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Authors: Lisa Colozza Cocca

Providence

BOOK: Providence
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PROVIDENCE

LISA COLOZZA COCCA

F+W Media, Inc.

For Laine, Kevin, Laura, and Piper, with endless love
.

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

About the Author

Author’s Note

Acknowledgments

Copyright

CHAPTER 1

I first met Baby Girl in a freight car.

I was carrying a bag.

She was sleeping in one.

It was as if that old train was just there on the tracks waiting for me. The doors on the last car were flung open as if to say, “Come on in, Becky!” I climbed in and looked around. When I saw that lime green gym bag just sitting there, I worried that someone else had already taken the train up on its kind invitation. I thought it best to move on before its owner returned; but when that bag started moving, I had to take a peek. What I saw set me reeling. Two little legs kicked out at me with feet no bigger than my thumbs. Her little hands were curled into fists and her face was scrunched up tight. What really caught my eye was the bright red cloud of curls that sprang from her head.

Now, Mama always said, “If there’s trouble to be found, Becky will find it.” Mama was usually wrong. I don’t go looking for trouble. It finds me. But in this instance, I guess we found each other.

I knew how I had gotten in that train car, but I was at a loss for how a baby had landed there. For me, it happened when a thick blanket of dark clouds rolled out over the sunshine-soaked sky. Within minutes, the black sky was split by a cluster of lightning flashes that looked like someone had tossed a handful of tinsel in the air. A thunder boom shook my insides, and I had to go searching for cover. The train looked like an okay place to save me from a good soaking if those clouds opened up. Necessity had brought me into the freight car, but the newborn was a real puzzle. She sure didn’t get there on her own.

I looked around for some sign that this baby’s mama was coming back for her. I squinted into the dark corners of the car. There was nothing but a big old spider hanging from a web in one corner and a broken beer bottle in the other. I crept toward the doors to peek out. The sand on the floor of the car ground into my knees. I thought about that broken bottle, and for a moment I worried that some of that sand might be broken glass. (I tend to lose sight of my real worries when my mind races in all kinds of directions.) The baby let out a sigh and I was reminded of what my genuine problem was. I took a quick look around at what was outside the car, then crawled back to Baby Girl.

I lifted the baby out of the bag and moved us and our belongings into one corner of the freight car. Those welcoming open doors also made us easy to spot, so I was hoping we could hide there in the shadows until I figured out what to do. The rain had quickly grown steady, making it less likely anyone would walk down the tracks checking the cars, but I was still worried about getting caught where I didn’t belong. Worse yet, I was afraid of getting caught with a baby to explain away. Who would believe I just happened upon her here?

I pulled my long legs—my too-long legs—as close to my body as I could and pressed my backpack against the rust colored metal walls. The bundle of coins and the wire binding on the notebook in my backpack made it a less than ideal cushion. When the train finally jerked into motion, it banged my head against the wall. Daddy would have said that a jolt like that should have knocked some sense into me.

I’m sure he would have been disappointed by the actual results.

I should have been home helping Mama with the chores. Instead, I was hitching a ride on this train out of Tyson. When I woke up this morning, it had seemed like any other June day on our farm. The air was a little hotter and heavier than usual, even for our neck of South Carolina, but that didn’t shorten the list of chores any. Mama and I got an extra early start on the canning. By mid-morning, her feet were swelling; baby number ten was due before school starts up again, so I sent Mama upstairs for a rest. I stacked the jars of strawberry jam on the shelf and called in my brother Joseph. I asked him to take the other boys down to the pond to fish. Then I promised the girls I’d play all afternoon with them if they would take a nap before lunch. Thinking about breaking that promise hurt my stomach some. When the last little one closed her eyes, I snatched a book from my room and headed for the front porch. The bubble of silence burst when Daddy came in the back door looking for an extra hand. I know I should have helped Daddy, but I was tired and in need of some quiet time myself. So, when I heard Daddy call my name, I ran to the far side of the barn to hide.

I had only read five or six pages of my book when Caleb Brown cast his shadow over me. Now, I’ve heard folks around home say I’m pretty, but they usually say it with a sting.
That poor child, such a shame, and Becky’s such a pretty girl, too
. I want to tell them there’s no shame in me helping out my mama instead of hanging around town with the other girls talking about clothes and makeup. Most days, I don’t even mind helping Daddy. I know the farm is too much work for one man, and Daddy says there’s no money to pay help. As for Caleb, you’d never hear anyone adding hurtful words to their approving thoughts of him. Not by a long stretch. He is one of the handsomest boys in town, and he would not deny that fact. He has hair the color of honey and eyes you could drown in. His feeling so sure of himself makes his whole face light up when he talks, which makes everything he says seem more real and important.

I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, but rather trying to explain how once again trouble found me. I wasn’t looking for it.

Caleb had a bunch of fireworks with him and wanted to test a few out before the Fourth of July. I know I should have said no, but sometimes reason escapes a girl. Looking at Caleb’s long curly lashes and lightning smile just separated me from my common sense.

That boy spent a good deal of time arranging the rockets in a circle, pointing them to a creek that ran through the back fields. It all looked like a science experiment until he lit the fuses. The rockets went up, but instead of heading for the creek they made a loop in the air and crashed through the roof of the barn.

The walls of that barn shook with every bang and the ground rocked beneath my feet. My knees felt like they were about to give out under me when I got my first whiff of smoke. I saw Daddy running up the hill as flames began shooting out of the hole in the roof. By the time Mama made it up there, the whole barn was on fire.

Caleb had run off, leaving me alone with the burning barn. The animals were all out in the fields, but seeing that building disappearing in smoke made my heart ache. My great-grandpa had helped build that barn back in the 1930s when he was only a teenager. It had held up through decades of storms and the passing of the farm from generation to generation. And now in only a few minutes time, there seemed to be no hope for it. There were no words to describe how truly sorry I was, but I had to at least try to explain to Daddy what happened. I should have known better than to tell him I wasn’t alone.

Knowing I was behind the barn with a boy made him even angrier than the barn being on fire. “What were you doing back there with a boy? I didn’t raise you to be acting like that! How long has this been going on?”

BOOK: Providence
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