Sunday, October 05, 2008

Long Journey Home by Sharlene MacLaren



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Long Journey Home

Whitaker House (September 2, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren attended Spring Arbor University and graduated with an education degree. Now happily retired after teaching elementary school for 31 years, ‘Shar’ enjoys reading, writing, singing in the church choir and worship teams, traveling, and spending time with her husband, children, and precious grandson.

A Christian for over forty years, and a lover of the English language, Shar has always enjoyed dabbling in writing—poetry, fiction, various essays, and freelancing for periodicals and newspapers. Her favored genre, however, has always been romance. She remembers well the short stories she wrote in high school and watching them circulate from girl to girl during government and civics classes.

Sharlene’s books have had the opportunity to reach readers all across the world. The subject matters she touches on have changed hearts and lives resulting in a general fiction nomination for BOOK-OF-THE-YEAR by the American Christian Fiction Writers Association, various appearances on United Christian Broadcasters, Babbie's House, Harvest TV, and an extremely significant online presence.

Shar is a speaker for her local MOPS organization, is involved in KIDS’ HOPE USA, a mentoring program for at-risk children, counsels young women in the Apples of Gold program, and is active in two weekly Bible studies. She and her husband, Cecil, live in Spring Lake, Michigan with their lovable collie, Dakota, and Mocha, their lazy fat cat.


Other Books by Sharlene MacLaren:

Through Every Storm (ACFW finalist for Book of The Year 2007!)

Spring's Promise

Little Hickman Creek Series:

Each story in MacLaren’s Little Hickman Creek series depicts Kentucky in the late 1800s, focusing on a little town better known today as simply Jessamine County. Titles in the series include Loving Liza Jane (April ‘07), Sarah, My Beloved (October ‘07), and Courting Emma, (Spring ’08).


Visit the author's website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Dan Matt son pushed the speed limit on Highway 6, feeling wild and reckless. With both windows down, radio blaring, map stretched out on his lap, he sped past a sign reading Oakdale: 10 Miles and breathed a sigh. Not far now, he told himself. With his back muscles aching and his stomach (and gas tank) nearly empty, he was more than a little anxious to reach his destination.

Along the way, he had noted several large farms, their rickety fences lining the roadside. Here and there, cows and horses huddled in groups, grazing on thinning,
grassy knolls. Restless and impatient, he ran his fingers through his thick, black hair, then reached down and turned up the volume on the radio. At the sounds of a familiar country tune, he began humming along with the radio until his cell phone started vibrating. He yanked it from his pocket, flipped open the cover, and spoke a hurried greeting.

“Danny, where are you?”

He should have known his sister would inquire after him before the day was done. “Hi, Sam. I’m not far from Oakdale.”

“Well, I miss you.” It was hard to ignore the pouty tone.

“Already? I just left this morning.” He forced a smile. Lately, it took a lot for one to come naturally.

“It doesn’t matter. Things are not going to be the same around here without you.”

“Things have not been the same for a long time, Samantha,” he corrected.

Had it really been more than a year since his life took a sharp, screeching turn? Even now, the past memories tangled with his present senses.

“That’s true, but did you have to move away? These things take time, Danny, and the constituency did give you six months to rest up and collect yourself,” she said.

Collect myself? Is she kidding? Six months had barely been enough time to shake off the numbness before reality set in. He swallowed down an angry retort.

“We’ve been over all this, Sam. It’s for the best.”

“Leaving your congregation was for the best?” she asked.

“Sam…”

“Folks were just starting to heal. I don’t think you gave it enough time.”

Sam was nothing if she wasn’t forthright about her feelings. Of everyone in the family, she’d been the most adamant about him sticking it out with his congregation.

Did she think this last-minute conversation might convince him to turn around? It was almost enough to make him chuckle.

“I did what I had to do. Hanging around wasn’t doing my parishioners any good.”

“Do you know that for sure?”

He heaved an enormous sigh. “I was their pastor, Sam, but I was the one who needed shepherding.”

“God uses imperfect people all the time.”

“Maybe so, but a church needs strong leadership. What kind of pastor stands in front of the pulpit Sunday after Sunday and offers nothing more than a few babbling words? Shoot, Sam, even I had trouble following my sermons.”

Samantha giggled. “I have to admit, they were going from bad to worse.”

“There you have it,” he murmured, mindlessly reading passing billboards.

“I was kidding.”

“No, you weren’t. Did Mom put you up to this phone call, by the way?”

“Nope. In fact, she told me to leave you alone.”

“Smart woman.”

A tiny pause silenced Sam for a moment. “When are you going to stop blaming yourself for the accident?”

At her question, he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Who said I was?”

“It’s pretty obvious, although why you would is a mystery to me. You weren’t even with them when it happened.”

“Precisely. That, my dear, should explain my guilt.”

“So, you’re saying if you’d been with them it wouldn’t have happened? That’s silly. And what about this? If you’d been driving, you might all be dead. That was a treacherous storm.”

“I gotta hang up, Sam. I’m getting closer to town.”

“Dan, answer me this,” she persisted.

“What?” He gritted his teeth against his growing perturbation.

“Besides blaming yourself, do you also blame God?”

He sighed. “I am so tired of talking about this.”

“Just answer me.”

“I don’t know.” Some things were just too hard to put into words.

“Shall I discount all your past sermons about trusting God even through the tough times? I still remember you preaching at John Farhat’s funeral. You looked straight into his wife’s eyes and said, ‘We would never see the stars, Ellen, if God didn’t sometimes take away the day.’”

A ball of guilt formed a tight knot in his chest. How many people had he hurt in his leave-taking? Worse, how many had he led astray? “Let it go, Samantha.”

“I suffered, too, you know. I lost a sister-in-law and a precious niece. And think about Mom and Dad….”

Her voice drifted off as Dan watched the road ahead. “Gotta go, Sam. I’ll call you soon.”

He clamped the cover of the receiver down hard and stuffed the thing back in his pocket, then quickly yanked it back out, opened it up, and hit the off button.

Oakdale City Limits

Dan breathed deeply when he passed the familiar landmark. He’d visited Oakdale only briefly before, but something about its tranquil setting brought a sense of peace and belonging. Its rambling old oaks, fields of wild flowers, ageless pines nestled on faraway hillsides, and timeless brick homes surrounded by flower beds held a kind of idyllic appeal.

He passed an ancient cemetery and instinctively slowed, its sight only adding to his pensive mood. Cemeteries did that to him.

Andrea… Her name shot out of nowhere.

He pushed the accelerator. “God,” he muttered, “what were You thinking? Taking my family away from me was a rotten trick.”

Dan flipped the turn signal at the entrance to Oakdale Arms Apartment Complex, his new stomping ground—at least until he got a grip on himself. He saw the large moving van sitting in the parking lot. It contained a minimum of furniture, enough clothes to get by, and only those memorabilia that wouldn’t cause undue pain. He’d already made payment to the moving company, and the driver had said he would be back for his truck in a couple of days. Moving companies didn’t often operate that way, but since the driver was an old friend, he’d made special arrangements.

Dan parked the car, got out, and stretched. Oakdale looked like a nice enough community—quiet and pleasant, with a friendly aura. Its appeal was almost tangible. Maybe this would be his answer to finding some much needed peace.

He would go into the apartment he’d leased, then make a call to his old high school friend who’d offered him the construction job. He took in the sights and smells around him, felt the warmth of the summer sun on his back, and believed in his heart of hearts that he would find answers right here in this lovely little bedroom community on the outskirts of Chicago.

A hair-raising scream roused Callie May from her sleep-drugged state at precisely six fifty-six on Sunday morning. “Nooo,” she groaned, burying her head beneath her pillow. Hadn’t she just closed her eyes five minutes ago? Just give me another hour, Em. But as the screams rose in decibels, she surrendered to the fact that her eight- month-old baby was hungry and needed attention.

On her way to the nursery, she adjusted the thermostat. Early sun reached its spindly fingers through the half-drawn blinds, sending shafts of light through the kitchen window. Looks like another sunny day, she mulled. Too bad she couldn’t say the same for her spirits.

Emily’s pouty sob gave way to instant smiles when Callie walked through the door. “You’re a stinker, you know that?” she chided while lowering the bar on Emily’s crib and lifting the baby into her arms.

“Waking Mommy when she had just fallen asleep.”

Emily smeared a wet, warm kiss across Callie’s face, making Callie chuckle in spite of herself. “You think you can win me over with your kisses?”

After a hasty diaper change, Callie hoisted the baby on her hip and headed for the kitchen. “Ba-ba-ba-ba,” Emily chanted along the way, oblivious to her mother’s less- than-chipper mood, her recent “B” sounds coming out in an attempt to say “bottle.” Of course, Callie’s father begged to differ. “She’s trying to say ‘Grandpa,’” he claimed.

Pulling open the fridge door, she spotted a bottle of formula and snatched it off the shelf, then pushed the door shut with her hip. “Cold or hot?” she asked, holding the bottle under the baby’s nose. Emily reached for the bottle and steered it to her mouth. “Guess that answers that,” she said, tipping Emily back in her arms while the baby suckled.

As she reached for a mug for tea, a sudden racket in the hall outside her door sparked her interest. Yesterday, someone had started moving into the vacant apartment across the hall, but she’d been too self-absorbed to pay much attention. Now, however, she found herself padding across the room for a peek through her peephole.

At first, she saw nothing through the tiny hole in her door. But then, a tall, strongly built man emerged from the apartment, large crate in hand. He looked to be about her age—perhaps in his mid- to late-twenties. He paused just briefly, as if pondering something, giving her a chance to study his handsome, sober face with its clear-cut lines, generous mouth, and thick crop of black hair. An unexpected shiver scampered up her spine.

Even through the tiny opening, she sensed his angry mood; she saw it in his crinkled brow and clenched jaw.

He looks mad enough to spit poison. Who is he?

A squirming Emily forced her away from the door. She told herself that the man was of no concern to her, and not to mind his dark and dangerous appearance, never mind that her marriage to an abusive man had ended mere days ago and she was feeling vulnerable.

She had enough things to worry about without adding a dodgy-looking character into the mix.

Dropping into a soft chair, she gathered her baby close and blew out a loud breath. While Emily finished off the last few ounces of formula, Callie leaned back and closed her eyes. If the stranger held down the noise, she might be able to catch a few more winks before getting ready for church.

“What? You’re pregnant?” he screamed. “You finagling witch!”

An angry fist shot out and hit her square in the jaw, knocking her to the floor. Pain seared her face like fiery talons while a gasp of air pushed past her lungs. She skidded across the hardwood floor and slid up against the wall.

“Don’t hate me, Thomas. I—I didn’t mean for it to happen. Please…”

“Shut up!” he ranted, reaching for a fistful of her hair and yanking her head around till it snapped. “You’re gonna get rid of that mistake in your belly, you hear me?”

The urge to retch consumed her. Mistake? Timidly, she raised her face to him.

“I—I can’t do that.”

“You can and you will,” he wailed, pulling her hair until it nearly ripped from her scalp. She screamed with pain. Sneering, he dropped his hand and tramped to the door.

He wrenched his coat from its hook and pushed his arms through the sleeves. “I’m going out! I can’t stand the sight of you!”

When he slammed the door behind him, she lowered herself, exhausted, into a rumpled heap on the floor.


Her own sobs and the beads of sweat that dotted her forehead were what roused her from the nightmare. It wasn’t the first time she’d dreamt it, and it was unlikely to be the last. Shaken but relieved, she swabbed her brow with the back of her hand. Thomas was in Florida. She was in Illinois. The marriage was over—as was the abuse. Now, if she could just rid herself of the terrifying memories.

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