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The Long Ride Home
By Marsha Hubler
ZondervanCopyright © 2009 Marsha Hubler
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe waitress carrying two coffee pots walked to the table and stood beside Mr. Chambers. "More coffee, sir?"
Skye glanced at the waitress, who stared back with a strange look on her face.
"Regular, please," Mr. Chambers said, handing the waitress his cup.
The waitress poured the coffee, shifting her glance from Mr. Chambers' cup to Skye and back. The waitress's dark hair, the color of Skye's, was drawn back into a ponytail and adorned by a yellow cap that daintily covered her crown. In a blue top, black pants and a frilly yellow apron, the petite woman, probably in her early thirties, looked like she needed a good dose of vitamins. On her apron bib a small silver nametag displayed her name: MILLIE.
"How about you, ma'am?" Millie asked Mrs. Chambers, now with a slight edge to her voice. The waitress never took her eyes off Skye.
"No thank you," Mrs. Chambers said. "I'm fine."
Walking away, the waitress glanced back at Skye one more time.
"Mom," Skye said, "did you see how that waitress stared at me?"
"Sure did," Mrs. Chambers said. "You probably remind her of someone she knows. That often happens to me. I can be hundreds of miles away from home, but, almost without fail, I'll see a stranger who looks like someoneI know."
"Been there, done that, too," Morgan agreed.
Skye pulled her focus away from Millie and studied her surroundings. "This place is too cool," she said. In a diner on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina, she was about to enjoy a Saturday evening meal of burgers and fries with her foster parents, Tom and Eileen Chambers, and her foster sister, fifteen-year-old Morgan Hendricks, who sat in a wheelchair. In the diner's parking lot, their horse trailer was hosting an oats-and-hay feast for the family's four show horses, including Skye's pride and joy, her sorrel Quarter Horse Champ.
Back at Keystone Stables, Skye's good friend Chad Dressler was house-sitting, looking after the two Westies, Tippy Canoe and Tyler Too, as well as the family's two other horses.
After spending the last week of June at a state horse show in Virginia, the Chambers' family was now heading to Rebucks' Rocking Horse Ranch, a Christian special-needs dude ranch in the southeast corner of South Carolina near Charleston. As short-term staff, they would donate their time there for the next two weeks. Morgan planned to work in the kitchen while Mr. Chambers would volunteer his carpentry skills to remodel the chapel. Mrs. Chambers and Skye would teach horse care and Western riding techniques to about a hundred campers. On some of their time off, they planned to visit Mr. Chambers' sister, Dot, who lived in North Charleston.
As the Chambers family settled at a table, Skye studied the unique décor of the "Cozy Cupboard." Reminiscent of the 50s, the small diner oozed with mouth-watering smells and delicious-looking food. At the counter, a row of tired men, truck drivers Skye figured, had lined up on the stools to grab a quick bite. Along one windowed wall a row of booths held numerous patrons who talked as slowly as they ate. Between the counter and booths most of the tables were occupied, one of them with the Chambers clan. The floor, in gray and red tile blocks, displayed an original design of scuffmarks and food stains. One waitress behind the counter and two others moving through the dining room had barely enough time to breathe as they hustled with orders, trying their best to exude a pleasant demeanor. In the background, country music blared.
Within minutes the Chambers' food was served, Mr. Chambers prayed, and the family's conversation focused on the past week's activities.
"Girls, I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of you." Mr. Chambers took a sip of his coffee and smoothed his brown mustache. "We're taking home seven blue ribbons and five red ones, and most of them are yours."
Skye's brown eyes flashed as she tucked her long dark hair behind her ears. "I started to lose count about halfway through the week. Dad, you didn't do too bad yourself. When you won first place in calf roping, you and Chief broke your own time, didn't you?"
"By a half second." Mr. Chambers replied proudly. "That little Paint cowpony of mine can really fly. And how about the woman of the house and Pepsi?" He gave Mrs. Chambers a quick wink. "They cleaned up the Western Reining Class. I don't think they could have done any better with a vacuum cleaner."
Mrs. Chambers' deep blue eyes sparkled as she smiled at her husband. "Oh, Tom, stop that carrying on. I had an easier time this year because the competition was not as keen as in the past. But Pepsi was at the top of her game. I will agree with that." She shifted her glance across the table to Morgan. "And how about our special-needs gal, here? She and Blaze blazed up a storm in their barrel-racing event too. Second place out of ten in a regional championship is nothing to sneeze at."
Morgan's freckled face beamed with her usual radiant smile. Her sunburned cheeks matched the color of her long wavy red hair. "Thanks, Mrs. C.," she said, blowing on her fingernails. "I guess when you've got it, you've got it!"
"Girls, are you ready for next week?" Mr. Chambers asked, taking a bite of his double burger.
"Dad," Skye said, "I'm so excited, I can't stand it." She shoved a French fry in her mouth. "I never thought serving the Lord could be like this. I mean, Champ and I will be serving the Lord together. How cool is that?"
"Although I can't stand it anytime in this wheelchair, I'm going bonkers too," Morgan said, giggling. "I can't wait to get in that camp kitchen to peel hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. I know that sounds weird for a teenager, but I love every part of cooking, even stuff like that. I can't believe that we'll all be doing things we love so much."
"That's the way God works," Mr. Chambers said. "It says in Proverbs that he'll give us the desires of our heart if we love him and trust him. He's proven himself over and over to us."
"Skye, will you-" Mrs. Chambers started to say.
Passing close to the Chambers' table, Millie dropped a full tray of food onto the hard tile floor. Spaghetti and meatballs flew everywhere, and the vintage Melmac dishes bounced off the tile floor like rubber balls, sending an irritating echo through the entire place. Skye jumped like she'd been poked with a pin. Everyone turned and stared, and the place grew dead silent.
"I am so sorry." Millie was already on her knees, trying her best to clean up the mess.
"Accidents do happen." Mr. Chambers, his clothes littered with red blotches, shoved back his chair and picked up several plastic glasses.
Mrs. Chambers and Skye launched out of their chairs and brushed off spaghetti from their clothes. From a swinging door behind the counter, a man in a chef's hat, blue shirt, and white apron came rushing out. He lugged a large bucket of soapy water, a mop, and another bucket that was empty. "You got butter fingers tonight, Millie?" the man said gruffly as he pitched in.
"I'm sorry, Butch," Millie said, shoving spilled food and plates into the empty bucket. "It was a little heavy."
"We'll have to put you on steroids," Butch said as though he meant it. "I'm terribly sorry folks," he said to Mr. Chambers. "Your meals are on the house."
"It's all right," Mr. Chambers said as he helped Millie. "Nobody's hurt. That's what matters."
Skye looked around, and except for two small children still gawking, everyone else had gone back to their meals as though nothing had happened. She glanced under the table and saw a biscuit near Morgan's foot. Quickly, she retrieved the roll and placed it in the trash bucket.
"Thank you," Millie said as she, again, stared briefly at Skye and resumed her clean-up job.
Butch finished wiping the floor and hurried away. "Remember, folks," he yelled back without looking, "the meals are on me tonight. Millie, a fresh order of what you just dropped will be ready in ten."
"Thanks, Butch," Millie said. "Be there in a sec."
While Morgan supplied clean napkins from the table's dispenser, Mr. and Mrs. Chambers and Skye worked at wiping spots from their clothes. Finally, after a quick sweep of their chairs, they sat down to finish their meal.
Millie stood beside Skye, grabbed an array of soiled napkins from the table, and stuffed them in her apron pocket. "Folks," she said sheepishly, "I apologize again for scaring you out of your wits." She fingered her collar, crossed her arms, then placed her hands on her hips, all the while staring at Skye.
Mr. Chambers held up his hand. "Now, that's all right. No harm done."
"No, really," Millie said, fidgeting with her collar again. "I was startled when I heard someone here call this young lady 'Skye.'"
Skye glanced at Mom and Dad Chambers' surprised faces. With her mind full of questions, Skye looked deep into Millie's brown eyes. "Do ... you ... know me?" she asked.
"I think I do," Millie said. "Is your name Skye Nicholson?"
Chapter TwoI really can't talk now," Millie said, glancing at her watch. "I get off in a half hour. If we can meet then, I'll explain everything."
Skye sat with her mouth stuck in neutral.
"By all means," Mr. Chambers said. "We'll be waiting right here."
"Could I meet you outside in back of the restaurant?" Millie asked, eyes focused intensely on Skye. "There's a picnic table there where us waitresses go for breaks."
"Sure, that'll be fine," Mrs. Chambers said.
What's going on? Skye wondered.
"In a half hour then?" Millie smiled at Skye, turned, and hurried away.
"In a half hour," Mr. Chambers yelled after her.
As Millie rush behind the counter to pick up her next order, Skye watched every move the woman made. "Mom, who is she?"
"Other than her name being Millie, I have no idea," Mrs. Chambers said.
"And, Skye, how does she know your last name?" Morgan asked.
Excerpted from The Long Ride Home by Marsha Hubler Copyright © 2009 by Marsha Hubler. Excerpted by permission.
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