Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Survivor - Chapter 1 Excerpt

The Survivor
Avon Inspire; Original edition (August 30, 2011)
Shelley Shepard Gray

Chapter 1

Finally, Mattie Lapp had Graham Weaver trapped. For most of their visit to the hospital, she’d been trying to speak privately with him. But every time she’d found her nerve, something would happen. Either she would get called away for one more blood test, or Graham would be busy chatting with one of the Englischers in the waiting room.

As the hours passed, she’d bite her tongue and bide her time. Not very patiently, however. She’d always secretly thought patience was somewhat overvalued.

Now was her chance.

At the moment, she and Graham were the only two people on the elevator at the Geauga County Hospital. As the elevator doors closed, Mattie knew she had only mere seconds before they would reach the ground level. Only seconds to speak her mind.

Clearing her throat to get his attention, she said, “Graham, wouldja do something for me?”

Though he’d been standing in front of the doors and watching the numbers blink overhead, Graham turned to her with his usual understanding smile. “Of course. Anything.”

Nervously, she glanced at the blinking number. Nine.

The elevator stopped. The doors opened. Her breath caught. This had been the very worst of ideas!

Maybe she’d get a reprieve?

Nee. No one entered. The Lord was obviously telling her it was now or never. As the doors closed with a whoosh, she blurted, “Graham, it’s like this. I need you to help me find a husband.”

In a flash, his kind expression turned dark and stormy. “Mattie, the things you think of. Why in the world would I want to do that?”

Ach! This was a terribly bad idea. But now that she’d said it, she had to follow through. “I don’t want to be alone anymore. I want a man of my own,” she said in desperation. Felt herself blush at her poor explanation. Honestly, it sounded as if she wanted a puppy, not a husband.

Graham leaned against the wall. Crossed his well-built arms over his terribly solid chest. “Why?” he asked. His voice was hard now.

The elevator stopped at the third floor. “I’ll explain later. Another time,” she blurted as she stepped backward and waited for the elevator doors to open and allow people inside.

Except they did not.

The doors didn’t open, that was.

Instead, the overhead light started blinking, blanketing them in pitch-blackness every other second. Without thinking, she stepped closer to Graham. Comforted by his presence, she searched his face. Looking for answers.

For a moment, true worry appeared in his eyes before he stood straighter and gently reached out and clasped her shoulder. “S’okay, Mattie,” he murmured. “I’m sure this is just a temporary thing.”

Of course, his first thought was to reassure her. He’d always been that type of friend.

“I wonder what is going on?” What was she asking, really? Was she concerned about the doors not opening . . . or what was finally happening between them?

“I don’t know,” he murmured, this time in Pennsylvania Dutch. That was the only sign that maybe he wasn’t as calm about their situation as he wanted her to believe.

Mattie pivoted and glared at the stark metal doors. Though it had only been a few seconds, already their enclosure felt confining. So much like the MRI machine that the technicians used to look for cancer. The air felt thick. Too thick.

“I hope the doors open soon,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll do if they don’t.”

Behind her, he reached out and raised his other hand to her shoulder, gently squeezing. Reassuring. “They will. You just need patience. A bit more patience in everything,” he murmured under his breath.

But she still heard it. Turning again, she faced him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You just asked me to help you find a man,” he pointed out, none too kindly. “Like . . . like I was some kind of courting service for Amish women.”

“That’s not fair. I only asked because you work at the garage door factory now. And there’s lots of Amish men there . . .”

“Who I would want to start trying to match you with?”

His voice was condescending. And . . . a bit hurt?

Well, she was hurt, too. And confused. As the lights continued to flash, she watched him jab at the glowing buttons. “Graham, why are you so upset with me? Is it because I want to find someone? Because I want to get married one day soon? Because I want to have a life like the rest of our friends?” As she said the last words, Mattie heard the whine in her voice and mentally winced. She didn’t want to sound so pitiful. But at the moment, she also couldn’t help how desperate she was feeling.

With a jerk, Graham turned from the button panel. “I’m not upset about your dreams.”

Dreams. Yes, that was one way of putting it, wasn’t it? She had dreams that might never amount to anything. Ruthlessly, she pushed the bitter thoughts away.

Fingering her black apron covering her violet dress, she said, “If you’re not upset . . . would you? . . . Would you help me?”

“Not now.” He turned from her and started punching buttons. Again. As if the doors would suddenly open because of his fingertip on the right button!

Though she wanted to talk more, she found herself hoping his efforts would be fruitful.

But of course they were not.

Why would they?

These days, it seemed as if nothing was ever easy. After all, hadn’t she been diagnosed with cancer at twenty-one and not only endured a mastectomy, but lost all her hair and a good portion of her weight, too . . . all while her friends were going about their lives? Finding love and planning weddings?

Eager to get out of their prison, she pointed to a red knob to the right of the doors. “Should I pull this? Pull the alarm?”

“Pull it, if you want.”

His voice was still cool. Unused to that tone, she reached out to him again. “Graham, please don’t be upset with me. After all, you have Jenna.”

“You know things with Jenna and I didn’t work out.”

“Well, I’d like a chance for a relationship. All I want is for you to talk to some of the men you are working with and see if you think one of them would be a gut match for me. It makes perfect sense.”

“Mattie, I’m not meant to be your personal dating service.”

Oh, but Graham always knew the perfect sarcastic quip to make her feel ridiculous. Beyond discouraged, Mattie shrank from his glare. Pulled at her collar. Though she was sure it was only her imagination, already the confines of the elevator felt warmer. Too warm.

After a long look, he stepped closer. Wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Just like he had when she was so, so sick from the chemotherapy drugs. Leaning toward him, she rested her cheek on his shoulder.

He cuddled her closer. Just like he usually did when she was ill. But no, this felt different. There was more tension between them.

More energy.

“Graham?” she whispered, moving so she could see his eyes under the brim of his straw hat.

He was staring at her. His lips were slightly parted, as if all his words were frozen inside of him. Just like hers suddenly were.

Slowly his head lowered. Realizing what was about to happen, her pulse quickened. She raised her chin. Suddenly, everything felt all right.

Was this what she’d been wanting, but hadn’t even realized?


They sprang apart. Dropped their hands just as the elevator door opened with a cloying jerk.

Air rushed forward, cooling Mattie’s cheeks.

“You two all right?” asked a man in a light blue cotton shirt with the name Tom embroidered on the pocket. Holding the metal door open, he waited for them to exit. “We’ve been worried.”

“We are fine,” Graham answered. “What happened?”

Tom shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows? Everything around here runs like clockwork for days, then suddenly it all falls apart!” He rolled his eyes as Mattie stepped out of the elevator.

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