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Saturday, September 28, 2013

September 28: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        "So, how are things with you and Doug?" Abby asked.
        "Ohhh, don't ask." Jennifer groaned, the sound turning to creaky laughter at the end.
        "What happened?"
        "Baxter got the updates for the Mission's web site finished last week."
        "What does that have to do with you and Doug? The last time I looked, the two of you seemed like you were getting past the truce stage into good friends."
        "We were. We are." Jennifer sighed again. "But Doug's mother checked out the site … and she saw my picture. She recognized me, even though I've lost about thirty pounds since my Dad's last command and I'm still wearing scarves in all those pictures."
        "Uh oh." Abby cringed. All she really knew was that Jennifer and Doug were Air Force brats, and years ago her mother had an affair with his father, which had destroyed both their families and contributed to the end of both their fathers' careers. It had been awkward for Jennifer and Doug at first when they both arrived to work at the Mission almost at the same time.
        "Yeah. She seems to think I'm the Whore of Babylon like my mother. Well, she didn't exactly use those words, but... she wants me to stay away from her son."
        "Kind of hard when you work at the same place. I can't believe Doug would tell you what his mother said."
        "He didn't. She contacted me through the children's ministry email."
        "Ouch."
        "We've both been dancing around each other for the last few days, afraid to warn the other that his mother was on the rampage. I think the lecture she gave him was worse than the short, cold, demanding email I got."
        "Double ouch." Abby sighed and scooted down a little in the chaise, drawing her knees up slightly. She flinched at the unthinking movement, then realized it hadn't drawn a single throb in her knee at all. "Now's the time to consider whether the guy is worth the hassle."
        "And wonder if he's thinking the same thing about me?"
        "Jen... You really need to get up in the clouds tomorrow."
        "Yeah. I think I do." A sighing laugh escaped her. "How come I call to find out how you're doing, and you help me instead?"

        "That's what friends are for."

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

        Abby slept in the back seat of Tyler's parents' Cadillac when they drove the two of them home from Sandusky. Her leg was propped up and bandaged, stiff and swollen and sore. The emergency room staff verified she hadn't broken anything, just pounded it good.
        The same was true of Tyler's hip. He felt a flicker of regret that he couldn't take it as an excuse to miss a few rehearsals for the upcoming play. He would have no trouble limping into the theater and sitting in his usual chair in the wings, where he could see everything and keep track of everyone in the crew by way of his headset and microphone.
        The church bus had gone home immediately, as soon as Ethan was returned to the group. It was important the rest of the chaperons get the adventure camp children home to their parents on time, if not before. Tyler called his parents and asked them to come retrieve him and Abby, once they got checked out in the hospital. He couldn't ask Tanya, because she would only worry about the children, and she had to be there when the bus returned. That left Abby's brother, but he was in the same predicament, picking up Chad and Candy. So he called his parents.
        Tyler suspected Tanya had given their parents a good lecture, because Thomas didn't make jokes about Tyler scaring away every good woman who came along. Grace clucked over Abby like she was her own daughter -- not a delicate, prospective daughter-in-law who needed special treatment to be convinced she was marrying into a wonderful family. Tyler was grateful for their restrained concern. And grateful for the clean clothes they brought for him, and the huge thermos of coffee. They got drive-through hamburgers and settled down for the long ride back to Cleveland, with Abby stretched out in the back seat, her legs resting on Tyler's lap, and blessed quiet in the car.
        Not the way he would have wanted their first date to end, but could he really call it a date, when they hadn't had any quality time alone together? True, they had learned some things about each other, more than knowing he liked the way she fit perfectly into his arm around her, that he liked how she smelled even when she was sweaty, dirty and in pain, and how resourceful and creative she was.
        Was he grateful his tentative attempt at a kiss had been thwarted? What if Abby wasn't ready for kissing in their relationship? What if he had succeeded, and then made her angry? He knew it was better to stay friends, rather than try to push her into an emotional relationship and away forever. At least, logically Tyler knew it was better this way, but suddenly his heart wasn't listening.
        After that damp, cold, precarious time sitting on the ledge with her, he wanted to take her into his arms and kiss her until her knees gave out -- well, at least her good knee -- and hold her tightly enough he could feel her heart beating. He knew she would taste sweet and her skin would be soft, and he wanted to tangle his fingers in those silky dark curls. But at what price?

        The problem is, he told himself as he stared at the flickering highway lights speeding past, I don't have anything to compare with or really base this on. I thought I was in love before, but it's nothing like what I feel about Abby now. And that's scary. I don't want to mess up now. Not after waiting so long for her to come into my life.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 26: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       Abby was late arriving to pick up the children from adventure club. Dead tired from a courier run that took her into the edge of a bad thunderstorm over Detroit, she thought she was hallucinating when she saw the black Corvette sitting in the three-quarters empty parking lot behind the church. Usually Tanya picked them up on her way home from work. Then she saw Tyler's long, lean, dark form towering above the four children who played Tag, or something vaguely like it, while he talked with Mrs. Polavshenko.
       "Abby, help me!" he called, laughing, as she got out of the Jeep and took slow steps across the pavement.
       She ached, from the tension and from the bumpy ride of that storm. Seeing him smile at her and hearing her name spoken in that chocolate voice soothed away half the aches. Abby wished she could curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book and a bag of Dove chocolates, and Tyler to talk with for the rest of the day. And that stupid Detroit storm pounding outside to keep them both indoors.
       "I need to speak with you, too, Miss Abby," Mrs. Polavshenko said, nodding her gray head.
       "Uh oh." Abby had learned that summer that when Mrs. Polavshenko used "Miss" or "Mr." when addressing the varied parents or guardians of the children, she wanted something from them. She used just first names when everything was fine -- last names when she was angry.
       "When I let the children join adventure club," the woman said with a nod for punctuation, "you signed paper. You agree to help with an activity."
       "Plane rides for the kids?" Abby offered, feeling that moment of panic that always hit when Chad or Candy wanted her to be a room mother at school. "Room mother" always seemed to require cupcakes or leading a fundraising activity, like selling magazine subscriptions and overpriced chocolate bars, or making decorations with nothing but construction paper, dull scissors and glue. Abby would much rather fly blind in a thunderstorm at night with one wing damaged. She felt far more competent doing that sort of thing.
       "Maybe next spring, but I need some adult chaperons next week."
       "For what and going where?" Abby glanced at Tyler, but he just shook his head and his lips twitched slightly as he fought not to grin. Could she really trust his expression, anyway? He was an actor, after all.
       "Lost River, up in Sandusky. We're going on little field trip. The children pack their lunches and we tour caves and the children spend money on useless souvenirs. Their parents will believe they have educational experience."
       "Except the parents who come with them, of course," Tyler said.
       "Is that why you want aunts and uncles, instead of parents for this trip?" Abby added.
       "Nonsense!" Mrs. Polavshenko couldn't hide her amusement as easily as Tyler did, though. "It will really be one of easier assignments. I just need you make sure the children stay together in dark. The people running it will do security and safety and all that folderol."

       "Folderol?" Tyler chuckled. "I'm not sure I've heard that word outside of a Victorian melodrama."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 25: DETOURS

         Amy was in as blue a mood as she thought she could possibly get. Bekka was out gallivanting around the county with Shane on one of the rare days that they both had free from their numerous jobs. Kat was at school, doing massive amounts of work before she caught her evening flight for New York with her mother, to spend mid-term break visiting Morgan. Amy was stuck in the apartment, doing laundry.
         It was her own laundry, so she couldn't exactly blame someone else for the chore.
         Still, she found herself stopping and sighing and glancing over at the answering machine between every piece she folded. Joe hadn't called in two weeks.
         Amy was ready to break every CD and tape in the apartment that had maudlin songs about lovers being apart -- or worse yet, separated lovers who reunited after years apart. It was the 'years' part that infuriated her.
         A teardrop rolled down Amy's cheek, surprising her into stillness. As she sat and watched it slide out of sight, then reappear as it fell from her chin to the floor, the doorbell rang. Sighing, she got up and went to the door.

         Joe knelt in the doorway, with an open jeweler's box sitting flat on the palm of one hand. A ring with a tiny diamond glistened in the dim hallway light.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

Morning brought panic, when Anne realized she had nothing even remotely businesslike to wear to the Justice Center. Jury members could dress as casually as they wanted -- they had the jury box to hide them. She had Xander to worry about, though. What kind of impression would she make on his peers if she showed up looking like a college dropout or a refugee?
Those thoughts kept intruding on her morning routine, along with missing Argus lying next to her within convenient reach for petting. Anne realized with a grin that she did talk to the big dog quite often during her devotions, reading aloud bits of scripture or quotes from her devotional book, or working through ideas until she came to a conclusion. She stopped herself at least a dozen times from speaking aloud. Yes, it was a school morning and yes, she could hear the children moving around in the apartment below her as they washed up and got dressed, but that didn't make it all right for her to disturb them with a stranger's voice at six a.m. Especially when that stranger didn't talk in complete sentences.
When she finally stumbled through her closing prayer for the morning, Anne opened her eyes and looked straight across the street at the Holwoods' house. At the square windows tucked up under the eaves, where she imagined she could look straight into Nikki's room. Was it too early to go knock on the door and--
The front door opened and Dr. Holwood herded the gaggle of foster-children down the steps ahead of him. They all wore backpacks, probably loaded with textbooks and lunch bags for school. That was one questioned answered. Maybe now the thing to worry about was getting across the street before Doria left the house.
            On second thought, maybe the concern should be that there were some clothes Nikki had left behind that both fit her and looked business-like.

Friday, September 20, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

Vincent sat on the front steps, talking on his cell phone, watching her as she came down the sidewalk. He hooked his thumb over his shoulder, gesturing down the driveway. Anne looked, half-expecting to see her truck, miraculously recovered overnight. A little dark green sedan sat in the gravel parking area behind the house. He waved for her attention and tossed the keys to her almost before she had turned back to him -- and kept talking on the phone. Anne grinned and shook her head, and went to investigate the car.
A suitcase sat in the back seat, and she knew someone had gone through her closet and drawers, harvesting the few clothes she had left in her room at Quarry Hall. Even more important, a round, dark green storage tub the size of a small hat box sat on top of the suitcase. Brooklyn had sent along some bakery. Anne yanked the door open and pushed the seat forward to get at that tub. Buckeyes, chocolate chip and citrus coolers, and shortbread dipped in chocolate. All her favorites and as effective as a long, warm hug from Brooklyn. She sighed in satisfaction, and the aroma wafting up from the container made her stomach rumble.
Anne hauled the suitcase and tub upstairs to her apartment, and made sure to stash the bakery where she couldn't get at it easily. She was more than capable of devouring the entire inventory of treats in one sitting if she wasn't careful. The stairs creaked and the door groaned open as she spread the suitcase on her bed, preparing to put away her clothes.
"Where did that car come from?" she asked, turning around to see Vincent lean into the doorframe, watching her.
"George." He gave a little shrug. His gaze rested on her, heavy and assessing.
"Xander made me go to a doctor this morning."
"Good. How's your head?"
She knew he wasn't talking about physical damage. "Still processing." Anne tossed down the handful of white tube socks and turned to settle on the edge of the bed. "I know last night is exactly why Argus is with me, what you train all our dogs for, but it still makes me so mad. And makes me feel so helpless. I just…" She shuddered, and prayed Vincent could read what she meant in her face.
"The police report said you got some licks in on the guy."
"Not enough."
           "That's a matter of opinion. It's a good bet he won't go after supposedly unarmed little girls in dark parking lots without having second thoughts. George has taken it into his head you're going to get your truck back, so it's a waste of time to fix up a new one for you. He says to just keep your eyes open and wait." He shrugged with a 'what are you going to do?' expression of fond exasperation. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

The afternoon passed quickly, with voices seeping over the divider walls from time to time as clients came in, seeking help or for scheduled appointments to update them on their cases. Hannah called just after two to report that the police in Hyburg had contacted her about one of their clients. A man claiming to be the client's fiancé -- after only four dates -- had violated the latest restraining order and tried to take her son, as he was walking home from kindergarten. There was never an engagement, but he insisted the mother owed him for "emotional damage" and claimed the boy as recompense. Hannah was taking the two victims to a shelter in Columbus. She would meet Xander Downtown in the morning.
"She does a lot of hands-on work, doesn't she?" Anne observed, as Xander went over the bare bones of the case. She shuddered, wondering what kind of debt that mentally sick man would have demanded if there had been more than four dates.
Their client had broken it off with the man when he decided to move in with her, broke into her house, and started tossing everything into the yard that he didn't want to have in "his" household. He insisted that they were soul-mates, then counter-sued for slander and libel when she  filed the restraining order against him.
"Hannah is a gift from God. I'm good at reading people in the courtroom, sensing when there's information someone is trying to hide, that could change the case. But Hannah… she senses what they need. She gives our work a personal and personalized touch. More than just the legal aspects of our clients' lives. She's so good with people, it's a miracle I got anywhere before she showed up and became the face of Common Grounds." Xander shrugged. "Lucky I didn't send people running, when I was the face."
"Don't sell yourself short. Nobody trusts lawyers who look like movie stars with ten million dollars of plastic surgery. They figure pretty boys spend all their time looking in the mirror and worrying about more money to pay the bills, instead of their clients."
"Uh huh. Never thought about it that way." He slouched in his chair and for a moment, when his smile wavered and he wasn't looking directly at her, Anne glimpsed a bone-deep exhaustion. If Hannah gave extra for their clients, Xander gave ten times as much.
           And he didn't complain. Didn't wave a flag to get people to notice just how much he sacrificed. Anne made a mental note of that and resolved to have a long talk with Joan and compare notes on what she had observed. For the sake of fairness, she couldn't slap the file closed and declare Common Grounds had passed the evaluation, just based on what she had seen today. But she wanted to.

Monday, September 16, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

"Come on back," he said, releasing her hand. "It's just the two of us in here right now. I'm Rick Solomon, by the way." He turned and gestured down the long hallway between portable divider walls. "The other four part-timers are out filing motions, doing research and interviews/ or heading to classes. Case Western has a great law school, so it's good positioning for Xander to be set up here. Lots of cheap labor."
"Cheap doesn't mean sloppy or second-rate," Xander called from a cubicle that was four times the size of the others, just before the former furniture showroom vanished into shadows and open space, with a red-lit exit sign lost in the shadows. He half-rose from his desk, beckoning for Anne to come in. "They get hands-on experience toward their degrees, and I get work done by people still excited about the law. It's a win-win for everyone."
"Keep talking like that, boss, and you'll never get rid of any of us." Rick tipped a salute off the end of his right eyebrow and headed back down the hallway.
"Who says I want to?" he called, getting a snicker in response. Xander settled back down at his desk and picked up a handful of papers. "He's the first one I'm offering a job, once this current crop graduates. If he can afford to keep working for me full-time. Not that I'm putting any pressure on you to give me a good evaluation, of course."
"Of course." Anne grinned as she settled into a chair in front of his desk, and let her backpack slide to the floor.
"Hannah is busy downtown, following up on paperwork that should have been delivered by courier yesterday. Otherwise I'd have her give you the grand tour, give you an idea of who's working here, their duties, our plans for the rest of this cavern of ours."
He hooked a thumb over his shoulder into the empty darkness behind him. "This is a prime location. I can't remember how many years I've driven down Pearl, watching this spot, seeing one business after another come in, open for a few months, then close up. It wasn't a good spot for their businesses, with the location of the parking lot and the traffic and everything else, but I realized it was perfect for me. And the landlord was so desperate for someone to be here, to keep up the property values, he took my low bid and hasn't raised my rates. Yet."
           Xander pressed his hands together in a praying gesture, earning a grin from Anne. "I wanted this spot even before I realized I might have a chance of making a go of Common Grounds. Heck, before I even had the name."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 14: FIRESONG

       When the first ferry of the day coming from Sandusky pulled up to the dock, Kurt disembarked.
       Dani stood at the side of the dock with her backpack on her back, holding up her bicycle, staring at the sight of him walking at the back of the straggling group of passengers. Kurt smiled at her, as if there hadn't been any trouble between them the last time they had a real conversation. As if she hadn't fallen to pieces in his arms.
       "Hi," she managed to say without squeaking.
       "Hi, yourself. You heading back?" Kurt rolled his eyes and grinned when she nodded, then turned around and walked back onto the ferry with her and the boarding passengers. "I came to give you the first ream of paperwork, for joining AME."
       "It could have waited until I got home, couldn't it?" Maybe not the best response she could come up with, but she couldn't just play mute all the way back to Tabor Heights.
       "Yeah. I guess." He shrugged and gazed out across the water, back to Sandusky, instead of looking at her. "Maybe I just wanted an excuse to check up on you."
       "Uh huh." She grinned, feeling giddy. "Should I prepare to be stalked?"
       "I won't go away, but I'll give you space." Kurt gripped the side of the ferry, still looking away. He swallowed hard. "So, how far away do I have to stay?"
       "No. Not away." She waited until he finally turned to her. That warmth and hunger flickered at the back of his eyes, as if he fought not to let it return. "Closer."
       "Yeah?" He grinned, prompting a breathy chuckle from her.
       The ferry launched, the first lurch making them wobble. Kurt took a step closer to her and Dani welcomed that. It felt good, natural, to stand in silence for at least the first third of the voyage and just enjoy being together.

       She was glad Kurt was someone she could be comfortable with in silence. As C.S. Lewis had said through Screwtape, silence and music were the languages of Heaven. She suspected there would be many more pleasant things she would discover about Kurt.

Friday, September 13, 2013

September 13: FIRESONG

       Some time during the second day of solitude, riding her bike around the island and stopping at secluded coves to look out over the lake, a few thoughts came clear and settled in her mind and heart. Fragments from the funeral service finally made sense, as if she had recorded the words to think about later.
       Dani discovered she was angry with God, and the very idea terrified her. Who was she to be angry at what God had ordained? And yet, as she struggled through it, she realized she wasn't being rebellious, just expressing her hurt. How many of the Psalms had bothered her during the years, because they were so full of anger and pain and pleading for God's justice and vengeance? It had taken a speaker during summer camp when she was fourteen, who pointed out that the Psalms were honest conversations between hurting, wounded humans and the God they loved and trusted, before the Psalms made sense. It was impossible to express hurt and anger in full honesty, except with someone who was utterly trusted.
       Had she lost her trust in God? Dani didn't think so. She hadn't lost her faith in God when her parents died. Katie didn't have to wake up and learn Andy had been killed. In a way, that was the greatest mercy God could have granted her. Andy didn't have to watch Katie fade away and suffer, she didn't have to see his sorrow for her, and she didn't even know Andy was gone.
       They had died with a future still ahead of them and plans for what time they had left. They had been happy. They had been together. They had stayed dedicated to God despite what He had allowed to happen to them.
       What right did Dani Paul have to be angry, when in the final analysis, God was being merciful?

       "I have to let go," she whispered to the gulls that swooped around the rocky shores and took the bits of crackers she tossed to them. "Keeping a strangle hold will only crush everything I love, and I won't be able to accept anything else in my life. I have to let go." She choked on tears, knowing it would be hard.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 12: FIRESONG

        Dani slept late the next morning. Her aunt was the only person at home when she came downstairs after a long, hot shower, with a few changes of clothes, her Bible, and a notebook in her backpack. They said very little to each other, and it hurt when Aunt Betty hugged her and put the insulated picnic bag in her hand. The thought of eating anything made Dani feel nauseous, but she took the food anyway.
        Uncle George had put the carry rack and her bike on the car, and tears prickled her eyes when she saw it waiting for her. He wasn't anywhere around, and she was grateful. She was afraid to try to say good-bye.
        It was early afternoon by the time Dani got to Kelly's Island and biked down the road to the bed & breakfast where she had made her reservations. She welcomed the sense of solitude and the golden island light. The floating, empty sensation that wrapped around her wouldn't let her think when other people were around.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11: THE MISSION

       Lisa concentrated on her breathing exercises and Claire was grateful for the semi-quiet ride to the hospital. She wasn't sure she could think of anything intelligent to say to distract her. Maybe it wasn't smart to distract women in labor. What did she know about giving birth or being a mother, despite the hundreds of children she had worked with over the years?
       As she tended to Lisa in the hospital, holding her hand and offering support, Claire's thoughts kept turning to Paul, and the possibilities and daydreams that had ambushed her in unguarded moments, ever since that sadly sweet conversation with him in the library. Was it so selfish to want to be Sammy's mother, to claim the love Paul seemed to be offering? Everything seemed to be wrapped up so neatly in a nice, tidy package. Sammy loved Tommy. Paul and Tommy got along, almost to the point of frightening her. Claire had often joked that people who understood and enjoyed her brother's sometimes warped sense of humor were dangerous and frightened her.
       What frightened her, she admitted now, as she held Lisa's hand and listened to her breathe and count, was that she feared maybe she wanted Sammy and Paul because they made a nice, neat, logical package. The house she and Tommy shared had more than enough room for the four of them. What if she wanted Paul because he got along with her brother, more than she wanted him for him? What if he wanted her because of Sammy, more than he wanted her for her?
       Okay, Lord, could You give us a sign? Is it too soon to start thinking about the future? Or is it already late, and a sign Paul is having second thoughts? Please, did You create this, or am I imagining things? I want this, no matter how much it scares me. She offered a smile to Lisa and held the cup of ice chips for her to take a few more. Please, Lord, I want Paul and Sammy in our lives. I want us to be a family. And if it isn't Your will, Your plan, could you let us know fast?
       It was almost a relief when Todd staggered into the birthing room, trailing the nurse who was helping him put on the sterile gown and gloves. Claire prepared to leave, to let the little family welcome their first child in privacy, but Todd startled her when he asked her to stay.
       "My sisters are on their way, but we want as many friends as we can to be here," he said, grabbing hold of Lisa's hand. "I know the funeral is today, so I'm not expecting... you're here, and we'd really love it if you'd stay."

       Claire held back her tears until after Nicholas Joseph Montgomery was born, squalling and struggling, measured and cleaned and wrapped up warm. Then she escaped to the waiting room, glad to have some time to think and absorb what she had seen and felt and thought.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 10: THE MISSION

      "Worried about that turning into a storm?" Jennifer said, joining him. She nodded up at the sky, which seemed just a little darker since the last time he looked at those clouds. They hardly moved at all, which was odd, considering the strengthening breeze that blew straight at him from the far side of the blacktop. They were definitely looking darker.
      The wind ruffled her hair, which was barely an inch long, standing out in a soft fuzz all over her head. She had left her scarf at home yesterday and today. He admired her for the courage to uncover her head. When would that chocolate fuzz get long enough to turn into the curls he remembered?
      "What?" he said, turning to teasing to yank his thoughts back onto the business at hand. "The Arc Foundation teaches you to read minds, too? Or just read the weather? Maybe you should teach the kids how to track in the Metroparks in the winter."
      "Sourpuss." She wrinkled up her nose at him.
      "What do you say we bring the kids in before we hear any thunder?" He gestured at the clouds again. "It looks like they'll be solid black by the time they're right overhead, and probably spitting lightning and--"
      Jennifer grabbed his arm. Everything about her shifted to alertness that mirrored the sudden, watchful, stiff stance of Puck.
      "What?" he whispered, fascinated by the way the dog seemed to crouch lower, nose twitching, ears lying back against his skull.
      "Someone out there is carrying a gun, or has handled guns recently, probably firing them." She glanced sideways, not moving her head, and her gaze met his. The intensity in her eyes smothered the question he was about to ask. Not that he doubted her. Not now. "Their sweat is all over the metal, and the smell is in the air, coming right at us. Puck was ATF before I got him. He used to sniff out guns and explosives. That's his 'I smell guns' stance." She shuddered. "Hoped I'd never see it again."
      He gestured with his whistle out at the children. He saw the hesitation in her eyes, then the agreement. Bringing them in might alert whoever was out there with a gun, but they couldn't leave the children out there to be targets or worse, hostages. Doug thought of the men who had tried to kidnap Sammy Hunter. The van had been found, but nothing had been seen of them.
      Thunder rumbled in the distance.
      "Thanks, Lord," Jennifer whispered, her voice cracking. She gave him a stiff smile and stepped out along the side of the building, Puck pressed close to her side. She held her cell phone where he could see it, her thumb sliding across the keypad, most likely texting.

      Doug wanted to shout for her to stay in the shelter of the doorway, to not go out there. He shoved the whistle in his mouth and blew the four sharp blasts that meant it was time to come inside. He sent up a silent prayer of thanks that the children were trained to know the signals and the Mission had procedures set up for almost any situation.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September 8: THE MISSION

        "He's not here."
        "Who?" Her voice was a little sharper than she intended.
        "The jerk."
        "It doesn't matter."
        "Yeah, it matters. You needed even more to shred him than I did. If there's any justice in the world, he'll show up again. Since the schmooze job didn't work, he'll threaten you into making a place for him. More lies."
        "Pastor Wally knows the truth. He doesn't have a chance in this town." She felt some choking tightness leave her chest and throat as the words spilled out. Claire decided that maybe she needed to say those words aloud, instead of just thinking them.
        "But don't you wonder, sometimes?" He waited until she looked at him. "Wonder if he'll finally show up genuinely sorry, wanting to make things right, be a family again?"
        "It's too late. I know it's not a very Christian thing to do, a bad attitude, but he had plenty of opportunities to make things right while Mom was alive. When he showed up at her funeral with his band, insisting he needed to sing a tribute to her to make up for hurting her..." She looked out over the playground again, needing the soothing of watching the children play, refusing to spill that hurt from those memories.
        "You didn't believe him."
        "Hey, even I learn after a while. The last time I let him play me was when he claimed Stephanie didn't want to be friends, didn't want to be sisters. I stayed away. I believed him. And when she cried to him that I wouldn't accept her as my sister-in-law, he claimed I told him I didn't want her in our family." She let out a rattling, deep sigh. "Burn someone often enough, even if you finally speak the truth, nobody believes you."
        "We're not leaving town again, Claire." Tommy grabbed hold of her hand, making her turn to look down at him. His eyes were hard, brows lowered in determination. "This is our place, our fresh start. We're not leaving town just to get away from all his poison."

        "No. We're not leaving, even if he does settle here and try to turn everyone against us. This is our home, our place. No more running away. No more hiding. No more being afraid of him trying to run our lives."

Saturday, September 7, 2013

September 7: FIRESONG

        Dani insisted on staying at the hospital with the Greens. She knew Andy would want her to be there for Katie. She wandered down the hall, away from the waiting room where it seemed half the church had come to camp, just like when the Randolphs were hurt. She needed to be alone. She needed to listen for the hissing sound that seemed to fill the air, like a bubble enclosing her, cutting her off from everything and everyone. If she listened long enough, maybe she could understand it and make it go away.
        She found a waiting room that was blessedly empty, and sank down on a couch. It took her a few seconds to realize the TV hanging in the corner by the ceiling was still on. She debated ignoring it, like a fly buzzing and banging against the window.
        A woman said "Firesong," and jerked her into double alert awareness, piercing the hissing bubble. Dani stared at the TV screen. The TV anchor looked familiar, but she couldn't remember what local station she was with.
        Then the image shifted to the big, wooden, white arch of the secondary gate into the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds. That irritating reporter who had invaded before the crusade stood there, talking about the crusade and how Firesong had been a driving force during the week-long event.
        "Yeah, shows just how much attention you paid to what was going on," Dani muttered. She wrapped her arms around herself, shuddering from a cold that came from deep inside.
        "-- their former manager, Troy Danziger, who was shocked at the sad news," the reporter said.
        A photo of Danziger, about ten years out of date, appeared on the screen, and his staticky voice buzzed through the speaker.
        "I'm just heartbroken. They were all good kids, but Andy, he was the heart and soul, the driving force of Firesong. It made me so proud when the kids turned their backs on a skyrocketing career to dedicate themselves to working with Allen Michaels and his fine organization," Danziger said. "Without Andy, I don't know how they can go on."
        "We'll go on, you lying slimebag," Dani ground out between gritted teeth. Somehow she was on her feet, standing directly under the TV, staring up at the screen. "You couldn't stop us, and Andy wouldn't want us to give up." Her breath caught in her chest like a hard, cold fist.
        She staggered back to the couch, shaking, a burning sensation at the backs of her eyes. It took all her energy to breathe. She couldn't cry.

        Not even when Kurt arrived at the hospital and found her in the other waiting room and wrapped his arms around her. Even when his warmth drove away the cold that made her shudder until she ached, she couldn't cry.

Friday, September 6, 2013

September 6: FIRESONG

         After she promised to keep in contact with both girls and the van drove away, Dani found the maintenance entrance door was locked. She laughed, sighed, and started the long hike around the tall, poured cement walls of the stadium, to get to the front entrance gates again.
         "What'd they do," Andy called, pulling up in front of the stadium in his truck, just as Dani was about to turn the corner and walk up the slope to the entrance gates. "Throw you out?"
         "What are you doing back here? False alarm?" Dani's smile froze when she got a good look at her brother's face. "Andy?" She stepped up to the open passenger door window.
         "She's..." He inhaled shakily and slammed the truck into park. "She's had five seizures since they got her to the hospital. They're going to induce a coma, to try to... I'm going home to get some things so I can stay with her."
         "Then go. What are you stopping here for?"
         "Will you come with me?" His eyes glistened with sudden tears. "Dani, I can't do this alone."
         "Let me get my purse, and tell the guys. I'll be right back." She reached into the truck, nearly falling inside, to grab his hand and squeeze it. Then she ran.
         Just before the gates, she ran right into Officer Mike Nicholls, who was off-duty and had volunteered to head up security for the rally.
         "Just what do you think you're doing, young lady?" he said, laughing, and guided her through the gate.
         "Andy needs me -- the hospital -- Katie--" She choked, not wanting to say the words that would make the situation more real.
         "Go." He patted her arm and reached for his walkie talkie. Dani guessed he was passing the word to the security people backstage, so no one would stop her. She headed down the stairs to the field level.
         There were too many benefits to name, she suddenly realized, from living in a small town and going to a church where people really did consider themselves family.
         "You," a man growled.
         A big hand grabbed Dani by her upper arm, stopping her. But her feet kept moving for a few steps and the momentum nearly pulled her shoulder out of the socket. She let out a yelp, cut off half a heartbeat later when the mate to that big hand grabbed her other arm and slammed her up against the concrete wall of the stairs.

         The man was big, rough-hewn, handsome in an action hero way, with wavy golden hair, blue eyes, and a dimple in his chin. But his eyes were filled with ice and he snarled at Dani as she gasped for breath.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

September 5: A QUIET PLACE

         "What happened?" Nathan called, as his Jeep skidded to a halt in the gravel parking lot of the waterfowl sanctuary.
         He leaped from the vehicle, forgetting to yank the keys from the ignition. He opened wide his arms and Jeannette ran to him. She clung to him and shuddered and told him in broken sentences about the lawyer's visit.
         "She's left nearly half of everything to BJ."
         "Why?" Nathan murmured into her hair. He tightened his arms around her. "What's the catch?"
         "It's a big one. He has to change his name to Evans, and he has to live with one of his uncles." She swallowed hard, aching, still not quite believing it, though she had read the conditions of the will herself. "Not with me."
         "Ouch."
         "Tell me about it."
         "Well, it's not like you need that money," Nathan ventured. He didn't pull back, and Jeannette was grateful.
         "Not right now. But what about the future? What about BJ's college? What about a car for him? And books? And getting set up in a business if he wants to do that? Do I have the right to deprive him of all that?"
         "You're not taking this seriously, are you?"
         "I have to look out for his future," she said, choking on the words.
         "What kind of future will he have if you send him away just so he can have a big bank account someday? Man, Jen, I thought you had more brains than that."

         A slightly hysterical giggle escaped her at the comfortingly familiar growl of disgust in his voice. What would she do without Nathan to scold her back into common sense?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 4: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

            Daniel groaned in weariness as he came through the door into his dark apartment. If this tiny square of living space with Chinese screens to designate bedroom separate from living room separate from dinette and kitchen could actually be called an apartment.
            His schedule at BWU had spoiled him. He wasn't used to heading for work in the dark to avoid traffic, and getting home from work in the dark every single day. Even after four days at the network, he still forgot to leave a light on when he left in the morning. He left the hall door open to give him some light as he crossed the room, trying to aim for the torch lamp set up between his desk and his sofa.
            The phone rang. Daniel changed direction and fumbled the cardboard divider tray with his dinner. French onion soup sloshed, threatening the foil-coated paper that slowly let his corned beef on rye get cold. He had to get to that phone. It was probably Lynette, calling to let him know if she could come up to visit this weekend.
            Daniel stumbled over the case for his notebook computer, which he had left sitting in the middle of the tiny square of Berber carpet that laughingly passed for his living room. His foot slipped on the slick, padded nylon. He bit his tongue against spilling the curses he had heard around him all day, which seemed to soak into his subconscious and soul like filthy rain on his clothes. He definitely needed some time away from the office. Lynette's presence for the weekend would be his salvation.
            The answering machine clicked on as he fought to keep from falling or spilling his dinner. He caught his balance and thought that tall, thin shadow directly in front of him was the torch lamp.
            "Uh... hi."
            Daniel paused, his heart stopping for several painful seconds as his brain raced to identify that strained, young, female voice. The click of the switch was loud as the torch lamp spilled light across the room.
            "Um... this is Kat. Mom gave me your number. Um, I just wanted to -- I hope everything's going okay with your new job. Everybody misses you. They sent us a bunch of geeks to fill in for you."
            Daniel flung away the tray with his dinner as he lunged for the phone. It hit the wall with a splat and a splash.
            "Kat?"
            "Hi, Morgan." Her voice cracked with broken laughter. "I mean -- uh -- Dad?"
            Tears blinded him. "I miss you."
            "Is it okay if I call you--"
            "Whatever you want, Kat."
            "I'm sorry," she whispered.

            "It's okay. Everything's going to be okay. I promise."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

A young man who looked more like a college student than a practicing lawyer hurried up to the front, clutching several envelope folders to his chest, in response to the rusty-sounding bell that rang out when Anne walked in the front door of the legal clinic. He glanced at the big desk tucked into the front portion of the office. It was empty, and from the neatness of it, Anne guessed the person who normally sat there wasn't in the office. She had heard a few things about Hannah Blake, the paralegal who signed on as office manager for Xander, and assumed she was out running errands.
"Can I help you?" the man said, letting his folders slide down onto a table set up between Hannah's desk and what looked like a makeshift kitchen tucked in the corner of the front area. It had a cube refrigerator under a table, hot plate, coffee maker, and boxes of cookies on the table, and cups, spoons, and other supplies on shelving next to the table.
"I'm here to see Xander Finley." She went blank for a moment, not sure if it was all right to tell people she was from the Arc Foundation. Quite often, knowing they were being observed and assessed made people uneasy and unable to function normally. At the women's shelter, everyone but Jocelyn had thought she was just another volunteer, earning college lab credits for her social work degree. But this situation was different, Anne decided. She held out her hand. "I'm Anne Hachworth, from the Arc Foundation."
           A moment later, a bubble of laughter escaped her when he looked her up and down. Dressy jeans, sneakers, backpack, a lavender-gray shirt and a sporty gray jacket obviously didn't match what he expected from the foundation that helped support Common Grounds. Or maybe it was because she was around his age.

Monday, September 2, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

            Finally Anne called the vet in Stoughton. The call was short by necessity, because he had a waiting room full of patients and their owners. Argus was stable. He was also fighting the sedatives. That didn't surprise Anne at all. She would have to make arrangements to spend some time with her companion, stroking him and talking to him, to convince him she was all right. What bothered her more was the strong impression the doctor was still torn between relief at Argus' survival and believing he had wasted his time and effort. Anne wasn't about to waste her time explaining that Argus was not just her dog but her bodyguard, her confidante, her guardian angel; and a big, living, warm teddy bear to hold and keep her nightmares away. If she could have, she would have donated her own blood.
All that mattered, though, was that Argus would live. The vet didn't want to move him for at least a week. If the problem had just been a shattered bone, he would have let Anne take him home to Quarry Hall in a few days. If it had just been the blood loss, the same. If it had just been the broken ribs, maybe a week. But Argus had multiple injuries and he wasn't reacting well to either the anesthetic the doctor had used, the antiseptics and antibiotics, or the tranquilizers needed to keep him from aggravating his injuries. He was one sick dog.
Anne dug through her backpack for the thick sheaf of bus schedules she had picked up at the customer service counter at Heinke's when she bought her bus pass. It didn't take long to figure out the bus schedules to take her south to Stoughton. She had to get to Argus, would probably need to go spend time with him on a regular basis, and she didn't want to ask Doria to shuttle her around. Why did George have to be so finicky right now, and insist on giving her a truck exactly outfitted like the stolen one?
"Duh," she whispered, after stopping to close her eyes and press her fingers against her temples to ease the pressure of a growing headache. The movement reminded her of praying -- which she hadn't been doing often enough lately. How many times did God have to hit her with the proverbial two-by-four before she sat up and paid attention?
Anne bowed her head and pressed her knuckles into her eyes. She focused her thoughts on Argus, the way she had seen him just after the vet's first anesthetic shot began to work relaxing the shivering dog's clenched muscles. Her companion had never made a sound, never snapped at anyone, but watched Anne the entire time they loaded him into the police van and drove them to the vet's and unloaded him. The movement had to hurt, but he stayed focused on her, trusting her to help him.
          Just like Anne had to trust God.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

ANNE, Quarry Hall Book 2

Two hours later, after finding Heinke's, stocking her refrigerator, and finding the bus schedules and routes, Anne settled into the front seat of the bus that would take her down Pearl Road and leave her in front of Xander's office. She was pleased and slightly uncomfortable to discover that someone -- either her landlady or Doria -- had filled her cupboards with canned and boxed food, so all she had to buy were fresh fruit, vegetables, and milk. There was bread and frozen dinners and even ice cream in her freezer, and whoever had done the shopping made very good guesses as to what she liked. Then she called Quarry Hall and found Su-Ma on switchboard duty. She had to report on Xander, whom some members of the Arc Foundation had yet to meet.
"He's kind of overbearing," Anne reported. There was a faint echo when she spoke, meaning her report was being recorded. "But a good overbearing. He cares and he wants things done right and he's not going to let etiquette get in the way, you know?"
"Sounds too good to be true," Su-Ma responded, with a hint of chiming laughter in her voice. "Elizabeth says for today, just take it easy. If you're bored, you can hang around the clinic, talk to people. Pay more attention to what people say to and about him than what he says or what he's doing. That's the real test of how his ministry is performing."
          "She's had questions about him?" Anne frowned, not liking the flicker of apprehension that went through her. She always second-guessed her first impressions of people, but she didn't have the slightest doubt about her impressions of Xander Finley. That was odd. She usually never let herself like anyone without reservation on the first meeting. Maybe she accepted Xander at face value just because he was Joan's friend?