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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28: from DETOURS

Monday morning, Joe came over with incredible news -- and a contract to read and sign. His dream was coming true. Bekka sat in her corner by the sliding door, enjoying the late summer breezes and trying to give Amy and Joe as much privacy as she could. She concentrated on the book she was reading and tried to ignore all the details of the job offer Joe kept repeating, and Amy's little exclamations of joy for him.
When, Bekka wondered, was Amy going to start whining about Joe going away? Or hadn't she realized that a job offer in Nashville meant Joe moving? Or had she missed something, and Amy and Joe already had plans to cover that contingency?
They finally quieted down enough to read through the contract together. Bekka mentally slapped herself a few times, for straining her ears to hear every murmured word. The apartment was so quiet, she could hear the scraping of each piece of paper as they turned the pages. Finally, though, the scraping stopped. Joe took a deep breath and the couch springs groaned as he shifted down on the cushions and stretched out his legs.
"Well? What do you think?" he asked.
Bekka held her breath and prayed. She just didn't have it in her to endure another of Amy and Joe's sulking breakups.
"You have to go. It's what you always wanted," Amy said with only a minimal hesitation.
"Nashville isn't that far away. You could come down for Thanksgiving, and I'll be home for Christmas, and we'll talk on the phone and--"
"Joe, just do a good job and get what you've always wanted, okay?"
Bekka closed her eyes, positive they were about to kiss.
The door groaned open and Kat came into the apartment. She mumbled greetings to the two on the couch. Bekka opened her eyes and watched, her heart aching for her friend. Wherever she had been, Kat obviously hadn't been with Marco. She was dragging, her mouth drooping at the corners, shoulders lumped, and there were dark smears under her eyes.
"Joe has a job in Nashville," Amy said. "Isn't that great?" She smiled hopefully at Kat.
"Yeah. Sure. Have a good time." Kat headed for her room.
Amy turned to Bekka, eyes wide, hands spread in a helpless gesture.
"There's a message on the machine for you," Bekka said.
"Who from?" Kat paused, but didn't look at the machine.
"From your mom, this time," Amy said. She shrugged. All the messages for the past week or so had been from Morgan, either asking Kat to let him come over to talk, or giving her instructions for her job so she wouldn't have to talk to him directly.
"Mom?" Kat leaped back across the room and slapped the controls of the machine.
"Kat, honey?" Lynette said. Her voice wavered a little, and Bekka knew they couldn't blame the old tape on the machine. "I'm taking Daniel -- no, I'm taking your father to the airport. He really wants to see you before he leaves. He won't be back until Christmas. Kat, this is mostly my fault. Daniel wanted to take care of us both from the beginning. He's always loved you. I hurt him and I locked him out of our lives. Don't punish him for what I did, please? Come to the airport to at least see him off, won't you?" There was a pause, then she gave the flight details.
"That's only half an hour from now," Joe said, when the answering machine clicked and rewound. Kat just shrugged and headed for her room. "Hey, Kat, I know how you're feeling. But if you let him leave without talking to him, how are you going to feel if he never comes back?"
"Who cares?"
"You obviously do, or you wouldn't be sulking all over the place!"
"I'm not..." Kat sighed and leaned back against the wall, slumping as if she would continue on down to the floor. "Okay, so I am sulking. But they--"
"When would have been a good time to tell you?" Bekka asked. "That's the big thing, isn't it? Not that they separated and your mom wouldn't let Morgan help raise you, but that they didn't tell you. When could they tell you without you blowing up?"
"I -- but they--" She struggled for a few more seconds, then just shook her head. "How come you didn't tell me when you figured it out?" she whispered.
"I figured I had no right telling you something they didn't want you to know. Or maybe were afraid to tell you. Kat, both your parents love you very much and they don't want to hurt you. I bet they're miserable, thinking you hate them."
"I don't hate them!"
"Then maybe you should go to the airport and see Morgan before he leaves. I mean," Joe said with a crooked grin, "what if he gets hit by a cab or shot in the subway or something and you never see him again?"
Kat opened her mouth to yell at him. Bekka could see it in her face. She almost got angry herself, at such a suggestion. Then she realized what he was doing and she approved.
"I've been stupid, huh?" Kat whispered. She dug in her purse for her keys.
"I'll drive," Joe said. "Women are such wimps when it comes to getting somewhere fast."
"My hero," Amy said and leaned over to kiss him before he got up from the couch.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 28: from THE MISSION

"What's going on?" he said, as they raced down the gymnasium hallway.
"Intruder." She gestured at Puck. To her relief, he didn't ask any more questions.
Puck leaped up and hit the panic bar with his paws, slamming the door open before she could do it for him. He darted left, slowing to let Jennifer keep up with him, as he had been trained to do. He wouldn't go into chase mode -- or tackle-and-subdue mode -- until she ordered it. The big Dalmatian darted around the corner of the box of the gym, going left. Jennifer and Doug were three steps behind him.
The cream-colored sedan coasted through the parking lot, the gravel making soft popping noises under the tires. Through the racing hum of her heart, Jennifer strained for the sound of the car's engine. Had the driver turned it off for the sake of stealth? Bad sign.
Yeah, as if it isn't bad enough? The cynical voice inside sounded suspiciously like a crusty old mechanic at her father's second-to-last command.
Puck darted out in front of the car and faced it, letting out three sharp, loud barks. The driver slammed on his brakes, the gravel crackling loud under the wheels. Jennifer and Doug stepped out from between the cars parked up against the back of the gym and into the aisle that led around the back of the building -- with the fence for the playground on the far side of the parking area. That was the strangers' goal, Jennifer knew. She thought of the threats to BJ Marshall and his mother, and the warning of trouble for Paul and Sammy from the people left behind two states away, and the children she had nearly died to protect.
Couldn't children be safe anywhere?
The men inside the car were indistinct shapes, lost in the glare of the sun on the windshield. Jennifer caught a glimpse of movement. Her heart skipped a beat when she imagined one of those barely visible men pulling out a gun.
Then the car backed up, moving fast down the nearly straight aisle back to the street. Doug raced after it. Jennifer nearly called out for him to stop; then ran after him. Puck waited for her before moving.
"Got the license number," Doug said, as the car reached the street, ground gears as it shifted out of reverse, and squealed tires as it raced away. The sound was loud in the quiet residential neighborhood.
"But?" she prompted, hearing the disappointment in his voice.
"Rental company stickers in the back window and on the bumper."
             "That's okay. Nikki's uncles are cops. They can cut through a lot of red tape to find out who rented the car." She smiled at him, determined that everything would be all right.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 25: from THE MISSION

"Please, Lord, I need some help," Doug muttered, just loudly enough for him to hear over the beginning throb of a headache. He knew no one else but God could hear him.
His desk had vanished under a blizzard of paperwork. Requisition forms for paper supplies; linens; toys for children; supplies for the first aid kits; requisitions for requisitions; bids sent in by twenty different companies providing all sorts of services and supplies necessary for the renovations to be made to the Mission.
Doug wondered how Pastor Wally had handled all this work, which was only a portion of his regular duties. Even taking into account the two physical assaults that had sent the elderly man to the hospital, he was amazed by his stamina.
"Lord, there is a purpose to all this," he muttered, and fought the temptation to bury his face in the pile of forms and letters and reports hiding the scuffed green surface of his desk. "Are You sure this is where You wanted me to be? Am I going to be any use to these people? What am I supposed to do here?"
"Hopefully yer gonna clean up that mess before you go home," a cracked, female voice said.
Doug jerked upright, nearly flinging himself backwards and out of the chair. The ancient metal and wood creaked and groaned in warning. He barely heard over the thumping of his heart as he stared at the apparition sitting in the corner of his office. That particular corner had to be reached by walking around his desk, into the corner where the two throne-like, blue corduroy-upholstered chairs sat for more comfortable, casual discussions. His desk was up against the hall wall, leaving a narrow space between doorjamb and desk for the wastepaper basket. There was no way the woman could have walked past him without him seeing her.
"You been a busy one since you got here, ain't ya?" She grinned, displaying an amazingly whole set of gleaming white teeth in her tanned, sweat- and dust-smeared face.
She had shoulder-length, tangled, iron-gray hair, topped by a faded, robins-egg-blue stocking cap. In deference to the scorching ninety-plus weather, it had been rolled up into itself so it was little more than a beanie. She wore a faded green plaid short-sleeve cotton shirt, hanging open to show off her gold sequined sleeveless shirt -- half the sequins were gone, and a third of the remainder were tarnished to black. Her pants were Army surplus with all sorts of logo patches -- trucks, motorcycles, Boy Scouts, Army and Navy -- in strategic places. Her shoes were black hi-tops with the toes worn through.
               "How did you get in here?" Doug whispered, halfway through his visual inspection. He wondered if this was some strange small-town initiation sitting in the easy chair in his new office.

Friday, August 24, 2012

August 24: from THE MISSION

"Have you met Nikki James?"
The little blue-haired lady smiled so sweetly up at Doug, his tongue tangled. How could he remind her that Nikki was his new boss-slash-co-worker, so of course he had met her already, without sounding like a smart-mouth brat? Besides, the woman was so tiny, the top of her cherry-covered black felt hat barely meeting the bottom of his shirt pocket, he had an impression of her being very fragile.
"Yes, ma'am. She was here yesterday when I got into town, got me settled in my new office and everything." He tried to glance around the reception in the lobby of the Mission without looking like he desperately wanted someone to rescue him. The people approaching him were coming so fast, like snow in a blizzard, he wouldn't remember names if they wore badges. This little old lady had empty hands. "Can I help you get something from the refreshment table?"
"What a nice boy." She patted his arm, and then took a firm grip that nearly yanked a yelp out of him. Her grip was strong enough to bend steel. "I told Annabelle you were just perfect for Nikki. Not like that hoodlum skulking behind her all the time," she added on a loud whisper that could probably be heard out at the sidewalk, despite the voices filling the lobby.
"Perfect for Nikki?"
"That girl needs a good man. A minister is the perfect match." Her tiny eyes sparkled and she turned, dragging him after her toward the long table full of cups of punch and the coffee urn.
"Uh, ma'am?" He tried stopping, and was relieved when she let go, without ripping his shirt or his arm off. "I'm not a minister."
"Not yet, anyway." She nodded, her pleased little smile flattening and turning somehow iron-hard.
"And I really think Nikki is taken."
"She just thinks she is. Harriet." She gestured imperiously and another woman, as tall and muscular as she was tiny and dainty, steamed through the crowd with the skill of an ice-breaker navigating the frozen Arctic. "Tell him. That the James girl is mistaken. She only thinks she's paired up with that--"
"Selma," Harriet said, her voice surprisingly soft. She shook her head and rested a hand on the tiny woman's shoulder. "You know that Mr. Pierson was exonerated. Besides, anybody looking at them can tell he and Doc Holwood's girl are in love."
"Love, schmove," Selma said with a dainty snort. "What does that have to do with making a suitable match? Dr. Farnsworth here is far better for her."
             "Uh -- excuse me? Not a doctor, either," Doug said, raising his hand, feeling like he was standing in the principal's office, listening to two teachers fight over whether he was the victim or the bully on the playground -- and on a day he had been home sick with the flu.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23: from THE MISSION

Doug had walked up from the parking lot when the door at the end of the long body of the main building opened. A big Dalmatian loped out, followed by a woman wearing a camouflage-patterned headscarf. Doug nearly skidded to a stop when the dog veered off his headlong flight to the street and aimed at him.
"Puck, stop that." The woman laughed and reached for the dog's collar.
Weren't dogs supposed to be kept on a leash whenever they were out in public?
Doug remembered his encounter with the two big dogs in the lobby of the Mission when he came to candidate. They hadn't been leashed then, either. The woman's name finally rose to the top of his memory. Jennifer... something. Then it occurred to him that he hadn't heard her last name. Funny thing was, her face had niggled at his memory, with the certainty that he should have remembered her from somewhere else. Maybe it was the scarf, changing the shape of her face. Maybe her eyes would be a different color when she had hair.
"Oh. Hi." Jennifer's smile fell off her face when she finally raised her gaze to meet Doug's. "That's right. You're supposed to start today."
She certainly remembered him, and that made him feel a little embarrassed that he still couldn't remember her last name, or where they had met before the day of his interview. Then uneasiness replaced the embarrassment as they just stood there, looking at each other.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, and wished he had opted for a polo shirt instead of going for a neat, clean, business-like first impression. Who wore a tie on Saturday, anyway?
"No. I just forgot. Too much else on my mind. Ah -- go on in. Puck needs some space between him and a bunch of clingy little girls with paint all over their hands." She shrugged and stepped back and fished a key out of her pocket as she spoke, dragging the big dog with her.
Doug stayed out of reach of those big jaws, though Claire and Kurt had assured him the dogs were well-trained and friendly. He thanked Jennifer and stood holding the door open for a few seconds until she released her dog and the two took off running.
A blurred memory flickered through his mind. He had seen her running toward him -- across tarmac rather than grass. Her hair was tucked up in a flight helmet with the visor cocked up, and she wore a dark green jumpsuit.
            That was all the memory that came to him. He sighed, admitting that was a step forward, but a very tiny, useless one. He had been to a lot of airports and private airstrips in his lifetime, and used to love spending free time at air shows. She could have been at any of several dozen in the last ten years. Doug shook off the niggling feeling that it was important to remember her, and focused on his surroundings as he walked down the hall to the main office of the Mission.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A New Series Coming -- Tie-In to Tabor Heights

It's done!

I'm delighted to report that the first book in a new series that ties in to the Tabor Heights books has just been sent off to my publisher, Desert Breeze.

QUARRY HALL
Women's Fiction
Adventure, danger, mystery, a little bit of the supernatural.

Appropriately, the Quarry Hall books start with Joan Archer, the woman who brought Tabor Heights and the Arc Foundation together.
If you've read any of the Tabor Heights books -- which I'm hoping you have, since you're checking out this blog! -- you know that Nikki James and Joan Archer are half-sisters.
Nikki works for the Arc Foundation, and she came home to Tabor Heights to evaluate the Mission for partnership with Arc.

With Quarry Hall #1: Joan, you'll finally read the story you've caught in bits and pieces from other people walking through the Tabor Heights stories: Jennifer, from THE MISSION; Nikki James and Brock Pierson, from FORGIVEN; Kurt Green in FIRESONG; Xander Finley and Hannah Blake in COMMON GROUNDS.

So look for the first book in the Quarry Hall series coming in January 2013, from Desert Breeze!

Friday, August 17, 2012

August 17: from ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

Tyler almost dropped the cup of coffee Daniel Morgan had just handed him in the church fellowship hall.
Lynette Teague glanced past him. She smiled -- a little nervously, Tyler thought -- and gestured with her chin at the door of the church's fellowship hall. "That's your cousin -- Abby, right?"
No, he definitely hadn't been seeing things. That vision in a pale green sundress, coming through the double doors, was definitely Abby.
Tyler felt the wet and heard the splatter of coffee hitting the tile floor before he felt the heat.
He had squeezed the cardboard cup of fresh, steaming coffee.
How clumsy can a guy get? he silently scolded himself as he went down on one knee with his tiny square of napkin to blot up the coffee.
And of course, bumped heads with Morgan, who had done the same -- but at least had the sense to grab a handful of napkins off the table, where people were picking up coffee and cookies and talking before the second service of the morning started.
"Okay, now I believe you," Morgan said, laughing and rubbing the side of his head. He settled back on his haunches and watched Tyler for a few seconds, before somberly handing over his handful of napkins.
"Believe me about what?" Tyler worked furiously on the dark splotches, trying not to feel the moment when Abby turned from greeting her friends and saw him.
"You can be a klutz." He got to his feet and thanked Lynette with a smile as she handed him his coffee. "Ty, I think you got it all."
"Tyler?" Abby's voice sounded like rich cream, with a little sparkle at the end, like colored sugar. "What are you doing?"
"Cleaning up another mess." He sighed, gave in to the inevitable, and stood, cradling his handful of wet, coffee-stained napkins.
"At least it's not bubble gum." She looked around and reached past him, just as he found the trashcan sitting next to the end of the long table. Their arms collided and half the wet paper ended up on the floor.
"Bubble gum?" Lynette said.
Tyler hoped he wasn't imagining it, that her smile looked strained, ready to crumble right off her face. Now that he thought about it, she and Morgan certainly looked like they were waiting for someone when he strolled into the fellowship hall in search of coffee  after he had dropped off Pam and Danny for Sunday school.
"Do you two know each other?" Morgan said, looping his arm through Lynette's.
            "Remember my telling you about my sister's kids breaking my car and trying to fix it with bubble gum?" Tyler looked down into Abby's eyes, and for a moment his heart lurched to a stop. He had definitely missed seeing Abby every day, even if it was just to wave hello as they passed in the driveway.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

August 16: from THE MISSION

She hesitated to ask her next question, because Paul had held back so many details of his life. If he didn't feel free to share them with her, then did she have any right to ask? "What did your wife die of? I hope she didn't suffer long."
"Her whole life was suffering." He shook his head, holding up a hand to stop her when she opened her mouth to apologize. "No, not like that. She was hurt when she was young. It caught up with her. The doctors said she would never get pregnant. Then when Sammy was on the way, they said she wouldn't go full-term. Then they said she would be physically disabled and mentally damaged. Then they said Serena wouldn't survive the delivery. We proved them wrong, again and again." His voice caught. "But she was fragile, physically. One day she caught a cold and it turned to pneumonia and..." He shrugged.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. She rested her hand on his wrist. Paul seemed to stiffen. For a few seconds they stood there, frozen, looking down at her pale, long-fingered hand resting on his big, calloused, tanned hand. She was suddenly fascinated by the coarse hairs on his knuckles, glinting like white fire in the afternoon sunlight.
"It's okay," he said, gently tugging his hand free. "Friends have a right to ask, and to know." He cleared his throat as he bent and dipped the brush in the can of stain. "Maybe -- you know Andy better than I do. Maybe if he needs someone to talk to while he's going through all this, let him know I'm here?"
"I'll do that. Thanks." She took a step back, knowing she should go inside again, but wanting an excuse to stay out here. There was something peaceful and comforting about being in Paul's company. Maybe just because he didn't insist on talking all the time, because he didn't ask for anything or expect anything. "Do you--" She pressed both hands over her mouth, muffling nervous laughter. Really, it was ridiculous, the way her heart started racing. "Do you and Sammy want to come over for dinner?"
"Why?" He glanced over his shoulder as he paused in spreading the stain on the side of the bookshelves.
"No special reason. I have this incredible apple pie and Tommy has been nagging me to get the fried chicken on special at Heinkie's and you'd be doing us a favor by helping us eat it, so we don't have leftovers tormenting us all weekend." She wanted to laugh when she saw that delightful, crooked grin brighten his face. "Why?"
"Tommy was teasing Sammy about having the VeggieTales pirates movie -- which she doesn't have -- and I thought maybe she got to you and wangled an invitation for us to come over and use your jumbotron TV to watch it."
"I'll have you know that screen isn't nearly as big as Tommy tells everybody. But now that I think about it, that sneaky brother of mine did say something -- several times -- about having a movie night with his favorite niece."
"Those two schemers need to be taught a lesson." Paul stepped around the bookcase. "How about I get her a babysitter, and you tell your brother he's on his own for dinner, and we watch the movie without them?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him if he was asking her out on a date. Claire swallowed the words and shook her head. "If we do that, they'll never forgive us. At the very least, they'll complain and torment us for a week."
              She was relieved and disappointed at the same time when Paul agreed with her. And pleased when he insisted on providing potato salad and ice cream to go with their dinner. The man was very nearly perfect, in so many small but meaningful ways.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 15: from DETOURS

"She couldn't give me anything but rumors. For all I know, Morgan's bringing in someone to help him teach a class, not leaving. It's a big mess," Bekka said, letting out a deep sigh. She let out a deeper one when Shane scooted around behind her on the floor of her living room and massaged her neck muscles. "Oh... I'll give you a day to stop."
"That's what happens when you carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders," he murmured. "I don't know if I'm glad or worried you told me all this. It really isn't my right to know all that stuff about Morgan and Kat's mom and everything."
"Yeah, but you're the only one I can trust to keep a secret. And you're the only one I can ask to pray about it, too. Morgan really needs it. He's in love with Kat's mom. He's always been in love with her. I get so jealous, sometimes, wanting..." Her face started to burn when Shane's hands stopped moving and she could see him peering around her right side to see her face.
"Maybe you should stop trying so hard. See, that's the problem with you, Bekka." He scooted around so he didn't have to twist so hard to see her. "You're nearly perfect, and you keep killing yourself trying to get there."
"Nearly perfect?" For a moment, she didn't know whether to scream or laugh or hug him or punch him.
"I'm glad you're not perfect. Perfect means you'd be in heaven, and that's kind of a long commute for dates."
"Oh -- you..." She settled for reaching back to the couch and snatching up the nearest pillow to bop him.
Shane reached for his own pillow. The door banged hard. Something thudded against it. A faint jangle of keys sounded outside. The two combatants paused, frowning at each other.
The lock clicked and Kat burst through the door, almost before it opened wide enough.
"I can't believe it! Do you know what that skunk did?" she shrieked.
"Which skunk is it now?" Bekka asked, with an awful sinking feeling.
"Morgan!"
"You're dating Professor Morgan?" Shane asked with a grin. He chuckled when Bekka tried to jab him with her elbow and missed, hitting the sofa behind them.
"Not for a million dollars! Morgan's leaving town! Some geek graduate student is teaching his classes this semester."
"Where's he going?" Bekka held her breath, praying it was just another college for a semester as a guest lecturer.
"He didn't get fired, did he? Morgan's the greatest. You should have heard him explaining Shakespeare my junior year," Shane added.
"You'd think he'd at least tell me," Kat snarled. "I mean, he's my adviser. I'm his assistant, for heaven's sake. He's dating--"
"Kat, do you have any idea what that rat fink is doing?" Lynette demanded, bursting through the door her daughter hadn't shut.
"I just heard myself. I was hoping you'd know."
"Why should I expect him to tell me anything? He can criticize my life, but I can't tell him anything about his?"
              "I think I hear some ice cream calling," Bekka muttered, and scrambled to her feet and into the kitchen, with Shane close behind.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August 14: from FIRESONG

That night, Andy didn't leave the counseling tent until the very last straggler had gone home and the maintenance team came in to turn off the lights. He walked slowly through the shadows to his truck, sitting all by itself in the gravel lot. Sitting in the dark truck, Dani watched him come, aching for him, wondering what was going through his heart.
Through the years, he had talked about going to seminary. She wondered sometimes if he had given up on the idea to stay home with her. Their aunt and uncle had been perfectly happy to take full responsibility for Dani when she had been younger, but Andy wanted to watch out for her personally. The day they learned their parents had died, they had promised to stick with each other forever.
Would Andy be a minister right now, if he hadn't been watching out for her? Would he never have fallen in love with Katie and married her? Would he have married her sooner, if he had a decent job, a pastorate to take her to? Would they have had more time together?
Andy reached the truck and opened the door. He rocked back on his heels when the light revealed Dani waiting for him.
"I thought you were going home with Aunt Betty."
"I had some people to talk to, first." She offered a tentative smile. Most of her talking had been praying.
"And you figured we'd have our heart-to-heart right away, huh?"
She could only shrug. Either way, he was stuck with giving her a ride back to the farm. Andy slid into the truck and they were both quiet for the first ten minutes, leaving the fairgrounds and getting out onto Sackley Road.
"It's not like I'm doing this on purpose," he finally said, after glancing at her a few times.
"Somebody's making you leave?" She tried to smile and make her words a joke, but her chest ached too much.
"You know what I mean. I didn't choose the timing. I've been struggling with this decision for a long time."
"I kind of guessed. Sorry I never noticed."
"Guess it looks like I'm running out on you, huh?"
"Running out on me?" she squeaked.
"We promised we'd always be there for each other, right?" He waited for her to nod. Had Andy been thinking exactly the same things she had tonight? "The band doesn't really need me. And you don't need me anymore, Dani."
"I'll always need you. You're my brother!"
"You know what I mean. Maybe the whole reason for me being in Firesong was to get you involved, get you hooked up with the crusade team. Now that you're here, God is telling me to move on. I kind of feel like John the Baptist, you know?"
"Yeah, but he got his head chopped off in the end."
"Well... some people say that about seminary, too."
"Who does?"
"Hey, I was trying to make a joke."
"Trying." She squirmed a little, hating the sick sensation twisting around inside her gut and her heart.
"Dani, if you can't go on without me, then I didn't do a very good job, you know? If you're still holding onto my hand, I cheated you. I promised Mom and Dad I'd take care of you, not turn you into a puppet. Understand?"
"I guess. It's just going to be hard without you."
"You think you're going to have it hard? Just think about me, ten years older than everybody in my class!"
                 It took a moment, but she was finally able to conjure the mental image. Andy crossed his eyes at her. They grinned at each other, tears in their eyes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

August 13: from THE MISSION

"Sorry," Paul said, hurrying into the office. He paused at the counter and gestured around the room. "Which phone?"
"Any one." Jennifer pointed at the three phones, all with a single flashing light in the middle of the row of buttons. "Line three."
"Thanks." He stepped around the counter and picked up the phone, feeling awkward. Not that it was forbidden to get personal calls at work, but most people in town who wanted to talk to him usually waited until he was off at the end of the day, or until they could meet up with him at church. Tabor had all the nice aspects of a small town where people knew each other's routines, and none of the intrusive, telling-everyone-else-how-to-live elements.
"Pauly? How's it going?" The scratchy female voice yanked Paul back to Lucasburg and late-night talks over pie and coffee, in the only diner in town that allowed smoking.
"Just fine, Abigail. What's up? Your next installment of photos and a long report on what Sammy's been doing is on its way down to you."
"Oh, I'm not worried about that, hon. You, I can rely on. It's those two-faced sacks of puke -- sorry, they just got me so riled up right now."
"What did they do now?" Paul closed his eyes and leaned forward to rest his elbows on the counter. He was grateful Jennifer was the only one in the office. He couldn't have taken it if Claire saw him fall apart.
Only something dire, and having to do with the Simpsons and Dunkirks, could get Abigail angry enough to actually call him long-distance.
"Serena's Granny Simone died last month -- you heard that, didn't you?" the old woman said.
"Yeah, her nurse called me. Nobody in the family did. Not that I expected them to do anything else." Paul braced himself to hear more of Seth Simpson's lies. Maybe he knew about the box of money Granny Simone gave him on that last visit, and he was claiming Paul stole it?
"They're spitting mad about the will. The old darling finally got them good," the crusty old woman said with a loud snort and a hack-spit.
Paul grinned, even as his throat tightened in memory. He never could get used to the sour-ripe smell of Abigail spitting tobacco juice when she wasn't smoking like a jalopy with an oil leak.
"What does Granny Simone's will have to do with me?" he said, and adjusted his stance so he could put more of his weight on the counter. It had been a long day of repairing and filling cracks in cinderblock walls, painting, and replacing broken, moldy, water-stained ceiling tiles. He ached in every muscle, including some he didn't know he had until they got loud in protest.
"She left everything to Sammy. Said flat-out in her will that Serena was the only good thing her only daughter ever did, and Sammy was worth ten times the entire clan."
"But?" Paul tugged on his shirt collar, unbuttoning it against a sudden choking feeling.
               "The woman was as good-hearted as they make 'em, but dumber than a brick wall. She didn't say anything about you being Sammy's guardian. She just left everything to her great-granddaughter, didn't name Sammy specifically, no trust fund, no instructions to protect that money. Those idiots are scrambling to get their hands on Sammy by hook or by crook, so they can get that money."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

August 11: from FIRESONG

"Hey!" another voice called from behind them. "Wait up!"
Curt grimaced.
"Trouble?" Tom asked, turning to look toward the voice.
"Let's just say that this guy never heard of the Miranda rights." He hooked his thumb toward the end tent in a line of four. "That one is available for people to hide out in, if you guys want to make a run for it. I'll distract Mr. 'All the Dirt Nobody Needs to Hear', if you want."
"Oh, great. This must be the guy who's been calling for the last three weeks and never talks slow enough for me to get his number off the answering machine." Andy stepped out from the group. "I had to turn the ringer off because Katie couldn't get any sleep with him calling all the time." He clenched his fists.
"Don't ruin your hands," Dani said. "Where can we get another keyboard player this close to the crusade?"
Their cousins laughed. Unfortunately, their delay let the troublesome reporter catch up with them.
He looked like any other ordinary person; nice face, brown eyes, pale brown hair, average build -- even a few freckles. Dani suspected that was the problem. People thought he was harmless, and then he started asking questions about things they didn't want uncovered. He had a camera around his neck, a recorder in his hand, and sneered briefly when he saw Curt. He nodded to the other reporter, then visibly dismissed him from consideration.
"So, you're Freesong?" he asked, and pushed the switch to turn on his recorder.
"Nope. Sorry. Let's go, gang," Jim said. He gave the reporter his most innocent smile and started walking away. A few snorts of laughter escaped Jason and Tom, and they followed him.
"But -- hey -- the guy at the gate said--" He snapped off his recorder and scurried to keep up with them, leaving Andy and Dani and Curt in the rear, ignored.
That, Dani decided, was just how she wanted it. They followed, curious to see how the others would handle this unwanted addition to their group.
"We're Firesong. Freesong hasn't shown up." Jason turned to his brothers. "Have you guys ever heard of a Freesong?"
"There probably is one. You know how groups come and go so fast these days," Tom said. "Try the Medina County Fairgrounds instead."
"Oh, funny," the reporter grumbled. "I hear your manager is suing you for breach of contract."
"We ought to sue him. And that's former manager. The contract says he can't make any commitments without our approval. We told him we were doing the crusade and then he signed us up for the other jobs."
"How come you Christians can't ever get along when it comes to money?" he asked.
"What?" Tom gasped. They all stopped short. The reporter's friendly grin turned malicious just long enough for Dani to wish a swarm of bees would drive him away.
"It's more than money," Andy said, first to recover from the shock, "but that's all Mr. Danziger cares about. The important thing is what pleases God. If doing this crusade hurts our career, then we have to trust God to take care of it."
"Uh huh. What if God tells you guys to get out of the music business entirely?"
"He hasn't said that yet," Dani couldn't help interjecting. She shivered a little, wondering if someone had told this man about all her prayers and doubts and worries lately.
"Well, you ought to know, huh?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jim asked.
"She's the preacher girl. Open line to God, right?"
"Hardly." Dani decided she had enough. She focused on the tent Curt had designated as a refuge and walked away.
"What if God tells you to quit the business?" the reporter persisted. Dani kept walking. She prayed her hands didn't shake.
"Then we quit and do whatever He wants us to do next," Andy said. A hollowness in his voice made Dani shiver.
"That easy, huh?"
"Who said anything about easy?"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August 9: from FIRESONG

"What's with the munchkin?" Dani asked, joining Max and Bekka at the gazebo overlooking Poe Lake that morning.
She fought down a cold ripple that was pure jealousy, watching Tony and Shane Hopkins, Bekka's boyfriend who had come out of nowhere, teaching BJ Marshall how to skip stones on the water. Dani bit her lip against complaining that their arrangements had been for the three girls to have a meeting about the fall Sunday school launch program. No mention of males of any age. She was honestly happy that Max and Tony had opened their eyes to how they really felt about each other, and even happier that Bekka, who had been her mentor for a few years, had found someone who seemed so perfect for her. Shane wore a cowboy hat, rode a motorcycle, and went to their church -- what more could a girl ask for? Besides, he had proved how smart he was by chasing Bekka.
But did they have to flaunt their romantic successes?
"Jeannette's out of town," Max said, handing Dani a cheese Danish from a big box marked with the Rick's Bakery logo. "We're babysitting."
"Out of town for what?"
"Her mother-in-law had a stroke or something," Bekka said with a shrug. "From all the talk, when the witch attacked Pastor Wally, she probably brought it on herself. Anyway, the good brother-in-law asked Jeannette to come see her. Maybe there'll be a death-bed reconciliation or something."
"That's cliched and sappy, even in romances," Max said.
"You ought to know."
Max grimaced and flipped the lid closed on the bakery box. "Can we get to work?"
Dani settled down on the bench that let her look out over the lake. She rubbed her arms, suddenly cold from thinking about the vicious Mrs. Evans getting a taste of what she had inflicted on Pastor Wally. All right, so it wasn't very Christian of her, but she was glad. After all the trouble the Evans family had tried to cause for Jeannette, the false complaints made to the authorities to try to hurt the Mission and Tabor Christian for protecting Jeannette and BJ -- and following the law, essentially, by refusing to hand BJ over to people he had never met -- Dani figured the woman deserved whatever suffering had fallen on her.
I'm a horrid person. Vindictive. Just like when we were kids and I loathed Sue-Anne. Dani picked up the bottle of pineapple-orange juice Max had brought for her, and tried to force her attention onto what her two friends were discussing. That was why she had come out on this gorgeous Saturday morning, after all.
She was able to contribute to the meeting, but her thoughts kept drifting back to images of the nasty woman, whom she had never seen, lying in a hospital bed, plugged into all sorts of monitors and tubes and IV drips. Dani was only mildly shocked at how much she liked the image -- and that shocked her more than her vindictive feelings.
I'm not a nice person at all.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 8: from THE SECOND TIME AROUND

Lynette missed their lunch date on Tuesday, and this time she didn't even call to cancel. Daniel stopped at Blooming Miracles and found she had just left on a delivery run. She would be gone for at least two hours, with a van-full of arrangements and bouquets. It was hard to frown in the face of the owner's delight in the growing success of her shop, which she was glad to attribute to Lynette's talent and her wonderful way of making friends of all their customers.
Still, Daniel grumbled on the drive back to his office. He called her house, asking her to meet him for dinner.
Lynette didn't call back.
Daniel waited until Friday, then went to her condo when he knew she should be home. The garage had no windows, so he couldn't look inside to see if her car was there. He walked along the front of the house, trying to look in the windows, but all the shades were drawn against the hot afternoon sunshine.
He didn't see the curtains flick aside ever so slightly in the tiny laundry room stuck in the corner between the kitchen and the garage.
Fighting a churning inside that threatened to come out as either fury or paralyzing fear and hurt, Daniel stomped up to the front door and rang the doorbell. The curtain in the laundry room window flickered again as the doorbell chimed through the house. He stared at the front door, willing it to open.
No response.
He took a few deep breaths, silently urging himself into calm before ringing the bell again. The laundry room window curtain didn't move this time, but a shadow passed by behind it.
Daniel waited through three more tries of the doorbell, pausing between rings to listen to the sounds in the house, the neighborhood. The laughter of children at play somewhere mixed with the clatter of dogs barking and the drone of an airplane passing by on its way to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, but no movement from inside Lynette's house. Daniel clenched his fist, raising it to pound on the door.
Then he stopped himself, shoulders slumping a little, and left the tiny porch.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't keep his mind from replaying those miserable weeks after learning Lynette had simply vanished and wasn't coming back to school, and her mother wouldn't give him a clue to where she had gone. Daniel knew he could ask Kat to help him find her mother, but he didn't want to admit to anyone that they were having problems.
Not yet, anyway. He needed to talk to Lynette, first. Weren't there guidelines in Scripture about handling problems between two people? It wasn't time to bring in outside mediators. Not yet. He hoped.
When he got back to his car, he slouched in front of the steering wheel for several moments, silently praying for patience. For understanding. For strength. For God to take this ache away before he did or said something they would all regret. A single tear escaped his left eye, but he ignored it as he yanked the key in the ignition and started the engine.
           Long after the neighborhood was quiet again, the front door creaked open and Lynette peered outside. Dark smears of sleeplessness marked her eyes. She was pale and blinked rapidly in the half-light of the porch. She tried to smile, looking at the two tiny oil spots Daniel's car left in her driveway. Shrugging, she went back into the house and slowly, softly closed the door.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August 7: from THE MISSION

"Arc?" Kurt Green said, when Doug got through the usual "how's it been?" phone ritual and asked his question. "Oh, yeah. I remember that trouble you had with that other group that sounded too good to be true. Okay. Let me think for a minute." He took a deep breath, loud through the phone connection. "Are you asking because you got called to interview for the job?"
"I went for the interview, and now--"
"How come you didn't contact me when you were here, so we could hang for a while?"
"I could only take a half-day. Big staff retreat Friday night that I had to head back for. Sorry." Mostly true. He had forgotten to call his friend while he was in town.
"Makes sense. Not like I'm flexible lately, anyway. So why are you asking about Arc?"
"The Mission just called me to come."
"Hey, congratulations. That's great news. I've been at the Mission, I know some of the people working there -- well, yeah, I told you that before." He chuckled. "Okay, I get the picture. You didn't have any info on Arc's involvement because it's pretty recent. Well, the easy answer is that you don't have to worry. The big boss is a personal friend of the people who run Arc."
"Allen Michaels?" Doug grinned at his blank TV screen and slumped a little in his couch.
"He's been out to Quarry Hall, Arc's headquarters, a few times. I've been out there. Did you meet Nikki James when you were at the Mission?"
"Yeah, Arc's liaison."
"I knew her when we were kids. Tabor Christian is her home church. She's not going to get them involved in anything shady."
"That's good news, but..."
"But your bad experience makes you worried. Look at it this way -- you might start working there, and they might decide they don't like you, you're not a good fit after all. Ever think of that?"
Doug started to retort, and then the words caught in his throat. After a few seconds of thought, the sound emerged as a laugh. "Okay, I get the message."
            "Take it on a trial basis. Keep your mind and your heart open and let God tell you what you're supposed to do."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

August 5: DETOURS

                "The book still bugs you too, huh?" Shane said, when they had sat there smiling at each other for a few moments too long, all the busy clatter of the cafĂ© swirling around them.
"It always bugs me. It won't be real until it's printed and in my hands," Bekka said.
"And you never told anyone."
"Except you and the Randolphs. I mean, they hooked me up with my agent and all that."
"I don't know how you can stand it," he said, flicking some specks of foam at her. He smirked when she squeaked and ducked. "I'd be shouting to the whole town from the moment the publisher called me."
"It's actually easier on me, that hardly anyone else knows. With all the changes... Every time they say my book is going to press, I start to hope -- then they call and say there's another problem. I have this horrid feeling I'm going to wake up and find out it's all been a dream!"
"And you're keeping it quiet from your roommates. I guess that's the... diplomatic thing to do. Things are kind of blah for both of them right now, all the stress they're under. And you with so much good news and... well, us and all. So how come I'm one of the lucky ones who knows?"
"You're... special."
"Special, huh?" His grin got wider. He looked around the coffee house, then leaned a little closer to Bekka. He speared the last piece of cake on his fork, then put it up to her lips.
Bekka barely tasted the cake as she ate it, staring deep into Shane's eyes. He leaned closer and a quick jolt of delighted panic raced through her. Was he about to kiss her?
"When you finally tell them," he whispered, "they are going to kill you."
Bekka had to laugh. She fluttered her eyelashes at him whispering back in mock fear, "You'll protect me, won't you?"
"Better believe it. Nobody hurts my Bekka."
"Your Bekka, huh? And just how far does that ownership extend?"
"Oh, far enough to keep from getting a black eye when I--" He darted forward in mid-sentence and kissed her square on the lips.
Bekka closed her eyes and held very still. She counted to ten, then slowly opened her eyes. Shane watched her, the first hints of worry pushing away his nervous grin.
"I thought maybe this was all a dream and you were going to vanish," she explained.
"Can't get rid of me that easily." He rested his hands over hers on the edge of the table. "I'm here for the long haul."

Friday, August 3, 2012

August 3: from ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

From the newest Tabor Heights novel.
Check out the Cyber Launch Party blog TODAY, August 3, to chat about Tabor Heights in general, ACCIDENTAL HEARTS in particular!

The phone rang just as she was heading out to the pool for a hopeful nap in her floating lounge chair. Abby listened, but didn't hear any sounds coming up the stairs from the basement, where Al and Candy and Chad were having a three-way video game battle. No chance of anyone racing to answer the phone. She caught it on the fourth ring, stopping the answering machine just before it clicked on.
"Hi, Abby?"
She thought her lungs had frozen stiff, choking her, at the sound of Tyler's voice.
"Yeah. Hi," she managed to say.
"Sorry I missed you at church." He laughed. "Hey, did you hear about the adventure club?"
"Adventure club?" The second the words left her lips, some vague memory fluttered at the edge of her thoughts.
"Maybe Mrs. Polavshenko didn't get hold of you. It's something new, for the kids who aren't involved in Scouts or sports or something after school in the fall. I was just wondering if you were thinking of having your kids in it. Maybe if Danny and Pam do it too, we could take turns with driving or whatever."
"Oh. Yeah. Sounds good." Abby got her breath back, but wondered why it mattered. She certainly didn't sound coherent to herself, and she could only imagine the impression she was making on Tyler. "Um, when you get more information -- or maybe I should call her myself? Are your kids interested?"
"It's kind of hard to tell. Hey, is Candy interested in some kid name Eddie Web?"
"The Spider? Goodness, no!" She shook her head, wondering if he had said something else and she just didn't catch it. "Why?"
"Thank goodness. Pammy decided he's the cutest thing since Hello Kitty, and I'd hate the girls to get into a fight over him."
"Encourage her to talk to him, or just sit next to him in class next week. She'll come to her senses."
"Umm..." Laughter made his voice rich. "Any reason why they call him the Spider? Like, he has eight arms or something? Like I should be carrying a shotgun to protect my favorite niece?"
In the background, Pam's voice rang out, shrill with that distinctive humiliated whine of a pre-adolescent. Abby muffled laughter, trying to listen.
"I'm on her dirt list," Tyler said, sighing loudly.
"My condolences. No, Eddie's not like that. He just likes bugs and he broke his arm a couple years ago after he saw one of the Spider-Man movies about a dozen times, then got hold of a can of silly string and... the expected happened."
"Oh, no! I have this very clear image in my head." Danny's voice came muffled from the background. "I better get going, make up for humiliating her and giving her brother ammunition. See you in church next week?"
"Absolutely." She bit her tongue to keep from asking where they could plan on meeting.
"I miss running into you," he offered.
                "Yeah. Me too." Abby held back the groan until after they had both said good-bye and she hung up. Then she pressed her back against the wall and sank down to the floor and pressed her face into her folded knees. "I am not twelve years old! Why can't I get my tongue working?"