Love Finds a Way
3 Modern Romances Make Falling in Love Simple and Sweet
By Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2012 Wanda E. Brunstetter
All rights reserved.
Rain splattered against the windshield in drops the size of quarters. The darkening sky seemed to swallow Lorna Patterson's compact car as it headed west on the freeway toward the heart of Seattle, Washington.
"I'm sick of this soggy weather," Lorna muttered, gripping the steering wheel with determination and squinting her eyes to see out the filmy window. "I'm drained from working two jobs, and I am not happy with my life."
The burden of weariness crept through Lorna's body, like a poisonous snake about to overtake an unsuspecting victim. Each day as she pulled herself from bed at five in the morning, willing her tired body to move on its own, Lorna asked herself how much longer she could keep going the way she was.
She felt moisture on her cheeks and sniffed deeply. "Will I ever be happy again, Lord? It's been over a year since Ron's death. My heart aches to find joy and meaning in life."
Lorna flicked the blinker switch and turned onto the exit ramp. Soon she was pulling into the parking lot of Farmen's Restaurant, already full of cars.
The place buzzed with activity when she entered through the back door, used only by the restaurant employees and for deliveries. Lorna hung her umbrella and jacket on a wall peg in the coatroom. "I hope I'm not too late," she whispered to her friend and coworker, Chris Williams.
Chris glanced at the clock on the opposite wall. "Your shift was supposed to start half an hour ago, but I've been covering for you."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
"Is everything all right? You didn't have car troubles, I hope."
Lorna shook her head. "Traffic on the freeway was awful, and the rain didn't make things any easier."
Chris offered Lorna a wide grin, revealing two crescent-shaped dimples set in the middle of her pudgy cheeks. Her light brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail, which made her look less like a woman of thirty-three and more like a teenager. Lorna was glad her own hair was short and naturally curly. She didn't have to do much, other than keep her blond locks clean, trimmed, and combed.
"You know Seattle," Chris said with a snicker. "Weather-wise, it wasn't much of a summer, was it? And now fall is just around the corner."
It wasn't much of a year either, Lorna thought ruefully. She drew in a deep breath and released it with a moan. "I am so tired—of everything."
"I'm not surprised." Chris shook her finger. "Work, work, work. That's all you ever do. Clerking at Moore's Mini-Mart during the day and working as a waitress here at night. There's no reason for you to be holding down two jobs now that ..." She broke off her sentence. "Sorry. It's none of my business how you spend your time. I hate to see you looking so sad and tired, that's all."
Lorna forced a smile. "I know you care, Chris, and I appreciate your concern. You probably don't understand this, but I need to keep busy. It's the only way I can cope with my loss. If I stay active, I don't have time to think or even feel."
"There are other ways to keep busy, you know," Chris reminded her.
"I hope you're not suggesting I start dating again. You know I'm not ready for that." Lorna pursed her lips as she slowly shook her head. "I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to date, much less commit to another man."
"I'm not talking about dating. There are other things in life besides love and romance. Just ask me—the Old Maid of the West." Chris blinked her eyelids dramatically and wrinkled her nose.
Lorna chuckled, in spite of her dour mood, and donned her red and blue monogrammed Farmen's apron. "What would you suggest I do with my time?"
"How about what you've always wanted to do?"
"And that would be?"
"Follow your heart. Go back to school and get your degree."
Lorna frowned. "Oh, that. I've put my own life on hold so long, I'm not sure I even want college anymore."
"Oh, please!" Chris groaned. "How many times have I heard you complain about having to give up your dream of teaching music to elementary school kids?"
Lorna shrugged. "I don't know. Dozens, maybe."
Chris patted her on the back. "Now's your chance for some real adventure."
Lorna swallowed hard. She knew her friend was probably right, but she also knew going back to school would be expensive, not to mention the fact that she was much older now and would probably feel self-conscious among those college kids. It would be an adventure all right. Most likely a frightening one.
"Think about it," Chris whispered as she headed for the dining room.
"I'll give it some thought," Lorna said to her friend's retreating form.
* * *
Evan Bailey leaned forward in his chair and studied the recipe that had recently been posted online. "Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. Sounds good to me." He figured Cynthia Lyons, his online cooking instructor, must like desserts. Yesterday she'd listed a recipe for peach cobbler, the day before that it was cherries jubilee, and today's sweet treat was his all-time favorite cookie.
Evan was glad he'd stumbled onto the website, especially since learning to cook might fit into his plans for the future.
He hit the PRINT button and smiled. For the past few years he'd been spinning his wheels, not sure whether to make a career of the air force or get out at the end of his tour and go back to college. He was entitled to some money under the GI Bill, so he had finally decided to take advantage of it. Military life had its benefits, but now that Evan was no longer enlisted, he looked forward to becoming a school guidance counselor, or maybe a child psychologist. In a few weeks he would enroll at Bay View Christian College and be on his way to meeting the first of his two goals.
Evan's other goal involved a woman. He had recently celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday and felt ready to settle down. He thought Bay View would offer him not only a good education, but hopefully a sweet, Christian wife as well. He closed his eyes, and visions of a pretty soul mate and a couple of cute kids danced through his head.
Caught up in his musings, Evan hadn't noticed that the paper had jammed in his printer until he opened his eyes again. He reached for the document and gritted his teeth when he saw the blinking light, then snapped open the lid. "I think I might need a new one of these to go along with that wife I'm looking for." He pulled the paper free and chuckled. "Of course, she'd better not be full of wrinkles, like this pitiful piece of paper."
Drawing his gaze back to the computer, Evan noticed on the website that not only was Cynthia Lyons listing one recipe per day, but beginning tomorrow, she would be opening her chat room to anyone interested in discussing the dos and don'ts of making sweet treats. Her note mentioned that the participants would be meeting once a week at six o'clock Pacific standard time.
"Good. It's the same time zone as Seattle. Wonder where she lives?" Evan positioned his cursor over the sign-up list and hit ENTER. Between the recipes Cynthia posted regularly and the online chat, he was sure he'd be cooking up a storm in no time at all.
* * *
When Lorna arrived home from work a few minutes before midnight, she found her mother-in-law in the living room, reading a book.
"You're up awfully late," Lorna remarked, taking a seat on the couch beside Ann.
"I was waiting for you," the older woman answered with a smile. "I wanted to talk to you about something."
"Is anything wrong?"
"Everything here is fine. It's you I'm worried about," Ann said, squinting her pale green eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"My son has been dead for over a year, and you're still grieving." A look of concern clouded Ann's face. "You're working two jobs, but there's no reason for it anymore. You have a home here for as long as you like, and Ed and I ask nothing in return." She reached over and gave Lorna's hand a gentle squeeze. "You shouldn't be wearing yourself out for nothing. If you keep going this way, you'll get sick."
Lorna sank her top teeth into her bottom lip so hard she tasted blood. This was the second lecture she'd had in one evening, and she wasn't in the mood to hear it. She loved Ron's parents as if they were her own. She'd chosen to live in their home after his death because she thought it would bring comfort to all three of them. Lorna didn't want hard feelings to come between them, and she certainly didn't want to say or do anything that might offend this lovely, gracious woman.
"Ann, I appreciate your concern," Lorna began, searching for words she hoped wouldn't sound harsh. "I am dealing with Ron's death the best way I can, but I'm not like you. I can't be content to stay home and knit sweaters or crochet lacy tablecloths. I have to keep busy outside the house. It keeps me from getting bored or dwelling on what can't be changed."
"Busy is fine, but you've become a workaholic, and it's not healthy—mentally or physically." Ann adjusted her metal-framed reading glasses so they were sitting correctly on the bridge of her nose. "Ed and I love you, Lorna. We think of you as the daughter we never had. We only want what's best for you." Her short, coffee-colored hair was peppered with gray, and she pushed a stray curl behind her ear.
"I love you both, and I know you have my welfare in mind, but I'm a big girl now, so you needn't worry." Lorna knew her own parents would probably be just as concerned for her well-being if she were living with them. She was almost thankful Mom and Dad lived in Minnesota, because she didn't need two sets of doting parents right now.
"Ed and I don't expect you to give up your whole life for us," Ann continued, as though Lorna hadn't spoken on her own behalf. "You moved from your home state to attend college here; then shortly after you and Ron married, you dropped out of school so you could work and pay his way. Then you kept on working after he entered med school, in order to help pay all the bills for his schooling."
Lorna didn't need to be reminded of the sacrifices she'd made. She was well aware of what she'd given up for the man she loved. "I'm not giving up my life for anyone now," she said as she sighed deeply and pushed against the sofa cushion. Ann didn't understand the way she felt. No one did.
"Have you considered what you might like to do with the rest of your life?" her mother-in-law persisted. "Surely you don't want to spend it working two jobs and holding your middle-aged in-laws' hands."
Lorna blinked back sudden tears that threatened to spill over. She used to think she and Ron would grow old together and have a happy marriage like his parents and hers did. She'd imagined them having children and turning into a real family after he became a physician, but that would never happen now. Lorna had spent the last year worried about helping Ron's parents deal with their loss, and she'd continued to put her own life on hold.
She swallowed against the lump in her throat. It didn't matter. Her hopes and dreams died the day Ron's body was lowered into that cold, dark grave.
She wrapped her arms around her middle and squeezed her eyes shut. Was it time to stop grieving and follow her heart? Could she do it? Did she even want to anymore?
"I've been thinking," Ann said, breaking into Lorna's troubling thoughts.
"When you quit school to help pay our son's way, you were cheated out of the education you deserved. I think you should go back to college and get that music degree you were working toward."
Lorna stirred uneasily. First Chris, and now Ann? What was going on? Was she the victim of some kind of conspiracy? She extended her legs and stretched like a cat. "I'm tired. I think I'll go up to bed."
Before she stood up, Lorna touched her mother-in-law's hand. "I appreciate your suggestion, and I promise to sleep on the idea."
"'Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,' " Ann quoted from the book of Psalms. "God is always full of surprises."
Lorna nodded and headed for the stairs. A short time later, she entered her room and flopped onto the canopy bed with a sigh. She lay there a moment, then turned her head to the right so she could study the picture sitting on the dresser across the room. It was taken on her wedding day, and she and Ron were smiling and looking at each other as though they had their whole lives ahead of them. How happy they'd been back then—full of hope and dreams for their future.
A familiar pang of regret clutched Lorna's heart as she thought about the plans she'd made for her own life. She'd given up her heart's desire in order to help Ron's vision come true. Now they were both gone—Ron, as well as Lorna's plans and dreams.
With the back of her hand, she swiped at an errant tear running down her cheek. Help me know what to do, Lord. Could You possibly want me to go back to school? Can I really have the desires of my heart? Do You have any pleasant surprises ahead for me?
What did the ground say to the rain?" Lorna asked an elderly man as she waited on his table.
He glanced out the window at the pouring rain and shrugged. "You got me."
"If you keep this up, my name will be mud!" Lorna's laugh sounded forced, but it was the best she could do, considering how hard she'd had to work at telling the dumb joke.
"That was really lame," Chris moaned as she passed by her table and jabbed Lorna in the ribs.
The customer, however, laughed at Lorna's corny quip. She smiled. Could mean another nice tip.
She moved to the next table, preparing to take an order from a young couple.
"I'll have one of the greasiest burgers you've got, with a side order of artery-clogging french fries." The man looked up at Lorna and winked.
Offering him what she hoped was a pleasant smile, Lorna wrote down his order. Then she turned to the woman and asked, "What would you like?"
"I'm trying to watch my weight," the slender young woman said. "What have you got that tastes good and isn't full of fat or too many calories?"
"You don't look like you need to worry about your weight at all." Lorna grinned. "Why, did you know that diets are for people who are thick and tired of it all?"
The woman giggled. "I think I'll settle for a dinner salad and a glass of unsweetened iced tea."
When Lorna turned in her order, she bumped into Chris, who was doing the same.
"What's with you tonight?" her friend asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I've never seen you so friendly to the customers before. And those jokes, Lorna. Where did you dig them up?"
Lorna shrugged. "You're not the only one who can make people laugh, you know. I'll bet my tips will be better than ever tonight."
"Tips? Is that what you're trying to do—get more tips?"
"Not necessarily more. Just bigger ones." As she spoke the words, Lorna felt a pang of guilt. She knew it wasn't right to try to wangle better tips. The motto at Farmen's was to be friendly and courteous to all customers. Besides, it was the Christian way, and Lorna knew better than to do anything other than that. She'd gotten carried away with the need to make more money in less time. Forgive me, Father, she prayed.
Chris moved closer to Lorna. "Let me see if I understand this right. You're single, living rent free with your in-laws, working two jobs, and you need more money? What gives?"
"I've given my notice at the Mini-Mart," Lorna answered. "Next Friday will be my last day."
Chris's mouth dropped open, and she sucked in her breath. "You're kidding!"
"I'm totally serious. I'll only be working at this job from now on."
"You don't even like waiting tables," Chris reminded. "Why would you give up your day job to come here every evening and put up with a cranky boss and complaining customers? If you want to quit a job, why not this one?"
"I decided to take your advice," Lorna replied.
"My advice? Now that's a first. What, might I ask, are you taking my advice on?"
"One week from Monday I'll be registering for the fall semester at Bay View Christian College."
Chris's eyes grew large, and Lorna gave her friend's red and blue apron a little tug. "Please don't stand there gaping at me—say something."
Chris blinked as though she were coming out of a trance. "I'm in shock. I can't believe you're actually going back to college, much less doing it at my suggestion." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Love Finds a Way by Wanda E. Brunstetter. Copyright © 2012 Wanda E. Brunstetter. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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