Pages

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

NEW novel: ANNE, Quarry Hall Book Two

The AUGUST release from Desert Breeze Publishing is the story of Anne, one of the daughters of Quarry Hall.

Travel back in time, before the events related in the Tabor Heights books, to when Common Grounds Legal Clinic was still getting on its feet. Anne, as a representative of the Arc Foundation, comes to Tabor Heights to investigate Common Grounds for more funding. She thinks it will be an easy assignment, a chance to decompress after her last task, helping to track down people trying to destroy women's shelters from within.

Unfortunately, Anne runs into trouble. False accusations. Rumors. Attacks both physical and spiritual. Then there's the problem with Hannah, Xander's new Gal Friday at Common Grounds. She and Anne could be friends, but there's this problem with Xander paying just a little too much attention to the wrong girl ...

Check out this new women's fiction novel in the series that ties into Tabor Heights. And lots more to come in the next few years!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30: FIRESONG

        The big day came; the grand release day for Firesong's first professionally produced CD. McCready's Music in downtown Tabor Heights had offered to host the release party. They had premiered Firesong's two single tapes and their homemade CDs, and loaned the band instruments during emergencies. They had been supportive since the days the boys had lip-synched in a church talent show.
        At nine Wednesday morning, the members of Firesong and their families showed up to help Mr. and Mrs. McCready hang the posters and the cover blow-ups, set up tables for autographing outside, and haul crates of CDs from the storage room. Kurt was there, somehow staying out of Dani's way without visibly avoiding her. She wondered how he managed to do it.
        It was probably just her imagination. He was so busy with the crusade, he wouldn't have noticed her presence unless she deliberately tripped him.
        The irony of the situation didn't escape her.
        Katie, Stephanie, Pastor Glenn and Rita stood with Aunt Betty and Uncle George at the front of the store by the windows, watching as fans started lining up nearly fifteen minutes before the store was to open at ten. Uncle George took pictures with half a dozen different cameras, so everyone had their own record of this special day. The McCreadys beamed brighter than anyone else. Every member of Firesong had worked at their music store during the last ten years. In a way, Dani reflected, this was a day of triumph for the McCreadys, too.
        "Ready, gang?" Kurt asked, as the clock in the shape of Elvis' face inched toward the hour.
        "Ready as we'll ever be." Tom bowed toward the door.
        Mr. McCready grinned as proudly as a new father while leading the procession to the front door. He opened it with a flourish. The waiting fans standing on the grass and the sidewalk and even in the parking lane of Main, in front of the old house-turned-shop, let out cheers that could probably be heard past City Hall. Flashbulbs popped and someone at the edge of the crowd had a video camera.
        Later, Dani estimated more than half of Tabor Heights had come for the release celebration, and a good number of people from surrounding towns as well. The day passed in vignettes, like snapshots of memories:
        Kurt organizing the waiting fans into lines to buy their CD or poster at one table, then move to the next table where Firesong sat and signed autographs.
        Aunt Betty and Uncle George, pushed back into the store by the sheer press of traffic, both wearing proud smiles.
        Katie and Stephanie, wisely retreating into the shadowy shelter of the store, making faces at Dani -- they had promised not to leave her alone with the guys.
        Mr. McCready, making multiple trips in and out of the store, getting more change, getting more CDs and posters, grinning broadly despite his growing weariness.
        Mrs. McCready, making change faster than the hucksters at Progressive Field selling pop and cotton candy and peanuts before the Indians started playing.
        Dani lost count early of how many fans stepped past her to get signatures from her brother and cousins. She knew she should feel slighted, but after two hours of signing autographs and trying to answer questions that couldn't be heard over the noise of the crowd, she was honestly relieved to be ignored. She decided she could safely retreat without anyone noticing her absence -- until they matched signatures with pictures.

        They weren't only girls who adored Firesong, were they?

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29: THE MISSION

        "You're going to get in so much trouble," Claire said, glancing at her passenger in the front seat of her van.
        "What the drill sergeant doesn't know won't hurt me," Pastor Wally said. His broad smile was reassuring, but she would have felt better if his characteristic rumbling laugh had followed the declaration.
        "You're spending the rest of the day sitting down, you hear me? If you try to do anything more strenuous than feed yourself, I'll have Paul and Brock tie you to that wheelchair you refuse to use, and haul you home. I have experience with wheelchairs. I'll put you up on blocks and take out your center bolt, and don't think I won't." She took advantage of the stoplight at the corner of Cane and Sackley, and shook her finger at him.
        Now she got the chuckle she wanted to hear. It wasn't loud enough or long enough to suit her, but it was a start.
        Pastor Wally had insisted on going to the Mission when the hospital released him. Claire couldn't refuse him what gave him joy and a reason for living. She compromised by insisting he limit himself to sitting in the big easy chair in the library that he used for story time. As long as he stayed out of the office and let the children come to see him, instead of his usual wandering in and out of classrooms and across the playground, he wouldn't have to go home.
        She wasn't sure if she wanted him to abide by the ground rules she had established or not. If he was able to get up and move around, that would be a good sign of recovery. If he was content to sit and let the children come to him, what did that say about his spirits and energy?
        "Should we have that talk now, or when you and Tommy take me home?" Pastor Wally said, breaking the silence as Claire pulled into the parking lot at the Mission.
        "What talk?" Her voice cracked.
        "You know what I mean." He waited until she turned off the engine and pulled the key out of the ignition, before reaching over and taking hold of her hand. "It's time for me to think about retiring. Soon. Not just some nebulous time way off in the future."
        "Pastor Wally--"

        "Oh, Claire, my dear girl. You and Tommy have been more family to me in just the last few years than..." He shrugged, smiling crookedly. Then he seemed to deflate a little, closed his eyes, and tipped his head back against the seat. "The children make me feel young. Needed. I'm an old warhorse who hopes to die with the sound of trumpets in his ears and the smell of gunpowder in the air, instead of wasting away in pastures far from the battle lines."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 28: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

        Daniel talked Lynette into posing for an Old-Time Photo in costume, he as a riverboat gambler, and she as one of the dancers, complete with feathers in her hair and lots of ruffles in her skirt. He splurged and got double prints in plastic frames. Lynette teased him that she would treasure it forever. If such a photo didn't get him thrown off every committee at church and maybe get his membership revoked for good measure.
        "I'd like to see them try," Daniel said, laughing. He could just imagine the consternation that would go around the church if he stopped participating. He didn't think he did that much, but he helped in so many areas, it might make a dent.
        Besides, Joel Randolph had posed right here for a far worse picture with Emily last summer, and it had been Pastor Glenn's idea. He and his wife, Rita, had been delighted to be in the picture with them, as far as Daniel knew.
        They bought saltwater taffy, and made sure they bought the thick slabs of fries sprinkled with coarse salt and malt vinegar. And corn dogs. And SnoCones. They grumbled together that the Pirate Ride, which had been labeled a historical structure, had been closed down. They rode the Antique Cars and the Octopus and the Witch's Wheel, and Lynette snuggled closer when Daniel wrapped his arms around her to brace them both against the spinning, twisting, upside-down rides.
        He let himself believe her too-quiet moments had been just that, moments, and she was fine again.
Kat and Marco fell asleep in the back seat of the car on the way home. All four of them were sweaty, gritty, sunburned and too full of sugar and grease to be comfortable. Daniel hadn't had so much fun in years.
        If only he hadn't been afraid to relax completely and share all his plans for the future with Lynette, as each one popped into his head. It felt so right to think about and plan things they could do together as a family. Christmas Eve with the Randolphs. Opening night dinners with the cast of each BWU production. Participating in the all-community garage sale in Tabor Heights next spring. The list went on and on. But that would only happen when Kat finally knew the truth, and accepted it.
        Kat knew they were dating, that they had resumed a college romance. When would it be the right time to tell her the whole truth? Daniel knew the longer they waited, the harder she would take the revelation. Kat had tried to laugh about the months of secrecy. Would she be able to laugh when she knew he was her father?

        When would it be too late to tell Kat, without her being hurt and feeling betrayed by them, and creating a rift that would make the twenty years of silence from Lynette seem like spring break?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

July 27: DETOURS

        "Something wrong?" Bekka asked.
        "I've seen her like this before," Kat said. "She does things to make people happy, not because she wants to or likes to. If Morgan keeps dragging her to church with him, they're going to break up." She rolled over onto her back, nearly pushing herself off the couch in the process. "Which could be a good thing -- I mean, my mother and my adviser! But they're so good together. You can tell they're really happy. They really like each other. I feel like an intruder, but they keep asking me to come eat with them and go to the park and they want me and Marco to go to Cedar Point with them tomorrow. Should I?"
        "Are they paying?"
        "You're no help!" Kat sat up long enough to lob a decorative pillow at her. But she subsided back onto the couch with a crooked grin. "I couldn't stand it if Morgan hurts my Mom."
        "Sounds like she hurt him, the last time."
        "What?"
        "Oh, nothing anybody said," Bekka hurried to say. She closed up her computer, putting it in standby because she sensed she wouldn't get back to her story for a while. "Just some things they've both let drop. I guessed a while ago they knew each other at Northwestern, and your mom pushed him out of her life."
        "That was the stupidest thing she ever did -- no, the second stupidest. The stupidest was marrying Mike the Creepoid!" She shuddered. "But why does he have to drag her to church? Why does he have to drag me along with them?"
        "Because I think he's serious about her. Church is important to Morgan, just like it is to me." Bekka settled into the beanbag chair facing Kat. "If you have something wonderful in your life, you share it with the people who matter most to you, don't you?"
        "I guess." Kat nodded and scooted backwards to halfway sit up against the arm of the couch. "But you don't shove it down my throat all the time. You ask and you don't push when I say no."
        "Is that what Morgan's doing to you and your mom? Nagging you? Shoving it down your throat?"
        "Well... no. Not really." She groaned and tilted her head back; far enough Bekka's neck ached in sympathy. "I wish things were simple. I wish I knew what was going on between them."
        "They like each other."
        "Yeah, but this family togetherness thing is creeping me out."
        "Family?" Bekka held her breath.
        "Stupid, huh? I mean, I can't help wondering. Wishing. They must have broken up before Mom met my father. My real father, not the pervert. Maybe he broke them up, you know? Maybe Morgan was even more religious back in school and that scared Mom away. Just think -- if they hadn't broken up, he might be my father."
        "You wouldn't be you, if that happened." She crossed her fingers, just in case.
        "Yeah, I guess. I don't know. I'm just worried about this whole church thing. Why does he have to push it?"
        "Because he cares. Just like I care. I don't want you ending up in Hell. And don't give me that line Amy does, that if God really loved us, He wouldn't send anyone to Hell. You send yourself. God sets up the choices and you go where you choose to go. Flat and simple." Bekka nodded for emphasis. "You wouldn't be mad if Morgan and I kept trying to warn you from going over a cliff, would you?"
        "No." Some of the stress lines eased around Kat's mouth and eyes.
        "Same situation here."
        "I guess."
        "Tell you what, I'll go talk to Morgan about it tomorrow, okay?"

        "Okay. But Tuesday -- we're hitting Cedar Point tomorrow." Kat swung her legs off the couch. "I'd better go call Marco." She groaned as she crossed the room to the phone. "I can't believe this -- I'm double dating with my mother!" But she smiled as she wailed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26: A QUIET PLACE

        Nathan rented inline skates and took Jeannette and BJ skating up and down the bike trails through the Metroparks on Saturday. She told him about Xander's encounter with the social worker when they stopped to eat lunch, and BJ was distracted with struggling out of his skates so he could go to the water's edge to look for frogs.
        "So I wasn't imagining things when I thought someone was following me around all week?" He grinned when she frowned and hesitated. "You know, checking out the unwanted influence in the poor child's life."
        "I think Miss Dillon's style is to come right out and ask questions, and let you know you're being investigated." Jeannette took a deep breath. "Nathan, I thought I was being followed. Xander said he'd ask for some help, to try to use the trick against them. What if they're trying to get bad information about you, too?"
        "You think George has it in for me because BJ calls me uncle?"
        "I don't -- no, George... he isn't like them anymore."
        Now that she thought about it, Jeannette realized that after the encounter at the Mission the day Mrs. Evans first came to town, she hadn't seen George or Marian, other than across the sanctuary, or when they brought their daughter, Isabelle, to Sunday school. He hadn't spoken to her, hadn't done more than nod to her and attempt a smile. He always looked so tired. And sad. Marian moved stiffly, her head bowed as if she didn't want to look at anyone. Isabelle was the only one with any life in the family. She called to her little friends and danced up and down the halls, tugging on her parents' hands, impatient to get to class. She acted as if the entire world was fine.

        Just like BJ. Jeannette smiled, realizing that no matter what was going on around her, at least none of this was disturbing BJ. If only they could all be like children, who cried today but tomorrow kissed and made up and went on as if nothing had changed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25: A QUIET PLACE

        The third time Jeannette had to throw out a batch of bulletin inserts because she couldn't line them up in the paper cutter properly, she nearly burst into tears. It was all she could do not to throw the entire stack of crooked half-pages across the office.
        "Jeannette?" Pastor Glenn's soft voice startled a squeak out of her. "Why don't we go down to the kitchen and take a break, all right?"
        She opened her mouth to say no, she was fine, she didn't need a break. Then she looked around the office and realized everyone watched her. All the volunteers who came in on Fridays to assemble the bulletins; the part-time women who helped clean up the sanctuary and usually stayed to help with last-minute preparations for Sunday services; Beth Frances, the bookkeeper and payroll clerk.
        "That sounds good," she said, and winced at how reedy her voice sounded.
        Tears touched her eyes when she stepped out into the hall where Pastor Glenn waited, and he gently slid his arm around her shoulders. It was a bliss almost too painful to bear, to lean into his support as they walked the quiet, long hallways to the church kitchen.
        "Rita thought we might be needing an extra treat today," he said, reaching to open the refrigerator nearest the door.
        Bite-size cheesecake squares drizzled in raspberry sauce sat on a pebbled glass plate. Jeannette started to smile and exclaim over the treat. It sent a hurting sense of warmth through her, to realize her friend went to all that trouble, knowing it was one of her favorites. Then her stomach clenched into a knot. She sank down into a chair at the big, battered table in the middle of the kitchen and clenched her hands in her lap. She couldn't have taken one bite or sipped the two-hours-old coffee in the machine no matter how hard she tried.
        "I know this is probably murder on my cholesterol, but..." Pastor Glenn sighed through a mouthful of confection. He settled down next to Jeannette, in his usual spot in the squeaky chair at the head of the table. "If you don't mind my being so blunt, just how much have you been praying about this?"
        "Praying?" For a moment, she didn't understand what he had said. "Constantly. Every time I turn around, something reminds me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I hear something and I think -- they're breaking in, they're kidnapping BJ. Every time a stranger walks into the church, I half-expect to be served papers denying me custody of my own son."
        "Uh huh. Just what I thought."
        "What is that supposed to mean?" she half-whispered, to keep from shrieking at him.
        "Your prayers are probably on the order of, 'God, don't let her take my baby.' Or, 'God, don't let that nasty old witch win.' Am I right?"
        "What else am I supposed to pray?" she snapped, stung by the hint of a smile lurking at the backs of his eyes.
        "How about, 'Lord, I trust You, no matter what.' Or, 'Lord, no matter what happens, You know best.' Sounds like a more peaceful option to me."
        "Peaceful?" Jeannette pushed back to arms' length from the table. Everything blurred and heat streamed down her cheeks.
        "Instead of expecting her to win, why don't you start out with forgiving her?"
        "For--"

        The storm she had held off for days now rolled over her. Jeannette slumped against the table, nearly missing it. She put her head down on her crossed arms and sobbed until she choked, unable to get a breath. Vaguely, she felt Pastor Glenn's arms around her and smelled the spicy aftershave she had helped BJ pick out for him for Christmas. He said nothing, just held onto her and waited, rubbing her back and letting her know she wasn't alone in the midst of the darkness.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24: THE MISSION

        Paul felt Claire watching him, while he sat with Max and Tony's story group on the front lawn of the Mission, and listened to the children talk about their fears for Pastor Wally. He wasn't sure it was a good thing or a problem that he could tell whenever her attention focused on him. The only thing he could do was concentrate on the children's words, to hopefully offer some advice later for helping them deal with the whole "Pastor Wally is really sick" issue. Definitely, he wouldn't turn around and look for her, though chances were good she stood in the Mission's main entrance, looking out over the front lawn. If there was something he had to take care of -- another leaking pipe, a child who had cried herself sick and left a mess in the hall again -- she would have come out and fetched him.
        That meant Claire was just watching. Probably with that quiet, lips-pressed-flat-together-in-concern look. It wasn't that she disliked him, but she never let their working relationship get beyond friendly. He had learned a long time ago how to tell when a co-worker was "business friendly" or actually friendly. While Tommy had welcomed him and Sammy into his life and his home, Claire struck Paul as someone who would go through all the motions of friendliness, never letting it go beyond politeness or co-worker pleasantness to actually feeling something.
        Despite her coolness, he recognized a growing warmth inside himself toward her. That was going to be a problem, and not just because it reminded him of how his relationship with Serena had started -- sensing a need and loneliness in the quiet teenager who had been assigned the task of teaching him his duties in her stepfather's company. Just like he sensed a quiet reserve and unwillingness to look over the protective wall that Claire seemed to have erected around herself. That warmth had led to something wonderful between him and Serena. Wonderful enough to risk her stepfather's powerful wrath and time in prison under false charges.
        Claire and Serena were nothing alike on the outside. Certainly not in their family situations. His dead wife had far too much family and too many powerful connections in the entire county, so that Paul had felt they couldn't go anywhere, couldn't even have a casual conversation on the street corner without dozens of watchful, disapproving, judgmental eyes focused on them. Claire and Tommy were alone in the world, as far as he could see. And yet they had just as much family, just not of the genetic variety. The entire church, and especially the community of children and families impacted by the Mission were their family.

        The difference was that Claire was the guiding force, the heart, the mother of the family, while Serena had been the fragile, captive princess.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23: A QUIET PLACE

        "Excuse me?"
        A trembling female voice caught him with his hand on the knob for the drawer he prayed held Claire's medicine. Immediately, Pastor Wally pushed aside the throbbing that started at the base of his skull, spiked through the front between his eyes, and then radiated through his massive, Czechoslovakian farmhand frame. He opened his eyes and struggled to his feet.
        "Can I help you?" He tried to smile. The effort made the muscles in his face ache. Sliding on his glasses didn't improve his blurry vision, but it did free up his hand, so he could lean on Claire's desk with both hands.
        "You're the man in charge here?" the woman said, ending in a whimper.
        He was about to open his mouth and fake one of his hearty, booming reassurances. Ever since a former janitor had attacked him in the middle of a robbery and sent him to the hospital, technically he had not been in charge. The Arc Foundation provided more than half the funds for the Mission and was taking care of all the renovations and restorations and upgrades of all the equipment. Technically, Nikki James was in charge, but she always deferred to him. Something about this woman made him pause, though, and consider what he had been about to say.
        "Do I know you?" he asked, and took a step around the desk. He squinted, which only seemed to make his headache worse. The really pesky thing about these headaches was that they put a sparkling haze around his vision, so there was only a clear spot way at the end of a shimmering, swirling tunnel that made him feel dizzy if he strained against it too long.
        "I don't think so," the woman said, and dabbed at her eyes.
        That action did it. Pastor Wally knew he had seen her pale, teary-eyed face before -- but it hadn't been pale last week, and it had been ringed with a near-torrent of mascara washed away by her tears.
        "Mrs. Evans, what can I do to help you this time?" he asked, and tottered around the side of the desk to face her. There was no counter to lean against, but he refused to let her any further into the office. Maybe it was old-fashioned and superstitious and showed he watched too many of the current TV shows, but he believed devoutly in refusing to let malevolent spirits through the door to where he lived. The Mission was his home even more than his cozy apartment on Center Street.
        "Oh, Reverend, you have got to help me. Don't you know I live to see my grandson? Do you have any idea how much I've missed him all these years?"
        "You didn't even know he existed until your son told you." Pastor Wally perched on the front of the desk and turned his legs out into the aisle, effectively blocking her from stepping further into the office.
        "But it's all a huge misunderstanding!" she wailed.
        "No, I don't think so. What you don't realize, Mrs. Evans, is that Brody came to me for counseling quite often while he was a student here at BWU. He was torn about what to do when he graduated. He had quite fine opportunities, but he felt a responsibility to go home and share with you the spiritual awakening he had found."
        "Religious fanaticism," she grumbled, looking away.
        "Your son loved you very much, despite your domineering nature."

        Pastor Wally chuckled when she raised her head and glared at him. All pretense of weeping weakness vanished for several precious seconds. Long enough to give him a clear picture of how he should handle this woman. She was ten times the scheming, heartless creature she accused Jeannette of being.

Monday, July 22, 2013

July 22: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        Abby didn't work up the courage to call, but she did see Tyler's Corvette leaving the registration area as she pulled into the circular drive on Tuesday morning. Danny and Pam were waiting by the edge of the drive for the Jeep to pull up and drop off Candy and Chad.
        "We were a little worried," she told the two Sloane children, leaning over in the driver's seat so she wouldn't have to shout.
        Mrs. Polavshenko stood like a cigar store Indian by the opening in the barricades, watching all the children arrive and marking them off her clipboard. She nodded to Abby and returned to her scrutiny of every car that drove up.
        "Grampa took us to Cedar Point overnight Sunday," Pam said.
        "Yeah, and Mom had to go to see some judge," Danny blurted. He pulled a gaudy neon green, pink, and yellow squirt gun from his pocket. It dripped and there was a telltale dark mark growing from the bottom of his pocket. "See what I won?"
        "She wants to keep Dad away from us," Pam added, and slapped her brother's shoulder. "You're not supposed to talk about that, dork, remember?"

        "It's okay." Abby suppressed a grin that was partly relief. "We won't tell anybody."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 21: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        Monday, Danny and Pam didn't come to day camp. Abby listened to Chad and Candy grumble about their friends missing the "feely-meely" game -- teams had ten seconds to feel the contents of various boxes with small holes in the sides and guess what each was. That lasted about halfway through the ride home. Then they moved on to speculations that their father -- "He's such a slime, Aunt Abby!" -- had tried to kidnap the children again and Tanya had taken them underground. Abby debated calling the elder Sloanes to find out if there was any trouble with Pete Fenton. The problem was that she didn't have their cell phone number. They were in the process of exploring the entire northern half of the state of Ohio while letting their realtor hunt for the perfect home for them.
        Abby let herself grumble wistfully about the implied leisure of retirement. Then she mentally slapped herself for evading talking to Tyler without the company of the children. Did she really think she needed a chaperon at age thirty-three? Then she wondered what Tyler or his sister or parents would think if she called, period, no matter what the reason.

        "You're dithering," she scolded herself aloud after nearly working herself into a headache. Candy and Chad's far-fetched speculations about an underground railroad group that hid children from dangerous parents didn't help her humor any.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 20: DETOURS

        Shane was worried about Nathan Lewis. Bekka had heard rumors about the blow-up at the Mission, when Jeannette Marshall's mother-in-law showed up with a lawyer and tried to take her son, BJ, out of the Mission without Jeannette's knowledge or permission. She had been hard pressed not to eavesdrop while she worked at Common Grounds and Xander was at the Tabor office, talking with the Evans family lawyer about the conflict. Bekka had thought a long time about what she could tell Shane about the whole situation, and was grateful he hadn't brought up the subject at all. Until he mentioned Nathan while they walked from the church to Gold Tone Gym so he could open up for the day.
        "What's wrong with Nathan?" Bekka wanted to know. "Did the Evanses threaten him, too, just because he's BJ's favorite uncle?"
        "You really don't know, do you?" Shane shook his head and tipped his hat back.
        "Know what?"
        "Nathan's got it bad for Jeannette. Poor guy, he probably doesn't even realize it."
        "Nathan... and Jeannette." Bekka thought it over while they crossed the last street and cut down the alley between two buildings, to get to the massive sandstone building that was the armory fifty years ago. "You know, I think you're right."
        "Of course I'm right. And it's tearing him apart, thinking about Jeannette having to fight for BJ."
        "They've never had anything to do with Jeannette since she came back to town. Why are they here now?"
        "Nathan says they called Jeannette a liar when she told them she was pregnant, and then they threw her out of town. Somebody must have told them Jeannette had a baby." He led the way back behind the building, to the rear entrance.
        "I thought my grandparents and their old fogey friends were bad." Bekka shook her head. "What can we do to help?"
        "Besides help Jeannette sneak out of town and get a new identity?" Shane dug the keys out of his pocket as they reached the door.
        "That's not funny."
        "Who says I was joking?" He sighed. "If Jeannette had family, those people wouldn't be attacking her like that. They think it's an easy fight because she's all alone."
        "She's not alone. Everybody at church is her family." Bekka shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. "It's kind of scary, how things like this can happen right under your nose, and you don't even realize it's happening."
        "Hey, it's okay." Shane grasped her shoulders and shook her a little. "Our Bible study group is praying hard, and Common Grounds is standing with her, and the Mission won't let that old witch get her hands on BJ, and it's gonna be okay."

        "Promise?" Bekka felt a little better when Shane solemnly crossed his heart. She looked around the quiet tree-lined back parking lot before she followed him into the gym, and wondered if she would ever feel the same about quiet, friendly Tabor Heights.

Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19: A QUIET PLACE

        It was no comfort to read the notes the friend in social services wrote to Xander, critiquing and accompanying the official complaint made by the Evanses. It didn't matter to Jeannette that the judge wanted to throw the complaint out as soon as he read the papers she and the Evanses signed, which clearly stated she was pregnant and they were giving up all rights and access to the child, in exchange for her leaving Glenwood and cutting off all communication with them -- and their assertion that Jeannette was lying about her pregnancy. She mentally slapped herself for hoping the new lawyer cost her vicious in-laws more money than they could afford.
        "What is wrong with me?" she asked herself several times a day, when her thoughts drifted over into malicious territory.

        And it wasn't just wishing misfortune and misery on the Evans family. The day after her visit with Xander, Jeannette could have sworn someone followed her from the Mission when she dropped off BJ for the day, and back to the church. She thought she saw the same dark blue car in her rearview mirror, but she made too few turns, too close together, to be absolutely sure of what she saw. The streets between the Mission and the church were side streets in Tabor, but they led to the center of town and locals knew how to use them to avoid traffic on the main roads. There were too many older cars around Tabor, in part thanks to penniless college students who stayed over the summer to take classes, and it seemed most of them were dark blue.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        "Hey, Sloane, what's the deal?" Old Tom Hooley was a curmudgeon in training, in Tyler's book, but he was a good neighbor. He kept a watch on all his neighbors' houses but never jumped the gun calling the police if something seemed a little suspicious. He shuffled across his driveway now as Tyler got out of his car in front of the condo and paused with his keys in his hands.
        "Deal with what?" Tyler asked his stooped, leathery neighbor.
        "Some guy was snooping around your house this morning. Wanted to know where your sister was working, where the kids were, when everybody would be home. Said he was their father."
        "Tall, thin guy. Sharp nose. Bad hairpiece? Rose tattoo right here?" Tyler asked, touching the back of his right hand. Just a moment ago, everything had been bright and sunny and warm, and he had been humming some nonsense tune at the thought of seeing Abby that afternoon. Everything got dark and cold and his throat closed up.
        "That's the guy. Heard he walked out on your sister and her kids. What's he doing here?" Hooley asked, his voice changing to a growl.
        The nice thing about Hooley, he loved kids and believed in shooting irresponsible, tom-catting fathers where it would make the biggest improvement.
        "That's what I'd like to know. Did anybody --"
        "That flake down the end of the street was talking with him for at least an hour." Hooley hooked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Mergatroid's house.
        Her name wasn't Mergatroid -- Tyler didn't know what the woman's name was and didn't want to get close enough to ask. Xander had slapped the label on her more than two years ago. With her frizzy hair that was never the same shade four days in a row, mismatched bikinis, screechy voice, and the bad-perfume-and-alcohol smell that flowed on the wind every time she stepped outdoors, no one in the neat cookie cutter row of condos wanted to get close enough to find out. But she seemed to know everything there was to know about everyone. It wouldn't have been so bad if she was one of those lunatics who made up stories to amuse themselves, but she got too much information right. Before he moved out, Xander had commented that Mergatroid probably worked for the CIA as a profiler, because she seemed to know more about people's lives than they did themselves.
        If she had talked to Pete Fenton, she probably told him the exact schedule Danny and Pam followed at their day camp, along with speculation on Tanya's new job, Tyler's work schedule, and how many times Danny fell into the river since camp started.

        "Thanks, Hooley. I owe you big time." Tyler yanked his keys out of his pocket and jumped back into the Corvette.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        Three days of rearranging his schedule so he could drop off the children and pick them up every day finally yielded pay dirt. That morning, Tyler turned to look for the green Jeep in the line of vehicles dropping off children, and caught Chad and Candy Morgan darting past almost under his nose. Pam and Danny broke away from him and dashed toward the camp's pavilion with their new friends. Tyler followed the straight trajectory of the other two children and saw Abby sauntering along behind them. He felt like the sun reflected off the dew had doubled its brightness when Abby responded to his wave with a smile and wave.
        "Don't get too messy," Abby called after her niece and nephew. "Your dad wants to go to Whistle Stop for dinner." She sighed when the children yelled something totally unintelligible in reply and vanished.
        "They really wear you out, don't they?" he said, jamming his hands into his pockets just in case they started shaking.
        "I love 'em to death, but just once I'd like to be able to sleep in this summer!"
        "Did you have time for breakfast?"
        "Drive-thru at Mac's for me, like always."
        "No you don't." He caught hold of her shoulder and turned her around more easily than he had anticipated. "Let me buy you breakfast, to thank you for your help Monday."
        "But -- the tickets--"
        "What kind of friend would I be if I let you go to work starving to death? Can't have you fainting at the controls, can I?" He applied that dashing grin he had created for Rhett Butler; the one that always turned prima donnas into puddles of melted ice cream in five seconds flat. Tyler's nerves settled down tremendously when Abby looked dazed for a moment, just before a faint blush touched her tan and rose complexion.
        "Well..." She grinned and nodded toward his car, with the passenger door hanging enticingly open. "Planning on success?"
        "Those kids were born in a barn. They wouldn't remember to shut a door if the order was tattooed to the insides of their eyelids." He chuckled, delighted when she just nodded and rolled her eyes in complete understanding suffering. "Tell you what, I'll meet you there, okay? You probably don't trust my car."
        "I trust Norman's -- Al said that's where he took you," Abby hurried to explain. "I'm a little curious why your boy is still in one piece."
        "You haven't seen him try to sit down."
        "Uh huh." She grinned.
        "Just a few swats, I swear. Tanya was more upset than me. So, since you know I'm not a child abuser... Farm Kitchen across from the mall?" He gestured in the general direction up Royal from the intersection where the long, winding park road intersected it.

        "Sounds good." Abby jammed her hands into her side pockets and sauntered across the gravel road to where her Jeep was parked. She glanced back twice as Tyler watched her, grinning.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16: A QUIET PLACE

        Nathan went to the Padua office of Common Grounds Legal Clinic, to check if Xander had given further consideration to the question of marrying Jeannette and adopting BJ.
        "You've really given this some serious thought, haven't you?" Xander asked. He grinned and leaned back in his ancient swivel chair and put his feet up on the edge of his paper-strewn desk. They were in his double-sized cubicle at the back of the furniture store-turned-office.
        "For the last six years, actually," Nathan admitted.
        "Uh huh. And did anyone else back then realize you wanted to marry Brody Evans' wife?" The gleam left Xander's eyes.
        "I don't think so. Jeannette always referred to me as her big brother. I didn't even figure out how I really felt until I saw the two of them were already together." He felt something go cold inside. "Could that cause us some trouble?"
        "If the wrong people--"
        "And most of the Evans clan is definitely the wrong people."
        "It's possible to twist the most innocent words and actions and turn them evil and perverted and dangerous. It all depends on who's doing the looking and the examining." Xander sighed and rubbed his chin, giving Nathan a considering look. "Are you absolutely sure you want to marry Jeannette and adopt BJ?"
        "Absolutely positively. I even tried asking BJ how he felt about it."
        "Uh huh." One corner of his mouth quirked up. "I bet his response was priceless."
        "He was half asleep at the time, but basically he wanted to know how I could marry his mom when I'm her brother."
        "Ouch. Smart kid. We'll have to tread very carefully around the whole emotional impact angle."
        "Did we just put another weapon in the enemy's hands?"
        "It all depends on what Jeannette says when you ask her. When are you going to?"
        "I don't know." Nathan threw his hands up in the air, half in surrender, half in helplessness. Then he realized the cubicles around Xander's space had grown strangely quiet. Most of the lawyers who worked for Common Grounds were either members of their church or were on a friendly basis with the church, meaning everyone there knew who Jeannette was.
        Nathan suddenly had the awful feeling that he had to ask Jeannette to marry him before she found out from someone else that they were engaged already.
        Knowing Jeannette, that was a sure way to hurt her feelings and ensure she said no when he did get up the guts to ask her.
        "Better pray hard for me," he said, as he got up to leave.
        "Been doing that since Nikki called me about this, and I won't stop until we get this thing settled," Xander assured him.

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15: FIRESONG

        "I really appreciate this," Dani said, as she settled down at a table in the Bluebird Cafe.
        She and Kurt had a table for six because they needed the room to spread out all the proofs for posters and the CD cover and interior designs. Today was one of the few days he would have partially free until the crusade was over. Dani was the only member of Firesong able to get free in the middle of the day to meet with him. Only two weeks until Firesong's first CD was to be released.
        Kurt had offered his connections and expertise to help with the last-minute details, since Danziger had pulled out of the entire process and had even caused some trouble with the studio by passing on contradictory information -- but didn't go far enough that Firesong could actually blame him for their problems. As soon as they realized he was the source of their trouble with the studio and the company that would burn the CDs, Kurt had made an official call to both, updating them on the situation and making it clear that Troy Danziger was on his way out as Firesong's manager.
        "Hey, what are friends for?" He grinned and nodded yes when the waitress asked if they wanted water.
        "You're more than a friend."
        "Yeah?" That warmth gleamed in his eyes.
        "You're family."
        "Oh." Kurt looked away for a second and fussed with spreading papers and folios across the table between them.
        "No matter what, you're going way beyond the call of duty. We'd be lost without you."
        "Sometimes I wonder if you'd all be better off if I hadn't stuck my nose into things." He tried to smile as he picked up the stacks of artwork and slid them over in front of her to peruse instead of her menu.
        "We wouldn't be doing the crusade. That's the greatest thing we could ever do."
        "But you'd still have your manager. Danziger is one of the best. He knows talent, and he can take you to the top."
        "What if God doesn't want us at the top?" she asked softly. "What if He wants something totally different for our lives? Sometimes what's best isn't what's right."
        "That's highly philosophical. Or is that theological?" Kurt tried to smile.
        Dani flinched when he put his hand on top of hers -- but she didn't move her hand. For four long heartbeats, they just looked at each other. She knew in another moment, something struggling deep down in her soul would finally burst forth into the light and she would understand. The hungry, sometimes lonely feeling inside would have an answer.
        "Well, if it isn't the lovebirds," Danziger sneered as his shadow dropped across their table. "You're faster, Green."
        "Faster?" Kurt sat back, withdrawing his hand. He scooted his chair sideways a little to look up at Danziger without craning his neck. "What are you talking about?"
        "I've seen the dodge played out a dozen times before. You move in, separate the real talent from the rest of the band, and then you make her your meal ticket. Make her think she can't live without you, career and heart-wise." Danziger sneered at Dani, who stared at him with her mouth slowly dropping open. "Got to admit, you're good, yanking them with the religious angle. What's the rest of the band gonna do, Dani sweetheart, when their careers are shot and you and lover-boy here take off on your own?"
        "You're crazy," was all she could manage.
        Danziger just cackled and continued out of the Bluebird.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14: A QUIET PLACE

        She wanted to cry, knew she could give in and let out probably the only good sob storm she would be permitted until the whole awful mess was resolved. But the shock of being held in Nathan's arms overrode everything else. Jeannette wrapped her pain into a tight, hard ball inside and let herself sink into the warmth, the hard muscles, the slightly musky scent of a park ranger in a cotton uniform after a long, warm day. A few tears escaped her eyes, blotting his shoulder. She let herself clutch at his shoulders and buried her face in the front of his shirt and just hung on. If she could have stayed there forever, safe, every sense muffled, every danger blocked, she would have.
        "Mommy?" BJ's hesitant little voice cut through everything. "Mommy, are you sick?"
        "No, honey." Jeannette scrubbed at her eyes as she reluctantly sat up under her own power again. She very carefully did not look at Nathan. "I'm just tired and my head hurts."
        "And those people at church were really mean," he added, nodding for emphasis. "Uncle Nathan, can you make those mean people go away? They were bad. Mr. Xander had to come make them leave Pastor Grandpa alone." BJ's eyes got wide as he made that statement. He didn't quite understand what lawyers were or what they did, but he lumped them in with policemen, firemen, soldiers and park rangers; very powerful, to chase away the bad people.
        "Yeah, I just bet they were mean people. But I think Mr. Xander can do just fine without my help. I think God wants me here to cheer up your mommy. Is that okay with you?"
        "Can we go ride the horsies at the Point? And the Streak? And eat cotton candy?" BJ scrambled up onto the bench between Nathan and Jeannette and tugged on the ranger's arm. "Can we? That'll make Mommy really happy."
        "No, you schemer, that'll make you really happy," Nathan snarled, reaching to tickle the boy, who scrambled away, giggling.
        "BJ, Cedar Point's a long way away," Jeannette began.
        "Why not?" Nathan interrupted. "I think the two of you need a day off, after all this."
        "We can't just drop everything."
        "Why not?" he repeated.
        "Nathan! That woman has disrupted our lives enough as it is. We can't let her change everything around!" Jeannette swallowed hard on a sob trying to come up her throat like vomit.
        "So you're going to sit at home and mope and worry, when you could be having fun and forget about the Wicked Witch for a few hours. Yeah, that'll fix her." He screwed up his face into a scowl that made BJ giggle. "How about if you let me make all the arrangements? If I can get all of us free without any repercussions, you'll go. Deal?"
        "Please, Mommy?" BJ half-whined, and bounced on the bench. "I wanna ride the horsies!"
        The thing about carousels, Jeannette reflected in that moment, was that they only gave the illusion of going anywhere. They always brought their riders back to the starting point. Which was how she felt right then; racing furiously to freedom and safety, but always coming back to Mrs. Evans trying to dominate and shred her life. Going to the amusement park, which BJ had discovered last summer, wouldn't help her situation one bit. However, the thought of being so busy she forgot about the Evans invasion of Tabor Heights sounded better the more she thought about it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

        The wonder of it was, most of the conversation centered around the year-and-a-half she and Daniel had been together at Northwestern. The plays they were in together, classmates they had lost track of, classes they shared, professors they remembered. And Kat wasn't bored. She kept coming up with more questions, her eyes gleaming with interest.
        Lynette fought tears several times, knowing this was how it could have been all their daughter's growing years, if she hadn't been so proud, so sure she knew best.
        "Do you have any yearbooks from Northwestern?" Kat asked, when they had eaten the last cookie and gathered up their paper plates and wrappers to throw away.
        "A few." Daniel nodded and glanced at Lynette. She didn't quite understand the question in his glance, and she didn't know why Kat had asked that question, so she just widened her eyes and shrugged.
        "Mom doesn't have any."
        "Yes, I do," Lynette corrected. "I just... left them in Chicago with your grandmother. There wasn't much room for moving things, when we first came to Ohio. Most of the car was filled with your toys and books." That earned a groan and a grin from Kat.
        "Could I maybe borrow them?" their daughter persisted.
        "Why?" Daniel paused in closing the cap on the apple juice.
        "I want to look through them, that's all."
        When Kat shrugged like that and her voice dropped away at the end of a sentence and she wouldn't meet anyone's eyes -- that was a sure sign she was up to something and trying to hide it. Lynette had always been grateful her daughter wasn't a very good liar, though she could act any part without trouble, otherwise.
        "Who are you looking for?" Daniel asked, his voice softening, too.
        "My dad," Kat nearly whispered.
        "Kat--"
        "I don't even know his name. Mom won't tell me. She says it hurts too much," she hurried on. "She said not to ask you about back then, about my dad, because she said it'd hurt you, too. So I won't. But I can at least look, can't I?"
        "You look like your mother," Daniel said with that crooked smile that always hurt Lynette worse than tears from anyone else. "Even if your father was standing here in front of you, there's no way you'd recognize him."
        Oh, yes she would, Lynette cried silently. She had seen Daniel in their daughter's face every day since she had been born. But she knew Daniel was right. Only someone who knew the identity of Kat's father could see his features in her. Kat did look too much like her mother.
        "I can at least try, can't I?" Kat asked. "Please?"
        Daniel looked at Lynette for a long moment, and she realized he waited for her permission. She knew he wanted to do that for their daughter. What would it hurt? She nodded.

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12: FIRESONG

        The VanGaars were just parking their car, two tires over the edge of the handicapped parking slot, when Dani skipped out the door. She nodded to them as she floated over to her car.
        "You. Danielle Paul," Mr. VanGaar called, jerking himself out of his car. "What's this I hear about you preaching?"
        "Preaching?" Dani blinked and felt like she had been jerked back to Earth with a bump.
        She had never expected to hear that cold tone from Mr. VanGaar. He was one of the pillars of the church. Even if he did smell of mothballs half the year, the children liked him. He did corny magic tricks for the toddlers -- the only ones who couldn't see through his flawed sleight-of-hand -- handed out king-size chocolate bars at Christmas and Easter, and sponsored camp scholarships for those who memorized reams of Bible verses.
        "You've never been to seminary, so who told you that you could preach?" he continued.
        "I don't preach--"
        "My grandson was at that concert of yours last night. He was all excited about what you talked about in between the songs."
        "That's right. I was talking, not preaching." She offered a shaky little smile and tried to edge around him toward her car. Mr. VanGaar headed her off. Mrs. VanGaar stood there in her tiny rosebud print dress and matching hat. The sad disappointment on her face said Dani had done something blasphemous, like spray-painting profanity on the walls of the church.
        "You had a Bible in your hand and you were reading verses and you had the gall to tell people how to live their lives."
        "I shared what I had read in my devotions. That's all."
        "Some people think it's perfectly fine for women to preach to men," Mrs. VanGaar said in that sad, guilt-inspiring voice she did so well. "I can't imagine what this world is coming to."
        The VanGaars, Dani remembered, still found it hard to accept women wearing pants to church during the week.
        "Women can teach in Sunday School, can't they?" Dani offered with a smile. She didn't want to get them angry with her, though it was hard to remember she liked them.
        "What does that have to do with it?" Mrs. VanGaar asked.
        "It's all right to teach infants how to live their lives -- but not teach immature Christians how to live?"
        Mrs. VanGaar looked as if she had never considered the idea before. Her husband shook for several seconds before he could get his mouth open.
        "You'd better watch your tongue, young lady."
        Dani knew better, but she let the words come. "Did your grandson tell you what I talked about? Or did you get so upset at a woman -- who's four years older than him -- teaching him, that you didn't bother to listen?"
        "No one so arrogant could say anything worthwhile. Your brother is a saint to let you travel with his band."
        "I'm arrogant?" She wasn't ashamed to admit she shrieked. "Get the plank out of your eye before you criticize the dust in mine, you nasty old Pharisee!" Dani stomped across the parking lot to her car while Mr. VanGaar gaped like a stranded fish. She trembled as she jerked the car door open and jumped inside. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she saw the VanGaars stomping toward the door of the church.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11: THE MISSION

        Claire heard the scuffling of little feet coming into the office and looked up. No one was visible. Sighing, with a smile, she stood and walked to the counter to lean over it and gaze down. Sammy Hunter was just getting settled on the long bench against the glass front wall of the office. The five-year-old grinned and tugged her ladybug tee shirt straight.
        "Looking for your daddy?" She laughed when the little girl shook her head and grinned even wider. "Then why are you in here?"
        "I gotta get to know you." Sammy bobbed her head for emphasis.
        "You do, huh?" Claire walked around the counter and settled down on the bench seat perpendicular to the one the child perched on. "And why is that?"
         "Daddy said."
         "And do you know why he said that?" She muffled an amused sigh when the child just nodded. Some children couldn't be silenced, while with other children, it was like pulling teeth with her bare fingers to get them to answer questions in enough detail to get a glimpse of what was going through their incredible little minds. "Would you mind telling me?"
        "Daddy said we gotta get to know you first."
        "Before what?"
        "Before we can ask you to be my mommy."
        "Uh huh. Well. Yes. That's sensible." Claire's face warmed. She could just imagine the verbal tussle Paul had gone through with his daughter over the whole issue.
        The teachers who dealt with Sammy during this past week had reported the child was full of questions. She wouldn't let go of an issue until she understood, was satisfied with the answer, or was persuaded to give up on it. Bribery didn't work with her like it did with other children, and she was hard to distract. Having Paul Hunter for a father certainly contributed to that. He had shown himself to be a man who adored his daughter but didn't let her get away with anything. He expected her to be reasonable and responsible and have good manners. Claire wished there were more men who could exercise as much loving control over their children in public.
        "What exactly did your daddy say?"
        "He said people have to get to know you before you can ask them to marry you."
        "That's sensible." She fought the urge to press her hands to her cheeks, to see if they were as hot to the touch as she feared. Claire prayed no one would come into the office while this conversation was going on. How could she explain it away without starting some sort of embarrassing gossip? She bit her tongue to keep from asking why Sammy thought she had to marry the child's father. No good would come of putting ideas in her head.
        "You gotta marry my daddy if you're gonna be my mommy." The little frown that wrinkled the child's forehead and pursed her lips made Claire want to laugh, with a little pressure and heat in her eyes that threatened tears at the same time.
         "Oh, well that makes sense. But what if your daddy doesn't want to get married?"
         "Great-Granny said he should." Sammy shrugged. "Someday." Again that adorable frown. "When's someday?"
         "I wish I could figure that one out for myself." Claire grinned when her shrug and sigh earned giggles from the child. "So, you're here to get to know me, huh? Do your teachers know you're down here? Oh, so they don't, do they?" she guessed, when the child's eyes widened and she scooted back against the glass wall, so only her feet hung off the edge of the bench. "Where are you supposed to be?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10: A QUIET PLACE

        "Really, George, I still cannot understand why you threw away a wonderful career to start over in a hick town like Tabor," Mrs. Evans said with her patented martyr's sigh. "It's much too close to Cleveland to do you any good, despite their pitiful attempts at decent theater and museums. If you must leave Glenwood, go to New York or Chicago." She fanned herself with the lace-trimmed black and gold fan Vince had brought back from his trip to Spain last year.
        Vince gambled and drove a taxi on the weekends to pay for his expensive lifestyle, and got along with his decorative little wife so well because they never saw each other.
        "I didn't throw it away, Mother." George chose to ignore his mother's jabs at Cleveland's cultural scene, which was rated as exceptional by anyone who knew anything. "The company is going out of business. I'm getting out while there's still something to leave, and while I can still get a severance package."
        Before he had to go through the indignity of being fired.
        George had friends in the top levels of the company who warned him what was going to happen. To help the company keep going a little while longer, maybe bring on a miracle, the middle management people were being axed. It would save on salaries and rent on those expensive offices on the far side of Glenwood, and the leases on those fancy company cars.
        "They need you even more, dear. Maybe those morons will finally wake up and realize that if you had been at the helm all along, like your father, they wouldn't be facing these problems." She opened one eye and glanced at the far end of the long, tree-lined yard, where little Isabelle chattered to herself while playing in the sandbox. "Really, George, can't you teach that child some manners? I came over here to see my granddaughter, and the child acts like she's afraid of me. And the noise she's making. Someone would think she's not all there."
        "She's staying away while you have your headache, Mother."
        "But the noise..."
        "Maybe you should go inside until your migraine goes away, Mother." George bit his tongue against retorting that he could barely hear Isabelle, and he liked the sound of her happy chatter and little giggles. Heaven knew the poor child hadn't been able to laugh, hadn't even wanted to talk, for nearly a year after her parents died. Being scolded for nothing at all by a woman who glared at her for no reason hadn't helped her emotional adjustment. George sometimes wondered if he and Marian had done the right thing for Isabelle by adopting her.

        Now, BJ was the way a child should be at that age. Chubby and energetic and curious and happy. Full of life. Polite, and shy when it was good to be careful of strangers. George's heart ached still at the thought that his own brother's son considered him a stranger.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9: THE MISSION

        Lena Andrews stuck her head in through his half-open doorway and asked about the report Doug had just finished highlighting and color-coding. This branch office of the missions association didn't have a color copier/printer that handled eleven-by-seventeen sheets. Rather than go to a printer and pay exorbitant fees, he printed in black-and-white, and then colored in all the pie charts and graphs by hand. He handed the multiple copies to Lena, who told him once again he was a miracle-worker, promised she would name her firstborn son after him, and ran to her next meeting.
        After Lena, five more people needed reports printed, then Evan Jones stopped in to discuss a project he wanted to do, but needed Doug's input before bringing it before the board of directors. They ended up taking the discussion to a very late lunch, and ended up in Evan's office until almost quitting time. Doug came back to his office, intending to rid out his desk, which was always piled high with folders and papers he should have thrown out a month ago, and three-dozen pens and colored pencils that he could never find when he wanted them because they were buried. He had a note somewhere on his tack board reminding him to clean off his desk once a week. That note was buried under a blizzard of papers and tasks and reminders.
        The note to remind him to get online and check out the email from Dr. Hezekiah was taped to his computer monitor. Doug had put it on a green sticky note, so it would stand out from all the pink and yellow sticky notes everyone else in the missions office used, to flag papers and reports and errands for his attention. Sighing, he raked his hair out of his eyes and settled into his chair. It creaked and threatened to tip him backwards. He jerked himself forward again and grabbed hold of the splintery wood of the front of his desk drawer to keep upright.
        "Doing the same stuff, or delegating?" he mused, recalling what his former advisor had said in his message. Doug snorted, envisioning himself with a desk buried twice as deep in paperwork. He suspected that being the assistant to the head of the Tabor church's outreach wouldn't be any easier. His experience had taught him that the closer he climbed to the top of the heap, the deeper the heaps of paperwork he had to deal with, and the more responsibilities rested on his shoulders.
        Still, Dr. Hezekiah had recommended he consider the position.
        Doug took his computer out of sleep mode and opened up his email. He had to wade through all the emails that came in since that morning, dealing with office work, requests for information, a few minor emergencies that he had to apologize for and then handle, before he could in all good conscience open Dr. Hezekiah's email. After all, there was something not quite ethical about looking at another job while on company time.
        With that thought, he looked at the clock. It was nearly six. He hadn't been on "company time" for twenty minutes. Doug grinned, rubbed at his dry eyes, and opened up the email.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 7: A QUIET PLACE

        George Evans stood long enough at the edge of the playground, his fingers woven through the chain link fence, for one of the supervisors to come over to confront him. He barely heard the woman, barely blinked as he drank in the sight of the little boy racing up and down the edge of the blacktop with two other chubby, summer-browned little boys.
        "Can I help you?" she repeated. She wore a nametag that just said 'Max,' which made George pause for a moment. A woman named Max? Then he shook his head and his mind free of the circles that kept trying to drag his thoughts elsewhere, in a dozen different directions.
        "Hmm? Oh, sorry. I was just... I'm here checking out the daycare for my daughter. She's four. Miss Donnelly said I could come out and look around." He offered her a weak smile.
        "Something wrong with the boys?" She turned to watch the little sprinters, a grin growing at their antics.
        "No. I -- I was just watching the Evans boy."
        "Evans?" Something flickered in Max's eyes; recognition, then quickly shuttered away behind polite inquiry.
        "Brody Evans."
        "Brody Marshall," she corrected. And moved back from the fence half a step.
        "Oh. That's right. Jeannette refused--"
        "I know who you are. You're one of Brody's brothers. You don't remember me, but I was Jeannette's maid of honor, and I was there at the funeral home when your mother attacked her." Max moved over to block his view of the playground. "Your family drove her out of Glenwood. Your family called her a liar when she said she was pregnant. You made her take back her maiden name."
        "She should have given her son his father's name," George said between gritted teeth. He moved over, trying to watch BJ, but she moved to block him again.
        "It's bad enough being a single mother without people asking why her son doesn't have her last name. Think how BJ would feel, when people ask him questions like that. Besides, Jeannette's lawyer advised her to do it that way, to make it harder for your family to come in and steal her son."
        "We wouldn't--" He stopped short, mouth hanging open, his face heating with embarrassment. Years of experience quickly created a scenario of the circus that would erupt back home in Glenwood, the moment the rest of the Evans clan found out that Brody had a son -- the only Evans grandson.
        "But your mother would, wouldn't she? She'd take advantage of the boy's last name quicker than a snake could bite," Max half-whispered.

        "True." His stiff shoulders slumped. He let go of the fence and moved a step back. "Jeannette probably told you a year's worth of nasty stories about us. I'll wager the entire town knows how we treated her."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

July 6: THE MISSION

        "How are you holding up?" Brock asked in an undertone, sidling up next to him.
        Paul looked around the lobby at the people grazing from the cookies on one long table brought in from the cafeteria, and the coffee and lemonade on the other one. The tables were set up in the hallways right off the lobby, with chairs placed against the walls of the perimeter of the lobby. It made for a cozy meeting area, and Paul hoped it encouraged them to feel slightly claustrophobic and urged the visitors to leave once they got an eyeful of him and Sammy.
        "Now I know how the deer feel during hunting season," Paul said keeping his voice just as low. "There's another one."
        "Another what?"
        "Someone else who has decided Sammy needs a mother and I need a wife." He gestured with a lift of his chin at a cluster of young women across the lobby by the doors leading outside.
        They were all alike. He had them pegged after the third one followed the same routine, like they got it out of a book, probably titled How to Snare a Single Father with an Adorable Little Girl. They all wore dresses, first of all. Sure, it was a Sunday afternoon, but it was a hot day, and they were dressed like it was a spring morning, with makeup, jewelry, and nylons. They started their attack by cooing over Sammy, getting down on one knee, trying to hold her hand or play with her hair while they talked to her. Mistake number one. Sammy didn't like strangers touching her. She had enough bad experience with the overdressed, inch-thick-makeup-wearing harridans back home, fancy clothes were a warning sign. If the women spoke with normal voices, they might have overcome the other mistakes, but they all used tones half an octave higher than their normal voices would be.
        After they got frustrated trying to coax a word or a hug out of Sammy, they moved on to him. Their voices slowed and tones dropped slightly below normal as they fluttered their eyelashes -- probably their idea of demure seductiveness.
        He had seen a version of this among the women who joined the prison ministry team back in Lucasburg. Late twenties and early thirties, starting to feel a little frayed around the edges by life, with no steady boyfriend or prospects of marriage. Trying to convince themselves God had "gifted" them with singleness. Honestly, Paul had argued with a few, before he learned the futility of it, who besides someone with terminal bad luck in dating would call singleness a gift? Getting desperate to find a husband, hungry to be a mother, and afraid time was running out on the biological clock. Single fathers -- especially widowed single fathers -- were prime targets. Especially the ones in some kind of ministry. It seemed to guarantee desperate church women that the man would be clean, moral, upstanding, and reliable.
        "My condolences," Brock said.

        Paul didn't hear him snicker, but he sensed it, barely suppressed. He took his attention off the marital sharks building up their courage to make another run. Yes, that was definitely a twitch fighting release in the corner of Brock's mouth.

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 5: THE MISSION

        "There he is." He stood and jumped down three steps to run out to the street and wave down a blue extended cab pickup with a cap on the back.
        Claire and Nikki followed Brock at a slower pace, to give him time to catch up a little with his friend.
Paul Hunter struck Claire as too thin, his creamy brown tan an odd contrast with his pale hair -- then she realized she compared the reality to the picture in her imagination. He had one of those faces and builds that could look right in multiple occupations -- from athlete to doctor to farmer to teacher. His record said he had been cleared of the kidnapping charges, but in her experience there had to be something in a man's past to make people willing to believe those charges, even if they were eventually proved false. He looked gentle and warm and intelligent. Then again, several recent serial killers had been described as nice, quiet guys. Someone to bring home to the folks.
        No -- Paul wouldn't be here unless his conversion was real and his faith established. Arc had done a background check on him, and Claire had learned they never did a slipshod job.
        Paul pulled the truck into the Holwoods' driveway and climbed out. Brock started making introductions. Paul stepped forward to shake Nikki's hand and the movement revealed a little figure curled up on the bench seat, just starting to stir. Claire barely heard Brock introduce her to Paul, who saw the direction of her gaze and turned back to the cab.
        "Hey, sleepy." He reached in and gathered up a bundle of platinum curls, bare feet, and faded denim.
Claire felt her face heat up. Proven wrong twice in less than ten minutes. This was not the rebellious adolescent she had envisioned. Sammy Hunter couldn't be more than five years old. An adorable, sleepy five years old. Paul cuddled her close, rubbed her back, and whispered to her as she scrubbed her eyes. When the child finally had both eyes open, her father introduced her to the three adults. Claire couldn't help comparing Paul Hunter with Rich Thomas, his obvious tenderness for his child versus the casual affection the fugitive custodian had sometimes spattered on his adoring little girl.
        No doubt about it: Sammy Hunter was wanted long before she was born. Not an accident and burden like poor little Aurora Thomas.
        "And this lady is Miss Donnelly. She's Daddy's new boss, too," Paul said, turning Sammy to face her.
        "Miss Claire," she responded with a smile. "All the children call me that. I'm so glad to finally meet you, Sammy."
         Claire felt her heart twist when the little girl's face lit up slowly, like sunrise. She sat up straight in her father's arms.
         "Is she my new mommy?"