My Destiny Journey June 25, 2012 Written by Sherry Caudill
Miranda, kissed the earth with her presence on Sept 28, 1985
She was born into a devout Christian family.
Miranda was a beautiful brunette with deep brown eyes who had creativity that put many of her elders in awe. As she grew older she began discovering there was something very different about herself in comparison to others. She had been having deep inner questions about her identity and wondered about her purpose in life!
At the age of 15, Miranda went to a tent revival on a hot summer night, she was drawn to the excitement of an outdoor meeting because she had never been in an atmosphere like that and that night she became born again. She began to see the World through a whole new light and also her hidden dream of becoming a successful writer became the center of attention in the forefront of her heart and mind. She began immediately sharing her new experience as a Christian with family and friends and also her deepest dream of becoming a writer!
Little did she know that jealousy would enflame in some hearts but she refused to denounce her God given dream. Something happened to Miranda when all of this resistance began to manifest in some of her family and friends. She was all the more driven and determined to hold onto the plan of God and deep within her heart she knew her destiny was in sight and the upcoming years would unfold the wisdom and revelations and the tools to cultivate what heaven had embedded within her soul!! In Miranda’s mind nothing was going to steal or stifle her destiny!! For many years she built a protective wall which became a driven force that consumed her very being.
A boy by the name of Ethan who was her classmate in School had a crush on her since kindergarten but his family refused him to have anything to do with Miranda because her family was Christian and his parents were Atheist who wanted no part of Christianity. His Father was a wealthy CEO for a major airline and his Mother a successful Doctor and their dreams for Ethan was to attend Harvard where his Father attended. They wanted him to be driven with a vision for higher education and success, But Ethan had other plans in mind which started with Miranda. He knew that she was special and that there was something different about her, he just didn’t know what it was.
He would always go out of his way to talk with her as much as possible but Miranda did not really like Ethan’s behavior because he was arrogant most of the time around her because he was always trying to impress her with the material wealth of his family and she showed him little interest yet deep in her heart she cared for him
In their senior year in high school, with graduation around the corner Ethan was trying his best to get more attention of Miranda but she was focused on her quest for God and he was busy with sports. As the year was coming to a close and Ethan with College in sight as well with Miranda, life would separate him from the woman of his dreams because his plan was to marry Miranda in spite of her rejection of him his whole life.
At the high school graduation Ethan had a streak of boldness that he had to act upon quickly because he was leaving in the fall for Harvard to study law. He caught Miranda standing against the wall alone after the event and with every nerve and heart beating fast he declared his years of love for her without any hesitation!
In shock, Miranda said,” what? I am so sorry Ethan but I do not love you and besides that I am in love with God, whom you and your family wants no part of.”
She fled from him!
Miranda went to a community college in the fall to study creative writing.
Well into her second year of college Miranda was at top of her class once again.
One day her Mother told her about a Writer’s Conference that was coming into the area in the spring and that help was wanted to work at the banqueting hall for this special event.
Miranda’s imagination began soaring with excitement!
On the way to the hotel to apply for the job Miranda was in a terrible car accident leaving her in a coma.
Her family was standing believing God for a miracle!
Ethan’s Mother told him about Miranda and he came home from College to see her. For the first time in his life he prayed to God and gave his heart to him and he asked God for a miracle also promising him if he could have Miranda as his wife he would never stand in the way of her dreams.
While in a coma, Miranda had an encounter with Jesus Christ and they walked in heaven together.
He showed her many beautiful things and told her to write about certain revelations. He told her that she was born to write about heaven but many trails laid ahead of her for sharing such supernatural revelations. At the end of their journey together Jesus told Miranda that one day she would marry Ethan but she said, Lord, he is not a Christian and I am not in Love with him!” Jesus replied saying,” He is a Christian and you do love him as you have for many years and you will become a famous Author”
You will awaken today and he will be at your bedside and many will be saved though your testimony!
At 6:33 pm that night she miraculously awakened to find Ethan at her bedside and all her family as well.
Ethan announced his Christianity to her and his love, she accepted both!!!
To be continued!!!!
Odd that we met in therapy, Grant and I, but then again given my life history who else would I meet but another like-minded defiant comedic mentality. He was a jaded realist and I was a prisoner of hope. However, he had a sincerity about him that matched my own. Unfortunately, he had suffered a bitter divorce which wiped him out financially. You see, he had come close to being a self-made millionaire in his early twenty’s but in the divorce… he got the debt and his ex-wife got the profit.
I on the other hand always sabotaged my potential for success. Its funny how people see what they want. Since most have always commented on my attractiveness, they felt I should breeze through life on my looks. More like obvious irritation that I could possibly have any problems. News flash! Outside appearances do not heal years of internal turmoil. Words hurt or they can heal. I had years of hurtful words. They had defined me into “I am less than”. So naturally I was attracted and captivated by Grant’s self-confidence.
Grant definitely stood out from the other lost individuals in our group session. His eyes were a beautiful sparkling brown with a hint of playful mischievousness. He briefly gave an account of what had brought him to counseling and wittingly told the therapists what they wanted to hear. It was humorous to note his contempt and even more amazing that no one else caught it. We both felt an immediate connection which added to the irony of the moment since we were both sitting beneath signs on the wall that said “patients are discouraged from developing relationships”.
When it came my turn to speak I did not even realize I looked right at him when I said, “My name is Hope and the thing I detest most in people are broken promises.” From that moment on our lives intertwined.
Our relationship was on and off over the next fifteen years. Keep in mind we met in therapy- damaged and broken. We had a lot of healing and letting go of past hurts to overcome. Things like compromise and forgiveness NOT our strong suits. Inevitably I would push him away. He even got married in between one of our break-ups. But, he would periodically phone and say he still loved me. More to the point he admitted he never really had truly loved anyone before or after me. As much as I enjoyed hearing him say those words I said he should not call while he was married to someone else.
My independent, my-way-or-the-highway, no one will hurt me again hardheadedness was the root cause of our breakups. We rode an emotional roller-coaster. During periods that we were separated we would occasionally bump into each other. I always felt butterflies in my stomach. I hated that he could make me feel like that. Especially on the last occasion, when he said he had gotten divorced and was it okay if he called.
Our third engagement ended over a broken promise. Remember earlier I said broken promises were the worst thing a person could do. This had been an issue my entire life. This is where males and females divide on what was heard versus what was said. Commonly known as selective hearing. He didn’t remember it as a promise, but I did. But then, he tripped himself up when his first words after he broke the promise were, “Your going to hate me…” followed with, “I figured you would get over it.”
You see, we had promised each other we would experience parachuting for the first time together. So when he did it without me I was devastated! Old trust issues flared up and I had an all or nothing mentality so you guessed it I broke off the engagement. Sounds petty now but at the time it was very serious to me. I wouldn’t even hear him out on why he did it.
My youngest daughter always stayed in touch with Grant no matter what was going on between he and I. Sooo… one night he happened to call when she wasn’t home. He and I ended up talking for over an hour . Neither one of us wanted to hang up so he finally asked if I would like to go to lunch with him sometime. I felt that familiar rush of excitement since Grant told me years ago, “Just because we are not together doesn’t mean I quit loving you. It's not a light switch I turn off and on.”
I finally realized I had been the one who always pushed him away! I had been unable to trust, I had been unable to commit, and I had been unable to be loved. I guess therapy finally paid off!
The most freeing decision I ever made- I decided to let go and be loved. The second most freeing decision- I agreed to parachute with Grant. Yes, I was willing to let my first time be shared with him even though he has jumped forty more times since his first. Tons of pictures all over the web, DVD’s made of his jumps put to music, you get the idea. I knew he would be hooked- adrenaline junky. See, I had swore I would never share my first jump with him after he went without me. But, life is funny. I’ve learned a lot about myself, people, and expectations over the years. If you look to be hurt you will, if you look to be healed you can.
He was ecstatic I actually agreed to go with him. And in a way it was more fun. To see his exuberance was a bigger thrill to watch. Sooo... we geared up for the fifteen minute flight into the air and right before we jumped he said with excitement, “Are you with me?!” I said, “Yes hun, I am with you!” more than he knew. Then we jumped .
“Abby we found a CIA earpiece left at the sight where you saw something on the rooftop. The shooter was listening to us the whole time. There’s a mole, that’s for sure. I’m going to have it sent off for a possible DNA sample. It’s a long shot, but it’s a start. I do however have some good news too. I received word from a friend at police station in Clinton, Tennessee concerning a lead that brought some connecting suspicions to mind. The police there are concerned about some late night activity at a high school in Clinton where there is a large problem with the cocaine distribution. Even more interesting is that the Atlanta branch seems to have several phone calls listed from our building to that same area. We need…” Chief Weckerly tried to explain.
I cut him off. “I’ll go. I’ll scope out the area and set up surveillance. Whatever’s needed. I’ll even be a teacher.” This last phrase drips with sarcasm…me a teacher…yeah right.
“That’s a great idea Abby! If you’re a teacher there, you’ll have access to the same things that this ‘Link’ has access too. When you locate the ‘Link’ he or she should lead us to the CIA mole.” A sudden look of caution flashed across his face. “Abby, this could be dangerous. You’ll only have me for backup and I won’t be that much physical help from Atlanta”
“John Weckerly! You know me better than that. I appreciate you trying to look out for me since my father’s death, I know you two were close but I’m in the CIA for goodness sake. Don’t you think I realized when I signed up that there would be danger involved in being a field operative?”
“Of course Abby, I’m sorry I just promised your father before he…well… I promised him that I would look out for you. He knew you would follow in his footsteps. He was proud of you Abby Ventura.”
Feeling the absence of my father mixed with the weariness of a high-strung, emotional evening I fight for control over my thoughts as they threaten to escape. I have to get out of here. “John just get me the specifics and we can go from there”, these words I toss over my shoulder not trusting the emotions that seem to climb out of hiding and plaster themselves on my face.
Driving down the interstate towards Clinton high Tuesday morning I realize I’ve survived the first day as a physical education teacher. Who knew that when teachers had pre-planning it would consist of continuous meetings. The meetings did, however, give me a chance to briefly meet or at least see all of the school staff. It was at one of the first meetings that I met Maria Delavega, the Spanish teacher here at Clinton High. She’s in her mid thirties, happily married, and full of life.
“Oh, there she is now.” I think aloud as wave to her upon entering the teacher’s parking lot. Hmm, a shiney new black Jaguar, I wonder how she can afford a Jaguar on a teacher’s salary. Immediately red lights go off in my head as I make a mental note to check deeper into her ‘background’ later. Bouncing out of my thoughts and back into reality I hear Maria’s cheery greeting, as I climb out of my Jeep.
“Buenos diaz, Senorita Ventura.” Maria’s smile stretches across her face as she moves towards my vehicle.
“Buenos diaz, Senora Delavega! Como Estas?” I ask.
“Muy bien, thank you for asking. Let’s do lunch together again today.” Maria says as she holds the door open for me.
“Sounds good, I‘ll see you around one o’clock then.” I reply as she and I turn into our respective rooms.
Shortly after arriving in my room I realize that I have left my meeting schedule for the day at home. I go down to Maria’s room to find that she was just told that she would have to change classrooms. I would have been furious, but not Maria, she doesn’t show any anger. I see a bit of disappointment flash across her face, but even that is soon replaced with a carefree smile. “Maria, let me help take your room and move things over to the new one.” I am strangely excited to help take down her room. There‘s just something about her personality that’s magnetic, you just want to be around her.
Striding confidently into the classroom, entering with his back to me, is a stunning man. He opens up the ladder and climbs up to take a picture down. I recognize him from one of our meetings but I can’t seem to remember his name.
“Donovan, please be careful with the corners of that picture. Maria blurts out as she looks up from the box she’s packing at her desk. We both are watching Donovan attempt finesse with the picture he’s removing.
“Abby. Have you met Donovan O’Shields?” She said as she motions to the ladder.
I shake my head ‘no’ as we start walking over to him.
“Donovan, I’d like you to meet my friend Abby Ventura. Abby, I’d like you to meet my friend Donovan O’Shields.” Maria proudly announces.
“Nice to meet you Ms. Ventura.” Donovan’s beautiful tenor voice filled my ears as he descended the ladder and greeted me with an outstretched hand.
“Please call me Abby, and it’s nice to meet you as well Mr. O’Shields.” I reply a bit unnerved at the way he seems to capture me with one intense look and a warming yet tingly handshake.
“Call me Donovan.” He replies with a smile and a wink and then turned to Maria with, “I’m headed out to my meeting Maria. I’ll come back later this afternoon to help you move some of the big stuff.”
“Thanks again Donovan,” Maria replied with genuine thankfulness.
“I look forward to seeing you later Abby.” Donovan tossed my way as he walked out of the room.
Late that Friday afternoon, Jill threw her arms up and was thrilled when the cool summer rain drenched her. She sang out loud, "Lord I love You and bless Your Holy Name!" Laughing and dancing she felt like the Holy Spirit was with her in a very special way.
On Sunday, while the choir sang she could feel the Holy
Spirit and understood that the feeling she had had on Friday was a drenching of the Holy Spirit and revealed to her that the Father rains down His spirit like He rains down water rain on a hot summer afternoon. Again she lifted her arms and gave in to the special anointing.
Behind her, Peck couldn't help noticing the Holy Spirit as well, but Jill just seemed to have angels all around her. Really, he never would have thought Jill would be capable of becoming a Christian, not with the was he had always heard she grew up.
Checkinghimself, Peck muttered under his breath, "Satan, get thee behind me in the Name of Jesus", and of course, he did, but it left Peck feeling quilty. Instead of waiting for alter call he went up and asked the Lord for forgiveness.
Seeing him going down the aisle Jill recognized Peck and her own mouth fell to the floor.
At one time, Peck had tried bullying her but became friendly when he found her not so susceptible. Years later,she often heard rumors that he used to beat his first wife; not something she particularly liked to hear. Then, Jill found out that he re-married to a woman who didn[t put up with such behavior.
"Serves him right," Jill thought to herself.
Looking around, she tried to see his new wife. Everyone always said how beautiful she was, and Jill wanted to see the woman who had finally been able to tame Peck Richarson.
When she felt like she'd given him enough time to get back to his seat, she looked around again, still not seeing awoman sittingwith him Jill couldn't help but wonder.
A week later the Pastor asked Jill if she would be willing to give her testimany in front of the congregation. Although timid about speaking out about some of the things she had been through, Jill felt like maybe it mingt heop others that had been or still were in the same situations, so she agreed. Pastor told her that although it seemed like it would be rather quick, he felt that the Holy Spirit wanted her to tell herstory, and asked of the following week would be too soon.
Standing on stage, Jill felt embarrassed. She hung her head and asked the Holy Spirit to be her strength. Taking a deep breath, she talked of the abuse she'd suffered, the failed marriages, the loss of everything when her house burned down, the hardships of never having enough money and living with the pre-conceived notionthat seh was just whit trash.
Until the Lord came into her heart and life she believed she was unworthy of anything good. Now she knows she is a Princess and all the riches in heaven belongto her Father, therefore hers if only she asks. Understanding that when the enemy tries to bring her down, she just reminds herself that Jesus said that when you accept me, you accept my Father and old things are passed away and all things are made new. Every day she makes sure she tells Him how much she loves Him and how thankful she is that He accepts her as she is.
Though not a small woman, Peck was amazed at how small Jill looked and realized that he'd never known any of the things she was telling; making himunderstand that most of the time it is the people right under your nose that can be the ones who need the most encouraging words and the good news about Jesus.
After the service and feeling completely humbled, Peck approached Jill.
"Jill that was one of the most inspiringtestimonies I've heard in some time."
"Thanks Peck," Jill replied.
Bdforethe opportunity passed, Peck quickly asked, "Jill, I know that we've been out of touch for a long time but would you go have lunch with me?"
"What about your wife?" Jill asked.
"Unfortunately, she died about a year ago."
"I'm sorry Peck. I didn't know."
"i know, and it's ok. I didn't know all that had happened to you either. I think we have a lot to catch up on. What do you say?"
"I'd really like that, where did you have in mind?"
"How about Wally's Tamales?"
From then on, they were seen togetherat church all the time. The Pastor knew that that was the reason why the Holy Spirit had pressed on his heart so strongly for Jill to give her testimony, because He knew how nuch both Peck and Jill needed someone.
One year after giving her testimony Jill and Peckwere married; not happily ever after, but happily in the name of Jesus!
Matt Connor tugged at the uncomfortable black tie that tucked around his white collar and trailed beneath his vest. As long as he could manage the words “I do”, he didn’t care how itchy the tie was.
“The ceremony won’t last long, then you can take that bothersome thing off.” Matt's soon-to-be father-in-law chuckled as he stepped into the men's bathroom of the Church.
Matt smiled. “I’m gonna forget I ever put the thing on when I see your daughter walk down that aisle.”
Mr. Hartman smiled and placed a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “I want to tell you again, there’s not another man on the face of this earth I would trust my daughter to.”
Matt nodded once in modest gratitude.
“My daughter is my pride and joy.” Tears welled in the man’s eyes. “I love her with all of my heart. She means more to me than life itself—and I think you feel the same way. That’s why I give her hand to you. She, first and foremost, belongs to God, but now she’ll share that walk with you, and I don’t have to worry that you won’t lead her heart closer to Christ. And that’s why…I’m letting go of her and I’m placing her heart in your hands.”
A tear tipped over Mr. Hartman’s lashes and trailed down his cheek. “God bless you, Son.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Matt nodded once before they filed out the door and Matt made his way to the front of the extravagantly decorated Church. Adorned in white material, white and green flowers, and vanilla scented candles, the building looked Heavenly. Two men carried the pristine white liner down the middle of the aisle and Matt had to will his lungs not to fail on him from pure anxiety.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen shuffled down the aisle and took their places at the front of the Church. The ring bearer, the youngest of the Jamison boys, made his way toward Matt, holding a Bible with their rings placed neatly atop the precious Book. The flower girl, Bella Griffin, walked gracefully, spilling soft green and white rose petals out of a her basket and onto the sides of the liner.
The Wedding March began to play and the room grew tense with apprehension—Matt was no exception. He held his eyes on the double doors until they were finally pulled open.
He sucked in a breath of air before it caught in his chest.
Angel was certainly the most beautiful woman in the world. He was sure of it. She wore a ball gown style wedding dress, pure white, with lace stretching from her neck down to her bright green stiletto’s he knew she wore hidden beneath the gown. Her brown hair was pulled back and a veil covered her face. He wanted to see her smile, but he would have to wait a few more minutes—and she was worth it.
When her father finally began walking her down the walkway, Matt released a breath. He did nothing to hide the grin that split his face as the father-daughter duo made it to the end of the aisle. Mr. Hartman lifted his daughter’s veil and placed it behind her before he gave her a quick kiss on her forehead and took his seat.
When Angel turned his way, Matt couldn’t stop the soft chuckle that rumbled from his chest. Her smile was so joyful. He silently vowed to himself before God that he would do whatever it took for the remainder of his life to keep that smile on her face. He never wanted to watch it fade.
“Dearly beloved, we gather here today…” Pastor Jamison began the service. Just minutes later, as the entire building bowed their heads and closed their eyes for prayer, Matt sent up a few silent praises of his own.
[Words can’t give You the worship You deserve for blessing me with this gift, Lord. I pledge my heart and soul to You, and I place Angel’s heart and spirit in Your hands. Nothing can make me happier than knowing our union was created by You and is now being blessed by You.]
A chorus of Amen’s rang through the building before the service commenced to the vows. Matt pledged his heart, mind, and body to her and she did the same. They said their “I do’s” before the ring bearer handed over their rings.
Taking Angel’s left hand in his own, he clutched the Purity ring that rested on her fourth finger. She giggled as he gently removed it and the congregation echoed her jollity.
Matt met her gaze that nearly melted him before he lifted the Purity ring and pressed it to his lips. He slipped the ring into the pocket on the inside of his coat; close to his heart—where her purity, her virtue, and her well-being would always remain. They exchanged their rings with additional vows.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” Pastor Jamison announced. “You may now kiss the bride.”
The moment Matt had waited twenty five years for now lay within his grasp, and he could have never anticipated the joy he felt as he stepped up to his bride and wrapped his hands around her back, pulling her into him. As her hands relaxed on his chest, he realized God had intended for her to fit right into his arms.
He caught the brief falter of her smile before he closed his eyes and pressed his lips softly against hers. He didn’t want to withdrawal and he knew she didn’t either, but the applause of their audience told them to keep their gift modest. Matt pulled himself away, still holding her against his frame, before he glared into those toffee colored eyes. He went weak at the knees.
It was then that he realized that Angel Hartman had just officially become Angel Connor. His bride. His wife. His gift.
She did not know why her stomach was doing the butterfly flips; there was no reason to. “Lord you know it has been 40 years since I have been here. The house and trees are not there-I helped to tear the house down. “I sure am glad I have you to talk to Yahweh, no one else would understand like you do.” It felt good to drive up the old hill passed the cemeteries. Much better than the long cold walks she made as a child coming from where the school bus dropped her and the neighbor kids off to their perspective homes. Daddy sure had a knack for finding places to live that he did work on the owner’s farm instead of paying rent. That old four room house was gone but in her heart it was sitting right there with its two back rooms and kitchen and front room. They were never called bed room and living room just front and back and growing up she had never even dreamed of living somewhere that had a dining room. At that time she was not even sure what one was anyway. All the memories were there, the heat and cold, books and quilting; all were a part of the fabric of who she had become.
“Abba, why in the world did you bring me back to this place? I have not thought about it in ages.” Her life had been so blessed. After the hard years of raising her kids and taking care of her parents till they passed she had been lost in limbo for a season. Then an old flame had moved back into her life and for another time there had been taking care of him and his mother. But that life too had passed. Recently college and a degree had been her world which had then brought her the amazing career she now had; working with Israel and doing public relations work for the Messianic Temple, a dream come true. She could hardly believe she got paid to do work directly for Yahweh. A conference she had organized is what had brought her back to the valley she had loved most of her life. The house she was a child in was gone but the one she was a young woman in was still there. She paid for its care so family could use it as a vacation home or a refuge in times of trouble. Praise to the Holy One those times were few. It brought so much joy to her heart that her children and nieces and nephews were blessed with homes and families of their own! Her constant prayers were for each of them to belong to the Heavenly Father. That too would happen in His time.
She sat in her truck gazing at the beautiful home someone had turned the property into. You could tell by looking that here was a hand at work who loved deeply what belonged to them. The new shrubs were placed artistically around the yard with trees that swayed gracefully in the breeze. As she stared, her mind drifted back to that small house again, she could see her mom hanging out clothes and cooking supper and all the other household activities. Momma always got the chores done early so she could sit and quilt while she watched her stories. Then when they were over it was time to fix something to eat for Daddy so he could go work in the garden when he got home from his job in town. But mostly there were the impressions of soft breezes as she played in the coolness of the back yard, the dampness of the cistern where the water came up cool and clear from the spring which fed it. She was startled out of memory by a strong deep voice, “Ma’am I said are you ok?” I am so sorry I was lost in thought she had wanted to say but the deep green eyes she found appraising her took her senses. Catching her breath she spluttered, “I am so sorry. I grew up around here and was just remembering.” He released a husky chuckle that she could tell came often, “that is quite alright I tend to daydream a lot myself some days. This place seems to be made for them.” “You say you grew up here?” “Yes” I answered “it was very different then. You have worked miracles here.” “Well, it has taken a lot of work; the Good Lord has been kind to me. This place and I have found His favor together. Where are my manners would you like a glass of tea?” “No thank you sir, I will be getting along I had a silly notion of coming here, a childhood memory brought me over from town. It was nice to meet you and thank you for indulging a lady’s whim.”
“Well now before you go, miss, I would like to ask you something; you say you grew up here then maybe you can tell me the fate of a little brown haired blue eyed girl that maybe lived here. You see I have been having the strangest dreams. I dream of her having a tea party in the yard on a lovely quilt, spread out between two oak trees, with a beautiful old tea rose growing behind her. The dream is so real I can smell the honeysuckle blooms. I was wondering if she died here or something.”
Astonishment rocked her as she reached into her handbag and pulled out the faded black and white photograph of her having a tea party when she was a child. In it was her most favorite spot in the world on momma’s quilt in the back yard her tea party around her and the roses in bloom. He looked up from the photo their eyes met and both their hearts and souls leapt as they realized Yahweh had led them home.
The beams shook as each blast of the Union Army’s barrage echoed through the woods and settled over the house like a heavy blanket. Startled with every sound, Ava Maycott crouched in her family’s cellar and wept in anger and desperation.
Sherman’s army had come!
Hours passed, and Ava waited. Lord, protect my father! The battle waging overhead had quieted, yet she dreaded what she might discover... who she might find. As the November dusk gave way to darkness, Ava slowly stood from her cramped position and quietly climbed the ladder to the trapdoor in the ceiling, straining to hear any indication of soldiers or danger.
Cautiously she pushed up on the trapdoor. Peeking above ground, her eyes took in the sight of a nightmare and she groaned in agony. Her home, a beautiful white house, had been torn apart as if some giant had picked it up and crushed it in his hands. The smell of burning crops reached her, and she could hear the cries of the wounded and dying. Oh Lord, where is Papa?
Above ground now, Ava struggled to walk through the debris of her once-lovely home, making her way to the front porch. The door had been torn from its hinges and lay splintered across the porch. Ava staggered outside, horrified at the devastation. Then she saw him…
Lying at the foot of the steps, his arms outstretched toward the doorway. “Papa!” Ava screamed. Her breath stopped and she ran down the stairs, crying out his name as she realized… he was gone.
There was only one thing she could do. In a fury of sorrow and through a blur of tears, Ava reached down and grabbed the pistol from her father’s side. Then gasping, sobbing, she gathered her skirts and ran as fast as she could for town… to find the only man who could help her.
“We’re lost, Mitchell.” It was an accusation. Union soldier Eldon Mitchell looked back at his compatriot and sighed.
“We’re not with the company. But I know where we are, Geoffrey.”
“Do you know what they do to deserters, Mitchell?” Geoffrey stopped walking.
“We did not desert!” Eldon said firmly. “We fell behind, got lost in the field, but we are headed back into town!”
“And you know the way?”
Eldon hesitated. How much should he tell? “Yes, I do.”
Geoffrey peered with distrust into Eldon’s face. “How come you know your way around this country? This is enemy territory.”
“I did business here before the war.” Hoping that would satisfy him, Eldon turned and led the way. “Let’s hurry or we won’t meet up with Captain Bridges until mornin’.”
They reached the town, the one they had been commissioned to destroy, and walked through the eerie silence with their rifles ready.
“Boys did good work here,” Geoffrey whispered, and Eldon clenched his teeth. This had been his boyhood home… and the ruins he was walking through now had once thrived with life and shaped his destiny. Father, thank you for keeping me from having to do this.
A woman’s scream pierced the chilly air and Eldon sprinted in the direction of the sound, leaving Geoffrey behind. Then he saw her… standing in the moonlight, covered with dirt, backing away from her pursuer. His breath caught.
“Don’t come any closer or I’ll kill you!” She shouted, obviously frightened. Eldon circled around to get a better look, and he spotted the straggler who advanced with a leering smile. A deserter, his blue uniform caked with mud. Eldon knew him.
“Carter!” Eldon barked. “One more step toward her and you are a dead man!”
Carter was startled, but did not stop. Eldon stepped into the clearing, his rifle aimed, his face strong and determined. The soldier’s voice was quiet but carried authority. “Carter, leave her alone and get out of here before I turn you in for desertion.”
Ava watched, wide-eyed, as the man swore, cast one last look her way, and turned to run through the dark woods. Ava collapsed… weak with fright and fatigue. The tall soldier was kneeling by her now.
“Ma’am, are you hurt?”
She looked up into his gentle eyes, and realized he was wearing blue. “But… you are a…”
“Union solider, yes ma’am.” Eldon nodded and looked behind him. “I must take you somewhere safe.”
“I won’t go with a Yankee!” Ava cried, pushing herself away. “Don’t touch me!”
Eldon reached for her. “Ma’am, try to understand! I grew up here. Don’t you know Abner Mitchell?”
Ava glared at the man… trying to make sense of his words. How did he know the one man she was looking for? Abner Mitchell had been her father’s best friend, and one of the godliest men she knew. “How do you know him?” She asked suspiciously.
Eldon took a deep breath. “He… is my uncle, Ava.”
At the sound of her name, Ava gasped softly as a thousand stories flooded her memory… whispered gossip, exaggerated tales, and true sagas of the Mitchell family. Something tugged at her heart. Lord! Could it be…
“Eldon?” She whispered, in shock. But it was… the same eyes, the same build, and Ava recalled the same gentle voice that had comforted her heart so many years ago when her mother died. “You came back! But why…”
“A long story,” Eldon smiled as he lifted her in his arms. “Do you remember? My father and Uncle were always at odds… but the happiest years of my life were spent here with Uncle Abner and...” Eldon stopped and tenderly brushed a stray hair from her face. “I never forgot you, Ava. Who but God could have led me here tonight?”
Ava rested her head against his shoulder. “I never stopped hoping you would come back,” she confessed, tears gathering in her eyes. “I prayed for you.”
As he walked through the darkness, cradling his love, Eldon leaned down and whispered, “And I… for you.”
At the Haitian orphanage swarms of children with red polo shirts and blue shorts chase each other around the simple, white cement building. Suddenly all eyes are on a young boy who has made it halfway up the coconut tree. He gets to the top and tugs on one. With a loud thump it plops to the ground and the kids plunge for the fruit.
Joy and laughter surround Lanie, and she sighs as she takes it all in. The children smile at her and say, “Bonjou.” After prying open the coconut, the boy cuts a piece off and hands it to Lanie. “Merci,” Lanie says in response. While snacking on the fresh coconut a warm breeze comes in from the Caribbean Sea. It is a pleasant change from the dark cold winter Lanie has been experiencing lately since her divorce from her unfaithful husband.
Lanie’s friend Elise arrives from her duties just in time to have the last piece of coconut. “There is someone I would like you to meet,” she says. “Let’s go inside.”
Upon entering the orphanage, Lanie trips and falls on the steps. Fortunately someone was there to catch her. Looking up from his arms Lanie introduces herself, “Bonjour, je m’appelle Lanie.” Half smiling Lanie makes it back to her feet.
“Bonjour, Nice to meet you Lanie. I’m Pastor Drew. Did you have a nice trip? Uh, I mean flight?” he adds, half jokingly.
Lanie blushes. Elise has mentioned Pastor Drew to Lanie in her e-mails. Although, Elise failed to point out that he is tall, with sandy blonde hair and bluest eyes you’ve ever seen. Her engagement to Jake must have made her blind to this. “Oh, the flight. Yes, it was fine.”
“Lanie was just enjoying some fresh coconut,” Elise says.
“Who picked it for you? Was it Marcus?” adds Pastor Drew.
“I think so,” Lanie says. “He’s a little monkey.” Just then she looks up to those blue eyes gazing right into hers. She looks away and adds, “I am really impressed with the children here. I wasn’t expecting them to be so happy and polite.”
“Well, they are putting on their best behavior for our special guest,” says Elise with a smile.
“They are very resilient,” adds Pastor Drew. “Most days you would never know that tragedy struck them not so long ago. They play, laugh, learn, and love like most children. However, there are moments when the pain of the tragedy hits them hard. For some of the children it comes more often than others.”
Elise told her that Pastor Drew arrived as a missionary a few months before the quake hit. He answered God’s call to lead the people of Haiti. Elise said that he has been a great help and a blessing to the community during and after the tragedy.
“It’s great that you have been here to help them through this tough time,” says Lanie.
“It hasn’t been easy, but has its rewards. They are a great bunch of kids. God’s work is evident when you see where they are now,” says Pastor Drew. “By the way, sorry about the steps. It’s on our repair list like everything else,” He adds with a smile as he starts to leave. “Hope you enjoy your stay here Lanie. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
Lanie smiles and nods.“Get him out of your mind,” she thinks. “You’ll be nothing but trouble to that man of God.”
The next day Lanie watches a soccer game in play. She gets all caught up in the game until she notices a little girl sitting alone by the white painted building. Knowing the school at the orphanage teaches French, she decided to give her old French lessons a try.
Lanie asks the girl what her name is. “Comment appelles tu? Je m’appelle Lanie.”
The girl shifts her position slightly then rolls her eyes up toward Lanie. “Marie,” she whispers softly.
“What now?” Lanie thinks. “Why didn’t I pay better attention in French class? I am really of no use here when I can’t even communicate with these kids.” Immediately the tune “Frere Jacques” pops into her head. She begins singing to Marie. By the time she sings, “ding, ding, dong” Marie had made her way onto Lanie’s lap. Not knowing what to do next, Lanie sings it once more. By surprise, this time she is singing it as a duet when Pastor Drew comes up behind her and joins in.
“You sure have a way with children,” Pastor Drew says.
“All children like being sung to; it’s no big deal,” says Lanie.
“No, you have something special. This little one hasn’t opened up to anyone since she lost her mother,” says Pastor Drew, “I think you have a calling here.”
“You’ve got the wrong person I’m afraid. Kids are not my forte. I’m much better suited sitting behind my computer crunching numbers for the accounting firm I work for,” says Lanie. “God would surely agree. I can’t mess too many things up there.”
“Accounting, huh, never would’ve guessed. You are so great with the kids. Unfortunately, numbers are my downfall. Can’t keep the books straight no matter how hard I try,” Pastor Drew says. “Maybe I should have you take a look at them for me. The sponsors are always on my case about getting numbers for them.”
“Sure,” Lanie answers, “piece of cake.”
Marie squirmed a little on Lanie’s lap until she made her feet to the floor.
“Allez,” Marie said as she grabbed Lanie’s hand and reached for Pastor’s Drew as well.
Marie led the three of them for a walk along the beach. The sun was going down and the water was still. Lanie looked down at Marie and then back up until she met Drew’s blue eyes. His smile gave her the hope that maybe God does have a plan for her life after all. The past is forgiven and forgotten. Her new life starts right now.
The lilting birdsong ended. A wind gust rattled her shopping list. Cathy Brogan looked up to see gray clouds darken the blue sky. The treetops bent, pointing their branches eastward. Her hair lifted off her collar like helicopter blades.
A man wrapped in a Macintosh brushed past her on the walkway. He clutched his tam to his head and nodded. “You don’t mind a bit of a breeze, do you, lass?”
“Breeze?” She grasped her windblown hair into a makeshift ponytail. “The people of Innisfree might call it that, but I’m from Chicago. We know the difference between a puff and a tempest.” She considered the nearby shops. “Better find some shelter.”
A bolt of lightning ripped through the clouds. Raindrops pelted everything around her. She held her newspaper over her head and ducked under a scalloped awning. She skidded on the sidewalk and collided with a man in the doorway.
The man caught her around the waist. “Are you okay?” His voice sounded familiar.
“I think so.” She steadied herself on his arms and looked up into his face. She recognized him from their flight. Taking a step, her foot slipped again, on purpose this time.
“I’ve got you, Cathy.” He held one hand around her waist and used the other to open the door. “Let’s get inside.”
Butterflies tickled her stomach. “Uhm, you…know…my name?”
A bell over the door tinkled as the wind thrust them into the quaint gift shop.
His hazel eyes twinkled when he smiled. “You were my favorite flight attendant.”
“Oh?” She tilted her head. “You were on my flight?” She considered slipping again, but changed her mind. Don’t want him to think I’m a klutz. What is his name? Surely I caught it on our seven-hour flight from New York. I served him Sprite and pretzels before dinner. It’s on the tip of my tongue.
He released his grip on her. “So, you have too many people on those flights to remember one man.” He feigned a pout, then shared an impish grin.
“Of course I remember you.” His name slid into her mind and slammed against her memory. “Scott. You were the most pleasant passenger on my flight.” And the most handsome, the most charming, the most—she had to stop her thoughts before they tumbled out of her mouth.
He took off his jacket and gave it a shake, knocking the raindrops into a corner by the door, then draped it over his arm. “I came in here to get a gift for my associate.”
“How thoughtful of you.” Cathy found a trash can and tossed the dripping newspaper inside.
“Perhaps the lassie will help you select something.”
The shopkeeper startled Cathy. She hadn’t seen the man behind the counter.
“Would you mind?” Scott asked.
She looked from the shopkeeper to Scott. “I’d be happy to help.”
Scott looked out the shop window. “Hey, the rain stopped.” He turned back to her. “After we pick out a gift, would you like to—”
“Get a cup of coffee?
“Pardon me,” The shopkeeper said.
Cathy turned and chuckled at his raised eyebrow.
He leaned in on his folded arms. “There’s a pub around the corner that serves the best Irish coffee in Innisfree!” He winked.
Cathy smiled her gratitude. She winked back. He’s contributing to the advancement of my imminent romance.
“Perfect for a nasty day like today,” the shopkeeper added.
“But it’s clearing up,” she said.
“Not for long.” The shopkeeper adjusted the price tag on a barometer near the counter.
“Guess we should hurry, huh?” Scott approached a trinket shelf. “What would you suggest?”
“Does she like crystal?” Cathy led him to a display of dishes, stemware, and vases sparkling like a thousand diamonds in the light.
“Hmm…” Scott stroked his chin and studied the display. “I don’t want something that will break on the way home.”
“How about this one?” She selected a thick, oblong relish dish. “The delicate rose pattern etched on the sides is beautiful.”
“Perfect.” Scott paid for the dish and turned back to Cathy. “Thanks.”
The shopkeeper wrapped the gift for Scott. “Now, to the pub with you both before the clouds open again.”
They made it inside the dark pub before another deluge began. Cathy stopped to breathe in the aroma of soda bread baking on the open fireplace. She followed Scott to a window table, noting the ancient stone walls.
Patrons with pipes in their mouths and pints of porter in their hands sat in leather chairs at wooden tables. Others stood at the oak bar with a foot resting on the brass boot rail.
“Two Irish coffees, please,” Scott said to the waiter.
“And some of that delicious-smelling bread, too.” Cathy drew in a deep breath.
A group of men in a corner surrounded a man with a bodhrán, laughing and singing.
The waiter returned with two foam-topped mugs, and a crossed bread loaf on a pewter plate.
“You sound like you’re from Chicago,” Scott said.
“Da Bears.” Cathy sliced into the soda bread.
“Da Bucs,” Scott countered with a wink.
“So, you’re from Florida?”
He sipped his coffee and set the mug back down on the small round table. “I own a marketing firm in Tampa, have no wife or girlfriend or pets, and in that order. I came to Ireland to search my ancestry.”
She clung to his claim of bachelorhood, a tragedy she secretly vowed to correct, and pictured him holding her Yorkie. “Chicago, single, one small dog.”
An hour later, Scott walked her to the B&B, holding his coat over their heads. The rain had diminished to a fine mist.
He looked long into her face, as though studying her.
“You have a strong resemblance to my first wife.”
“Your first wife?” Cathy took a step back. “How many times have you been married?”
Cathy grinned. “This could be the beginning of a life-long relationship.”
“Indeed,” he said. And then he kissed her.
A young and frightened Jack Thomas pulled the chair closer to the bed where his best friend Mike Russell lay. The fourteen year old looked pale and small, his eyes half closed. Jack thought at first that he was asleep, but Mike turned to him, looked him in the eyes and said softly,”I want you to promise me something-it’s important.” He paused a moment, swallowing hard.”Take care of them, my Mom and Dad, and especially Abby, when I’m gone.” Jack wanted to argue with him that he was going to get better, that he was going to be OK, but something stopped him. It was the way his friend looked into his eyes that made him realize that they both knew the truth. The only thing Jack could say was,”I promise.”
Now twelve years later, Jack had done his best to keep that promise. For the sake of his childhood friend he had tried to be a son to Mike’s parents and a big brother to Abby, but something had changed, something that could threaten that promise and Jack knew that the time had come when he was going to have to face it head on.
As Jack pulled away from the curb, Meagan was still standing at the front door. He could see the look of disappointment on her face. The kiss, the lackluster “I’ll call you,” and the rapid getaway said it all. It was over before it had begun. “What’s wrong with me?” Jack muttered to himself, but he already knew the answer. Meagan was beautiful, smart, sexy, funny-everything a guy could want. He had wanted it to work but something,or rather someone was holding him back. He hesitated at the intersection, left to his place or right to Abby’s. He turned right.
Three blocks down and two blocks east, he found himself in front of her apartment building. Before he could stop himself, he had parked, gotten out, and was walking up the front path. He told himself that he would knock and if she didn’t answer, he would leave. He knocked and almost instantly she swung wide the door and smiled.”Hey stranger!” He couldn’t help himself. “Did you look to see who it was before you opened the door?” he scolded. She grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. “Stop being a mother hen. I’m a big girl and, besides, I saw you drive up. Popcorn and a movie?”she asked making her way to the kitchen.”Sure,” he replied.”I thought you had a date with Meagan tonight?” “I did.” Silence. “How’s that going?”she asked,trying not to sound too interested. “I don’t think it’s going to work out, “he mumbled. She turned her back to him and opened the fridge trying to hide her happiness.”YES!” she said secretly to herself as she grabbed two Coke’s. “The popcorns over there,”she said as she motioned toward the table. He picked up the bowl and followed her to the sofa.
For Abby it felt like the most natural thing in the world that her friendship with Jack had turned into love. The only problem was that Jack still thought of her as a kid, a responsibility. She had known since he had started dating Meagan that something had changed between them. She should have asked him why it hadn’t worked out, but the truth was that she didn’t want to know. She was just relieved that it was over. There was still time for Jack to notice her.
“Your turn to pick the movie,” she said handing him the remote. She expected him to pick an action flick as he usually did when it was his turn, but was surprised when he flipped through the channels and selected, “An Affair To Remember.” She turned to him in shock, searching his face. He had picked an old tearjerker romance? Was this a joke? It suddenly hit her. Oh no! He was in love-He was in love with Meagan. Abby felt suddenly sick. She had assumed that Jack had broken it off. What if it was Meagan who had ended it?
As Jack flipped through the channels, he surprised himself by selectiing an old Cary Grant movie. He recognized it. Abby had said once that she loved this movie. At the time, he remembered groaning because it had been her turn to choose and she had refused every bribe he had offered her to get her to change the channel. That wasn’t like Abby. Extra gum, letting her drive his car,money for new shoes, she was usually a pushover, but not that time. They watched it from beginning to end. Now he glanced over at Abby and saw the funny look she gave him, but she didn’t say anything. They sat in silence watching the movie, the popcorn bowl between them, their hands touching as they both reached for more. Abby couldn’t stand it anymore, torn between her own diappointment and Jack’s pain. A tear rolling down her cheek she turned to face him. “I know you’re sad Jack, but whatever it takes I’ll help you find a way to get her back.” He looked confused. “Get who back?” he asked. Exasperated, she cried out “Meagan!” “Meagan?” he questioned. “Aren’t you in love with Meagan?” she blurted out. “Didn’t she break it off? Isn’t that why you’re watching this ridiculous movie that I know you hate because you’re in love?”
He looked into her face, wiped the tear away and said seriously and softly,”I am in love, but not with Meagan.” Abby looked stricken and stunned. She could barely get the words out, “Who are you in love with?”
“Abby,” he said searching her eyes and taking her hand, realizing that the time had come to take the chance,”Abby, I’m watching this dumb movie that you know I hate because you said once that you loved it.” He paused for a moment and moved closer to her. “Abby don’t you know by now that I’m in love with you.
A record heat wave had driven the temperatures into the high 90s and perspiration beaded Mia's face and trickled down her neck. She worked her way down the last row of tomato plants, finally securing the last of the wayward stems to a tomato cage, and straightened up with satisfaction Each tall sturdy plant was now properly staked and weeded, their branches heavy laden with small yellow flowers and beautiful green tomatoes. This year was going to be her best crop ever. As she turned and headed back toward the house for a well earned glass of iced tea, a loud rumble startled her. A large wood chipper had backed up the drive of her nearest neighbor, Mr. Bindle and now a crew of workers began feeding a pile of fallen branches into the mammoth machine.
Mr. Bindle came out onto his back porch, saw her, and waved. Being neighborly, she waved back. Unexpectedly someone else also waved back at her. A tall man who looked in his early thirties. “Nice looking,” she thought to herself. "Did he think I was waving at him?" she wondered. She took one look at her sweaty T-shirt, felt her hair plastered to her forehead, and concluded that a hasty retreat to her kitchen was in order.
Through her kitchen window she could see the crew working. She paid particular attention to the cute guy who had waved. He was holding a clipboard. “I bet he’s the supervisor,” she thought out loud. Then she stopped herself. “What are you doing Mia?! Remember,” she told herself firmly, ”you’ve decided to take a hiatus from men this summer-time off from romance and trouble!” With new resolve she drained her glass of tea and headed for the shower.
Over the next week, Mia noticed the tree crew would show up about the time she came home from work. The cute guy was always there and would wave and smile when he saw her. As she waved and smiled back, she told herself that they were just being polite—it didn’t mean anything. Then on Tuesday of the second week, when she arrived home, the chipper was gone and the workman were nowhere to be seen. Ok. She could admit that she was disappointed. She looked longingly out the kitchen window when something caught her eye. There was something on the porch step. It was a jar of honey and a note. She retrieved the jar and opened the note, ”Dinner tomorrow? 6:30 OK? 976-2478,”and it was signed Ryan Bindle “The Tree Guy.” She could feel her heart racing. “Hiatus Over!” she said resolutely and smiled to herself. “After all it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”
One evening together and the two were inseparable. Each evening the following week they ate dinner together, sometimes going out, sometimes eating takeout on the back porch. Mia learned that Ryan was Mr. Bindle’s grandson and that he actually owned the tree service. She found out that, like herself, Ryan was an avid gardener and that her honey was courtesy of his bees. He showed her photos on his cell of his garden, his hives, and most especially his own wonderful tomatoes. Each day they spent together was better than the last.
On Saturday morning, Mia awoke to a ground shaking, ear splitting “BOOM!!!” Pulling on her robe, she ran to the kitchen. All she could see through the window were branches,branches everywhere, and buried in the center of them was the trunk of a gigantic oak. She rushed out onto the porch where she heard Ryan calling to her, ”Mia, are you alright?” “I’m OK,” she replied “Where are you?” He suddenly appeared between the branches. “Is anyone hurt?”she asked.”Everyone’s ok,” he started, ”but I’m afraid your tomatoes...” He hadn’t even gotten the words out when she realized where the oak had landed. Her heart sank. Her beautiful tomato plants-gone. The crew worked all day to clear the tree from her yard and when it was removed, the worst was confirmed. Not one of her plants had survived the direct hit. Ryan felt terrible. She reassured him that the important thing was that no one had been hurt,” After all they were just tomato plants,” she told him with a weak smile. He knew that she was sincere, but he could also see the disappointment and heartache on her face.
After work on Monday, Mia picked up some groceries and headed home. As she unpacked the groceries, she looked out the window toward her tomato patch, more out of habit than expectation. What she saw was as shocking as the fallen oak had been. Rows of tall sturdy tomato plants, all properly staked and weeded, full of small yellow flowers and ripening tomatoes. She flew out the back door. There was Ryan and behind him his entire crew. When Ryan saw her beautiful face beamimg with tears streaming down, he knew that all their hard work of that day had been worth it. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. His crew cheered and whistled. “Where did they come from?”she asked with disbelief. “They were mine,” he said smiling, ”now they’re yours.” Realizing what he had done, she looked into his eyes, returning his smile. ”Ours,” was all she said and amidst more cheers and whistles she giggled and kissed him again.
“Please, you have to help my dog! She’s fallen into a rock. I can’t reach her!”
Megan’s eyes widened. She was gazing into the most fascinating, yet confused, blue-green eyes she had ever encountered.
She gestured toward a large rock that jutted from the ravine on the side of the park trail. She calmly pleaded, “My dog needs help.”
A small yelp escaped from the V-shaped gap between rock and dirt as if on cue. Relief flooded her as he rushed over to where Lily had fallen.
“Whoa, hang on girl. We’ll get you out.” He knelt down on his knees in front of the deep, narrow crevice.
“I can’t see her. Have you tried to reach her?”
His concern was so touching that it caused Megan’s heart to flutter briefly. She inwardly chided herself. James was the reason she was here, she reminded herself. He was probably already waiting at the park bench where they would meet for the first time.
“Yes. It’s no use. She’s too far down,” Megan said when she found her voice.
“Maybe if we get her excited she’ll be able to climb out,” he said
“Oh no, she’s very old. And, she’s missing one of her back legs. She just isn’t strong enough.”
“Your dog only has three legs?” He sounded fascinated. The usual reaction to her three-legged dog was amusement. He smiled a strange but comforting smile as if he had just had some pleasant realization.
His expression changed, “Well, missing a leg or not, I wonder if some bait would be enough to coax her out.”
“Oh my gosh! I have something!” Megan reached for her pocket where she had put some of Lily’s favorite dog treats. The poor dog had practically tore her shorts up trying to get to them earlier. She pulled the treat out and held it up as if it had the worth of gold.
Without hesitation, the stranger gave the string on the hood of his fleece jacket a firm tug and pulled it loose. He crouched down and tied the bait on the string. “How long have you had Lily?” he asked as he worked.
“She was a stray when I hit her with my car 5 years ago. No one claimed her so I took her in. At first it was out of guilt, but I found that we were meant to be together.”
“Well, God must have put her in your path for a reason,” he smiled at her and she thought she might melt into the earth.
She turned away and tried not to think of that smile that had just affected her so.
“And that also explains the missing leg,” he added.
“Oh! She was already missing a leg when I hit her,” she explained. “I did break one of her front legs, though. A three-legged dog could get by, but a two-legged dog would be doomed!”
She wasn’t meaning to be funny, but he opened up in such an infectious laugh she could help but get caught up in it. Her whole body tingled as she looked into his sparkling eyes.
“Well I think it’s time to get Lily out of there,” he said. Megan was thankful for the change in subject.
As soon as the treat was lowered to within sniffing distance, the little handicapped mutt came scampering out of the hole with an agility that Megan didn’t know she possessed. As soon she could, Megan scooped her up and into her arms. The damp, dirty dog shivered in her embrace.
“Here, wrap this around her,” he said handing his jacket over. Megan couldn’t refuse the generous offer and bundled her dog up. “Is she alright?” he asked as he rubbed the side of her ear.
“I think so. The jacket helped. She isn’t shaking nearly as bad,” Megan said with relief. Soon, they were both rubbing the dogs ears and singing her praises.
Megan could feel the stranger looking at her like he wanted to say something. She dodged any questions by saying that she really had to go. “I have to meet someone soon. Thank you so much,” she called behind her shoulder as she quickly walked away.
Megan thought she heard laughter in his voice when he called after her. She was making some headway and knew she couldn’t look back or her resolve might break. Her best friend had set her up on this blind date with James. Eliza knew her better than anyone else and if she said this guy was right for her than Megan better believe it.
She hadn’t remembered telling him her name.
Oh! How could she be so blind! She tingled with excitement when she turned back towards James.
He had a crooked smile on his face. He knew who she was, of course. He was meeting a girl and her dog with three legs.
“I feel like such a fool,” Megan said when they reached each other.
“Nah, you were just really eager to meet me. It was kind of flattering.” They shared a laugh.
Lily was still in Megan’s arms but her shivering had subsided. James reached up with both hands and scratched the dogs ears. His nearness filled Megan with a joy she wouldn’t allow herself to savor earlier. But, she drank it up now.
“You know, it looks like I’ve been taught a valuable lesson,” Megan said.
“Oh? What’s that?”
“That I need to learn patience and open my eyes and my heart to what’s standing right before me,” she thought, but didn’t say aloud. Instead, she said with a sly smile, “Never underestimate the leg power of a three-legged dog.”
He laughed that same genuine laugh. The one where his eyes sparkled and his whole face lit up. She wanted to ask him if he felt the same way she did about where this relationship could go. She was sure she read the answer to her unspoken question in his eyes.
“Hey Maggie!” Nick called from the dock.
Maggie recognized her old friend’s voice and turned the launch back toward the dock. “What’s up?” she asked.
Nick laughed. “There’s some guy inside that wants to rent a launch and he’s haggling with Louis about the price.”
“Poor Louis,” Maggie laughed back. She pulled the launch back into it’s slip, secured the lines, and jogged up the ramp into the office.
Standing at the Tradewind Rentals counter was an average sized guy, mid-thirties, cute with wavy dark hair, dressed in yuppie boating gear. He was face to face, nose to nose with Big Louis McGuire, her 6”4”“, 350 pound ripped rental agent. If it had been a boxing match instead of a negotiation, her money would have been on Louis, but she could see that this guy wasn’t yielding to subtle intimidation and Louis was on the verge of losing his cool.
“Hey Louis—what’s up?” She called in a friendly tone.
Louis looked up, visibly relieved.
She came behind the counter and faced the guy. “I”d like to speak to the manager, or better yet the owner,” he said, ignoring her, his focus still on Louis.
“Lucky you.” she said pleasantly, “I’m the owner... and the manager.”
That got his attention. He turned to her and presented what she assumed was the original rental agreement, but there were so many scratch-outs and write-ins she could hardly recognize it.
She listened politely, smiled warmly, took out a fresh clean contract from behind the counter, and placed it in front of him. “This is the contract. This is the price. These are the terms. If you want to rent from me, please sign here.” She pointed to the bottom line.
He grumbled “No thanks,” and walked out of the office.
Louis looked down at her. “Thanks Boss,” he said, flashing her his toothy grin.
Early the next morning, Maggie took her sailboat “The Carolina” out for a jog. “Just another day in paradise,” she mused. The azure Caribbean waters rippled slightly under the influence of a warm breeze and the baby blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds.”Perfect.” she said smiling to herself.
It was nearing ten o’clock when Maggie approached Mariner Point. She was just about to turn and head farther out when she saw him. Yes, there was no mistaking Mr. “Let’s Make A Deal” waving his arms frantically, trying to signal her from one of Ricky Scoggins leaky rent-a-tubs. She came close, but not along side. “Let me guess,” she teased, “your motor won’t start and your radio doesn’t work, but you got a greatttt deal.”
“Oh No.” He groaned, lowering and shaking his head, suddenly recognizing the feisty petite brunette from the day before. He asked sheepishly, “Does this mean you’re going to leave me out here?”
“Hummmm, she said smiling, “It’s tempting, but...no.” She brought “The Carolina” alongside and tossed him a line. “I’m sorry about yesterday,” he apologized. “It’s OK,” she said still smiling.
For the first time, he noticed how pretty she was, her hair, her eyes and especially her smile.
This trip hadn’t turned out quite as he’d planned. He was supposed to be here with Anna his girlfriend—well—his ex-girlfriend. He knew Anna was a gold digger, but she was beautiful and fun to be with.
After the breakup, he’d decided to come on this trip alone and he’d been miserable from day one. Today was his last day and he was determined to shake off his bad mood. He boarded Maggie’s boat and held out his hand to her. “I’m Sam Thomas,” he offered.
She accepted his firm handshake. “Hi, Sam. I’m Maggie, Maggie McKay.” After she secured the tow, they headed back.
He awkwardly asked, ”Are you out on the water on business?”
She laughed. “Nope…purely pleasure.”
He waited a few minutes and then started again tentatively. “I don’t suppose you’d let me hire you and your boat for the day?”
“Sorry,” she said shaking her head. She wasn’t sure why she did it, but she added, “But, if you like, after we drop off this bucket of dry rot, you’re welcome to join me for a sail.”
“That would be great!” he said. “Thanks.”
They spent the rest of the day together, sailing for several hours, enjoying the rhythm of the boat and the peace and beauty of being on the open water. Afterwards, they docked and she took him to a local grub spot, “Pops” where they had ice cold beer and fish tacos. He couldn’t remember ever having a better time. As they talked, she found out he was a real estate lawyer. She laughed, “No wonder you tried to make a deal.” He laughed too, at himself. He told her about Anna.
She listened attentively and when he finished, she offered, “I guess you’re missing her?”
He thought about it for a moment.”No,” he replied. At least...not anymore.”
At the end of the evening, Sam told her that he was flying home in the morning. He thanked her for a great day, kissed her on the cheek, and they parted. As Maggie walked back toward the Marina, she told herself it was good that he was leaving. “Tourists were strictly off limits. They always leave. They always go home to their real lives.” She wanted to be wrong this time. She wanted him to be different, but tomorrow came....and he was gone.
A month later, it was business as usual as Maggie breezed through the door at Tradewind Rentals. “You’re not gonna believe this Boss,” Louis beamed. “I’ve got ‘The Carolina’ chartered for two weeks at double the usual rate-and no haggling!”
Maggie stared at him. “Who’s the charter?”she asked suspiciously.
“He is,” Louis grinned and pointed back towards the door.
Maggie turned to see Sam. She hadn’t heard him come in.
He smiled expectantly at her. “I went home, but I realized that the only place I really wanted to be was here....” He hesitated. He took two steps toward her, holding out his hand and offered.” Come sailing with me.”
Elyse Cavanaugh briskly made her way down the runway to the airplane. One more flight she thought, then I'm home. Brushing passed the people in first class on her way to economy, Elyse located her seat number. Great, she thought. A chance to rest before the long trip from Atlanta to Dothan. I'm sure glad Amy is sending someone to pick me up at the airport. I don't think I could drive without falling asleep.
Bone weary from the European tour with the Christian singing group His Voice, and the flight from Paris to Atlanta, Elyse tried to hold up her end of the conversation with the 70ish something lady next to her. It wasn't too difficult, since Grammy Dorothy shared all the details of her recent vacation with her family.
Elyse's thoughts turned toward her heart's desire concerning a family of her own. Lord, please, when it's in your plan, please bring the right man into my life. My heart's desire was to sing and travel for you--telling others about your unconditional love. You have made that dream a reality for these past seven years. Now, my heart is turning toward having that special someone--someone to grow old with; someone who wants a family and truly lives to serve you. I believe what Psalm 37:4 declares: "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."
Finishing her prayer, Elyse heard the pilot giving instructions for the landing. How she loved the respite of touring and spending time with family at home.
Emotions swirling, Elyse made her way to the baggage terminal. Coming home for Amy's wedding was both wonderful and bittersweet. Amy and Elyse had planned their weddings since grade school--best friends forever--making lighthearted changes to their plans through the years. Well, finally, one of them was getting married. There was no way Elyse could tell Amy no when she'd been asked to be the maid of honor and soloist. She really wanted to be happy for Amy and a part of this celebration, but the break-up with her long-time boyfriend a year ago left her feeling like this dream of happiness might never happen for her. I'm going to keep believing for a husband and children, a family all my own, she thought.
Noticing the crowd surrounding the conveyor belt, Elyse wondered for the first time who would be picking her up. Amy had said she would take care of getting Elyse from the airport. "Just look for a sign with your name on it," Amy had instructed.
Standing on tip toe, searching through the travelers, her eyes collided with the most fabulous set of velvet brown eyes and dark long lashes she'd ever seen above a sign that spelled out her name. Wow! Who in the world has Amy sent to collect me, she wondered. Elyse didn't have much time to ponder the identity of the tall, broad-shouldered cowboy looking her direction.
Making his way through the crowd to the young woman matching Amy's description, Jake breathed a huge sigh. I don't know how I got roped into picking up the maid of honor from the airport. Some singer friend of Amy's he thought, who is probably spoiled and stuck up. Probably a hot-house flower type, not my preference. Being thirty and single sure has its disadvantages when friends and family keep trying to set you up. Oh, well, I'm sure this introduction will turn out like all the others. This will probably be one self-absorbed, high-maintenance beauty. Lord, are there any genuine, single Christian women out there who desire a family and life on a ranch?
Looking up to his six foot plus frame, Elyse was greeted with a white smile in a tanned face. This couldn't be Amy's cousin...could it?
"Hey, I'm Jake, Amy's cousin from Texas," Jake smiled as his large calloused hand gripped Elyse's thin soft fingers. She could hardly believe this was the single cousin Amy had tried so many times to get her to meet since high school.
"Hi, Jake. I appreciate your coming to get me. Amy said she had folks running wedding errands from Birmingham to Atlanta. Guess you got stuck with the longer ride."
"No problem. Glad to help Amy and Jackson out for their special day. Here, let me take that luggage for you." Guiding Elyse through the crowd to the parking garage, she noticed the women who shot glances Jake's way. For sure, no doubt about it, this was one gorgeous man.
Probably not my type, Elyse thought. He is probably used to women seeking out his attentions.
Jake certainly was entertaining on the long ride home. Regaling Elyse with ranch-life and small-town stories, Jake had her laughing and asking questions all the way to her parents' home.
Helping Elyse down from the truck, Jake carried her suitcase to the front porch. A bolt of masculine awareness like a shock wave moved up Amy's arm as Jake passed the handle to her. Nearly dropping the suitcase, she raised her head and smiled into those velvet eyes.
"Well, see you this evening at the rehearsal dinner."
"Thanks, Jake, I certainly enjoyed the ride to Dothan."
Wondering if Elyse felt the connection he did, Jake smiled. "Me too. See you there."
Elyse surveyed the church, decorated in the best of Southern tradition. Walking toward the front of the sanctuary to greet the wedding party, Elyse couldn't help the faint tint of pink that traveled up her neck as Jake reached out and pulled her toward the group he was talking with.
Introductions made, the rehearsal began. Practicing the solo, singing about building a household of faith, Jake couldn't take his eyes from Elyse. Seeing a countenance reflecting her devotion to God, Jake breathed a prayer of thanksgiving as she concluded the song. "...he will give you the desires of your heart" echoed in Elyse's ears as Jake's penetrating glance held promise for tomorrow.
Tall, dark and handsome. Tall, dark and handsome with a glorious head of hair. Tall, dark and handsome with glorious hair and a dashing name like Brendon, Gregory or Tristan. Especially Tristan. That was what Mallory Brown was looking for. She had been searching for this illusive man for all of her 25 years and she was determined to find him no matter what. That was the first thought in her mind as she ventured forth on a cold crisp morning in November. Her fashionably trim apartment on Main Street was close to the bank where she worked, so walking was cost efficient as well as pleasurable and let’s not forget the health benefits.
The sun was shining brightly today on Mallory as she walked and imagined various romantic scenerios in her active mind. They all collided after a while, so she decided to concentrate on what was in front of her but a little too late. When she finally switched to reality mode she recognized a yawning manhole in her path and felt her foot hanging in midair above it. She tried to lean her weight backward but instead she pitched forward into the dark space hitting her head slightly on the concrete as she fell. She thought of Alice in Wonderland for an awful second until her body met the hard floor and she lost consciousness. A soft touch brought her back and Mallory opened her eyes to see a youngish man with a balding head and very anxious grey eyes looking at her.
“Are you alright?” he asked. “Can you sit up? Here, let me help you!” He held her arm and gently lifted her from the floor into a sitting position. She winced at the pain in her head and back. Mr. Grey Eyes inspected the injuries. “You have quite a knot on that head of yours. I think I should call an ambulance”, he said as he whipped out his cell phone.
Mallory looked around shakily as he placed the call to 911. It was dark and shadowy with fumes and smoke wafting in the close air, kind of what she imagined the netherworld to be like. She wondered why anyone would want to work in such a place, but Grey Eyes looked as if he fit in here. On the other hand, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome never would.
Grey Eyes hung up the phone and lightly touched Mallory’s hand. “Would you mind if I prayed for you?” he asked like a small boy would.
How could she refuse such a request? “Please do,” she replied quietly.
He held her hand and asked God to watch over her, to heal her wounds and to cover all manholes in her path from this day forward. She laughed softly at the last and squeezed his fingers.
“I hear the siren. They’re almost here, hang on,” he whispered in her ear.
The paramedics climbed down and thoroughly searched for broken bones and whatever else might be wrong with their new patient. Then they carefully lifted her to a standing position and very slowly helped her up the ladder cushioning her all the way. A stretcher was already waiting at the top which they proceeded to assist her onto. Mallory looked around for Mr. Grey Eyes because the thought of not seeing him again was suddenly frightening to her. She glimpsed him standing a few feet away talking earnestly to one of the medical techs. He caught her eye and winked which caused her to feel slightly giddy.
“What’s up with me?” she thought. “Am I about to faint from the trauma of almost breaking my silly neck or am I attracted to Mr. Short, Bald and Thensome?” She shut her eyes tight as the thought hit her cracked brain.
“Guess what, my fallen beauty? It’s agreed that I be allowed to ride with you in the wagon, if that’s alright with you of course.” Mallory heard Grey Eyes say with a note of pleasure.
She opened her eyes to his smiling countenance and felt her own mouth widen. “It would be an honor to have you beside me,” she heard herself say. The paramedics placed her skillfully into the ambulance and Grey Eyes climbed in beside her. They rode a while in silence until the wagon made a too quick turn causing Mallory to moan. Grey Eyes touched her hand in comfort.
“Why did you pray for me back there in the netherworld?” she asked.
Grey Eyes looked at her and grinned “I prayed because I was concerned for you. I knew that God would hear and answer and He did. Look at you! You’re almost as good as new! And besides, I didn’t want to have you dropping in and messing up my work space again,” he laughed.
“You are a good man, Grey Eyes.” She stopped at the confused look on his face. “Oh, I’ve been calling you that because of those great eyes of yours. What is your name, by the way?”
He squirmed a little. “Everyone calls me T because my real name is a bit embarrassing, but since we’ve been through so much together I’ll reveal it to you. It’s Tristan.”
Mallory’s silver laugh could be heard all the way to heaven.
Rosabelle Anderson watched as Steve Townsend stood up and stepped aside. His face contorted as he bent and placed his hands over his belly.
“Are you all right?” She cried out.
“Don’t worry.” He then pointed at the thug who had hit him. “Look out.”
She fastened her glare on the thug charging at her. Spreading one leg to the back while bending her other knee, she formed one fist at her side and extended one arm forward.
“Eeee-yah.” She thrust her palm at the man’s chest. With a thud, he tumbled to the ground and groaned.
Jutting her jaw, she brushed her nose with her thumb like the kung fu master Bruce Lee. She wagged her finger at him. “Don’t let me see you again.”
The man rose, then sprinted down the path.
Rosabelle rushed to Steve. “Are you hurt?”
He drew in a lungful of air and exhaled it. “I’ll be all right. Thanks. I’ve never seen you practice that style of kung fu. What’s it called?”
“Tiger Palm. I just mastered it two weeks ago.”
His blue eyes widened. “You’re so good.”
“Thanks. We’re normally safe jogging in this neighborhood. Where did that guy come from?”
“No clue.” He shrugged.
“C’mon, let’s keep going.” She flung her ponytail to her back, then clasped his hand. He pulled away. Heat flooded her cheeks and she averted her eyes.
How embarrassing. Rosabelle swallowed a lump of her pride. “I’m hungry. Are you?”
“Let me treat you for saving me.”
She sneaked a glance at him. “Sure.”
Steve browsed through a pile of documents behind his desk. A knock on the door grabbed his attention.
“Yes.” He looked up from the papers.
His administrative assistant stepped in, holding a bouquet of red roses in a pink sleeve. “It’s for you.”
Steve arched his brows. Me? He stood, then leaned forward to reach for the flowers. “Thank you, Susan.”
“From your girlfriend, huh?” She inquired in a nosey tone.
He checked the wall clock. 3:30. “Isn’t it tea time for you, Susan?”
She pressed her lips then ambled out of the office.
Steve snaked his hand into the pink sleeve and pulled the card out. From Rosabelle. He flipped open the card.
Happy birthday! May our Lord bring you joy for your special day.
Would you like to join me at the Olive Garden near our church to celebrate? Hope to see you there at 6 this evening.
He set the card onto the desk and leaned back. Shreds of memories flashed through his mind. A year had flown by since Rosabelle stumbled into his church with a wounded heart. As pastor of evangelism, he listened to her story about her boyfriend ditching her. Tears spilled from her gorgeous eyes that sparkled like emeralds. He shared with her the love of Christ, and she accepted Jesus the same day.
Since that day, he had been secretly in love with her. But how would this beautiful kung fu master fall for him when he’d failed to protect her from gangsters? Maybe the roses and dinner invitation were a token of appreciation, and only that. Then another thought struck him. If a deeper relationship with her would never be possible, why should he invest his time?
Steve picked up the phone.
Rosabelle smoothed her navy blue pencil skirt at the table and tossed her long hair over her shoulders. I hope he’ll like the way I’m dressed.
The waiter stopped by. “Miss, are you ready to order?”
“I’m still waiting for my friend.”
“Sure, I’ll come back.”
She glanced at her watch. 6:30. How could he possibly love me, a tomboy? She felt like a fool. She rose, grabbed her purse from the back of the chair, and stormed out of the restaurant.
Dark clouds rolled across the sky matching her gray mood. Rosabelle trudged to her car and sank into the driver’s seat. Before she started the engine, a knock sounded from her window. Shocked, she turned to Steve’s wide smile kindling a flame in her heart.
She pressed the button to lower the window. “Hi.”
“Sorry I’m late. There was a car accident on my way here. I wanted to call you but I didn’t take my cell phone with me. When I arrived, I saw you walking to your car.”
“That’s all right.” She paused. “It’s starting to rain. Get in.” She unlocked the doors and raised the window.
Steve climbed in and blew out a deep breath. “At first, I didn’t want to come, but there’s something I’ve been longing to tell you. I know you may reject me, but I’ve decided to let my thoughts out. Rosabelle, I’ve loved you since the day we met.”
Rosabelle’s cheeks grew warm. She peered at him. “Why haven’t you told me until today?”
“Because I’m incapable of defending you. Like yesterday, I should’ve protected you from the gangster, but . . . . Well, I let go of your hand because I felt I didn’t deserve you.”
“You did try, and I was grateful for that. What really matters to me is you’re a great warrior of God. You always boldly preach the truth. You never compromise. I’ve admired you for that. Why do you love a tomboy like me?”
“I’ve never thought of you that way. Instead, I regard your courage. And you’re not only beautiful but compassionate.”
“Let me be honest with you, too. I asked you out because I couldn’t hide my feelings anymore. I wanted to see if you loved me. If you didn’t, then we’d stay friends.”
“Would you accept my love, Rosabelle?”
She smiled as tears dripped from her eyes. Steve pulled her closer. As his lips were about to touch hers, his stomach let out a rowdy growl. She eased away and their laughter filled the car.
For years now, he has been on my last nerve. Strangely enough, it was an early act of chivalry that first procured that position. Actually, I don’t even know that the initial action could be deemed chivalrous, but that was the general consensus of all the other females in attendance. I was thirteen; he was fifteen. I was scrawny with frizzy hair and braces; he was handsome, athletic and popular. We were playing flag football with our youth group when out of nowhere, I was mowed to the ground. I looked up and through the haze, could barely distinguish his strong shoulders and bright green eyes. He leaned down, with concern evident on his face, and asked if I was okay. I was trying to formulate a response when I saw his hands reach toward me, but instead of merely helping me to my feet, he lifted me into his arms and carried me from the field. There was a collective sigh as he gently set me down at the picnic table, brushed the hair out of my face, and ever so tenderly said, “Sorry.” I was mortified to be the center of attention, so my response may have been a little less than tactful. Okay, I didn’t really respond at all; I just glared at him. He blinked, retreated a step, and then turned to run back on the field. Unfortunately, my mom was a spectator, and she determined at that moment that he was to be her future son-in-law. She invited him over for dinner the following weekend, and the frequent visits with my parents continued throughout high school and college. I endured the “knowing glances” from my mom, and I begged her to let it go, but she continued to harbor this delusional romantic notion about him being my knight in shining armor until…two days ago.
We were in her hospital room laughing and reminiscing. I was a little weepy over her missing out on my future wedding day, but she looked at me with a tired grin on her face, and whispered, “It won’t be long. Trust me.” I snorted and started to mention the lack of potential groom, but didn’t have time because she changed the subject. She said, “Ally, in the next two days I want you to open my bedside table drawer and read the journal you find there.” I had never seen her write in a journal, but she insisted that I promise, so I nodded and promptly forgot about it until…this morning.
My dad left early for the church, and I was numbly changing into my black dress when I remembered. I thought Mom might have been confused when she instructed me about the journal, but I decided to check just to be sure. I tiptoed into my parents’ room, and stood there staring at her bedside table until a car honking at the neighbor’s house jarred me back to reality. I sighed, walked over to her bedside table, and pulled on the handle. I found a journal embossed with a cross on the front. I picked it up, closed the drawer, and returned to my old room. I collapsed onto the bed, and opened the journal to the first page.
“’For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11
It was one of her favorite verses. I stifled a sob, and turned the page. The first entry was dated nine years ago.
I know you will never understand this, but when I saw the expression on Jake’s face as he picked you up today, I knew. It sounds insane, but I really believe God gave me a glimpse of your future with him.
I read through several more entries, and then I found this one from three years later:
Tonight you will go to the prom with Drew, Jake’s best friend. Jake is hurting, but he made me promise not to say anything because he never wants to pressure you in any way. He told me that he is waiting for you to choose him. I wonder if you will even notice that he is skipping his own prom.
I continued to read entry after entry as she recounted her conversations with Jake, about how he always asked if he could pray for me.
I shared the news of my illness with Jake today. He wept...not because of any great love for me, but because of his incredible love for you. He promised to be there for you when my time comes.
I finally reached her last entry, which was dated just a few days ago.
How I wish I had more time to spend with you and your father, but I am so thankful for the years that I have been given with both of you. I hope that you will cherish this journal and the message I have shared. Years ago, you thought I was just your crazy mom to believe that Jake might be the ONE. I think God allowed me that brief glimpse so that I would have the peace of knowing my daughter would be loved. Jake has proven himself to me, honey, so now I only hope you will allow him the chance to prove himself to you.
All my love,
I closed my eyes, and tried to absorb her words. It was odd because I found myself completely at peace. I heard footsteps in the hall, and opened my eyes just as a masculine form came into view. He quietly said, “Hey, Ally. Your dad sent me to pick you up. He’s worried you are going to be late. Are you ready?” I smiled up at him, and replied, “Yes, Jake, I think I am.”
“So-” he said, looking at her with his wistful, Charlie-Brown expression, “- you doing OK?”
Dave would always do this, Tanya thought. Worm his way back through any barriers she had erected—literally, tonight, by convincing her to buzz him up to her apartment—by displaying all this seeming concern for her. The bad part was that some of it, she was sure, was real. The worse part was, it worked.
“Good, I’m good,” said Tanya, thinking that if he dared to correct her grammar, as he used to do during the year they were dating, she might not actually be so good.
“Well, I just thought I’d check up on you—I know it’s kind of hard for you here by yourself since Lindsay moved out.” Without being invited, Dave lowered himself onto one of the tall bar stools near the square-in-the-wall opening to Tanya’s kitchenette.
Not as hard as when you broke up with me three months ago, sitting on that very stool, thought Tanya. That had felt, she imagined, like open-heart surgery without the closure part. Or the anesthesia. Sometimes, she still felt that way. But right now, she also felt like she wanted to hug Dave, or at least touch the skin on his neck. What was up with that? She said a quick prayer that she wouldn’t. That would just rip open a whole new set of problems.
Instead Tanya said, “Well, Lindsay never did her dishes, so it’s probably better this way—it’s nice for you to check up on me, Dave, but actually in a few minutes I—“
“I miss you,” Dave said.
Not, Tanya noted, ‘I made a mistake,’ or, ‘I’m wondering if you would take me back.’ Well, she missed her dead grandmother too, but that wasn’t going to change anything. Still, her heart rate had sped up without her permission. God, she prayed again, let me be strong.
“Dave,” she said, picking her words carefully, “ I’m not sure what you miss. We weren’t all that great together.”
“I thought we were,” he said, furrowing his brow and looking more like Charlie Brown than ever.
Yikes, thought Tanya, he’s going for the sympathy approach. But as her eyes fell in confusion, she saw something—Dave’s ridiculous rose tattoo above his ankle—and she knew what to say.
“Well, you never listened to me—“
“What are you talking about?”
Case in point, thought Tanya, but she had not dissected this relationship with her girlfriends, so thoroughly that she felt she owed them a counseling fee, for nothing. “Well, remember how you’d always bring me roses...”
“You’re mad because I used to bring you roses?”
“...when I told you I liked carnations?”
Dave shook his head, causing his backward baseball cap to waggle with the motion. “What girl gets mad because a guy wants to bring her expensive flowers?”
“And also,” Tanya persisted, “you’d always bring me to fancy restaurants when I told you I wanted McDonald’s?”
“McDonald’s is bad for you—I was just looking out for your health—good grief!”
That’s it, he IS Charlie Brown, thought Tanya. She just wished she didn’t like comic strips so much.
“Tanya—“ Dave’s voice was low and clear,” I just wanted to give you nice things—because you’re worth it. You may not realize it yourself—but you so are.” He held out one hand to Tanya from where he sat on the stool.
Nice things—that was a nice thing to say. And she was worth it? Tanya’s ears were ringing. Or maybe—the downstairs buzzer blatted. Matt, of course.
“Dave, a friend of mine said he would stop by tonight. You really should go.”
“Are you sure you want me to? I could stay and meet him,” Dave said. “I always like to meet your friends,” he added.
And there it was, the challenge, laid out as carefully on the table on the table as a contract for her to sign. Tanya stumbled over to the buzzer. “Come on up!” she called as it rang again, somehow managing to sound cheerful and excited, like Matt himself, instead of impatient.
In the few blurry seconds before turning back to face Dave sitting down and Matt coming up, Tanya had the weird sense of participating in her own version of a rose ceremony. In front of her there stood—or would soon be standing—two men, both God-fearing, both good-looking (okay, maybe that wasn’t as important.) Should she hold out for being treated like a princess? Wasn’t there a Bible verse somewhere about asking God for wisdom?
“Beam me down some, God, okay?” she muttered.
“Come again?” said Dave.
Tanya opened the door before Matt could knock. He strolled in, his easygoing grin almost hidden by a bunch of supermarket-variety, color-enhanced carnations in his hands.
To Tanya they were the most beautiful and brilliant flowers she had ever seen.
“Oh, hi. I didn’t know you had company--would you like me to come back later?” Matt asked, then nodded to Dave. “Hey.”
Dave nodded back, his eyes fastened on the carnations like the gaudy teal bow holding them together.
“No, I’m pretty hungry. We should get going. “ Tanya turned towards Dave, who finally got up from the barstool.
“Uh, yeah. Bye, Tanya,” he said, readjusting his baseball cap. Tanya closed the heavy door behind him. She took the carnations from Matt, giving him a hug of thanks. He grinned again at this, saying, “You said those were your favorite, right?”
Later, eating French fries with extra salt under the golden arches, Tanya asked Matt if he thought they should go to fancier restaurants.
“I don’t know,” he said, causing Tanya’s stomach to flip. “I’m kind of saving up for something big... but soon I’d love to cook a special dinner for you.”
“What?” Tanya’s face wrinkled, envisioning uplifting stews, unusual vegetables, healthy vegan casseroles.
“Anything,” Matt said. “Anything you want.”
Mama had passed five weeks ago, leaving five children, from age four to age fourteen. Papa often retreated to the barn loft. Being a tenant farmer meant hard work, even for young children. As the oldest a lot of the work load fell on my shoulders. Mama always said, “Annalee your reward in life will come because you always try to do your best in everything.”
Tenant farmers moved often, even so we had been on this “one horse farm” only one year and we loved this old house. A small stream ran nearby, providing water to bathe and wash clothes. Papa was a good farmer, but lately he’d lost his way since mama’s death. Mama taught me to cook and tend a garden. So, our garden yield and purchases from the general store kept us fed.
Mama’s friend (closest neighbor), Miss. Minnis kept our four year-old sister, Suzy, while the rest of us went to school in Papa’s wagon, then we walked back home. Once a month Miss. Minnis took us children to church and this became our highlight. Papa didn’t attend church in those days. Lunch was served after service; clothes were free for the taking, especially for my two brothers, Robbie and Vern. The singer sewing machine was put to use in making tops and skirts for my sisters.
The preacher talked about Psalms 23. He said, “We all needed a shepherd and Jesus was his name.” We didn’t have a bible, so after church we would discuss the day’s sermon. Reading was our favorite pastime. At school we checked out books, one of which was a dictionary. We studied Psalm despite Papa’s disapproval.
Once a year, Miss. Minnis’ brought a pig for us to raise for meat. Canned goods, preserves, milk and butter from her house stretched our meals. Our third year on the farm, the young landlord came to see Papa. Looking deeply into his eyes I saw kindness and pity. I went to get Papa and stumbled upon his empty bottles. Mr. Morris told him, “The crops are not good; you must rotate, spread the manure from the stables and keep the crops plowed, and not rely on your children to pull out weeds.
My life’s dream was to get more education and a job so our family could have a better life. With all the heartbreak of Papa’s drinking, getting deeper in debt, stretching everything we had, and chores my dreams were all but gone. But in the midst, when we went to church, those sermons remained in my memory bank. A longing began to stir in my heart to know this shepherd. At age eighteen, I went to the altar with Miss. Minnis who helped me receive salvation.
On my nineteenth birthday school had finished. Mr. Morris came again. Robbie fetched Papa to the house. With a stern voice he stated, “Your debt keeps growing at the general store. Something has to be done about this matter.” Then, I heard a deal that changed my life forever. Mr. Morris’ mother was ill and needed a live in caregiver. I was given that responsibility, and sadly would be leaving behind my siblings, but realized the importance of this task to help with papa’s debt.
The Morris’ were kind, work was easy, and food was plentiful. The house had all the conveniences from inside plumbing to electricity. I saw my family at church; all four children had received our Shepherd as their own. Thanksgiving was at the old house; what a joy to be together again! Christmas day was at the Morris’ house and everyone exchanged gifts, except Papa. Not surprisingly, Papa and Miss. Minnis got married on New Years’ Day and my heart was eased concerning the children.
In March of my twentieth year, Mr. Morris asked if he could speak to me. He started by saying, “You do not have to pay your father’s debt at the store.” Please understand I never charged you, this is your father’s debt.” It dawned on me that each person is responsible for their own sins and had to pay for self.
My dream to get more education still remained locked away in mind. Mysteriously, Jason Morris became aware of my dream and offered to pay for my schooling. The college courses only lasted six months and wouldn’t interfere with my work. Six months later, certificate in hand I went to the old house and showed my family. Proudly looking around I saw what a woman’s touch had made on the home place, it was spotless. Miss. Minnis was strict but fair; she allowed no idleness from Papa or the children. The farm was thriving; you could hear cows mooing at the barn. I was still hopeful Papa would soon ask the Shepherd to be his own.
Jason Morris asked one day, “What do you plan to do with your life now? I looked into his dark brown eyes and whispered, “What do you mean?” He said, “Since you don’t owe the debt, you are free to live your own life. Your siblings are taken care of, what about your needs?”
Growing up there was no time to get close to anyone, but now I felt a strange attraction for Jason. On my twenty-first birthday, (first party ever) my family came bearing gifts. After everyone went home, I made my way to the front porch swing and the smell of pipe tobacco filled the air. I started to get up, but Jason spoke, “Annalee, I hope you have many more birthdays’ here.” He went on, “You have been wonderful to mother and me. I can’t deny I want you to stay here and be my wife. I love you, and want to marry you." One month later on a wintery day in January, Robbie walked me down the isle of the church. My debt was paid, and a newfound reward was knocking on my hearts door.
Deloris sat in her favorite chair in the front hall of the old county home. Right in-between a table holding the resident sign-out sheet and the ponderous grandfather clock. Directly across from her, a large ornate mirror allowed her to observe how her day progressed. As always, she was carefully dressed, with a small overnight bag in her lap. Several years earlier, racked with homesickness, she had begun her vigil at the front door. Lots of friendly faces came through that door; sooner or later one of them would be there for her. Then her optimism had failed her. She had quit responding when spoken to, and no longer spoke either. The staff called it dementia, and treated her as if she were fading away. Deloris knew better though. She hadn't lived this long without being able to recognize depression when she saw it. Inside she was exactly the same person as when she had been back in school. All anyone had to do was to look, and they would see.
Today, a really curious thing had happened. Somebody who knew her moved in to the home. Silas Hardy had walked through that front door with warm greeting, and she had been unable to respond. She had tried and tried but the face in the mirror remained unchanged except for a few tears.
Silas chose the chair next to Deloris. When he determined that she would not acknowledge him, he settled into a companionable silence. At least that was his intention; lately he could never be sure if he was thinking out-loud or not. He had known Delores his whole life. They had gone to the same church since they were children. It felt right, to sit here with her, in this age-worn hall brush stroked with shadow.
The watchful cook moved her worktable to just around the corner from where they sat. Perhaps she would listen in; to make sure all was as it should be.
Memories began to materialize behind his tired eyes. He saw a 12-year-old girl taking his hand and running him around the church building to introduce him to everyone from the pastor to the kindergarteners. He remembered the church outings young people took. She always livened up the group. There was one memory, clearer than most, of a sledding party where Delores had shared his sled. Later, at the fire, she had shared her hot chocolate with him. Somewhere, during his pleasant musings, Silas nodded off.
It was Monday of the third week since Silas had moved into the County Home. Delores sat at her post in the front hall, as always. What was different, however, was the anticipation she felt. Silas, who had been out to a doctor's appointment, would come walking through that front door soon. And when he did, he would take his regular place next to her. Then she would watch the two of them in the mirror, as their day progressed. She almost laughed when she thought about the nosey cook around the corner. Delores might have invited her to pull up a chair, so that she needn’t miss a word. The day wore on however, and after supper Delores began to worry. Worry gave way to an indignant anger. Wouldn't anyone tell her anything? Did they think she was some kind of a vegetable?
On Wednesday of the fourth week Silas was back at her side. He made light about his hospital stay, expressing regret for his absence. She had decided she no longer needed her travel bag, but when Silas noticed, he raised such a fuss that thecook went looking for it During the conversation that followed, that gossipy nurse told Silas everything. When they were alone again, he had tried to understand the situation in some way that made sense, but only succeeded in loosing his temper. What was the matter with her two boys? Could they have forgotten about their mother? What about all the love she had poured into their lives? The sacrifices she had made? Could they turn their backs on her now that she was helpless? Then he had seemed to catch himself. He remembered them both as fine young men when he had been their Sunday school teacher. When he left, he made some excuse about the hectic pace of life nowadays, and made a weak effort at a reassuring smile.
A good nights sleep did wonders for his disposition. After Silas had taken his seat, and made his customary one-sided small talk, he readily slipped into his storytelling style of reminisce. The memories were returning with startling clarity now. He remembered how Delores had been the popular girl in high school. Fun, and smart too, she lived the Christian life even back then. More than once, she had helped him with his math homework. She had been a rare beauty. As a cheerleader, she could make people forget to watch the game. Why was it that he had never asked her out? He felt overcome suddenly with a profound sense of loss. Before he could recover, he was startled as Delores reached out and took his hand. When was the last time he had felt such a loving touch? Something long forgotten woke up inside and tears began to well up. When his lashes could no longer contain them, they flowed freely down his face.
That Saturday night the cook and nurse sat in the dinning hall over a cup of coffee. The cook was being questioned about the miracle that had taken place. "Dementia doesn’t just go away like that. How did it happen again" The cook stared deep into her cup as she spoke, "She fell in love. It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. Once she decided to talk, she just didn't want to stop. Making up for lost time I guess. I wish my husband could listen half that good.