Blog » Read Chapter Three of Carolyn Zane's 'Beyond the Storm'
- 2015-02-03 07:00:00
Enjoy this excerpt of Carolyn Zane's Beyond the Storm. Make sure you check back each week for a new excerpt from a Quilts of Love book!
Beyond the Storm — Chapter Two
Oh, thank heavens you’re here!” Abigail rushed to greet Jen Strohacker as she entered the salon.
Jen smiled in confusion as she waddled back to Abigail’s chair for some high and low lights and a good cut. Once the baby came, she’d told Abigail, the Lord only knew when she’d find time to get back. “Is my hair that bad?”
Abigail laughed. “No, no. I just have some stuff going on with the booster club’s food cart, and I need to pick your brain about something.”
“Oh. Sure. Shoot.” Jen grabbed the arms of the chair and, with some awkward maneuvers, lowered herself into the seat.
“Do you know somebody named Justin Girard?”
“Justin? Oh, yeah. He’s probably Danny’s closest friend.” “Danny? Our Danny? Your Danny?”
Jen laughed at the sour expression on Abigail’s face. “You’ve met?”
“The food cart guy? No. And, I’m thinking I don’t want to.” “Oh, then you’re missing out. He’s a great guy.” Jen was as easy-going as she was beautiful. She owned Tantastic, a tanning shop about a mile away in the strip mall, and they shared a lot of the same clients. Abigail set to work, digging Jen’s hair colors out of her cabinet. “So, he’s not one of those contractors who takes the money but doesn’t finish the job, huh?”
Jen blew a raspberry. “Justin? No. He’s put a lot of work into that thing. And to think, he donated all of his labor—”
Abigail froze. “He . . . donated it?”
“You didn’t know that?”
“No!” Her eyes slid closed and she groaned. “I took my permit frustrations out on him. Ohhh, I am such a loser.”
Jen grinned. “He’ll forgive you.”
Abigail snorted. “So how come you know this guy so well and I’ve never met him?”
“I’m surprised you don’t know him. He goes to first service at our church.”
Abigail colored. No wonder she hadn’t met him. She never went to first service and rarely went to second. “Oh. So, where’d he come from?”
“Well, hmm. He’s originally from the East Coast, but he’s got some family out here. Grandparents, I think. Last Christmas, Danny and I met his mom and dad and they’re really sweet. He’s got . . . uh . . . two brothers, both married with kids. We haven’t known him quite a year yet, but I think he’s become the younger brother that Danny always wanted but never had.”
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot. Danny’s an only child, like me.” Abigail didn’t count the fact that she had an eighteen-year-old half-sister out there, somewhere. They didn’t run in the same circles.
“Mm. And you know what’s weird about that? Both of Dan’s parents were only children. And now, most likely,” she patted her belly, “this guy will be an only child. I’m pretty sure that’s why Danny married me. I come from a big family.”
“That and the fact that you’re a babe,” Abigail teased. It was true. Jen was a tall, willowy beauty. At over forty, she was still turning heads. “You’re the youngest, right?”
“Of eight. Danny was Brett’s—my older brother’s—best friend when we were kids.” Jen’s gaze followed Abigail’s hands as she set up a veritable chemistry lab.
“I think that’s what Danny has always wanted more than anything else, beside his relationship with Jesus and with me. Family. A family of his own.”
Abigail nodded. Danny was renowned for his two passions. Jesus and Jen. He carried his bright red Bible everywhere and knew it frontward and back. And he could tell you the coolest stories and trivia. If he’d been so inclined, Danny was probably the only guy she knew that could carry a Bible into a bar for a meeting of the atheist society and have everyone fascinated and clamoring for more by the end of the evening. Abigail didn’t attend church as often as she should, but when Danny subbed for the regular pastor, she never missed.
“Looks like it won’t be long before he gets that family, huh?” Abigail said, referring to Jen’s advanced pregnancy as she worked.
“Doctor says I’m due in a little over two weeks, but it could be any time.”
“You guys must be excited.”
“Over the moon. You don’t wait so long for something like this without getting a little stupid. You should see the baby’s room, and I’m still not done. In fact, I’m going to go visit your aunt about making a quilt for the crib. I ordered a Noah’s Ark pattern that will take me the rest of my life to make.” She was beaming with excitement over a quilt—just like Selma would do. Abigail didn’t get it.
Anyone who knew the Strohackers very well knew that they’d been trying to conceive for at least sixteen of their twenty-year marriage. They’d spent a fortune on fertility and in vitro treatments, which had all failed. And then, when they’d given up all hope and Jen was in perimenopause—surprise! That “stomach virus” was going to be a boy. “My sister, Sarah, is an ultrasound tech. She’s working me in after hours tonight for a private ultrasound at her clinic across from the Southshire hospital. Dan can’t wait to get a look at his son.”
“That is so sweet.” Abigail smiled as she began to section out Jen’s hair and twist it up into clips. “He’s gonna be a great dad, huh?”
Jen patted her belly. “He already is.”
“Hey, beautiful, where are you?”
Kaylee sighed and smiled. Just the sound of Chaz’s voice in her phone could turn her knees into jelly. “Hey, sweetie. I’m just popping home for a minute to change some sheets before I head in to work. This afternoon, I’m going to go pick up Mama and Aunt Lydia at the airport. I can’t believe how much there is to do before the wedding.” Kaylee moved a stack of brand new, monogrammed towels off the couch and to the overflowing coffee table so that she could sit down. The dining and living rooms of her apartment were literally stuffed with wedding gifts.
“And it’s only seven days away. Seven more days until heaven.” There was a teasing note in his voice that left Kaylee giggling. The news had spread that they’d both been saving themselves for their wedding night, and it was a bit of a running joke among their friends. And, though there were those that mocked and jeered, most people were impressed— as well they should be. It hadn’t been all that easy at times.
“Seven days,” he whispered, “ten hours and twenty-seven minutes. . . .” He was panting and snorting into the phone.
“Stop it,” she giggled. “You’re getting my ear all wet!”
“Hey, now, that’s interesting.” Chaz’s rich laughter rumbled in her ear. They’d always been able to make each other laugh. Sometimes it could get almost painful—this knack they had for cracking each other up. It was a wonderful face-and- bellyache that she hoped they’d share with their children in the future.
“What are you doing today?” she asked.
“I’ll be down at the cleaners pulling a shift for my dad.” Chaz’s father, Ernest E. Edwards, owned the Tripoli Cleaners across from the convenience store in the strip mall about a mile from Old Town. Chaz worked at Tripoli during the day and on his law degree up in Southshire by night. He and Kaylee had just bought a house north of town so that they’d be halfway between both places.
“What time you getting off?”
“I can probably be out of here no later than six-thirty. Seven at the latest. Why?”
“I was just wondering when I should have dinner ready. Mama and Aunt Lydia are looking forward to seeing you.”
“Plan on seven. What time are they landing?”
“I have to be in Southshire by three-thirty. Their plane is landing at just after four, and I don’t want to keep them waiting, in case they’re early. They’re going to help me get a jump on thank-you notes and reception favors. When Daddy comes in on Friday, he’s gonna rent a truck and help us move everything over to the house.”
“Sounds good. Don’t wanna take ’em line dancing, huh?” he teased.
She groaned. “Pul-eeze. I was always facing the wrong direction and smacking into somebody.”
“I like the way you line dance, baby. You can smack into me anytime.”
“Get to work, silly boy.” It felt as if her grin could just swallow her face whole.
“You want me to pick up some sushi next door at the Sakura Garden, since you’ll be on the road with your mama? I can bring it over to your place for dinner tonight.”
Was he the most thoughtful man on earth, or what? “Oh, that’s a good idea. Mama loves sushi. It’s a date. I love you, Chaz.”
“And, I love you, Kaylee Johnson, soon to be Kaylee Edwards.”
Justin backed his tailgate up against the loading dock at the rear entrance to The Pump. The owner had contracted for a sauna in the men’s locker room. Though he’d never say it, Justin wondered why the men didn’t just go outside and sit if they wanted to sweat. Seemed like a waste of money to build a special room for it. Sweat for free, right outside. Whatever. Jobs like these paid his grocery bill, so he wasn’t going to complain.
The backdoor swung open and Justin glanced up and grinned. Well, if it wasn’t the half-naked arresting officer from Low Places last night. “Hey, Bob Ray! I hardly recognize you without your badge.”
“Shut up.” Bob Ray laughed and leapt off the dock and into the truck’s bed to give him a hand unloading bundles of cedar and stacks of 2x4’s. Justin didn’t know Bob Ray as much more than a workout buddy. He seemed to be a likable enough kid. A little on the cocky side. The guy who owned The Pump trusted him to handle a lot of the managerial stuff, so he must have a reasonable work ethic.
“So, you have to go to the police academy to learn those moves?”
“Learned everything I know from Rawston’s finest,” Bob Ray joshed as he hefted a load of cedar up to the dock. Justin chuckled and handed another bundle to Bob Ray. Together they began to slide stacks up onto the dock.
“Heather know you moonlight as a gigolo?”
“What mama don’t know, don’t hurt her.”
Justin didn’t let Bob Ray see him wince. He’d heard that the
kid had to marry his girlfriend when they were still in high school. And he didn’t doubt that Bob Ray’s days of sowing his wild oats weren’t over yet. If there was one thing Justin was eternally grateful to his folks for, it was that they demanded that he and his brothers treat women with respect. He didn’t envy Bob Ray’s being caught in a teenage marriage, but just because he’d had to man up at a young age was no excuse to go AWOL on his wife.
He wondered what Danny would say to Bob Ray in a situation like this. Justin wished he had his friend’s knack for always having just the right advice or Bible story or something perfect to illustrate the direction somebody oughta be headed. If Justin tried to quote some Scripture to the kid, he’d come off sounding like a phony. Most likely because, though he believed what Danny would say to Bob Ray, Justin didn’t exactly model it the way Danny did. Someday, Justin hoped to be more like Danny. Especially for times just like these.
He grabbed a stack of 2x4’s and shoved them onto the dock. In spite of feeling inadequate, Justin felt a strong urge to pursue the subject. “Gotta be tempting, being around those beautiful women all night, every night. A lot of ’em seemed to like you.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t ask to be a married man at only eighteen, so she’s just going to have to deal.”
“That how old you were when you two got married?” Justin continued stacking 2x4’s while Bob Ray pulled bundles of cedar out of the truck’s bed.
“I was almost nineteen. Heather was seventeen, almost eighteen.”
“Yeah, ouch. I go from fullback to fatherhood in less than a year. And now? I live in a single-wide trailer and have to work two jobs to keep her and the kid in Cheerios.”
Justin worked for a while, thinking. “Life’s weird, huh? Dan Strohacker, you know him?” Justin stood and rested for a second.
“Oh, yeah. He’s . . . he’s . . .” Bob Ray dragged a hand over his face. “He’s a real good man.” There was a flicker of something on the kid’s face at the mention of Dan’s name that Justin couldn’t pinpoint. Respect? Probably. And something else. Guilt?
“He really is. Anyway, he and his wife tried to get pregnant for years. I mean, they tried everything and spent a ton of money. They were old enough, financially secure, and have a beautiful home. You’d think God would go, ‘Okay, Danny boy, I hear your prayers. You’d make some kid a great dad. I’m going to bless you with a baby.’ ”
“And here I am, just some chowderhead football player, knocks up his girlfriend when they’re using birth control.” Bob Ray’s grin didn’t reach his eyes. “Don’t make a lick of sense to me.”
“Not fair, that’s for sure. There has to be something in there, don’t you think? Cuz neither of you got what you wanted. Both of you . . . It’s like you’re being tested.”
“Well, if that’s the case, I have a sinking feeling I’m not passing.” Bob Ray climbed out of the truck. “Come on. I got a couple of ice cold Gatorades inside. Let’s drink one before we haul this stuff inside.” He led Justin to the employee break room and pulled a couple of bottles out of the fridge. He tossed a bottle to Justin, then twisted the top off his own bottle and drank deeply. With a grunt, Bob Ray flopped into a chair at the break room table and stared at the Gatorade label.
Pulling a chair out and spinning it around, Justin straddled it. They sat in companionable silence for a moment, although Justin sensed Bob Ray was wrestling with something. He didn’t speak, figuring the kid would spit it out if he wanted.
“Dan and his wife?” Bob Ray finally began, and Justin nodded. “They were gonna adopt our son, Robbie.” It was obvious this topic wasn’t easy for Bob Ray.
Expression as neutral as he could make it, Justin hoped his slow nod hid his surprise and, at the same time, encouraged Bob Ray to continue.
“It was my idea. Danny was the youth group leader back when I used to go to church. Since my dad died, Dan was like a father to me. Always came to all my games and stuff. Tried to pound some religion into my bony head. You can see how well that worked.” Bob Ray’s laugh was mirthless as he began to peel the label off his Gatorade bottle. “My dad died when I wasn’t much older than Robbie is now. I don’t remember that much about him, but the whole thing left its scars. I didn’t want my kid to end up living without a guy like Danny around. I sure wasn’t ready for the responsibility, but Dan and Jen were.”
Bob Ray’s eyes closed, and he sighed. “They’d have been awesome parents.” When he opened his eyes, Justin could see the emotion sparking, igniting a pain that still simmered beneath Bob Ray’s arrogant façade. “Heather even agreed after a while. But her old man . . .” Tears lurked behind Bob Ray’s gaze. “Her old man was mad at me. Wanted me to take responsibility. I was eighteen, man. I was scared. Scared of him.
Scared of everything. So, we got married. And I gotta tell you . . . the kid is real cute and everything, but if I had to do it all again . . . I wouldn’t.”
Justin nodded. That’s all he could do. Didn’t have words. But he guessed that was good, as Bob Ray didn’t seem to want or need words.