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Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31: FORGIVEN

      Brock watched Nikki and her dog leave. When they had vanished through the trees, he turned back to the little bronze marker. This time he dropped to his knees. He pushed aside the carpet of petals and tall grass and traced the raised letters with his index finger.
      "Your mommy knew what she was talking about when she named you, huh?" he whispered. "Mercy is when we don't get what we deserve. Grace is when we get what we don't deserve. I hurt your mommy really bad, and I hurt you. But I love you, Mercy Grace. Even though I never saw you. God taught me that." He caught his breath, knuckled away another tear. "I still love your mommy. I love her so much more, now."
      He was supposed to go on to a job waiting for him in Kentucky, part of the reformation program he was involved in. Suddenly, that felt like the absolutely wrong thing to do. He thought for a moment, then headed for his rental car and the notebook holding all his important phone numbers. Open Doors, the prison ministry he had joined before he was assigned his bunk, had boarding houses and contacts here in northeast Ohio. Paul had told him to contact Mandy Gordon if he needed any help or needed to talk to someone. Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that she happened to live in Tabor Heights?

      After all his close calls and the miracles that had allowed him to turn his life around, Brock was willing to believe in divine intervention, and didn't hesitate to pray for some right now.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29: THE FAMILY WAY

      Lisa tried to do as Pastor Glenn suggested, once she calmed down from the excitement of her plan and Anne's interest and her promise to pass the information on to Arc's directors. She avoided the wedding album at first, choosing to pull out her college scrapbooks. Todd had figured so prominently in all of them because he had come into her life in her freshman year. Looking through them, she couldn't find any gaps to show where she and Todd had broken up, sometimes for months on end. He simply seemed to be everywhere.
      Photos of days on the beach on Lake Erie or walking the trails in the Metroparks. Or trying to sail a boat. Or at Cedar Point amusement park. The two of them always together, no matter how many other people were around them.
      Picnics. Dorm parties. Family picnics she had agreed to attend, even after she met his father and knew the man despised her because she was an artist. Lisa looked at the pictures of Todd's sisters and wondered why she hadn't seen the stiffness and coolness between Mr. Montgomery and his daughters even then.
      Had she been that much in love with Todd, she couldn't see beyond the rosy dazzle he put on everything?
      They did have good times. Lots of good times. Tears came to her eyes, but she managed to laugh as she remembered all those silly good times they had together. Back when it was enough just to walk down the bike trail through the Metroparks and talk.
      Lisa remembered how happy she had been the day Todd put that gumball prize ring on her finger because he couldn't afford an engagement ring the first time they became engaged. Later, she learned he had asked his father for a loan and his father had refused.
      She had been so happy with just a bit of cheap plastic and glass on her finger.
      The day after she moved into her apartment, Lisa had looked at her wedding band and the diamond engagement ring Todd gave her right after his first big raise at DeWitt-McGregor, and contemplated taking them off. It wouldn't be hard. She had lost enough weight already they tried to slide off. But no, she had decided to keep her rings. Was that her subconscious telling her to keep hoping?
      It didn't matter, she decided. She hadn't left Todd because she didn't want to be married to him. She had left to protect her mind and her life, and the baby. She wouldn't divorce Todd until he asked. She wouldn't even think about remarriage, about dating, about finding someone to love her, until she was sure Todd had cut every bond between them.

      Friday night, she finally looked through her wedding album. She didn't open the fancy, formal album full of staged and posed pictures, but the one full of photos taken by friends. The joy and innocence and dreams shining in her and Todd's faces made her cry. When had they lost that simple happiness and love?

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

      It was cowardly, and Lynette knew it, but that didn't stop her from scheduling moving day for Daniel's busiest class day. It meant losing Kat's help for several hours, but Lynette didn't mind. To her delight, Bekka and Amy volunteered to help, and the moving company took care of a large part of the grunt work. Kat was there to help with unwrapping newspaper-wrapped dishes and running them through the dishwasher, and to help put out rugs and hang pictures at the end of the day. When Kat left for rehearsal, Daniel showed up with a Chinese banquet and helped her set up her TV, VCR and stereo system.
      Maybe he was just as relieved not to have Kat see them together. She hoped. This was all going to take some time to get used to, but she wanted it, with an ache like a leg regaining feeling after being asleep for hours.
      Maybe years.
      They met for lunch at Stay-A-While or the Bluebird CafĂ© once a week. Never on the same day. Making a routine implied more than Lynette was willing to admit, even to herself. And always at the restaurant. She never met Daniel at his office and he never came up to Blooming Miracles or her condo to pick her up. Daniel never suggested it, though such a practice would have been easier on them both. Lynette chose to believe he felt the same as she did. Uneasy about Kat seeing them and asking questions they weren't prepared to answer.
      That was a comfort.

      So why did she feel a little disappointment, every time he gave in to her wishes without a murmur?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26: FIRESONG

      "Did you say Firesong?" Kurt sat down on the couch facing Joan.
      "They're a band that basically operates out of Tabor Christian," Nikki said, moving over to join him on the couch, with her companion dog, Gray, settling down immediately at her feet.
      "I know who they are." Kurt shook his head, grinning, feeling a little blindsided. "My cousin, Katie, is engaged to one of the guys in the band."
      "That's right -- Katie Green." Nikki laughed. "We were in school together. So Katie and Andy finally got together. I wonder if Dani arranged it."
      "Dani is the drummer?" Joan said.
      "Dani is Andy's sister, and the other three guys in the band are their cousins." Nikki scooted off the couch and darted into the next room.
      "I take it this is turning into old home week," Joan said.
      "Yeah, and nobody warned me when I walked through the door this morning." Kurt chuckled and settled back, stretching out his legs. He flinched when Gray let out a rumbling woof, and shifted his legs a good foot away from the dog.
      Joan snickered. "He won't bite you."
      "You say."
      "Our dogs are trained not to take food from anyone but their assigned persons."
      "Thanks very much." Kurt made a face at her, which just made Joan laugh louder. He decided he was saved when Nikki ran back into the room. She tossed a CD to him before settling down on the couch again. "Firesong, huh? How come Katie hasn't sent me any CDs?"
      "Don't ask me, ask her. Just how much contact do you have with people back home?" Nikki said. She nodded, rolling her eyes, when Kurt decided it was wiser not to answer and stayed silent.
      The truth was that he got most of his news about his relatives in Tabor through the grapevine, meaning his parents told him what news they picked up in letters and phone calls. Kurt had only made contact via email and phone in the last few weeks when he learned he was being sent to Northeast Ohio as part of the crusade preparation team. Allen Michaels was holding a week-long crusade at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in August.
      Kurt turned the CD over and felt a jolt at the image that filled the back. He recognized everybody. Dozens of memories rolled through his mind that hadn't come when he heard the news about Katie being engaged to Andy Paul months ago. He remembered taking an inflatable kayak down the Rocky River with the three Gibson brothers, in the middle of a torrential downpour. He remembered playing basketball in the church parking lot with Andy. He remembered Sunday school picnics and being deathly bored in youth group meetings. Most of all, as he stared at Dani Paul with her big, dark eyes and waist-length waterfall of dark hair, he remembered tormenting her with water balloons and reading her diary out loud -- the diary easily stolen when she had a sleepover with Katie while he was living with his relatives.
      If Dani had just ignored him or expressed the usual scorn that Katie and other girls threw his way when he had been an arrogant snot, he would have forgotten about her and left her alone after a few sallies. Dani, however, got his attention and kept it, because she was disgusted with him, personally. She despised him, and it took him until he passed through his rebellious, backsliding phase before he realized why.
      She expected better of him. She had decided he was supposed to be a better person, and he owed it to everyone around him to be that better person -- and she wouldn't cut him any slack, even if he was acting like any normal, hormone-rattled, ego-centric teen boy.
      Kurt hadn't forgotten Dani Paul, even if he hadn't consciously thought about her in years.

      He wondered if she ever thought about him.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25: THE FAMILY WAY

      "Hi, Todd. Getting the shopping done early?" Joel Randolph greeted him, appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the crowded aisles of Macy's.      "Huh?" Todd jerked, startled, and then ashamed to be caught in one of his recurring dazes. He couldn't seem to concentrate on anything lately. He had gone to Padua Mall just to get out of the house, and he had no idea how he had ended up in the department store, standing in the aisle between linens and the baby department.      "Shopping. For Katie Green and Andy Paul's wedding," Emily said, appearing from behind her husband. She looked past him. "Where's Lisa?"      "Gone." Todd tried to smile, but his mouth ached so much he wished it would fall off.      "Gone?" Joel exchanged a worried frown with his wife. "Not back to those cousins of hers? Are they sick?"      "No. We are, I guess." He looked around the store, glad to see so few people around. It was a beautiful, late March afternoon, and he felt like he was caught in a blizzard. Indoors. The last thing he needed was a heavy crowd of witnesses if he started falling apart.      "What's wrong with Lisa?" Emily asked. She put a gentle hand on Todd's arm. "We've been worried about her. We don't see her in church, she hasn't called lately, and Max said she hasn't been her usual self when she goes to the Mission. Even the children have noticed."      "Lisa's... She moved out. I... I've been a real jerk." Todd took a deep breath, positive he was going to break down crying. His father had always mocked him for crying, even when he was little. Instead of keeping him from tears, it only made them worse when they finally came. "Look," he managed to say, "can we go somewhere and talk? You know Lisa better than I do, and I really need to figure out what I did -- no, I know what I did wrong. I just need to talk to someone." A choked, half-laugh, half-sob escaped him. "Someone who won't knock my head off for being such a louse."      The three settled into a table tucked into a corner by a pillar and several potted trees in the food court of the mall. It wasn't quiet, but the acoustics were such that no one could overhear. Todd spilled the entire story. He knew he wasn't coherent at times, and Joel and Emily had to ask pointed questions to get him to backtrack and confess events and words he had hoped he could leave out. When he confessed what he had said to Lisa, which had brought all their troubles into the light, his lips actually burned with the shame of it.      How could he have said that to her? How could he ever have suspected her of being unfaithful?

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24: FORGIVEN

      "You're risking your life," Paul Hunter said, pitching his voice low.
      As one person, Brock Pierson and Paul glanced at the next picnic table in the park, where Paul's five-year-old daughter, Sammy, played with her Larrymobile and the beanbag figures of Bob, Larry, Larryboy and Junior Asparagus. The little girl giggled and pushed the two cucumber toys together, side-by-side, her white-blond head bobbing up and down with the force of her chatter to her toys. Brock decided Sammy hadn't heard a thing he had said to her father since the two men sat down to talk half an hour ago. He was relieved.
      "It's the right thing to do," Brock said, shrugging. He reached for his travel mug of coffee and tipped it back, grimacing when he found it empty. He had done that three times already. It just showed how distracted he had been since he had made up his mind.
      "The Feds offered you witness protection and a new identity because you're valuable to them. You did a good job."
      "They're hoping I'll remember more details some time in the future, to testify against anyone else they manage to bring in."
      "True." Paul slapped his hand down on his Bible as the freshening breeze stirred the pages. "She must be worth it."
      "More than worth it." Brock sighed, feeling about ten degrees of tension uncoil in his gut and shoulders. Paul had been there as a counselor since his first days of incarceration, before the trial to put away Ringo Esteverde had even been put on the docket. He had helped Brock finish the last steps of the path he had chosen the day Nikki fled him -- after their last argument, when he ordered her to abort and then hit her hard enough to fling her across the hotel room bed, to hit the wall.
Remembering those horrific days, when he had been secretly working for the DEA and feared for Nikki's life more than his own, Brock stroked the Bible he had carried with him from that hotel. He had caught Nikki reading it, crying over the pages, and tore it out of her hands, ripping it down the spine into three pieces. When she fled the hotel, he had found the pieces in the wastebasket, pieced the Bible together, and started reading it.
      Not until Ringo had found Nikki and kidnapped her, did Brock realize he had read that Bible because he knew he would eventually be killed, and he wanted to find a way to end up in Heaven, just so he could see her again and apologize.
And tell her that he loved her.

      "I've paid for my crimes," Brock finally said, raising his head to meet Paul's gaze. He had the same piercing blue eyes as his daughter, the same white-blond tangle of hair. If Sammy exuded innocence and joy, her father radiated strength and integrity and a demand for honesty and honor. "I helped put Ringo away. I served time in prison. By some miracle, I wasn't charged with statutory rape." He shuddered, remembering how the authorities had actually put that charge on the list. Nikki's sister, Joan, testified that Nikki's birthday was three months sooner than the official records said. Brock had literally escaped that rape charge by two days. "It's time I make things right with Nikki."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 23: THE FAMILY WAY

      Dr. and Mrs. Holwood came to the apartment after church, bringing chicken stew and fresh bread, fruit salad, and a card signed by everyone in Lisa and Todd's Young Marrieds class. Lisa managed not to hesitate or stutter as she thanked them, but her thoughts kept circling back to the same questions while they visited for a few minutes: Was Todd in class when someone passed around the card for her? What was the story going around the church, and especially among their friends? How many knew she had left Todd? Lisa had welcomed the quiet and lack of visitors, except for the small circle of those who had supported her from the beginning, meaning Bekka and her roommates, and her sisters-in-law. The enormity of what she had done, the thought of the division she was probably causing among her and Todd's friends in church, struck her with enough force to make her feel as hollow and dizzy as she had just before she slid down the post office steps.
      It didn't help as much as she had thought, when Dr. Holwood and Doria both gave her tentative support in her decision. Their reasoning came from the viewpoint of being part of the foster parenting system, and considering the needs and rights of the children.
      "There is a lot of good in Todd, and we've spent quite a bit of time in prayer, trying to see beyond our problems with his father," Doria admitted with a deprecating little shrug and smile. She reached across the shallow trunk that served as a coffee table in the cramped living room-office. "But we've also seen too much hurt done to children by parents who stayed too long. The ideal is for children to be raised by two parents who work together, who put the needs and the good of the children above their own. Unfortunately, in this sinful world, that doesn't happen, even in Christian homes."

      "Sometimes it's better if the family is dissolved, or at least temporarily divided, until the parents can grow up and heal from their wounds," Dr. Holwood said, taking up the line of thought. "Sometimes it's better if a child has foster parents, or only one parent, rather than subjecting him or her to the constant tension, the battles, the toxic environment. It's not your life anymore, Lisa. The moment the Lord entrusted that child to you, your life changed. It's up to you to trust in him, and obey, and make sure that change is for the better. For you and Todd, as well as for your baby."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 22: FORGIVEN

      Nikki's thoughts leaped back and forth between the two opposing reactions to the proposal as she hurried through the house and outside. First, there was the pressure of doing a good job for the foundation, helping the Mission, doing something worthwhile for the town and the church where she had grown up. Then there was the discomfort of facing all those people she had grown up with, who had watched her turn her back on all her values and break her foster parents' hearts by running away with a con man who worked as a front man for a drug runner. Nikki knew she was forgiven, by the Holwoods, by the people in her church family who really mattered, and by God, but that didn't make it any easier.
      She ended up in one of the lower, sheltered gardens of the massive old estate, where the willow trees were still misty bright green with fresh growth. Nikki thought she would have ended up there in the willow garden, even if she had come out here in the middle of the night, in a raging storm, with her eyes closed. Her heart led her here.
      "Hey, sweetheart," she whispered, and went to her knees in front of the brass marker set in the polished chunk of stone. Nikki brushed a few cherry blossom petals off the plaque, which had blown over from a garden several levels up in the terraces, and her fingers traced the raised letters spelling out Mercy Grace Kathryn. "Mommy's here."
      At times of stress, she could still feel the ache in her womb and the bruises and cuts that came from the car wreck when Ringo, Brock's former boss, had rammed a roadblock and rolled his car. He had kidnapped her to use her as a human shield when he fled the authorities. She had been seven months pregnant. The doctors said her daughter would have survived being born prematurely, but the injuries from the accident eventually led to her death. What made the loss so ironic was that Brock had ordered her to abort when she first told him she was pregnant, but Ringo wanted her to have the baby, to provide another layer of camouflage for his drug running operations. What could be more disarming than a happy little family with an adorable baby?
      "So, do you think I should do it?" Nikki said, adjusting her position so she rested on her bottom with her legs drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped tight around her legs, and her chin resting on her knees. "Time to face the music?"
      Gray settled down next to her, his muzzle resting on her foot.
      There were so many reasons to go back to Tabor Heights, to face her past and her shame, look people in the eye when they sneered at her, and go on with her life. She would be able to prove she had gotten past her adolescent, selfish stupidity, by bringing something beneficial to the town. How long could she justify staying in the safe, warm, nurturing nest of Quarry Hall and the Arc Foundation?
      How long could she keep visiting her daughter's tiny grave and vow to make up for her bad choices before she actually did something to fulfill that promise?
      "Please, God… it's going to be so hard. Bring good out of this, please?"
      She sat there a while longer, between the two markers, letting the peace soak in again, until Gray nudged her and whined, and looked toward the house, hidden by the trees and raw stone walls and the sloping terraces of Quarry Hall's grounds. Nikki nodded and slowly got to her feet.

      "I'll be back. I promise," she whispered.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 21: THE FAMILY WAY

      Kevin and Karla came to the hospital to visit, just after the doctor decided to keep Lisa another day, to make sure she was a little stronger before sending her home -- with strict orders to do nothing but rest and eat and avoid stress for the next week, before resuming her normal activities. By this time, Lisa felt embarrassed by the balloons and bouquets and planters that filled all the horizontal surfaces in her room. At the same time, something quietly gloated and gloried in the proof that people cared about her. Bekka, Kat and Amy came by the night before with flowers and her favorite trail mix, and offers to loan her DVDs and videos and books when she got home from the hospital. Jeannette Marshall had visited that morning before the doctor had stopped with his orders, and nearly burst into tears when Lisa asked her for advice on raising a baby on her own.      "You won't be alone," Jeannette had insisted. "You'll have the entire church behind you, just like I did. But I'm sure Todd will straighten up and do what's right."      Lisa hadn't been able to argue with her, but she had given up hope of Todd ever proving his love, so she didn't agree with Jeanette, either.      She was too tired to pay much attention when Kevin and Karla got the same report and orders from the doctor. If only she could get warm. The air felt and tasted thick and smelled like a greenhouse, thanks to all the flowers and planters. Lisa tugged the blankets a little higher and wished Terri had brought her winter robe instead of her summer one. Why couldn't her room be as warm as a greenhouse, instead of just smelling like one? Would she ever feel warm again?      "I know the doctor said to avoid stress," Kevin said, once the doctor had gone down the hall, finally leaving them alone.      "What?" She blinked several times before realizing Karla held out some folded sheets of paper to her.      "The restraining order against our father," her sister-in-law said quietly. "And one for Todd. I think in the interest of future reconciliation, you should just keep it on hand, don't sign it right away. I do want you to sign the first one. Kevin and I, and the other girls, have signed it already. It takes your signature, since you're the one in danger."      "Does Xander--"      "I agree with him. Filing the restraining order will have some bearing if Arthur Montgomery tries to file for custody of your baby before it's born," Kevin said. "Sports figures can get away with stunts like that -- especially when the mothers of their babies are drug addicts and thieves and a danger to everyone around them. If you've registered a complaint against him first, it will go a long way towards defeating his claims against you."      Lisa wondered why she hesitated before she signed all three copies of the request for a restraining order. Kevin was doing this in her best interests. She was grateful that someone was looking out for her, ready to take whatever measures necessary to protect her.      Maybe, she decided later, after she was alone in her room, the problem was that if her husband had been doing his duty, she wouldn't need anyone to protect her but him. And if something didn't change soon, she might end up signing those papers with Todd's name on them.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 20: THE FAMILY WAY

      Lisa tried to think of everything Pastor Glenn had said to encourage her. It was hard. Her thoughts kept going in circles, leaping off track, bringing up bits and pieces from totally unrelated conversations. As if her brain thought those sound bytes would help her make sense of her life.      She was nearly to Rick's Bakery, ready to take the back stairs to her apartment, before she remembered she had meant to get her mail before she went home. There was nothing to be done but retrace her steps now. Lisa sighed and turned around and went back up the hill to the post office.       Her stomach ached strangely. Lisa thought about her leftovers, now sitting in Jeannette's wastebasket in the church office. She hadn't eaten much. She should probably get home and eat something, but the thought of food made her feel nauseous. Sweat beaded her face and for a few moments, the chill air felt good. Lisa told herself all she needed was some fresh air and exercise. Maybe the walk would help her build up an appetite.      "Hey, kiddo, how's it going?" a scratchy voice greeted her. A lumpy figure lounged on one of the benches by the sidewalk.       Maggie, one of the town characters, seemed to have no past, no home, and always seemed to be available when people needed help. The children at the Mission loved her and called her Maggie Raggedy. Lisa smiled and waved to the woman, dressed in mismatched boots⎯one bright green rubber and the other dull black, three sizes too big⎯several layers of sweaters in a rainbow of colors and lengths, baggy camouflage pants, and two stocking caps jammed down on her shaggy, iron-gray head.      "Fine," Lisa said. "Nice day to be out, huh?" she called as she passed the woman and continued up the street.      "Yeah, if you're a penguin. You take care of yourself, you hear me? Don't go straining your heart any."      Lisa frowned, wondering what had brought that on. She turned to look back and ask, but found Maggie had vanished. It didn't surprise her. Maggie could move faster than greased lightning when she wanted to. Lisa liked the ragbag woman. She cared, she was trustworthy, all the children in town loved her, and she was easy to talk to. What, she wondered, would Maggie say about her problems with Todd?      The short walk up the slight hill to the post office seemed to take forever. Coming down the steps outside after checking her box, Lisa suddenly ran out of breath. She clutched at the railing, a dizzy giggle catching in her throat as the world twisted around her feet. When she hit the steps with her knees, she slid down three to the bottom and her body went limp.      "Kiddo?" Maggie appeared in Lisa's field of vision. "Hey, it's going to be okay. You just get some rest. Maggie'll get help."



Lisa tried to say something, but the words died in her throat and her eyes closed against her will.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 19: THE FAMILY WAY

      Jeannette Marshall was on duty at the front desk when Todd reached the church. She gestured for him to go into Pastor Glenn's office as soon as he walked through the door. He grinned at her and hurried down the hall, his steps light. He hadn't felt this good in weeks. In just a little while, he knew, everything would be all right.      "Dad?" Todd stopped short when he saw the man sitting in one of the three chairs facing Pastor Glenn's desk. "What are you doing here?"      "Your father wants me to, as he puts it, talk some sense into Lisa," Pastor Glenn said. "I explained that I have been talking to Lisa for weeks now, and you're the one who won't talk. It's a little hard to help with marital problems unless both spouses are willing to talk."      "I'm willing," Todd began.      "See? I told you. Todd has never been the problem," Mr. Montgomery rumbled in that rich, satisfied tone of voice his son suddenly hated. "It's that Lisa. How anyone can be an artist and claim to be a Christian is beyond me."      "Todd might be willing," Pastor Glenn said with that forced smile that always made Todd feel guilty. "However, he never follows through when we make appointments for counseling. In fact, I asked Lisa why you two missed the last appointment we made, and she said you never told her about it."      "That's true, unfortunately," Todd said quickly, to halt the angry denial he saw in his father's eyes. "I keep forgetting."      "It makes me wonder if you really do want to save your marriage."      "Of course Todd wants to save it," his father snapped. "But as I keep telling you, it's Lisa. She abandoned her own husband, the father of her child. If it really is his child."      "Dad!" Todd's face burned. He could hear echoes of that confrontation with Lisa, the night he got home from that awful business trip. "Of course it's mine. Lisa would never cheat on me."      "That's not what Lisa says you believe about her," Pastor Glenn said.      "A genetic test will solve the whole problem," Mr. Montgomery said. He stretched his legs out as he settled back in his chair. "We should arrange a psychiatric evaluation while we're at it. It'll save time later."      "What do you mean?" Todd didn't like that satisfied little smile on his father's face.       "Your father wants to file court action to take custody of Lisa's baby as soon as it's born," Pastor Glenn explained.      "No! No way." Todd threw himself down into the chair next to his father. "That would⎯that would kill Lisa. It's bad enough I said what I did, but to force her to go through that⎯I can't. I won't."      "It would certainly calm our doubts, Toddy," his father rumbled.      "I don't have any doubts. I'm the one who really matters, right?"      "Why haven't you told Lisa this?" Pastor Glenn asked.      "We haven't talked about much of anything lately," he admitted grudgingly.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17: DETOURS

      Moving day for Lisa had been the Saturday before. The three roommates showed up bright and early to help Lisa's sisters-in-law and their significant others pack up and clean up. Lisa had obtained the little apartment over Rick's Bakery, so the actual journey would take no time at all. The plan was to have her out of the apartment before Todd's movers showed up. Unfortunately, that hadn't happened. Bekka had been afraid that Todd would show he was even more his father's son than she had suspected, when he walked into the apartment and found them all there, helping Lisa leave him.       Instead of going into an icy tirade, he had laughed. He thought they were all there to help him and Lisa move. Bekka wanted to believe him, when he claimed that he had rented the little cottage on Kiln that Lisa had referred to as the 'dream house.' In anyone else, it would have been rather sweet to rent the home she wanted and arrange for others to do the moving work. Unfortunately, thanks to his father's threats and the fact that Todd had hit Lisa, sending her to the hospital with stitches – which he still claimed was an accident – Bekka couldn't make herself trust or support him any longer. She decided enough was enough, and she wholeheartedly supported Lisa in leaving Todd.
      The three roommates were still talking about Lisa's moving day and the strange encounter with Todd when they met for a late lunch at the student union that afternoon. Bekka was willing to believe that Todd really had rented a house for him and Lisa as a surprise. She knew he was just that oblivious to how things looked to other people. It would never occur to him that Lisa would know their lease had expired and she would worry about where they would live. And she could believe that Mr. Montgomery had made threats to Lisa.
      Amy and Kat wanted to believe the worst of the situation, and they were all for devising means to torture Todd for the rest of the year. Amy wanted to do some baking as an apartment-warming gift for Lisa. The three sat in a booth in the snack shop at the student union, discussing whether to go shopping for Amy's supplies or totally blow off an early start on term papers due after spring break and go to a movie, when Shane came by.
      "So, what's the news?" Shane said, eyeing the empty seat next to Kat.
      "Men are scum," Amy declared, thumping her half-empty shake cup down onto the table. "The sooner we learn to do without all of you, the better the world will be!"
      Shane took a step back, then paused when Kat and Bekka burst out laughing.
      "Amy's in a snit -- again -- because Joe's talking about taking a job in Nashville and he hasn't mentioned taking her with him," Kat said, wrinkling up her nose and turning her words into singsong teasing.
      "Joe who?" Amy said, tossing her head.

      Bekka noted there was more hurt than rage in her attitude, which was a good sign. She expected Amy and Joe to get over their latest argument by that evening.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 16: THE FAMILY WAY

      "Lisa?" Doria Holwood stepped into the kitchen at Tabor Christian Church, where Lisa was busy scooping ice cream, assembly line-fashion, onto dozens of paper plates holding slices of apple and cherry pie. The Autumn Fellowship luncheon for the senior citizens of the church was nearly over for another month. "I haven't seen Todd anywhere. Isn't he helping today?"
      "He had to put in a command performance at his father's house, as far as I know," Lisa said, summoning up a smile.
Obviously, that smile was even less steady than it felt, because concern creased the older woman's dusky features and she came further into the room.
      "That man," she said on a sigh, then pressed her lips together as if to hold back angry words, and shook her head. "Then can I give you a ride home? Rance just stepped outside to help Mrs. Sommersby out to her car, and he said that threatened storm is about to hit."
      "Thanks, but I'm practically home already." Lisa felt her smile grow a little steadier and warmer. She adored her new little apartment, despite the mess of boxes and bags everywhere. She had awakened to the delicious aroma of baking bread and donuts from downstairs, and had actually laughed at the whimsical thought that she would gain fifty pounds during her pregnancy, just from breathing the air.
      "And that means?" Doria slid three plates at a time onto the wheeled cart to take the desserts out to the seniors who had stayed for the musical program.
      "I'm renting the apartment over Rick's. One hundred yards down the hill from the post office, and I'm home. I won't even feel the cold by the time I'm inside again."
      "That's a very small apartment." She chuckled and paused in sliding more plates off the counter. "Rance and I stayed there when we were first looking for houses in Tabor, and he had to start teaching before we found anything. Why did you and Todd move?"
      Lisa sighed. She adored Mrs. Holwood, and she had dreaded telling her former advisor's wife that she had left Todd, just because of the disappointment she would cause the woman.
      "I moved out… before Todd could move us in with his father." She held her breath, waiting for that moment of comprehension and disappointment.
      "Oh, sweetheart," Doria whispered, and stepped around the cart to put both arms around her, almost making Lisa's legs fold in shocked relief. "What you must have been suffering from that self-righteous old man."
      "I'm sorry," slipped out before she could think. In retrospect, Lisa thought that was the best reaction. Her only other choice was a gusher of tears.
      "For what?"

      "For not coming to you."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March 15: A QUIET PLACE

      Walking into the sanctuary for the first service the next morning was the hardest thing Jeannette ever did. Packing up her life and leaving Glenwood and never looking back was easy as chewing gum, compared to this. She ran a gauntlet that started in the parking lot and ran all the way into the church and halfway up the aisle. It would have been ten times worse without the Randolph family surrounding her, supporting her. Curious faces. Smiles of welcome. Frowns of confusion. Hugs from old ladies in moth ball-scented fur stoles and bad perfume.
      Gushes of false sympathy from busybodies. Sniffs of disdain and cold shoulders from people who had never given her the time of day, but who were insulted they hadn't been invited to Jeannette's wedding. And worst yet, smirks from three young men in the church who ignored her, but got upset when she started dating Brody, an 'outsider.' She had ignored them, but they had only grown nastier when she married Brody. She supposed the news about her being a widow had spread through half the church already. Did those men who snubbed her think she had been punished for defying their judgment of her worthiness? Who gave them the right to judge her and limit her life?
      Heat spread through her and Jeannette pushed it away, along with the trembling that didn't come from weariness or morning sickness or the cold. No, she had come home to Tabor for peace, for shelter, for a quiet place to heal and raise her baby. She had come home perhaps because she had been so happy here with Brody.
      Jeannette had a flash of insight. She wasn't the bone of contention with those young men who considered themselves the movers and shakers in the Singles group -- and who were still single, which indicated that the girls in the church had good taste and better sense. Maybe the problem rested with Brody. He was a romantic figure, a stranger who had come to town and to study at BWU because of his military connection to Nathan. He picked the quiet little girl to fall in love with. Maybe those young men disliked Jeannette so much because every other girl in the church wanted Brody -- the same girls who wouldn't even look at them?
      "Jeannette?" Nathan's voice broke into her musing.
      She blushed and realized she had slowed down, not really watching where she was going. The Randolphs were several steps ahead of her, moving into an empty pew near the front. Her heart skipped a few beats and she silently whispered a thank-you prayer when he hooked his arm through hers and kept her moving down the aisle.
      "Hi, Nathan." She forced a smile and bit her tongue to keep from spilling all the questions that had tormented her in the silence of her new apartment last night, keeping her awake long after Max went home. Why had he never asked her out before he went on his first tour of duty? After all the times they had been engaged in elementary school, why had he ignored her once adolescence hit? And why, when he finally noticed her again, had he gone back to being big brother and nothing more? Why hadn't he competed with Brody for her heart?
      If she hadn't married Brody, she never would have left Tabor. Brody would be alive. She could be happy with Nathan. He needed a wife to look after him. She knew already he would be so good with children...
      Stop that! Jeannette scolded herself. It was just hormones. Dr. Halliday had warned her this would happen.
      "You all settled? Need anything put together? I can come back after my duty shift -- gotta head out right after the service." Nathan gestured down at himself, and Jeannette realized he was wearing his park service uniform. Then he squeezed her hand, just for a moment. His hand was big and calloused and rough from outdoor work; warm enough to drive away the chill that kept trying to crawl inside her to stay.
      "Nope, everything's all put together. I just need to spend the afternoon tweaking things. Thanks for asking, though." She squeezed his hand and almost held on when he released her.
      "You need anything, just ask."
      "Ice skates?" Jeannette was very conscious of the Randolphs already seated in their pew, and members of the congregation watching them.
      Any moment now, the prelude music would stop and the service would start, and she and Nathan would be left standing there like two idiots. Funny, but she didn't care.
      "Well, the old mill pond isn't frozen anymore, but I think we can manage. We always had a good time, the whole gang skating down there, didn't we? Even when we weren't supposed to." Nathan glanced down the aisle. A few people had lined up behind them. "Talk to you after I get off duty?"
      Jeannette nodded and let the flow of traffic move her to the Randolphs' pew. She sat and let herself relax into the old familiar surroundings. The half-circle sanctuary; faded blue carpet; the pale oak pews.

      She really was home.

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14: A QUIET PLACE

      Fifteen minutes later, she had the apartment key in her hand, following tiny, red-haired Mrs. Tabieri down the hall to her first floor apartment. Jeannette was delighted to find her living room window looked out over the wooded slope into the Metroparks.
      "How about those boys who're supposed to help move this little lady in?" Dr. Halliday asked as they approached the door at the end of the hall. "When can they get here?"
      "Not coming," Mrs. Tabieri said. She stepped around Jeannette when she stopped short, and rapped twice on the door.
Jeannette barely had time to gape and wonder what had gone wrong with Max's arrangements when the door of her new apartment swung open. Rita Carson laughed and reached out and enfolded Jeannette in a hug that literally dragged her off her feet.
      "Welcome home!" a chorus of voices rang out into the hall.
      Then Pastor Glenn was there, taking Jeannette from his wife's embrace to hug her. The gray-haired, stocky man always reminded her of a lumberjack, and today he fit the picture with his usual jeans and red plaid flannel shirt.
      Jeannette found herself passed from person to person, into the apartment that smelled of fresh wallpaper and lemon polish and ammonia -- where it wasn't drowned out by the heavenly, warm, rich scents of chili and cornbread and hot chocolate.
      Jeannette was almost in tears as she introduced Dr. Halliday to Pastor Glenn and auburn-haired Rita; Max's parents, Joel and Emily Randolph and their two sons, Joel and Jeremy; Dr. Holwood and his wife, Doria and their foster-daughter, Nikki James; Rick Michaelson and his three sons and their wives. She looked around, and sure enough saw a long sheet cake box on the table set up in the corner.
      "You can't leave Tabor without visiting Rick's Bakery and getting some date nut cake," she finished, feeling a little teary, a little giddy.
      She stepped over to the box and lifted the lid. Sure enough, a cake with 'Welcome home, Jeannette' written on it filled the box. The familiar sweet, spicy, nutty aroma of date nut cake reached up from the box to enfold her like a warm hug.
Jeannette burst into tears.

      Dr. Halliday wisely let Rita, Emily and Max steer Jeannette into the bedroom, where several chairs waited with an abandoned game of Uno, a book, and Emily's ever-present cross-stitch. The three waited with Jeannette, patting her back and holding her hand. Max fetched her a glass of water with ice cubes. Jeannette hiccupped a few times as she finally got her tears under control.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 12: A QUIET PLACE

      Jeannette woke to sunshine and birds singing despite the early March chill and the melting snow on the ground. She found herself humming as she and Max pulled out boxes and old newspapers and started the packing with her good china. Nathan kept busy dismantling furniture and hauling the pieces out to the rental truck. Jeannette had made dozens of phone calls last night, and had been able to visit the bank and sign papers after the reception yesterday. Max took care of arranging for an apartment to be waiting when they drove across the border of Tabor Heights. If everything went on schedule, she could attend church Sunday morning at Tabor Christian.
      She was on the phone with Mrs. Tabieri, the rental agent at Parkview Towers, when two carloads of unexpected helpers arrived. They brought food, boxes, cleaning supplies, and offers of teenage sons, brothers and husbands to help with moving out. Most were the wives of Brody's co-workers. A few were from church. Jeannette was honestly surprised anyone came from church, because Mrs. Evans was the 'grand dame' and everyone -- nearly everyone -- bowed to her judgments.
      No one said a word about the scene at the funeral home Tuesday or the divided camp of the funeral the day before. They talked about spring planting and vacation and the ordinary things Jeannette had almost forgotten existed. She was grateful, more than she could ever express, and began to regret a little that she would likely never see these friendly, warm, supportive people ever again.
      Jeannette had only been in Glenwood nine months. These people were Brody's friends rather than hers. Without his outgoing personality, spontaneous cookouts and mud football games to keep them together, everyone would eventually fade out of her life. Or rather, she would fade from theirs. Even if she stayed in Glenwood.
      It was better she went home to Tabor and found her quiet, shadowed, sheltered place again. Jeannette was grateful for the care and company of these people, though. And never more so than when Mrs. Evans arrived with her three remaining sons and their wives.

      Most of the work was done and almost everyone had left by mid-afternoon. Jeannette, Anna-Marie Thomas and Brenda Peters were taking down curtains in the tiny family room while they waited for Joe Thomas Jr. and Troy Peters to come get their wives. Max and Nathan were out in the rental truck, re-arranging the load because it turned out Jeannette was taking much more home to Tabor Heights than anyone had anticipated. Jeannette wondered if the Evanses would have come inside if there had been cars out front, and if the rental truck had been parked in front of the house instead of behind it. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11: A QUIET PLACE

      Jeannette had a bruise all down her right side the next morning, and three stitches in her cheek from Mrs. Evans' multiple rings, but she came to the funeral. Dr. Halliday stood on her right side, and Mr. Thomas on her left, with Max and Nathan right behind her. All of Brody's co-workers from the dealership and his basketball pals formed a protective ring around her that only Mr. Allenby, the current Evans family lawyer, dared to penetrate.
      The poor man looked guilt-stricken as he approached with a sheaf of papers an inch thick. Knowing how her mother-in-law treated all those who weren't entirely in support of her, Jeannette supposed Mr. Allenby would soon be set free of service to the Evans clan. She hoped the man appreciated how his display of conscience had left him better off in the long run.
      "I hope my demands are included in that," Jeannette said as her protective escort parted to let the man approach. He had always made her think of a cracked dime store vase wrapped in gold foil and silk ribbons.
      "Well, no..." He sighed and raked one well-manicured hand through his still-thick hair. "There is an agreement you will take back your maiden name, renounce all claims on the Evans family, and cease your lies."
      "Not a lie. I've got the tests to prove that," Dr. Halliday said with a loud harrumph calculated to be heard across the crowded, too-quiet room. He had served in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for fifteen years and still carried himself as if he wore the natty red uniform under his gray pinstripe suit.
      "Mrs. Evans believes the story is a... fabrication, either created out of hysteria or to deliberately inflict emotional pain on her and her family."
      Jeannette surprised herself by smiling. It trembled in the corners. She had lain awake after Max joined her in the big double bed -- and she was more grateful for the company than she could express -- thinking hard and planning until nearly four a.m., trying to predict how Mrs. Evans would react to her public loss of control and humiliation yesterday. Somehow, demanding Jeannette sign papers denying the existence of her baby hadn't been among all her wild imaginings.
      "I'm not signing that, because that would be admitting to a lie. I don't lie. Not even to salve her pride. But it won't matter, anyway, because I'll never mention her or her family or Glenwood ever again. Certainly never to my child. And I am moving far away from here, where no one cares who the Evanses of Glenwood are, so why talk about them? I'll leave Glenwood. Gladly. I'll change my name. Gladly. But she has to sign a paper giving up all rights and claims on me and my child. Brody's child. Forever."

      "Sweetheart," Mr. Thomas muttered, "if she doesn't, I'll ask for a permanent restraining order." He took the papers from Mr. Allenby. "Let my company lawyers look this over and we'll get back to you."

Monday, March 10, 2014

March 10: A QUIET PLACE

      Jeannette didn't find it strange to be so alone, now that Brody was dead.
      She stood at the foot of the casket, alone, straight sentinel in the hush of the plush gray and lavender parlor of Kopewell & Sons Funeral Chapel. She wore the new heathery-gray shirt-dress Brody made her buy even though it wasn't on sale. He said it went so well with her copper hair and gray eyes. He never let her wear black. She didn't wear black today because Brody wouldn't approve.
      To one side of the long room, Mrs. Evans and her crowd of sycophants stood in stoic reserve, nearly everyone dressed in black and gray, with veils, hats and gloves and long, hound dog mournful faces. Faces that didn't look any more cheerful outside the funeral home. Black suited Mrs. Evans. Everybody in her family was cut from the same cloth; thick black brows and coarse black hair; square chins and thick lips and wide shoulders. Brody was the changeling in the brood of four sons, a natural athlete, a Greek demi-god, slim with grace and laughter.
      On the other side of the room, talking in whispers and with tentative smiles, wearing whatever they had worn to work, were Brody's friends. And Jeannette the only one by the casket.
      But not really, totally alone.
      No, she had God and she had Brody's baby. Jeannette felt her lips curve up infinitesimally as her hand slid over her still-flat stomach. Less than two months along.
      Rev. Collinwood and his wife approached now, murmuring their condolences. Jeannette didn't have to glance to the right to see the murderous glances her mother-in-law and her devoted followers gave the man and her, because the minister spoke to her first. She could feel the daggers and flames. She knew exactly what they were thinking. She had heard the same complaints, the same condescending and judgmental comments in similar occasions. She knew what many of them were saying right this moment, down to the exact words:
      Honestly, the dear reverend is obviously too old for his pulpit if he forgets the grieving mother has precedence over the grief-stricken widow, a bride of less than a year.
      Jeannette knew she would pay for that gaff when the dear, graying old minister finally left. It didn't matter to anyone that he spent twenty minutes saying good-bye to Mrs. Evans, and only five minutes with Jeannette.
      Fifteen minutes remained for tonight's viewing, and then she could go home to the tiny cottage and decide what she would do. Jeannette knew she didn't dare leave Glenwood and 'deprive' Mrs. Evans of her grandchild's growing years. It didn't matter what she and Brody had planned to do just a few days ago. All those plans changed because they had focused on Brody. What use did Jeannette have for moving to the seminary, when she didn't plan on attending?

      But she couldn't bear to stay there, either. Glenwood held nothing for her now that Brody was gone. Brody had made it home. Brody had been her shield, her sunshine, her music.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

March 9: A QUIET PLACE

      "Nathan?" Max's voice cracked over the phone, sounding like it had the time she had spent six hours straight narrating a fundraising marathon basketball game for their youth group.
      "What's the news?" Nathan asked, turning his face away from the receiver so she wouldn't hear him gasping from running to catch the phone. He hoped.
      "I'm heading for Glenwood tomorrow. Can you take off and come with me? Dad won't let me take the car and drive all that distance alone, in this weather."
      "Why?" He felt instantly awake, as if he had been doused with a bucket of icy water.
      "I just got an email from Jeannette." Max sighed, her voice ragged. "Brody's dead."

      "Doesn't matter if they let me off the roster or not. I'm going."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

March 8: A QUIET PLACE

      Her computer pinged, making Jeannette jump. She laughed as the instant messaging screen popped up on her computer. Max Randolph.
      Hey, pal. What's up?
      Just wondering if Nathan has lived up to his promise and gotten online yet.
      Actually, yes. Max made an open-mouthed, wide-eyed icon in the instant messaging box. The problem is deciding what screen name he wants, can you believe that? Why do you want to know?
      I have some news, and I'd like to tell him at the same time I tell you, instead of asking you to pass the news along as usual.
      Ooooh, now you've got me interested. What's the news?
      The doorbell rang.
      Hold on. Let me answer the door.
      Don't leave me hanging!
      Jeannette laughed as she got up and scurried from the spare bedroom, down the hall to the front door. Just as she reached to open the door, she caught the blue and red flash of police cruiser lights through the front window. Something wrapped around her, cold and piercing, before she even opened the door.
      "Hey, Jen," Arnie Willis said, ducking his head at the last moment and refusing to meet her gaze. "I'm sorry." He looked past her, into the living room.
      "Brody's not here," she offered. She focused on wondering why one of Brody's basketball buddies would stop by the cottage while he was on duty. And use the flashers while he was at it.
      "He's in the hospital."
      Jeannette nearly forgot to IM Max and let her know she was heading out. She grabbed her coat and stocking cap and was halfway to the door. Arnie was already in the cruiser, with the door open, waiting for her. She scurried into the spare room and tapped out her message.
      Pray. That was a cop friend. Brody's in the hospital. Bad ice storms all over.

      She waited for the bong that meant the message had been received. Then she clicked on the buttons to close down the Internet connection, then the computer, and headed for the front door before she got confirmation of the commands. If Max responded before the connection closed, Jeannette had no idea.

Friday, March 7, 2014

March 7: THE FAMILY WAY

      "He's moving us in with his father," Lisa offered.
      "What? When did this happen?" Pastor Glenn looked shocked.
      "He thinks I don't know, but the moving company called Wednesday while he was at work and confirmed details. His father has already let me know that I'm an unfit mother and that Todd and I have to move in with him. Todd hardly ever says no to his father."
      "Lisa... I don't know what to say." There really were tears in his eyes now.
      "I'm not going with him."
      "Do you think that's wise?"
      "I have my baby to think about. I have my own sanity to protect. And my own health, if not my life." She touched the tiny pink scar above her temple. Charli had offered to drive her to the doctor to get the stitches removed yesterday afternoon, and Lisa had taken advantage of the car and her help to haul a whole load to the bakery's basement to store until moving day. Pastor Glenn winced, then nodded that he understood. "There was a time when, if he had just said he was sorry, I would have forgiven him and everything would have been fine. Now, I don't think I would believe him if he got down on his knees and apologized."
      "Sometimes we have to let go, Lisa. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and ask God to help us do the impossible."
      "What if I don't want to? What if I just want Todd out of my life?" A teary laugh escaped her. "He started talking about our summer vacation yesterday. We never go on vacations. We get hip deep in travel brochures and guide books, trying to decide what we want to do. We end up not going anywhere because we want to be careful with our money... but just planning is fun. Was fun. Dreaming." Lisa squeezed her eyes shut, fighting tears. They trickled down her cheeks anyway, two solitary, scalding drops, in defiance of her vows. "I think I've forgotten how to dream. Todd took that away from me."
      "Maybe you should give him one more chance. A trip might be a good idea. Getting away from everyone and everything might be what you two need."

      "He's not sorry," she whispered. "He's just trying to buy my forgiveness. Why can't he just say he's sorry? Why can't he explain why he's so selfish and... and suspicious?" she choked out. "I don't want flowers and candy and dinners out if he doesn't love me anymore!"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March 5: THE FAMILY WAY

      "Hey, Mr. Montgomery, this is Geordi from Dusty's Packers, calling to verify the time you want us to show up on the fifteenth, and how many boxes you'll think we'll need," a cheerful, young tenor voice called from the answering machine that afternoon.
      Lisa staggered backwards a few steps, staring at the phone. Since she had caught her father-in-law sneaking into the apartment to steal the answering machine tape, she had taken to getting up and going into the kitchen to listen whenever the phone rang, just in case she could catch another diatribe for evidence. The last thing she expected was a stranger to talk about moving her home. She barely snapped out of her shock in time to grab a pencil and paper and write down the details. The efficient young Geordi gave all the information twice, detailing how many people he would bring to pack up everything in the apartment -- Mr. Montgomery and his wife wouldn't have to lift a finger -- and take care of basic unpacking and arranging furniture at the new house.
      She felt unusually calm when she went back to her office, and sat at her drawing board, staring unseeing at the latest panels that only needed coloring before she sent them to Genevieve. Lisa realized she had subconsciously hoped Bekka was right, and her father-in-law had been making pronouncements and decisions without clearing anything with his son. That was why the confirmation of her fears now made her feel so unbalanced now, like she stood on two different levels that kept shifting in different directions under her feet. She had hoped, deep inside, that Todd didn't know what his father was saying, or even that he knew, and that he was resisting his father's decisions -- that was why he hadn't said anything to her about moving when the lease expired at the end of the month. The notice from the apartment management had disappeared, after all, without Todd saying a word, so she had assumed he had taken care of renewing the lease like he had originally promised, and had kept silent so he wouldn't have to admit that he had messed up yet again. Here was proof that she was wrong again to have any hope.
      This was even worse than she had feared. Todd not only agreed with his father, but the coward hadn't had the guts and integrity to tell her his plans. He probably thought she would be too surprised to argue with him, and certainly she would be afraid to make a scene in front of strangers, when the movers and packers came to their apartment next Saturday morning. Todd counted on her to be too polite, to give in and go along with his arrangements. And then she would be trapped in his father's home for the rest of her life.

Monday, March 3, 2014

March 3: THE FAMILY WAY

      Monday morning, listening to a niggling voice of suspicion, Todd got online and checked on the balance of his and Lisa's joint bank account. It wasn't what he expected. Over a lunch he barely tasted, he did a few calculations and guessed what money was missing. Lisa's last royalty check wasn't in the bank. There was only enough money in there to cover the electric, water and rent payments through the end of the apartment lease. He needed that money for the security deposit on the dream house.
      "What's going on?" he demanded when he got home that night. Lisa was in their bedroom, folding laundry. "There's money missing from our account. What did you do with it?"
      "It's still in my account."
      "Why?"
      "It's my money. I earned it. I put in enough to pay for my share of things." She swallowed hard and looked away a moment. When she met his gaze again, her eyes were unusually bright. "I'm not taking anything that belongs to you."
      "I wasn't accusing you!" He flinched when his voice echoed off the ceiling. "I just want to know why you're doing this," he said, trying to use a reasonable tone.
      "I have to plan for the future." She concentrated on the laundry she folded as she spoke. "I have a baby to protect."
      "For God's sake, Lisa, I'm not some drunk that's going to drink up our savings on a binge!"
      "I know that. I still have to protect my baby."
      "It's my baby, too!"
      "Since when?" Lisa whispered. She kept folding the laundry. Her hands didn't shake at all.

      Todd realized he wished her hands would shake. He wanted to look into her eyes and see tears and know she hurt just as much as he did. He had the horrid fear that if he looked into her eyes he wouldn't see any pain at all.