on the ground, the light by the bathroom… See, I left the light on, something I never do. But lying on the floor, I saw in the light… well, not in the light…”

“What did you see?” Michelle asked.

“I saw the broom handle,” Lei Kim concluded.

“You saw the what?” Francie said, bewildered.

Lei Kim laughed as she realized how silly she sounded. “Johnny was cleaning up last week and he said something that came back to haunt me, but in a good way. When I fell to the floor, the light was shining on the broom he’d been using that day, the broom and dustpan. This sounds crazy, yes, but… it bent.”

“What bent?”

“The light?” Lisa asked.

“Now that would be silly, wouldn’t it? The broom handle bent.”

“And that’s not silly? A broom handle bending?” Lisa quipped, half joking.

Lei Kim saw her explanation wasn’t quite hitting home, so she kept going. “Johnny swept over a piece of paper three, maybe four times, and nothing. The paper just stuck to the floor. When I told him he was lazy and he should bend over to pick it up, he said he wouldn’t have to if he could get the right leverage from the broom. See, when you use the dustpan and broom, you’re sweeping with the broom in one hand, the dustpan in the other. You don’t have the right amount of leverage to efficiently do the job. But when I fell, I saw the broom handle bend over on itself.”

“Did they put you on a morphine drip we don’t know about?” Lisa teased. Francie looked at her and wondered if Lisa was ever serious about anything.

“Here, let me draw it for you,” Lei Kim sighed, giving up. “Does anyone have a pencil?”

Digging in the drawer next to the bedside table, Michelle found a small pad of notepaper. Francie looked in her purse and found a pen. Lei Kim drew the loop end of the handle just like the vision she saw when the broom handle bent back on itself before she passed out.

“This is what I saw,” Lei Kim said, turning the pad of paper around for everyone to see.

“Looks like a broom with a large eye of a needle at the end of it,” Lisa said.

“Yes, it’s what gives you leverage,” Lei Kim replied.

“How does it work?” Michelle inquired, looking closer.

“You put your arm through here.” Lei Kim indicated the loop end of the broom. “And then you grab here,” she said, indicating the straight part of the broom. “See, the loop hits your forearm and gives you the leverage you need to efficiently sweep the floor.”

“That’s your idea?” Lisa asked.

Lei Kim deflated a bit, because she couldn’t understand why they weren’t feeling the excitement she felt. “Well, yes.”

“What’s wrong, Lisa?” Michelle asked.

Lisa saw the look on Lei Kim’s face. “Nothing. It’s okay.”

“Come on. If you have something to say, she needs to hear it. That’s why we formed the group—to make our ideas invincible,” Michelle said, coaching her.

“It’s just… not very sexy,” Lisa finally confessed.

“Neither was the zipper when it first came out, but look around, it’s everywhere,” Francie said in Lei Kim’s defense.

“Some of the best ideas are simple,” Michelle said before turning to Lei Kim. “Maybe if you can explain how it works again, we could get a clearer picture.”

“Johnny puts the dustpan down, then sweeps the floor. He then goes back to the dustpan, then the back to the broom. All this back-and-forth is wasting time. This idea saves time because the sweeping and dustpanning are one motion, not five.”

“What about medical benefits?” Francie suggested.

“Medical benefits from a broom?” Lisa laughed. “You stealing her morphine?”

“Good idea, Francie. If you show how this ergonomic broom—” Michelle began, but Lei Kim cut her off.

“Ergonomic broom. Yes, that’s good,” Lei Kim said, writing it next to her drawing.

“If the broom provided safety benefits—protection from wrist injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome…”

“Don’t forget about efficiency,” Francie chimed in.

“The efficiency is a no-brainer, but this medical angle… that should be the focus.” Michelle smiled.

“Because it’s everywhere. Everywhere you look, this dustpan-broom combination is being used,” Lei Kim said.

“So, why would they buy your broom with a bent handle?” Lisa challenged. When she saw the others’ looks, she exclaimed, “What, I’m just asking.”

“With this bent handle, the user can get the leverage needed to sweep more efficiently, and they never have to put either device down, which saves time. Isn’t that clear?” Lei Kim said.

“It is. Lisa’s just being difficult,” Francie joked, as if to tell Lisa, Lighten up, the woman’s lying in a hospital bed.

“No, this is good,” Michelle spoke up. “We can’t go into this with a Pollyannaish attitude. We have to ask and answer the tough questions. That’s what makes the concept work. Teamwork.”

Hearing this, Lisa fired off a new question. “Have you thought about what it’s made out of?”

“Plastic?” Lei Kim said, more like a question than an answer. “I really haven’t thought about it.”

“You don’t want it to break in the customer’s hands, so it would have to be made of really durable plastic,” Francie offered.

“Good thinking,” Lei Kim said as she took notes.

“What would you call it?” Michelle asked.

“Ergo Broom?… Efficiency Broom?” Lei Kim tried.

“What if you just called it the E Broom?” Lisa said, thinking out loud. (Go to www.cashinaflashthebook.com to see an E Broom.)

They all liked the sound of it. The E Broom had a nice ring to it, Michelle thought. It sounded like a product you’d find at Wal-Mart or see an employee using at a baseball game to sweep up discarded peanut shells. Michelle smiled because they were holding a Mastermind Group meeting right there in the middle of Lei Kim’s hospital room. It was perfect, she thought, but wished Kanisha could have been there for the experience.

After about fifteen minutes, the door to Lei Kim’s room opened and her husband entered, followed by Johnny. Little did he know his fumbling with the dustpan and broom had caused his mother to get a million-dollar idea. And it was a million-dollar idea because of its simplicity. It took something in use virtually everywhere and made the function of that something better. A recipe for success, she thought.

After brief introductions around the room, the women excused themselves so the family could visit together.

Outside, Michelle, Lisa, and Francie continued to talk about Lei Kim’s idea as they walked toward the elevators. A chime announced the arrival of the elevator, and the doors opened. The nurse from downstairs stepped from the elevator into the hallway, but when she saw Francie and Michelle walking toward her, she did an about-face and ducked through a door marked Authorized Personnel Only.

“Yeah, you better run.” Michelle giggled, and Francie and Lisa joined in.

12
Who’s Next?
Knowing When to Speak Up

Michelle pulled to the curb in front of the Heartlight. Across the street, she saw Francie on the steps of the bank, talking with a young couple. The young woman hugged Francie as they said their goodbyes. When Michelle shut off the engine of the Range Rover, Nicky and Hannah jumped out of the backseat and rushed inside the store to meet Russell, who was eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Locking her car, Michelle waited on the curb for Francie to arrive.

“Your new tenants?” Michelle asked.

“Yes. My new tenants,” Francie said with a smile.

“You did it. You’re officially now the owner of an income-producing property. Congratulations, Francie. How does it feel?”

“Let’s just hope the PayPal account doesn’t dry up anytime soon.”

“It’s okay to feel nervous. You already did the hard part—you pulled the trigger. Now you have to learn how to trust that everything is going to be okay.”

As they went inside, Francie thought how Michelle always had a great way of making you feel at ease, no matter what you were going through.

Inside the store, everyone assumed the same positions they’d had last night. Nicky flipped open his video camera and pressed record. Lisa removed Russell’s iPod ear buds from his ears and put the iPod in her purse. He didn’t object, but slid from the couch and joined Nicky on the beanbag.

“Okay. Where were we?” Michelle asked, setting up the whiteboard.

“I think you were asking a question,” Kanisha said. She was holding the baby walkie-talkie in case Faith woke up from her nap in the office and started to cry.

“You’re right. I think it was, ‘Who’s next?’”

“Who’s next?” Lisa asked.

“Yes.” Michelle waited for Lisa to speak up, but she didn’t. “Remember, the only thing that separates creative people”—she used her fingers to make quotation marks in the air—“and noncreative people is that creative people find a way to express the message they receive. As businesswomen—and little men,” she said, nodding to Russell and Nicky behind the camera, “we have a fiduciary responsibility to the ideas we have. Lei Kim, if you hadn’t fainted, do you think you would’ve come up with your broom idea?”

“No,” Lei Kim said with a smile.

“Where are you with it?”

“I met with the patent attorney you referred me to. He’s helping me find a fabrication company to make the prototype. It’s going to take some time—maybe even eighteen months for the official patent—but I’ll have a patent pending in three to four weeks.”

“And that’s okay. Good ideas come in all forms. Some take a while to come about, and some arrive in an instant. The key is to never talk yourself out of an idea until you’ve really given it a chance. What is the wow you want to bring into the now? Remember, the wow comes from accessing the Inner Winner.” Michelle waited to see if anyone spoke up, but the group was again silent.

“So, I’ll ask again. Who’s next?”

“Very well. I’ll go,” Francie said, standing. Smiling at Kanisha, she began. “During our little adventure the other night, Kanisha and I had some … actually we had a lot of quality time together thanks to your little stunt. And I must say there was a point after you pulled away that I swore I’d come back here and give you what-for. But that was before everything changed and we came up with a few ideas together.”

“You ain’t gonna talk about the bear?” Kanisha stopped, shook her head, and restated her sentence in perfect diction and grammar. “You must tell them about the bear, Francie,” she said with a smile. Francie was the only one who caught the correction, because everyone else instantly had questions about the bear.

“Bear?”

“What bear?”

“Goodness, what happened?”

Francie hugged Kanisha and said, “What happened was this little girl here probably saved my life.”

“Little? Who you callin’ little, shorty?” Kanisha added with a smile.

“I’m sorry, but I doubt you would like me to call you ‘this large woman,’ would you?” Francie replied.

“Careful,” Kanisha said, protecting her belly.

“As you wish,” Francie said, bowing. “This young lady here saved my life.” And with that, she began to tell the story of their adventure. The kids’ eyes grew wide with excitement. It was like Francie was telling them a campfire story. This was precisely the kind of cinematic energy Nicky had been looking for, and his camera captured every dangerous detail.

After about fifteen minutes, Francie began to talk about the idea she and Kanisha had come up with on their long walk home.

“While we are so very different in many ways, we found we were both looking for the same thing in life—to be part of something that matters, which I guess is the Inner Winner you were talking about.” Michelle smiled encouragingly at Francie. “And when we were doing research online this morning, we ran across a website that got us…”

“Fired up,” Kanisha said, helping Francie find the words of enthusiasm.

“Yes, fired up.” Francie chuckled. “Kanisha is helping me work on my cool.”

“It’s a tall order, but she’s learning,” Kanisha joked.

“So what’s the website?” Lisa had grown tired of all the cuteness.

“The website is to teach people to remember that anything is possible in life. Here, let me show you,” Francie said as everyone gathered around one of the twenty-four-inch iMac computers. Francie typed in the web address, www.iwillremember.com. The images loaded, and a Flash presentation began. Set over stunning photography shots, an inspirational message began, talking about the quiet moments of inspiration and the belief that you are the celebration you’ve been looking for. As they watched, Nicky circled the group in a slow-moving shot.

The whole thing was perfect, Michelle thought. Looking over, she shared a smile with Francie as the others continued to watch. Yes, Francie had become an invaluable source of inspiration to the group, and it was at this moment, Michelle was grateful she’d listened to her Inner Winner and gotten Francie in the group.

As it ended, the group moved back to the couches and Francie continued. “And after we saw that, we began to brainstorm different ideas for websites.”

“And we ate ice cream. An important ingredient for any brainstorming session, I must say,” Kanisha added with a smile.

“Now that I can agree with,” Lisa told her.

“We wanted to create something where we could work once, like you talked about, and be paid multiple times,” Francie noted.

“So the wow we came up with, which we’d like to be now, is the idea of creating social networking sites,” Kanisha began. “One site will help pregnant teens, because before I met all of you, the books over there on the shelves were…” She searched for the right words. “Well, they sucked.”

“They were inadequate,” Francie said, correcting her.

“Yeah, that too,” Kanisha said playfully. “I wanted someone I could talk to about what I was going through when I was pregnant. And then I thought, duh, chat rooms.”

“Why chat rooms?” Michelle asked.

“Do you realize how many people are out there, searching around online?” Kanisha asked.

“Actually, yes, I do,” Michelle replied.

“Then you know when you’re inside a chat room, you can talk with anyone about anything without feeling…”

“Vulnerable,” Francie said, finishing her thought. “After hearing her talk about that…”

Francie’s words stalled as she saw Kanisha quietly talking to herself. It was clear Kanisha was working something out. An idea was forming.

“What is it?” Francie asked.

“Chat rooms. Online. Oh my God, the phone. We use the phone!” Kanisha said, standing up. “This is huge.”

“What’s huge? Why am I always missing everything?” Lisa was upset.

Kanisha stood up, oblivious to Lisa’s chatter. “I got it. We find a way to end illiteracy. Not online, but through the phone. Cell phones.” Kanisha was on a roll. “We get Apple to donate iPhones. Hundreds of them. Wait, thousands, we’ll need thousands. Yes, and kids could—”

“What about adults?” Francie asked.

“Good instincts, Francie,” Michelle put in. “No matter what the product is, it’s important to always find a way to expand the market. If it can work for kids, there’s got to be a market for adults too.”

The interruption didn’t matter. Kanisha was in her own world. Nothing could derail her inspiration—nothing, that is, but the baby waking up from all the commotion. Kanisha didn’t miss a beat. She went and got Faith, and came back talking.

“We get Apple to donate these iPhones and we put content on the phones that prepare kids… people … to take the GED. It’s like having school in the palm of your hand.”

“Okay, you’re offering convenience. Great. I understand that, but why wouldn’t someone just go to a night school program for the very same thing?”

“Chat rooms,” Francie said.

“Chat rooms?” Michelle asked.

“Yes. Chat rooms are popular because they provide anonymity,” Francie explained.

Kanisha kept going. “And the idea of the phone takes away the embarrassment of not having a high school education. You don’t ever have to register in person—you could do it totally under the radar and not have to worry about anyone finding out or recognizing you. That could be a great motivator.”

“Great. Now how do you monetize the idea?” Michelle asked.

Silence. Kanisha was stumped. She paced back and forth, bouncing Faith in her arms.

“I don’t know,” Kanisha finally said, deflated that her idea had stalled.

“These people have little money,” Lei Kim spoke up. “The program must be cheap.”

“Accessible, not cheap. We want words that buzz,” Francie pointed out.

“Do they have to buy the phone?” Lei Kim asked.

“No.” Kanisha was back. “But we have them sign a financial contract to help teach responsibility. You know, help them become accountable for stuff.”

“What about Muhammad Yunus?” Lei Kim said quietly.

“Microlending. Perfect! You don’t have them pay for the GED out of their own pocket. You loan them the money to get their education and they have a certain amount of time to pay the loan back. You could make your money off the interest from the loans. How much will you charge?” Michelle asked.

“Three hundred bucks,” Lisa said, eager to contribute something.

“Three hundred bucks?” Kanisha balked. “For an education?”

“It’s for a diploma. There’s a big difference,” Lisa explained. “When you go to school, you get more than just a diploma, you get life experience and a diploma. Big difference.”

“Yeah, okay. Whatever. This is huge!” Kanisha continued.

It went on like this for over an hour. Flip charts were filled and strategies were formed around the program, which consisted of eighty hours of digital content, preloaded onto each iPhone. Hinging off Francie’s statement that “we want words that buzz,” they came up with the name for the website, www.globalGEDchallenge.com. It was the perfect enlightened idea, Michelle realized. Not only was this a way to make money, but it was also providing a service to the planet. “Could it really end illiteracy as we know it?” Michelle mused. “Why not? Crazier things have happened, and that’s how it starts… from someone with a little idea.”

“Another idea we had,” Francie resumed after they came back from the break, “was a networking website designed specifically for widows and widowers.”

“You mean like a dating site?” Lisa asked.

“Oh no. Not a dating site.”

“Why not?” Lisa prodded.

“Because dating is a little different when you’re my age. There aren’t too many single men running around looking for dates with older women.”

Kanisha spoke up. “I’m almost eighteen and I’m single with a daughter. It’s not like the boys will be beating down my door to spend time with me either. So how’s it different for you?”

“For one, your body is going to snap back in a few months. My body’s done all the snappin’ it’s going to do. In fact, I need a few zippers here and there, if you know what I mean,” Francie joked. “A dating site for seniors. That’s just what I need in my life, a bunch of old guys hopped up on Viagra knockin’ on my door.” Laughter rippled through the group. “But, if that’s what comes out of the experience for someone, fine—it’s just not for me. The idea Kanisha and I had was more of a place where widows and widowers could go to talk about loss, and help each other through those moments when you feel really alone. I was locked in fear of meeting anyone new because I was now a widow. It sounds silly, but talking with Kanisha, I realized I’ve been wasting my time by being afraid. I was running out of money. Running out of money? Hell, I was flat broke.” She chuckled.

“I know it’s not funny,” she went on. “In fact, it got downright scary there for a while. But my fear was actually keeping me from asking for help, or doing something that might get me out of trouble. I now realize that we have two choices; do more of the same, or do something different.”

“And all this happened because of your encounter with the bear?” Lisa wondered aloud.

“Yes,” Francie replied. “It was dangerous, but that danger pushed me into a place I had not thought of before.”

“What place was that?” Michelle said.

“Forgiveness. Before Kanisha started throwing rocks at that bear, I saw my life flash before my eyes and all I could think about were the things I didn’t do because I was afraid. It was like all of a sudden I flipped a switch.” She snapped her fingers. “In an instance, I forgave my parents. I forgave Christopher for dying—like he had a choice in the matter—and I forgave myself. Instantly, my eyes opened to what is really important in life. Even though I’d made all that money before we ran into the bear, I still had felt emotionally bankrupt. That bear made me realize what mattered most in my life, which is… all of you.” Francie paused, tears in her eyes. Then a wicked gleam joined them. “Oh, yes, and my black Prada heels with the gold buckle, too.”

The other women began to laugh together through their own tears. Hannah and Russell shared a look as if to say, You think we should cry too?

“Okay,” Michelle said at last, “why don’t we take another fifteen-minute break? We’ll meet back on the couches at eight-thirty.”

13
Finding Closure
In the Wow of Their Now

As the rain continued to fall outside, the mood inside the Heartlight was raw, as was evident on the footage from Nicky’s camera. Hannah and Russell huddled around the zebra print beanbag where Nicky sat watching the playback of Francie’s story. “Watch this,” Nicky said as the shot pushed in close on Francie as she began to cry. Nicky smiled because he knew he finally had filmed something really dramatic.

When the session resumed, Michelle emerged from the office, scrolling through a playlist on her iPod.

“Everybody ready? Kids? Ready to get back to it?” Michelle asked, not waiting for an answer as she moved to the stereo cabinet behind the front counter. “Watching that little video presentation on the Internet made me think about a song I’ve been listening to. So, in the spirit of show-and-tell,” she said, smiling at the children, “I want to play a song that I think is perfect for what we’re talking about here.” When she finally looked up to make sure they were ready, she noticed Lisa was missing.

“Wait. Where’s Lisa?” she asked, looking around the store.

“She walked up to Starbucks to get coffee,” Lei Kim answered.

“The girl went up there to get cookies, don’t kid yourself,” Kanisha said with a grin.

Before Michelle could react, Lisa knocked on the front door. Balancing a cup carrier with coffee for everyone, a chocolate chip cookie wedged in her mouth, Lisa fought with the storm’s howling wind, which was a losing battle at this point. Her flimsy umbrella popped inside out and Lisa almost dropped the coffee. Francie quickly unlocked the door and Lisa stepped in from the pouring rain. Despite having an umbrella, she was drenched.

“You’re all wet, sweetie,” Francie said as Lisa handed her the coffee.

“That’s because this umbrella is terrible,” Lisa groused, holding up the rickety contraption. “Why can’t someone make an umbrella that won’t turn inside out like a sock every damn time a storm moves into town? I mean, honestly, isn’t that what they’re made to do, keep you dry?” she asked, not really looking for an answer. She swung open the door and threw the broken umbrella onto the sidewalk.

“Attagirl—you show that umbrella who’s boss,” Michelle said.

“Stupid thing,” Lisa said, finding a smile as she took one of the cups of coffee from Francie. “I tell you what, this better be the best coffee I’ve ever had, because I worked hard for it.”

“Okay, we ready?” Michelle asked.

“What’re we doing?” Lisa whispered over to Francie as they sat down.

“I don’t know, she’s going to play a song for us.”

“If it’s ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,’ I’m outta here.” Grabbing one of the quilts draped over the back of the couches, Lisa wrapped herself up before plopping back into place.

“This CD came in the mail last week,” Michelle explained. “We get all sorts of demos from the record companies as samples. I’m not sure why this one made its way into my car, but when I heard this song, I thought… wow. Everyone close their eyes and we’ll get started,” Michelle said, ready to hit the play button.

“Can I ask a question?” Kanisha said, raising her hand. “What’s with all the eye closing?”

“Because it enables you to become single-minded. When you have your eyes open, you’re looking around at other people, worried about them looking at you, both wondering if you look okay; ‘How’s my hair? Oh, is that a new dress she’s wearing? I think I have something in my teeth.’”

Everyone giggled. Michelle wasn’t just about business all the time; she did have a playful side, and when she showed it, she really shone. “Just trust me—you’ll see what I mean. Close your eyes.” Michelle pressed play and sat down as the song began to play over the sound system. Gentle piano chords started softly, and a movement of harmonic progressions slowly built into a crescendo. Then a man’s soft voice began to sing:

Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in.
Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in.
To the deepest kind of love.
To the sweetest kind of life.
Get ready. Get ready. My soul
.

Everything I’ve ever done. Everything I’ve ever seen.
Everything I lost or won. Everything I’ve ever dreamed.
Has brought me here. To the present moment.
Here. To a new beginning.
Here. And I’m seeing life so clearly… now
.

Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in.
Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in.
To the deepest kind of love.
To the sweetest kind of life.
Get ready. Get ready. My soul
.

’Cause here I go. Deeper. Deeper. Deeper than I’ve ever been before.
Here I go. Closer. Closer. Closer to my sacred source.
Here I go. Deeper. Deeper. Deeper than I’ve ever been before.
Here I go. Closer. Closer. Closer to my sacred source.
Here I go. Deeper. Deeper. Deeper than I’ve ever been before.
Here I go Closer. Closer. Closer to my sacred source.

Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in.
Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in.
To the deepest kind of love.
To the sweetest kind of life.
Get ready. Get ready. My soul.
Get ready. Get ready. My soul
.

From the CD Sacred Love by Daniel Nahmod, copyright Nahmod Music Co. (ASCAP). (Download a free copy of this song at www.cashinaflashthebook.com.)

The women’s eyes slowly opened as the song ended, and they wiped away tears. The song spoke directly to their hearts, and even though she’d heard it many times before, Michelle had tears in her eyes as well. Each one was filled with a silent desire to live life from a deeper place. Of all creative expressions, Michelle thought music was the most powerful. It was poetry with musical notes. Could a painting cause such emotions? A photograph? Perhaps, Michelle thought, but music somehow spoke to a deeper place in the heart. It was a place most people would talk about only when life became difficult or when tragedy struck. Right now, however, the group was active in the pursuit of a more abundant life.

Rising amidst the silence, Michelle moved to the whiteboard and wrote down the most powerful line in the song. They were all powerful, she thought, but the line “Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in” was perfect. She stood back and looked at the line as if they were admiring an artwork hanging in a museum. What Michelle loved most about the lyric, and the song in general, was the simplicity of it. “Get ready. My soul. I’m diving in” meant life was ready to be lived, and before you could go confidently in the directions of your dreams, your soul had to be in play.

Snapping the marker’s cap back on, Michelle turned to Lisa and asked, “So, are you ready?”

“You expect me to talk after a song like that?” Lisa answered, dabbing the tears from her eyes with a Starbucks napkin.

“It’s beautiful, Michelle,” Francie added.

“Hits me deep inside every time.” Michelle smiled, then turned to Lisa. “Are you ready?”

Sensing something was about to happen, Nicky turned on his camera from the zebra beanbag and panned over to Lisa, framing her in a tight close-up. Not wanting to call attention to himself, Nicky rested the camera on his lap and used the small monitor on the side of the camera to frame his shot. Hannah joined him on the beanbag. He gave her a look but made room. She watched as Nicky zoomed in close; when Lisa’s tears started again, Nicky zoomed in even tighter. Lisa’s attention swung to the front door, where the tattered umbrella was being jostled about by the wind. Nicky panned over and captured the umbrella as it danced against the glass of the front doors like a fly looking for a way in. Lisa took a deep breath and turned back to the group.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not like you guys. This stuff about the Inner Winner and this Now Wow or whatever…”

Hannah giggled.

“Hannah.” Michelle quickly spoke up.

“Mommy, it sounded like she said ‘bow wow,’” Hannah said innocently.

Even Lisa had to laugh. The mood quickly lightened in the group, and Lisa shifted in her seat, still struggling with the spotlight. She took a sip of her coffee and took another deep breath before she continued.

“Ideas like you guys are having, they just don’t come to me, okay? I’m sorry, but I’ve never been one to think that way. It’s not how I’m built.”

“Why do you keep apologizing?” Francie asked.

“What?” Lisa asked.

“You’ve said ‘I’m sorry’ twice in the last ten seconds.”

“It’s just a word, Francie.” Lisa huffed.

“Yes, it is,” Michelle said, “but I think Francie might be on to something.”

“You know what, Michelle? Let’s not make something out of nothing. It’s just a word. That’s it. Nothing more. I’m not sorry for my life. I’m not sorry for the way I am, either. Not everyone’s an entrepreneur like you. I like to leave work behind and go home. And hey, if that’s where the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss” comes from, then I guess I’m ignorant. But I will not sit here and act like something I’m not.”

“And that’s a good thing, but just like anything, you can learn to see opportunity in your daily life. You never know where the fish are going to bite,” Michelle offered.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.” Lisa emphasized the words “I’m sorry” in Francie’s direction to make a point. “Or should I say, ‘Excuse me, I don’t know what you mean’?”

“It’s how Gideon would talk about his inventions, in metaphors. It used to drive me crazy, but they help sometimes. The kids will tell you, their father loved to go fishing. He’d wake up three hours before sunrise just to spend five hours on the lake. He said it helped him think, and because he had so many ideas and projects going on at the same time, he’d say, ‘You gotta keep as many lines in the water as you can, baby. You never know where the fish are going to bite.’ He looked at ideas like fish bait. If one thing didn’t work, he would try something else. The more ideas you have going, the better chance you have to see one of those ideas become a reality. Without ideas, he used to say, you’re just spinning your wheels, punching a clock making money for someone else.”

“Okay, now I’m the one who’s sorry,” Francie said, smiling at Lisa. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Michelle stood up and went to the whiteboard again.

“There’s no one thing that will cause you to have a financial awakening, spiritual insight, or revelation. Whatever you want to call it, the process of becoming an enlightened entrepreneur is a combination of all things.” Michelle wrote the word entrepreneur on the board. The erasable marker squeaked with every stroke.

“What does this mean?” she asked the group.

“Daddy,” Hannah said.

Michelle smiled at Hannah. “Yes, honey, that’s how Daddy described himself.”

“Independence?” Lei Kim offered.

“Exactly. Willing to take on greater than normal financial risks.” Then Michelle wrote the word enlightened in front of entrepreneur.

“Now, what does this mean?”

“Daddy,” Hannah said again.

“Yes, honey. That was Daddy too.” She turned her attention back to the women and answered the question herself. “An enlightened entrepreneur operates from a place of abundance, creates massive value for everyone, in every way, and learns and leaves a legacy of abundance.” She paused for a second. “Sounds exciting, don’t you think?”

“It sounds kinda scary, is what I think,” Kanisha said, speaking up.

“Only if you think of it that way. Financial freedom rarely comes from living a linear-income life. Working nine to five is like being on a treadmill—you never really get anywhere, but the activity tricks you into thinking that you’re making progress when actually, you aren’t. Corporate raises barely keep you up to speed with inflation. That’s not progress, that’s treading water, and that’s where companies want you. Stuck on a treadmill, in debt, so you have to stay at the desk, working to make them more money. I’m not anti-corporate or anti-nine-to-five in general; I’m simply pro-financial-freedom.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re already rich,” Lisa quipped.

“And you think that makes me different from you, because of my bank account? Wealth isn’t defined by your bank records. Wealth is defined as courage. Commitment. You mustn’t forget, I was beyond broke before I became rich. But I don’t want to talk about me, I want to get back to this,” she said, underlining the word entrepreneur. “Can anyone think of some examples that might fall under the definition of what it is to be an entrepreneur?

“Franchise?”

“Writers?”

“Product inventions?”

“Maybe eBay?” Lisa finally added her two cents.

“Great, Lisa. Let’s look at the eBay business model, which is the buying and selling of items. The great thing about doing this kind of work is that you don’t have to wait to create a product or file for a patent, which can take up to eighteen months. You don’t have to write the book, shoot the infomercial, or produce anything in any way. You can start making money by selling someone else’s inventory, and get this—you don’t even need a license to do it. The reason eBay’s business model works is that it’s very simple. They connect those who don’t want with those who want. How do they make their money? They charge a percentage on the deal.”

“Want? Don’t want?” Francie asked.

“You have someone who doesn’t want an item anymore and you connect them with a person who wants that item. Everything you see in life was bought and sold, and someone made money on the transaction. A car. A boat. Jewelry. Sports equipment. Shoes. Trinkets. You name it, and someone’s made money on the sale of that item. That’s what I want you to start thinking about, Lisa. I’m not looking for you to quit your job and put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. What I want you to think about, what I want everyone to think about, is creating chunks of money. Fast money. A fast nickel is better than a slow dime. The eBay model invites everyone to the opportunity to make money. Anyone can do it. While these ideas up here on the whiteboard are great, it’s not the end… it’s only the beginning. There are infinite ways to make money.”

“I’m not going to get into the garage sale business, Michelle,” Lisa said.

“Stop getting hung up on the details, Lisa. It’s just an example. Stay focused on the principle that there are infinite ways to make money. I don’t care if you’re selling tables and chairs, making computers in China, or flipping Prada shoes on the Internet—the lesson here is the endless streams of income are out there, waiting for us to secure them. Life is abundant. There are always ways to make money, regardless of the economy or whether or not Mercury is in retrograde. Business is always going to be there. It’s our time. Say that with me. ‘It’s my time.’” The group repeated the phrase with a blasé tone.

“Oh, come on. It’s my time.” She repeated it with the enthusiasm she was looking for.

“It’s my time,” the group said in unison, smiling at each other.

“So, how do we do it?” Michelle said, directing her attention to Lisa, who at the moment was becoming more and more annoyed by the tapping sound her umbrella was making on the glass of the front doors. The wind was really beginning to kick up outside, and the tattered umbrella was thrashing about. Lisa turned to Michelle and challenged her again.

“Okay, Michelle, what are we talking about?”

“Everybody wants to make money, but nobody wants to talk about the consciousness of money.”

“The consciousness of money?” Lei Kim asked, leaning forward.

“Are you aware of how many people go broke after winning millions in the lottery?”

Nobody answered, so Michelle continued.

“Well, the number is staggering. It happens because the people who win the lottery aren’t at the same vibrational level as the money they win.”

“Vibrational what?” Kanisha asked.

“Vibrational level. Everything we do, everything we are, comes from our vibrational frequency. Energy. It’s this energy that enables us or disables us to do what we want to do in life.” Michelle was met with blank stares from the group.

“Let me put it another way,” she said, thinking for a second. “Here’s a question. Can a bird fly backward?”

“No,” Lisa said immediately. The others simply shook their heads like they didn’t know or agreed with Lisa.

Hannah’s hand quickly shot up like she was in class.

“Hannah?” Michelle said with a nod to her daughter.

“The hummingbird can fly backward,” she said proudly.

“That’s right, baby. The hummingbird is the only bird able to fly backward.”

Lisa scoffed, not happy at being shown up by a seven-year-old. “Why are we talking about hummingbirds?”

“Can you imagine how fast the wings of a hummingbird have to move in order for it to fly backward, or stop on a dime to hover in front of a flower?” Michelle said. “And further imagine if that bird stopped in front of a flower that was without any nectar. Do you think it would sit around and complain, ‘Oh, poor me, there’s no more nectar here’?” She leaned forward like she was telling them a secret. “Of course not. They are always on the move, from one flower to the next flower. And why, you ask?” Her voice began to boom with excitement. “Because, other than an insect, the hummingbird has the highest metabolism of all animals on the planet.”

“Have you seen Paris Hilton lately?” Lisa said, joking. “Girl’s metabolism is workin’ overtime.”

Michelle ignored Lisa’s comment. “They need to stay busy. If they don’t, they die. A hummingbird needs to drink its body weight in nectar every day, or it will die. The wings of a hummingbird flap something like eighty times per second, and its heart can beat up to twelve hundred times a minute. The high metabolism and heart rate are all needed to accommodate the high vibrational frequency their bodies create, which enables them to, yes, fly backward. Those lottery winners we were talking about? Bad decisions and overspending sends them right back to the poorhouse. Why? Because at the end of the day, they chose a vibrational frequency that is lower than the money they won. They believe that they aren’t worth the money they won,” Michelle said, satisfied at her explanation. By the looks on everyone’s faces, everyone was satisfied by Michelle’s explanation—everyone but Lisa.

“And this brings us back to the Inner Winner and the Wow Now philosophy. It’s fine to have your mind invested in something, but without your heart—the wow now, as it were—you simply remain the same as you were before the idea arrived.” Michelle set the pen in the tray of the easel and joined everyone on the couches.

“So, where does that leave us?” She looked around the room, which was again silent. There were no quick answers. Sensing the silence wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Michelle continued.

“Lisa, you say you’re not like the rest of us, but that’s just your opinion at this particular moment in time. Your perception of a thing doesn’t make that thing true. We aren’t dealing in absolutes here. When we talk about consciousness, the sky’s the limit. Opinions—”

“It’s not my opinion, Michelle,” Lisa snapped. She was annoyed that she was the center of debate again, and the damn tapping of the umbrella was driving her crazy. It was as if she was the only one who heard the sound, which at this point was like a jackhammer going off inside her head.

Michelle gently corrected her. “By developing this Inner Winner philosophy, you have a better understanding of the truth about yourself, rather than the lies and deception you’ve carried up to this point, which have told you, ‘I’m not like that.’ You are more than you think you are. Stop believing the opinions you’ve formed about yourself.”

Still there was nothing from Lisa. Michelle was challenging her, but Lisa wasn’t taking the bait because the umbrella had her full attention now. Tap. Tap. Tap. The wind outside whipped down Main Street with gale force. Tap. Tap. Tap. She couldn’t stand it anymore, but Michelle kept going, only adding to the chaos growing inside Lisa’s head.

“Focused intention can actually change the object focused on. The same can be said for insight and revelation. The message is being sent out, and the signal might come in the form of a billboard along the highway that speaks directly to your desired intention.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“How about a line in a song?” Francie volunteered.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Perfect, Francie,” Michelle said.

“Like the song we just listened to. Those lyrics felt like it was written for me,” Lei Kim added.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Just as Kanisha was about to add to the conversation, Lisa sprang to her feet. “Doesn’t anyone hear that?” she said, stomping to the door.

Tap! Tap! Tap!

Swinging the door open, Lisa grabbed the umbrella and pulled it inside. When she did, however, one of the broken ribs caught on the door jamb, which only seemed to fuel her anger with the device. She tugged on it again and again until the rib finally snapped off. Holding up the mangled device, which no longer resembled an umbrella, she said, “See? Why can’t they make an umbrella that’s worth anything?” She tossed it into the garbage can in disgust.

As she took a step back toward the group, she froze. It was like a bolt of lightning hit her directly in the soul. Suddenly, everything for her moved in slow motion. The sounds of the room drifted away and she could feel her heart beating like a bass drum. Her breath echoed in her head. It was happening. Right there, standing in the middle of Heartlight Bookstore, Lisa finally got it. She was becoming aware that she was aware. While it seemed to her like the moment lasted an eternity, it passed in a blink of an eye for everyone else. Slowly, the sounds of the room returned as Lisa began to hear a faint voice asking her a question.

“Lisa? What is it?” Michelle was asking.

“The umbrella,” Lisa muttered, more to herself than anyone else.

“Girl, I’m not sure you can call it an umbrella anymore,” Kanisha said. A ripple of laughter filled the room, but Lisa remained single-minded and laser-focused.

“Why doesn’t someone make an umbrella that’s worth anything?” she said slowly, turning to the group. It was less a question than a statement of intention.

“Can you unwrap that?” Nicky asked. Michelle loved the way her children thought.

For the first time, Lisa was eager to unwrap something in the group discussion.

“I make a great umbrella. Not just a great umbrella—the best umbrella ever made. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s complained about flimsy umbrellas. Yes. That’s it. You’re right, Michelle. You’re right!”

“About what?” Michelle loved the moment unfolding before her.

“Your problem is your solution. You know how many umbrellas I’ve gone through this last year? It’s like those stupid things kept breaking so I’d come to this—I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but—this now moment.”

“What are you feeling right now, Lisa?” Michelle asked, hoping to harvest more of Lisa’s revelation.

“It’s going to sound crazy, I know, but… I used to think stuff like this happened to other people. Like somehow I wasn’t deserving enough—which makes your lottery comment ring so true. But the sky didn’t part and I didn’t hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir begin to sing.”

“Were they supposed to?” Michelle said, smiling at the others.

“That’s what I used to think. I thought angels were supposed to sing and the sea would part. I was looking for miracles.”

“And now?”

“I don’t know what to call it, but… now that I think about it, this kind of thing has been happening my whole life—I just wasn’t listening. I’m blown away right now. Finally!”

Bursting the bubble, Francie said, “I don’t think it’s that great. You just want to make a great umbrella? Buy a more expensive umbrella. You’re not thinking of something original.” She looked sympathetically at Lisa. “Sorry. I just don’t think it’s a very special idea.”

“Good point,” Kanisha said.

“How can we make this different from anything you have ever seen from an umbrella?” Michelle asked.

There were no quick answers. The idea was stalled. Lisa slowly sank back into her seat on the couch. She was so close to something great, but it didn’t seem meant to be. Another minute passed and it felt like the longest minute of Lisa’s life.

Finally Russell spoke up. “Hey, Mom, could you put a flashlight in the umbrella so you could see at night?” Looks shot around the room because Russell had just added a great idea. Lisa kissed him on the head.

“I don’t care what you guys think, but that is a great idea. It could be like a glow-light umbrella.”

“Dark cloudy nights… walking your dog,” Francie put in.

“I love it,” Kanisha said.

“Lei Kim?” Michelle asked.

“Yes. I love it too,” she offered with a smile.

“Me too. So let’s keep going here. Other than the obvious, how can this idea for a better umbrella be of service to others?” Michelle asked, leading Lisa.

She thought for a minute. “We could call it the Love Umbrella… and 10 percent of the profits could be given to the kids’ school. We could create an after-school program for kids. Or maybe for single mothers?”

“Just here in Idyllwild?” Kanisha asked.

“Why not?”

“Wow Now,” Kanisha replied.

“Why not take the program national? That way, you have more exposure for the umbrellas,” Francie said, picking up on Kanisha’s response.

“And mothers could buy their daughters a dirt bike, too,” Hannah added in all seriousness. The women laughed.

“If people know your product is giving money to kids, single mothers, or something like education, they’ll want to buy it over the competition because of the intention behind the product,” Francie pointed out.

“Do you think this would work for the E Broom?” Lei Kim asked.

“Of course,” Michelle answered.

“And we could create programs with our websites that do something like this, right? Maybe offer the mothers some kind of financial grant or scholarship,” Kanisha said, adding her two cents.

The ideas were flowing within the group and Michelle could barely get a word in edgewise. And that was okay. The teacher was sitting back and watching her students learn what it meant to really fly in life. She looked around the room. She smiled fondly at the children, because she knew this was something that would prove to be invaluable for them later in life. She gazed at the women and thought about how different they were now compared to just a month ago. She herself was happy, but she couldn’t help feeling like something was missing. Slowly, she stood up and went toward her office. The only one to notice was Hannah, who just smiled briefly as she returned to watch the viewfinder on Nicky’s camera, as he captured the entire mastermind process.

Sitting behind her desk, Michelle smiled at the energy coming from the other room. She picked up the phone and dialed the mayor’s cell phone. After a few rings, he picked up.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Amazing. Lisa finally had a breakthrough.”

“And now?”

“They’re still at it, but I’m in the office, talking to you. Where are you, by the way?”

“In my car—I was running a quick errand. Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine.” Michelle took a deep breath. “Well, I’m stalling, and I probably should get right to the reason I called. I want to say something, but I don’t want to scare you off, because… well, shoot. I guess I’ll just say it… and you don’t have to like it… and I don’t know if you—”

“Michelle?” Brady said, cutting her off.

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

Michelle was crying before the words finished leaving his mouth.

“Can you come down to the store?” she asked. Just then there was a knock on the back door of the store.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” he asked.

“Can you—”

The knocking on the back door cut her off in midsentence again.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Can you hold on a second?”

“Of course,” he said, forever the gentleman.

Michelle came out of her office just as Lisa appeared in the hallway, reacting to the knocking.

“There you are,” Lisa said. “Someone’s at the back door. Please tell me you ordered takeout, because I’m starving.”

Michelle unbolted the back door and opened it. There, in the dark alley, illuminated by the light from the store’s hallway, stood Brady Wilson, holding a bouquet of flowers.

14
Your Abundant Life
Are You Ready?

Winter raced by with a series of storms that brought record snowfall, but it left as fast as it arrived. Spring’s warm weather made the kids restless for summer vacation, which was still a whole month away. Life for the women of the Heartlight Broad Squad would never be the same. Their meetings went from once a week to once a month because of the workload their ideas carried, but this was a good thing.

Kanisha moved into Francie’s house, and together they formed their own company, called the Unusual Suspects. The name was their way of showcasing that you never know where your true friends will come from. While the social networking idea for widows and widowers fell apart, the GED Challenge to end illiteracy secured a deal with Apple for its iPhones, and the program awarded over twenty-five thousand GEDs diplomas across the country in its first year alone. The teen pregnancy network idea took off as well. Kanisha and Francie’s success was a testament to the power of the TEAM concept (Together, Everyone Achieves Miracles) for the Broad Squad. By working together, Kanisha and Francie were able to find solutions inside the problems that seemingly were roadblocks in both of their lives. Instead of complaining about the roadblocks, they provided a way through. Their website, www.teenmomworld.com, had become something of an Internet phenomenon, with five thousand new users each month. The site, while focusing on teen pregnancy, was also a daily stop for teenage girls who weren’t pregnant and boys as well. Kids joined Teen Mom World because they were curious about the topic of pregnancy. Reading the first-person stories posted on the website about teenage pregnancy seemed to help kids answer the many questions filling their minds about what to do and what not to do where sex was concerned. Here they could ask questions without being judged by parents or peers.

Initially, Kanisha’s idea set out to capture a niche of the teen pregnancy market, but it ended up as a major player in the social networking market for kids under the age of eighteen. It was a huge success, both financially and morally, for Francie and Kanisha, who were speaking around the country to teenagers. Within the first year, the foundation arm of their business, the Teen Mom Foundation, provided fifty grants at $2,000 each as well as online training to teen mothers to help with their pregnancy. Together, they were not only making a financial difference in their own lives, they were making a difference in the lives of others.

Out of all the Broad Squad students, Lei Kim turned out to be the most successful. Her situation was a perfect example of living in sync with the enlightened energy current behind money. When her Meal in a Bar was featured on a Food Network show, Lei Kim was quickly offered Raw Cooking with Lei Kim, a weekly show to air nationally on the network. The only problem was she would need to commute to Denver twice a week, which she didn’t want to do. Lei Kim found the solution when Dogma, the pet food store located right next to Lei Kim’s diner, decided to move across town. She got the idea of taking over the space to open a second restaurant that would offer a completely organic raw food menu. This second restaurant would be called Raw, and it would offer Idyllwild an alternative to the normal diner food as well as a place for Lei Kim to shoot the weekly episodes of Raw Cooking with Lei Kim. Lei Kim’s husband and son took over duties at the diner full time.

Raw food restaurants were already widely popular in California, but the trend was rapidly moving across the country and Lei Kim knew she was way ahead of the curve. Somehow, through her own enlightenment and success, she caused her family and those around her to rise in consciousness by example, not by the drama of confrontation or force.

But everything didn’t go as smoothly as initially planned because the owner of the building didn’t approve of the idea of having two restaurants located side by side; he told Lei Kim he wanted more diversity. Lei Kim knew what she wanted, so she made him an offer and bought the entire building, which in addition to five retail shops had three large offices on the second floor. It wasn’t a power move as much as it was a need for office space. Project Education Sweep and the associated website were no longer a dream but a reality, a result of the overwhelming success of the E Broom.

Funded with 10 percent of the E Broom’s profits, Project Education Sweep provided grants to educators around the world. Lei Kim believed if you have a teacher who isn’t worried about having enough money, you’d have a teacher more focused on providing quality education. As soon as corporations discovered they could help education around the world by purchasing a more efficient version of a product they were already buying, not to mention the preventive effects on wrist injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome, orders for the E Broom/dustpan combination began to flood in.

While the largest sales numbers came from commercial markets, which included sports arenas and stadiums, parks and recreation centers, subways, and fast-food and hotel chains, the consumer market was beyond impressive for a new product venture. Within a year her E Broom had captured 1 percent of the entire U.S. consumer broom market when an infomercial ran on the Home Shopping Network. One percent didn’t sound like much, but 1 percent of 105 million households meant Lei Kim sold over a million E Brooms to American households alone. The rapid success landed Lei Kim on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine.

True to her word, Lisa continued to live her life in a simple fashion. When the Love Umbrella was licensed by a major retailer, Lisa gladly took a minor position in the company to focus on the nonprofit foundation she created, and this was still only part-time. The Foundation of Love, as she named it, provided scholarships to children of single mothers around the country and helped single mothers with the rising costs of education, summer camp tuition, and entrepreneurial ventures. When the umbrella continued to bring in record profits, Lisa expanded the reach of the foundation to include a new idea. Because she’d never finished college herself, Lisa came up with the idea for CollegeTracks.org. College Track was the catalyst for change for underresourced high school students who were motivated to earn a college degree. During its first year, College Track strengthened its services and expanded its program to support more students. Through the center-based approach and core service areas, College Track created a culture of high expectations and success. Lisa wanted to ensure that each student was college-ready and to provide support that many students did not have at home or school. Together, the components made a powerful, comprehensive program that empowered students to achieve their dream of a college education. While the Foundation of Love and CollegeTracks.org were a success, Lisa continued to work at Heartlight twice a week simply because she loved the fellowship of the store and felt indebted to Michelle for helping her change her life.

Michelle married Brady Wilson in an intimate Christmas Eve ceremony. After a honeymoon in Aspen, they moved into a new house on the east side of town near the lake. The day they moved in, Michelle brought home a golden retriever puppy. The house was a four-bedroom Craftsman gem, which the mayor snapped up out of foreclosure, surprising Michelle with the purchase. Hannah got the dirt bike she’d been dreaming about, and Nicky had become something of a famous filmmaker in town. As a result of the Broad Squad success, Nicky set out to make a real movie. His film, Richest Kids in America—How They Got That Way and You Can Too, won the documentary prize for first-time filmmakers at the Denver International Film Festival, and Hannah got her producer credit. Nicky was the youngest filmmaker to ever win the Maverick Award. While he entered into a distribution deal with a U.S. distributor, which gave him a $40,000 advance against the film’s profits, Nicky told his mom to negotiate to keep all Internet rights for the film. Selling downloads on his website, www.richestkidsinamerica.com, Nicky became an entrepreneur at the ripe old age of twelve. The attention surrounding the film also spawned a new business idea for Michelle. The website www.mastermindsrevealed.com became a moderate Internet coaching success at first, but it wasn’t until Michelle wrote an e-book on the subject that the business really took off. At $3.99 for each download at www.youpublish.com, the book was selling more than a thousand copies a week.

On top of her duties at the Heartlight, Michelle was performing ten coaching calls a week and had to spend one week a month traveling around the country speaking. Her latest stop was in Los Angeles, California.

It was seven-thirty in the morning on September 7, almost a year to the day she started the Broad Squad. Sitting behind the mike in the studio of a local drive-time morning show, Michelle was giving her second interview of the day.

“The spiritual truth of the universe. That’s how great ideas work,” she said. “When you are single-minded in your intention, which essentially means your attention is on your intention, the universe responds in kind. This is one of the laws of the universe. The more we are able to stand in the truth of who we are, the more we are becoming aware of the great power within. With our Broad Squad, the name we gave our Mastermind Group, we are held accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions. Basically, when you have a TEAM, it teaches you to remember the truth about yourself and that you are indeed creative, abundant, and special.”

“What is the truth?” the interviewer asked.

“The truth is simply a reminder of what you already know,” Michelle explained. “When we are born, we aren’t judgmental of others, or ourselves, for that matter. We trust that we are special. We celebrate it, but somehow, during the course of growing up, where life and society kick us around more than a few times, we forget that simple truth.”

The interviewer smiled. “I’ll ask you again: what is the truth?”

“The truth is like an electrical outlet in your house. It’s always there, on the wall, waiting for you to plug something into it. A lamp doesn’t work unless you plug it in, right? A toaster can’t toast bread unless it’s plugged in. It might sit there and try really hard to toast the bread, but unless it’s plugged in, it’s fighting an impossible battle. The same can be said for life. While I don’t mean to blaspheme the life I had with my late husband, I was living life in wait. I was waiting for something to happen in my life. That’s the secret behind the concept of a mastermind. The one mind created by the group is more powerful than the lies we perpetuate by our single mind. It’s not what other people say about you, either. It’s what you say about yourself in those quiet moments when you’re all alone. That’s what life is about. Knowing the truth of who you are.”

Michelle sat back and smiled at the interviewer as if to say, Take that.

“We’ve been talking to Michelle Erickson-Wilson, author and creator of the wildly successful e-book Masterminds Revealed. Before you go, Michelle, one last question.”

“Sure.”

“What’s next for you?”

“Who knows? The world is full of possibilities.”

“Thank you, Michelle.”

“You’re welcome.”