Friday, November 21, 2014


"So, you call him Carlo?" Drake marveled at the idea of his friend, whom he had known as long as he had known the entire Randolph family, was on first-name basis with Hollywood legend and statesman, Carlo Vincente. It was on par with being friends with Charlton Heston, if he were still alive, and being allowed to call him Chuck, or having long, cozy talks with Maureen O'Hara over tea and cookies.
"I don't want to even get into how long it took for Max to figure out what to call him. Her brothers -- the Vincente brothers, anyway -- told her she should call him 'Pop,' but that's just too casual, too close. There were a few times, I thought she'd be afraid to even talk to him, because she didn't know what to say. Then they had a long talk, and she settled on just using his name." He pushed the back door open and they both winced at the hard gust of cold air that slapped their faces.
"Wow. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for her. It's hard seeing anybody but Mr. Randolph as her father."
"Like Max puts it, Joel is her dad. Carlo is her father. And he's such a great guy. You could almost wish her stepmother would be nasty about some things, but..." He shrugged and gestured over at a car parked four spaces down from the brightly illuminated doorway. "I keep telling her Joel won't mind if she has him and Carlo both walk her down the aisle, but Max is afraid of hurting both of them by asking, or not having anyone."
"Elope. Definitely."
"I wish. But Miss Emily and Jeannette -- that's Max's stepmother -- they're having a great time planning the wedding, all the fuss. And we're hearing a lot of griping about your sister depriving the town gossips of the wedding of the century. Between the world finding out Miss Emily is here and the accident last spring and Joel being at the U and everything else--" He laughed as he unlocked the car, opened the door, reached into the back seat, and pulled out a box that looked approximately ten inches on each side. "If we elope, we better not come back to town at all."
"Then Di owes you two, right?"
"It's getting the payback that's the problem." He settled the box in Drake's hands and slammed the car door shut.
            They chatted about mutual friends as they made their way back into the building and down the hall to the lobby area again. Drake was pleased when he mentioned he wanted to do an internship in the area, hopefully at Tabor Christian, after he finished with seminary, and Tony showed excitement about the idea.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


"It is not 'done,' to bring a present to the wedding," Tony said in a mocking elegant voice. "Or so those in the know keep telling us. You have no idea what a pain it is, having everybody in the church and half the town telling us what we have to do for our wedding."
"I keep telling him we should elope," Max added.
"If Di could get away with getting married privately, why not?" Drake offered.
"I plan on asking her for some details tomorrow." She looked around the lobby, which was empty of everyone but them. "Wow, it's finally over. If you could wait a few seconds, I'll run out to the car and get the present."
"Sure. You don't happen to know where Stacy Belmont is working tonight, are you?"
"Stacy?" Tony glanced down at the row of clipboards on the table, each one holding a signup sheet for a class. "Computers. Just around the--"
"Max?" Todd Montgomery skidded down the hall from the right end of the school, holding a little boy with dark curls, blue jeans, and a Browns sweatshirt. No other details were visible because he and Todd held a wad of wet, red-streaked paper towels to his face. "He won't let anybody else help him."
"BJ?" Max let out a sympathetic groan and held out her arms. The trembling little boy lowered the wad of towels enough for his big, dark, tear-filled eyes to be visible. He nearly threw himself out of Todd's arms and into hers. "What'd you do now, shorty? Uh -- Drake -- this might--"
"I'll take care of it," Tony said. He watched her hurry down the hall a few steps to a room clearly marked "Nurse."
"I'll walk out with you," Drake offered. "Lots of excitement," he commented, after Tony had retrieved his coat and they headed down the gym hallway to the parking lot door.
"But fun. Max and I volunteer a day or two every week. Most of our work is done, now that registration is over. We have work for the wedding as an excuse." He chuckled. "I'd rather be here, honestly."
"Wedding phobia?"
"I don't mind, for me. Max is tearing herself apart and doesn't even realize it yet. She's great coordinating things behind stage, the more opening night disasters to circumvent, the better. But put her in center stage, forget it. Especially when she's thinking of having both her dads walk her down the aisle."
"I guess that means she's getting along good with her father and his family?"
           "We all get along good. The gossip rags would love it if there was a lot of in-fighting and name-calling and jealousy -- and hints that Carlo and Miss Emily are going to dump their current wife and husband and get back together -- but... we're one big, happy family. So far, anyway. You never know how all the wedding pressure will change things."

Monday, November 17, 2014


"Can I -- Drake!" Tony Martin stood up from the registration table and held out a hand. "You're not here for classes, are you? Or did they get you to tag-team with Pastor Doug?"
"I'm just in town for a few days for Di's reception." Drake stepped up to the table and shook hands with Tony. "Hey, I hear you and Max have set a date, but you've managed to keep the media from finding out. How did you manage that?"
"Shock and awe." He grinned and leaned back against the wall instead of settling down at the registration table again.
"Excuse me?"
"If you're bored enough while you're in town, check out the gossip rags in the supermarket. Every single one has a different date for our wedding, and a different place. Audrey started it, telling some whoppers to a spy in the kitchen where she works. Now, even if the real date and location pops out, nobody will believe it."
"That sounds like a great story, once the whole thing gets resolved. You're not going to put it in a book, are you?" he teased.
"Maybe in about ten years, when we're able to laugh at the insanity." Tony mimed wiping sweat off his forehead.
"We'll see you at the reception tomorrow night, right?"
"You bet. Can't wait to see Dinah and meet Troy. I just hope Max doesn't get any ideas from the party," he said, glancing around with exaggerated fear.
"I heard that!" a semi-familiar female voice called. A moment later, Max Randolph peered around the corner, coming from what was the library when this was the Eloise Elementary School.
"You were supposed to." He gestured at Drake. "Look who's back in town."
"Drake!" She hurried around the registration table to hug him. "Perfect timing."
"For what?" Drake looked back and forth between her and Tony.
"We're planning on dropping off Di's present on our way home tonight, but if you could take it with you, that'd save us one more errand."
"Can't you just bring it with you tomorrow night?"
            A chill shot through him when he realized that was something else that had been nagging him since seeing Stacy's present for Dinah yesterday morning. Why couldn't Stacy just bring it to the reception?

Saturday, November 15, 2014


 Footsteps on the polished marble stairs caught his attention and he stepped back to look upwards. Sure enough, his father hurried down, tugging on his gloves, a frown of concentration on his face. Making a silent bet with himself, Drake waited at the foot of the stairs. His father looked right at him, nodded a greeting, and headed for the door.
Devon Ashcroft turned, his frown deepening, to shatter a moment later with a chuckle. He easily admitted his bad habit of being so deep in thought he lost track of the outside world. His ability to laugh at himself defused any frustration his friends and associates usually felt. That, and his constant efforts to improve.
The door on the opposite side of the lobby opened and a young woman with long, straight bronze hair stepped out, shrugging into a full-length navy coat, holding a piece of paper between her lips, and juggling a purse and an accordion folder full of papers. Her phone rang. Drake stared, smiling, as he merged his last clear memory of Stacy with this three-years-older young woman. His certainty of her identity was confirmed as she yanked the paper from her mouth and brought the phone up to her ear with the other hand, and spoke.
"Just a second," he said, when his father gestured at the door.
Then Stacy headed for the door as she listened to the person on the other end, and didn't show any sign of seeing them. Drake focused on her as he and his father followed her outside and down the steps.
"Stacy?" he called, when she finished the phone call with a promise to call the other person back in an hour, and put the phone back in her purse. "It's Drake. Drake Ashcroft," he added, with a funny little dropping sensation of disappointment when she frowned at him, her expression clearly saying she didn't recognize him. She hadn't changed enough to be noticeable or confusing since the last time they had spoken -- how could he have?
"Oh -- hi." Her eyes widened in what he could have sworn was panic, though she managed a wobbly smile. "I guess you're back in town for the party. Well, duh, of course." Stacy offered a laugh.
"Come to lunch with us," his father offered. Drake came near to hugging him in that moment, when his tongue seemed stapled to the roof of his mouth.
"Can't. A dozen errands, and I have to cut my lunch short to take care of another emergency for Dr. Filmore. Thanks." She waved and hurried away. A little too fast for the coating of icy snow on the sidewalk.
"When can we get together?" Drake called. "You know, talk, catch up?"
"I'll call you when I check my schedule, okay?" She waved, not even looking back at him, and picked up speed.
          "Something is definitely wrong," Drake muttered. Fortunately, his father didn't hear him, so he didn't have to explain.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


"I don't know what that girl is drinking at this time of the morning," Mrs. Ashcroft said with a chuckling sigh, looking out over Drake's shoulder. They both stood in the open front door, watching six girls cram into Gretchen's BMW.
"Huh?" Drake had laughed and glanced at his mother. That little frown, the triple lines between her eyebrows, threatening to draw a little line down her nose, worried him. He should have come home a week earlier, to help her with all the work involved in the party.
Stacy should have been there, helping. He wouldn't have put it past Gretchen to have done or said something nasty, to keep her from participating in all the preparations.
"There are no assigned seats, and no bridal party table," his mother said, raising her hand to wave as Gretchen slapped the horn with a brief blatt. "I don't know where the girl gets those ideas."
"Better check with the caterer to make sure none of your instructions got changed," he said, and closed the door. "I wouldn't put it past Gretchen to call them and overrule everything you told them last week."
"Hmm, yes. I thought for a while that girl had changed, that she had finally grown up." Mrs. Ashcroft shook her head. "Good idea."
"You wouldn't have these problems if Stacy was helping out."
"Yes, well, Stacy isn't talking to your sister for some reason." She paused, her foot on the bottom step, heading upstairs. "I should really call her, find out what happened."
"Dinah dropped her. That's what happened." Drake offered a smile and shook his head. "It'll all work out. Stacy'll come to the party tomorrow night and she and Dinah will hug and laugh about the whole stupid misunderstanding and everything'll be fine."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


 "We should have called ahead," Dinah said, as Drake rang the doorbell of the Belmont house for the third time. The soft chimes could be clearly heard, despite the muffling sensation that came from the thickly falling snowflakes that seemed to wrap a white curtain around the world, beyond the pool of light from the front porch lantern.
"Do you know her cell phone?" he asked.
"I don't even know if she has one."
"What is wrong with you, Di?"
"Wrong with me?" She glared at him for a fierce three seconds, before turning and stomping down off the front porch steps and down the slate path to the sidewalk.
"I thought Stacy was your best friend."
"She is -- was -- we drifted apart, okay?" She stopped abruptly and turned, waiting for him to catch up to her. "And why should you care so much? If Stacy was so important to you, how come you didn't keep in contact with her?"
"I've asked myself that a few dozen times since I got in this morning." He hooked her arm with his and tugged her close, so their hips bumped a few times as they headed down the sidewalk, until they got their rhythm matched up. "The thing is, I was just used to hearing from you and Mom and Dad how Stacy was doing, what she was up to... I didn't even realize I needed to hear about her, until there was silence."
"Needed?" She bumped his hip deliberately. "Be careful, big brother. Somebody would think..." She sighed.
"Think what?" He wanted to hear it from her. It was easier than voicing something he wasn't quite sure about himself. Especially since he hadn't talked to Stacy in what seemed like years.
"If it wasn't for Troy, I could almost wish I had never moved to Virginia. Everything is so different, and I'm starting to think that Stacy not being here, my not knowing every part of her life is more than just a symptom."
"Yeah, well, never thought you'd be best buds with Gretchen, of all people. I mean, come on, Di, when did that Tammy Fae wannabe turn into a good friend?"
"She's not that bad." Dinah chuckled and leaned over a little to rest her head against his shoulder as they strolled through the snowy dark quiet. "Especially since she cut down the makeup by about ten pounds a week."
"Ouch. Don't let her hear you say that. She might start using a trowel again."
"Especially since you're home. If she hadn't been so silent on the topic of you in the last year, I'd think the only reason she's being so helpful is to get in good with you."
          "That twit could never get in good with me. Not even if she joined a convent and gave Mother Theresa a run for her money." Drake frowned, hearing a faint echo of the sour, sharp tone of his voice.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


In between discussing the computer classes Stacy taught at the Mission, the plans for finally renovating one of the rooms there into a coffee house, and expanded hours for the childcare offerings, they finally teased an answer out of Rene to explain the presence of the baby shower catalogs. Hannah and Xander had only been married since November, but Hannah had been feeling odd too many mornings in a row for it to be simply a bout with the flu. Especially when she was full of energy and rosy-cheeked only an hour or so later. It was too soon to tell yet, and Rene hadn't managed to tease a confession or hint out of her former roommate, but she dearly hoped Hannah was pregnant.
"Isn't it kind of soon? I mean, sure, I've heard about lots of babies born exactly nine months after the wedding night, but..." Stacy shrugged. "If it were me, I'd want to wait a year or two, just to get used to being married."
"Sounds like you've given it a lot of thought," Bekka said with a smirk.
"And you haven't?" Rene challenged. "Fess up -- what have you and Shane decided? How soon can we start planning a baby shower for you two?"
"Well, we did discuss getting a sidecar for his bike -- if we ever needed one." Her cheeks darkened and her hand shook a little bit as she spooned up another helping of the broccoli slaw, belying the casual shrug and tone of her voice. "But yeah, we're thinking we want to enjoy just being a couple before we add on a baby and all that gear and responsibility. I mean, can you see me as a mother?"
"The question," Rene said softly, "is if you can see yourself as a mother. I think Shane would be an incredible father. He's so sweet and wise and thoughtful. A little girl would have him wrapped around her pinky before she could even sit up."
"Yeah," Bekka whispered, eyes glistening before they went dreamy and distant. "I know."
To have a baby, Stacy thought with bitterness that shocked her, she would need to have a father for that baby, first. Despite letting friends at church and work set her up on blind dates, no one who made her want a second try. She had never even considered asking a guy out when the Singles group at church had Sadie Hawkins parties.
Straighten up, you nit, she silently scolded herself. Just because everyone else is getting married, that doesn't mean you should, or that you even need to.
              The funny thing was, a fragment of last night's dreams flashed into her mind. She had seen herself walking down the aisle at Dinah's wedding, and Drake stepped up when she reached the end of the aisle and offered his arm. She had felt blissfully happy when she looped her arm through his. And when she looked down at her dress, she couldn't tell if it was the dark sapphire tea-length skirts of the bridesmaids dress she and Dinah had chosen when they were twelve years old... or if it was a white satin sheath trimmed in silver lace, with silver lace slippers -- which she had seen in a bridal magazine just a month or so ago.