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Monday Morning Faith
By Lori Copeland
ZondervanCopyright © 2006 Lori Copeland
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy descent into madness began in the fall-October 13, to be exact, which happened to be my birthday. The dreaded fortieth. I was old enough for the bloom to be off the rose, but still young enough to shrink from the AARP card coming my way in another ten years.
How I reached the milestone so fast and how I could feel so young on the inside and so ancient on the outside still puzzled me. I used to be a brunette, but my hair was showing touches of silver, and if those were laugh lines around my eyes, I must have been having a better time than I'd realized.
I dried my hands on a paper towel and gave a final glance in the restroom mirror. Johanna Holland, old maid. A tag I hadn't planned on when I charted my life. I'd counted on the bungalow, picket fence, loving husband, and two perfect children. But here I was, aging so fast I couldn't catch my breath, and so wrapped up in work and other things that marriage was the last thing on my mind.
Sighing, I prepared to face my birthday festivities. Never mind that I was the one who'd set up the community room at the Holfield Community Library, where I'd worked for twenty years (crepe paper, obligatory balloons that read Half Dead, One Foot in the Grave, and the old standby Over the Hill).I'd also helped address the party invitations and ordered the refreshments, which was one way of getting what I liked, I suppose.
My aunt Margaret, Dad's sister (a sweet lady, but nutty as all get-out) had ordered my birthday cake, so there was no telling what I would be stuck with this year. She'd indicated a surprise. Surprise and Aunt Margaret were words that I never wanted to hear in the same sentence. The last time she "surprised" me, I ended up on a blind date with a widower named Harvey. He had ten kids and was looking for a live-in babysitter. He did offer marriage, on the first date, which I declined. I realized he was desperate, but I wasn't. In fact, I wasn't even needy, and for a forty-year-old woman that was doing okay.
I pushed my glasses farther up my nose.
The noise level grew louder as I approached the library community room. I smiled, spotting the balloons dangling from the ceiling. One for every year I'd graced the earth with my presence-forty big, round, shiny helium globes, announcing to the whole world that I was hopeless.
I still had a little spunk left in me, but I got the point. Forty and still single. Aunt Margaret equated the condition with death. According to her, the battery was about to expire on my biological clock. In fact, she'd stage-whisper, she suspected it had already ticked its last tock.
Any misgivings I might have had about tonight's festivities vanished in a chorus of well-wishers greeting me. Friends and family, two of life's greatest blessings. Truly, I was rich in the things that counted.
Threading my way through the packed room, I shook hands, shared hugs, and basked in the affectionate glow of love. What wonderful people who cared enough to help a lady celebrate her birthday.
Mom and Pop were by the window; I ended up beside them. "Hey, you two. Having a good time?" As always, they wore the demeanor of Ma and Pa Kettle-long, solemn faces. Pop never liked parties. Mom, frail and thin, suffered from osteoporosis; my father was confined to a wheelchair, the victim of emphysema. But they both were dressed in their Sunday best, here to celebrate with me. I was proud of them. I lived at home, looking after their needs. I didn't mind a bit. Despite their no-nonsense approach to life, they were a joy to be around, seldom complaining. And their love for each other and for me was the cornerstone of our lives.
Mom, seated on the sofa, reached up to pat my hand. "It's a good party, dear. Fun."
"The best." Oh yeah, a real blast. Thank goodness in an hour it would be over.
"Have you seen your cake yet?" Pop's tone indicated trouble on the way, and my antennae shot up with the speed of a pushbutton parasol.
"What is it this year?"
"Nothing." Mom glowered at Pop. "It's a beautiful cake, Clive."
I groaned. What had Aunt Margaret done? I looked at Pop in time to catch a fleeting grin. "What?"
The faint twinkle in his eye did not calm my nerves. "Ole Margaret strikes again."
I knew I should have ordered my own cake.
Mom's older sister was one of those people who knew how everyone should live but was blind to her own shortcomings. When Millie Treybocker asked Margaret if she was making New Year's resolutions, my aunt said she had intended to, but after thinking it over, she couldn't think of any areas where she needed improvement.
Pop shook his head. "You'll have to see it to believe it."
Standing space around the table had cleared, so I hopped up and made my way over to take a good look at the culinary centerpiece. My tongue coiled in my mouth.
My cake was shaped like a shoe?
A high-topped, buttoned-up, old-fashioned shoe. The monstrosity on the cake board must be Aunt Margaret's symbol of my life.
She materialized beside me. "Well, what do you think?"
"It's ... creative."
"Isn't it? I thought it might give you a push in the right direction."
"And which direction might that be?" Off a cliff? Fleeing the building, screaming?
"Johanna Holland! You can't be that dense. It's the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe."
"Oh ... okay, but what does that have to do with me? If you recall, she had a number of children. You may not have noticed, but I have none. Nada, Aunt Margaret. Zippo."
"No, but Harvey has a peck."
"Harvey?" She was still harping on the widower? The man who wore his outdated polyester suits a size too small?
"He's willing to give you another shot. The cake was his idea."
I looked up to see Harvey waving at me from across the room. I closed my eyes and then opened them again. Oh, no! He was working his way through the crowd in my direction.
"Aunt Margaret! I am not interested in marriage, and if I were, I'd like to pick my own candidate, if you don't mind."
"But you're too picky. You're about to miss the boat-"
I walked off in my flat-heeled shoes, counting under my breath. I wasn't about to miss the boat-I had missed it. Couldn't she see that?
I headed for the door, anywhere to get away from Harvey and the gleam in his ferretlike eyes.
"Johanna! Where you off to?" Nelda Thomas, fellow librarian and best friend, waved at me. Tonight her mocha skin glowed against the soft rose of her blouse.
"Hi, Nelda. We're running out of plates and cups. I'll be back in a jiff." I had to get out of here before I strangled someone. Heaven help me, but Aunt Margaret brought out the devil in me.
When I stepped into the main lobby, library patrons were going about their business. I spotted a Wet Floor sign and frowned. Who'd spilled something? And what had they spilled? Coffee? Soda? The coffee shop was a trendy addition, but the once-immaculate library could do without the sticky messes that too often showed up. I slowed my pace, but the second my slippery soles hit the slick, my feet gained a mind of their own.
My arms flapped, and I balanced, struggling to catch myself. But one foot went one way, the other slid a different direction ... and right there in the lobby of the Holfield Community Library, Johanna Holland did the splits. Granted, I used to have the move down pat. I'd performed the maneuver (both right and left split) on a regular basis as a high school cheerleader. Though that had been many moons ago, I remembered the move.
What I didn't remember was the pain!
I managed to drag one leg back toward me, thinking I might never walk again. A plan formed in my pain-hazed mind: just crawl to the restroom and stay there until feeling returned to my lower limbs. As far as I could tell I'd not broken anything, but I'd knocked everything out of joint.
In the middle of my panic, firm hands took hold of my forearms and I became airborne as someone I couldn't see lifted me to my feet. Somehow I managed to stand erect.
I took a deep breath and turned around to come face-to-face with Tom Selleck. My hold tightened on the rocklike biceps, hanging on while I stared up at warm brown eyes, rugged, handsome features, a silky mustache.
I blinked and shook my head. When I looked back, Tom Selleck had disappeared, leaving in his place a man who had to be his twin. "Thank you," I managed. My face had to be the color of the burgundy drapes hanging in the reading rooms. I shoved my glasses up on my nose. He smiled, and the effect was stunning. "You're welcome. Name's Sam Littleton. You work here, don't you?"
"Yes. I'm Johanna Holland, head librarian." I straightened, touching my hair. "Have we met?"
It was all I could think to say, but I knew the answer already. We hadn't. Believe me, I'd have remembered this man if I'd seen him in the library. I'd have remembered him if I'd seen him in a dark alley.
"No, but I'm here often. I've seen you around." He indicated the stack of books he'd dropped when he came to my rescue. "I'm researching Papua New Guinea."
I struggled to regain my composure. Bending over, I began to pick up the scattered reading material. "I must have made quite a spectacle."
His features sobered. "You took a bad spill. Sure you're okay?"
"I'm sure." I'd have aches and bruises tomorrow in muscles I didn't know existed, but I'd choke before admitting it. "Papua New Guinea? You're going there?"
"January 15th." He smiled, indicating the stack of books. "I have a lot of reading to do."
"Yes-it would appear." Think, Johanna, say something intelligent. But the mental well had run dry. I was as blank as a cleaned slate. What were we talking about? Oh, yes. Papua New Guinea.
"You sure you don't need to see a doctor?"
"No." If my face got any warmer I would ignite. "I'll be fine."
He picked up his books, smiled at me, and walked on. I sized him up as he walked away. Maybe midfifties, prime physical condition. A weird tingling zipped up my spine. Must have been because of the fall ...
Shaking off the sensation, I returned to the party. The fun and festivities were going strong, but thank heaven both Harvey and Aunt Margaret had disappeared. Facing the inevitable, I reached for the knife and approached the cake. "Okay, who gets the first piece?"
Nelda held out her plate. "A shoe cake?" I managed a smile. "There's a joker in every crowd."
"Where did Margaret go?"
"Who knows? Off to pester someone else, I assume." I hadn't intended to sound so sharp, but Nelda caught it, of course. She caught everything.
"She on your case again?"
"She hates the thought of you being single, doesn't she?"
I licked buttercream frosting off my finger. "You should see the candidate this time. He comes equipped with ten children, so I wouldn't have to do a thing but rear them and tolerate him."
"Ten?" Nelda set the plate down and fanned her face. "Nobody today has that many kids. Think how much it would cost to buy shoes. Reminds me of that nursery rhyme about the old woman who ..." Her gaze fell to the table. "Aha! The cake!"
I whacked a hunk of heel and slid it onto my plate. "It's supposed to give me ideas."
Nelda snorted, spraying punch on her new rose silk blouse. "Oh, I'll bet it gives you ideas, all right."
We looked at each other and promptly collapsed in a fit of laughter. We'd no sooner regain our composure when I'd catch Nelda's eye, and we were off again.
She wiped her eyes, still chuckling. "Want me to talk to your aunt?"
"Would it do any good?"
"Not a bit, but I could make the effort."
"Save your breath." I slid a fold of a paper napkin under my eyes to wipe away remaining tears, hoping my mascara hadn't run. "She's harmless, I guess."
"But irritating." Nelda handed me her plate. "It's late. I need to be getting home. The kids will have torn the blinds down by now."
"I need to be going too. I'll see about Mom and Pop."
Pop had wheeled to where Mom and my cousin Mack were waiting. Mack was acting as chauffeur today, and I appreciated it. He'd see my parents got home all right. The party was over, but I still had to clean up.
I stared at the huge bunches of balloons. "What am I going to do with those?"
"Leave those to me." Nelda grabbed the party favors. "I'll get Jim Jr. to help, and we'll drop them off at The Gardens. The residents will love them."
"Do you think the messages are appropriate for an assisted living facility?"
"Don't worry about that. Trust me, they'll love them, and if it isn't someone's birthday now, it will be soon. Birthdays roll around there faster than cockroaches on rollerblades."
Nelda and her son, Jim Jr., did volunteer work at The Gardens; I was delighted to let them take the balloons. We carried the leftover cake and punch to the break room for the library staff.
Jim Jr. arrived by the time we'd emptied the trash and run the vacuum. We carried the balloons out to his van, and he and Nelda drove off, balloons whipping around in the backseat.
I got in my car and drove to the Video Barn, where I rented a couple of Tom Selleck movies. Sam Littleton's face surfaced to mind, but I pushed it back into the recesses. Yes, he was attractive. Yes, he'd made my heart flutter. But that's all there was to it. A chance encounter on my birthday.
I didn't want-or need-any more than that.
I enjoyed my life as it was, thank you. Taking care of my parents, what with their varied health problems, took time-time I didn't begrudge. I enjoyed being with them.
If I lacked anything emotional, Itty Bitty, my two-year-old Maltese, was there to give me Itty kisses, which always made me feel better. I wished my little dog needed outdoor exercise, but he required indoor exercise, so we'd run through the house chasing a ball or playing hide-and-seek. Itty would find me every time, and every time I had to laugh. He'd sit back on his short little body, cock his rounded head, and stare at me with those black-rimmed, close-set eyes. His feathered ears would droop while his black nose twitched. His high-set tail, covered with a long coat and carried over the back, made a funny sight, indeed. I kept him clipped short for convenience, though I was sure he'd prefer to retain a silky long coat.
Mom and Pop loved the dog, and loved having me with them. I knew they worried that they were putting a crimp in my social life, but I wasn't interested in a relationship at this point. Just give me a good book, or let me visit with Mom and Pop or watch the Discovery Channel, and I was happy. And with my job, I didn't have to buy books retail. I got them from library sales.
Yes, indeed, life was good.
Over the next few days, though, I caught myself wondering if Sam Littleton would be in. He never was-or I didn't spot him. Just as well. He'd already disrupted my routine more than I liked.
One morning I finished reshelving Daniel Baker's stack of books. He'd retired as head foreman at the handle factory and was indulging in a lifelong goal: reading every Western in the library.
The little man with a bushy mass of snow-white hair grinned at me. "You need to get in some new Louis L'Amour titles." He pointed to a volume. "That's one I've read."
"Mr. L'Amour isn't writing anymore, Mr. Baker."
His eyes bulged. "Why not? Man's got talent. Real talent."
"Mr. L'Amour has passed on."
He shook his head, shock reflected in his eyes. "All the good ones do."
I smiled. And the bad ones too. "Oh, there are a lot of good writers around; you'll discover them." I handed him the stack of reading material. He was still grumbling when he left the desk.
Nelda approached, pencil wedged behind her right ear. "We're sending out for pizza. You in?"
"Of course." This was my life: books, old men, and an occasional pizza.
Excerpted from Monday Morning Faith by Lori Copeland Copyright © 2006 by Lori Copeland. Excerpted by permission.
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