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Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31: DETOURS

         "Mission accomplished," Shane said, after Bekka finished her report. He gave her a sideways look as they strolled down the street to Stay-a-While. "Feeling pretty good about yourself?"
         "I have the magic touch so rarely, you better believe I'm going to enjoy it and gloat when something works out so well." She laughed when Shane just shook his head.
         "You have the magic touch all the time."
         "Yeah?"
         "Yeah. And I'll prove it."
         "How?" Bekka gasped when Shane attacked, grabbing her shoulders and turning her to face him. Then he was kissing her, and that dizzy sensation swirling up through her from her toes to her head had nothing to do with the fact that she was holding her breath.
         "Does that prove it?" Shane whispered, with his lips still touching hers.
         Bekka felt like she had short-circuited -- or someone had poured a two-liter bottle of seltzer inside her skull. She opened her eyes slowly, and laughed at the satisfied smirk on Shane's face.
         The next moment, something hit her shoulder, hard, pushing her away from Shane and she stumbled backwards with Arthur Montgomery's angry voice ringing in her ears. Bekka staggered forward, not sure what she was going to do, but her fists clenched of their own accord.
         Shane stopped her, stepping between her and the red-faced man.
         "How dare you shame your grandparents like this? Acting like a filthy slut in pub--" His words ended with an audible crack as Shane shoved him hard, fists against his shoulders.
         "Shut up," Shane growled, his voice low-pitched, rumbling in the ground under her feet instead of ringing off the surrounding buildings as Mr. Montgomery's voice had been. "You've got no right to talk to her like that."
         "I have every right--"
         "You have no authority over me," Bekka spat. "You're not my family, and you don't go to my church anymore."
         "Your grandparents--"
         "Didn't give you the right to harass and assault her in public," Shane said. "The police department is just down the street. How about we go there and find out if you have the right to hit her? Bekka, you think you might have a bruise we can use as proof?"
         Mr. Montgomery reared back like an affronted cobra. He pressed his lips tight together, glaring at them for a moment longer, then turned sharply on his heel and stalked away, up the street.
         "Thanks for killing my buzz," Bekka muttered. "Lisa should have filed charges for what he did to her, stalking her and harassing her like that."
         "Hey, hey," Shane said, and wrapped his arms around her.
         She was surprised to find herself shuddering. She closed her eyes and let herself soak in his warmth and steadiness.
         "You want my cell phone?"
         "For what?" She kept her eyes closed and tightened her arms around him.
         "To call your grandparents. Head him off, before he calls and gives them a whole bunch of lies."
         She thought about it for a moment, then tipped her head back, opened her eyes, and shook her head. A tiny laugh escaped her at the surprised look on his face.
         "Don't you care?"
         "Nope. Not really."
         "Why not? He's gonna try to get your grandparents all riled up about you and me."
         "I'm not worried, because we weren't doing anything wrong."

         "Yeah?" Slowly, that concerned frown melted into that smirk that always made her want to laugh. "You have no idea what was going through my mind when we were kissing." He laughed more when her face warmed. Then he kissed her again, and Bekka decided she might just be willing to put up with trouble from arrogant, interfering old jerks like Mr. Montgomery if Shane would keep kissing her like that.

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30: THE MISSION

         The quiet broke through Paul's thoughts and the thunk-snap-rustle of the clippers biting off pieces of the bush and the debris falling to the ground. He shivered as he stepped back, let the clippers drop to hang from one hand, and turned around to look at the girls. He put one foot up on the steps, praying they had just gone into the house to pack Sammy's backpack for her overnight stay. That was what they had been talking about just a minute ago, wasn't it?
         "Sammy?" He put the clippers down and went up two more steps. He didn't see her in the foyer. The door to their apartment was still hanging open, and he didn't see any movement in the front room. "Sammy, where are you?"
         "Here, Daddy!" Sammy's voice came from behind him.
         Paul turned so fast he stumbled down the steps. He followed the sound and his heart hammered a few times before settling back to normal. Sammy and Tiffany were across the street -- he should have ordered her never to cross the street without him, even on their one-way, quiet residential street -- and had paused in their journey to the Holwoods' house.
         "What do you think you're doing, young lady?" He headed down the slate path to the sidewalk and held out a hand, gesturing for her to come back.
         Sammy's reply vanished under the roar of a van starting up, two doors to the right on Paul's side of the street. He turned to glare at the driver, wondering about his timing. The driver met his gaze. The other man's eyes widened. The van engine gunned, then the van jerked and leaped forward.
         "Sammy!" Paul raced across the street, choking on the panic that gripped him before he recognized that sagging, pockmarked face trimmed with a week's worth of black stubble. "Run! Get indoors now!" He gestured at the Holwoods' house as the van seemed to leap across the street and up the curb, coming between him and the girls. The clang-bang of the van's door sliding open seemed to echo up and down the street.
         Where were all the neighbors, all the people who had been out watering and mowing their lawns, washing windows and trimming hedges? Why wasn't anyone there to see and help?
         Tiffany shrieked. Sammy's silence worried Paul, until he came around the van, skidding on the freshly watered grass, and saw her running flat out, with Tiffany on her heels.
         And on their heels, catching up to them with demonic speed, was Seth Simpson and his drinking buddy, Hank Bledsoe.
         "God, please--" Paul choked and nearly stumbled when Bledsoe lunged and caught hold of Tiffany and the little girl went down, kicking and shrieking.
         Doria Holwood hurried out her front door in response to that call. Nikki had proudly claimed her foster-mother was like a tiger when it came to the children in her care. She shouted for her husband and flew down the sidewalk. Sammy nearly fell over herself, trying to turn to go back for Tiffany. Paul shouted for her to keep running. She hesitated. Simpson snatched hold of her arm.
         Tiffany wrenched herself free, kicking and scratching and biting. Bledsoe went to his knees, reaching to grab hold of her again. Doria reached Simpson and executed a kick-turn that had him howling. He let go of Sammy as the woman kept moving and snatched up Tiffany.
         Then Paul reached them. He grabbed hold of Sammy and flung her over his shoulder. She shook with fury, her eyes wide, face red, her voice cracking with angry shrieks. He could barely make out her words, something about, "hit the bad man." Dr. Holwood seemed to come from nowhere and put himself between the two gasping men and his wife and foster-daughter.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        The days sped by. First Daniel left for New York. He asked Abby and Al to check up on Lynette for him. He would be calling every day, if she would let him, but having someone physically there to make sure she was all right was important to him. Abby was surprised as well as relieved when she suggested Lynette come over for dinner the Friday after Daniel left, and she accepted. Maybe it was the children who made the difference. They accepted Lynette as Uncle Daniel's lady friend and showered her with love. The only sore spot Abby could detect in that first picnic together was when Candy asked when they would meet their new cousin.
        Lynette confessed, quietly, when it was just the two of them washing the dishes, that she and Kat had had a long talk on the day Daniel flew to New York. Some issues had been resolved, but the healing would take time.
        "Would you mind if we prayed about it?" Abby asked.
        "Please. Yes."
        Listening to her gut, Abby pulled her hands out of the soapy water and held them out to Lynette. For a moment, the other woman stared, visibly confused. Then tears welled up in her eyes, she grasped Abby's hands in return, and let her lead the way over to the cluttered table. Holding hands, they sat down and prayed together. For Kat to be healed and to understand. For Daniel's safety. For the healing relationship between him and Lynette to grow and strengthen to the point they could be together, as he clearly indicated he wanted to be.

        Abby wasn't surprised in the least when Bekka Sanderson, Kat's roommate, called the next morning and proposed her plan for Kat to meet the rest of the Morgan family.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

         Finally the day came to take Daniel to the airport. She called to leave one last message for Kat before she went to pick him up. If there was one thing Lynette had learned through all this, it was never to give up.
         "Kat, honey?" Lynette said.
         She closed her eyes, envisioning her daughter listening to the answering machine. For all she knew, Kat was there in the apartment, simply refusing to pick up the phone. Her voice wavered a little but she forged on. This was important.
         "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. Danny 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. He would have told you the truth from the beginning, but I wouldn't let him. Don't punish him for what I did, please? Come to the airport to at least see him off, won't you?"
         She waited, praying her daughter would pick up. When there was only silence, Lynette gave the flight details before hanging up.
         She had done what she could.
         At the airport, Daniel and Lynette stood a long, painful while in front of the last security checkpoint, watching the other passengers stream down the concourse. They held hands and she leaned against his shoulder. Neither looked at the other.
         "Well, I guess this is it," Daniel said, when the line had gone down and there was no more excuse for delaying.
         "I'm sorry."
         "For what?" He smiled a little, just a flicker of his lips leaving their usual flat position.
         "I called Kat. I told her to come say goodbye. What if their answering machine is broken again?"
         "It's not the machine, Lyn. It's us. We gave up on our dreams and then we tried to live them through Kat."
         "You didn't give up. I'm the one who messed up everything. Afraid and jealous and trying to make you live the way I wanted."
         "That's part of being human. I'm glad things worked out like they did. I'd rather stay teaching at BWU for the rest of my life and have peace in my soul than be a success in Hollywood or Broadway." He finally looked at her. "But it's kind of hard doing any of it without you."
         "I'm here now. It took me a while, but--" Lynette's voice broke. Daniel let his computer case slide to the floor and wrapped both arms around her.
         She still had a few tears in her eyes, but she managed to smile without trembling by the time he finished with having his computer checked and walked through the metal detector and got his shoes and wallet off the other end of the conveyor belt. Daniel turned around once to smile and wave at her before he went down the long concourse to the gates.
         Lynette breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the first announcement for Daniel's flight, meaning he hadn't made a mistake, delaying until the last minute. She waved to him and tried to smile, and walked to the far wall, where she could still see him before the slope of the concourse took him out of sight. She waited, leaning against the wall, ignoring the curious looks the armed guard gave her. Did he think she had a gun or a bomb in her purse? It was barely big enough for her sunglasses and wallet.
         "Mom!" Kat's shout startled her.
         Lynette automatically turned to look for Daniel, though he had vanished and was probably on his plane already. She rubbed her eyes, refusing to cry now, then turned to weave through the stream of people heading down into the security checkpoint. Kat crossed the current and stumbled through to meet her.
         "You just missed him." Lynette wiped the last tear from her eyes and hugged Kat. "He'll be so glad to know you tried."
         "I'm sorry, Mom."

         "So am I. We have a lot of making up to do, sweetheart."

Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26: THE MISSION

         "You know, Jen -- sorry, Jennifer." He kept his other arm around her and nudged her to stand. "Neither of us is to blame for what happened back in Denver. I get this feeling that you hate me for some reason, and I can't figure out why. Or what's even weirder, you expect me to hate you. It's not real clear to me."
         "Our parents." She shuddered as a sensation of a great weight and pressure leaving her chest washed over her. "My mom, your dad -- so much damage. So much selfishness and lying and... I should let go of it. I mean, it was ten years ago."
         "Thirteen. It just feels like yesterday, sometimes." He paused as they stepped over the threshold into the gym hallway and he let go of her to reach back and pull the door closed. It latched with a reassuring loud click-snick.
         Jennifer frowned, staring at the door a moment. It shouldn't have stayed open like it did. Had they hit it that hard when they ran out, that it stuck? She was glad it hadn't shut, because it would have locked them out and they would have had to walk around the side of the building. At the same time, she didn't like the sense that security might have some flaws in it. Especially with that cream-colored car still fresh in her mind's eye. As soon as they got back to the office, she would find Paul and have him check that door. Lock it, chain it, whatever was necessary until it was fixed.
         "Look, let's clear the air," Doug said, turning so they faced each other. He grasped her arms. Whether to keep her from running away or just to hold her up if her knees tried to fold again, she couldn't be sure. "My dad was a hound dog. He used his position as base doctor to get to all the pretty Air Force wives and pick new playmates whenever Mom got him pissed at her. And she was pretty good at that. Her second-favorite hobby, sometimes. Your mom... well, the Colonel was a great guy, despite being such a Patton wannabe. I'm not saying he wasn't to blame. But it was their choice what they did. You were just a kid in high school and I was in college and away most of the year. Nothing we could have done to stop it or fix things."
         "You sound so rational, so reasonable." She swallowed. "So forgiving."
         "Hey, it's kind of a job requirement."
         That and his wry tone startled a laugh out of her. She inhaled sharply, feeling a dull throb in the side of her skull where she imagined the fracture seam refused to knit together. Doug put his arm around her and got them moving down the hall again. All through this, Puck didn't make a sound or give any indication he disagreed with Doug touching her as he did. Jennifer told herself to trust her big canine bodyguard. Right now, her instincts were all jumbled. Untrustworthy.
         "I don't blame you, if that's what you're afraid of. You and me, we're the victims. Collateral damage, I guess. Why can't we be friends?" he said.
         "Because we'll always remember. It'll come up at the worst possible time."
         "Hey, it's not like we're--" He stopped short, and she felt the momentary stiffness in his arm around her.
         "What?" Jennifer pulled away enough to see his face -- a faint, but growing upward curve to his mouth, and his eyes staring off into the distance. Standing this close to him, she imagined she could hear the whirring of circuits in his brain. He definitely had that thinking look. And he liked what he was thinking of. "It's not like we're what?" Then she knew. "Dating, you mean?"
         "Yeah." He nodded and turned her to look into her eyes. "I mean, would it be so bad? We got along good the few times we met, before it all blew up."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

August 25: THE MISSION

        Doug leaned back a little more, grinning when the chair gave him a warning creak, and regarded his empty desk. It wouldn't stay empty for long, and he was determined to enjoy it while it lasted.
        Four hours later, he ran both hands through his dusty brown mop of hair, half-tempted to take a grip with both hands and yank.
        "Please, Lord, I need some help," he 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.
        "Came in the usual way. You been so busy, you wouldn't hear if Gabriel blew his trumpet in your ear." She grinned, and broke out in a cackling laugh until her face turned red.
        "Is there something I can help you with?" he asked carefully.
        "No. Just thought I'd check up on the new kid." She leaned back in the chair and somehow managed to stretch her legs so the heels of her worn shoes rested on the edge of the desk. "Looks like you got a heap of problems to sort out. Better get them cleaned up before your own problems come to nest, y'know?"

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24: 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.
        "Douglas. There you are, lad." Pastor Wally wove his tottery way through the crowd with half a dozen children somehow managing to hold onto his hands and the legs of his pants without tripping him up. "Excuse me, ladies. I need to borrow this young man. Some very important people he has to meet, now that he's had the pleasure of your company." He bowed, making the women giggle. "Buck up. The worst is over," he said, when he had led Doug to the other side of the lobby and around the corner, down the hall and out of sight of the two women.
        "Promise?" Doug made his voice a scratchy squeak, earning giggles from most of the children tagging along with them.
        "This way," Paul Hunter said, coming to meet them in the gymnasium hall. The door at the end hung open. Light spilled in, around a man who was nothing more than a silhouette.
        "Go on. You've endured long enough." Pastor Wally gestured for Doug to follow Paul.
        "Who am I supposed to -- oh, sorry. Usually I'm a little quicker on the uptake." Doug pretended to wipe sweat off his forehead. "Thanks for rescuing me. Claire warned me to keep moving and not let anybody corner me like that, but... guess I got tired and slowed down."

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23: THE MISSION

         He found the Mission easily enough and drove past slowly, studying the group of perhaps twenty children playing on the lawn between the building and the street. The neighborhood was quiet enough to make that safe, in terms of traffic, at least. He wasn't too sure about any place where children played without a fence around them. Then again, Tabor was different enough from the cities where he had been serving, maybe they didn't need such precautions. Just after he turned the corner, heading for the parking lot behind the building, he looked back and saw five taller shapes, half-hidden by the trees and the shade of the building. There were plenty of adults to watch over the children, then. And he saw the open doorway, giving the children ready access to flee indoors, if danger appeared. That was good.
         The problem was that in his experience, danger rarely gave enough warning for children to flee to safety. It was always strike, then react, and then flee.
         He continued down the street several dozen yards and pulled into the parking lot. Only eight cars were parked against the building. He noted the van next to the entrance, in the spot marked for handicapped parking. He assumed Claire Donnelly was at work, if not her brother.
         The door was locked, and he didn't see a bell or buzzer or any way of letting the staff know someone wanted to come in. He was both pleased and irritated -- pleased the entrance was kept locked, so intruders couldn't sneak in, and irritated at the thought of having to walk all the way around to the front of the building. He should have parked on the street for today, at least until he got his keys.
         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.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17: 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.

Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16: FIRESONG

         "Any chance for some tips on the auditions?" Kurt asked after a few long moments of silence when she couldn't think of a thing to say. Why did he have to keep looking at her like that?
         "Why? Don't you have enough to do?"
         "Maybe I want to change my direction a little." He shrugged and settled down on the bleacher seat with only a foot of space between them.
         Too close. She could feel the warmth of his leg soaking through the wood to her.
         "We'll be able to see more of each other. Did you think of that?" he added, his smile softening, growing warmer.
         "We'll be on the road all the time, Kurt. I don't date while I'm on the road. Remember? Or did you think that would change just because we're on the team now?"
         "Oh, for--" He leaped to his feet and stomped away a few steps. Dani could only stare, shocked by the wordless fury bursting out of him. "You'll never give me a chance, will you? Did you think this might be our chance? You have no idea how much I've thought about this, wondering if you felt what I did, if you had any hope--"
         "If I'm the reason you want to join Firesong, Kurt, then it's the wrong reason."
         "You're punishing all of us for Andy leaving, aren't you?"
         "Punishing?" She could barely breathe, as if he had physically punched her in the chest.
         "When are you going to let go of your big brother? Why don't you grow up, Dani Paul, and figure out what really matters?"
         "I'm trying!" she nearly shrieked, struggling to her feet. "I almost said no to joining. I was scared that I was joining because you would be here. I have to do what's right, not what I want."
         "Why can't what you want be right?" he countered. "Why can't you want love and marriage and be in God's will? Why do you have to make things so hard? Oh, sure, your big fancy purity vow sounds so Christian, so good and true and noble. It's just an excuse for hiding from people."
         "Hiding?" She wanted to punch him. She wanted to run away. Dani couldn't seem to move.
         "I know what you're going through with Katie. I know when your parents died, Andy was all you had. But you're an adult, Dani! You have to let go. It's time to live your own life. Let go and trust in God for a change." Angry tears gleamed in his eyes.
         "Trust God?" Her breath caught in her throat. "That's all I've been able to do. God is all I seem to have left anymore." A sob escaped her. "But what happens when God isn't enough?"
          Silence wrapped around them, so thick and deep it muffled the thudding of her heart, the rasping of her breath as she fought not to break down in tears.

         "God is always enough. He's more than enough. The only one limiting Him in our lives is you or me. You're afraid to be happy. You're afraid to want something just for yourself. Do you think you have to buy God's approval? If so, then you're not the girl who talked a pregnant girl out of an abortion. You're not the girl who drove Firesong into becoming a tool this crusade team needs and wants. You're not the girl who's going to be the main support for Andy when his wife dies. You're not the girl I want to marry."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 15: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

        Lynette called the theater to talk to Kat. It was time she called in her daughter's help to track down Daniel.
        But Kat had left and Marco was there, finishing up her work for her.
        "I don't know where she was going," the young man said. Something hummed and rattled in the background, and Lynette suspected it was the copy machine. Her daughter had said something about Daniel working overtime on his lesson plans, far ahead of schedule, and being ten times more organized this year than last year.
        "Is Dr. Morgan there?" she made herself ask. If she could let her answering machine take message after message from him, he had every right to ignore her calls, too. Still, it hurt to keep calling and get nothing but the hissing of bad phone wires.
         "Nope. And he won't be here much longer, either. Something weird's going on," Marco hurried to add before Lynette could ask. "He got a bunch of papers today from administration, and he's been having interviews and setting things up with a bunch of grad students from Case and John Carroll. Kat said it's just a bunch of stupid rumors, but what if it's true?"
         "What rumors?" Lynette slid into her kitchen chair and held onto the edge of the table. This was no time for her relaxed, tucked-against-the-wall, phone talking position.
         "Well, I guess Dr. Morgan's finally taking a break. The scuttlebutt is he has a job in New York or Hollywood or somewhere waiting for him, and he's going away in a week. I think Kat's out running around trying to find out what the truth is." Marco paused. Lynette could hear him swallow. Hard. Like she had heard Daniel swallow when he had fought not to cry in those days when she had hurt him so badly. "She's scared. And ticked."
        "I know exactly how she feels," Lynette said between clenched teeth. "Thanks, Marco. I'll... I think I'll check the apartment to see if she's there. Talk to you later."
         She hung up before he could respond, and ran for her purse and her keys.
        Maybe it would have been faster if she had run to the girls' apartment building, Lynette thought. The traffic this late in the afternoon was thicker than molasses in December. The slow pace gave her plenty of time to fume, shifting from blaming herself for Daniel's silence, to raging at him for acting like a spoiled brat, to sniffling and blinking rapidly to fight tears as she mentally scolded herself again. All the good gained from her four sessions with Dr. Harris seemed to melt away like ice on a July sidewalk.
        Lynette had just about decided she'd like to grill Daniel on the same scalding sidewalk -- just who did he think he was, leaving town without telling her? -- when she reached the apartment building. She saw Kat's car pull in at the other driveway entrance, and nearly ran into the Tabor Heights PD squad car in front of her when the officer stopped to make a left turn into the city hall parking lot.
        "Get hold of yourself," she said between clenched teeth, and prayed the officer ahead of her wasn't looking in the rearview mirror and couldn't read lips backwards.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 14: FIRESONG

        "What's up, guys?" She felt like hugging everybody.
        "Besides you?" Tom rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. He led the way over to the performers tent "You're going to head into orbit any day now. Be careful, Dani."
        "Of what?" she asked with a chuckle.
        "There's always a really deep valley after the mountaintop. This is great, but you're flying so high..."
        "Let me enjoy it while I can, okay?"
        "Some of us don't get any mountaintops," Andy said a little too quietly. He managed a smile, but he looked tired.
        Dani remembered his moment of trouble the night before. "Is something wrong?" she asked after they stepped inside.
        "Kurt and Mr. Vandewitt want to talk to us before we start setting up," Tom said as Jim and Jason came into the tent.
        "I think we probably did something wrong last night," Jim said as they settled down in a loose circle of chairs. "Maybe some old fogies are complaining and we have to pull back on the gymnastics."
        "Gymnastics." Dani snorted.
        "I have something to say before they get here," Andy said. "You guys are probably going to be... well, there's no easy way to say it." He took a deep breath. "I'm quitting Firesong."
        "You're kidding." Tom grinned and looked around, as if he expected someone to jump in and shout 'Gotcha!' Andy just looked at him. His grin faded. "Don't kid about something like that."
        "I'm not kidding."
        "But -- why?" Dani silently congratulated herself on not breaking into tears. She felt frozen solid inside. "Katie's feeling better than ever. You said you wouldn't leave until she needed you to stay home."
        "Basically, I've decided to go to seminary."
        "Come on." Tom clamped a hand on his shoulder and shook him. "Something happened. What made you decide to bail?"
        "I'm not bailing, if you really think about it. I'm just changing direction. Maybe finally going in the right direction."
        "I know the crusade has been wearing all of us down," Jim said, "but--"
        "Wearing us down?" Andy almost laughed. The sound caught in his throat. "Yeah, we're getting up early and staying up late and not eating right. But you guys are eating it up. Look at Dani -- she can barely sit still, and she looks like she's going to collapse every night."
        "I don't feel it," Dani said. "God gives the strength, I guess."

        "Yeah, well He isn't giving me the strength. Or the words. Or any sense of peace. The words don't come when I'm trying to help people. Why? Because I need training. I've been thinking about seminary for years. Maybe God is giving me a good, hard nudge in the right direction. I'll start with Internet courses, so I can stay home with Katie. When we get to the place that I have to be in residence... well, we'll see where God leads."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 13: FIRESONG

        Kurt and Ned took Firesong out for an early dinner before the crusade that night. It was unusual enough for Ned to show up during a crusade, since he preferred staying at headquarters. Kurt didn't know what to think when his mentor and supervisor suggested taking the band out to eat so he could get to know them.
        Was there a problem? Kurt knew Ned would have said if Danziger's nasty tricks and smear campaign against Firesong had sent reverberations to crusade headquarters. So why all this unusual interest in a band that was still relatively new? Ned controlled the conversation during the meal, asking questions, drawing them out, learning about their education, their involvement in church, the basis for the songs they wrote, their dreams.
        "Do I want to know what's up?" Kurt asked, when they had left Firesong to prepare for the evening, and retired to the main office trailer to talk.
        "She's a special girl, that Dani." Ned sighed as he settled into the sofa built into the wall. "I can see why she has you tied into knots."
        Kurt nearly swallowed his tongue. To his chagrin, his mentor laughed.
        "You should be careful of that face. I can read it like a book. And no, Belinda didn't come whimpering and weeping about the vixen who stole your heart. I could tell just by watching you."
        "And?" Kurt slid into the bench seat in front of the little dinette table.
        "You're a lucky man if she's the one God chose for you. And I may be biased, but she's a lucky girl."
        "Tell her that."
        "That's the problem, isn't it? In situations like this, I think God is the only one who can get through. But... sometimes fallible humans do get to help out the Almighty."
        "What?" Kurt didn't know if he liked that cat-in-the-cream smile Ned wore. "What's going on?"

        "I can't tell you until tomorrow. Until I've seen them in action. But I guarantee, you'll like it."

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12: THE MISSION

        Claire frowned as the email she had assumed was a job application letter suddenly took a personal turn. Maybe she was cynical, but anyone who started out an email to a total stranger by saying finding her was an answer to prayer -- that someone was up to something. She had hesitated to delete it, simply because it had been addressed to her, personally. Usually scam letters that called on the Lord to bless her and proclaimed the letter writer was a brother in the Lord weren't addressed to anyone. She read the first paragraph, waiting for a variation on the usual theme of "please help me get a huge amount of money out of my country before the government gets their hands on it." Letters addressed to "Rev. Mission" usually turned out to be pleas for money and supplies to set up a school for orphans, and often turned into veiled threats at the end, calling on God to curse the "rich Rev. Mission" for not sharing "the Lord's holy blessings."
        Instead, the writer proclaimed how proud he was of her. How he had seen her picture in a web search for new ministry opportunities and was surprised and delighted to see what she had done with her life.
        "Enough of this," she muttered, and hit the scroll bar to get to the bottom of the letter.
        She nearly jumped to her feet. As it was, she pushed back from the desk, as far as the wheels on her chair would go before she hit the filing cabinet behind her.
        Your loving big brother, Jarod, was signed at the bottom.
        Just above that, he requested that she pass on his resume to "the rest of the team" at the Mission, and hoped they would permit a big brother to come alongside his sister and join their ministry.
        "You always want something, don't you?" Claire said, staring at the name. "And now you're starting to believe your own lies. How pitiful is that?"
         Jarod had promulgated the fiction that he was the oldest child, not just the oldest son, at Claire's last church. Tommy theorized he believed that would give him authority over her, and gain support from the movers-and-shakers in the church.
         She wanted desperately to just delete the email, but she knew better. It was always better to have witnesses and let other people know something was going on before trouble actually caught up with her. In her childhood, she had made the mistake of trying to be mature and reasonable, and refused to be a tattletale. The result was that when Jarod told lies about her, that silence worked against her.
        The door to Pastor Wally's office was closed, but she doubted the elderly minister was taking his nap as promised. Claire printed out Jarod's email, and saved it into the email file system she had just set up last week for Pastor Wally, as well as copying it to her own. She then took the printout and knocked on his door.
         "Well, I'm not really surprised, except maybe for how long it took him to find you," Pastor Wally said, after he read through the email.
        "I'm not answering him." She clasped her hands together in her lap and tried to lean back in the comfortable chair facing his desk.

        "No reason you should. I'll treat this as a job application and tell him there is no opening for someone with his qualifications and history." He winked. "He can read it any way he wants. And if he tries again, I will make it clear that he is not welcome here, that I am very aware of your shared history."

August 11: 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?"

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9: 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.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

August 8: 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.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 7: THE MISSION

        "Arc?" Kurt Green said, when Doug got through the usual "how's it been?" 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." Kurt sighed. "Listen, man, things are really upside down over there, with Pastor Wally hurt and the crusade starting in a few days and everything else in upheaval right now. Maybe God's just sending you to act as a bridge until they get things settled again."
        "And then I'm out on the street, needing to find a new place? Great, just what I need."
        "Yeah, kind of hard to take that leap of faith, huh?"

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

ANNE: Quarry Hall Book Two, excerpt

With a sigh, the intruder jammed his smartphone back into his pocket and turned to walk over to the big wooden kitchen table -- fortunately, on the other side of the kitchen, by the back door -- without raising his head. He never saw Anne. Shouldn't someone with nasty intents be a little more alert? The intruder sat down heavily, sighing even more loudly, and slouched like a pouty teenager. Which was what Anne decided he was. She took a chance and whispered for Argus, just his name. No response from the young man at the table.
Argus crept around the back side of the table and settled down next to Anne. Just in time. She had barely rested her hand on his neck when the kitchen door swung open and a girl scrambled across the tile floor, barefoot, wrapped in one of the brand new neon green thermal blankets Anne had brought to the shelter. She dropped the blanket as she leaped into her boyfriend's arms and settled on his lap.
"You didn't tell anyone where she was hiding, did you?" Anne called as she stood and reached for the bank of light switches by the swinging kitchen door.
The girl shrieked -- and shrieked louder as her terrified boyfriend stood up, dumping her to the floor. At the same moment, flashlights pierced the darkness outside and two officers darted through the door, each with a light in one hand and a gun in the other.

*****

"Thank goodness it was only two hormone-driven teenagers," Jocelyn murmured that afternoon, once things had settled down.
Kurt, Brittany's boyfriend, hated her bully father with a passion. The teen wouldn't tell the man where to find his runaway wife and daughter if he pulled out his toenails with red-hot pliers. Or at least, that was what Kurt vowed a dozen times over the last thirteen hours, when various authority figures confronted him.
Unfortunately, Brittany had violated several rules of the shelter, starting with lying about having a phone and then using it without permission. Secrecy was the most important ingredient in creating a safe haven for abused and fugitive women and children. Brittany compounded her transgression by not only revealing her location to someone on the outside, but telling him how to get in and where she would meet him. Despite the evidence of hormones scrambling their brains, both teens were in the gifted-and-talented program at their school, and they had created the electronic lock-picking gizmo Kurt used to get inside. Creating a disturbance that brought the police to the shelter also threatened its anonymity. Neighbors would notice the activity, and someone would remark on it, and the more incidents there were, the more people would talk. Eventually, the wrong person would find out and the shelter wouldn't be safe any longer.

Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5: DETOURS

        The library staff always got the class lists before the Registrar's office posted the schedule for the coming semester anywhere else on campus. Amy brought the list home from work Sunday, and the roommates scrambled to pick their classes and figure out their schedules for the fall. Tuesday, when registration for fall semester opened up, Bekka and Amy hurried over. It was nice to have their mornings free, now that the summer drama program was over. Shane was just coming out of the Registrar's office when they started up the steps. He grinned and tipped his hat to them.
        "Hey, Bekka."
        "Hey, Shane." She cast a glance at Amy, who was busy studying the schedule. "Registered already?"
        "Oh, yeah. Don't want to miss the good classes. Got to put my schedule together for work and all that." He slowed down coming down the steps and she slowed coming up the steps. Amy didn't notice and kept on going until she paused at the door.
        "Smart."
        "Are you taking that British Lit course with Kassebaum this fall?"
        "I might."
        "Good. So am I. See you there?" He winked.
        "Sounds good. I could use a study partner."
        "It's a date, then." He tipped his Stetson again and kept going.
        Bekka found herself grinning as she reached the top step. Amy blocked her way to the door, standing with her fists in her hips, still staring at the place where their little exchange had taken place.
        "Am I hallucinating, or are you blushing?" Amy demanded, slapping aside Bekka's hand when she tried to reach around her for the door handle.
        "Yes."
        "Which is it?"
        "Hallucinating." Bekka affected a snooty Bostonian accent. "I do not blush just because a cute guy -- Did I just say 'cute'?"
         "Well, he is. And since when do you need a study partner for a literature class?"
         "He's a Lit major. He's taken thirty classes by correspondence. You should hear his theories on how mythology coincides with current trends in science fiction, horror and fantasy... Will you stop grinning at me like that?" She had the horrid feeling she was blushing even brighter.
        "Can I be maid of honor?" Amy bubbled, and batted her eyelashes.
         "Oh -- you!" Bekka swung her backpack off her shoulder, hitting Amy with it. Amy just laughed as they headed into the office.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

ANNE: Quarry Hall Book Two, excerpt

The pneumatics on the door sighed and groaned as the heavy panel swung inward. Argus stepped sideways into the shadows, as the stream of warm yellow light beyond the back door area spilled down, through the door. Anne ducked down behind the worktable. She grinned as she came eye-to-eye with all the heavy aluminum pots and pans, big enough to cook for dozens at a time. The Arc Foundation didn't believe in using guns, although there had been discussions lately on arming its representatives with tazers and pepper spray. Thanks to Vincent, though, all the daughters of Quarry Hall could handle themselves in hand-to-hand combat. He trained them to be able to walk into a room and come up with impromptu weapons. It wouldn't take much imagination, however, to figure out what to do, defensively, with these pots and pans.
A single footstep. Argus growled, the sound low and rumbling, vibrating in some of the stainless steel utensils and bowls hanging from the equipment rack over the table. No more footsteps. Anne thought she could smell the sudden rancid perfume stink of fear-sweat, blowing in on the cool evening breeze. She held her breath, listening.
A smartphone pinged. Not her phone. She checked it in her hip pocket, just in case. She caught whispers of movement, the tiny clicks of even tinier keys, perhaps? On her hands and knees, she looked around the side of the table, and saw a lean shape, dressed all in black, with a hood turning the head into a bullet-shape. Light gleamed from inside its cupped hands -- what was this hopeful robber doing responding to a text?
Unless this wasn't simple robbery, but an attempt to get at one of the women taking refuge here? And someone inside was helping him? Joan's story about her mother came fresh to Anne's mind. The worst thing about abusers was that they considered themselves justified in the harm they caused, and they considered themselves victims when people helped their targets escape to safety and freedom. If she attacked, the intruder could claim he was only coming to check on his girlfriend, that he was worried about her, that he wanted to make amends. She had to wait until he did something -- stole something -- frightened or threatened the residents.
Sometimes, Anne hated being one of the good guys. They had all the rules to abide by, while the bad guys basically lived by the motto: Whatever works.
She ducked back into the darker shadows of the table and waited until the intruder finished his text message. Argus wouldn't attack until she gave the signal -- or he thought she was in danger. That one growl had been by way of fair warning, giving the intruder the chance to realize he had already been discovered, and to retreat before he went too far. Anne slid backwards on the clean tile floor a few more feet. For her purposes, the intruder needed to be caught in the act.
The smartphone pinged again. Anne muffled a sigh, and froze when the intruder turned to face her as he pulled out his cell phone. In the light reflected from the screen, she could make out his face. He looked very young. Young enough to have the fuzz of a first beard and be so proud of it, he left it on his face no matter how patchy it looked. He scowled and pursed his lips, tucked his flashlight back in his pocket, and texted a response.
What kind of a break-in was this?