Authors: Linda Goodnight
“If my mother has something wrong with her heart, I need to know—whether she likes it or not,” Ian said.
Sure he was worried. Worse than worried. “Mom has been my rock for a long time. Now I have to be hers.”
With the whisper-touch of her fingers, Gretchen stopped Ian’s nervous jiggling of his straw. “Would you like some company?”
Ian studied her sincere expression, a dozen conflicting emotions going off in his head. “Are you offering?”
He knew he should refuse, but he wanted her company. “I’d like that.”
Boy, was he in trouble. The woman had him in a tangle. He wanted to know her better.
And he wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Books by Linda Goodnight
In the Spirit of…Christmas
A Very Special Delivery
A Season for Grace
A Touch of Grace
A romantic at heart, Linda Goodnight believes in the traditional values of family and home. Writing books enables her to share her certainty that, with faith and perseverance, love can last forever and happy endings really are possible.
A native of Oklahoma, Linda lives in the country with her husband, Gene, and Mugsy, an adorably obnoxious rat terrier. She and Gene have a blended family of six grown children. An elementary school teacher, she is also a licensed nurse. When time permits, Linda loves to read, watch football and rodeo, and indulge in chocolate. She also enjoys taking long, calorie-burning walks in the nearby woods. Readers can write to her at [email protected], or c/o Steeple Hill Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279.
A Touch of Grace
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen?…Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter? When you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?…Then you will call and the Lord will answer, you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
This book is dedicated to adoptive parents everywhere. You are God’s word in action.
an couldn’t stop shaking. He’d done something bad. Real bad. And now they were all in trouble.
Collin always said you shouldn’t tell nobody nothing. But he and his brothers had been cold. That’s why Drew made the fire, but Ian’s prekindergarten teacher didn’t understand. Her eyes got all watery and she took him to the school counselor. Ian hadn’t said nothing to Mr. James. He’d been too scared. But Ms. Smith told everything. Even stuff Ian didn’t say. Stuff about hi-jean and neglect and other words he didn’t know.
Now all three brothers were in the office. Him and Drew and Collin.
He looked across the cluttered room to where Collin stood with fists tight at his side. He hoped Collin wasn’t mad at him for telling.
Collin was ten, the big brother. He took care of Ian and Drew. Collin was brave. He didn’t even get scared when it thundered and rain slithered through the cracks
of the trailer like wet snakes. He didn’t get scared neither when the cops came. He told them Mama was at the store and would be right back. But that wasn’t true. Sometimes Mama didn’t come back for days and days.
Drew leaped up from the plastic chair and charged for the door. “Leave me alone!”
Ian jumped at the sudden outburst.
“I’m not going this time. You can’t make me.”
Ian’s belly started to hurt. He sneaked a glance at Collin. Collin didn’t like it when Drew freaked out. That’s what Collin called it. Freakin’ out. Drew was mad, kicking and spitting and screaming. Bad stuff happened when Drew freaked out.
Sure enough, Mr. James grabbed his brother and pushed him into a chair. Mr. James was nice, but he was strong. With big muscles. And Drew was only seven.
“Settle down. Right now,” Mr. James said. “We’re trying to help.”
Drew struggled, growling like a mean tomcat. His too-long brown hair flopped wildly. He spit at Mr. James and said a bad word. Now he’d be in worse trouble. Drew never knew when to stop.
Ian couldn’t help it then. He started to cry. He clamped his lips tight and tried to stop, but he couldn’t. The sound stuck inside him, like peanut butter swallowed too fast. His chest hurt. He didn’t want the counselor to be mad at him, too. He didn’t want anyone to be mad. But he was scared and the tears pushed hard at the backs of his eyes.
His legs shook so much his hand-me-down tennis shoes nearly fell off.
He looked at Collin, afraid to talk for fear he’d say the wrong thing again. He needed to go the bathroom but wasn’t about to ask. What if the social worker took him away this time, and he never got to see Drew and Collin again? Mama said that would happen if they went around shooting off at the mouth.
He shouldn’t have told.
The tears ran through his nose and into the corners of his lips. He swiped at his face with the buttonless sleeve of his flannel shirt. This was all his fault.
Then Collin came over and put a hand on his head. Not a mad hand. A gentle, don’t-cry, hand. A quivery sigh ran through Ian. Collin would take care of him. He always did.
The social worker lady came over, too, and squatted down in front of his chair. She had nice eyes. And her voice was soft like Ms. Smith’s. But Collin didn’t like her. Ian could tell. Collin’s face was hard and mad, kind of scary.
“Don’t cry, Ian. I know you’re upset,” the lady said. “But you’re going to a real nice place that’s warm and has plenty to eat.”
Ian sniffed and looked at the woman. She smelled so nice. Much better than Mama. But he loved Mama. He wished she’d come home.
The social worker tapped the end of his shoe. The old stringless thing slipped off his heel. “We’ll get you some new tennis shoes, too. Ones that fit.”
Ian sucked in a hiccup. Shoes that fit. He’d like that. These were cold. The bottoms had holes and the inside was torn out. Sometimes they made sore places.
He wondered if he’d get some socks, too. White ones
that came high up his leg and didn’t fall down when he walked.
He hoped they went back to the same foster house again. The lady there was soft and smiley and let him eat all the food he wanted. He didn’t know why Collin and Drew didn’t like foster houses.
“Collin.” The social worker looked up at his big brother. “You’re old enough to understand that this is for the best. You boys can’t continue living alone in that old trailer. Now, why don’t you help us get the little ones into the car?”
Collin didn’t even look at her. He stared at the wall like a superhero trying to look through to the other side.
Mr. James did a funny thing then. Keeping one hand on Drew’s shoulder, he got down on his knees in front of the chair and talked about baseball and God.
He said, “Boys, sometimes life throws a curveball. But remember, no matter what happens today or forever, Jesus will always be with you, watching over you.”
Collin must be a lot like Jesus. He always watched over Drew and Ian when Mama was gone. Well, even when Mama was home.
Then Mr. James bowed his head and started whispering. A prayer, Ian thought. The room got real quiet. Even Drew quit fighting.
When the prayer ended, Mr. James handed them each a little key chain with a metal fish on it. Collin wouldn’t take his.
“This is a gift from me to you, not as your counselor, but as a friend who cares.” He stared up at the social worker as if daring her to argue. She looked at the door
and didn’t say a thing. “You don’t have to take it, Collin, but I hope you will. It’s a reminder that God will always care for you no matter where you go or what you do. He’ll never leave you. Never.”
Ian liked the sound of that. Jesus must be real nice.
Even though he stood stiff as a statue, Collin let Mr. James put the key chain in his hand. He wanted it. He was just too mad to say so. Then his voice scraped the air like rusty metal. “Where we going this time?”
The social worker lady stood up and moved toward him like she might touch him. Collin backed away.
“We’ve found placements for Drew and Ian.”
Ian’s heart slammed against his rib cage. What about Collin? He didn’t go anywhere without Collin.
“Together?” Collin asked.
“Not this time. I’m sorry.”
What was she saying? That he and his brothers wouldn’t be together? That he would be all by himself with a bunch of strange people? His legs started jerking again.
“They stay with me,” Collin said, but this time he sounded uncertain, as if maybe something bad was about to happen and he couldn’t fix it. “Ian gets scared at night.”
The lady touched Collin’s arm and her voice went soft and sweet. “He’ll be fine. They both will be. And so will you. Now, come on. We need to go.”
Turning, she held out her hand to Ian and smiled. He looked at Collin, saw the truth in his big brother’s eyes. This time Mama was right. Collin and Drew would go away and leave him. He would never see his brothers again. All because of his big fat mouth.
Twenty-three years later, New Orleans
Head still foggy from a nightmarish sleep, Ian Carpenter pushed up on one elbow. He tried to shake himself awake enough to think straight. Someone had discovered a dead girl on the grounds of Isaiah House.
Heart jump-started by the horror of such a thing, he squinted one eye at the red digital alarm clock. Six-fifteen. After combing the streets of the French Quarter most of the night, he’d been in bed less than three hours. Whatever happened had gone down in that brief time.
Sometimes the futility of what he did was overwhelming.
Through a throat filled with gravel, he said, “I’ll be right down.”
In five minutes flat, he had showered and dressed in his usual jeans and T-shirt. He shoved on the new pair
of Nike Shox he’d purchased yesterday, finding little joy in them now, and tiptoed down the squeaky wooden stairs of the old three-story mission house. Soon enough, the ten in-house residents would begin the day and he would be expected in the chapel with a word or to play the saxophone.
Ian both loved and hated his calling. He loved the people. He loved ministering and counseling. And he especially loved when someone’s life was turned around by the power of God’s love. But he hated times like these when the dark side won.
In the predawn September morning, he opened the back door out into the courtyard, a beautiful, lush green sanctuary where he often prayed and sought answers to the myriad problems of Isaiah House, the mission he’d started three years ago on faith and a few hundred dollars.
God had called him to this place of beauty and debauchery before Hurricane Katrina. Since the disaster, his work had more than tripled. Originally a small haven for runaways, Isaiah House now did whatever it could for any and everyone. True to the scripture that served as its cornerstone, the mission was a hand extended to whoever needed it. Sometimes that hand was stretched pretty thin.