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The BoarderA novel
By Jane E. Ryan
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Jane E. Ryan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt is one of those spring days that sucks breath from your chest, entices you to draw air deep into your lungs and fills you with the hope of new promise all in the same, indescribable moment. The gently rolling hills west of Lincoln are lush with the thick, deep green growth of lavender-tipped alfalfa. The new corn plants, already nearly a foot high, look as if the Maker has attached miniature lights to the underbelly of each succulent, tiny leaf. From the sky, field after field of new corn bumping up against the robust alfalfa looks like a bright green shiny carpet that's been nourished by recent Midwestern thunderstorms.
Heaven high, puffy clouds are at first white, luminescent, and in the process of turning to shades of dark, grayish black. Within minutes ominous clouds, pregnant with a pending downpour, like those commonly seen at the end of hot, steamy days, appear on the horizon. Herds of Angus and Hereford cattle, accustomed to heart-stopping claps of thunder followed by jagged patterns of lightning that rip across the expansive sky, graze undisturbed.
In the blink of an eye storms of such power and fury fill the open spaces, startling strangers new to the region. Thrilled by the unpredictability of the event, mixed with the overwhelming smell of rain and the scent of sweet corn blanketing rolling hills, spring is heralded through middle America. Undaunted by the downpour, tall, gray-white grain silos remain stalwart and silent, awaiting their season and the variety of crops. Fall harvests highlight grain collections made by small family farms now dot the Nebraska landscape.
From the crest of a hill near the Crete interchange the golden dome of the State Capitol building, precarious home of the golden "Sower," juts from the level floor of the plains. Although awesome in its monolithic splendor, it serves as a reminder of the power and pride of a city considered sleepy and insignificant by those who simply pass by.
The University of Nebraska football stadium, an imposing structure that sits majestically at the edge of downtown Lincoln, is a monument to countless successful missions. Even when empty, if you lean toward that hallowed ground and listen carefully, you can hear the remnants of the wild cheers of red-clad fans and ghosts of football seasons past.
Even though it's a city of nearly one quarter of a million people, Lincoln is still much like a "cow town grown up" as old residents claim. Now it is the fourth largest relocation center for refugees from poorer countries of the world, including many African and Asian peoples. Because of the influx, the population of the Nebraska capital has become more colorful, increasingly complex, and more cosmopolitan than most outsiders realize.
As one travels through the tidy, increasingly congested streets, a variety of impressive yet older neighborhoods present themselves. Some still represent the majesty of bygone days with their Victorian gingerbread and wrap-around porches. Others just down the street are in a poorer state of repair, and now serve as transitional homes for young families or recent immigrants to the area.
The perimeter of an ever-expanding city shows signs of new things to come. Noisy earth movers busily finish palatial homes that are springing up like great walls surrounding the city, signaling a new era filled with economic promise.
A multitude of churches, homes to countless denominations and cultures, have stately spires that can be seen from above as they pierce the thick green canopy present throughout the city. The harmonious sounds of church bells and holy chimes soften the imposing shrill of train whistles, the rhythmic clacking of steel wheels on steel rails. The sounds of industrial commotion are muted by the collection of church choirs that send messages to the heavens, perhaps reminders of holier, more saintly times.
Without straining, one can hear the voices of gospel choirs throughout the city warming up and preparing for the next day's glorious performances.
Chapter TwoIn the lateness of the night, neon lights and rhythmically blinking stoplights cast eerie shadows on the nearly empty streets of Lincoln. Hand-in-hand, a few couples wander aimlessly around downtown drawing little attention to their silent activities. The clock in the Wells Fargo Bank window claims it's two a.m. as occasional youthful drivers whip past vacant shops and squeal their tires as they interrupt the late night peace.
Officer Sullivan, as heavily muscled and toned as a thirty-four-year-old weight lifter can get, drives his black and white police cruiser slowly along "O" Street. His eyes are sharp and alert as he purposefully peers into the dark nooks and hooded doorways. Tall, intense twenty-something Officer Newell, Sullivan's backup, uses his spotlight so he can see into the many crannies along the alleyways behind area businesses.
Finding nothing, Sullivan crosses the intersections of Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets methodically checking for his unseen quarry. Radio static in the background reminds both officers of their perpetual tether to the force behind them.
Officer Sullivan leans his head toward his right shoulder and talks softly into a nearly invisible microphone strapped to his shoulder. "See him yet?" he nearly barks into the mic.
"Nope. I thought I had him earlier, but that little shit is so sneaky. And fast," replies Newell to his partner.
Perhaps junking up the airwaves, Officer Sullivan complains, "This is getting mighty old. You'd think there would be at least one place in this entire town that's secure enough to keep him locked up tight."
Suddenly, Newell spots movement and speeds down the alley before him. At the intersection he steps on the gas and turns sharply on to a road that takes him the wrong way down a clearly marked one-way street. Cursing under his breath, the vigilant officer takes a moment to look up to the skies and say a quick thanks for no traffic at this time of night.
With no idea of hiding his excitement, Newell shouts into his radio, "I've got him! He's running north on Sixteenth. Go north around the block. We're going to nail him this time!"
Sullivan, who has built a reputation on being up for the chase and a little risky behind the wheel, grins as he drives Dukes-of-Hazard style through a parking lot and onto the street. The officers meet in the middle of the road where they box in a small, wiry figure between their overheated cruisers.
Newell gingerly leaps from a barely stalled black and white with Sullivan on his heels. Officer Newell grabs the arm of the dirty youth and roughly shoves him up against the patrol car.
"Gotcha!" the officer exclaims with a little too much glee.
Officer Sullivan enjoys his own sense of humor and with drawn out, exaggerated pleasure says, "Well, hello, Carl."
Carl is tall for his age and the officers know he's only eleven, but in some areas of his life he's going on thirty-five. The kid is his usual surly self and challenges the officers.
Carl snarls, "Let me go, you fuckers! It's past your curfew and your mamas want you home."
With a mixture of enjoyment and tart humor, Sullivan responds, "Still cute after all this time. Right, Carl? How many times have we had to pick you up so far?"
While trying to escape the officers' vice-like grips, Carl shrugs and sneers, "I dunno. I can outrun you so this won't be the last, I'm sure of that."
Both officers work together in their attempt to cuff the writhing, adrenaline-filled youth. When finally under control, Carl is stuffed in the back seat of Newell's patrol car. Because of Carl's history and determination to get free, Newell is a little paranoid about losing him. All the way to the Juvenile Hall Newell keeps a close eye on his struggling charge locked in the back seat.
The younger officer speaks to the dispatcher waiting for word on the other end. "I'm taking Carl Johns to the Detention Center. Guys, give them the heads up that they need to hang on to him this time around. Okay?"
Dispatch replies wryly, "What a good idea! This kid reminds me of that old song, something about thieves in the night."
Confined in a cruiser for the umpteenth time, the angry boy silently plots to get even with the world and everyone in it.
Chapter ThreeA part of the porch attached to their ample home frames the open, inviting kitchen door while part of it is open to the air and sky. A roof covers half the sturdy, screened-in wooden structure to protect the family from the summer rays. Over the years Annika Williams has gone to great lengths to furnish the screened in area so they can sit outside comfortably and not be "eaten alive," as she says, by the mosquitoes that populate the area in the summertime.
A stately Zebediah Williams stands peacefully meditating on the family's back porch when a wise smile crosses his handsome brown face. At forty he is contented with life's progression. He feels his extremities tingle with happiness brought on by his life with his wife and family. Unaware that Zeb is intensely watching her, Annika digs vigorously in her garden.
Counting silently, Zeb realizes that they've known each other for twenty years now, and he thinks with a gleam in his eyes that at thirty-eight his wife is more lovely than ever. At this moment he understands that Annika's decision made a few years ago was the most difficult of her life. It was then that she gave up the teaching position she loved to stay home to launch their children into adulthood. In spite of that, or maybe because of it, he can see that she's become stronger and more of her own person than he ever anticipated.
As a watchful observer from his position at the rail, he's suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings he's received during his life. Memories of their early years flash behind his eyes and Zeb feels awed that their union has been so smooth and problem free over their years of marriage. When they first met, even though it was love at first spark, they both understood those around them would have plenty to say about their pairing.
After all, he thinks, he and his Annika are physically about as opposite as any two people can be. He is a tall, muscular and African-American; Annika is a slim Caucasian woman of medium height with smooth muscles and pale skin. Zeb's family knew that he would always be outgoing and gregarious from the first day he began to talk. In college he was into sports and often ended up in the spotlight because of his athletic and intellectual prowess, a position he never minded. On the other hand, with her quiet nature and contemplative disposition, Annika goes about life never intentionally drawing attention to herself. Her ability to be overlooked easily, a characteristic very unlike Zeb's basic nature, doesn't bother her in the least. Zebediah often thinks that because of their apparent differences it was amazing that he and Annika met at all.
On this afternoon before him Annika crawls about on her hands and knees as she cleans the extensive flowerbeds along their backyard fence. Although totally immersed in the joy of playing in the dirt, as she calls it, Annika knows that even a glimpse of Zeb on the porch still makes her heart race. While her hands work deftly in the soil, her mind wanders to and fro over her life with her husband and children.
Like now, when her heart is flooded with awe for the gifts of love and security she's been given, tears spring to her eyes. As usual, her first reaction is to chide herself for being so soft, so wet. But then Annika decides that's how God made her, for whatever reason. Instead of obsessing over it, she decides to move on, at least for this moment, and concentrates on accepting that characteristic, one she regards as a weakness or flaw in her character.
Annika is suddenly aware of changes in the air and in new scents that bombard her. The heaviness of the air on her skin and the smell of rain in her nostrils overcome the aroma of the glorious dahlias, snapdragons and lavender that surround her. Given a prelude of what's to come in the next moments, Annika digs faster.
When Annika listens, she can hear the gentle ssshhhhhhhh sound rain makes as it's released from the clouds directly above her head. Seconds later, she anticipates and then hears the rapid increase of the first wave of drops. Annika hears the puu, puu, puu sounds as big, fat raindrops hit the ground around her. A split-second later, a bolt of lightning leaps through the sky followed by sharp, insistent claps of thunder. Then, as was anticipated in the afternoon's forecast, the clouds deliver a downpour.
Natural acts, those brimming with power and served up by Mother Nature, have always filled Annika with excitement, and today is no different. Her nerve endings are tweaked by the raindrops and delicious sounds, and send tingles throughout her body. Her first thought is to linger and remain crouched on the ground, protected by her beloved plants and bushes. But soon she decides that isn't such a good idea, so she makes a mad dash for the back porch.
Already the soaking rain plasters her thick hair to her head, and Annika shivers as she sits on the back porch swing, fearful of moving and spreading the soil and rainwater mixture she carried there on her muddy body. She chuckles to herself and suddenly remembers times as a little girl when she found herself covered with mud, loving every moment of it then, too. She muses that there will be some things she'll just never outgrow.
At the first hint of rain Zeb disappears into the house so misses seeing Annika's dash to safety, an action that never fails to entertain him. Within minutes he returns to her carrying a blanket and a steamy mug of hot cider. He quietly hands her the cup, covers her shoulders with the blanket, and slides down on to the glider next to her.
No longer worried about spreading her collection of topsoil and peat, Annika comfortably snuggles into her husband. Zeb wraps his arm around her shoulders and they link their pinky fingers together in a silent vow. During the few storms they've experienced in their life together, Annika remembers that she has always found a peaceful, safe oasis in her husband, with her family and in her home. Reveling in the knowledge that she has always been his anchor as well, they sit smiling and watch the storm pass.
Chapter FourThey all collect in the kitchen, a homey room filled with family mementos that never fail to bring daily cheer.
An unusual family by some standards, they're all vibrant, bright-eyed and have a desire to squeeze a few words of their own into every lively conversation. The warmth of the daffodil yellow walls and brick red accents embraces each member of the Williams family and calms them during the usual early morning chaos and busy days. Even the dog's wiggle-waggles add her share, too.
At sixteen, Jarren has inherited the best there is to gain from Annika and Zeb's union. The mixture of the genetic inheritance from both his mother and father have left him honey-colored, muscular and an honor student at the local high school. Although naturally intelligent, Jarren prefers school for the socialization with others students, which is more important to him than excelling academically, or even athletically. Recently he's been developing an acute interest in girls, especially smart, athletic ones, but there's no steady girlfriend on the horizon.
At thirteen, Lexi is no shrinking violet and can hold her own in the family and among her peers, too. After several years in the same foster home, one in which Lexi thought she'd remain permanently, her foster mother was suddenly diagnosed with heart problems. The seriousness of the mother's condition required immediate, complex treatment, and prompted Lexi's move to another temporary home under the benevolent supervision of her case worker, Rose Chambers.
Because of the unanticipated changes in Lexi's permanent family plan, she suddenly became available for adoption. Lexi never knew how the whole thing happened, but she was soon told that Reverend Zebediah Williams, his wife and son wanted to enlarge their family by adding her as their second child.
The thirteen-year-old girl believes her social worker must be very persuasive because in no time at all she was meeting Zeb, Annika and Jarren and was soon adopted and placed permanently with the Williams family. The professionals thought that because of Lexi's relatively advanced age and several unsuccessful foster placements, her transition would be more problematic than it has turned out to be.
Excerpted from The Boarder by Jane E. Ryan Copyright © 2010 by Jane E. Ryan. Excerpted by permission.
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