Blog » Read Chapter Three of Jennifer AlLee's 'A Wild Goose Chase Christmas'

  • 2015-02-05 07:00:00

Enjoy this excerpt of Jennifer AlLee's A Wild Goose Chase Christmas. Make sure you check back each week for a new excerpt from a Quilts of Love book! 

Beyond the Storm — Chapter Two

Izzy was having a hard time concentrating on cubism, especially since her mind kept going back to triangles.

“This is Pablo Picasso, arguably one of the best-known cubist artists. But does he look anything like this man?” She clicked a button on the projector’s wireless remote, changing the image on the screen at the front of the room. Several of the students laughed; a few made noises that loudly communicated their negative feelings toward the piece.

“No way that’s the same guy,” one of the boys said.

“It’s supposed to be.” Izzy walked up the aisle until she stood beside her desk and faced the class. “This is a portrait of Picasso done by Juan Gris, another popular cubist of the time. I want you to take a moment to study it.”

Arms crossed, she looked at the picture with her students, trying to imagine what a bunch of teenagers would think about such an unusual piece of art. But she kept zeroing in on the many triangles present in the painting. The background in particular was a series of triangles pointing in the same direction, giving it a feeling of movement.

Very much like her Wild Goose Chase quilt. The quilt that Max wanted. What was she going to do about Max? Did he really have a letter from Gran? And even if he did, was it binding? Would it give him any claim over the quilt?

The students started to whisper and fidget in their seats, signaling that the moment of silence had gone on long enough. She clapped her hands and looked back at the class. “What emotions do you feel when you look at this painting?”

“I feel nauseated.” The remark came from the back of the room. Grant, her class clown and constant pot stirrer. If he wasn’t so gifted, she wouldn’t put up with his antics.

“Grant feels sick. Duly noted, although that isn’t an emotion.” Grant slouched in his seat as laughter rippled through the room. She pointed at a girl in the front row with her hand up. “Danielle?”

The girl stared at the portrait, tilting her head until her cheek nearly touched her shoulder. “It makes me feel sad.”

“Why?”

“Because he looks like he had a stroke.”

“I can see that,” Izzy said, nodding. “The features on one side of the face are much weaker than on the other. Anyone else? Come on, just yell out the first thing that comes to your mind.”

That did it. The room became a cacophony of short, shouted answers.

“Angry.”

“Happy.”

“Confused.”

“Flying.” That one caught her attention. Flying. Like wild geese.

She moved to the switch panel on the wall, turning the lights on, off, and on again until order returned to the room. “Obviously, this style evokes many different emotions, as all good art should. Which is why each one of you is going to create a cubist-style self-portrait.”

From the groans that came her way, Izzy guessed this wouldn’t be her most popular assignment.

“Miss Fontaine?”

Josie’s voice was so soft and timid that Izzy almost didn’t hear her. She certainly hadn’t seen the girl’s hand barely raised above the height of her shoulder. But the fact that she spoke up at all was great progress. “Yes, Josie?”

“What medium should we use?”

“Any you want. Oils, charcoal, pastels, collage . . .”

“Macaroni,” Grant threw out. Izzy met his eyes and held them.

“If you can find a way to manipulate macaroni into a cubist work of art, go for it.” She stared at him a moment more in silence, then returned her attention to the class at large. “The idea is to stay true to the spirit of cubism.”

“Over the weekend, I want you to do a preliminary sketch. As you know, you’ll have a sub next week, but she’ll help you work on your ideas. I’ll be back after Thanksgiving and I expect you to knock my socks off.” The bell rang, signaling the end of not only the class but of the school day as well. “Enjoy your holiday!” She had to yell to be heard over the commotion of teenagers scrambling to their feet, talking, gathering backpacks, and turning on cell phones.

In less than a minute, they were gone. Izzy smiled to herself as she made a sweep of the room, picking up trash and straightening chairs. Once upon a time, she’d been full of energy, just like those kids. Except that when she ran out of the classroom, her first thought hadn’t been about what party to go to or where she’d hang out with her friends. It had been about the latest dance position she wanted to master or bit of choreography she struggled with. For years, she’d gone straight from one school to another, trading classrooms with desks and whiteboards for those with mirrored walls and ballet bars.

Izzy shook her head. Where had that come from? She rarely thought about those days. Getting ready for Gran’s funeral must have stirred up the memories. Izzy had wanted so much to be like Gran, like the ballerina she’d seen in those old publicity pictures. And she almost was. She’d gotten so close.

With a sigh, she dumped into the garbage can the armful of litter she’d collected, then moved to the projector. Before she flipped the off switch, she took one last look at the Picasso portrait. Those prominent triangles really did remind her of flight. They transported her away from school and right back to her grandmother’s quilt. Which brought her right back to the man she was trying not to think about.

“Max.” Unthinking, she spoke his name on a puff of air. “Who?” Izzy spun around to see Barry Wilcox standing in the doorway. When had he come in? “Barry, you scared me.”

“Sorry.” He stepped toward her, cheeks slightly flushed.

“Who’s Max? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“What? Oh, no, of course not.” Izzy knew full well that

Barry had a crush on her. He was sweet, but after three years of teaching together she was no more romantically interested in him now than on the day they’d met. Playing up Max to be something he wasn’t could be her key to moving out of Barry’s sights. But it wouldn’t be very nice to lie to him. “Max is assisting me with my grandmother’s estate.”

He frowned and tugged on the bottom of his sweater vest. “I was so sorry to hear about your grandmother, Izzy. Is there anything I can do?”

Izzy smiled, just enough to let him know she appreciated his concern but not so much as to encourage more attention. “No, I’ll be fine.”

“OK.” He nodded and turned for the door. Then he stopped and looked back. “Can I walk you to your car?”

“You go ahead. I have a few things to do here first.”

Barry smiled and left. Izzy took her time gathering her books and folders. Then she pushed the projector cart back into the audiovisual cabinet and locked it. A motorized rumble came from the parking lot. She looked out the window in time to see Barry’s white VW Bug chugging by.

Snatching her bag off the desk, she gave the room one last look then rushed out the door and down the hall. If she hurried, she could get to the YMCA and fit in a good hour of water aerobics before it was time to meet her mother and brother at the church to go over the final details of Gran’s funeral.

____________________________

Izzy steered her old Honda into a parking spot, braking to a sudden stop. Her chest jerked against the seat belt, which pushed her backward so that her head thudded against the headrest. Standing beneath a leafless tree in front of the door to the church office, Janice Fontaine uncrossed her arms long enough to lower her sunglasses and look over the frame rim at her daughter. She shook her head, lips tight and drawn together, then pushed the glasses back into position and re-crossed her arms.

Izzy smiled through the windshield, but on the inside she scolded herself. She shouldn’t have taken the time to go to the Y. All the relaxation she’d felt after moving and stretching in the water was gone now, her muscles stiffening under Janice’s displeased stare. Izzy pulled back her now dry hair and secured it with the ponytail holder she’d kept around her wrist. Just once, it would be nice if Mom would cut her some slack. Especially at a time like this.

Snatching the file folder from the passenger seat, Izzy left the car and walked toward her mother.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Let me guess. You’ve just come from the pool.” That was it. No preamble. No greeting. Just the accusation.

Izzy nodded her head, fingers tightening on the edge of the folder. “I did.”

“If I’d known you were so drawn to swimming, I wouldn’t have wasted all that money on dance lessons when you were younger.” Janice looked in Izzy’s direction, and though she couldn’t see her mother’s eyes behind the smoked lenses of her glasses, Izzy was certain she looked past her, not at her.

“You know why I swim,” Izzy said. “It’s good for me. It helps my joints.”

Janice took a deep breath and her lips softened, the corners lowering and spreading out. “Yes, I know. I’m glad it helps you.” She pointed at the folder. “What do you have in there?”

Before Izzy could say, she was cut off by the roar of a high-performance engine. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a sleek sports car zip through the parking lot. With a squeal of brakes it came to a stop right beside her ten-year-old vehicle.

Her brother sure knew how to make an entrance.

“Brandon!” The exuberance in Janice’s voice left no doubt that she excused her eldest for his tardiness.

Izzy bit the inside of her lip as she watched her mother wrap her arms around her son. He was the favorite, without a doubt. Izzy had gotten to the point where she usually didn’t let it bother her. But today was different. Today, the three of them were together because Gran had died. Izzy had been Gran’s favorite, and vice versa. Watching her mother and brother interacting, knowing that Gran was gone, Izzy felt more alone than ever.

Brandon pulled away from their mother and put his arm around Izzy’s shoulders. “How are you holding up, Tiny Dancer?”

The childhood nickname brought a smile to her lips. He hadn’t called her that in years. “I’m OK. I miss her, though.”

Janice smoothed down the front of her skirt. “Of course you do. We all do.” She looked at the office door. “Now that we’re all here, let’s go in.”

She took one step and wobbled on the uneven pavement. Brandon rushed forward and offered his arm. Izzy shook her head as she walked behind them. Why Janice insisted on wearing those ridiculous heels was beyond her. They had to be five inches, at least.

“Are those new shoes, Mom?” She knew better than to prod her mother, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“Yes. And before you tell me I’m too old for shoes like this, don’t. Do you know who I sold a pair of these to just yesterday?”

“Someone important, I’m sure.”

Janice sniffed. “Only if you consider Meryl Streep important.”

“Seriously?” Izzy asked. “Meryl Streep walked into your store?”

“Don’t be silly,” Janice said with a wave of her hand. “Meryl doesn’t do her own shopping. But her assistant came in and bought a pair.”

“Huh.” The more Izzy heard, the less she thought her mother had all the facts. “So she came right out and told you she was Meryl Streep’s assistant?”

“No. But when she bought them, she said, ‘Meryl will love these’.”

Brandon chuckled. “You know, there are other women in the world named Meryl.”

Janice shook her head. “Not in Hollywood.”

Izzy opened her mouth to argue that it was much more likely the assistant to someone named Meryl just needed a new pair of shoes for herself. But the look Brandon gave over his shoulder shut her down. He was right. Janice considered it a point of pride that, although she hadn’t made it in Hollywood as an actress, she at least worked at an upscale boutique that catered to actresses. And their assistants. It would be a waste of time to point out that she spent entirely too much of her paycheck trying to emulate women thirty years her junior.

Thanks to her own sensible tennis shoes, Izzy jogged ahead of her mother and brother, grabbed the office door, and held it open for them. Since it was after regular office hours, Pastor Quaid greeted them by his secretary’s desk.

“Izzy, so good to see you.” He opened his beefy arms and she walked into his welcome bear hug. “How are you holding up?”

So much better now, she thought. “I’m good. Happy for Gran; sad for me.”

He stepped back and smiled down at her. “Of course. This entire congregation feels her absence.” He turned to Izzy’s mother. “You must be Isabella’s daughter.”

She removed her sunglasses and held out her hand. “Janice.”

“So nice to meet you, Janice.” He grabbed her hand and pumped it in both of his. “I feel like I already know you. Isabella talked about you all the time.”

A brief look of shock flitted across her eyes, one corner of her mouth lifting in a half-smile. “She did?”

“Yes. And I’d know you anywhere. You certainly take after your mother.”

Izzy cringed as her mother yanked her hand away, not at all happy to be told she resembled an eighty-seven-year-old dead woman. Poor Pastor Quaid. He’d been doing so well up to that point.

“Pastor.” Izzy spoke up, hoping to diffuse the tension. “This is my brother, Brandon.”

He and Brandon shook hands and exchanged pleasantries without incident. Then Pastor Quaid turned back to Izzy. “If you’re ready, we can go back to my office and talk about the service.”

Pastor Quaid obviously deferred to her since she was a member of his church. But Izzy knew better than to take the lead now. There were certain things about the service she wanted to make sure happened, but it was best not to act like she was in charge. It was a matter of choosing her battles, something Izzy was extremely familiar with.

“Mom.” Izzy turned to her. “Are you ready?”

Janice nodded. Pastor Quaid turned and led the way down the hall. Janice crooked her elbow so Brandon could thread his arm back through and offer support. They followed, looking like they were leaning on each other.

Izzy took up the rear. Alone. 

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Jennifer AlLee

Jennifer AlLee believes the most important thing a woman can do is discover her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her stories. She has written skits, activity pages, and over one hundred contributions to Concordia Publishing House’s popular My Devotions series. Her novels include The Love of His Brother (Five Star), The Pastor’s Wife, and The Mother Road, both from Abingdon Press. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas with her husband and teenage son.

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