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A Tides of Truth novel
By ROBERT WHITLOW Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Tammy Lynn!" Mama called out. "You'd think a fancy law firm in Savannah would know how to spell your name."
I left the pantry beneath the staircase and came into the kitchen. With lots of windows, the large kitchen protruded from our wood-frame house like Mama's abdomen a week before the twins were born.
"And is there a new law against calling an unmarried woman Miss?" Mama added as she opened a quart jar of yellow squash she'd put up the previous summer.
I deposited two yellow onions on the scratched countertop and picked up the envelope. It was addressed to Ms. Tami L. Taylor, 463 Beaver Ruin Road, Powell Station, Georgia. I'd thought long and hard about changing the spelling of my name to Tami on my résumé. First impressions are important, and I didn't want the hiring partner at a prestigious law firm to think I was a second-rate country singer who went to law school after she bombed out in Nashville.
T-a-m-i had a more sophisticated ring to it. It could even be short for Tamara. As long as I honored my parents in the important things, secretly changing the spelling of my first name for professional reasons wouldn't be a sin. Or so I hoped. I rubbed my finger across the address. I couldn't tell Mama the law firm made a mistake. That would be a violation of the ninth commandment. I kept quiet, trustingsilence to keep me righteous in the sight of a holy God. Mama's voice rescued me.
"You're doing well in school, and I'm pleased with you," she continued. "But I'm afraid you wasted a lot of paper and stamps on those letters you sent out. You should have set your sights on working for Mr. Callahan. He might actually give you a job when you get out of school."
Mama wanted me working close to home, the only secure haven in the midst of a wicked world. Her disapproval that I'd mailed letters seeking a summer clerk position to one hundred law firms across the state wasn't a surprise. It helped a little when I reassured her I'd excluded Atlanta like the hole in the middle of a donut. To live in a place populated by millions of people after growing up surrounded by millions of trees wasn't a step I wanted to take either.
I took the letter into the front room. Our house didn't have a formal living room. The front room served as everything from homeschool classroom to temporary church sanctuary if the preacher stopped by for an impromptu prayer meeting. I plopped down on a sofa covered by a white chenille bedspread and closely examined the return address on the outside of the envelope. I was impressed. Braddock, Appleby, and Carpenter still used engraved envelopes. Most of the rejection letters I'd received arrived at my law school post office box in Athens fresh from a laser printer.
Mama was right. Trying to find a summer clerk job through unsolicited letters to law firms picked at random from a list in the placement office was not the best use of a first-class stamp. I'd already resigned myself to another summer working first shift with Daddy at the chicken plant. I opened the envelope.
Dear Ms. Taylor,
We received your résumé and appreciate your interest in a summer clerkship with our firm. You have an outstanding record of academic and personal accomplishments. If you have not already obtained employment, please contact Ms. Gerry Patrick, our office administrator, to discuss one of the positions available at Braddock, Appleby, and Carpenter.
If you have taken another job or no longer have an interest in working for our firm, the courtesy of a prompt response notifying us accordingly would be appreciated.
Sincerely, Joseph P. Carpenter
"Mama," I screamed. "I have a job!" I rushed into the kitchen and tried to hand her the letter. "Read this!"
"Calm down and wait a minute," she said, maintaining her grip on the large knife in her right hand. "I'm in the middle of chopping onions for the squash."
"I'll read it to you!"
I sat at the kitchen table, an oversize picnic table painted white, and in a breathless voice read the letter. Mama scraped the onions into the saucepan.
"Read it again," she said when I finished.
Mama sat across from me and wiped her hands with a dish towel. I read the letter more slowly.
"And here at the top it says the firm was founded by Mr. Benjamin Braddock in 1888."
"Are you sure it's a job offer? It sounds to me like they just want to talk to you about it."
"They wouldn't contact me this late in the school year if they didn't have a job. Maybe someone backed out and a spot opened for me."
Mama repositioned one of the hairpins that held her dark hair in a tight bun. She hadn't cut her hair in years, and when freed it fell to her waist. Mama and I shared the same hair color, brown eyes, tall, slender frame, and angular features. It always made her smile when someone mentioned how alike we looked. As a single woman, I was allowed to cut my hair, but it still fell past my shoulders. I only wore it in a bun on Sunday mornings.
"Why would they offer you a job?" she asked. "They haven't even met you."
"I laid my hands on the stack of letters and prayed before I mailed them. Then I thanked God for every rejection that came in. He saw my heart and came through at the last moment."
"Maybe, but I'm not comfortable with you claiming his approval so quickly. We need to talk about this. Savannah is on the other end of the state. How far away is it?"
"I don't know." I looked up at the clock on the wall beside the refrigerator. It was 5:10 p.m. "I should call right now and find out if this really is a job offer. That way we can talk it over with Daddy and not guess about anything."
Mama returned to the stove. I waited.
"Go ahead," she sighed. "You're at the edge of the river and need to know what's on the other side."
The only telephone in the house was in my parents' bedroom. When I stopped homeschooling in the ninth grade and went to public high school, Mama never had to worry about me having secret phone conversations late at night. She needn't have worried anyway. Most of my calls were about basketball practice and homework assignments.
I hit the numbers for the unfamiliar area code followed by the seven-digit phone number. The phone rang three times. Maybe the firm didn't answer calls after 5:00 p.m. Then, a silky voice spoke.
"Good afternoon, Braddock, Appleby, and Carpenter."
The sound made my mouth suddenly go dry.
"Ms. Gerry Patrick, please."
"May I tell her who is calling?"
"Tami Taylor. That's T-a-m-i."
I couldn't believe I'd spelled my first name. I stifled a giggle while the receptionist put me on hold and let me stew like Mama's squash and onions. I rehearsed my next lines to avoid another long-distance embarrassment. A more mature-sounding female voice came on the line.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Patrick. This is Tami Taylor, a second-year law student at the University of Georgia. I received a letter from Mr. Carpenter about a summer clerk position. He told me to contact you."
There was a brief pause. "I have your résumé, but all summer job offers go through my office. I'd know if the firm sent you a letter."
My mouth went dry. "Could you check with Mr. Carpenter?"
"Yes, I want to get to the bottom of this myself."
A much longer pause followed. I counted the red tulips on the top border of the faded wallpaper in my parents' bedroom and prayed that Mr. Carpenter hadn't left for the day. Finally, Ms. Patrick spoke.
"It's fortunate for you that you called. I'd signed a stack of rejections this afternoon without knowing Mr. Carpenter made a copy of your résumé. Your turndown letter was in the mail room."
"Thank you." I swallowed. "Do you know why he offered me a job?"
"Not a clue. Mr. Carpenter isn't here, but his assistant confirmed the letter. Are you interested in the position?"
"I'll e-mail the details."
"Uh, I'm home on spring break, and we don't have a computer with an Internet connection."
I felt my face flush. The only computer in the house was an outdated one used for educational programs with the twins. Powell Station didn't boast a coffee shop with Wi-Fi.
"Do you have access to a fax machine?" Ms. Patrick asked.
I frantically racked my brain for a solution. "No ma'am. Would it be all right if I called you in the morning? By then I'll be able to track down a way for you to send the information."
"I'm usually here by nine o'clock. These jobs don't stay open for long."
I hung up the phone. Challenges raised by my family's lifestyle weren't new. Daddy always said obstacles were opportunities for personal character growth. However, that didn't keep routine problems from causing pain. I returned to the kitchen.
"I talked to Ms. Patrick, the office manager. It's a real job," I announced with reduced enthusiasm.
"What details did she give you?"
"She's going to send me information as soon as I figure out a way she can transmit it." I didn't mention the disdain I sensed in Ms. Patrick's voice.
"And that won't tell you anything about these people or their values, morals, beliefs, lifestyles."
I tried to sound casually optimistic. "No ma'am, but it's just a summer job at a law firm in Savannah. What could be wrong with that? I'll only be there for a few months, and it will give me an idea what to expect in a real law-"
"We'll talk it over with your father when he gets home," Mama interrupted.
I shut my mouth. When Mama invoked the title "father," it meant nothing could be discussed until he arrived.
We would be eating chicken and dumplings for supper. Thick noodles, chicken broth, and a few chunks of chicken went a long way toward feeding our large family. The slightly sweet smell of the dumplings competed with the pungent onions in the squash.
"Do you need help with supper?" I asked, leaning on the counter and sniffing.
"No, thanks. Everything is cooking. Why don't you check on the twins? I left them working on an essay."
I was eleven years old when Ellie and Emma were born, and we'd shared a bedroom since the first day they came home from the hospital. With preteen excitement about everything related to babies, I welcomed them into my world with open arms and a room decorated with balloons and a white poster board proudly announcing the girls' names in fancy script surrounded by flowers. My enthusiasm was instantly tested by a double dose of demands.
My first job was to change the girls' diapers and take them to Mama for the middle-of-the-night feeding. For months, I slept in fits and starts as I listened to the tiny infants sniffle and snort while I wondered whether they were hungry or feeling an uncomfortable gas bubble. If one cried, the sound immediately became stereo. But I didn't complain. Every child was a blessing from God.
Daddy put an old rocking chair in my bedroom, and my arms grew accustomed to holding the babies close to my heart. I kissed their heads enough to wear off the newborn fuzz. Later, when they were toddlers, they often ended up in my bed, especially on cold winter nights when the best warmth is found in closeness to a loved one.
Now, they welcomed me home with hand-drawn pictures and silly poems. The three of us couldn't fit in my bed, but we still enjoyed sitting in our pajamas on the circular rug on our bedroom floor and talking in the moonlight until the little girls' eyelids drooped.
I walked up the creaky stairs to the second floor of the house. No sounds came from the bedroom, a hopeful sign of serious educational activity. I peeked in the door. The twins were sitting across from each other at the small table beneath the room's wide, single window. My bed was to the right of the window. The twins slept in homemade bunk beds on the opposite wall. Both dark-haired heads were bent over sheets of paper.
"How's it going?" I asked.
Ellie looked up with blue eyes that could have made me jealous. "We're almost finished."
"Yeah," Emma echoed. "We wrote about different things so Mama wouldn't think we copied."
"Do you want me to check your papers when you finish?"
"Yes," both girls responded.
My side of the room was immaculate. The same couldn't be said for the twins'. Emma was the neater child, but without Ellie's cooperation, they both received blame for messiness. I straightened up their side of the room while they continued writing.
"Done!" Emma announced.
"I'm on my last paragraph," Ellie said.
"Keep working. I'll read Emma's paper."
Across the top, the older of the twins had written: "Deism and the Founders of Our Country."
For a woman who never went to college, Mama was an amazing teacher. Not many twelve-year-olds could spell deism, much less give a credible definition of the belief and explain in clear, simple terms how several signers of the Declaration of Independence viewed God as a cosmic clock-winder passively watching events unfold on the earth below. The twins would be prepared for public high school. Except for calculus and AP physics, I never made less than an A in high school.
"Show me your research," I said to Emma.
She handed me a stack of index cards, each one labeled with the reference. I checked the quotes in the paper against the information on the cards and corrected a handful of grammatical errors. While I worked, Ellie finished her paper and looked over my shoulder at her sister's work.
"You should have put a comma before the conjunction separating two independent clauses," Ellie said, pointing to one of my corrections. "Everybody knows that."
Emma pushed her away. "Wait until she reads your paper. It's full of mistakes."
"Stop it!" I commanded.
Emma and I sat on the bed and went over her paper. It was a very good first draft.
"How long have you been working on this?"
"About two weeks. Mama wants it finished by Friday."
Ellie's essay was titled "Thomas Jefferson's Bible." She focused on the rationalist beliefs of the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. There was overlapping research with her sister's paper, but also information unique to Jefferson, including a discussion of the founder's personal New Testament with all the references to miracles carefully cut out. Ellie was a better writer than her sister, but I was careful to make an equal number of corrections and suggestions.
"That's all for today," I said when we finished. "I'll tell Mama how well you're doing. Supper will be ready in a few minutes."
"I'll pray," Emma volunteered.
Our homeschool experience was saturated with prayer. Deism had no place in Mama's theology. God was omnipresent; a truth that both scared and comforted me.
We held hands while Emma prayed. I smiled when she included a heartfelt request for God's blessing upon Ellie.
"And thank you that Tammy Lynn will be home with us in a few weeks for the whole summer. In Jesus' name, amen."
I squeezed both small hands. To spend a summer in Savannah would require convincing more than my parents.
Excerpted from DEEPER WATER by ROBERT WHITLOW Copyright © 2008 by Robert Whitlow. Excerpted by permission.
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