Hope Springsby Kim Cash Tate
Hope Springs is the epitome of small-town life---a place filled with quiet streets where families have been friends for generations, a place where not a lot changes . . . until now.See more details below
Hope Springs is the epitome of small-town life---a place filled with quiet streets where families have been friends for generations, a place where not a lot changes . . . until now.
- Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
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By KIM CASH TATE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Kimberly Cash Tate
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWednesday, December 23
Stephanie Sanders London sulked with all the fervor she could muster as she and Lindell rode the escalator up to security in St. Louis's Lambert International Airport. She stared vaguely at the moving stairway, lips pursed, sighing displeasure with rhythmic regularity.
Lindell looked over at her. "Steph, I thought it was settled." He had the nerve to look amused. "We said we were done talking about it."
Her eyes floated to the rafters. "You didn't hear me say a word."
"Oh, cool. Glad I was mistaken."
"I'm just sayin', though, Lindell"—she hit his shoulder—"and stop laughing because I wasn't saying a word before but I am now." She adjusted the purse on her shoulder. "I don't see why you're acting like we have to go. I'm the one who came up with the idea for this trip, so I should have the right to change my—"
She paused just off the escalator, gaping at the security line that snaked up and down the cordoned rows, spilling into the general walkway, past the Starbucks, ending with an older woman who'd set her bag on the ground and folded her arms.
"That's it. It's a sign. I'm out."
She turned on her heel toward the down escalator, and Lindell pulled her back.
"Where are you going?"
Lindell looped his hand through her arm and walked her forward as he wheeled their luggage. "It's two days before Christmas," he said. "We knew the lines would be long. That's why we left early."
Stephanie trudged beside him, shaking her head. "What on earth possessed me to suggest traveling for Christmas?"
"To spend time with your family."
"I can spend time with my family here, like I do every Christmas." They joined the back of the line, behind two families who had gotten behind the older woman.
"Exactly. But Pastor Lyles preached that sermon about doing something different this Christmas, taking the focus off of ourselves. And what did you say?" He leaned over, his ear tuned.
"At the time I said it might be nice to visit my Grandma Geri, since Daddy said she wasn't feeling too well and I haven't been down there in a long while."
Lindell nodded. "And it was a great idea!"
"Yeah, well, the sermon wore off." She shuffled forward with the others. "I don't want to do anything different for Christmas. There'll be a lot of people staying at her house, and I don't even know them that well—"
"It's family, Steph."
"I stopped going to the reunions and all that after high school because a weekend getaway in Hope Springs, North Carolina, wasn't exactly my idea of a happening time. Nor is Christmas in Hope Springs." She sighed. "I mean, Daddy's not even going, and it's his mother."
"Steph, come on ... your folks were just there in the summer, and they're going back soon. You know they can't miss Chase's first Christmas." He donned a wry smile. "Guess they want to see Cyd and Cedric too."
Stephanie allowed a chuckle. "You've got that right. Chase is the main attraction." Stephanie's older sister, Cyd, had had a baby in the spring, the first grandchild. "Little spoiled self. And I won't get to see him open the presents I bought him."
"I'm looking forward to getting to know this side of your family. At our wedding I barely got the right names attached to the right faces."
"Shoot, me too. How about this?" She looked hopefully at her husband. "We could rebook the trip for spring, after you get back from Haiti. And I can get Cyd and Cedric to come and bring the baby." She should've thought of that at first. Cyd knew this side of the family much better than she.
Lindell shook his head. "It'll be crazy at work when I get back." Lindell was a doctor and was headed to Haiti for a month on a medical mission trip. He kissed her nose. "We're going. Today. It'll be awesome."
The line inched along, Stephanie retreating into her thoughts. That was another thing, this mission trip. She was happy for Lindell. He'd been excited about it the moment it surfaced and had asked if she'd like to help in an orphanage while he worked with the mobile clinic. But it just wasn't her, so she declined. As the trip got closer, though, and his team had more and more meetings to prepare, she wondered why it wasn't her.
Well. She knew why. She wasn't the servant type. What she really wondered was whether that could ever change. And she surprised herself by sending up a prayer for it to change. And to know whether her life had some kind of purpose ... besides shopping. Which she loved. But still.
Stephanie sighed, thinking how excited she'd gotten about Pastor Lyles's Christmas message. Seemed to tie in with her prayers. Visiting Grandma Geri sure sounded like a servanty thing to do. But now the whole thing seemed weird. What would they even talk about? Thank God other family would be—
Stephanie heard her ringtone and dug out her phone.
"Checking up on me?" Stephanie said.
Her dad chuckled. "Now why would I need to do that?"
"Oh, you might've wondered what was going on after that message I left this morning."
"You mean the one asking me to call Lindell and assure him that my family would understand if you changed your travel plans?"
Stephanie sneaked a peek at her husband. She lowered her voice a little. "Wouldn't have hurt to call him, you know."
"I did call him."
"Then why am I at the airport?"
"I told him you were his responsibility now, and I'm happy to let him handle you all on his own."
She could hear the grin in her dad's voice and couldn't help but smile herself. "Oh yeah? Then why are you calling?"
"I forgot to tell you there's a big funeral in Hope Springs this afternoon. And I really need you to go."
"Aw, Daddy, now I'm supposed to go to a funeral? You know I don't like funerals. They're so ... creepy."
"They're nobody's favorite thing, Steph, but Jim Dillon was like family. You remember Jim, lived next door to Grandma Geri?"
"The pastor? You grew up with him, didn't you?"
"Yes, but I was older. He was tight with my younger brother, Wood." Bruce sighed. "Total shock. Momma found him slumped over the kitchen table from a heart attack. I looked into making a quick trip, but last-minute flights were either booked or too expensive. So I'm hoping you'll represent."
Her dad added, "But I do feel bad I forgot to tell you, because I know you didn't pack for a funeral."
"Oh, that's not an issue. I always pack some of everything." Lindell nodded big, pretending to labor in pulling their luggage forward. Stephanie pinched him.
"All right, Daddy, I'll go." She sighed. Was this another servanty thing? Shoot, after this trip, she'd be servant certified.
"Thanks, sweetheart. And by the way, did you decide to stay at Momma's or a hotel?"
She'd been leaning toward a hotel a few miles away in Rocky Mount, but her dad had encouraged her to stay at her grandmother's.
"Not sure yet," she said. "I've got until six o'clock this evening to cancel the hotel reservation."
"A lot of bonding happens late at night at the house, you know," her father said.
Stephanie quirked a brow. "Is that supposed to be an argument in favor or against?"
"Don't be surprised when you have a great time, Steph," her dad said. "Give everyone our love."
Lindell was looking at the itinerary.
"What time do we arrive?" Stephanie asked, dropping her phone back into her purse.
"Eleven fifty." He tucked the paper away as they moved forward, showing their IDs and boarding passes to the security guard. They headed to the shortest X-ray line.
"So we get the rental car in Raleigh and drive straight to your grandmother's?" Lindell asked. "How far is it?"
"Uh ... I meant to print out directions." Stephanie reached for a bin for the liquids she'd stored in a baggie. "Something like forty minutes, I think. We'll get a map when we get there."
"Cool. Hope Springs, here we come!"
She pumped her arms in a rah-rah motion. "Awesome!"
Lindell grinned. "See, you're getting the spirit."
She cut her eyes at him as she placed her purse on the security belt.
Chapter TwoJanelle Evans rode a seesaw of emotion the entire road trip south. Should she be going to Hope Springs for Christmas? Would it have been better to stay home?
The mile marker winged past: Hope Springs 10 miles. This was her home away from home. She'd spent weeks of summer down here as a kid, attended almost every Sanders family reunion, celebrated countless Easters and Christmases. But once she'd had her own kids, they'd begun building their own Christmas traditions at home.
She and her husband, David, used to pile the family in the car the day after Thanksgiving to get the tree. They'd make apple cider and decorate not just the tree but the whole house, inside and out. And on Christmas morning, David would lead the family in a special Christmas devotion before the kids tore into their gifts.
But now David was gone and Janelle languished at this time of year especially, not feeling the joy, not wanting to decorate, preferring to bury herself under her bedcovers until the season passed. To the dismay of her family, she'd done that the past two Christmases—and planned to do it again.
But she'd gotten word that Grandma Geri was under the weather. Then Pastor Jim, a lifelong family friend, died unexpectedly. That gave her mom and her cousin Libby all the extra fodder they needed.
"You should be with your family for Christmas anyway," they said. "Now even more so."
Janelle packed up the kids, left a house with a single symbol of Christmas—an artificial tabletop tree—and started the drive from Maryland to North Carolina, her first such trip since David's death.
She squinted at the highway exit sign approaching. As many times as she'd been here, why did she always get confused at this point? Did she take the first exit into Hope Springs or the second?
"Baby, it's the second. How is it that I always remember, and I haven't been coming down here half as long as you?"
A shiver shot through Janelle, and she was suddenly trembling. This was exactly why she'd stayed away. It was hard enough wading through the painful memories surrounding home, church, and school. Now she'd have to relive the loss here. She sighed, casting a quick glance over her shoulder at the kids. In many ways, this would be harder. These were the people closest to her, and David had come to love visits to Hope Springs as much as she. Everywhere she turned, there'd be a stab of memory, like that stupid highway sign.
She veered off on the second exit and drove a couple miles down a stretch of lonely road. A handful of isolated houses came into view, then that familiar sign: Welcome to Hope Springs—population 1200. The exit was one thing, the town another. She knew these streets like the back of her hand. Not that there were very many of them.
"So there really is a Mayberry, huh?"
Janelle had laughed at David's remark on his first visit. Now it punctuated the sadness as she made a left onto Main, eyes darting to the clock on the dash—12:10. Funeral started at three. She'd made good time.
She drove past the two-pump gas station, long closed, and a smattering of storefronts, plus the Main Street Diner, all with Christmas lights strung. Not a lot of hustle and bustle in the early afternoon-or anytime, really—but a handful of townspeople dotted the sidewalks. Hope Springs always marked a stark contrast to life just outside the nation's capital. Simpler living. Slower pace. Even her driving was unusually sedate.
Janelle turned left again and headed down her grandmother's road, greeted by familiar old homes of varying sizes and states of repair. She bypassed them all and rounded a bend that opened up a different view—a wooded preserve to the left and a stretch of green space on the right. The two houses at the end of the street had been occupied by the same two families for generations, the Sanders and the Dillons. Spending time with one family in Hope Springs meant spending time with the other.
She tapped the brake and gazed at the Dillon home, a two-story white frame house with black shutters and rocking chairs on the front porch. Looked eerily quiet. She still couldn't believe Jim Dillon had died of a heart attack. He was only in his late fifties. Probably thought he'd be pastoring Calvary Church another decade at least.
Janelle continued to Grandma Geri's house, a ranch style that had expanded over the years to accommodate Sanders family gatherings. She pulled onto the dirt and grass that served as a parking lot when family visited, parking next to her parents' car. They'd arrived last night from Florida. When she killed the engine, heads rose behind her and arms stretched with yawning.
"Are we here?" Eight-year-old Daniel rubbed his eyes.
Janelle turned. "Yes, baby, we're here."
They'd driven four and a half hours, and the kids had slept the last two.
Tiffany unhooked the seat belt that crossed her booster seat. "I'm ready to get out, Mommy."
Janelle smiled at her. "Okay, sweetie."
She opened her door and stepped out, leaving the winter jacket she'd worn at the start of the trip. An Indian summer breeze had warmed the Carolina air—and a delicious aroma filled it. She inhaled. Her dad, Russell, and Uncle Wood were probably in the back roasting a pig. Whether the occasion was happy or sad, the prescription was the same—lots and lots of food.
The sliding door opened and Daniel popped out, with Tiffany on his heels. At four she did her best to keep up with her brother's every move. They made a beeline for the house just as Libby was walking out. She spun around.
"Daniel and Tiffany—I know y'all didn't run right past me like you didn't see me."
Daniel stopped with his foot in the door. He and Tiffany turned back around, gave Libby a quick hug, and ran inside.
"That's what you get for being a regular visitor." Janelle hugged her cousin. "They don't think it's anything special to see you."
Since David died, Libby had driven up from Raleigh every few months to spend time with Janelle.
"Uh-huh." Libby looked back at them. "Bet they won't run past my Christmas gifts."
They moved to the door, and Libby paused with her hand on the screen handle. "Before we go in, his name is Al."
"Who brings a date to a funeral?"
"Crazy, right? That's what I told him." Libby came closer and whispered, "I told him I was staying through Christmas, and he asked if he could come meet Mom and Dad."
"Oh, he's trying to get in with the family? It can't be serious because you haven't even told me about him."
Libby gave her a look. "Exactly. He can think it's serious all he wants. He gives nice gifts."
Janelle shook her head. "You're a heartbreaker, Libby."
The two cousins walked inside, the house relatively quiet still. In the next two hours, the family room to the left would be filled with cousins, aunts and uncles, and family friends, all carrying on pockets of animated conversation. This room was the most recent renovation, added a decade ago and furnished with an eclectic mix of pull-out sofas, recliners, and a corner card table. The bonus this time of year was the beautiful fir tree prominently displayed, with tons of gifts already wrapped and under its branches.
Through the far window, Janelle could see her kids. Must've run through the house and out another door to hang with their grandpa and Libby's dad, Uncle Wood. Al was the only one in the family room, watching something on television.
He got up and smiled as they entered. "I've seen pictures, but now I get to see 'the twins' live and in color."
The same age and inseparable at family gatherings, Janelle and Libby had been dubbed "the twins" as youngsters. But it was especially fitting since their parents really were twins-Janelle's mom and Libby's dad.
Libby put her cheek next to her cousin's, grinning. "Don't we look exactly alike?"
"Uh ..." Al turned his head sideways for a different angle, trying to mesh Libby's light brown skin and super-short cut with Janelle's maple brown skin and shoulder-length locks. "You're both beautiful, how's that?"
Janelle laughed. "I like you already."
He gave her a friendly embrace. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Janelle said. "So you live in the Raleigh-"
"I know Janelle didn't come in this house and has yet to step in this kitchen."
"Uh-oh." Janelle turned toward the sound of the voice. Her aunt Gladys was calling her out.
"Come on in here, girl."
Janelle looked sheepish on purpose as she slow-walked down the hall, seeing them all waiting for her—her mother and Aunt Gladys, and Libby's mom, Aunt Denise. Each had her hands in something, a mixing bowl, a pot or pan. Every burner on the stove was lit, and casserole dishes and desserts lined the counter. But busy as they were, their eyes fixed on her. Janelle knew exactly what they were about to give her—equal parts hug and loving rebuke.
Excerpted from Hope Springs by KIM CASH TATE Copyright © 2012 by Kimberly Cash Tate. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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