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The gentleman stepped into Dr. Lara Crane's office, folded his hands politely and made an announcement. "I have had a smashing time."
Lara's heart stumbled as she rose from her chair to greet the African student. "Tell me what happened, Peter."
"The situation began when I drove my car around the corner of the university library. At the moment of turning, I observed another automobile. Both were traveling very slowly, because the law allows driving at only ten miles per hour on the campus. Just then, I noticed that the other automobile was in the same lane as mine. This was when I heard the unpleasant sound of the two cars bumping together. The police arrived quickly and then an ambulance, and everyone is well."
"I'm so glad you weren't hurt, Peter."
His mouth broadened into a wide smile that brightened the glow of his smooth chocolate skin. "God is good. The bonnet of my car was pushed in, but yet, it drives quite well."
Letting out the breath she had been holding, Lara assumed a stern expression—one she was forced to wear far too often as director of the International Student Program at Reynolds University. "Peter, it's only November, and this is your third accident since you came to Missouri. The government is likely to take away your driver's license. You may even face deportation back to Kenya."
"This is why I have come to see you, Dr. Crane. You will assist me."
"I can't help you drive, Peter. You're going to have to remember to stay in the right lane." She held up her hand to illustrate. During her two-year stint with a hunger relief agency in Africa, Lara had learned to communicate with a mixture of hand signals and language.Even talking to competent English speakers like Peter Muraya, she continued the practice.
"I realize that in Kenya, people drive on the left side of the road," she told him. "But here in Missouri, you must stay on the right."
"Yes, even when turning a corner."
"Especially when turning a corner." She shook her head. "Did the police write you a ticket?"
"Not at all. The other car was not harmed in the collision. The driver was a very kind man, and he said he would not pursue me."
"You hit someone head-on, but the other car wasn't damaged? How can that be?"
"It was a strong car. This was the type of automobile named for that kind of bird which can fly without any sign of movement in the wings." Peter gestured animatedly, attempting to outline the shape of the mystery vehicle as well as demonstrating the flight of the unnamed bird. "The wings cannot be seen. It is a small bird that prefers to eat only nectar—"
"A hummingbird." A young man with a mop of dark brown hair breezed through the open door of Lara's small office and dropped his textbooks on her desk. "He hit a Hummer."
Lara's mouth dropped open. "Peter, you ran into a one of those big " Now she was gesturing again.
"A Hummer," the younger man explained. "That's what he hit. I'm not surprised there was no damage. Those things are built like tanks."
Lara shifted her attention away from the Kenyan student. "And you are ?"
"Daniel Maddox." Instead of offering his hand, he held out a yellow flyer he had pulled off a campus bulletin board. "Sorry to cut in on your conversation, Dr. Crane, but I'm on my way to class. Hey, do you still need help? This notice says you're looking for places to put international students. I've got an extra house."
Wearing a faded sweatshirt, baggy jeans and a sweat-stained ball cap, Daniel Maddox didn't look as if he could afford even one house, let alone have an extra to share. But with ten years' experience at the university, Lara had learned to be wary of appearances. A man might claim to be the son of an African prince yet be unable to pay his tuition. A girl might appear to have stepped out of an Asian slum, then turn around and buy herself a sports car. A student could enter the university with nothing more than a GED and earn a degree with honors in three years. Another student could arrive with top scores and bomb out in one semester.
"An extra house," Lara said, stepping around her desk. "You want to explain that?"
"It's a guest cottage out back by the pool," Daniel said. "Two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom—the whole nine yards. Our house isn't far from campus. I walk to class every day. I bet my dad would agree to it. Probably wouldn't even charge much."
The young man's bright blue eyes were glowing as Lara stood and held out her hand. "I don't think we've met. I'm Dr. Lara Crane. This is Peter Muraya."
"Hey, Pete." Daniel tipped his cap at the Kenyan and gave both of them a firm handshake. "I'm a freshman at Reynolds, Dr. Crane. I'm carrying a lot of hours, and I don't have time for much on-campus stuff, so that's how come you haven't seen me."
"Your last name is Maddox. There's an architectural firm in town—"
"That's my dad. Jeremiah Maddox, but he's cooler than people say. I know what you're thinking. There was that whole deal about him putting up those condos. He's been attacked for not caring about historical preservation because he tore down that old building. But that's not it. His critics don't understand how things work in cities like Springfield."
"I see." Lara vaguely recalled a series of newspaper articles portraying the Maddox firm in a negative light, but she didn't remember the details.
"Daniel, you are correct," Peter Muraya spoke up. "A city's infrastructure is complicated. Some old buildings may be preserved for their historical value, yet one must be willing to make way for the new."
The younger man grinned. "Yeah. Like if the building is falling down and the foundation is cracked, sometimes you have to come up with another solution."
"I believe your father is a good man," Peter said. "Please tell him that I will be happy to live in your cottage near the swimming pool."
"Now just a minute," Lara cut in. "Daniel, you need to talk to your father and see what he thinks about renting the guesthouse. I do have several students still looking for housing, and if the lease is acceptable, I'd be happy to take a look at the place."
"Awesome." A grin spread across Daniel's face. "Hey, you don't suppose you could get us a girl student, do you? Like from Norway or Sweden? Or how about France?"
Lara couldn't hold back her smile. "Doubtful. Most of the international student body at Reynolds comes to us from Africa and Asia. We have a few South Americans and Europeans, but not many."
"Okay, that was just a thought." Daniel's cheeks were suddenly flushed. He picked up his books and began backing out of the office.
"I am from Kenya," Peter Muraya said. "Would I be acceptable to you for residing at the cottage?"
"Yeah, I guess. I mean sure."
Lara followed Daniel to the door. "I appreciate your interest in helping out. If you want to meet our students, why don't you drop by the I-House sometime? We have activities going on nearly every evening, and we're always looking for tutors and language facilitators. Our two freshmen from Argentina—Alejandra and Maria Elena—were asking me about that last night."
Daniel's face lit in a smile. "I might do that. All right, see ya."
Before Lara could say her own goodbye, Daniel Maddox had set off down the hall and disappeared around a corner. She wondered if he would be back. Turning to Peter Muraya, Lara said, "Now about this smash "
Jeremiah peered over the toes of his socks at the football game on the TV across the room. Stretched out in his favorite leather chair, feet propped on an ottoman, he relished his one stress-free evening of the week. With a laptop open on the table by his right arm, he could keep an eye on incoming e-mails and jot an occasional note to himself. A mug of hot chocolate at his left hand and a bowl of popcorn balanced on his stomach rounded out the perfect picture of relaxation.
"Hey, Dad." Jeremiah's son Daniel entered his peripheral vision. "Can me and Benjamin talk to you for a sec?"
"Benjamin and I," Jeremiah corrected absently. "Did you see that hit? The guy's gonna be asking for the license plate number of the truck that ran over him."
"It's about the guest cottage." Daniel plopped down on the ottoman, blocking half the television screen from view. "Me and Ben and I were thinking we could rent it to an international student. They need houses, and I met this guy Peter who'd had a fender bender with a Hummer, you know? And he seemed like a good guy. So what do you think?"
"Yeah." Benjamin dropped onto the other half of the ottoman as a commercial interrupted the ball game. "You know how Dan started working as a leader with our youth group at church? Because he's in college and all that?"
"Yes, I know," Jeremiah said. He was proud of his older son's initiative in helping out—though he suspected some of the motivation came from Daniel's girlfriend being a high school senior who still participated in youth group activities.
"So, anyway," Benjamin went on, "Dan had us do this project where we read through the four Gospels and wrote down all the commands of Jesus."
His brother nodded. "I had an idea about putting Christ's commands in writing—all together in one list— so we could look at them. And remember how He said if you have two coats, you should give one of them away?"
"Our youth minister challenged us with that," Benjamin continued. "We're supposed to try to obey a command and then report on what we did. It's an assignment. So when Dan saw the flyer about needing houses for international students, he talked to the guy in charge—"
"It's a lady," Daniel clarified.
"Because when you think about it, we have two houses. The guest cottage is just sitting there empty. So, can we do it?"
Jeremiah tugged his attention from the wedge of television screen still in view and focused on his sons. At seventeen and nineteen, Benjamin and Daniel rarely demanded much of his time these days. A high school senior, Benjamin was Mr. Social—active in the church youth group, the art club, the student council and several other activities. Benjamin hung out with a group of teenagers who regularly filled the basement with the aroma of pizza and smelly sneakers. Daniel was a freshman physics major at Reynolds University, taking a full load of difficult courses, assisting the youth minister and spending what little free time he had with his girlfriend. Both boys owned cars, stayed fairly well-groomed, made decent grades and kept their father in a state of only mild agitation. It could be worse.
"Did you say someone ran into a Hummer?" Jeremiah asked.
"Peter. The African guy." Daniel frowned. "Dad, would you just listen to us? It's about the guest cottage. Why don't we rent it out?"
"We don't need the money," Jeremiah said. The string of commercials had ended, and the game was starting up again. "Renting is a major headache. If people don't own a place, they won't take care of it. You should see some of the buildings in this city. Nightmares."
"It's not for the money," Benjamin said. "It's like, 'I was a stranger, and you took me in.' Doing what Jesus commanded, Dad."
"I do what Jesus said," Jeremiah told his sons. "I've given ten percent of my income to the church ever since I started the firm. That's a significant amount of money. It goes to maintaining the church buildings, paying the staff, supporting missionaries and a dozen other good works. I'm sure strangers are taken care of in many different ways. You guys are a part of what I do, and you always have been, so you're covered."
"What do you mean covered?" Benjamin asked.
"I mean you're off the hook. I'mhandling everything. When you get full-time jobs, you can choose how you want to manage your financial obligations. As a Christian, I believe I'm supposed to tithe, so I do. And that's all you need to know."
"But, Dad, we're talking about the guest cottage," Daniel said. "Hey, Ben—grab the remote."
His brother snatched the television control and flicked off the TV, while Daniel snapped the laptop shut.
"Wait a minute now!" Jeremiah sat up, spilling popcorn all over the chair. "Give me that thing. This is my one night to relax, guys! Now look at this mess."
"Just pay attention for a minute, Dad." Daniel dropped a yellow leaflet into Jeremiah's lap. "The university needs housing for international students. We have an extra house. We should let them use it."
Benjamin tapped the flyer. "The Bible says if you've been given a lot, then a lot will be required of you."
"And I just told you that I'm handing over ten percent of every dollar I make." Jeremiah picked up fistfuls of popcorn and began tossing them back into the bowl.
"Yeah, and you just budget it each month and write out a check."
"Daniel, you're making it sound like squirrel feed. It's sizable. Both of you do a lot for the church, too. You go on mission trips, you help out with youth group projects, all that. Now I want to watch the football game. Benjamin, give me the remote."
"First agree to rent the cottage." Benjamin held up the remote and dangled it like a carrot in front of a horse, just out of reach. "Do unto others. Go the extra mile. You know the verses just as well as we do, Dad. C'mon, say yes."
"Is this about girls?" Jeremiah demanded. "Because the basement is your designated space, and I'm not hosting pool parties for some—"
"A lot of the international students are your age, Dad. They're mostly from Africa and Asia." Daniel took the remote from his brother and gave it back to their father. "We just thought it would be a way to do something good. If you have extra, you're supposed to share it . Oh, never mind. Come on, Ben. He doesn't get it."
"Whoa, now." Resisting the urge to turn on the television, Jeremiah set the popcorn bowl on the side table and studied his sons. Almost mirror images of himself, they stared back—blue eyes, dark hair, a take-no-prisoners outlook on life. They wanted something from him, and Jeremiah wasn't about to ignore them now, not after all they had been through together.
Posted June 10, 2009
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