I glanced at the screen on my cell phone this morning and noted the date: Friday, December 17, 2021. And normally I would have laid the phone down and gone on about my business, giving the information very little thought. But, for some reason, I was suddenly struck by the thought that this was going to be the only day I would ever see that particular date. It is a reality today, but only for today, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I know — some of you are thinking — what on earth is she talking about? Does this woman have nothing else to do with her time? 🙂
Actually, I had a whole list of things I needed to do with my time today, but I just couldn’t get away from that thought for quite a while. I realized pretty quickly that the Lord was taking advantage of that date on the phone to get me to focus on the fact that I needed to be cognizant of today. I didn’t need to be thinking about yesterday and all the stuff I didn’t get done, or that I did wrong, or even what I did right. I lived yesterday completely, and it’s gone. And He didn’t want me focusing on all the plans coming up for the next week, trying to figure out how I could make them all work out. He especially didn’t want me focusing on all the possible future things that had the power to cause me worry or fear.
He wanted me focusing on Him and what was on His heart for me to do and be today. He has plans for all of us that are good. But He so seldom gets our full attention long enough to be able to make us understand what those plans are and to get us to carry them out. I’m convinced from my many decades of walking with God that there isn’t a day that goes by that He doesn’t have some good things in mind for us to be a part of.
So as I contemplated the truth about this day being a unique gift that will come to me only once in my entire lifetime, I realized that I too wanted to be focused on what I could do and be that was good today. And I wanted to focus on some good things that could come my way as well — things that wouldn’t have an opportunity to come to me tomorrow or next week — but just today. I kept hearing this admonition in my heart: “Be present in this day. Enjoy it. Be grateful for it. Live it to the fullest.”
As those thoughts lodged in my heart, I was reminded of a little short story I wrote several years ago — a sort of “take-off” from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I was participating in a writing challenge in which we were supposed to write about some of the characters as if they were living today. One of those stories made the very point that the Lord was making to me today about being present in the here and now. So I thought I’d share it here in this post. It fits into the season, since I’ve borrowed the Spirit of Christmas Present. Some of you might remember the story, and several of you will be reading it for the first time. But I hope it spurs each of you on to focus on being truly present in your day today — and then to do so again tomorrow — and the next day — and — well, you know.
THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: LIVING IN THE HERE AND NOW
Reggie sat slumped in his chair, his right leg carelessly propped over the chair arm, gloom written all over him. He’d been this way for weeks, and hitting the bottle wasn’t helping him any. It just gave him a horrible headache the next morning. So tonight, he’d left off the booze, but he sat in a stupor anyway.
“Well, what a pretty picture you make tonight, Reginald, old boy!” The voice jolted him upright; he looked around.
The voice took shape: on the sofa to his right, a well-tailored man gradually came into focus, lounging with his feet propped on the coffee table. “I’m generally called Spirit of Christmas Present. That’s what your Uncle Ebeneezer called me.”
“Oh, so you’re the one who supposedly helped him straighten out his life, huh?”
The figure shrugged. “Among others.”
“Well, you can go back where you came from,” Reggie said, at the same time making a shooing motion with his hand. “I don’t need anything you have to say!”
“You need a hammer to your head!,” his visitor replied. “It’s just a shame I’m not allowed to give it to you.”
“Hey, where do you get off talking like that to me? Threatening to hit me in the head with a hammer! For what?”
“For constantly trying to live in a time dimension that it’s impossible for you to inhabit. You’re always trying to live either in the past – sucking on your memories the way a baby does his thumb – or in the future – always focusing on next week or next year. It’s stupid. Your memories make you miserable, and your future makes you anxious and edgy because it holds problems you don’t have answers for yet.”
“Oh, I get it. You’re here because you think you’re going to fix me?”
“No … I’m going to tell you how you can fix yourself.”
“Well, just maybe I don’t want to be fixed. What do you think about that?”
“Your uncle didn’t think he wanted to be fixed either – until he saw where his life was leading him. Do we have to give you the same kind of detailed, guided tour of your life that we did for him?”
“You know – the Spirits of Christmas Past and Future, and yours truly.”
Reggie shivered in his chair. He would never consider admitting to this strange visitor that he believed what had happened to his old uncle, but he did have to admit to himself that he’d seen the changes in Ebeneezer first hand. And when his uncle had described his experience, it had sent cold chills down Reggie’s spine. He certainly didn’t want any more of that.
“Okay, okay. Just give me your spiel and let me get back to my contemplation.”
“What you were … contemplating … as you call it … was how sorry you are for yourself. And what I’m going to tell you will set you free from all your self-pity and wasted life if you’ll take heed to it.”
“Okay, okay, get on with it.”
“Well, it’s actually very simple, Reggie. You simply have to make yourself be where you are.”
“Huh?” Reggie shook his head briskly and sat forward in his chair, looking more intently at his visitor. “What the heck does that mean?”
His visitor sighed. “It means, Reg, that you need to live in the present hour — every hour of your life. Live now. You can’t re-do yesterdays, Reggie, and the future is nothing but a long series of ‘now’s’ that you’ll eventually experience one at a time. But when you get to them, you’ll have what it takes to deal with each of them. Trying to worry ahead of time about what might or might not be in those ‘now’s’ is ridiculous because you can’t even begin to know what they’ll be like. So why exhaust yourself worrying about them? And why drive yourself to drink by sitting around pitying yourself for the things that have already happened and can’t be changed?”
Reggie hung his head. “Yeah, I guess I have to admit my life’s a bummer coming and going.”
His visitor jumped up from the sofa, and Reggie looked up at him, a little fearful.
“Then for heaven’s sake, man, quit coming and going – hopping from your sad past to your unreadable future! Start living where you are and when you are. Take one day at a time, and one hour at a time. Look at it, feel it, taste it; let it soak into you; enjoy everything you can about it, and if you can’t enjoy it, then learn something from it. But live it. Start really living each one of those moments in your life, Reggie, and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.”
“But I don’t think I know how.”
“It isn’t rocket science, Reggie. As I said at the beginning of our conversation: it’s simple. You just have to decide to do it. And I’m not telling you everything will be the way you want it. Your life – like anyone else’s – will have its ups and downs. It may not always be great – but at least it will be real.”
Reggie hung his head again, leaning over with his elbows on his knees, trying to get a better handle on the fact that he was listening to some vision that had just suddenly appeared in his living room. He had to admit that what his visitor said gave him the first inkling of hope that he could actually have a better life.
“Yeah, you might be right.” He surprised himself by saying the words aloud. He was still looking down at the floor but his mind was going back over his visitor’s words. Even though it felt a little spooky hearing them from this apparition, he knew in his heart that he needed to try to follow the advice.
“I’ll do it!” he said as he looked back up to the visitor to confirm his decision. But then he blinked. The room was empty.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
The following day was Mariah’s Saturday off, so Neil had time to mull over the things he and his dad had talked about before he saw her again. The work load was fairly light, and even while he worked, he replayed in his mind the conversation with Mariah and the one with his dad. There was no escaping his guilt and remorse concerning the first conversation, and there was no denying that his dad’s words in the second one made complete sense – now that Neil was in slightly less emotional turmoil. But what to do about it was the question of the day – or maybe – more realistically – the big question of his life.
By mid-afternoon, he had decided that he owed it to Mariah to apologize for his insinuations and his generally unChristian attitude over the past few weeks. But he knew in his heart that if he faced her with those feelings, he would also need to be ready to tell her the truth about the rest of what he felt. He couldn’t keep living with this merry-go-round of emotions, and now that he had blurted out the truth – a truth his own heart had kept hidden until last night – he should tell her the truth as well: he was in love with Mariah Jacoby, and he wanted her in his life from now on.
He got his last customer off for the day, and went to the phone. He realized that he had left the decision a little late. She was probably preparing to go out with Sanford. But if he just surmised that scenario and didn’t bother to find out for sure, he’d just prolong his own agony. She answered on the second ring.
“Mariah, it’s Neil.”
He heard her sigh. “Neil, I’d rather not talk right now.”
He hastened to butt in before she could hang up. “I know, Mariah, and you have every right to feel that way. I owe you a huge apology, and … well … the real reason I called was to see if you were going to be home a while this evening, and if you’d let me come and apologize in person.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Neil held his breath. Finally, Mariah sighed again and answered. “Neil, I accept your apology. You don’t have to come over here in person.”
She didn’t even want to see his face! This really was bad. He probably had lost her forever, but his dad’s words still rang in his ears: “Go ahead, Son. Stick our neck out. You know she’s worth it.”
He cleared his throat and tried again. “Well, the truth is that I’d like to do more than just apologize. I’d also like to tell you something about what’s going on in my own heart. If you’ll just hear me out; then if you don’t want to talk to me anymore I’ll respect that.”
He could hear hardness in her voice when she answered. “Is it more about Carter Sanford?”
“No!” He wanted to make that crystal clear. “No, Mariah, I don’t have anything else to say to you about Carter. I was way out of line yesterday, and I won’t ever bring up that subject again.” He paused for quite a while, but Mariah stayed quiet, and – more importantly – stayed on the line.
“I want to talk to you about you, Mariah – and about how much you mean to me.”
He heard her utter a small gasp of surprise. “I … I’m not sure I understand.”
Neil was getting frustrated. “Mariah, all of it is hard to explain over the phone. Will you please let me come and see you for a while this evening – that is – if you aren’t already going out?”
She took another moment to answer. “No … I’m not going any place important tonight – just the grocery store, but it can wait. Come over if you feel you really need to.”
The truth was that Mariah was feeling so defeated by all of the emotional upheaval of the past week that she felt resigned to whatever happened now. “When do you want to come?”
“Give me an hour to get home and shower and get over there.”
“Fine,” she said, and waited another moment. “I’ll see you then.”
“Thank you, Mariah. I’ll be with you shortly.”
After hanging up the phone, Mariah took a look at what she was wearing. An old pair of jeans and a tee shirt that said, “I’ve got a good arm, a ball, and an attitude. Don’t mess with me.” She had to laugh at the thought of wearing it when facing Neil tonight. She knew she looked a little sloppy, though, and one part of her wanted to change into something pretty. But the other part – the part that was tired of trying to be the “right” woman for the “right” man to love – just felt too exhausted to care.
She opted for leaving on the outfit and using the time she had to straighten up the apartment a little. She’d never been the most organized housekeeper. Her home was never dirty, but it definitely wasn’t the neat, well-organized home her mother kept.
She then decided she could force herself to be hospitable enough to put on a pot of coffee and open a package of cookies. Holding a coffee cup would at least give her something to do with her hands while they talked, and drinking the warm liquid might help her stay calm.
Her clock said fifty-five minutes since the phone call when her doorbell rang. Neil stood there in a dark blue polo shirt and jeans, his hair still damp around the edges. It made her smile to think he really had been in a hurry to get over here. “Come in,” she said and motioned him toward the living room. “Sit down anywhere. I made coffee. Would you like some.”
“That would be great,” he said, as he walked to a chair arranged beside the sofa and sat down.
“I’ll be right back with it,” she said, already turning toward the kitchen. Five minutes later, she returned with a tray bearing two steaming mugs, cream and sugar, and the plate of cookies. Sitting it down on the table next to the chair, she took a seat on the close end of the sofa.
“Mmmm, the coffee smells good,” Neil said and reached for a cup. Mariah took hers as well and curled her feet up onto the cushion. She sipped the hot liquid and looked at Neil. He cleared his throat.
“I like the apartment,” he said, smiling. “The colors of cheerful.”
“Thank you. I agree. I like a lot of color in a home.” She knew she should probably say something that would break the ice and help him get started with what he needed to say, but she just didn’t seem to be able to do it.
Finally, he cleared his throat again and sat his cup back onto the tray. He looked right at her. “Mariah, first of all I sincerely want to apologize for what I said to you last night. I was completely out of line, and I’ve been out of line ever since you started dating Carter Sanford.”
“When did you decide all of this?”
“Well … to be totally honest, I knew when the words were coming out of my mouth last night that I didn’t have any right to say them – and actually I knew that I didn’t really mean them the way I said them.”
She just looked at him a moment and then asked. “Then … why did you say them?”
Neil cleared his throat again. He’d never felt a need to work at keeping his throat clear and his voice strong before, but this whole experience was a first for him, so ….
He finally answered. “Well, the answer to that question is actually the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. And I’m going to ask that you hear me out, and then when I’m done, if you don’t want to talk to me anymore – or even work for me anymore – I’ll understand. But, I’m hoping, of course, that you won’t feel that way.”
Mariah’s curiosity was aroused enough by this time that she did help him. “Say anything you feel you need to say, Neil, and I promise not to interrupt. I’ll let you finish.”
He nodded his head in acknowledgment and scooted forward in his chair to be closer to her. “Mariah, I said all of those things because I was jealous.” He searched her eyes to see if she was shocked, but he couldn’t tell. He knew she was surprised he’d said it, but that was all. “I knew I had antagonistic feelings toward Sanford, but I wouldn’t consciously admit it to myself – or the reason for it. I tried to convince myself that my feelings were because we had become great friends, and I was just looking out for your welfare, but that isn’t the truth.” At that, her eyes did get wide, and her eyebrows went up.
He unconsciously reached out a hand and laid it on hers as it rested on the arm of the sofa. “Oh, I was trying to look out for you, but not just because we were friends. I realized last night – after it was too late – that what I really feel for you goes much deeper than friendship.” He squeezed her hand. His eyes were so intense that Mariah couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to, but, of course, she didn’t want to. Neil continued.
“Mariah, I … I’m in love with you, and … and I’ve never said that to another woman in my life.”
Mariah’s gasp was audible, and a light flickered to life in her own eyes. Neil took hope from that tiny light and continued. “I don’t know for sure what you feel for me, but I’d like to ask you to give me a chance to show you how much I love you and how valuable you are to me – not as an employee – but as a woman – as the woman I want in my life from now on.”
As he spoke the words, Neil slipped from the chair to his knees in front of Mariah, who sat there with her mouth open and the light in her eyes even brighter. He gently took the cup from her other hand, sat it down, and then took both hands in his. She didn’t resist, but finally spoke, “Neil … I … I don’t understand. You’ve never said anything before.”
“I know. I’ve been too dense to realize myself what I was feeling – that is until last night. But I also realize that you may have strong feelings for someone else, and I don’t have any right to make you feel pressured by what I’m saying. I’m trying not to pressure you. I hope you know that. But I just had to at least tell you the truth.”
“Oh, Neil!” was all she said, but she lifted her hands and placed them gently on either side of his face.
“You’re not angry that I’ve said all this?”
She smiled widely. “My darling Neil, since when does a woman become angry because a man declares his love for her – especially when he does it so beautifully?”
Neil let out the breath he’d been holding and smiled for the first time since he’d started his explanation. He reached both hands up and laid them over hers. He then took each one and pressed the palm to his lips. “I love you, Mariah. I think I’ve loved you almost from the first day. You’ve been like my second self from the first week we worked together.
“I’ve never felt so comfortable with any other woman that I can remember, yet I’ve never felt to challenged to be the best man I could be. It made my day complete every time you were pleased with what I said and what I did, or how I ran my business or lived my life. I came to work every day with a new kind of expectation of vitality and beauty somehow – all because you were there. Oh, I couldn’t have put it into those words a week ago. But I finally recognize it for what it is.”
He paused and kissed the palms of her hands again. “Oh, Neil,” was still all she could say.
“And if you already have deep feelings for Carter Sanford, then I will accept that fact and not bring up my own feelings again. But I had to at least tell you the whole truth – at least once. You deserve that.”
Mariah chuckled softly and shook her head. He squeezed her hands in his. “I don’t even care if you laugh at me, Honey. I feel so much better knowing I’ve told you what’s in my heart.”
At those words, Mariah slipped from the sofa to her knees as well, facing Neil, and without thinking, she put her arms around his neck. “No, Darling. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at myself – and maybe at the idea that I could have deep feelings for Carter Sanford.”
“What?” Neil’s confusion was obvious. “Do you mean you don’t ….” His voice trailed off because it was just too much to hope for.
Mariah inched closer to him and shook her head. “No … I do not have deep feelings for Carter. I don’t really want to talk about him right now, but you can rest assured that what I do feel for him is not positive enough to cause you any jealously.”
“But you said last night that you wanted his attention — ”
Mariah slipped one hand over his lips to stop his words. “What I said last night was born out of the same thing that brought forth most of your words. I was reacting to feelings that I hadn’t recognized or learned to deal with yet. I had been hurt by Carter, and then I was being hurt by you. But the hurt caused by you was so much more painful and damaging —”
“Oh, Sweetheart!” Neil interrupted her and wrapped his arms around her completely, holding her against him. “I’m so sorry! … so sorry!”
Mariah pulled back enough to look at his face. “No … it’s all right now. What I was going to say is that what you did hurt me more than what Carter did because I don’t love Carter, but I do love you.”
He lifted his hand to caress one side of her face, “You … you do love me?” Mariah nodded her head. “You’re sure?” She nodded again.
“Very sure!” she said.
“And all this time … we’ve wasted …. when we could have been ….” He just couldn’t seem to find the words, so he finally gave up and pulled her even closer, taking possession of her lips in a kiss that conveyed the message much more clearly than any words could have done anyway. And Mariah’s response was equally as satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that it was several moments before either of them took a breath or thought reasonably about anything at all.
As their lips finally parted, Neil wrapped her even tighter to him, and she buried her head against his neck, but several seconds later, Neil spoke. “Mariah, I think we’d be more comfortable if we got up from the floor, don’t you?”
Mariah laughed out loud. For the first time she realized that her own knees hurt from being on the floor in that embrace for so long. “Of course, Honey. Come on,” she said and began to get up. Neil did the same, but as they stood facing each other, he couldn’t resist kissing her again. Mariah was very willing, and, once more, it was quite a while before they had breath to speak. When they did, Mariah settled her arms more comfortably around Neil’s neck and grinned at him. “So, Boss, would you say that everything’s Jake again?”
Neil tightened his hold on her and looked at her solemnly, shaking his head in the negative. “No, Sweetheart. You have that backwards.”
Her eyes clouded. “What?”
“You asked me if everything’s Jake again. But you have it backwards … because from now on … in my world … everything isn’t Jake. In my world, Jake is everything!”
Thank you so much for reading. I’ll leave the story on this site for one more week, in case a few people haven’t had time to get to the end yet. But after next Saturday, I’ll remove it. You can find the book, as well as most of my other inspirational fiction, on Amazon at this link.
Or visit my Amazon Author’s page for more information.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Neil grabbed up the pizza box. Letting out a long groan, he wadded it up with his bare hands and slammed it into the waste can. That action wasn’t enough to release his feelings, so he slammed his hand on the counter so hard the pain caused him to groan again. There … maybe that would at least be some self-punishment for having been so stupid – and so unkind to the one person he’d come to care more about than any other human being in his life.
“Stupid idiot! You stupid idiot!” He ranted at himself as he ran his hands furiously through his hair, and finally, feeling spent from the pain of his estrangement from Mariah – and from his own remorse – he collapsed into his desk chair and buried his face in his hands.
He was still sitting in the chair, staring with unseeing eyes at his computer, when the office door opened, and his dad walked in. “Hi, son. I saw the light, and I thought maybe I’d catch you and Mariah here and invite you both to dinner at the house tomorrow night.” He stopped talking and looked around. He didn’t see Mariah, and something told him that the place was totally empty except for Neil, who, now that he looked at him more closely, was looking a little worse for wear.
Neil didn’t answer for a moment. He just sat there and stared at his computer screen. Finally he heaved a sigh and said in a monotone voice. “You could say that.”
Adam leaned on the counter, praying for the Lord to give him the right words. He didn’t want to interfere in his grown son’s life, but he knew enough from his own experience to realize that sometimes being grown up in age didn’t mean a man didn’t feel hurt as painfully as a little boy. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Neil ran his hands through his hair again.
Adam watched and waited. He realized for the first time that there was quite a bit of gray showing in Neil’s dark brown hair. And for the first time, he actually noticed that his waistline was bulging more than it used to. Adam didn’t feel old enough to have two sons about to reach middle age themselves. But the clock didn’t quit ticking, and sure enough, they were just about there.
Nathan, his elder son, had a great wife, though, and a baby to love. Neil had nothing but this business. He should have Mariah. Adam and Elizabeth both knew Mariah was the right one for Neil. And they were pretty sure he knew it too. But Neil had always been super cautious about decisions – considering them from every single angle – over and over again – until he worked them over so many times he was worn out before he came to the point. Elizabeth had said something the other night about Mariah not waiting forever.
Adam cleared his throat. He wasn’t much of a counselor in the area of romance, but he could at least share his heart if Neil wanted him to. “Is it Mariah – or am I out of line?”
At those words, Neil looked up at Adam. “How did you know?”
Adam chuckled. “Well,” he said, as he walked around the counter and pulled a second chair up close to Neil’s desk. “I guess you could say I’ve been through some situations in the romance department that caused me to look about like you do right now.”
“I’m losing her, Dad.”
“Losing her how?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders. “I thought we were becoming the best of friends. I could open up to her in a way I’ve never done with anyone else. And she did the same with me. We feel the same about our spiritual lives and about the purpose and meaning of life. We want the same kinds of things. And we can sit and talk for five and six hours at a time and never run out of anything to say to each other.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like you’re losing her to me.”
Neil waved his hand in a dismissive manner. “No … that’s not what makes me think that. It’s … It’s because she’s started dating Carter Sanford, and now she doesn’t seem to want to sit and talk with me and share things like she used to.” Neil looked at his father now. “And I worry about her with him. Oh, I don’t mean he’d hurt her physically. But I know enough about him to know he’s just playing around with Jake because she’s a mechanic.”
“Oh … you know … he’s a playboy, and because she’s so different from most of the women he associates with, he finds it fun to date her for a while. But he won’t stick with her. If she’s feeling something serious for him, he’ll break her heart, and I just couldn’t bear that.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“Well … she’s become such a great friend, and friends look out for each other. And … tonight … I tried to warn her about him —”
“Oh, I see,” Adam interrupted him.
“What do you mean, you see?”
Adam sighed. “I’m guessing you told her how he didn’t really care for her and how she was being foolish to let herself get taken in by him.”
Adam let out another sigh. So did Neil.
“Well, I realized about halfway into the conversation that I was making a mistake, but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to stop myself. And … well … the conversation deteriorated so much that she threatened to quit.”
“Yeah.” Neil leaned back in his chair and just shook his head sadly.
“Well … have you thought that maybe Mariah can tell that Carter really does care about her?”
“But he doesn’t!”
“How can you be so sure?”
“What? Are you on his side now?”
“Whoa, Son.” Adam held up his hands to ward off any more accusation. “I’m just trying to help you think this thing through here.”
“Oh, I know, Dad. I’m sorry.” He got up from his chair and started pacing the floor. “But I know I’m right. I feel it in every part of me. Carter Sanford will never – could never – love Mariah the way I —” He stopped mid-sentence, shocked by the words that he heard coming from his mouth. Suddenly he turned and looked at Adam, the surprise all over his face.
Adam nodded his head. “I heard. I think you have part of your answer right there, Son. You are in love with Mariah, but if you didn’t even recognize it, then you’ve obviously never told her. Maybe that’s what she needs to hear from you rather than how she’s making a fool of herself with Carter.”
“Well, I can’t tell her that now! Not while she’s dating another man!”
“What? You’d let her go out of your life just because she’s going out to dinner once in a while with some other man? She might drop him like a hot branding iron if she knew how much you cared, Neil.”
Heaving another sigh, Neil looked Adam in the eye. “Let’s face it dad, in spite of having my name on this business, in reality I’m still just a struggling mechanic. I can’t drive her around in expensive cars or send her bouquets of roses every week the way he does – or even the way a lot of other men can.”
Adam chuckled. “You know, Neil, before your mom and I were married I gave her flowers only one time. I just didn’t have a lot of money back then, and I tried to save what I did have so that we could go out every week. But one time, shortly before the wedding, I asked her if she ever felt cheated because I hadn’t given her more flowers and valuable gifts, and I’ll never – as long as I live – I’ll never forget her answer.
She said, ‘My darling Adam, if I were to receive a thousand roses at a time, they could never give me the joy and the thrill that I get from the look in your eyes every time you take me into your arms and tell me how much you love me.’” Adam leaned forward to emphasize his next words. “Neil, it’s communication that rules the day – before the wedding – and it’s still communication that makes the difference afterward – for the rest of your life.”
“But if she’s serious about Carter, I could also end up looking like a fool myself.”
“And does that really matter? Didn’t you feel a little foolish tonight after your argument?
“Neil, you’ve always tried to live your life based on what God’s Word says. But, up to now, you’ve never had to deal with loving a woman and functioning in that capacity according to God’s Word. But think about it. Love comes from God. He is love, and He’s the creator of the love that develops between a man and a woman. Furthermore, He tells us that love always leads us to prefer the other person as more important than ourselves. Love is patient, kind; love serves; it isn’t jealous or easily provoked … am I right?”
“Sure, you know you are.”
“So … if you love this woman, then you have to begin to deal with her according to the demands of love the way God defines it – not according to the world’s definition. The world will tell you to consider how foolish you might end up looking, or how someone could take advantage of you if you let your guard down by letting them know you love them. But those philosophies are not from the Lord.”
He leaned forward and laid his hand on Neil’s shoulder. “No, I think it’s time you were honest with yourself and with Mariah and started speaking and acting toward her the way the Word of God tells you to. Stop talking to her about Carter Sanford, and start talking to her about her – and how valuable and precious she is to you.”
He gave Neil’s shoulder an encouraging pat and stood to his feet. “And just remember: roses always die, and a fancy car made out of cold steel can’t keep a woman warm at night.”
Neil snorted – although it was almost a chuckle. “If it were Mariah’s car, she’d tear it down and work on the heating system until it did keep her warm.”
Adam laughed out loud and gently slapped his son on the back. “Good! You’ve got your sense of humor back. I think you’ll survive this.” With those words he headed for the door. As he opened it, he turned back. “And unless I miss my guess, that little girl already feels the same way about you.”
A flicker of hope flashed through Neil’s eyes, and Adam smiled. “Go ahead, Son. Stick your neck out. You know she’s worth it.”
Adam closed the door and headed for his car with a jaunty step. He tossed his keys into the air and caught them, grinning. “Adam, old boy, you’re not too bad at counseling the lovelorn after all. Elizabeth will be downright proud of you.”
Final chapter tomorrow.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
The following Sunday afternoon, Mariah went back to the country club with Carter. They played tennis until 5:00 and then decided to stay for dinner after they showered and changed. Mariah got to the table first, and while she waited for Carter, she found herself accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation involving a few people at the bar several feet behind her. She had recognized two of the people as a man and wife she had met earlier, and the others she didn’t know. She hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation, but she started paying close attention when she heard Carter’s name.
“I gotta hand it to him,” one of the men said. “He’s one in a million. The man can have every model in three counties if he wants them – and the daughters of a couple of millionaires I could name – but he puts all of them on hold to go out and get his kicks with a grease monkey.”
Another male voice spoke up then. “What worries me is that maybe it’s more than getting his kicks. Maybe he’s serious about her. He’s been seen all over the place with her. And she’s definitely not going to fit in with our crowd, I can tell you that right now – all that religion!”
“Don’t let that throw you. I’ve seen Carter Sanford date three different women in the same afternoon, and make all of them think they’re his only one. No … he’s not serious. He told me he’s got this idea that running around for a while with a little grease monkey will shake him out of his boredom. He knows his family is expecting him to get married and settle down before too long, and he’s working on having all the flings he can before he has to bite the dust.”
Mariah was about to choke on the coffee she was drinking. She sat still as a stone, her heart pounding in her chest. Surely, she wasn’t hearing this right. Then one of the women spoke.
“You two need to keep your voice down. Everyone here knows him. And did he really tell you that, or are you just guessing at all this?”
“No … I’m telling you … he told me he’d found himself a cute little grease monkey – and those are his words – a cute little grease monkey – who could keep his car in souped-up shape, and he intended to grab her and run with her – and just see what would happen.”
At that point a new individual joined the group and broke up the conversation. Mariah was numb. She wanted to get out of there, but she felt as if her legs wouldn’t work. She forced herself to drink more of the coffee. It was hot and bracing, and that did help to get her mind kick-started again. And just in time. Carter came in, all smiles, and sat beside her at the table, taking her hand in his. She stiffened, and he looked at her curiously. “Hey, babe. Is something wrong?”
Mariah knew she couldn’t trust herself to answer intelligently, so she said, “No, not really. Just tired, I guess.”
“Well, I know exactly what you need.” He jumped up and walked over to the bar. When he came back, he had a glass of white wine for Mariah, and without thinking, she took several sips. Almost instantly, she realized how foolish that had been since her stomach was basically empty.
“I think I need food more, Carter. Can we just eat now?”
“Sure thing,” he said, and got up to lead the way to the dining area. Mariah thanked the Lord that the food came quickly and tasted good. She felt better after getting her head and stomach settled and had wisely not touched the wine glass again, opting for more coffee.
Carter, however, didn’t stop at one drink. He kept calling for one more throughout the meal, and by the time they were to dessert, he looked – and sounded – a little worse for the wear. Mariah had decided by then that she wasn’t riding home in his car with him in that condition, and she had pretty well decided that, even if she hadn’t overheard that conversation, this drinking situation was more than enough reason to put Carter Sanford out of her life for good.
So she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, but quietly slipped out to the door and asked the doorman to get her a taxi. To her relief, one taxi was letting out a passenger at the time, so she didn’t have to wait. Twenty minutes later, she was in her own apartment, thrown across her bed, pouring out tears of hurt, frustration, and anger – and wondering which one of those emotions would win out.
Almost an hour later, she finally pulled herself up from the bed, changed to an old worn-out robe and scuffs, and padded to the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, she saw a tear-stained face, with eyes wreathed in runny mascara, and hair that looked like it had seen a buzz saw. Unexpectedly, she laughed out loud. The sound startled her, but then it became infectious, and she continued laughing for quite a while.
She finally washed her face and felt surprised at how much better she felt afterward. She looked at her reflection again. “Well, Mariah Jacoby, you’ve made a fool of yourself again, my girl. But since it’s not the first time, it probably won’t be the last either. Just suck it up and move on.”
She leaned in closer to the mirror. “So maybe you’re not a femme fatale who can bring men to their knees. But you’re a gentle, kind, loving, hard-working woman of God, and if anything in Proverbs 31 can be believed, that’s everything that matters!”
She turned away to leave the room, but then suddenly turned back to her reflection. “And dang it, girl! You’re also the best darn mechanic that this town has ever laid eyes on!” She grinned and gave herself two thumbs up: “Everything’s Jake!”
At work the following week, Mariah’s mood was subdued. She wasn’t depressed – just thoughtful. The pep talk she’d given herself Sunday afternoon still rang in her soul. In the midst of that experience, she had come to the realization that she didn’t have to be the woman other people thought she should be in order to be satisfied and successful. That afternoon, as she had looked at her messy face and hair in the mirror, that truth had finally taken possession of her.
She had laughed because she suddenly saw how ridiculous she looked as a result of pushing to be what the rest of the world said she should be – and to have what the world said constituted success as a woman. She’d realized from that moment that she valued herself for the person she really was in her heart. And for the first time in her life, she had identified completely with that person. As she had washed her face, the Lord had brought to her mind the verse from Proverbs that said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And she had been meditating on that truth ever since that moment.
Neil was subdued as well. In fact his mood was so reserved that Mariah worried about having done or said something that upset him, but she couldn’t remember anything that negative. She knew his reaction to her dating Carter had not been positive, but, in a way, that fact seemed sort of “positive” to her. It at least indicated that Neil recognized the fact that she appreciated being treated like an attractive woman.
But by Friday morning, she had decided she didn’t want even this kind of strain on their relationship, and she decided to make a move to remedy the situation by offering to work with him on the books that night. As soon as she got to the shop, she went to the office to talk to him.
“Good morning, Boss!” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about the bookwork.”
Neil’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Oh?” was his only reply.
“Well, we haven’t worked on anything for the past couple of weeks, and I just wanted to volunteer to work tonight if we have some things that need to be caught up.”
“What … no big date with your new flame?”
Mariah’s good intentions squirmed a little. Boy, this man was getting hard-hearted! Still, she had made the move, and she wasn’t giving up that easily. She smiled. “Nope. I don’t go out every night, you know. And I figured we surely had a good deal of work that needed to be brought up to date in the computer, and probably some monthly forms that needed to be filled out.”
Inwardly, Neil felt relief, because the truth was that he hadn’t been able to force himself to get that work done for the weeks Mariah had been unavailable. Partly, he had been pressed with other work, but partly he was feeling a little depressed at the thought of sitting there and working on the material by himself. It was still a little mystifying to him, but he had to admit that a job he’d done all alone for three years now seemed to be beyond him without Mariah at his side doing it. He also admitted that what he was feeling was more than just confidence and trust in an employee, but he wasn’t quite sure how to react to that knowledge.
“Well … if you’re sure you have the time, I could use the help.”
Mariah breathed a deep sigh of relief. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she really did want to work with Neil tonight. “Great! And this time, the pizza is on me.”
“You don’t need to do that. You’re helping the business, so we’ll let the business buy supper.”
Unaccountably, Mariah’s spirits deflated at those words. She guessed she’d thought of their time together as more personal than just business, and the idea of putting their meal together on the expense account just wasn’t what she was after. But she didn’t argue. She’d made a step forward, and she’d continue in that direction. “Then I’ll buy dessert.” she said. “I’ll run to the bakery and get us two slices of chocolate cheesecake.”
As soon as they’d locked the door after the last customer, they went to work. After the first five minutes, they had fallen right into their old pattern of working together, and Mariah felt relief. Awkwardness seemed to melt away, and they worked for an hour before stopping to eat. After taking fifteen minutes to concentrate on the pizza, they decided to let dessert wait and get the last hour’s worth of work finished first.
Neil seemed a little more preoccupied during that hour, but Mariah didn’t mention it. She worked diligently, wanting him to know that she still cared about this part of the business running smoothly. By 7:30, they were done. Neil had made coffee in the office pot, so they sat down in the waiting area with coffee and cheesecake.
After about five minutes, Neil cleared his throat. Mariah could see that he was still preoccupied with something important on his mind, but she wasn’t quite prepared for what he said.
He cleared his throat again. “Mariah … I’ve been sitting here thinking about whether or not I should mention something to you.” She looked at him, giving him her full attention.
“If it’s something important to you, then by all means, share it with me.”
He cleared his throat the third time. “Well … you may consider it none of my business, and in reality, it isn’t, except … well … except that I care about you. We’ve become more than just co-workers. I feel like we’re friends.” He looked at her intently.
“Oh, I agree, Neil. You can feel free to talk to me about anything you think is important.”
Neil got up and started pacing around the waiting area. He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and cleared his throat yet again. Finally, he stopped – about ten feet away from Mariah as she still sat in her chair. He took a deep breath and finally spoke:
“You need to watch your step with Carter, Mariah.” He had almost blurted out the words, due to the nervous pressure he was feeling. But once started, the words just kept rolling out with no restraint. “He’s nothing but a poor little rich kid who’s been spoiled rotten and given everything he wanted on a silver platter! He can have nearly any woman he wants in twelve counties with the snap of his finger – models, celebrities, daughters of the most powerful and wealthy men in this state!”
Mariah’s eyes pierced him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Something deep inside told Neil he’d already overstepped the boundaries here, but he just couldn’t seem to shut himself off now. “It means that he’s probably playing around with you because you are something different. I seriously doubt he’s ever even thought about dating a mechanic before, and taking you out and showing you off to his friends is a big hoot for him. He probably doesn’t really care about you at all.”
He couldn’t have known that he was putting into words the whole nightmare she’d lived through the previous weekend. A cold chill went through Mariah, and even though she had already come to terms with this truth, the fact that Neil was putting it into words seemed like another level of insult. She stood to her feet. One part of her mind reminded her that she already knew this truth and had dealt with it, but there was another part of her that felt the bitter pain of it all over again. Her insides were churning, but her voice was still controlled.
“In other words, I’m not good enough for the Carter Sandfords of this world because I get dirty working on cars? Or did you mean that I’m too plain and unattractive to stir up any interest as a real woman?”
Neil snorted. “Don’t play word games, Mariah. I’m telling you he’s taking you out because you are a diversion from his ordinary fun. And I just don’t want you to get hurt; that’s all.”
By this time, Mariah’s eyes were filled with tears, but she had turned sideways so he couldn’t see that. She struggled now to control her breathing so her voice wouldn’t be nervous and high-pitched when she answered. Finally she turned back to look at Neil. “Well just maybe I’m out to have some fun myself. Maybe I want Carter’s attention regardless of why he’s interested. And why shouldn’t I? There’s sure no indication of any interest in me as a ‘real woman’ around here!”
“What the …! So now you’re mad because my guys don’t jump all over you while you’re here to work?”
Mariah gasped audibly at the insinuation. Her eyes were enormous and her mouth wide open. Neil felt the blow to his own conscience as well. He’d never dreamed he would say something like that to a respectable woman – least of all someone he cared as much about as he did Mariah.
Mariah finally recovered and looked him straight in the eye. Her voice was subdued and her words deliberately slow and measured. “That remark was totally uncalled for, Mr. Warner, and if you cannot keep a modest tongue in your mouth when I’m around, I think perhaps I need to start looking for another job.” On one level, she knew they were both letting feelings they hadn’t named lead them into saying things they didn’t really mean. But on the more conscious level, she just needed to fight back. So with that remark, she turned and walked briskly from the office, got into her car, closing the door without slamming it, and drove away.
Only two chapters left. Meet me here tomorrow for Chapter Eight.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Neil arrived at the shop first the next morning and was shocked to see the red Porsche sitting on the lot with its nose practically touching the bay door. Closer inspection revealed a business card stuck under the wiper. His second shock of the day came when he read the name. He let out a low whistle and spoke out loud: “Well, well … Mr. Carter Sanford of all people.” He ran his hand caressingly over the hood of the Porsche. “Mm-Mm! Yeah … this beauty would have to belong to someone like Sanford.” The note on the back of the card explained that the car had started behaving erratically just two blocks away and that Sanford had barely made it into the lot before it died.
Neil carried the card into the office to call Sanford, but just before he placed the call, a chauffeur-driven Lincoln drove up, and Carter Sanford hopped out of the back seat, sporting his signature sun-bleached hair and Bahaman tan. Neil had seen enough newspaper pictures of him to recognize him with no trouble. His lifestyle brought out the critical side of Neil’s nature, but he put those thoughts aside to offer a cordial greeting. “Good morning,” Neil said. “Mr. Sanford, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Carter said with a nod. “I’m sure you found my car. Sorry about just assuming I could leave the Ruby here unannounced, but, as I’m sure you read on my card, I really had no choice. I could have called a tow truck, of course, and had it taken to the man who normally services my cars, but I hear you people do great work, so I thought why not take a chance with you.”
Neil bristled, but kept his peace. After a second’s hesitation, he said, “Well, as honored as I am that you feel that way, Mr. Sanford, I’ll have to tell you that all three of our bays have cars waiting in them right now, and there are still two other jobs ahead of you.”
“But you can get to it today, surely,” Carter said, with all the assurance of a man who can pay for anything he wants and assumes he will get it.
Neil recognized the snobbery for what it was, but he didn’t see any reason to turn down work if he didn’t have to. “I think we should be able to get it today. If you’d like to fill me in on the details of what happened, I can prepare a work order for it.”
Carter told him the story, and Neil promised to give him a call before noon and let him know if things looked promising for getting his car back to him by the end of the day.
Carter had just left when Mariah drove up, and when she saw the Porsche, she stopped to look it over carefully before going into the shop. “So who belongs to that cherry-red beauty in front of my work bay?” she asked Neil as soon as she walked through the door. “I hope the fact that it’s parked there means I get to work on her.”
Neil laughed and then explained how the car got there. “But you’ll still have to do Corbets’ van before you do anything else. They’ve been customers here from day one, and I don’t want them to have to wait any longer for their job. They really do need both vans running for their business.
“Okay, I’ll get right on it.”
By 10:30, Mariah had the van done, and Bill and Neil were both busy on the two other jobs that were outstanding that morning. So Neil gave Mariah the go-ahead to start on the Porsche. By noon, they knew it would take another three or four hours – depending on how quickly their parts dealer could deliver the items they needed, so Neil called Sanford and gave him an estimated time.
By 4:00 that afternoon, Mariah was ready to take the Porsche out for a test drive. Neil called Sanford and informed him of the progress, and Sanford was standing in the office waiting when Mariah pulled back onto the lot after the test. He was watching from the front window, and when Mariah got out of the car, his eyes grew wide, and he almost shouted as he turned to look straight at Neil. “What the … what’s that girl doing driving my car?”
“The person driving your car is the mechanic who fixed your car, Mr. Sanford.”
Carter’s eyes grew even bigger. “Do you mean to tell me that you let a woman work on my car?”
“I let one of my top mechanics repair your car. You said you have heard that we do great work here, and Jake there is one of the people who makes that happen.”
“Jake! But … I thought she was a girl!”
Neil grinned. He hadn’t realized that customers might feel confused when they heard the other mechanics call a woman Jake. If he’d thought ahead, he would have tried to remember to call Mariah by her correct name, but it was too late now. “Jake’s her nickname among all of the employees here,” he explained.
Sanford turned back around and looked out at his car. Mariah was nowhere to be seen, but he just stared out the window a few seconds. “Well … I’ll be. I sure never dreamed I’d have that baby worked on by any woman. But …” He turned back to Neil. “If you say she’s one of your best, I’ll have to take your word for it.” His eyes took on a speculative gleam. “In fact … I think I’m looking forward to meeting this paragon of feminine mechanical prowess.”
At that moment Mariah walked in, her eyes sparkling and a huge smile on her face. “That little beauty purrs just like a satisfied kitten,” she announced and then stopped short at the sight of Carter. For his part, Carter was struck dumb for a few seconds. From the window he had been able to see that Mariah was female, but in her uniform and from that distance, he hadn’t been able to establish any details. Now he was taken unaware by the impact of Mariah’s wide smile, her shining eyes, and her face that was flushed with the excitement of putting the car back into perfect condition. She was worth looking at for some time, and he did just that.
But Neil spoke up and introduced Mariah to Carter (by her real name), then looked over the work order she had filled in with the details of her work. Carter stepped forward and extended his hand. “I’m glad to hear the Ruby is running smoothly again,” he said. “She’s my favorite form of transportation, and quite an investment.”
“The Ruby? How delightful that you’ve named her!” said Mariah. “That’s something more people should do with their cars, I think. I like the idea of people naming their homes as well.”
“Oh? You think all homes and cars should have names then?”
Mariah shrugged her shoulders, grinning. “Why not?” She handed the keys to Carter. “Here you go, Mr. Sanford. You’re Ruby is in first-rate condition again.”
“Thank you, Mariah.” Carter looked her up and down again, considering how different she was from most of the women he associated with. He was intrigued by this female mechanic. The experience was something so totally new to him that he wanted to prolong the visit, but Neil spoke up then and asked if he were paying by cash, check, or credit card. Carter handed him his card, and the last of the business was taken care of in record time.
Carter was still trying to think of a way to prolong his time with Mariah, so he asked if she’d be willing to walk out to the car with him and tell him a few more details about the work she’d done. She gladly complied, and Neil stood watching them talk for several minutes. Carter evidently said something funny, because they both laughed, and the conversation seemed to be taking a turn in a different direction because now they were not even looking at the car as they talked. They were just looking at each other.
Something inside Neil tensed as he continued to watch the scene. His stomach seemed to be knotting up, and he realized he’d been almost holding his breath. He shook himself. What on earth was the matter with him anyway? He glanced back out the window, this time trying to size up how much taller Carter was than his own five feet, eleven inches.
He finally forced himself away from the window and back behind the counter to file the papers. Well, he thought, glancing at the clock, if Mariah wasn’t back into the work area within another five minutes, he’d just go out and get her. He could say he needed to talk to her. Of course, he’d have to come up with something important enough to say to her for the excuse to sound realistic.
In the meantime, Carter was saying, “Well, maybe you’d like to go for another ride in her sometime soon – with me.”
Mariah thought about it. She was tempted, but she didn’t really know him yet. “Mmmm … maybe … sometime. But I don’t make a habit of riding around with men I don’t know very well.”
He laughed. “Well, almost everyone in this town knows me and my family. We’re the department store Sanfords. We own a chain of department stores across a six-state area.”
“Oh, I know about your stores,” she said. “In fact, I’ve bought a few things from your stores. But that doesn’t mean I know you.”
He laughed and reached out to touch her cheek lightly. The action was slightly brazen, but so fleeting that she couldn’t really register a complaint, even in her own mind. “Cautious girl, huh? Well … I guess it doesn’t hurt to be careful. I’ll tell you what. Let’s meet someplace for dinner. You can drive yourself if you feel safer, and then you can spend the evening getting to know me. How does that sound?”
Mariah smiled. She’d been wanting some young, single company. She glanced back toward the shop. And, come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t hurt anything to have Neil realize that another man recognized her as an attractive, desirable woman and not just a mechanic. She looked back at Carter.
“Sure. I’d like that. When?”
“Will tomorrow night work for you?”
“Tomorrow’s perfect,” she said, and they settled on a time and place before Carter drove off, waving.
Mariah stood out on the lot a moment longer, collecting her thoughts. Yes, she thought, tomorrow will be absolutely perfect – because it’s Friday night, and Mr. Neil Warner is going to get a surprise when he assumes that I’ll be here after closing again to spend time with him on another non-date.
She was humming to herself as she went to pull the next car into her bay. It was so late now that she wouldn’t be starting on it until tomorrow, but she looked over the work order and started collecting her thoughts so she’d be ready as soon as she got to work.
As she finished, she walked over to Neil, who was finishing up the job he’d been working on before Carter had interrupted him. “By the way, Neil, I’m not going to be able to work with you on the books tomorrow evening. I hope that’s okay. I’ve made some other plans for this Friday.”
“Oh?” was all Neil said, and kept his head under the hood of the car he was working on.
“That’s okay, isn’t it? I mean we’ve gotten most of the bookwork under control now, haven’t we?”
Finally he raised his head and stood wiping his wrench with a rag as he answered.
“Sure. I told you in the beginning that I felt I shouldn’t take your time for that anyway. You can skip it anytime you want to.” Neil’s face registered disappointment as clearly as if he’d been a small boy. He didn’t realize it, of course, but Mariah saw it, and her woman’s heart tugged at her so hard that she almost changed her mind. At that instant, though, Neil said just the wrong thing.
“You’re Friday nights are your own, Jake.”
That did it. Who could feel anything with a woman’s heart when she’s being called ‘Jake’ by the man her heart’s reaching out to?
Nope. She was going out to dinner with Carter tomorrow, and she’d bet a month’s salary that Carter Sanford wouldn’t call her ‘Jake’ one time all evening.
The following evening, Mariah dressed with extra care. It had been so long since she had actually been on a date – a real date – that she felt as nervous as a school girl. But one thing she didn’t have to worry about was clothes – thanks to having worked in two boutiques during her non-mechanic years. In each of them, due to her employee status, she had been allowed discounts on her own purchases, so she had three up-to-date evening outfits just hanging around waiting to be worn.
It didn’t take her anytime at all to choose. The peach colored cocktail dress virtually called her name when she opened the closet. The truth was that she had been thinking of herself in that dress from the minute Carter had issued his invitation. The lines were simple and flattering to her figure, and the silver strapped sandals – three inches of madness purchased the day before she’d been fired by Patricia – would be the perfect accent. Her dad had told her she was crazy to force her feet and legs into such contortions, but when you know in your heart that you’re an auto mechanic, you just have to try extra hard to make yourself feel really feminine sometimes. So, for tonight, she’d suffer and enjoy every minute of it.
She arrived at the restaurant about five minutes before the appointed time and found Carter standing near the door waiting for her. He let out a low whistle – not loud enough for other guests to notice, but loud enough to boost Mariah’s self-esteem about six feet. True to his official social position, he had made reservations and was accorded the best the house had to offer. Service was flawless, as were the table appointments and the food.
His first words after they had ordered were the ones Mariah had expected. “So, Mariah Jacoby, tell me about yourself.” Not very original, but certainly acceptable from a first-time date. So Mariah complied, hitting only the highest of the highlights, since she was still feeling her way with this new acquaintance. But she told him enough that he would know right off the bat that she was a serious-minded, Christ-centered woman. “Regardless of what else I do with my life,” she told him, “I want to be as clear and effective a witness for Jesus and His love as I can.”
Carter was just a little non-plussed, but did a good job of not letting that fact show. The truth was that he had never, in all his thirty years, sat at dinner with a woman who talked about religion in any form at all. And this lady seemed to be focused on it. Good grief, he thought. What have I gotten myself into? But the longer he looked at her, seeing how she sparkled when she talked about what was so important to her, he warmed to her manner and her natural charm to the point he felt he could ignore the actual topic itself.
Then she asked him about his own life, and, naturally, there was nothing Carter enjoyed talking about more than himself and his accomplishments. He hadn’t been totally idle, he assured her. He had gone to work for the company at the ground floor – a requirement instituted by his grandfather – the original department store entrepreneur in the family. He had proven himself in business and moved quickly to the executive branch of the company, doing his share now in the publicity department.
He enjoyed that immensely because it added to his opportunities to connect with models and other popular public figures. His calendar was full of parties, public functions, theatrical productions, cruises, and all manner of entertainment. One fact he didn’t share was that he had been required to cancel one such function in order to take Mariah to dinner, but the entertaining thought of dating an auto mechanic just couldn’t be beaten right now.
The truth was that he was bored with all of his life, and he hoped Mariah would jolt him out of that boredom. Of course, he didn’t tell her that either. He simply emphasized his part in the actual work of the company. He didn’t want her to see him as a playboy – at least not just yet.
After dinner, they danced, and then ended the evening at the bar for what Carter referred to as a “toast to his most extraordinary date.” Mariah drank an occasional glass of wine, but she seldom drank anything at all when she was driving, so she opted for some fruit juice. Carter raised his eyebrows, but said nothing when she explained about the driving. She wanted to say that he had already downed three glasses of wine and then a brandy, and she was worried about how he would get home safely. She wanted to say it – but she didn’t. After all, this was a first date, and she didn’t want to come off sounding too much like a preacher.
As soon as she’d drunk half of her juice, she said, “I really do need to be going, Carter. I have an early morning with some pretty complicated work ahead of me.” By this time, Carter was beginning to show the effects of the alcohol he had imbibed, and his grin was just slightly lopsided. His eyes sparkled in fun as they pierced hers, but his words carried just a hint of a slur.
“Oh, that’s right!” He held up one index finger and pointed it at her. “My little grease-monkey! I almost forgot.”
Ice water could not have sent a more effective chill through Mariah. She was caught so unprepared for that nick-name that she couldn’t even think of any response. Not that she needed any. Carter was imbued with just enough alcohol not to care what she might say. He put money down on the counter and stood to his feet. Mariah got up as well and preceded him to the foyer. The doorman took care of ordering their cars to the front, and Carter walked Mariah to her car door. He reached out and ran his finger along the side of her face and smiled again. This time his smile seemed normal – probably due to the bracing effect of the night air he was now standing in.
“Thank you for being a most charming dinner companion, Mariah Jacoby,” he said, with no slur to his words. “I consider myself honored by your presence here tonight.”
Mariah’s head was spinning. This man had jumped from addressing her as a “grease-monkey” to describing her as a “charming dinner companion” in about five minutes’ time. But his smile was certainly disarming, and his voice sounded so sincere that she decided to forgive the earlier comment.
“I enjoyed the evening too, Carter. Thank you.”
“And you’ll go out with me again, won’t you? What about this weekend? Do you play tennis?
“Well … yes, I play tennis.”
“Great! I’m in a tennis tournament with some friends for a charity fundraiser this weekend. You come, and when the tournament is over, we’ll all sit around and visit and then take to the courts just for fun. What do you say?”
“I suppose I could. Is it Saturday?
“Yes, the tournament is in the morning. Then we’ll lunch. You can meet some of my best friends; and we’ll play a game or two together after lunch.”
“We alternate Saturdays at the shop, so I’m free this weekend. That sounds like fun.”
“And I’ll come and pick you up in the Ruby.”
A tiny alarm went off in Mariah’s head. She wasn’t totally convinced that it would be safe to ride with a man who seemed to enjoy his liquor as much as Carter had tonight. She’d better play it safe and stick with her own car. She told him she’d rather drive herself.
“Oh, Mariah, you are spoiling my fun,” he said now, but still with his infectious grin. “I want to show the Ruby off to you – show you what a great job you did with her.”
“I know what a great job I did,” she answered, grinning back. “I test-drove her when I finished, remember?”
“All right; have it your own way,” he said. Then he kissed his fingers and placed them on her lips. “I can tell you’re not a kiss-on-the-first-date kind of girl, so I’ll settle for this.” He winked at her. “I’ll call you with directions to the country club.”
“Fine. Good night, Carter,” she said as she slipped into her seat behind the wheel. “Thanks again.” He waved, and she drove off.
The following day Mariah was in the office entering some data from a repair job into the computer when a florist van drove onto the lot. She figured it was someone bringing the van to drop it off for servicing. But a couple minutes later, the door opened to admit a delivery boy bearing a long, white box tied with pink ribbon. “Got a delivery here for a Ms. Mariah Jacoby,” he said. Mariah’s eye’s grew large, and her heart quickened its beat. At just that moment, Neil walked in and saw the box. His eyebrows went up. “Well, well! He doesn’t waste any time, does he?”
Mariah looked at him a little questioningly, but then hurried to sign for the box. When she opened it, she found so many pink roses that she thought she’d never come to the end of them. Three dozen. She’d never received anything like this in her life. The card was from Carter, of course, and said only “See you Saturday.” She was so excited she didn’t know what to say or do. She looked up at Neil, her eyes alight, hoping he would share in her joy, but, of course, that was impossible. Never mind. She was going to enjoy every minute of these flowers!
“Oh, my gosh! I don’t have anything to put them in!” she said. She glanced at her watch. “Neil, is it alright if I run over to the Dollar Days Store and get some kind of vase big enough for them?”
Neil snorted. “Dollar Days! I can’t imagine you considering a cheap vase from Dollar Days as a proper container for that lot!”
Mariah could hear the snub in his words, but she ignored it. “I’ll find something that’s just fine.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ll be back in about twenty minutes. Thanks, Neil.” And she was out the door before he could say another word.
As soon as the door closed, he went over and picked up the card. He snorted again. “Another date already! Boy, he’s a fast worker. Living up to his reputation, I guess.”
He turned and went back into the work bays, picking up tools to start on a Chevy van. But today, his normal quiet work pattern went out the window. He slammed things down, slammed van doors, kicked wedges out of his way, and just generally stirred up a lot of noise and even dust. Bill said nothing, but, by adding two and two over the past month, he was beginning to figure how the wind was blowing. His next private thought was that maybe they should have guessed something like this would happen if they hired a woman. But, darn it all, Jake was such a good kid and really knew her stuff. He breathed out a sigh and went on working. Maybe things would work themselves out in the long run.
Saturday turned out to be perfect tennis weather, and Mariah donned her brand new tennis outfit with some excitement. She normally just played in comfortable shorts and tops of any kind, but with her entrance into this “country-club” world of Carter’s, she felt she owed it to herself to invest in a tennis outfit that would be fitting for the environment.
Carter introduced her to two other couples and several individual friends. She also met his brother, Robert and his wife. There were a few very casual getting-acquainted questions, but there was no time for involved conversation. While watching the match, though, Robert’s wife, who sat beside her, started asking questions about her work. “Carter tells us that you are an auto mechanic. Is that really true?”
Mariah looked at her briefly, but then returned her attention to the match. “Actually, I’m a teacher and a newspaper reporter.”
“Oh! Well, why on earth – ”
“But I get my kicks from working on cars.”
Her listener seemed genuinely interested now. “Really! Well … I’m glad to hear that! I told Carter that I didn’t think any respectable woman would make her living as an auto mechanic, and, I admit, I was a little worried about what he was getting into – getting hooked up with someone who did. But now … this changes everything! I must say, you are brave, though. Most of us rebel against our parents’ upbringing in more demoralizing ways. But you’ve chosen to actually work – and dirty work at that – as a way of rebelling and having a stab at being independent.”
Mariah almost snorted, and when she caught herself – just in time – she thought of Neil. That’s the reaction he would be having to this conversation. Something tender inside seemed to come flooding through her at the thought. A little flutter in her heart was all it took for her to realize that even though she was here with a man who made it clear he thought she was every inch a woman, the place she really wanted to be was with Neil.
She shook herself. Stop that, Mariah, she scolded herself. The man thinks you’re a workhorse, and that’s that. Just be thankful he gave you a job and that the work environment is cordial, and let it go at that. There’s plenty of other men who can make your life enjoyable as a woman.
At that moment, Carter made the winning score for his match, and he immediately looked over and caught Mariah’s eye. He blew her a kiss – for all the world to see. She blushed, but she smiled widely. Now there, she thought, is the way a man should treat a lady!
That afternoon, as they played tennis together, Mariah felt free and happy. She enjoyed the game itself, and Carter seemed to take delight in her skill. They separated to shower and change and then met again for dinner in the club dining room. Carter was attentive, and, to Mariah’s relief, he drank very little.
As they walked to the parking lot, he took her hand, and when they stopped beside her car, he leaned down and kissed her very gently. It took her somewhat by surprise, but the experience was so pleasant that she felt almost giddy. He smiled and then looked at her seriously.
“Tomorrow afternoon, I am coming by to pick you up, and we are going for a drive in the Ruby.” He held up a finger to ward off any resistance. “No ‘buts.’ I’d like to take you for a drive and show you our family’s farm.”
“Farm! I thought you owned department stores!”
He laughed. “We do indeed. But Grandfather was born on a farm, and it’s been in the family for generations. We still own it, and periodically we go out for big family reunions – catered, of course.”
“Of course,” Mariah said, grinning.
“Anyway, we are going for that drive, and if you’ll smile at me with that intoxicating smile of yours, I’ll even let you drive the Ruby.”
Mariah grinned at him, “You’ve got a deal.”
“Good. Now, good night, Sweet Mariah. I’ll be by … oh … how does 10:00 sound?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Carter, I thought you meant tomorrow afternoon. I go to church in the morning.” Her eyes lit up. “Why don’t you come with me, and then we can leave for the farm.”
He shook his head. “No, no. I don’t do church, Mariah. And, frankly, if I did walk into your church, the roof would undoubtedly come crashing down around us. No … I’ll wait until afternoon. How’s 2:00?
Mariah was disappointed. “You know the roof will not come down if you go to church, Carter. Surely you’ve been to church services before.”
“Only to weddings and funerals – and sometimes I’ve been hard pressed to figure out the difference. But no … no Sunday morning religion for me, my girl. If you enjoy it, you go ahead and go, but please don’t try to push me to do the same.”
Mariah knew she’d be talking to a stone wall if she continued to try changing his mind, so she accepted his words at face value. “Okay, Carter. I won’t be pushy. And I can be ready by 2:00.”
He touched her cheek again – she was getting used to this. “That’s my girl,” he said, with his customary grin.
Sunday afternoon was exhilarating. They’d put the top down on the Porsche, and true to his word, Carter had told her to take the driver’s seat. The car was a delight to drive, and Mariah, true to her mechanic’s nature, exalted in all of its expensive finer points. The Sanford farm was huge and even more picturesque than she’d imagined, and when Carter insisted they pull up by a stream and have a picnic, she was thrilled to find he had brought an inordinate amount of food in two baskets that had been hidden in the trunk.
As they rested after eating, Carter sat close beside her, putting his arm around her. Eventually, he had leaned down and kissed her – gently at first – but then more insistently. Mariah thrilled to the kiss, and even as it intensified, she realized that this was something she had wanted all her life, but had almost given up on finding. Gradually, though, Carters embraces became more personal than she was comfortable with, and she had to resist.
“Carter, you need to understand. I’m not into loose relationships. I know it’s quite acceptable among most people for sex to be rather casual, but I’m not one of those people.”
Carter sighed, resigned. He had spent enough time with her by now that he at least recognized her strength of character. He knew he wasn’t going to convince her to change her attitude about casual sex anytime soon. But, their relationship was young yet. He’d have to be patient.
At work on Monday, Bill casually asked Mariah what she’d done with her weekend. He hadn’t thought about the fact that she might have spent the whole weekend with Carter. But when she answered him – and sounded as though she’d had a terrific time – he was sorry he’d asked. And he was especially sorry when he realized Neil had walked into the work bay area in time to hear Mariah’s answer. One glance at his boss’ tightened lips and stormy brow told Bill that they were in for some complications if they didn’t all tread very softly.
Unfortunately, that treading got a lot more difficult around 1:00 that afternoon, when the florist delivered another three dozen roses – red this time. The card, when Neil finally got a chance to read it secretly, said “Thank you for making yesterday unforgettable.”
Neil’s heart almost stopped at those words. What on earth had she done yesterday to make it unforgettable? Surely not …that! He couldn’t even stand to go there in his mind. No. She was too serious a Christian to do that. But the very imagination of it rankled. His stomach was in knots, his breathing short, his head a little dizzy. It was all he could do not to tear up that card. He shoved the desk chair against the desk so hard it jarred the computer and caused a box of paper clips to fall off and scatter on the floor. He had to get out of there.
“Bill!” he yelled as he walked to the door of the work area. “I’m going out and check on some parts. I’ll be back in about an hour!”
“Sure thing. We’ll hold down the fort,” Bill answered, wondering at Neil’s leaving to check on parts when he could have picked up the phone. But he wasn’t asking any questions.
Neil drove – going nowhere in particular – just driving – running – from his own thoughts and fears. He was losing her. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he spoke out loud to himself. “You never had her. How could you lose her? But to have to let her go to some punk like Sanford. He’s nothing but a playboy, and he’s just having a fling with Mariah. He isn’t serious about some woman who loves the Lord and lives for Him! Carter only wants a woman who will live for Carter!” His thoughts tore at him. They were so loud in his head that he kept answering them out loud. “Surely, someone as committed as Mariah wouldn’t sell out to that kind of lifestyle! But … what if ….?”
Finally, he stopped at a local cafe for a cup of coffee. He sat at the table periodically rubbing his face with his hands and running his fingers through his hair. The waitress, who didn’t know him, told her boss, “If I don’t miss my guess, that guy’s got love troubles.”
“Well, you just mind your own business, Loraine, and keep the hot coffee going. That’s our job. Working out the love trouble is God’s job.”
Finally, after another half hour, Neil decided he had to get back to the shop. When he walked in, all was quiet; Mariah was out on a test drive, and Bill was under a dodge truck, whistling softly to himself as he worked. Everything seemed almost back to normal as he walked through the bays and into the office. But the first thing he saw when he walked through the office door was that huge bouquet. He glanced at the clock. Five minutes to close. He could make it that long, and then she’d take those confounded things out of here!
Later, after everyone had left except Neil, he sat at the desk thinking. Maybe he should have a long talk with Mariah – try to explain to her that Carter was just using her. But every time he tried to think of the right words to use, he kept getting tongue-tied – even though the conversation was taking place in his mind. If he was this bad in a mental conversation, he’d better not try the real thing!
I’ll try to stay on task and get you Chapter Seven tomorrow.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Fortunately, Adam didn’t have long to wait. Neil walked into the office about ten minutes later, carrying a bag of food that stirred Adam’s appetite even more. But more attention-grabbing than the food was the uniform Neil was wearing. Up until the last time Adam had visited the shop, Neil and his men had been wearing the same standard blue coveralls with the company name on the left pocket. Neil had found them at a bargain from a local supplier the week he opened the shop, and he’d never wanted to spend money to replace them.
Mariah – he’d noticed after she stood up – was wearing a hunter green, almost form-fitting uniform with tan stitching around the collar and sleeves. The company name and her name were stitched into the fabric in the same tan color. Adam hadn’t given it much thought at the time, but when Neil came through the door wearing a matching uniform, Adam did take notice. Neil had forked over a good penny or two to outfit the whole staff in new uniforms evidently, and Adam was beginning to suspect that Mariah’s presence accounted for that decision.
“Mariah, they didn’t have your barbecued chicken today – oh – Dad – good to see you –” came from Neil before he slapped his hand to his head and looked stressed. “Oh, no … did we have an appointment for lunch?”
Adam held up his hand to stem his son’s repentance. “No, no. I just stopped by on the chance you’d have time to do lunch with me. No problem. We’ll do it another day. I’ve enjoyed my visit anyway because I got to meet your newest mechanic. Mariah’s been entertaining me just fine.”
At the mention of her name, Neil returned to his unfinished comment to her. “Oh, yeah, they didn’t have your barbecued chicken, so I got you the roast beef.”
“Great,” she said opening the sack and sniffing appreciatively. “I’ll just go sit on the bench out back and see if I can settle these hunger pains while you two visit.’
She smiled at Adam. “I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet you, Mr. Warner.”
“Same here, Mariah. And, please, call me Adam.”
“Great. Hope to see you again soon,” she said and then turned to Neil. “Just yell if you need me.”
“We’ll be fine. Take your time eating. You’ve earned it watching the shop so I could get away.”
As Mariah walked out the door, Adam looked again at his son. Was he blushing? Neil? Blushing? Maybe his face just had more color because he’d been walking in the sun, but he’d swear Neil Warner was blushing. Man, he wished Elizabeth were here, because she’d know for sure.
“New uniforms, I see,” he said now.
Neil looked down at his own uniform and grinned. “Yeah. I know Mom has mentioned a few times that she thought it was time to spruce up our outfits, but I just held off spending the money. But when Mariah came on, we didn’t have anything at all that really fit her. She picked up a couple of cheap overalls to get through the first couple weeks, but I knew we’d have to have something for her that matched the rest. And when I got to looking at how worn they were, I decided it was a good time to order for all of us.
“Mariah suggested that since you see the blue so many places now days, maybe a more distinctive color would help us stand out in people’s minds. She asked me what my favorite color was, and when she found out it was green, she went to work checking to see if we could get uniforms that color. She found me a good deal on price too, so I took the plunge,” he finished, with a boyish grin at his dad.
Adam nodded. “I like them. And I like the idea of a more distinctive color.” He paused, and Neil, who had stood there looking slightly ill at ease, moved to the other side of the counter and started sorting some papers. Adam guessed right that the action was more to calm him than anything else. Yep … there was something up with his number two son, but he’d have to tread lightly to find out the details.
“Mariah was entertaining me with the story of how she came to work here,” he said now, his tone light and bantering.
Neil laughed. “Yeah, that’s quite a story alright.” He scratched his head and then leaned on the counter, looking his dad in the eye for the first time that day. “You know, Dad, there was just something in here,” he said, touching his chest to indicate his heart, “something deep inside that just seemed to say this was right. She walked in right when I was getting desperate for help, and I learned later that she was pretty desperate herself where a job was concerned. That’s a long story, but as I’ve pieced it together, I’ve realized that Mariah is one of those rare women who seems to have been born to work under the hood of a car, but has always been pushed to try to do some more ‘lady-like’ work instead. It was getting to her.”
He motioned his hand toward the work-bay area. “Why she’s as happy as a lark here,” he said, his own voice registering awe at the truth of what he was saying. “She even sings almost all the time she’s working. And the other guys think she’s great. They treat her like she’s a brother, but –” he held up a finger to make a point – “they feel as protective of her as if she were their own sister.”
Neil’s voice grew more excited as he talked, and his eyes took on a sparkle. Elizabeth had told Adam that men weren’t the most perceptive individuals on the planet, but today even he could perceive that his son was smitten with his new mechanic – and not just because she could wield a wrench with the best of them. He smiled. Maybe Elizabeth’s worries about Neil’s lack of a personal life were just about over.
By the end of the month it was clear to see that the business was growing even more, and Neil was starting to feel more pressure where the bookwork was concerned. Mariah walked in one evening to say good night and found him running his hands through his hair and sighing out loud. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Neil looked up at her and just rested his eyes on her for a moment. Then he smiled. “Nothing really. Just a lot more bookwork than I bargained for in the beginning. And I hate the stuff – the bookwork, I mean.”
She chuckled. “I understand. So do I. But … I don’t mind trying to help with it if that would take some of the pressure off you.”
He smiled at her again. “I appreciate it, Jake, but I just can’t afford to pay you to do office work on top of the repair work. And I do need you in those bays out there.”
“Oh, Neil! Don’t be ridiculous. You took a chance on me when I really needed – and wanted – a job here. I’d be glad to help you sort some of this stuff out and help keep it caught up – at least for a while. If the business grows more the rest of this year, you’ll eventually have to hire someone else to do the bookwork anyway most likely.”
He shook his head. “I can’t let you do that.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. I’ll go lock up the bay area and be right back. You can at least acquaint me with what you need done, and we’ll work out a plan that I can help with.”
She suited actions to her words and was back beside him in two minutes. “Well, if you insist, then I’ll order us a pizza, and we can at least eat while we work.”
“That sounds good to me.”
Neil called in the order, and they set to work, stopping only long enough to receive delivery of the pizza and grab a couple pieces from the box.
For the next four weeks, the pattern was set. Every Friday evening, they ordered pizza and worked on the accounting – usually not quitting until close to 10:00. But the intensity of the work changed gradually over that period of time, until almost half the time was spent in personal conversation, getting to know each other more intimately. The intensity of the work grew less, while the intensity of their relationship grew stronger.
Mariah found herself hesitant to leave on those evenings – even though she had put in more than twelve hours of work. And she was pretty sure Neil felt the same way. She had hoped he might invite her to go out with him some evening, where they wouldn’t feel constrained to talk shop. But, so far, he didn’t show any signs of doing so. And even though, she was far from a social butterfly, Mariah was beginning to feel the down side of living in a new town with only Abby and Seth to socialize with. She was getting to know a few people at church pretty well, but the ones she felt closest to were married couples as well, and she needed some single friends to go out with occasionally.
After another month, Mariah began to realize that Neil was enjoying their Friday night “work dates” a lot. She referred to them in her own mind as “work dates” because by this time, the bookwork was running so smoothly that they didn’t need to stay every Friday and work together. In fact, they spent most of the time now just talking, sharing, enjoying being together – the things people did on real dates. She had to wonder: couldn’t Neil see what was happening? Didn’t he want something more than just hanging around the shop together?
She talked to Abby and Seth about it. Seth’s reply was sympathetic, but practical. “Well, that’s his comfort zone, Jake.” After Mariah had told them about the nickname the guys at the shop had given her, Seth had insisted on calling her by that name as well.
“Yes, I understand that, Seth, but all guys feel more comfortable in their own home or their own work place, but that doesn’t keep them from ever asking a girl on a date.”
Seth held up his hand. “Now, hold on and let me finish. From what you’ve told me, Neil sounds like a quiet, almost retiring sort of individual, and may, in fact, be pretty shy. Maybe spending this much time with any woman and letting his guard down the way he has with you is completely new for him. And if so, he’s just not ready to take the next step yet.”
Mariah heaved a sigh. “Boy, that’s some huge case of shyness, if you ask me.”
“Well … would you like my opinion now?” Abby asked.
“Sure,” Mariah said, turning to her best friend.
“I think the man sees you as a fellow mechanic – you know – one of the guys – that he can let his hair down with and not feel threatened the way he would with a real woman —”
“What do you mean a real woman!” Marial interrupted.
“Well, let’s face it, Mariah. The man calls you Jake for heaven’s sake. Do you think he sees you more as a desirable woman or as a workmate?
“No, no. Hear me out. If he is shy and a little backward about asking a woman on a date, his feeling like you’re more one of the guys – one of his ordinary friends – serves as a buffer for him right now. I think he really does care about you. He certainly has all the symptoms. You said when he goes to lunch he almost always brings you something special even if you’ve already eaten – a candy bar you especially like or a some ice cream, etc. And you said when he has to make trips out of town for something, he does the same thing and almost always comes back with some kind of treat for you. Now, he doesn’t do that for all the other mechanics, right?”
“So … that means he feels something for you that he doesn’t feel for the other ‘guys,’” Abby said as she made quote signs in the air around ‘guys.’
“Well, again … thanks!”
Abby giggled. “Don’t get smart here. I’m trying to help.”
“Well, you’re not!”
“What I’m trying to say is that he’s sort of caught in a trap. He really likes you and wants to be with you, but he has been able to relate to you only in the situation at work. He hasn’t been able to step out of that workplace and see you as he would see any other woman – say, maybe one he met at a party somewhere.”
“Yeah, I guess you have a point.”
“So … I think you may just have to come up with a way to get him to see you from a totally different perspective.”
“Well great … and just how, best friend, do you suggest I do that?”
Abby chewed gently on her forefinger as she thought. Finally she shook her head slowly. “I don’t know yet, but there has to be a way.”
Seth got up. “Well, I can tell this is going to deteriorate into a ‘how to trap a man’ discussion, so I think it’s time for me to leave.” Abby threw a pillow from the sofa at him, and Mariah stuck out her tongue, but he ignored both and removed himself to his study.
By the time Mariah left for her own apartment an hour later, the girls hadn’t laid out a workable plan, but other events were taking place outside their personal sphere that were about to have an effect on Mariah’s situation. Unknown to her, as she slept peacefully in her own comfy bed, an exceedingly wealthy young man by the name of Carter Sandford was having serious trouble with his Porsche. He got as far as Neil’s Auto Service, and just before it died completely, he parked his ruby red beauty right outside Mariah’s work bay.
Tomorrow: Chapter Five
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
When Mariah heard the words, “You’re hired,” she was so startled that she didn’t take in Neil’s next words. He had turned and walked to the office, and Mariah stared after him for several seconds before her brain brought his words into focus and she followed him.
“Pull that red Chevy into the bay you were using, and I’ll get the work order for it.” He was still in the office, but Mariah sent a brisk military salute his direction and spoke out loud, “Yes, sir, Boss!”
She then made a beeline for the Chevy, but before she started work on it, she took a minute to call Abby and let her know she wouldn’t be back to the house as soon as planned. She didn’t go into any details but told her she was trying out for a job and would explain when she got home. Then she went straight to work and didn’t stop until she’d finished the Chevy and a Dodge truck.
By that time, Neil was ready to close for the day, and although she was tired enough physically to be dragging, Mariah felt rejuvenated inside. She had thoroughly enjoyed herself working alongside Bill and Neil, and they had quickly developed a sense of camaraderie. Evidently the heavy workload had helped both men to put aside any awkwardness caused by the fact that she was a woman, and they had all three worked together in a pleasant, cordial atmosphere. And to Neil’s delight, they had managed to repair and service all but two of the vehicles that had been lined up when Mariah had stopped for help.
After Neil drove off, headed for home, he tried to get his mind to methodically go back over all that had transpired since Mariah had walked into his office. But he couldn’t really get it all to make sense. He was a believer, and although he didn’t generally make an issue of his faith to people, he did talk things over with the Lord in the manner of friends throughout the day. “Lord,” he said now, “I hope I’ve heard You right today. It just seemed right somehow to put Mariah to work, but I’m sure trusting You to cover me on this. It’s so different from anything I’ve thought about doing in the business.” He chuckled softly. “But I guess You know that all ready.”
He turned into the drive of a local barbecue restaurant to order a carry-out meal, and then proceeded to his home where he slumped down on his living room sofa and dug into his food with a vengeance. He realized right then that he’d forgotten all about getting lunch in the press of getting all of the jobs done. But now — thanks to Mariah — tomorrow would be better.
Meanwhile, Mariah had stopped by one of the chain superstores to purchase overalls that would fit her better so that she could work more easily. When she finally arrived at Abby and Seth’s, they were just putting supper on the table. “Oh, I’m glad you’re here, Ry,” Abby said. “I was beginning to get a little worried.” She stopped and looked more intently at her friend. “My goodness, you look like you’ve been through the mill, hon. You’re hair looks like you’ve been running your hands through it, and there’s a dark smudge on your jaw.”
Mariah put her hand up to her hair and chuckled. “I didn’t realize I looked that bad,” she said. “I guess I should have taken the time to check before I went shopping.”
“Well, just to pick up a couple of overalls.”
“Overalls!” Abby and Seth were both staring at her now.
“Yeah,” she said, grinning broadly. “I have a job!”
“What … what … kind … of job?” Abby asked, looking suspicious.
“At Neil’s Auto Center over on Ludlow Drive.”
Abigail sat down on one of the chairs beside the table. “Auto Center!”
“Hey,” Seth chimed, “you mean you’re going to be a mechanic?” He seemed to be enjoying the idea.
Mariah nodded, still grinning. “Isn’t it great?”
Seth looked at his wife, who still seemed to be in shock. “Honey, you know, Mariah used to love those auto shop classes. You’ve told me more than once that she would just as soon be under the hood of a car as on a dance floor.”
Abby nodded her head in agreement. “Yeah,” she answered, still looking just a little bewildered, “but I guess I just assumed that she had traded all of that in for teaching school or writing.” She looked intently at her friend. “You do look a lot happier than I’ve seen you since you got here, Ry.”
“Well, it’s not a permanent job. But when I stopped because of a problem with my own car this morning and found that Neil was really short-handed due to the illness of two of his guys, I just got this brainstorm. And … well … it took a little convincing to get him to give me a try, but … well … I think he was really pleased with my work,” she said, not able to hide the note of pride in her voice.
“And I’m sorry to be so late and then have to ask you to excuse me even longer so I can get a quick shower, but you all go ahead and eat.”
“We’ll start,” Abby said, getting up now, “and you come on in whenever you’re ready. Just put on a robe if you like. You’re among family here, you know.”
The following day, Mariah arrived early and jumped into her work humming a song. By noon she had tackled a leaking fuel line, worn rear brakes, and two oil changes. She asked Bill to test drive the car with the repaired breaks – just to double check her work. As he parked the Chrysler and got out, she hurried up to him. “Did everything check out to your satisfaction?” she asked.
He gave her a thumbs up sign and grinned. “Everything’s Jake.” he said, his grin broadening. Mariah caught the play on her name instantly and grinned with him. From that day, it became one of his favorite quotes, and when Kurt came back to work the following week, he picked up on it as well. By the end of the month Neil had caught the spirit of the joke and couldn’t help teasing her with the same comment.
Mariah went into the office to talk with him about plans for the future, now that Kurt was carrying his full load and Bobby was due back in four weeks.
He looked up from the desk where he was getting a deposit ready for the bank. “Hi,” she said, shoving her hands into her back pants’ pockets and walking around the counter to get closer to the desk.
“Hey, Jake,” he said, grinning at her, waiting to see how she would take to the nickname. Up to that point they had used the name only when commenting on her work, but Neil was feeling closer to her now and wanted to build on the easy friendship that seemed to have developed between them.
She giggled, but didn’t contradict him. Finally she spoke, “I … uh … was wondering ….” She stopped, not sure how to ask if she was going to have a job after the next four weeks.
“Yes?” he said, putting down his pen and leaning back in the chair.
Mariah took a deep breath. “Well, I know Bobby’s supposed to come back in four weeks, and I guess I was just wondering if there was any chance you might be able to still use me around here after he comes back.” She heaved a big sigh, making it clear it had been hard on her to ask the question.
“Well … about that,” Neil began. “I had a long talk with Bobby yesterday evening. He told me he’s thinking about going back to school. And if he does, he won’t be available to work for me except on weekends.”
Mariah’s eyes lit up. She knew that made her look a little mercenary, but she couldn’t seem to help it. “Soooooo ….” She let the word hang.
Neil grinned broadly. “Sooooo … I was thinking about asking you to stay on.”
Her face glowed. “Really?”
He held up one hand. “With one reservation,” he added – a more serious tone in his voice.
“Okay,” she said, her eyes now a little wary.
“All of the guys I’ve employed have degrees, and I advertise that my business offers men who are not only skilled in “hands-on” training, but well educated in the latest technology available for repair and servicing of all kinds of vehicles. It’s important that I maintain that standard —”
“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mariah rushed to interrupt. “I can take the courses and get the degree!”
“You’d be willing to do that – without wasting any time about it?”
“You bet!” she said. “I already have some credits in that direction, you know, and I’ll check at the local college and find out what’s available this fall term.”
“All right then,” Neil said, standing up suddenly and extending his hand to her. “You’re officially part of the family, Jake!”
She gripped his hand in her firmest hold and pumped it up and down, grinning from ear to ear. “Thanks, Boss! You won’t be sorry!”
The following week a quiet, well-dressed man walked into the office and addressed Mariah, who was alone there, reading from the computer screen. She turned when he spoke and smiled suddenly, realizing she felt she should know this man. No name came to mind. He was past middle age, but looked fit, and he acted like he was quite comfortable in the place.
“Where will I find Neil?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry; he’s out to lunch right now. But he should be back in half an hour. Can I help you?”
He looked disappointed and shook his head. “No. I don’t need any work done. Just hoped I could take him to lunch.”
“I’m sorry you missed him. He’s had a full week of over-work and has barely grabbed a bite here between repairs, so when things settled down today, I insisted that he leave the premises and sit down and have a decent lunch.”
At her words about “insisting” Neil leave for lunch, the visitor’s brows rose significantly. This was a brand new twist at Neil’s Auto Center. He had to learn more, but he barely held back a chuckle as he asked, “And Neil obeyed you when you … uh … insisted?”
“Well … I can be pretty … persuasive sometimes.” She grinned at the man, still pulled by the feeling she should know him well. “Some people have called me bossy, but I like persuasive better.”
The man did chuckle then. “So are you the new secretary?”
“Oh, no!” she said, bouncing up and heading toward the counter. “I’m sorry: I should have introduced myself.” She reached her hand across the counter to him. “I’m Jake … well … actually Mariah … but they all call me Jake around here. I’m the new mechanic.”
The visitor had gripped her hand warmly, but at her last statement, he convulsively gripped tighter, as his mouth dropped open and his eyes grew to twice normal size. “You’re … you’re the new …” His words trailed off, and he finally released her hand. “Well … I’ll be ….”
Mariah realized he was shocked, and she saw curiosity replace surprise as he continued looking at her. She was used to that kind of reaction – especially from the older generation. Woman mechanics weren’t all that prevalent a few decades ago, and even today, some men considered women who worked on cars nothing but tomboys – or worse: misfits in society altogether.
The visitor rubbed his chin now, and instantly Mariah realized why he looked familiar. She had seen Neil rub his own chin the same way, and with that gesture, the visitor’s likeness to Neil was unmistakable.
“Wait a minute!” She blurted, her eyes alight. “Are you, by any chance, Neil’s father?”
He grinned at her. “That I am. Adam Warner’s my name.”
“Oh, I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Warner,” she said, grabbing his hand again and pumping it up and down. “You have a terrific son! But I guess you know that.”
He managed to release his hand and rested it on the counter. “I tend to agree with you, Mariah, but it’s good to know others see him as I do.”
He moved both hands to his pockets now and tried to act nonchalant rather than sound like he was giving her the third degree. But Elizabeth would never forgive him if he went home and told her that her son had hired a woman mechanic and left it at that.
“So how long have you been here at Neil’s place?”
“Just since last Monday. It was the most fortunate thing that I found him, and that he was brave enough to hire me on the spot.”
Adam’s brows rose once more at her description of how she’d been hired, and he had to make some quick mental adjustments concerning the kind of behavior he’d been used to from his son. Normally a deep, unhurried thinker, Neil had never indicated any tendencies to act on impulse concerning his business or his personal life either one. Adam could hardly wait to ask questions as soon as he got Neil to himself.
And he could hear Elizabeth now. She was a strong romantic at heart, and this kind of scenario was enough to send her out to look at wedding invitations. Yep, he’d better hang around and have a word with his youngest son and see if he could get a handle on these strange events.
Find Chapter Four here tomorrow.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
The next Monday, while on her way to apply for a position she had heard about at church the previous day, she began having trouble with her car. It kept dying at every stop sign, and then began jerking and trying to die in the middle of traffic. She remembered passing an auto repair center several times on that end of town, so she made her way there now, gritting her teeth and praying that she could make it there without getting stranded in the middle of the road somewhere.
As she pulled in, she realized that there were several cars ahead of her, but she hoped that since she had a sort of emergency situation, that might weigh heavily with the manager. If she’d had tools and parts, of course, she could have fixed it herself, but that was like wishing for the moon, since she didn’t even have a screwdriver with her this trip. And boy was that stupid, she told herself. At least she could have come better prepared to cope with car problems. But she had been pretty depressed by the time she’d set out for Abby’s, so that probably accounted for her lack of thought on the subject
She quickly called the employer she had the appointment with to explain the situation and then got out and walked toward the open work bays. Even though the day was warm, she could feel the change in temperature as she entered the cool interior and adjusted her eyes to the darker atmosphere. She sniffed the air, recognizing the smells of a normal auto shop — smells she was comfortable with — and she smiled slightly. She could hear the sounds of someone working and finally managed to see a man half submerged beneath the hood of a luxury car leaning over the engine, totally absorbed. She needed to go into the office area. Turning half circle, she saw the office door and headed inside.
Even cooler air from the office air conditioner hit her as she stepped through the door. There was one man inside, leaning slightly on a high counter, writing something out by hand. He looked back at his computer screen, which was sitting on a desk behind the counter, then turned back and wrote some more. He looked a little taller than her, and slightly heavy set. It was obvious that he weighed in a little over normal. Probably most of it was muscle, but she doubted that all of it was. He had dark brown hair, liberally striped with gray. His face had a few lines that she could see around his mouth and eyes, but it was rather nice looking — at least what she could see of it with his head down a little. He looked back at his computer again, and spoke something in an exasperated voice, scratched his head, and turned back to the counter.
But before Mariah could get his attention, the front door to the office opened, and a man came in with a set of keys in his hand. “Here’s my keys, Neil. I’ll be back around closing time to pick it up.”
The man behind the counter slapped his palm against his forehead. “Oh, for crying out loud, Paul. I forgot all about you coming in today, or I’d have called you.”
“Boy is that an understatement! Kurt’s off sick with the flu, and Bobby fell off a ladder at home yesterday and broke his arm — pretty bad break too.”
“Wow, that’s tough. Is he going to be all right?’
“Well, they seem to think so, but they’re saying at least six to eight weeks until he can come back to work.”
The customer let out a slow whistle. “So I guess that mean’s you’re too short-handed to service mine today, huh?”
Neil nodded from behind the counter and Paul continued. “No problem. It’s not really giving me any trouble. It was just past time, and I thought this week would work schedule-wise. I’ll give you a call next week and see if you’ve managed to get a temporary replacement.”
Neil shook his head in obvious exasperation. “I appreciate it, Paul. I can’t tell you how sorry I am … for Kurt and Bobby … for all my customers … for Bill out there who’s all by himself except for me … and not least of all for me personally.” He finished that statement with a sheepish grin that made him look like a self-conscious teenager instead of a man old enough to have gray hair. Mariah felt a pang of sympathy for him.
“Well, I’ll get on my way and let you take care of your other customer,” Paul said, looking toward Mariah and nodding briefly. For the first time, the man behind the counter looked over to the side where she still stood close to the door. His eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh … sorry miss. I didn’t realize you were here.” He glanced back at Paul. “Thanks again, Paul. I’ll get to you as soon as possible; I promise.” His customer lifted his hand in a brief salute and headed out the door. Neil turned back to Mariah. “Can I help you?”
Mariah had been entertaining the wildest idea ever since she had heard the conversation between the two men. Rather than ask this man who was obviously the garage manager to help her, why not offer to help him? Her eyes twinkled as she stepped closer to the counter, and he looked at her more intently, a slight question in his eyes. Mariah had butterflies in her stomach, but she just knew in her heart that somehow this was right. She spoke with all the confidence and authority she could, so as to drown out her own doubts.
“Well, actually, I think it’s more a question of whether I can help you,” she said, smiling directly into his eyes. He got an even more harassed look in his eyes, brushed his hand through his already disheveled hair and answered her. “Look, ma’m, if you’re selling something, this isn’t the time to talk to me. I’m not going to try to make any decisions about buying anything at all this week!”
“Oh, but I’m – ”
He held up his hand as he interrupted her. “Absolutely nothing at all!”
“But I’m not selling anything. Except … maybe … myself.”
His eyes grew even wider and his face flushed just a little as he looked her up and down, trying to consider what a basically decent woman was doing standing in his office offering to sell him sexual favors. He hadn’t figured out how to answer her without insulting her when it dawned on Mariah that what she had said could have been seriously misinterpreted. Then it was her turn to blush, but she did so with no half-way measures. She turned red and felt as hot as if she’d been standing in front of a 500 degree oven.
“Oh, I … I didn’t mean … I mean … I don’t mean what you think I mean!” She put her hands to her cheeks and felt the heat. She closed her eyes in misery at her foolish words.
“And … uh … just what is it that you think I think you mean?”
“Well … it’s obvious … at least from the look on your face … that you think I mean I’m hear to offer you … uh … well ….” It just kept getting worse with every word, so she stuttered to a stop.
By this time, Neil was starting to feel relieved to know that evidently he’d been mistaken about her words and breathed a sigh of relief. Now he was able to take a little pity on her and he chuckled. “Would you like to start again?”
“Please,” she said, finally beginning to return to normal color.
“But, miss, I have an unbelievably busy day, so could you make it kind of quick?”
“Well, that’s just it,” she said, coming all the way up to the counter now and standing just across from him — only the width of the counter separating them. “You see, I did come to have my car checked out, but when I heard you tell the other man that you were so short-handed, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. But … well, I’m a mechanic myself, and I can fix my own car if I have the tools and a way to order parts.” His jaw dropped open, but she hurried on. “But even more important for you … I can help you with your work here,” she finished, beaming her happiest smile at him.
Once again Neil’s eyes widened, but somehow he did manage to close his mouth. Was there no end of the surprises to come from this perky girl? At the same time he was considering this question, another part of his mind was taking in the fact that, although he wouldn’t have called her beautiful, she had a certain something that drew a man’s attention. She had the kind of face that made you feel good when you looked at her, especially her eyes. They were inviting somehow. Good grief, he needed to get his mind back on his work!
His eyes connected with hers again. “Your … uh … a mechanic, you say?” He didn’t have to say he didn’t believe her. It was too obvious.
“Yes,” she answered eagerly. “Well, not a professional one, you understand.” Neil didn’t think he was understanding much of anything that had happened since he’d looked up and spotted her, but he didn’t have a chance to say so before she added. “But I’ve taken a number of auto mechanics courses in college, and I used to help my brother all the time. I’ve done most of the things that your customers would need done.”
He ran his hand through his hair again. He couldn’t seem to get hold of a sensible response. She still stood there beaming at him. Finally he tried to say something. “Look … miss … I can’t hire just anyone off the street – ”
“Oh, I understand,” she interrupted. “You may even feel you have to have someone with a degree. But couldn’t you take me on as an apprentice for right now, and at least you’d have two more hands to get your customer’s cars serviced and repaired.”
Her eyes sparkled at him, holding him entranced for a few seconds. Just enough time to make him waver in his reply again, and Mariah took advantage of his hesitation. “Tell you what. I have some time right now, so how about if I go to work on my own car, and you can watch me and see if I’m not telling you the truth about how good I am.”
By this time, she was leaning over the counter, close enough for him to see the tiniest sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose, almost completely hidden by her modest make-up. He looked into her warm, sherry-colored eyes and was momentarily lost. “Well … uh … I … I don’t know …”
Her eyes grew more intense, and she pulled back from the counter and stamped her foot. “Well, what have you got to lose?”
He didn’t like being put on a spot like this and made to feel stupid. His voice was a little harsh as he replied out of his frustration: “Just my business!”
Mariah opened her mouth to answer him, but then closed it again. She had to admit that some strange girl coming into an auto repair shop asking to use the man’s tools and dig through his parts to fix her own car and then expecting to be hired on the spot did seem pretty unorthodox. And she had to admit to herself that most of the mechanics she’d known who owned their own shop had struggled like crazy and invested every last thing they had in it to try to make a go of it. Asking one of them to let some stranger go to work there out of the clear blue would put any of them in a tough spot.
Finally, she nodded her head with a resigned look on her face. “Of course,” she said, her voice considerably subdued now. “I understand. It’s asking a lot of you to take a chance like that with a business you’ve no doubt invested every single resource in. I’m sorry,” she added with a sigh. “I guess since you don’t have time to take on any more work, I’ll get out of your way now.” She turned toward the door, and Neil’s heart turned over. He scratched his head again. He was probably going to regret this, but he just couldn’t stand to see her so disappointed. She had seemed so excited at the prospect of working here for a while. He supposed he ought to at least give her a chance. She seemed so sure of herself. But — a woman mechanic was something he didn’t have any experience with at all.
“Wait!” he heard himself saying before he had sorted through all those thoughts. She turned back to look at him, and he continued. “Uh … I’ll tell you what. Pull your car into the last bay down there, and I’ll show you where everything is and get you started.”
“Really?” Her eyes were brilliant again, and the smile on her face was worth the butterflies in his stomach as he asked himself silently whether his insurance would cover this if something went wrong. He took a deep breath.
“Yeah … really.” He said.
She stepped back to the counter and held her hand out toward him across the top. “You won’t be sorry. I promise you,” she said, as he took her hand in his. It was warm and strong, but just soft enough that it sent a little tingle along his arm. He had to remind himself to let go, but finally he turned to walk around the counter and lead her back into the work bays.
“By the way, I’m Mariah … Mariah Jacoby,” she said as they entered the work area.
“Glad to meet you, Miss Jacoby. I’m Neil Warner.”
“Oh, please, call me Mariah. I’d like that much better.”
Neil nodded. “I’m Neil to everyone who works here — and most of the customers too.” With those words, he opened the bay door and Mariah went to pull her car in.
She got out and raised the hood. Then she looked around to size up what she had to work with. She spotted a blue coverall hanging on a hook along the side wall and went over to get it. “Do you mind?” she asked Neil. “I was dressed to go to an interview,” she added, looking down at her light colored skirt and short-sleeved knit top.
“Sure. Go ahead,” he answered, and she slipped into the uniform, rolling large cuffs on the sleeves and legs. She thought about her hair, but one look at the only greasy cap hanging there convinced her she was better off taking her chances without it. That done, she began looking around at the array of tools and collecting what she thought she’d need. She had a pretty good idea what was at the root of the problem, knowing there were only a couple of possibilities likely to cause just that set of symptoms, and she also knew the job could take quite a while.
She told Neil what had been happening with the car as she began to check some things out, and then she began to tell him exactly what she was looking for, figuring that should give him a good idea of whether she knew her stuff or not. Neil nodded and grunted his agreement, silently coming to the conclusion that maybe she really did know something about engines. She worked without talking for the majority of the time, and Neil excused himself after a while, saying he had to get back to his bookkeeping for a few minutes.
As he passed the young man who was still leaning under the hood of the other car, he stopped momentarily. “How’s it going with this one, Bill?”
The blond-haired younger man raised up and wiped his hands on a cloth. “I think I’ve got this one licked. I’m about ready to give it a test drive.”
“Great,” Neil answered about the time Bill glanced over and saw Mariah. He raised a questioning brow at his boss.
Neil cleared his throat and motioned with his head for Bill to follow him into the office. Bill did so with a big grin on his face. He’d never seen his boss flustered any time in the last three years, but something was up with this woman. He couldn’t resist teasing Neil a little. “You hire a new mechanic?” he asked, grinning from ear to ear.
“Maybe,” Neil answered and looked Bill in the eye.
The grin dried up immediately, and Bill’s mouth just sort of hung open. “Huh?”
“Well, it’s like this,” began Neil, and then proceeded to tell him how all of the last half hour had transpired.
Bill just shook his head and chuckled. “Well …” he said, looking back out through the window in the door, watching Mariah for a moment. “Well, she sure acts like she knows what she’s doing, doesn’t she?”
Neil sighed. “We’ll see,” he answered and then looked back at his computer. “I’ve got to get this finished and then go out there and watch her at work some more before I know for sure. Go ahead and take yours out for the test, and get back as soon as you can.”
“Sure thing,” Bill said and hurried back into the work area. When he brought the Continental back, he parked it outside, satisfied that it was fully repaired, and then he drove a gray and white truck into the bay he’d left empty. As he got out, he heard Mariah talking to Neil about how the repair to her own car was coming. Bill couldn’t resist walking over to where the other two were working, Neil mostly handing Mariah tools and making a suggestion here and there.
“So, how’s it goin’?” Bill asked.
“Great,” Mariah answered before Neil could decide what to say. “I should have this baby running right in another half hour or so.”
“So what was it, anyway?” Bill asked her, walking around to the other side of the car to be closer to her.
She told him and then began to talk about how the repair was going in a little more detail, Bill agreeing with her on all points that she made. Neil was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel, and he just slipped away and walked over to the truck. He remembered what the owner had told him about the problem with this particular truck, so there was no need to go back into the office to get the work order. He just started to gather his tools and get to work. He knew he should direct Bill to get to another vehicle in the third bay, but, surprisingly, the quiet conversation between Bill and Mariah in the bay beside him was soothing to him as he worked, and for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, he was actually beginning to relax.
By the time Neil had the truck running smoothly, Mariah was ready to take her car for a test spin. As she pulled it out of the bay, Bill walked over to Neil, who was just putting down the truck hood. “Boy, I think that little lady really does know her business, Boss? You gonna let her stay on and help us?”
Neil was wiping his hands on a rag. “Maybe,” he said, looking a little preoccupied.
Bill nodded. “Hard decision, huh?”
Neil grinned a little. “Toughest one I’ve made since deciding to go into business.” Bill nodded his understanding and Neil spoke again. “Take this one out for a test, will ya?”
“Sure thing,” he said, hopping into the cab and backing the truck out of the building.
Mariah was back in a few minutes, beaming. “It’s right as rain,” she announced. “Do you want to test it out yourself just to be sure I really did fix it?” she asked, looking at him so earnestly that his heart turned over again. For some reason this little gal really wanted to work at this garage. He made his final decision in a second.
“Nope,” he said, grinning back. “You’re hired.”
Come back tomorrow for Chapter Three.
I promised another free novel in serial form this month. So here it is. EVERYTHING’S JAKE is a light inspirational romance, but it’s a whole lot more than a love story. It’s about finding out who you really are and learning to like that person – and discovering that liking who you are opens the door for the best relationships with other people. It’s about family – and friends who are just like family. It’s about letting God’s way of loving take control of your heart.
I think some readers might enjoy this short novel as they get ready for the Christmas holidays. The story is easy reading, the kind of thing you need when you’re mind is full of lots of other stuff and stretched a little too far in too many directions. I’ll try to give you just one chapter a day so you don’t get carried away and forget to decorate the house or buy the gifts you want to give.
Hope you enjoy it. Be sure and let me know.
© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Mariah Jacoby paced the tiny office, taking the confined distance from wall to wall in four agitated strides as she waited for her boss to join her. She was fairly certain what the outcome of this meeting would be. She’d be looking for another job. She shook her head now in frustration. If only she could convince her boss that she could probably sell more from this boutique in the long run if she were honest with her customers!
Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Convincing Patricia there was something to be gained by telling a woman she looked fat in one of her dresses was about as likely as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel without getting hurt — seriously hurt! Hadn’t somebody tried that once? She thought she’d remembered reading something about it, but — right now her mind was too muddled with the mess she’d made of her third job in two years. Of course, it’s not like this latest one was something in her field. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in journalism, selling in a boutique was a little wide of the mark on both counts.
But her one year working at the Excel Learning Center had been enough to convince her that teaching school was definitely not her forte. Her second job, the one with The Beacon, had been more in her line, but evidently news reporting was not what she really felt called to do either. Well, Mariah did feel a genuine interest in writing for a newspaper. It was actually her editor who had felt that she wasn’t right for the part. “You’ve got to quit editorializing, Mariah!” he’d said, through his gritted teeth. How many times had he said that? She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to average about once a week, until finally, he had given her the bad news: She’d have to go. And he’d warned her one last time that if she thought she’d ever really want to get serious about a career in journalism, she’d better start working harder on her ability to remain objective when she covered the news.
She sighed now and finally dropped into one of the two chairs that sat in front of the desk, just settling into the seat when her boss opened the door and came in with a purposeful stride. Patricia wasn’t a time-waster; that was for sure. She marched around her desk and leaned over it toward Mariah. “I guess you know what this means?” Mariah opened her mouth to protest — or defend herself — or something — but nothing came out. She dipped her head and then nodded.
“I know,” she said on a resigned sigh. “I really do try to do what you want though, Patricia.”
Her boss shook her head as she sat down behind the desk. “Not hard enough, Mariah. I’ve told you repeatedly that we do not tell any of our customers that they don’t look terrific in whatever they choose.”
Mariah’s head came up, and she looked directly at her boss. “But that’s lying! I can’t believe that’s the best way to do business!”
“The point is that this is my business, Mariah. And the only one who needs to be satisfied with the way we do business here is me. Besides, I don’t really consider it lying. When our customers have chosen something that they like on themselves, it makes them feel good about themselves, and that does make them look good. Happy people always look better than those who are unhappy. And more importantly, happy customers keep coming back!”
“But Mrs. Jamison wasn’t unhappy when I told her that I thought she’d look better in something else.”
“No? Well, just what would you call that frown on her face, that furrowed brow, and her flustered attitude?”
“She was just trying to think about what I’d said while I was showing her the other possibilities.”
“All possibilities that she did not like herself! That’s just my point. She’s been a customer here for five years, and she had already disqualified the style of dress you kept trying to push off on her!” She leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Mariah, but I did warn you that you may not be cut out for this kind of work. I know you’ve tried, but you’re not going to be able to treat my customers differently. This is the fourth time I’ve had to deal with the situation and try to soothe the people you’ve upset. I’ll give you the rest of this week doing jobs that won’t require you to work with customers, and I’ll give you the one week’s severance pay that your contract specifies, but I’ll definitely have to replace you with someone who’s comfortable with my rules here.”
It didn’t take long for the end of the week to arrive, and Mariah found that she wasn’t all that emotional about having to say goodbye to Patricia and the two other women who worked at the boutique. She was very emotional, however, about not having a job. She had managed to save a little money while she’d worked on her masters because she’d decided to attend the university at home and stay at the house with her parents. They had been eager to have her there again, even for that period of time, and they just refused to let her pay for much of anything at all. She’d tried to make up for it by treating them to special dinners out and a weekend away a couple of times, but she had put most of her money from the job on campus into a savings account. Good thing! She’d already gone through half of it, and it looked like the second half would soon be in hot pursuit of the first.
She made her way back to her one-bedroom apartment in a very unfashionable, but comfortable part of town, dropped her purse and jacket on the table just inside the door, kicked off her shoes, and headed for the tiny kitchen to make tea. Her granny had always sworn by tea as the fix-it potion for any problem. Of course, Granny had always held faithful to all the little details that constituted a traditional English tea – the boiled water, the warmed teapot, the unrushed brewing time. Mariah filled the teapot and stuck it in the microwave. What Granny didn’t know wouldn’t cause her any unhappiness.
While she waited for the water to boil, she picked up the mail that lay on her kitchen counter. She hadn’t had time to go through it carefully for the last two days, and now she was surprised to see a card from a friend of hers in another state. Abigail Harland, who had gone through the first four years of college with Mariah, was now a happily married wife and the mother of two rambunctious little boys. She took to that lifestyle like a duck to water, Mariah thought, smiling now as she remembered the last time she’d visited Abby and Seth.
She scanned the lines eagerly, moving over to the microwave as it dinged to let her know the water was ready. A few minutes later, as she sipped the fragrant tea and began to relax, she came to the end of the note, which included another invitation to visit as soon as possible. “Come for a whole weekend if you can,” Abby had written. “Better yet, I wish you’d look for a job here so we could be close like we used to be.”
Mariah laid the note on the counter, deep in thought. Well, why not? Why not at least try? She certainly had nothing holding her here. Of course she was only an hour from her parents living here, but Abby’s home wasn’t more than three hours from them. She shrugged her shoulders. She was going to have to start somewhere, and she might as well try to find something close to her best friends. She’d made a couple of local friends since moving here to work, and of course, she was comfortable with most all of the people she’d met at church. But there wasn’t anyone she felt she could bare her soul to the way she could Abby and Seth. Maybe this was a good time to move on.
She got up and added more tea to her cup, then moved into the living room and snuggled into the corner of the sofa. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach — almost a fear. Only she refused to let herself be afraid. It was just that — well — she had never figured herself for a failure. She had always done well in school. And she’d taken a variety of electives just to expand her mind and her horizons. Hadn’t she even taken those two auto-shop courses?
She grinned now as she remembered how surprised a couple of the guys in the class had been when they’d discovered how much she already knew. That was thanks to her big brother Mitch, of course. From the time she’d been a preteen, she had helped him work on his cars. And he’d had several over the years that he virtually rebuilt. Of course, it was just a hobby with him. He’d opted for a career in marketing, but he’d really had a gift for working on cars! And he’d told her she was a natural too, but of course, no other girls she knew were interested in becoming auto mechanics, so she dismissed that idea as less than good if she were going to have to compete with them for the guys out there that were worth having.
She snorted now as she thought about the fact that even though she was never in overalls or smudged with grease and oil these days, the guys weren’t exactly beating a path to her door. She thought about what she had to offer a man. Well — there was her open, friendly nature — her quick mind — her Christian lifestyle. She sighed. Those things didn’t sound like attention grabbers to her.
She took mental stock of her physical assets: She had a clear complexion. Her hair was a rich brown, and the pixie cut she currently wore framed her face perfectly and drew attention to her eyes. And they were probably her most positive feature, weren’t they? She had always considered them plain old brown until one of the men she’d dated in college had told her they were the warm color of a glass of sherry. Her relationship with that man had taken a definite upswing from that moment, although they’d never gotten serious, and he’d graduated the following year. Still, he remained one of her favorite dating memories just because he’d given her a whole new confidence about her looks.
She sat her empty cup on the table beside the sofa and stretched out, thinking. What kind of job should she look for? She laughed lightly. She’d lain on the sofa in her home as a child and daydreamed just this way, asking herself, what she wanted to be when she grew up? But this wasn’t like those times. This was no daydream; this was reality. She was grown-up. She was twenty-five, and it was time she made a career for herself.
The following Friday evening, she arrived at Seth and Abby’s door with a large suitcase, having told them of her plans to look for a job close to them. They had insisted she stay with them while she searched, but she had been adamant about not staying more than a week. If she hadn’t found something by then, she would either move into a motel or start looking in a different town.
But by the end of the week, she was no closer to having employment. She had checked with the area schools about possible openings for the next school year, which was fast approaching. She knew she wasn’t licensed to teach in the state, but she also knew there were ways to deal with that as long as she was working toward meeting the requirements within a certain time period. But there wasn’t anything in her field.
Then she’d checked with a couple local newspapers, but still nothing permanent. They had told her they’d consider some free-lance articles from her if she wanted to turn something in, and she had, in fact written one article and had it published. But she knew that she had managed that feat mainly because it was the kind of thing she didn’t have to be objective about.
After that, she’d checked with a couple department stores, but their waiting lists were long, and besides, she could tell by the manner of the women who’d talked to her that she would be right back in the same boat as she had been in with Patricia. So she’d signed up with an employment agency, and had even gone to one interview that they’d set up, but to no avail. They’d been pleased with her credentials, but they were equally pleased with those of some of the other applicants, and two of those people had lived in the town all their lives. The company just considered them a better risk, all other things considered.
On the Friday evening a week after she’d arrived, Abby tried to convince her that she should stay at least another week. “You know we love having you here, Ry,” she said. “And you’ve been so much help with the boys. They really love you.”
Seth had reached over and patted Mariah’s hand. “We both want you to stay, Ry. Give it at least one more week.” He glanced over at his wife, a light in his eyes that made no secret of the fact that he was in love with her. “Besides,” he said, a teasing note in his voice, “my sweety would never forgive me if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure you move here permanently.”
Mariah had laughed with them, but she felt sad too. Something was wrong with her. Why couldn’t she find a job? And a job that she liked? What did she really enjoy doing, anyway? She thought long and hard on that subject after she retired for the night. Lying there in bed, she tried to remember every time she’d ever felt happy at work, and she realized with a good deal of surprise that she had actually felt pretty good about all of her jobs. The problem was that her happiness had really been coming from her interaction with people, which she always enjoyed, and not from the work itself. In fact, the last time she remembered feeling really happy about the work she was doing was when she had been in the auto mechanics class, helping her project partner put an engine back together.
The following morning at breakfast, Abby’s four-year old climbed up on Mariah’s lap and put his arms around her neck. “You stay wif us,” he said. Then he reached up to pat her cheek. “Me don’t want you to weave. You stay wif us, Ry.” She squeezed him tightly and kissed his cheek.
Abby sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. “See,” she said, grinning. “You can’t break his little heart by leaving yet.”
“Oh, all right. You’re all ganging up on me. I’ll take one more week, but … Abby … you know if I don’t find something by then, I need to try to get something in a larger city. There’s bound to be some kind of newspaper and teaching jobs both in a large enough city.”
“Well, just try one more week here then. I can’t bear to think you’ve come so close to living in the same town as us again and then not have it work out.”
Mariah chuckled and reached over and gripped her friends hand briefly. “Me too, Ab. I’ll really try this week, and I’ll spend more time praying about it too. Maybe I’ve been trying too hard on my own and not looking to the Lord for guidance as I should have been.”
So after breakfast was cleaned up, Mariah went out to the back yard to sit on the patio in the shade and read her Bible and pray. She’d been a Christian most of her adult life, and she thought she had lived according to God’s will, but sometimes she had to admit that she didn’t spend nearly as much time listening to what the Lord might have to say to her as she did talking to Him. So for the next week, that listening was her primary goal, and she hoped it would lead to the perfect job.
Find Chapter Two here tomorrow.
Special sale on all my digital novels through the 4th of July weekend.
EVERY DIGITAL NOVEL WILL BE ONLY $0.99.
Sale does not include anthologies, non-fiction, or poetry (unless the item was priced that low to begin with).
Prices good now through Monday, July 5, 2021 — Midnight CDT
13 Novels to choose from.
You can make your selections from my author’s page on Amazon at THIS LINK.
Are you lookin’ for a love story that will stick with you long after the words ‘The End’???
Well, here it is:
(Click on the link below the trailer.)
Just a little update to say Book # 6 of the Smoky Mountain Novel Series will be out around the first of May. GRACE FOR ATTICUS has been one of my most challenging books in a long time, but I’ve been in love with it from the first paragraph. I thought I’d give you a little sneak preview just to stir up a tad of interest. See the excerpt below:
Copyright © 2021 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Excerpt: Chapter One
The glass front door of Tsalagi Craft and Trade Center flew open, the bell at the top of the door jangling so hard it sounded like an alarm. Grace Walela Ross looked up from the accounting work she was doing at the desk in the back left corner of the store.
Her black hair, cut in short tousled layers accented her black eyes and her bronze Cherokee skin. She rose to her full height of five feet, seven inches, and although she was quite delightful to look at as she stood behind her desk, the man stomping his way toward her had such fire in his eyes, it was unlikely he had taken time to notice.
“I understand you’re the one responsible for this trash,” he said, slamming a copy of The Sword newspaper down on top of the desk.
“I’m the editor of the paper, if that’s what you mean,” Grace replied, standing straight and looking him in the eye. He was a good half a foot taller than she was, and all powerful, barely restrained muscle. She felt only slightly intimidated, but had no intention of letting fear have a place.
“Do you have a problem with something in the this week’s issue, Mr. – ?”
“ A problem? No, I don’t have a problem. I have a legitimate complaint against your libelous excuse for journalism. You’re the one who has the problem, Ms. – ” He stopped and glanced at the masthead of the paper to double-check her name. “Ms. Grace Walela Ross! Because unless you print an immediate retraction – and on the front page – you’re going to court and pay through the nose.”
“And just what exactly are you referring to as libelous, Mr. Whoever-You-Are?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Atticus St. John. Doctor St. John to you.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I don’t think you do see, Ms. Ross. I don’t think you even try to see the whole picture. You’re so focused on your own personal rant that you don’t care how distorted you make your articles.”
Some kind of righteous anger mixed with personal hurt rose up in Grace. She rounded the desk and advanced toward him until she stood mere inches away. “I never distort my articles! How dare you come stomping in here and speak such lies!”
“Me speaking lies! You have the gall to accuse me after you’ve written and printed this hideous excuse for journalism?! You should be tarred and feathered!”
Grace’s head almost buzzed with the anger she felt. She prided herself in all the effort she put into being sure of all her facts, even down to the exact spelling of every single name she used. And she was always hard on herself to make sure she’d used proper restraint before assigning responsibility and fault to anyone in her articles. Such an attack as this on her character as a credible journalist was more than she could bear, and before she could even think about what she was going to do, she spit in his face. Instantly, the shock of what she had done hit her so forcefully that she gasped, and her hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes, wide with the horror of her actions, locked onto his.
But her shock was nothing compared to his. Followed by a new level of anger. “Why you little savage!” he said, grasping her by the shoulders and, without thinking, pushing her backwards against the desk, and pinning her there with his own body. Grace put up her hands against his chest in an instinctive defense, but he was much more powerful than she. Her eyes focused on his shoulders now, and her self-defense training came to mind, but for some reason, she felt a kind of dazed lack of energy to inflict any kind of retaliation.
He wasn’t sure what he’d intended when he’d grabbed her, but was responding to some primal need in him to exact revenge for such humiliation and put her in her place somehow. He fought within himself over whether to spit in her face as well or kiss her forcefully enough to prove his mastery over her.
He had decided on the ruthless kiss when, suddenly, her eyes met his again and held him with a look that said she knew he was in control, but she wouldn’t even consider backing down. There was something so pure in her eyes – an assurance of being in the right – something that pulled on him to side with her unflinching commitment to what she believed – that his own thoughts came crashing to a full stop.
In response, he gradually leaned forward almost touching her lips in what would have been an entirely different kind of kiss, but he caught himself just in time. He pulled back slowly and heard himself say in a tone of disbelief, “Grace? … You’re name is Grace? And if I’m not mistaken, your middle name is the Cherokee word for Hummingbird, is it not?”
Grace was silent with surprise at the sudden change in him, and she just nodded. He laughed softly then. “What a mistake your poor parents made. You most definitely are not a hummingbird. In fact I’d say you’re more like a she-bear – defending her domain – a spitting bear in fact,” he added, taking his right hand from her shoulder and wiping his cheek where her spittle had landed. He quickly grasped her shoulder again, but couldn’t hold back more laughter.
The laughter was genuine, but he was having a hard time understanding everything else he was feeling. Something powerful had passed between them in those moments – something so elemental he couldn’t put a name to it, but it pulled on him and caused him to want to stay close to her. A ridiculous feeling since she represented everything he had to fight against in order to carry out his own work – work that he believed in and had labored hard to be able to accomplish.
He finally released her and stepped back, glancing toward the floor and running his hand through his hair in a frustrated manner. But he looked right at her again and spoke in a disgruntled tone. “Never mind. I don’t really have time to bother with you.”
He turned away from her and started for the door, but just before he pushed the door open, he turned and almost spat out the words, “Just be careful, my little Spitting-Bear. The next victim of your irresponsible journalism may not be as willing to forego exacting his vengeance.” And with those words he walked through the door and almost stomped down the street.
Grace still leaned against the desk, almost as if she needed its support. Her adrenaline was rushing, and she knew she’d been frightened a little by the encounter, but there was something else involved that she couldn’t identify. She realized with a quickening of her breath that she actually wished he had followed through on his actions and kissed her. She shook her head in disbelief now and finally pushed herself away from the desk, making her way around it, where she sat down in the chair again. She closed her eyes and relived the whole experience.
In the heat of the moment, she hadn’t been conscious of noting his appearance, but now, in her memory’s eye, she saw again the strength that showed in the muscles of his arms and chest even beneath the fabric of his long-sleeved dress shirt. His hair was sandy brown and had been tousled by the breeze. She saw again the firm jaw, and the olive green eyes – eyes that kindled with his barely restrained temper as they bored into hers. She felt a stirring inside as she remembered those eyes – and the way his body felt barely touching hers. Suddenly, she shook herself lightly, trying to escape those memories and clear her head.
Everything about the man was the antithesis of her beliefs and agenda for her own life. How could she have wanted to kiss him – to stay in a place where she was touching him and looking steadily into his eyes? She leaned back in the chair and just sat, waiting for her thoughts to clear and for her day to get back to normal somehow.
She heard the bell again, but at a normal volume this time, and when she glanced toward the door she saw her brother Blaze heading her way. “Hey, Sis, I read your article this morning.”
Grace looked up at him as he stood now in front of the desk, but she seemed to be having trouble focusing.
“Is something wrong, Hon.” he asked, concern in his eyes now.
Grace really looked at him then, finally focusing, and shook her head again slightly, as if still trying to clear it. “No, not really. I guess I’m just a little dazed after having a confrontation with Dr. St. John.”
“St. John? As in the man you wrote about in the front page article?”
Grace nodded her head and, to Blaze’s relief, her impish grin kicked in, and he felt reassured that she was her old self.
Grace told him how Dr. St. John had stormed into the store and accused her of being irresponsible in her journalism and of telling lies, and how he’d threatened to sue if she didn’t print a retraction of her accusations.”
“I guess you set him straight, didn’t you?”
“Well … about that.” Grace said and started to squirm a little in her chair.
Blaze was intrigued by that move, because his little sister was generally straight-forward and outspoken with everyone, so he just stood there and looked at her intently until she glanced away and then, finally, looked back at him.
“Hummingbird, why do I feel that there’s something you should tell me, but you don’t want to? What really did happen?”
“Everything happened just like I said, except that … well … I guess he just made me so angry and so hurt … you know everything he said was totally unfair and just wrong … and … well … I … before I realized what I was doing, I spit in his face.”
Grace leaned forward on the desk putting her face into her hands and groaning. She felt ashamed and so guilty. Not only was she ashamed about what she had done to the doctor, but she was just as much ashamed to have her brother know that she had acted in such an un-Christlike manner to anyone. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she lifted her head just enough to reach for a tissue from the box on the corner of the desk.
“Oh, Honey, don’t cry. I can’t imagine your doing anything like that unless you were seriously pressed beyond endurance,” Blaze said and sat down in the chair in front of the desk.
He sat quietly for a few moments while his sister blotted her eyes and blew her nose. He thought back to last fall when she had decided to move back to Cherokee to be closer to their family and to help him with his craft center and store because the Lord was using him so much in a traveling ministry now that he didn’t have the time to devote to actually running the business alone.
She had worked for several years for a publishing company, but had long had a dream to begin her own newspaper with the aim of focusing on much needed moral and social change in both the local community and the nation. After deciding to move back home and work with her brother, she’d felt it was the right time and place to launch the paper, and she had been working hard at making it a real success for the past six months.
He smiled now as he watched her getting control of her emotions and blotting her eyes once more before looking up at him.
“You want to tell me the rest of it?” he asked, grinning at her. “What did he do when you spit on him?” Grace thought back through all of his reactions – and her own unexpected response to his grasping her and almost kissing her. She wasn’t ready to share that part with her brother just yet, but she could at least tell him about the doctor’s words.
She grinned now too as she answered. “He called me a savage.”
Blaze’s eyebrows rose at that. “Wow, that’s a little cowboy-and-Indianish, isn’t it?”
Grace laughed out loud at that. “But that’s not all. He also said that he knew my middle name was the Cherokee word for hummingbird but that my poor parents had made a serious mistake because I was more like a she-bear – in fact a spitting bear. And just as he walked out the door, he addressed me by that name again.”
“And he’s going to sue?”
“Well … that’s the really odd part,” she said. “He acted like he sort of got better control of his own anger and said he didn’t have time to fool with me. Then his parting words to me were that I should be careful because the next victim of my irresponsible journalism might not be so willing to forego exacting his vengeance.”
“Whew!” Blaze said, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?”
Grace nodded and leaned back in her chair as well. “But I don’t think he’s actually planning on a lawsuit now. And, of course, even if he did sue, he can’t possibly win because, as you know, I make absolutely sure of all my facts – right down to correctly spelled words – and he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”
“Still, I’d hate for you to have to be dragged through court over all of it.”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding her head again. “Me too. But, you know, Blaze – well, we both knew from the beginning – some of the situations I’m addressing in The Sword are going to be pretty volatile from time to time.”
Blaze nodded. “It’s true. And, as you say, you didn’t go into the work blind. I think, though, that this whole abortion issue is something the devil and his forces fight more intensely than anything else right now. It’s going to take the true sword of the Lord and a lot more prayer to make any headway against it.”
“And concerning my articles … it’s not as if I’m trying to shut down every abortion clinic in the country. Of course, you know I don’t believe they should be legal at all, but my recent articles are mainly fighting against adding another abortion clinic to this area when we already have enough of them. It’s a valid argument. But it’s true that I am hitting hard on the whole fact that abortion is immoral period, wherever people have it performed.”
“Did he say specifically what he considered libelous?”
She shook her head and picked up the paper, scanning her front page article again. “No … but I’m pretty sure he was going to focus on the fact that I called him ‘another professional exterminator.’”
“Is there any chance at all that he can make his charges stick?”
“ I don’t see how. I was very careful in my choice of words. I would have liked to use the term murderer, but the technical definition of murderer is ‘someone who illegally kills another person. And right now, in most states almost all abortions are considered legal. There are still a few states holding out on late-term abortions, but the scale is sliding downhill fast. And the states where he has his other two clinics are one hundred percent pro-abortion at any time during pregnancy, so that term would have left me open to question. But the term exterminator specifically means ‘someone who kills whole groups of people or animals. What he does fits the term exactly.”
She leaned back in her chair again and sighed. “I think when he gets rid of all his anger, he’ll be sensible enough to know that even if he forced me to retract the article, or even won a lawsuit, it would just prolong the attention people are giving the story, and if I made it clear that I was forced to retract, he would still end up looking like the bad guy to our readers.”
“I think you’re right. And I’ll let Joy know about your little … uh … adventure today,” he said grinning again, “and we’ll both be praying for the Lord to cover you in this. But, listen, I came in to do some work on the leather moccasins I started yesterday, but I wanted to ask you if you’d like to take a couple days off and get away from the store. You know Joy and I will be gone four days next week for that seminar in Dallas, but I’m here for the rest of this week, and you’ve been working non-stop for months now. I don’t want you worn out with this, especially since you’re still doing some editing for Milton Publishing.”
“Well, if you wouldn’t feel abandoned, I just might think about taking a couple days. I’d actually like to take Mom shopping in Nashville one day, and if we stayed over and went out to dinner, that would be fun for her and me both. I can also make a quick run by the publishing house and check in with the main office.”
“Hey, that sounds like a great idea.”
“Do you think Joy might want to go with us?”
“Well … I guess she might … but … I rather hope she doesn’t,” he said, grinning.
“You really are still newlyweds, aren’t you?” Grace teased him. “You don’t want her out of your sight if you can manage it.”
“Oh, it isn’t that bad, but I do really like having her around all the time. And after all, we have been married only five months.”
He heaved a sigh and added, “But I don’t want to be selfish, and it’s only fair that she have some time with you girls if she’d like to. I’m sure I can survive forty-eight hours,” he said grinning again.
“I know you can, but I just can’t keep from teasing you. I think I will ask her if she’d like to go with us. We haven’t all three had a chance to do anything like that together.”
“I know, and, honestly, I’d be happy for her to get that time with you and Mom if she’d like to go. Call her and let her know what you’re planning.”
(I post this story annually as part of my celebration of the season. I hope it blesses you.)
The following story is fiction – as are all the characters and the setting. However, the story was inspired directly by the real-life story of one of the most effective and compassionate men in ministry today. Bill Wilson, who is the founder of Metro World Child in New York City, was actually abandoned as a child and left alone on the streets of his home city in Florida. He was eventually rescued and greatly helped by a loving man of God, and that love led Bill Wilson to devote his entire life to rescuing inner-city children and ministering to their most vital needs – as well as those of their families.
The results of his work, both in the U. S. and internationally, would fill volumes. I have listened to him tell his own story more than once. He always concludes that story by sharing why he does what he does. And it is his reason – which constitutes the final statement by the main character in my story as well – that inspired me to sit down and write “The Rescue.”
I trust that the story will touch your heart deeply, and if it does, I encourage you to remember that it was inspired by the real life experiences of a great man of God. Readers can learn more about Bill Wilson’s ministry at the ministry website: metroworldchild.org. I am not personally affiliated with the ministry at all, nor did the people involved have any influence on my writing this story. However, it is my prayer that this story will encourage readers to pray about supporting Metro World Child with finances and with prayer.
THE CHRISTMAS RESCUE
© Sandra Pavloff Conner
The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.
The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.
It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.
The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….
But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war – and the funerals – and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired youngsters. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife, he couldn’t not grieve.
He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.
And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.
But with both their incomes – and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time – they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank – the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.
The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.
The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”
She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.
As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”
His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had chosen those names for them. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.
Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”
“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”
“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”
So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”
When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.
When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of seven hundred, four dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”
“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!”
“Yes!” he said, nodding his head eagerly.
“Do you think the Lord has multiplied it for us?”
The old man smiled at her with eyes that were lit up with his faith that the Lord had done just that. “Now we must find out what our Lord wants us to do with it. Shall we pray right here, or go into the living room and kneel on the rug?”
“Let’s go and get down on our knees. We need to do everything we can to make sure we focus on the Lord. We wouldn’t want to make a mistake with so much money.”
So they moved into the living room and knelt down in front of their old but cared-for sofa, and, hand in hand, sought the Lord for His plan for the money they had given to Him during their morning devotions. After they had prayed for some time and were now both quiet and listening with their hearts, Papa whispered to Mama, “Do you hear anything yet, Mama?”
“Not yet, Papa. Perhaps, He will reveal something to us while we sleep tonight. He did that once before, remember?”
“Yes, that’s right. All right. We will expect that He will show us something, either as we sleep, or maybe when we first awake in the morning.” He grinned down at her with the eagerness of a small child. “I can hardly wait to see what He has in mind. I know we have to be patient. He may not show us until Christmas morning, you know. One time that’s what He did. But at least we know that He’s never taken longer than that to tell us what we must do, and that’s only four days away.”
Mama smiled at his excitement and rose from her knees, grateful for this generous-hearted husband that the Lord had given her. If only … if only he could have kept his sons to pour that heart into, she thought, shaking her head gently at the sad thought.
“No, Mama,” he said to her now, reaching out and lifting her chin and looking into her still bright blue eyes. “We will not be sad tonight. God has something happy for us to do, and we will enjoy it!” He leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. Then he raised his eyes heavenward and said, “Thank you, Good Lord, for giving me such a beautiful wife!”
“Oh, Papa . . .” she said, chuckling and shaking her head.
“Now,” he said turning her toward the kitchen, “I will help with the dishes, and then you shall read to me.”
The next morning the couple rose expectantly, eagerly anticipating the Lord’s leading about what to do with their money. But as the day progressed into evening, both had to admit that they just didn’t sense the Lord’s direction yet. So they retired that night with the prayer on their lips that He would show them tomorrow.
Again the following morning, they were a little disappointed, but since it was a day with much to be done, they quickly went about their business. Papa had more than the usual custodial work to do at the huge stone church in the middle of the city, because there were always extra services and celebrations this time of year. And Mama had finished the Christmas flower arrangements that had been ordered by two merchants whose shops were on the same street as the church. They always ordered the flowers for their holiday parties from her.
So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”
“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”
“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”
“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”
Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”
“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”
“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”
“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of the first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.
“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”
He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”
“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”
So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.
“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.
“It is peculiar, Mama,” he answered, but traffic was so heavy right at that time, that he had to give his full attention to working through it and getting into the correct lane to make their way back home. Concern nagged at him as he sat down to his noonday meal, and then troubled him off and on as he sat in his recliner and dozed during the afternoon. When the couple retired for the night, they prayed especially for the little boy they’d seen on the bench and his family.
The next morning Papa helped Mama finish her Christmas baking. She always made cranberry nut bread for four of the people in their church and popcorn balls and fudge for all of the children to take home after the Christmas Eve program. They stopped to have a ham sandwich and a cup of hot cider while the treats cooled enough for packaging. Then they began to wrap the gifts in gay paper and tie them with carefully worked bows, adding a candy cane to the top of each package.
When the last of the gifts was finished and set on the kitchen counter to wait for delivery, Mama made a meatloaf, while Papa scrubbed potatoes and prepared them for baking along with the meat.
“You know I can’t help thinking about that little boy we saw yesterday,” Mama said quietly as she worked. “I wonder who he was waiting for.”
“Probably some of his family who were doing last-minute Christmas shopping.”
“But wouldn’t you think they would have taken him with them?”
Papa looked up from the potato he was working on, thinking for a moment before he spoke. “No … not necessarily. Especially not if they were buying his gift.” He laid down his potato absentmindedly. “Still … you’d think they’d be a little hesitant to leave him there alone for so long.”
“You don’t suppose something happened to them do you, Papa?”
“Well, I wouldn’t know, of course, Mama, but I’m sure at least one or two police officers must have passed by their yesterday, and if something had been wrong, I’m sure the boy would have told them.”
Mama nodded her head and carried her meatloaf to the oven. “Of course. I hadn’t even thought about that.” She turned to look back at him. “Are the potatoes ready?”
“Yes, here they are,” he said carrying four potatoes over to the stove and laying them on the pan she had ready to slip into the oven beside the meatloaf.
After dinner, Papa read the newspaper to Mama, and then they watched a Christmas program on television. As they retired, they prayed once more for the young boy and his family and asked the Lord to show them by tomorrow what His plan was for the money He had helped them save this year.
First thing the next morning Papa drank hot coffee, wolfed down some of Mama’s gingerbread, and hurried off to the church to turn the heat up for the evening program. He also wanted to make sure that all the different props for the Christmas program were in place so that they would be easy to find at the last minute before the service began. But as he neared the block where the church stood, he was horrified to see that the little boy from two days before was still sitting on that same concrete bench. Papa hurriedly found a parking place close to the church and then walked back to the corner and sat down on the end of the bench opposite the young boy.
He could see that the child was very cold, even though he had on a heavy coat and a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He had his hands in his coat pockets, but once when he pulled a hand from his pocket to wipe his runny nose, Papa saw that he also had on gloves. He didn’t want to frighten the boy, but he felt frightened himself at the thought that this child could possibly have been sitting here for more than two days.
Why hadn’t the police done something about it? He thought about that question for a while, but then decided that there was so much crime and so many people with serious problems that possibly the police officers who were responsible for this area of town were unusually busy this time of year, just trying to take care of all of those other situations.
“Hi there, Son,” Papa said, his voice friendly and encouraging.
The big brown eyes just looked at him for a moment, and Papa saw a shiver run through the little body. “Hi,” the boy answered in little more than a whisper.
“I’m Jules Larson,” Papa said, holding out one gloved hand toward the boy. Slowly, the child pulled a hand from his pocket and reached it over to shake the old man’s hand.
“I’m David,” he said.
Papa nodded, letting go of David’s hand and watching him put it immediately back into his pocket. “Haven’t I seen you here on this corner for that last couple of days?”
David nodded, but didn’t speak. Instead, he just looked up and down the street again, much as he had been doing the other times Papa had passed by this corner.
“Well … you haven’t been sitting here all day and night, though, have you?” he asked.
David looked back at Papa and nodded again. Papa felt a cold wave of fear move through him and called out to Jesus under his breath.
“But …” Papa started to speak again, but then he stopped. He needed to figure out exactly what to say. After another minute, he sighed deeply and tried again. “But what about your family, David? Where are your mom and dad?”
David looked once more down the street and then turned his eyes on Papa. “My mom’s comin’ back for me,” he said, his lips trembling. Papa wasn’t sure if they trembled from the cold or because the boy was on the verge of tears.
“Where did your mom have to go?”
David looked up and down the street again, and then turned to look behind him once. He looked back at Papa and shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. She just said I should wait right here.”
“Do you live close to here?”
David shook his head. “Not anymore.”
“What do you mean? Did you used to live close?”
This time David nodded. “Unhuh,” he said, pointing back down the street. “Over in that other block. We lived in one of the apartments on the very top of that old brown building.”
“Well, why don’t you live there now?”
David shrugged his shoulders again. “Don’t know. Mom just said we couldn’t live there anymore. She put some of her clothes in a bag and told me to put on my coat, and then we left.”
“But did she put some of your clothes in a bag too?”
David shook his head. “I thought maybe she was goin’ to buy me some new clothes.”
Papa sighed, not liking the thoughts that came crowding into his mind with the boy’s last words. “So she took her clothes with her, but not any of yours?”
David nodded. “And when we got to this corner, she told me to sit down here and wait.”
“Is that all she said?”
David nodded. “Sometimes she goes away for a day or two, but then she comes home again, and we have something to eat. So I know she’ll be comin’ back for me,” he said, lifting his chin as if to ward off any rebuttal of that idea from the old man. But just then his lips quivered again and two tears slipped down his chapped cheeks.
Papa sighed inwardly and prayed silently with all of his heart. What was he to do? He couldn’t leave this little boy out here another night, and it was obvious to him that if his mother hadn’t bothered to pack any of his clothes, she had not intended to keep him with her. Should he go to the police? That’s probably what the police would tell him was the right thing. But, somehow in his heart, he just didn’t think he could bring himself to do that just yet. They would turn him over to the authorities, and he might end up in almost any kind of place while the legal aspects of his case were considered.
Papa shook his head silently. No … he couldn’t just turn him over to the police. What would Mama tell him to do?
He sat up straighter. Of course! That was the answer! Mama would say to bring him home and give him some warm food and a warm bed for tonight at least … and then they would pray for the Lord to show them what to do after that. But first, he’d have to do the necessary work at the church. He looked back at David.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I think maybe your mama might have had to go farther than she planned to try to find another place to live. And I don’t think she’ll be able to come back for you for a while. But my wife and I … we used to have two little boys. They died in the war, and we miss them. We’d like to have you come to our house and eat supper with us and maybe sleep in one of the warm beds that we used for our boys. We could always come back here tomorrow and see if your mama is here waiting for you.” He knew that wasn’t a sensible plan, but he was counting on this boy, who looked no more than nine years old, to be too cold and tired and hungry to figure out how improbable it was. David was looking at him with wide eyes, full of indecision. He looked up and down the street again and than back at Papa.
“I’ll tell you what,” Papa continued. “I was going to go into that little coffee shop over there and get me some soup. How about you come with me, and I’ll get both of us some, and we can talk it over.”
David chewed on his bottom lip, and Papa could see the temptation on his face. What must it feel like to sit on this bench for nearly three whole days and have nothing to eat?
“What do you say?” he urged David again.
Finally, the boy nodded his head, and Papa stood and held out his hand to take David’s. Together they walked to the restaurant across the street, and once seated at the table, Papa ordered two steaming bowls of soup and added a glass of milk for David. He would have liked to have ordered him a big, juicy hamburger too, but knowing he probably hadn’t eaten anything in more than two days, he was afraid too much food at once might make the child sick.
Papa sipped his soup slowly, not really hungry yet himself, but David ate as if he were truly starved. “Did you have anything to eat yesterday?” Papa asked the boy.
David only shook his head and kept eating.
“Well, how about the day before?”
David shook his head again and picked up his bowl to drink the rest of the liquid from the soup.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, David. I could sure use some help to do my work at the church down the street. I wonder if you’d help me there for a little while, and then we’ll come back to the corner and sit a minute, just to see if your mama’s coming. Then, if we don’t see her, you come home with me, and we’ll have some more good food to eat. Would you like to do that?”
David thought, his brown eyes dark with the intensity of his concentration as he tried to decide what to do. Finally he nodded. “Okay,” he said, “but just for a little while, and then I gotta go back to the corner.”
“Good enough,” Papa said and rose from the table. They donned their coats and caps once more and made their way back out into the cold and down to the church. A couple of hours work put everything into good shape for the evening festivities. Papa had planned on him and Mama coming to the Christmas program, but he wasn’t sure now just what they would do.
He took David back to the corner, and they sat together for another thirty minutes, while Papa tried to listen to the Lord for instructions. Finally, he looked at David. “Well, now, let’s go home and have supper with Mama,” he said and then chuckled. “That’s what I call my wife, you see. Ever since we had our little boys, I’ve called her Mama, and she’s called me Papa.” For the first time David smiled just slightly, and Papa’s heart was lighter instantly.
“Well, as I was saying, let’s go home and eat some supper with Mama and then we can come to the Christmas program at the church and stop on this corner afterwards, just in case your mama comes along then.”
This time David decided more quickly and got up, reaching out to take Papa’s hand as he did so.
When they arrived home and entered the kitchen, Papa called out. “Mama, I’ve brought a friend home with me. Come and see.”
Mama came scurrying into the kitchen and stopped short as soon as she saw the boy. Her hand flew to her heart as she took in the situation without being told. She had known inside somehow that this little boy had been abandoned on that bench. She just hadn’t been able to shake that feeling, and now as she looked down into his dark, frightened eyes, she knew with certainty that what she’d felt was true. She hurried forward and reached out to shake his hand.
“Why, hello, young man! I’m so glad you’ve come home with Papa.”
“This is David … David McKenzie,” Papa said, “and I invited him to eat with us and then go to see the Christmas program. I even told him we could give him a warm bed to sleep in after the program if his mama hadn’t come back for him yet.”
Mama gave her husband a knowing look and then spoke to David, “We like having boys stay at our house,” she added, looking up at Papa to gauge his response to her use of the word ‘stay.’ He nodded his head in agreement and began helping the boy remove his coat and cap.
“We had a bowl of soup in town, Mama, but we could sure use something else hot,” he told his wife.
“Well, you show David where the bathroom is so he can use the bathroom and wash his hands and face in some warm water, and I’ll see what all I can find.”
After their mid-afternoon snack, Mama tucked David into the bed that her youngest son had used, and the boy had drifted into a deep sleep almost before she left the room. Then she went to an old chest that she kept in the hallway, and digging deep inside, she extracted two sets of clothing just about David’s size. For a moment her eyes clouded with tears, and she held the garments to her chest. But then she braced her shoulders and whispered, “Thank you, Lord, for having me save these garments all these years. You knew that little boy was going to need them.”
After his nap, a warm bath and clean clothes made David feel so much better that he couldn’t keep a smile from sneaking through when he re-entered the kitchen for another snack before they took off for the Christmas program. And during the program, David’s eyes were glued to every single action on the stage. The lights and music fascinated him, and he listened to the words, taking in the story of Jesus’ birth as if he had never heard it before.
At the end of the program, all the children received bags full of treats to help celebrate the Lord’s birthday, and as Papa and Mama led David out of the church, they turned once more toward the corner where he had spent three lonely, fearful days. “We’ll just sit here a short minute, David, and make sure your Mama isn’t right around here looking for you,” Papa said, and sat down, putting one arm around Mama and the other around David. But after about ten minutes, Papa shifted his position so that he could look right into David’s eyes. Mama looked over Papa’s shoulder, her face registering her pain for the boy’s situation.
“David,” Papa said, clearing his throat a little. “I know you want to believe your mama is coming back here to get you. But you see, son, I believe she was having some big problems and didn’t want you to have to go through them too. I believe she probably knew she couldn’t find another place to live with you, and that’s why she didn’t pack any of your clothes. She packed only her own, because she intended to have you sit here until someone came along who could help you and give you a good place to live. A place like she couldn’t give you.” Papa could see the tears glistening in David’s eyes just before the boy turned his head to look up the street as far as he could see, and then turned to look in the other direction one more time.
“Now, we could let you stay here, of course,” Papa continued. “But Mama and I …” he turned slightly to see his wife’s face, and she smiled at him through her own tears and nodded, so Papa continued. “Mama and I would like to have you come and stay with us as long as you’d want to.” He stopped and waited.
David looked at him and then at Mama. “Please come home with us, David,” Mama said in almost a whisper. “We’ll love you just like we did our own little boys years ago.”
“You can decide, David,” Papa said. “But we need to decide right now, because I don’t want to keep Mama out in this cold any longer. So what do you say?”
Once more David looked up and down the street, and then back at Papa. Suddenly he put his hands to his face and whisked away the tears that tracked down his cheeks. Papa could see decision in his eyes, and he knew the moment the boy faced the truth that his mother was not ever coming back to him. He heard Mama whisper just behind him, “Please help him, Jesus.”
David stood to his feet. “Okay,” he said.
Mama gave a glad cry and jumped up to gather the boy into her arms. Papa forced the tears filling his eyes to stay where they were, and he reached out to rest a hand on David’s shoulder. “You made the decision your Mama would have wanted you to make, Son,” he said. Then he stood up, putting an arm around each of them again. “Now,” he said with authority, “let’s go home and celebrate Christmas!”
Which is exactly what they did. And before David went to sleep, Mama and Papa told him more about the Jesus he’d learned about in the Christmas play. They told him how Jesus took all of people’s sins so that they could become good in God’s sight. They told him about the Father who loved little boys and welcomed them into His own family, and how they’d never have to be alone, no matter what, if they would allow the Father and Jesus to come and live in their hearts. So David made another right decision that night and offered Jesus a home in his own heart.
Just as they were getting into their own bed, Mama said, “Oh, my goodness Papa! We forgot about listening to the Lord about our $700.00!” But Papa reached out to take her hand in his. “Not to worry, Mama. I believe the Lord has shown us where to use the money this year, don’t you?” he asked, nodding toward the bedroom next door to theirs where David slept peacefully.
“Oh, of course!” she said, and giggled as he hadn’t heard her do since their own boys had been toddlers. “Clothes and books and toys and schooling, and so many other things. Isn’t it exciting, Papa? The Lord has trusted us with another little boy to raise for Him!”
So they did. And the days and weeks passed. Mama and Papa simply told friends and acquaintances that David was a friend of the family whose mother had become seriously ill and needed him to stay with the Larsons until she was well. In their own hearts and minds, they believed she would have had to be spiritually and emotionally sick to make the choices she’d made.
Friends were glad to see how much the elderly couple enjoyed giving the boy a safe, loving home, and they approved when Papa and Mama asked a young mother who home-schooled her own three children to add David to her classes. Papa used the $700.00 to help pay for the schooling expenses.
And the months rolled along, into the next year, and on to the next Christmas. That next Christmas Eve, Papa announced after their lunch, “It’s time for us to take a drive.”
So all three of them settled into the car, warm and cozy and ready for some kind of adventure. But as they neared their destination and David saw where they were going, he began to feel a tightness in his throat. His stomach began to ache, and tears burned his eyes.
Sure enough, Papa pulled the car into a parking place right beside the corner where they had first seen David sitting on a bench. And the bench was still there. “Let’s get out,” Papa said. He walked around the car and opened Mama’s door and then the back door for David.
“No … please!” David said, panic in his voice. “I’m sorry! Whatever I did that was wrong, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again! Please don’t leave me here again!” And then the tears that had started coursing down his cheeks became a flood of sobbing. “Please don’t make me stay here. I’ll be good. I promise!”
Papa and Mama were stunned. Mama sat down in the back seat, grabbed the boy, and held him close, “Shhh,” she said. “What’s wrong, dear?”
Papa knelt down in front of the door, reached in, and took David’s hand. “David … David … we’re not going to leave you here! Is that what you thought?”
David nodded his head, sniffing back tears as well as he could and leaning hard into Mama’s shoulder.
“Oh, no, no, no!” Mama said.
“No indeed, David,” Papa added. “We’d never give you up. Not ever! I’ve just brought us all back here so that we could remember how the Lord first brought us together. And I thought it would be good for us to sit here a minute and pray and thank Him for making us a family.”
“Would you like for us to do that, David?” Mama asked.
Sniffing again and trying to get the last of his crying under control, David looked at one and then the other with wide, surprised eyes. “You’re not going to leave me here?”
“Never, Son!” Papa said. “You’re part of our family for as long as you want to be. Just like you’re part of God’s family forever!”
So they got out of the car and sat on the bench together, hand in hand. They prayed and thanked the Lord that Christmas Eve for His love and mercies in their lives. Then the months rolled by again, and the next Christmas Eve found them at the same bench, praying the same prayer. They made the same journey the next Christmas Eve … and the next … and the next ….
“Pastor McKenzie?” The voice seemed to come from far away. “Pastor McKenzie?” It came again more insistently. David shook himself slightly, realizing that his thoughts had been so concentrated on the testimony he’d been giving that he’d almost forgotten he was on an international Christian television program.
“I’m sorry,” he said, smiling apologetically now. “I was so caught up in remembering.”
“Do you still go back to that same spot every Christmas Eve?” the interviewer asked, her own voice husky with her response to his emotions.
“Yes,” he said, discreetly wiping the dampness from beneath his eyes with two fingers. Releasing a quiet sigh, David McKenzie leaned back in his chair and continued. “Yes, I still go back every year, and … and that’s also why I make sure that I drive one of the buses throughout those neighborhoods every Christmas Eve and pick up all the kids I can personally and take them to our church service.”
“Not many pastors of such a huge inner-city church would drive the bus themselves. It must be a heavy load of work, considering the fact that you have the Sunday School classes for several thousand children every week, plus all of the extra Christmas season services where you serve meals and hand out clothes and gifts to the thousands in need in the city.
“And you’ve begun similar work with children in similar situations in other nations, is that correct?”
“Yes. There are so many hurting children, and we touch only a fraction of them,” he answered.
“I’m sure after almost three decades of serving the Lord, you’ve had opportunities to move into many other areas of ministry. You’re a powerful preacher in your own right, and I’m sure you have connections that would open any number of doors to you. Have you ever thought about doing anything else besides reaching the hurting children in inner cities?”
He paused a long minute before answering. “I can’t do anything else,” he said, looking almost surprised that she had asked the question. “I can’t do anything else!”
“So … you would never consider turning your attention to any other kind of evangelism? Something on a larger scale that would bring you more into the public eye?”
David McKenzie smiled. It was a knowing smile. A smile that spoke of contentment and peace. And he looked directly into the eyes of the young woman asking the question. “No,” he said quietly, shaking his head gently. “No, I’d never considered that alternative even for one minute.”
“That’s interesting. May I ask why?”
“Because it’s only on the streets of New York, and countless cities like it, driving the bus through those ugly neighborhoods of ragged, hungry, frightened, hopeless kids to take them to Jesus … it’s only there that I can rescue the person I’m looking for.”
The interviewer’s eyes grew wide as she asked, “And who is that, Pastor McKenzie?”
“Myself,” he said, smiling at her as another trickle of tears made its way down his weathered cheeks. “Every time I pick up one of those hopeless kids … I’m really picking up myself.”
~ THE END ~
May you have a Christmas season filled with opportunities
to show the love of God to others.
Yes, it’s official. Book # 5 of the Smoky Mountain Series of inspirational novels is on the market. THIS FIRE IN MY HEART, which continues the story of many of the original characters from the earlier books while introducing us to new ones as well, is finally ready for readers.
Many of my readers who have followed my website for a few years know that when I lost my best friend (who had also been my best book editor) a little over three years ago, the grief and the loss were such that I was not able to return to any of the novels I had been working on, or to start any new works. I was able to write poetry during those years, which provided a healing process for me, but after writing and publishing 11 novels, I was suddenly at a complete standstill when it came to fiction writing. It was a terribly unhappy time for me, not only because of my personal loss, but because of the creative loss as well.
Many of you prayed for me, and the Lord did a wonderful work, particularly during the past year. Earlier this year, I was able to pick up the second novella in another series that had been about half done when my friend and editor died. And I was able to finish that short work and get it into the marketplace. But taking up the task of writing a completely new novel again — and one that fit into the series which has been the most popular of my works — was still quite daunting.
But during the past few months, I’ve experienced a fresh flow of creativity, and I am thrilled with the results. Not only did I write book 5 and get it into publication, but book 6 began to push its way into my psyche so strongly that it almost interrupted my completing book 5 just because I had to keep stopping to write down notes for book 6 that I didn’t want to forget. It’s a very happy problem for an author to have. 🙂
Anyway, folks, that’s a long way of saying that I’m celebrating. So I’ve launched both the E-Book and the Paperback versions of THIS FIRE IN MY HEART at special sale prices through the end of the month.
E-Book — $0.99
Paperback — $6.99
I’ll include a brief description of the story below, and if you’re interested in your own copy, you can find the book HERE.
What’s it about????
He was Cherokee, she Scottish-American. But the moment they met in the airport coffee shop, they were connected. Waiting out the fog, they talked like old friends. When her plane was called, he carried her bag to her boarding gate.
With disappointment in her voice, she said, “Wow, Chicago and Dallas – talk about two people going in opposite directions.”
Light flared in his eyes as he realized she didn’t want their connection to end any more than he did. Her pull on him was so strong that he reached out, thinking to touch her cheek, but caught himself just in time. Such an intimate touch with someone he hardly knew wasn’t like him, He quickly bent and picked up her bag and handed it to her, smiling.
“Opposite directions today,” he said, “but not always, I think. I will see you again, Joy.”
How do you know when you’ve met the right person to spend the rest of your life with? For a Christian believer, the Lord has guidelines. Even so, Joy McDaniels struggles with her heart and mind in conflict. But determined to focus on God’s Word and His way of doing things, she finally allows her heart to take the lead.