Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Amish Groom by Mindy Starns Clark and Susan Meissner

The Amish Groom
Harvest House Publishers (April 1, 2014)
Mindy Starns Clark
Susan Meissner

Chapter 1

The surface of the pond was glassy smooth, a deep liquid oval beckoning through the trees. I headed down the path, my dog at my side. When we reached the clearing, Timber darted forward, chasing a duck into tall reeds. I came to a stop right at the edge of the water, work boots and pant cuffs damp from the morning dew, and paused to take it all in.

This secluded little farm pond was always so striking, so peaceful, but never more so than at this time of day, when the sun was just coming up—not to mention at this time of year, when the trees lining its banks offered riotous bursts of reds and yellows and oranges among the green. Whatever the season, I could never get enough of it. The fish that darted in and out of sight below. The dense and rocky overgrowth on all sides. The weeping willow at the far end, its branches dangling down to the water, tickling the surface.

I set down the tools and other items I was carrying and then turned my face upward just as the sun broke across the stillness. I watched as the horizon lost its sleepy purple cast, turning auburn. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, and I knew a perfect day lay in store for my cousin Anna’s wedding. As if on cue, Timber barked from somewhere off to my right, reminding me that there was much to do between now and then. Time to get to work.

Not far away, the old wooden rowboat rested upside down on the grass where I’d left it the last time I’d used it, the oar tucked securely underneath. I flipped it over and brushed out a few spiders who’d been living inside. Then I put the oar and the stuff I’d brought into the small craft and slid to the water. When it was all loaded, I glanced around for Timber and was glad to see that although the duck had flown off, the yellow lab was now fully occupied with sniffing his way around the pond’s perimeter.

I placed one foot in the boat’s hull and gently pushed off with the other, the small vessel cutting through the water with ease. When it slowed about ten feet short of my goal, I lowered the oar into the water and paddled toward the buoy that floated near the center of the pond. As I did, I breathed in the new morning air, filling my lungs with its earthy, October fragrance.

According to my grandmother, this pond had been my mother’s favorite place to go when she was young and wanted to be alone with her thoughts. She had come here often, and I had a feeling I knew why. When the morning sun slashed across the top of the trees on mid-autumn dawns like this one, I could see my reflection in the water as clear as in the mirror in my bedroom back at the farmhouse, as if there were another me beyond the surface, looking back. I was always drawn to that other place, to the what-ifs of it all. No doubt my mother, who was so full of wanderlust, had felt the same.

Easing the boat alongside the buoy, I brought it to a stop once the floating brown orb was within easy reach. I rested the dripping plank beside my feet, gave the straw hat on my head a pat to make sure it was secure, and then slid my hands into the cold water, feeling under the buoy for the rope. Grasping it, I began to pull slowly upward, working my hands along the taut line, wishing I’d thought to wear gloves for a better grip. The more I pulled up, the slimier it grew, coating my palms in a nasty brown goo that smelled of mud and dankness and rot.

I’d known last spring that something needed to be done when the ice began to melt away and I’d spotted more than a few silver, bloated bodies floating sideways in the black water. Too many fish had not survived the winter, which confirmed what I’d suspected for a while, that there was a problem with the aerator.

Not that this pond mattered all that much in the grand scheme of things. No one ever even bothered with it except me anyway—and, in her youth, my mother. Hidden among the trees on a far back corner of my grandparents’ farm, it was no longer necessary once wells were dug on the farm, but that didn’t mean it was unimportant—at least not to me—or that it could be ignored. Busy with my work in the buggy shop, I’d managed to put off dealing with the issue for months. But now that fall was here, and another winter just around the corner, I knew it was time to get this thing repaired.

As I pulled on the rope, an old airstone emerged from the surface, with long strands of what looked like seaweed dangling down from its round head. I put it into my lap—wetness, slime, and all—pressed my elbow against the boat’s rim to hold the tubing in place, and then grabbed the wrench to disconnect the rusting adapter. After considerable effort, I finally broke the valve free. The rest of the installation was easy by comparison, and soon I had the new diffuser attached and ready to go, while the old one lay in a puddle at my feet.

I released my elbow hold on the tubing, gripped the rope, and began lowering the new diffuser into the water a little bit at a time.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the bubbles to start appearing at the surface, but I didn’t mind sitting in the boat, waiting. My time was usually spent in quiet reflection, standing on the bank, but being here in the middle of the pond was giving me a unique vantage point, so I took in the scenery, gulping it down like liquid to a thirsty man.

For years I’d been coming to the pond once every few weeks or so, but lately I’d found my way down here almost daily. As blessed as I was to have this place where I could escape and contemplate life in private, I knew the increase in frequency didn’t bode well. My mind had become such a jumbled mess, and it seemed all I wanted to do was be alone to think and pray and try to make sense of the conflict raging inside of me.

Much as my mother had done, long before I was born.

Not far from the path, a cluster of rocks and boulders formed a natural sort of sitting area, and I often imagined her as a young woman, perched there and doing the very same thing, begging God for clarity and direction as she tried to soothe her troubled soul. She had been just eighteen years old when she turned her back on the farm for good, leaving behind her parents and siblings and the Amish life she no longer wanted. She’d thrown in her lot for a life among the Englisch, eventually marrying my dad, moving to Europe, and giving birth to me.

Then she died, suddenly and unexpectedly, when I was just six years old.

After that, I had been her family’s consolation prize, so to speak. The little boy with the football jerseys and blue jeans who had known a smattering of Pennsylvania Dutch but otherwise hadn’t a clue what it meant to be Amish. At my newly widowed father’s request, my grandparents had taken me in right after the funeral, an arrangement that was supposed to have been temporary. But here I was, all these years later, still in the same place, living on the same farm my mother had lived on, sleeping in the same room that had been hers, and spending time at the same pond that had drawn and captivated her. I had accepted my lot and the fact that my dad found a new life with a new wife—and even a new son—without me. I’d see them now and then, but for all intents and purposes Mammi and Daadi were more like parents than grandparents to me. For that matter, the aunt and uncles I’d grown up with—Sarah, Thom, Eli, and Peter—were more like sister and brothers. Even Jake, who was a mere six months older than I, was technically my uncle, even though we felt and acted like brothers.

That very first day I arrived, I had traded in the jerseys and jeans for broadfall trousers and plain white shirts and had been raised Amish from then on. My dad had remained peripherally involved in my life even after he remarried and became a father a second time, but I had now been living here, on this farm, for seventeen years. At twenty-three, I was on the verge of big decisions that would determine the rest of my life, my future, my path—whether Englisch or Amish.

And I’d never been more perplexed.

Before she left here for good, my mother had been confused as well. I knew that much from what I’d been told by her brother Thom, who had been sixteen at the time. As a child, I hadn’t known much about my mother at all, or at least not the person she was when she lived in this world. She had never talked much about her years growing up Amish. I don’t remember her telling me about the house, or the smell of the horses’ tack, or the sounds the buggies made when their wheels rolled on pavement, or how quiet the dark was on winter nights.

Most of what I knew about my mother I had learned from my aunt and uncles and from Daadi and Mammi. They told me she loved peaches and jonquils and her horse, Nutmeg, and the first snowfall. That she liked surprises and twirling and laughter.

Even though she had never joined the church, they would always see her as Amish. I looked Amish too, but lately it seemed as though underneath the Plain clothes and the hat and the language, there was a different man. Rachel Hoeck, who was the closest friend I had besides Jake, said I was as Amish as any man born right here in Lancaster County. I grew up here. I went to school here. I’d worked in my grandfather’s buggy shop since I could tighten a bolt. I was on the verge of church membership and baptism. At twenty-three I was more than old enough to take my vows as an Amish adult—vows of commitment to the Amish life and vows of marriage to an Amish bride. Those faraway years when I lived in the Englisch world were just that, Rachel would say—far away. But how could she know? I’d never brought her here at the crack of dawn. She’d never seen the man in the pond who stared back at me with questioning eyes. Then again, if she did see him, I knew what she would say to me.

That is just your reflection, Tyler. That’s you. The Amish man I love.

And I would want to believe her.

But there would be this tugging inside me, as there was every time I came to the pond now, pulling at all that I knew to be true of me. As though a loose thread was in the grasp of something or someone who wanted to yank it free…

My thoughts were interrupted by the subtle sound of a hundred tiny bubbles breaking on the surface.

A beautiful sight. The diffuser was doing just what it should.

I rowed back to shore, returned the rowboat and oar to the tall grass, and whistled for my dog. Then I gathered my things and started up the path toward home, Timber trotting alongside. I knew I should have felt good. After all, the aerator was working again, it was a beautiful morning, and God’s presence was everywhere. But up ahead, as the farmhouse came into view, I felt a surge of emotion I couldn’t even name. Loss? Joy? Hope? Fear?

Maybe all of the above, simultaneously?

My mind again went to my mother and one of the few memories I had of her, the first time she ever told me about this pond. We’d been far from here—a world away, in fact—but the way she talked, that small body of water had come as alive as if I’d been standing on its banks myself.

I had been in my bed, crying because there was a thunderstorm outside and lightning was scissoring over the house as though it wanted to slice me in two. My mother was sitting on my bed, trying to convince me the storm couldn’t hurt me. Then, to take my mind off what was happening outside the window, she began telling me all about the pond, her favorite place on the farm where she grew up. She went on and on, finally concluding her elaborate description with the words, “You can see a different world in the water. It’s like there’s always another place besides the one where you are.”

I hadn’t known what she meant by that, but I remember asking her if there was thunder and lightning at that other place too.

She chuckled softly. “Every place has something about it we would change if we were in charge.”

Swallowing hard, I closed my eyes now as I walked, trying to picture my mother’s pretty face from that night, her gentle hands as she smoothed the covers around me. But then a voice echoed across the silence and the image tumbled away, back to the unseen place where I kept all of my memories hidden—or at least my memories of her.


I opened my eyes to see Jake watching me from where he stood in the drive, arms crossed over his chest. He and I were supposed to have loaded some additional benches we’d made in the buggy shop into the wagon first thing so that right after breakfast we could deliver them over to the Bowmans’ farm for Anna’s wedding. But my task at the pond had taken longer than I’d expected, leaving him to do the loading all by himself. I felt guilty, as I knew my errand could have waited for a more appropriate day. To be honest, I had probably just used the diffuser replacement as an excuse to get down to the pond this morning and have a little time to myself.

I gave him an apologetic smile and a shrug, and though I could tell he was about to lay into me, when he saw that my shirt and pants were covered in dark, slimy mud, he hesitated and then simply grinned.

He and I both knew that whatever my grossmammi doled out once she saw what I’d done to my clean clothes would be payback enough.

Stepping inside, I tried to soften the blow by warning her first.

“Just so you know,” I called out as Jake and I paused in the mudroom to remove our hats, jackets, and boots, “changing out the diffuser in the pond was a lot messier job than I’d expected.”

“Oh, Tyler, no,” she replied from the kitchen. “You didn’t fall in, did you? Your grossdaadi told you not to trust that old rowboat.”

“No, nothing like that.”

I stepped around the corner to see her at the counter, spooning out scrambled eggs from the pan. The aroma of coffee and peach strudel wafted past my nose, and I realized I was starving. I’d fed Timber before going to the pond but hadn’t eaten a thing yet myself.

She didn’t even look up to see me, so Jake let out a low whistle as he pushed past to go to the table. “Wow, Tyler. Nice going on your clothes there! Did you leave any mud in the pond?” He whistled again, dramatically.

Of course, at that Mammi’s head snapped up. She took in the sight of me, her eyes narrowing.

“Just for that, no strudel,” she said. When Jake burst out in a victorious laugh, she gave him a sharp, “I’m talking to you, young man. No strudel for troublemakers.”

Lucky for me, she hated tattling even more than she hated extra work on laundry day. I grinned, though I didn’t dare make a sound in return lest she come down on me as well.

“I’ll rinse everything out as soon as I take it off,” I told her.

“See that you do,” she replied, returning her attention to the food preparations in front of her.

I flashed Jake a “gotcha” look. He snagged a corner of the strudel when Mammi  ’s head was turned and tossed it into his mouth with a smirk that said “gotcha back.”

Ten minutes later, I had returned to the kitchen, cleaned up and ready for the day, relieved that the mud had rinsed right out. I spotted Mammi still standing at the counter and Jake sitting at the table. He was sipping coffee but otherwise waiting to dig in until everyone else had convened here too. I heard Daadi come in the back door as I was taking my seat, and once he’d hung up his hat and jacket, he joined us in the kitchen and crossed the floor toward his wife.

Daadi always greeted my grandmother the same way when the morning’s first chores were done and it was time for breakfast and devotions: kissing her cheek and speaking in the softest words, meant just for her, saying, “Gud mariye, meiner Aldi.” Good morning, my wife.

Mammi smiled the way she always did. “Gud mariye, Joel.”

I loved how tender my grandparents were with each other in these first few moments of the day. Like most Amish, Daadi didn’t give Mammi kisses in front of people, or fuss over her in a personal kind of way, especially not in public. But their morning custom made me feel good about the start of the day, and it always had. It was strange and wonderful to think my mother probably saw them do this same thing every morning of her life too.

Daadi brought a mug of coffee to the table and took his seat at the end. “Beautiful sunrise over the pond this morning?” he asked, letting me know in his gentle way he’d seen me heading to the place I always went when there was much on my mind.

“Sure was,” I replied, adding nothing else, not even about the diffuser repair. He knew as well as I did that that wasn’t really why I’d gone out there.

I avoided his gaze, watching as Mammi brought a plate of sausages to the table. We bowed our heads for a silent prayer, and the topic of the pond was dropped. That was fine with me. I had always felt free to share even my most troubling thoughts with my grandfather. But I wasn’t ready to have that conversation.

Not yet, anyway—and especially not with him.

Paige Turned by Erynn Mangum

Paige Turned
TH1NK (April 1, 2014)
Erynn Mangum

Chapter 1

Here’s the thing about roller coasters: I like them. Most of the time. I like them when they are completely enclosed in a building, and I generally prefer them to be in the dark so I can’t see what’s coming next.

One of my biggest fears is that I will be on an out-door roller coaster and get hit in the face by a bird.

It could happen.

So the fact that I’ve now talked my new boss and the youth pastor of our church, Rick, out of going to Six Flags three times in the last three months is some-thing of a personal feat for me.

“I think it would be great fun and so we shall do it,” he says now, slamming his hands on his desk.

This action would have sent me into a nervous twitch only a few short weeks ago, but I’m getting used to Rick and his ways.

That’s almost a scarier thought than being hit in the face by a flying bird on a roller coaster.

“What will be great fun?” I ask, distracted by my new planner that is stuffed with names, dates, and times. I had no idea there were so many girls in the youth group until I took this job. Now it’s all I can do not to double book myself. Last week, I scheduled for three different girls to meet me at three different Star-bucks at the very same time.

I went that same day and bought the planner.

Considering my past abuse of planners, I have con-veniently forgotten to inform a lot of the people in my life of this fact.

“Six Flags,” Rick says. “We’re going next weekend. Sort of a ‘­Good-Bye Summer, Hello Fall’ trip. I’ll make up the postcard and you address them.”

Rick is very good at delegating tasks to me. Too good. I look up at him briefly. He’s wearing loose jeans and a polo shirt, and he’s drumming out a little tune on his desk. Rick is a huge, ­barrel-chested man and is completely bald. Supposedly by choice. Either way, he’s a scary person to run into when you happen to be by yourself at the church after dark.

I take pride in the excellent bladder control I had on that night.

“I thought we were thinking about doing a park barbecue ­sing-along thing as our ‘­Good-Bye Summer’ event.” I look back down and scribble in my planner while studying the text I’d received. MOLLY, 3 PM, JAMBA JUICE BY THE GALLERIA.

“Oh yeah . . .” Rick says slowly, twisting his lips and staring out the window. “I do like the idea of a ­sing-along.”

“Of course you do. It’s a great idea. And Six Flags has totally been done.” I am casual but still convincing.

“True.” Rick nods. “All right then. Forget Six Flags. We’re sticking with the original plan. I’ll draw up the postcard.”

I smile to myself and nod to Rick. “Sounds good.”

I have a meeting with another girl in twenty min-utes, so I stand from my tiny desk and stretch. “I’m out of here. I’m meeting with Bethany and then I’m going home. I have four weeks of laundry I have to do.”

Rick makes a face. “Sounds like a great night.”

“Oh yes.” I shoulder my purse and walk out of the church, waving at Geraldine, our church secretary.

I’ve been on the payroll at this church for two months this week, and while it feels like a lot longer in some respects, the summer has gone by fast.

I climb into my car and look at my planner to see what Starbucks I’m meeting her at. I have three I try to cycle through so I’m not going to the same one twice a day. And I also try to throw in the occasional Jamba Juice or semihealthy place because there have been a few days I have been so shaky at the end of the day from all the caffeine, I can barely sit down.

My phone buzzes as I’m driving out of the parking lot, and I click the button before mashing it against my ear. “Hey, Layla.”

Layla is my best friend, and she is getting married in a little over two months. I can’t even believe it. Es-pecially since I’ve been so busy with this new job I’ve hardly had a chance to hang out with her all summer. Since all the kids are out of school, I’ve had ­back-to-­back-to-back meetings for weeks. Rick keeps swearing the whole year will not be like this.

Exhaustion is pulling at my brain, but I shake it away so I can appear happy and peppy for Bethany in fifteen minutes.

“Hey.” Layla sounds tired.

“You okay?”

“No. I miss you. I haven’t even seen you in like nine years and I’m tired of people asking me questions, tired of caterers calling to tell me about there being no spinach because of a mad cow disease scare, tired of realizing that hey, we forgot to order napkins, and tired of being engaged.”

I immediately feel bad. “I’m so sorry, Layla. I am an awful maid of honor.”

“You aren’t an awful maid of honor. You’re just really busy and it just makes me wonder if you aren’t sliding back into the can’­t-say-no Paige we all knew and didn’t love very much.”


“Anyway. I’m coming over for dinner tonight and I’m bringing Panda. So I don’t care what you have written in that planner you’re trying to sneak around. Cancel it. Call in sick or say you caught the mad cow disease.”

“How did the spinach get the mad cow disease anyway?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was from the fertilizer or they grew it on the same farm as the cows or some-thing. Or maybe it was salmonella.”

“Well, I was just planning on doing laundry to-night, so as long as you’re okay with that, come on over.” I am already looking forward to the orange chicken.

Layla cannot come over without bringing Panda Express. It’s a tradition now.

“You weren’t going to see Tyler?”

I bite back a sigh at the name.

Tyler, for all intents and purposes, is my boyfriend. But if you look at the eight times I’ve seen him all summer, he’s more like a casual acquaintance than any-thing else. I’ve been working like crazy, his sister had a baby, and they had a family reunion so he was gone for a week. He has had some big projects come up at work and all manner of excuses.

It all started after Tyler happened to see Luke, my ex-
boyfriend, giving me a hug and kiss at our end-of-­the-school-year youth party at the beginning of the sum-mer. I didn’t intend on either of those things happen-ing, and I explained everything to Tyler at coffee the next day, but he’s been a little standoffish since then.

I don’t know what to do about it. Tyler is a slow mover anyway. It took him about six months to ever officially ask me to be his girlfriend in the first place.

I’ve always wondered about it. And now I’m won-dering whether the girlfriend thing is still even on.

“No,” I tell Layla. “He’s got a big project due this week.”

“He always has a big project due.”

“I know. Hey, I’m at Starbucks to meet a girl so I need to go.”

“You’re always meeting with a girl. Except never this one.”

“I know, Layla.” I sigh. “I’ll see you tonight.”


We hang up and I try to leave the guilt in my car. So I’m a terrible maid of honor. So I’m an awful girl-friend. So I can barely keep track of who I’m meeting with next. I swallow the big lump in my throat and blink back the tears — whether from the sense of fail-ure or from exhaustion, I’m not sure.

I paste a big smile on my face and wave at Bethany across the fragrant store. “Hey there!”

Apparently this is what I quit my secretarial job at the adoption agency to be.



I get home at six o’clock and just lean back against my door after walking in. My apartment is immaculate, but that’s because I’ve hardly been home in the past eight weeks of summer. I’ve spent my days waking up, showering, getting dressed, and running out the door to either a staff meeting or meeting with a girl over breakfast or meeting with Rick to convince him not to go to Six Flags this summer.

The man is nothing if not stubborn to an idea.

Layla will be here in fifteen minutes, so I change into yoga pants and an oversized ­baseball-style ­T-shirt that was my dad’s. I yank my hair into a long braid down my back, then I check my pantry and de-cide to make some chocolate-chip cookie dough.

It’s doubtful it will become cookies with both Layla and me in the apartment tonight. Cookie dough is like our kryptonite.

I’m just finishing adding the chocolate chips when Layla comes walking into the apartment. Layla is not one for knocking. There have been a couple of times when I’ve accidentally left the door locked and she’s about fallen down my stairs from bouncing off the door so hard.

“So, I have good news and bad news,” she an-nounces, carrying in a paper ­take-out bag from Panda.

“Bad news first.” I lick some cookie dough off my hand.

“I’m going to start with the good news first.” Layla shakes her head and sets the bag on the kitchen table.


“The good news is that the people at Panda seem to have been extra generous with the orange chicken to-night.”

“That’s not good news for my waistline,” I tell her.

“The bad news is that our girls’ night is about to get crashed so it’s good that we got extra food.”

I look at her questioningly, but I don’t have time to ask because right then there’s a soft knock on the door. I go open it and Tyler stands there, rubbing his hand over the blond ­five-o’clock shadow on his jaw.

My stomach twists, but it’s not in the ­butterfly-style that used to be even a few months ago. Now, if anything, I’m just dreading the day he officially ends it. He looks ter-rible. My breath sticks like I swallowed too much gum as a child.

“I’m sorry, Paige,” he says before even telling me hello. “I didn’t realize tonight was girls’ night.”

Already digging a spoon into the cookie dough, Layla moves her hand from her left to her right in one of those weird waves at Tyler from the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Tyler says again.

I shrug. “It’s fine.” He’s here and I’ve barely seen him all summer so I feel bad just asking him to leave. But Layla ­obviously needs some ­best-friend time.

And honestly, if he leaves, he can’t tell me it’s over.

I look at Tyler and nod to the porch. “Let’s just go out here for a minute.” I push him out the door and close it behind me. I pull at my shirt, not necessarily appreciating the fact that I’ve hardly seen him recently and he shows up when I’m in my yoga pants and have my hair in a braid that is quickly loosening, letting pieces of hair fall around my face. He couldn’t happen to come by when I’m dressed cute and have my makeup still intact.


Tyler smiles at me, but it’s not like one of the old Tyler smiles. This one seems forced. Sad. “So, I haven’t seen you in a while.” He rakes a hand through his blond curls.

“I know.” And most of the times we have seen each other have been around youth events. Not necessarily the best place to have a date.

Or a real conversation. Or a real apology about what happened with Luke.

The awkwardness buzzes between us, and if I could just wish us back to that wonderful day at the begin-ning of the summer where he asked me to be his girl-friend at the Dallas Arboretum, I would do it in a heartbeat.

He smiles another sad smile. “Well. I won’t keep you from your time with Layla. Maybe we can get din-ner? Tomorrow night?”

I think through my schedule, and I can’t remember what tomorrow holds. It’s Friday, which has been filled up with events for the youth group, but since we’ve got the backyard barbecue thing next weekend, Rick mercifully let us leave this weekend free.

“I can probably do that.” I nod.

“Really?” A mix of shock and enthusiasm crosses his face, and I’m sad to see how many times I’ve obvi-ously said I was busy.

Maybe most of this weirdness and awkwardness is my fault.

Whatever it is, I miss the old Tyler. The one who called me out on all my crap and was constantly bug-ging me with his ­happy-go-lucky self. I just don’t know how to tell him that.

And now is obviously not the right time.

Tyler nods like we just decided on a business lunch. “All right then. So, I’ll pick you up at six tomorrow night. Does that sound good?”

I nod because I don’t know what else to do. “See you then.”

He looks at me for half a second and then just nods again and starts back down the stairs. No hug, no kiss on the cheek. No physical contact at all.

I rub my arms, blink back tears, and watch him dis-appear around the corner before going back inside to face Layla, who is already halfway through her orange chicken.

“Sorry,” she says after she swallows. “Lukewarm Panda does not a good meal make. So . . . how’s the Tyler man?”

“Weird.” I pull the bag over and get my ­two-entrée dinner out. It is pointless to even bother at-tempting to pay Layla back for tonight. I’ll just buy next time we eat out.

“Well. He’s always been a little on the odd side. No offense.”

“Not like that.” I stab my chicken so hard, my plas-tic fork breaks.

Layla watches me, frowning. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. It’s just . . .” I sigh, go get a real fork and knife from my kitchen drawer, and then use them to cut the chicken open so I can dig out the plastic fork tines. “Things are just . . . weird.” I haven’t told Layla about the thing that happened with Luke at the begin-ning of the summer. First because Luke is her brother and second because I’ve just barely seen her.

She shrugs. “With what?”

“Me and Tyler.”

Layla purses her lips. “What did you do?”

“Why do you automatically assume it was my fault?”

“Because Tyler is a saint. And he’s obviously head over heels for you, so anything that happened is con-sequently going to be on your hands.”

“Well. It’s not so obvious anymore.”

“That it’s your fault?”

“No, that he’s head over heels for me.” I think to the zero affection even two minutes ago and bite the inside of my cheek, half debating just telling her about the whole thing with Luke.

Then I look over at her. She’s wearing sweatpants. Her brown curly hair is in a sloppy knot on the top of her head, and she looks exhausted.

No good can come from adding one more thing to Layla’s plate.

So I stay quiet. I’m getting used to the wad harden-ing in my stomach. “Let’s talk about the wedding.”

“Let’s not. I’m wishing we had just eloped now. I cannot understand how there is so much divorce in this country because it seems like the engagement proc-ess would be enough of a struggle for people, the weak ones would be voted out
of contention.”

I did not follow that at all. The more tired Layla gets, the less she makes sense. And she doesn’t start out making a lot of sense to begin with.


“I have seriously cried nine days this week.”

I’m going to assume Layla knows there are only seven days in a week and she’s just making a point.

“About what?” I again feel like a terrible friend. I should have been there. Instead I was comforting other crying
girls, attempting to answer questions about obscure Old Testament references, and trying not to get killed in a game of dodgeball.

She shrugs miserably. “You name it. Whether or not we ordered enough hors d’oeuvres. Whether or not I even still like my wedding dress. Whether or not I like the bridesmaids’ dresses anymore. I mean, is rose even an in color nowadays?” She rubs her forehead, then cups her face in her hands, looking down at the table.

“Layla — ” I start but she cuts me off.

“And Peter and I have been fighting like nonstop lately. I mean nonstop. And when we aren’t fighting with each other, which is rare, we are fighting in other ways because the temptation is so stinking ridiculously hard, Paige.”

I just watch her, not sure of what to say. She’s treading in uncharted waters for me. I mean, my boy-friend hasn’t even held my hand in eight weeks. The closest I’ve ever come to having to avoid that particu-lar temptation was when I was dating Luke and he thought he was going to just spend the night.

I was so shocked that it wasn’t a big deal to send him right back out the door.

This is much different.

Layla is rubbing her temples, looking for all the world like an exhausted little kid, and I’m overcome with compassion for my best friend.

I don’t say anything, but I pull my chair around next to hers and wrap my arms around her shoulders. She lays her head on my shoulder and just sighs. “Tell me we should elope.”

I rub her arm. “You don’t want to elope, Layla.”

“I know.” She’s quiet for a minute. “Tell me I need to get a new dress.”

“You love your dress. It’s perfect for you.”

“I know. And the bridesmaids’ dresses?”

“Also perfect. And rose is definitely an in color. And I don’t know what to say about you and Peter, but you could bring it up in premarital counseling.”

Rick is marrying Peter and Layla, so he’s been meeting with them. They had to take a big break over the summer just because everything with the youth group got so busy, but they are back to meeting again.

“Don’t you ever struggle with this kind of stuff with Tyler?”

I take a breath. “Not really.” You have to be around someone in order to struggle with sexual temp-tation, I would think.

“Oh.” She sighs and straightens, smiling over at me. “I’m glad we are having dinner together.”

I nod. “Me too.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga

is introducing
A Promise in Pieces
Abingdon Press (April 15, 2014)
Emily T. Wierenga

Chapter 1


Noah looked like his father, and she hadn’t noticed it before. But here in the backseat of a Dodge Caravan, strewn with skateboarding magazines and CDs, there was time enough to

see it in the young man whose long legs stretched from the seat beside her. To see the freckles dusting her grandson’s cheeks, the way his hair poked up like a hayfield, and how his eyes grabbed at everything.

Up front, Oliver asked Shane to adjust the radio, the static reminding Clara of the white noise she used to make with a vacuum or a fan to calm her newborns. The first one being Shane, her eldest, the one in the passenger seat turning now to laugh at his father, who wrinkled his long nose as Shane tried to find a classical station.

Then, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Clara could see Oliver smiling, pleased, and she remembered the way he’d looked over at her in church so long ago with the same expression: as though he’d finally found what he’d been looking for.

Noah was playing a game on one of those Nintendo machines. He noticed her watching him and said, “Do you want to give it a try, Grandma?” He looked so eager.

Gone were the days of Hardy Boys and marbles. “Sure!” Clara said, mustering enthusiasm as she took the tiny gadget. Then she saw what he was playing. Some kind of shooting game with uniformed men and guns and she nearly dropped it. “I’m sorry, it’s too complicated for an old woman like me,”

she said, handing it back and turning to stare out the window, at Maryland passing by, wondering what a kid in high school could know about war.

They were taking the George Washington Memorial Parkway, one of Clara’s favorite drives, which would carry them from her home state to Mount Vernon, Virginia. They were passing through Glen Echo, north of Washington, DC. And Clara remembered the story her daddy had told her, on one of their summer holidays, about her namesake, Clara Barton, who’d spent the last fifteen years of her life here. The founder of the American Red Cross, Ms. Barton had tirelessly provided aid to wounded troops during the Civil War. She had dedicated her life to serving those in need, Daddy said.

On that holiday, Clara—only eight years old at the time— had decided she would do the same. After all, she had been named after Ms. Barton.

“Something wrong, Grandma?” Noah said.

Shane turned in the front seat. His green eyes met hers, and it seemed only yesterday she had brought him home wrapped in the quilt—the one cleaned, pressed, and folded, lying in the back of their van.

Shane’s eyebrows rose and Clara shrugged, feeling cold in her white cardigan even though it was late June. It had been more than fifty years.

“Fifty years,” she said, more to herself than anything, and the van was quiet. She’d had these moments before, many of them. Moments landing her in the past, amongst broken and dead bodies, for there hadn’t been enough beds in Normandy.

Oliver peered at her now in the rearview, through his glasses, and she should give his hair a trim, she thought. It sprouted silver around his ears, and when had her soldier- husband aged? At what point between them marrying and adopting Shane and giving birth to two others had his hair turned gray?

Noah was tucking the game away now, saying, “I don’t need to play this right now. What are you thinking about, Grandma?”

And she wiped at her eyes, moist, and cleared her throat and told herself to smarten up.

It was sixteen and a half hours to New Orleans, where they were heading for a family vacation, and she should make the most of the time she had with this boy who knew nothing of the miracle of the quilt in the back. Who knew nothing of loss, and this was good. But there is a need for history to plant itself in the hearts of its children.

“Do you know about Clara Barton?” she said. Noah shook his head.

“She was a woman of great character. The founder of the American Red Cross. This whole area is a National Historic Site in her name, and she didn’t want it. All she wanted was to help people. In 1891, two men, Edwin and Edward Baltzley, offered Clara land for a house in an effort to draw people to this area. They offered her land, as well as free labor for build- ing the house, believing people would come in flocks to see the home of the woman who founded the Red Cross.

“Clara was clever. As all women of the same name are,” and here, she winked at Noah who laughed. “She had been look- ing for a new place to serve as headquarters for the Red Cross, so she took them up on it. She used the home originally as a warehouse for disaster-relief supplies, then reworked it and moved in six years later.

“A newly built electric trolley that ran into Washington brought in crowds of people to a nearby amusement park. When a new manager took over the park in 1906, he offered to buy Clara’s home and turn it into a hotel. She refused, so he then tried to drive her out. Apparently, he built a slow-moving scenic railway right by her house, with a station by her front door. When it failed to work, he erected a Ferris wheel in front of her house. Can you imagine? It is said Clara loved the lights from the wheel. She served as president of the Red Cross until 1904 and kept living in the house until her death, eight years later, at age ninety. She said the moon used to always shine at Glen Echo.”

Noah’s eyes were fixed on her. “What a woman,” he said. Clara nodded. “I know. She’s the reason I became a nurse.

And went off to war when Daddy told me not to.”

It was quiet in the car and then Shane said, “You can’t stop there, Mom! Tell him the story!”

Oliver’s eyes shining in the mirror, Vivaldi on the radio, and

Maryland’s fields of corn and hay waving graceful good-byes. “You sure?” she said to Noah.

He folded his hands in his lap. “I’m all yours, Grandma.” And so, she began.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lip Reading by Harry Kraus

is introducing
Lip Reading
David C. Cook (March 1, 2014)
Harry Kraus

Chapter 1


With fluid dexterity, Rebecca Jackson, PhD, flattened the border of her upper lip with the tip of her lipstick. This wasn’t just any lipstick. But then, this wasn’t just anywhere. She was an ocean away from the cutthroat, high-stakes world of pharmaceutical manufacturing, where she competed to create the world’s next wonder drug.

Her location: Kibera, an inner-city Nairobi slum, home to two million sweaty inhabitants, a population of poor yet colorful Kenyans who seemed little distracted by the equatorial heat.

Her lipstick: L’Absolu Rouge by Lancôme Paris. She preferred the Daisy Rose shade and the fact that it offered some protection from the sun, SPF 12.

But she didn’t wear it for protection. She applied it, just as she had a hundred other brands, to cover up a cosmetic flaw, the result of a surgical error.

Twenty years earlier, seventeen-year-old Becca Jackson had wrestled with a surgeon through an intoxicated haze. In a small-town Virginia hospital, the doctor did the best he could under the circum- stances, putting together a puzzle of skin that used to be her finest feature—her full and pouty lips. She didn’t remember vomiting on the surgeon’s shoes—something her mother had told her about the morning after that horrible, horrible night—but she didn’t regret doing it.

There is one cardinal sin in lip repair: a failure to match up the red-white border at the edge. The vermillion border. It was a word she’d learned at age seventeen and one she whispered every day as she learned to apply makeup to cover the one-millimeter offset in the border, the red lip color jutting just that tiny amount into the pale skin beneath her nose. Even a small irregularity at the edge of the lip catches the eye and causes it to fixate on the imperfection. She knew this all too well.

Her cameraman Rich, a twentysomething man who looked at home in an olive-green T-shirt and jeans, appeared in the mirror. “Dr. Jackson, please. This is the fourth time you’ve adjusted your lipstick. You look fine.”

“I haven’t been outside without lipstick in twenty years,” she muttered.

“This is Africa. The spot calls for a natural look anyway.”

“I don’t care for my natural look.” She paused and placed her index finger over a small bottle of perfume and touched the finger to the skin just under her nose. “It smells like a sewer out there.”

“I’d be careful to step over the little stream in front of the door,” he said. “I think that’s where the smell comes from.”

Opium had been her signature fragrance for as long as she could remember. It was an Yves Saint Laurent perfume known for adver- tisements using naked or nearly naked women in front of shadowy backgrounds. She held up the bottle so that Rich could see the label.

“Can you believe I was held up in customs for this?” She laughed. “As if I was really carrying drugs or something.” She put the perfume back into her leather Tano designer handbag. “I had to spray the fragrance just to convince the idiot,” she said. “What a waste.”

“Let’s go,” he urged.

She turned in the mud-walled little school-turned-dressing- room. “I’m right behind you.”

“Watch your step.”

She stepped into the muddy, rutted, and unpaved street. Along both sides, vendors hawked everything from toothpaste and hair prod- ucts to displays of shoes laid out in neat soldier rows on the ground.

Her team had assembled a semicircle of uniformed school chil- dren who were to be playing a game behind her as she slowly walked down the street toward the camera. The concept was simple: talk casually about the work Jackson Pharmaceuticals—JP—was doing to combat the devastation of AIDS.

But after three hours of trying, everything she’d done had come off as mechanical and plastic. The goal was to help salvage JP’s sag- ging public image and boost the sales of her new autobiography, Pusher: Confessions of an American Pharmaceutical Giant.

It wasn’t until the team was about to call it a day that Becca did something she’d thought was off camera. She joined a group of orphans playing a hand-slapping game that involved a rhythmic recita- tion about African women washing clothes. Becca joined the game, slapping the hands of a little Kenyan orphan and stumbling to keep up with the words.

Afterward, as she strolled back toward her team, the director, a stern man by the name of Lane Buckwalter, cracked his first smile of the day. “This is good. I say we trash the walking casual explanations and just show this. We’ll hire a professional to do a voiceover about Jackson’s newest AIDS drug.”

Becca was surprised when she saw the clip. “What—you were filming?”

The cameraman smiled. “Every second.”

The media representative from Becca’s publishing house agreed. In their joint agreement to finance the campaign, JP and Putnam had agreed to tag the ad with the cover image of Pusher.

Mr. Buckwalter wiped his brow and looked at the sky. “Dinnertime. We need to get back to the hotel.”

Becca nodded and looked at Rich. “Can you get my bag?” “Sure.”

She lingered in the street while the team packed the equipment into the back of a tan Land Rover.

“Dr. Jackson?”

She turned to see a dark-skinned African. She was just beginning to recognize the characteristics of the different tribes. He appeared to be Luo, with full lips, a broad nose, and teeth that seemed extra white against his skin.

“Could I get a picture?” he said.

“Sure,” she said, smiling. She appeared to have a fan even in remote Africa.

“Just step over here,” he said, leading her to the edge of an alley. “I want to get you in front of the sign of our little clinic.”

She stepped into the alley and smiled as he held up a silver digital camera.

“Cheese,” he said.

She obeyed just as arms closed around her from behind. She tried to scream, but a strong hand clamped over her mouth. Kicking, she was dragged into the alley and out of view of her team. She feared rape and robbery. She wanted to say that she had money in her handbag, but she’d left that back in her makeshift dressing room and she couldn’t say anything with the hand over her mouth.

Within seconds, she was tossed into the back of a windowless van, where she stared into the barrel of a handgun. “No noise!” the man said. She heard tapping on the side of the van. The vehicle lurched forward and bounced along the rutted alley.

She understood. This wasn’t robbery, at least not the type of street thuggery she’d imagined. This was kidnapping. She was a commod- ity, a research pharmacologist and the niece of the CEO and majority stockholder in a multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical company.

The van picked up speed. She looked at the back door, wondering if she could survive jumping if her captor was distracted.

After escape, which she quickly ruled out, her second thought was vain.

I left my lipstick in my bag.