The One Good Thing

( 6 )

Overview

For as long as Halley Steen has known her husband Nathan, he has carried a handful of stones in his pocket. Each day he uses those stones to remind him to follow the Golden Rule, moving a stone from one pocket to the other with each act of kindness. So it's not unusual that Nathan stops to help a stranger on the side of the highway while on his way to his son's football game one Friday evening. But that one act will change all of their lives forever, when a car hydroplanes off ...
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The One Good Thing

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Overview

For as long as Halley Steen has known her husband Nathan, he has carried a handful of stones in his pocket. Each day he uses those stones to remind him to follow the Golden Rule, moving a stone from one pocket to the other with each act of kindness. So it's not unusual that Nathan stops to help a stranger on the side of the highway while on his way to his son's football game one Friday evening. But that one act will change all of their lives forever, when a car hydroplanes off the road, killing Nathan instantly.

As Halley and her children Ty and Alice struggle with their grief, Nathan's spiritual legacy lives on. A Facebook page appears, where countless stories about Nathan's selfless acts are shared. But among them is one that stands out, from a woman who says that Nathan saved her life. Neither Halley nor her children have ever heard of Madeline Zuckerman. But soon Halley discovers years of e-mails from this woman to her husband on his computer that refer to "our little girl." How could her husband have kept the secret of this other child for their entire marriage? Why had he lied to her? Was he not the man she thought he was?

Only thirteen-year-old Alice maintains unwavering faith in her father. She knows there's an explanation. When she sets out to find Madeline and learn the truth, she will start to unravel the complex story of The One Good Thing Nathan Steen did that had the greatest impact of all.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
"Inspirational and heartwarming, Milne's newest work weaves his familiar feel-good tone into an enjoyable story about friendship, love, and family that is sure to please fans and newcomers alike."
RT Book Reviews
"Milne's latest is a touching story about a legacy of love. Although the plot is a simple one, it will resonate with readers looking to reach outside themselves and spread kindness to others."
Desert News
"The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne is everything that a novel should be. It is uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. The story draws readers in from page one and holds them captive to the end."
Jason Wright
"The magic of Kevin Milne's books is that they make you stop wishing the world was a better place and inspire you to actually get up and go make it one. The One Good Thing is exactly that kind of book."
Booklist on The Final Note
"Stirring and dramatic, Milne's work echoes that of Nicholas Sparks in its focus on love, commitment, faith, and the ultimate heartbreak of being human."
Aisle B
"Kevin Alan Milne's The Final Note is a beautiful soliloquy on the power of love. The opening Prelude forcefully grabs you--you find yourself immersed in Ethan's rage against the perpetrator of his wife's catastrophic outcome. . . . "
From the Publisher
"Inspirational and heartwarming, Milne's newest work weaves his familiar feel-good tone into an enjoyable story about friendship, love, and family that is sure to please fans and newcomers alike."—Booklist

"Milne's latest is a touching story about a legacy of love. Although the plot is a simple one, it will resonate with readers looking to reach outside themselves and spread kindness to others."—RT Book Reviews

"The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne is everything that a novel should be. It is uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. The story draws readers in from page one and holds them captive to the end."
Desert News

"The magic of Kevin Milne's books is that they make you stop wishing the world was a better place and inspire you to actually get up and go make it one. The One Good Thing is exactly that kind of book."—Jason Wright, New York Times bestselling author of The Wednesday Letters

"Stirring and dramatic, Milne's work echoes that of Nicholas Sparks in its focus on love, commitment, faith, and the ultimate heartbreak of being human." —Booklist on The Final Note

"Kevin Alan Milne's The Final Note is a beautiful soliloquy on the power of love. The opening Prelude forcefully grabs you--you find yourself immersed in Ethan's rage against the perpetrator of his wife's catastrophic outcome. . . . "
Aisle B, Review

Jason Wright
"The magic of Kevin Milne's books is that they make you stop wishing the world was a better place and inspire you to actually get up and go make it one. The One Good Thing is exactly that kind of book."
Aisle B
"Kevin Alan Milne's The Final Note is a beautiful soliloquy on the power of love. The opening Prelude forcefully grabs you—you find yourself immersed in Ethan's rage against the perpetrator of his wife's catastrophic outcome. . . . "
Desert News
"The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne is everything that a novel should be. It is uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. The story draws readers in from page one and holds them captive to the end."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455510085
  • Publisher: Center Street
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Pages: 372
  • Sales rank: 285,265
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Alan Milne is the author of The Paper Bag Christmas, The Nine Lessons, Sweet Misfortune, and The Final Note. He earned an MBA at Pennsylvania State University. Born in Portland, Oregon, Milne grew up in the nearby quiet country town of Sherwood, Oregon, where he currently resides with his wife and five children. His website can be found at kevinamilne.com.
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Read an Excerpt

The One Good Thing

A Novel
By Kevin Alan Milne

Center Street

Copyright © 2013 Kevin Alan Milne
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781455510085

Prologue

NATHAN

Is there a difference between being secretive and keeping a secret? I’ve always thought so. The former smacks of deception and deceit, while the latter is more about trust and confidences. Still, I doubt my wife would appreciate such semantics if she knew who I received an e-mail from today.

They say everything’s big here in Texas. If my secret were the measuring stick, I guess I’d have to agree.

“Did you use all your pebbles today, dear?” Halley asks from the other side of our bedroom.

To anyone’s ears but mine and my kids’, that question would be nonsensical. “Yeah,” I tell her as I undo my tie and the top button on my dress shirt. “But nothing really worth mentioning. Just a few small things here and there, but I did at least manage to get all of them from one pocket to the other, unlike yesterday.”

I reach into my right pants pocket and pull out six tiny stones, each of them a slightly different shade of red. I cup them in the palm of my hand and shake them gently as I mentally rehearse the events of the day, then I drop them in a small dish on the dresser and continue getting ready for bed.

“Oh, c’mon,” Halley prods. “Don’t be so modest. You know I love to hear.”

Yes, I know. And you know I love to tease. “What’s it worth to you? A kiss?”

She gives a mocking laugh. “How about no kiss if you don’t at least share the highlights.”

“Fine,” I say with a chuckle. “Let’s see… I took Martin out to lunch and had a good talk with him. Did I tell you he lost his job last month? His wife is out of work too, so he’s been pretty down. If nothing else, I think he really appreciated getting out of the house. I also gave him a couple of job leads, so hopefully something will pan out soon.” I pause to pull my pajama top over my head.

Halley is putting on her pajamas too. “Keep going,” she urges.

“Okay, umm… I gave the waitress a very healthy tip—probably too healthy, come to think of it. Her service wasn’t all that great, but she looked like she could use the money. Then there were some very minor things at work. An intern who failed the bar exam and needed some cheering up, a legal secretary who was having fits with her computer and needed assistance, little things like that. And lastly, I dropped off take-out at Dave and Theresa’s on the way home.”

“Oh, and here I thought you volunteered to get Chinese tonight just so I wouldn’t have to cook.”

“That can be number seven,” I say, winking at her. “I really feel bad for Theresa, though. With her health being the way it is, I wish they’d let us do more.”

I take a quick peek at my profile in the mirror. Am I getting a gut? I try to suck it in, but it won’t go all the way. Probably too many hours sitting in the courtroom, too few hours in the gym. Oh well, there are more important things in life than one’s physique. Halley approaches from behind and wraps her arms around my expanding waistline. “You’re a good man, Nathan Steen. You and your funny little stones. The world needs more men like you.”

“The world needs funny men with little stones?”

She lets go and pokes me in the side. “That’s not what I said.”

With a quick tug I pull her back and give her a peck on the cheek. “Enough about me. How was your day? You were quiet at dinner.”

“Was I? Well, maybe the kids had so much to tell you that I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“No, it was more than that. I can tell when something’s on your mind. Did something happen at the store today?”

She lets out a long sigh and flops backward on the bed. “Am I that transparent?”

“After all these years, you’re an open book to me. Let’s hear it.” She probably thinks I’m an open book too, and I guess I am. Only my book is missing some chapters that she doesn’t know about.

“Well… there was this customer—”

“Oh, wait,” I interrupt, “let me guess. Someone died and needed flowers for the funeral, and you became emotionally involved. Am I right?”

Halley picks up a small pillow near her head and hurls it at me, hitting me in the knee. “Not just anyone died. He was young and had kids. Younger than you. He had a heart attack, completely out of the blue. His poor wife doesn’t have anyone to help her make the funeral arrangements, so she came in all by herself over lunch. Can you imagine? She had to leave the kids at a baby-sitter just so she could come see me about a casket arrangement.”

I pick up the pillow, walk it to the bed, and hand it back to Halley, then I lay down next to her on top of the comforter. For a second or two I don’t say a word. I just stare at her in admiration. “Dare I ask if you gave her a discount?”

With a little giggle she says, “Fifty percent. She basically got everything below cost.”

“Such a bleeding heart.” Before she can object I add, “Which is what makes you so incredible. Probably too tenderhearted to be a successful florist, but I love you all the more for it.” I bend down and give her another quick kiss.

“Isn’t it sad, though? That poor family. All I could think of when she told me her story was that life is so fragile. What if you or I die, Nathan? What then? It makes me queasy just thinking about it. Speaking of which, when was the last time you had your blood pressure checked? Or a physical exam of any kind?”

“Are you calling me fat?”

She pokes me in the side again. “No, I’m calling you perfect, but I’d like a second opinion. Preferably from a doctor. I’m going to call first thing tomorrow and make an appointment for you. I can’t have you dying on me.”

“Oh please, I’m as healthy as an ox. Anyway, when God says my time is up, my time is up.”

“All the same, you’re going in for a checkup. Soon. Whatever it takes to keep you around.”

“For you, fine. But I promise, I’m not going anywhere.”

Halley interlocks her hand with mine and squeezes it hard. “Good. Because without you, I’m not much of anything.”

“That’s not true, and you know it. But imagine me without you. I’d just be some crazy guy with a pocketful of rocks.”

She closes her eyes and whispers, “You’re a crazy guy with a pocketful of rocks with or without me, dear.”

I laugh, but don’t say anything in response. It’s getting late and I’m tired. It’s been a long day, and now it’s time for the conversation to give way to a good night’s sleep. She’s right, though: I’ve been carrying the pebbles in my pockets since long before I met Halley, and if anything ever happens to her, I’ll be carrying them long after she’s gone.

Until the stones are smooth or the day I die. That’s the promise I made, and sooner or later, I’m bound to make good on it.

Thinking about that promise, my thoughts rewind thirty-two years, pausing finally on a gangly, disheveled, and sometimes smelly outcast who was as smart as she was awkward: Maddy McFadden, the least-liked person in middle school.

Long ago, when we were still dating, I told Halley the basic story of why I’d been carrying those little rocks in my pockets every day since seventh grade. I’d feared that she wouldn’t understand, or that she’d think me nuttier than a jar of cashews. Instead, thankfully, she found it endearing, in a quirky sort of way. I didn’t tell her everything, though. I omitted some details that probably don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, along with other details that probably matter a lot.

It’s true what they say—the devil is in the details.

But if I told Halley about Maddy now? If she knew that Maddy still keeps in contact? If I told her what she e-mailed me about today? No, that wouldn’t go over well. Anyway, there are things I can never tell. A promise is a promise.

Halley rolls over and drapes an arm over my chest, which jolts me back to the present. “You’re staring at the ceiling, hon,” she says. “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing,” I reply. “Just thinking about how busy my day is tomorrow.” I lean over and give her a final kiss good night, then I turn off the light on the nightstand and close my eyes.

There is a familiar sensation in the pit of my stomach as I start to drift off. It’s the same feeling I always get when I pause to think about my past. As the feeling grows, I can almost hear my father—the pastor—preaching to me as a kid. “Honesty isn’t just the best policy, Nathan, it’s the only policy.”

Is it? Is there no other policy? Is everything black-and-white like that, or are there sometimes instances where nobler motives justify certain shades of gray? I honestly don’t know. Maybe my dad was right. Maybe that’s why I never told him what happened. And maybe that’s why my stomach still aches when I think about it, because the truth literally hurts. And the truth is that the best thing I ever did—the one good thing that really mattered—was a lie.

Part I

Sticks and Stones… and Steens

Chapter One

ALICE

Remember who you are.

Long before I crawl into the front seat of my dad’s car, I know that he won’t drop me off at school without also dropping that age-old advice. It’s part of his fatherly routine—his thing, so to speak. He’s offered those same parting words every single day before school for as long as I’ve been attending. If you’re counting, which I am, that’s precisely seven years, two months, and nineteen days.

Dad is a classic creature of habit. I love that about him—love that he is predictable; love that I can guess what he will do from one moment to the next; love that he has his little mantras that he lives by and that he won’t let you forget, like “remember who you are,” or “don’t sweat the small stuff,” or “we’re all just rolling stones,” and his personal favorite, “one good thing leads to another.” That predictability fosters trust—trust that I can depend on him when I’m sweating the small stuff, because talking through the small stuff helps me know that I can turn to him when I need help sorting through the big stuff.

Lately, my life has been nothing but big stuff. Or at least big to me, but then, I’m not that big of a girl, so maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.

Size-wise, I’m thirteen going on nine, maybe ten. I’m easily the smallest girl in my class. I say “girl,” because there’s a boy in my grade who is smaller, but he and both of his parents are little people. I don’t like to use the word “midget,” because that’s not PC, but because that’s what he is, being small for him is apparently cool. For me? It makes me a target.

As Dad’s car pulls into the school parking lot, I tilt my forehead against the cool glass of the window, staring at a group of kids with trench coats, nose rings, and their hair dyed the same jet black. Seeing them makes me wonder what new thrills seventh grade will present me with today. Every day there seems to be something. Drama, mostly, and cutting remarks. I already know which people I should avoid, but it won’t matter because they’ll probably find me anyway. They always do.

I still remember my first day of kindergarten. The giant yellow school bus rolled to a stop in front of our home as Mom made a final adjustment to my ponytail.

“There. You’re a princess,” she said. “And you’re going to act like a princess at school, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ll be right here waiting when the bus comes home, okay?”

I nodded and gave her leg a pint-sized hug.

Then Dad stepped closer, all smiles, and said the magic words. “Alice, you’re going to do great things, I can tell. Just remember who you are.” He paused, then asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m Alice, silly,” I told him with a giggle.

He smiled all the more, then bent and gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Yes, sweet thing. You’re Alice. But you’re also much more than that.”

“Alice Steen?”

“Even more than that, pumpkin. But the bus driver is waiting, so we’ll talk about it later. Now you go have fun at school and be the best Alice Steen you can be.”

We did talk later. Multiple times in fact, but it was several years before we had a conversation that finally stuck. We were running late that day on account of my older brother, Ty, not being able to find a clean pair of underwear, so Dad offered to drop us off at school on his way to work.

“Hey Ty,” Dad said as he prepared to get out of the car in front of the middle school.

“I know,” Ty droned. “Remember who you are.

“Exactly. Remember who you are.”

I half expected my brother to come up with one of his usual flippant, teenage remarks, but instead he just smiled and said, “I will, Dad.”

Once Ty was gone I scrambled over the seat to sit up front the rest of the way to the elementary school. “Dad? Tell me again what you mean when you say that.”

Dad’s mind was already on something else. “When I say what, hon?”

“ ‘Remember who you are.’ ”

“Ah. Well… who are you?”

“You know who I am.”

“I know I do. But do you?”

“Yes.”

He glanced down at me while we sat waiting for a group of kids to cross an intersection. “Then tell me.”

“Well…” I replied thoughtfully. “I’m Alice. I’m a third-grader. I like to dance and draw. I’m your only daughter. And I’m your smartest and favoritest child.”

He let out a little chuckle. “You’re on the right track, Al. Anything else?”

“I dunno… I’m pretty?”

“Of course you are. But this is about much more than that. You see, it’s not just a matter of who you are right now, but how knowing who you are can help you become who you want to be later on.”

“I wanna be rich,” I stated matter-of-factly.

He rolled his eyes at me, but they were still twinkling. His eyes always have a little twinkle in them when he talks to me, like he’s happy about what he’s looking at. “Waaaay off target, sweetie. Listen, you said it yourself, you’re my only daughter, right? Mine and Mommy’s. What does that mean?”

“That you guys should have another baby.”

“Not even close. Try again.”

“Uh… I dunno. That I kinda look like you guys?”

“More like your mom, I hope. But you’re getting warmer. Not only do you kinda look like us, you are like us, in more ways than you know. There is a part of us inside of you. You are our daughter, which means you have…?”

“Cold sores? Mom says if I get them when I’m older, it’s because of you.”

Dad shook his head and laughed. “Maybe you really are my smartest and favoritest child. But I meant potential, Al. Not that you’re not great already, but if you try real hard, you can be even better. And I don’t mean you should try to be just like me. That’d be aiming low. Inside you is an infinite ability to do good, so when I say ‘remember who you are,’ what I mean is to not forget how much potential you have, and then do your very best to live up to that each and every day.” He paused briefly, then added, “Does that make any sense to you?”

By then we were nearly at the elementary school. “Yeah, I think so,” I told him. “Thanks, Dad.”

Thirty seconds later we pulled to a complete stop along the curb in the drop-off area, but I wasn’t quite ready to get out. “Dad? Did you want to be like your dad when you were younger?”

The smile on his face faded a little. “I did.” He hesitated just a second, like he was thinking of something long forgotten. “Did you know he used to tell me the very same thing before school? ‘Remember who you are, Nathan. And make us proud.’ ”

“And?”

“What?”

“Did you? Make him proud?”

He sighed through his nose. “Most of the time, sweetie.”

“How come we hardly ever get to see him?” Me and Ty, and sometimes even my mom, had been asking that question for years.

“Grandpa Steen is a busy man.”

“That’s what you always say.”

“And it’s always the truth. A pastor’s job is twenty-four-seven. Now, it’s time for you to get going. Have a great day, pumpkin.”

And?” I coaxed.

He smiled again and ruffled my hair. “And remember who you are.”

“I will, Daddy. Love you.”

“You okay?” Dad asks as the car pulls up in front of the middle school.

I pull my head out of third-grade memories and look at him. “I’m fine. Just looking forward to another day in my glamorous seventh-grade life.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“Homeschool me?”

“Anything besides that?”

“Nah. I’ll survive. I always do.”

His mouth curls into a little frown. “Should I talk to the principal again? There’s got to be something he can do.”

“No!” I snap. “The last time you talked to him, kids who got in trouble found out what you said, and it only made things worse for me. I just need to get through this on my own.”

For several seconds he stares at me, then his frown slowly bends upward. “Do you know how proud I am of you?”

I roll my eyes, just a little. “I gotta go. The bell is gonna ring.”

“All right. I’ll see you tonight, after Ty’s game. Love you, Al.”

“I love you, too.” I climb out of the car and start walking away. But something doesn’t feel right. I pause after a few steps and turn around.

Dad is already rolling down his window. “Alice…”

“I know, Dad.”

He yells it anyway. “Remember who you are!”

What a goofball. Some eighth-graders are watching, and I’m sure I’m turning red, but I can’t help but smile. “I will.”

When Dad is gone, my smile dissolves. It’s been forever since I’ve wanted to smile at school. Okay, so it’s only been a little over a year, but it feels like a stinking eternity. Last year, near the start of sixth grade, Ashley Simmons—my next-door neighbor, former best friend, and the girl every boy dreams of kissing—decided I wasn’t good for her image. You know how it is. I’m short and smart, she’s tall and pretty, and I think she finally concluded that she couldn’t float in the cool crowd with me as an anchor. I mean, she didn’t come right out and say it or anything, that’s just my hypothesis. Rather than just saying she didn’t like me anymore or didn’t want to hang out, she started ignoring me, which, in my opinion, is way worse. That, alone, would have been fine. But during PE one day, when we were changing into our gym clothes, she took it a step further.

“Oh! My! Gosh!” Ashley shouted. “Alice, isn’t that the training bra you picked out in fifth grade?”

I froze. “What…? Oh… no. I mean… I don’t think so.”

“Yes, don’t you remember? I was with you when your mom helped you pick it out.” She let out a cackle that reminded me of a witch. “You thought the ladybugs were so cool.” Without looking down, I knew that there were ladybugs on my chest. I tried to ignore her as I pulled my school-issue T-shirt over my head, but Ashley wasn’t done. “What size are you anyway, A negative?”

“She belongs in grade school,” one of her new friends said.

“Yeah,” said another, “until she grows up.”

“Maybe she needs a magic cookie to help her grow,” Ashley said with a giggle. “Like Alice in Wonderland.” When she realized what she’d just said, she started laughing her brains out. “Alice in Wonderland! We’ve got our very own little Alice in Wonderland!”

The other girls started repeating it, between fits of giddy hysteria.

I didn’t think it was all that funny, or even clever, but it didn’t matter. The cool kids were laughing themselves silly, which meant I was in trouble. Sure enough, by lunchtime I had a new nickname. People I’d never even spoken to before were stopping me in the halls saying things like, “You must be Alice in Wonderland—I can tell because you look lost.” And of course, “Hey little girl, where’s your Cheshire cat?” One boy even asked if he could see my little ladybugs.

The next day I was standing at my locker, waiting for the morning bell to ring, when I saw Ashley coming down the hallway, tailed closely by a pack of her new gal-pals. “Here, Alice,” she said sweetly. “I made this for you.” She was holding a small paper plate covered with tinfoil. When I peeled back the aluminum, there was a single cookie in the center of the plate, with frosting letters that spelled Eat Me!

Since then I’ve become a perpetual joke. It’s amazing the things kids will say when teachers aren’t listening. Oh, and of course I get a magic Eat Me cookie about once a month from some new bully who wants to keep the laughs going.

But I still have to go to school. So, with a long breath, I square my shoulders and push through the front doors to face another day. Thankfully, it’s Friday. If I can just bear the next eight hours, then I’ll have all weekend to lick my wounds, cry on my parents’ shoulders, and prepare for next week.

“Hey, looking for the White Rabbit?” someone calls as I’m walking down the hall. Then, “Are you lost, little girl? The elementary school is down the street.”

Just remember who you are, I tell myself as I continue walking, and everything will be okay.

I have a knack for being right about things. I’m just smart that way. But this time, I’m wrong. Everything will not be okay. By the end of the day the social injustices of seventh grade will be nothing more than a tiny blip on the radar of my concerns.

Dad is right: I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Heck, I shouldn’t even sweat the big stuff. I should save all my sweat to form tears when the gigantic stuff comes and shatters the world.

Chapter Two

TY

The senior table, as it’s called, sits in a spot that’s elevated slightly above the rest of the tables in the cafeteria. Not a lot higher—only three feet or so—but high enough that we who have earned the right to sit there can easily see everything going on at the underclassmen tables.

“Dude, I think that group of freshman chicks is checking us out,” says Dillon.

Dillon always thinks girls are looking at him. They rarely are. I don’t even know which girls he’s talking about, but it doesn’t matter. “Maybe you should go get their numbers,” I deadpan.

“Ya think?”

“No, Dill. They’re freshmen.” Dillon doesn’t let many people call him Dill, because it’s too easy a jump from there to Dill-weed, his unofficial moniker back in eighth grade. But he lets me, because I’ve always called him that, and we’ve been friends forever.

“Yeah, but they’re hot.”

I finally bother following his gaze. Okay, so he has a point—a couple of them are cute. And they do seem to be watching us. When they see they’ve got my attention, they start to giggle. Then one of them waves.

“Dude, she waved at me!”

I don’t have the heart to tell Dillon she wasn’t waving at him. I don’t remember the girl’s name—Angie? Angela? Agnes?—but I recognize her, and I can tell she recognizes me. Earlier this week she tripped going up the stairs between classes, so I stopped to help her pick up her things.

Once she got over the embarrassment of tripping, she asked, “You’re the quarterback, right? Ty Steen.”

“That’s me.”

Yeah, that’s me. That’s what people know me for—being the quarterback. Not for getting good grades. Not for being a good guy. Just for being a good quarterback, and even then they’re only happy when I win.

Once she was sure who she was talking to, she got embarrassed all over again, even more than she’d been from tripping in front of everybody. “Thanks for helping.” She paused, glanced at me. “Why did you?”

Angelica. Yeah, that’s her name. Angelica’s question was interesting to me, and not in a good way. Well, not the question so much as not having a decent answer. The only thing I could think of was, “because it’s what my dad would do,” which would have sounded totally lame, so instead I simply said, “Why not?” Then I handed her the stack of papers I’d gathered and walked off.

But since then I keep thinking about that question. Why did I stop to help?

“You should wave back,” I tell Dillon.

“Ya think?”

“No, Dill. They’re still freshmen.” I pause to look around at the crowded cafeteria. It’s kind of like looking at my mom’s patch of wildflowers behind the house—if you just gloss over it from a distance, everything is picture-perfect. But if you focus on the details, you soon start to notice weeds cropping up here and there, or flowers that appear broken or out of place.

I narrow my gaze.

At a table to my right a kid is sitting all alone; his demeanor is almost like he doesn’t want to be noticed by anybody. At the table next to him, a boy named Marshal, whom I happen to know because he’s one of only two sophomores who starts on the varsity football team, is teasing a much smaller boy about his cowboy hat. Marshal finally swipes the hat right off the kid’s head and tosses it to a girl a few seats down, who quickly tosses it to another boy who puts it on his own head and runs off and stuffs it in a garbage can. The hat’s owner looks like he wants to cry. All the way on the other side of the cafeteria I see a girl with pink hair flipping the bird to a small collection of cheerleaders who have obviously said something to get her riled. And in the middle of the lunchtime gathering I spot a boy from my Physics class—Mark something or other—harmlessly punching numbers into his calculator, until some jerk in a Che Guevara T-shirt walks by and fists him in the back of the head for no apparent reason. Mark pretends nothing happened until the assailant is gone, then he rubs the back of his head and winces in pain.

Weeds and broken flowers. The cafeteria is crawling with them.

“Why so quiet all of a sudden?” Dillon asks.

“Just thinking.”

“ ’Bout what?”

Good question. I’m not even sure I know what I’m thinking, and even if I do, there’s no good way to explain it to Dill, because he has no idea what it’s like to be Nathan Steen’s son. So I ask a question instead. “You think that if I loaded my fries up with ketchup and launched them at someone, it would start a food fight?”

“Dude, don’t even think about it.”

“Why not?”

“Because you could get suspended! And we need you at the game tonight.”

“So. We have a backup. Jim’s been on fire in practice lately.”

“But he’s not you, Ty.”

“But maybe he—. Forget it.”

“No. What?”

Now I wish I hadn’t opened my big mouth.

“C’mon,” he prods. “Spill.”

I can tell Dillon’s not going to give up until I give him a satisfactory answer, so I toss him something to chew on. Not the whole skeleton, just a bone. “Well, I was just thinking, what if Jim wants to be the starting quarterback more than me? What if my heart’s not really in it?”

“Shut up, dude. You’re scaring me.”

“I’m serious, Dill. Maybe the team would be better off without me.”

“Get out of here. I don’t care what anyone says, you’re the only reason we’re in the hunt for a league title. Not to dis the rest of us, but without you our post season is hosed.”

Dillon doesn’t know it, but he’s just hit the nail on the head. Somehow he managed to articulate the very thing that’s been eating at me since my stupid little conversation with—what’s her name again? Angelica. I know high school football and helping a random girl in the hallway are completely unrelated, but in a strange way they’re totally the same. If I fall short of perfection on the gridiron, the team loses and I’ll know I’ve let everyone down. Helping the girl is more complicated, but no less stressful, on account of my dad, who just happens to be the world’s nicest guy. No, seriously, he’s like the Mother Teresa of Mesquite, Texas—or like Father Teresa, I guess. It’s his life mission or something to help everyone he possibly can. Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers on the street, people who don’t even like him—he helps them all every chance he gets. And the older I get, the more I realize that he wants me to carry the torch.

But I don’t think I can.

I can’t live up to his perfection, because I know if I fall short—which I will—that I’m somehow letting him down. Sure, I helped one clumsy freshman on the stairs, but did I do it because I really wanted to, or because I was afraid of letting down my dad if I didn’t?

Am I making sense?

So what if I stopped to help this one time? Does it really matter? Nope. It doesn’t change the fact that everywhere I look around the cafeteria there are more kids than I can count that could use a hand—like the boy who’s fishing his crumpled cowboy hat from the trash, or Mark, who’s still smarting from being punched in the head. But there’s no way I can help them all, so why should I help any of them?

“Maybe,” I mumble to myself, “instead of worrying about all the broken flowers, it would be easier to be a weed.”

All Dillon hears is the final word. “Weed!” he says sharply. “Ty… dude… don’t even think about it. That’ll get you kicked off the team for sure.”

His comment makes me laugh, and somehow pulls me temporarily out of my self-reflection. “Not that kind of weed.”

Right then the phone in my pocket starts to vibrate. It’s a lengthy text message from none other than Father Teresa. Hey Ty. I probably won’t see you before kickoff, so I just wanted to wish you good luck tonight. I know it’s a big game. You’re going to do great! Score one for me, okay? But win or lose, you make me so proud.—Dad.

“Is that from a girl?” Dillon asks.

“Yeah,” I say as I stand up and head off to put my lunch tray away. “A really hot one. And she’s asking about you.”

He quickly grabs his things and follows. “Seriously?”

“No, Dill.”

“Dang. Who was it, then?”

“Just my dad.”

Yeah. Just my dad. Just my thoughtful, caring, helpful dad, being his perfect self.

Seriously, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I know I’m lucky to have a dad like him. Dillon doesn’t even know who his dad is.

Then again, Dillon doesn’t have anyone to be compared to. No expectations. No shoes to fill. No giant shadows of perfection dimming everything he does.

Chapter Three

HALLEY

They say, in life, you should stop to smell the roses. For me, that’s never a problem, because my life is all about the roses—buying them, cutting them, arranging them, and selling them. Ask yourself: Is there any place in the world that smells better than a flower shop? Maybe a Laundromat, on a good day, but who dreams of owning one of those?

I take a deep breath of the fragrance that surrounds me for the hundredth time today and then remember that I’m actually in a hurry. It’s Friday, which means I need to close up Velvet Petals right at five thirty so I can make my evening deliveries and still get to Ty’s game.

I run through a mental checklist of things that absolutely must be done every Friday before I close up shop.

Turn off neon Open sign? Check.

Take cut stems to the outside trash? Check.

Fax in an order to my supplier for the next week’s fresh deliveries? Check.

Lock up cash register? Check.

Thank God above for a husband who put a down payment on my dream business rather than buying himself a new car? Check, check, and triple check. I love that man!

I actually turned off the neon Open sign fifteen minutes ahead of time to dissuade would-be patrons from stopping by. If not for one of my regulars—Mary Lou, an old woman who buys a single carnation every single week—I might have turned it off even earlier. Unfortunately, customers who order by phone can’t see my neon sign. So of course, at 5:28 p.m., with everything else in the store prepped for the weekend, the phone rings.

And rings.

And rings.

And at 5:29 I make the mistake of answering. “Velvet Petals,” I say politely. “This is Halley. Can I help you?”

“Are you still open?” asks a somber voice on the other end.

“Technically, yes. But we close in about sixty seconds.”

There is no immediate response. Then a very languished, “I see.”

I hesitate, checking my watch. At this hour I should know better than to stick my nose into other people’s lives, but I can’t help myself. “You sound a little down. Is everything okay?”

It’s no secret that I enjoy probing customers for details. Sometimes their responses make me laugh, other times they make me cry, but they almost always remind me of how important my work is in other people’s lives. In the three years since opening the store I’ve heard everything from “I need seventy roses that are as radiant and lovely as my wife of seventy years,” to “If you can’t deliver something—anything—in the next thirty minutes, I might as well write up the divorce papers myself.” The fact that my floral creations play some small part in conveying love from one person to another is what keeps me coming back each day.

“It’s… nothing. If you’re closed, you’re closed.”

I’d love to let him hang up, but something in his voice says this man needs my floral help. “Well, hold on there just a second,” I tell him before he puts down the phone. “Yes, we’re almost closed, but my store hours are kind of like spandex shorts on a fat rear—if there’s a genuine need, they can probably be stretched to fit.”

The man’s voice perks up a bit. “Um, okay. Thank you, ma’am. Then, is there any chance you have calla lilies in stock? Everyone else seems to be out. My daughter’s name is Lily, so naturally they’re her favorite. She’s… well, she’s over there at the children’s hospital—been there a few weeks, actually—and we just found out they aren’t going to be able to operate again.” There is another long pause. It’s a pause I’m all too familiar with: the blaring silence of someone struggling to keep their composure. “They’re sending her home… so she can be in her own surroundings when she passes.”

Sometimes I could kick myself for being so nosey.

Then again, sometimes people need to talk, you know? So maybe my nosiness isn’t such a bad thing. In my line of work, maybe people even expect a little nosiness. It’s not always easy, but I’m learning to accept that good and bad things happen to people every day. It’s unavoidable. Each time I pick up the phone, I know that instead of budding, passionate, or lifelong love, which I absolutely love hearing about, the floral need might very well be tragic in nature—sickness, sorrow, and even death. I don’t enjoy hearing about those last ones, but it comes with the territory. “How old?” I ask gently.

“Ten.”

Now I want to cry. Nathan’s right, I’m a bleeding heart. “How many do you need? I have a few other deliveries anyway, so it won’t be a problem. I can get them to you in half an hour anywhere in the city, depending on traffic.”

After a moment of reflection, the man settles on eleven, hoping there’s enough magic in that number to see his daughter through to her next birthday.

I lock the front door of the store and begin assembling a tall bouquet of fresh white lilies, offset with tufts of bright purple lavender. He’s not paying for the lavender, but I don’t care; it looks good, and his daughter deserves it. When I’m done, I hold it out in front of me to admire my handiwork, then pull it close to breathe in the aroma.

That’s when the phone rings again.

On the off chance that it’s the father calling back about Lily’s lilies, I pick up.

It’s not him. I have to ask, “This is who?” after a few seconds, just to be sure I heard correctly.

“Ma’am, this is RayLynn Harper, from Metro Police. Am I speaking to Holly Steen?”

Halley,” I reply.

“Oh, I do apologize, Halley.”

“I’m in a bit of a hurry actually. Are you calling for donations, because I’m sure my husband already gave to the Bureau this year.”

“No, ma’am, I’m not.” There’s something in her voice that has me suddenly on edge. There is an extended pause—too long for a telemarketing pitch. Then, “Actually, it’s about your husband that I’m calling.” She pauses again. “There was an accident this afternoon out on the highway.”

Have you ever felt your own heart skip a beat? Me neither, until now. “And?”

“And… well, I don’t have a lot of details yet. But I’m afraid Mr. Steen was involved. We’re going to need you to come down to the hospital as soon as you’re able.”

I don’t remember dropping the vase, but after not breathing for several seconds I look down and find that I’m standing in the middle of broken glass, water, white lilies, and lavender. “Is he okay?”

She doesn’t say anything. Did I just ask a question? I mean, that wasn’t in my head, was it? I actually said the words into the phone. So why isn’t this woman answering?!

Finally, in a drawl that seems to be laid on extra thick—maybe to soften the blow—the woman says, “Ma’am, I am truly sorry ’bout this, but I’m afraid your husband didn’t survive the accident. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. An officer will meet you there. There are things we need to go over with you…”

Miss RayLynn Harper is still saying something, of that I’m sure. But I can’t make out the words. Can’t focus. My head is swimming, my thoughts drowning.

Wrong place, wrong time? Nathan’s gone? Didn’t survive?

I slump down on the floor, vaguely recollecting that there are shards of glass everywhere, but not really caring. Cut me, make me bleed, doesn’t matter. My life, like the vase, just shattered.

I don’t really remember getting in the car or driving. The last place I wanted to be is at the hospital, but those were my instructions. I should have been delivering flowers to some ten-year-old girl whose chances of living are dwindling, not staring over the broken body of my already-dead husband.

“You can confirm this is Nathan Steen?” asks a man who works with the coroner’s office.

I can’t take my eyes off Nathan’s face. His chest, arms, and legs are in terrible shape, but his face seems so perfect, like he’s sleeping peacefully. Of course it’s him, I think. Who else could this be? And why did they have to bring me in here to confirm it anyway? Wasn’t it his car at the scene? Couldn’t they run the plates? Didn’t they pull his driver’s license from his wallet and look at the photo?

I give a little nod. “Yes,” I say, choking on the word. “It’s him.”

A social worker at the hospital has some paperwork for me after they wheel Nathan’s body away. During our discussion she explains that identifying the body is as much for the family of the deceased as it is for the coroner’s records—helps start the process of closure, she says.

Closure?

Does she not understand who was lying on that gurney? That was Nathan Steen! That was my husband! My best friend! The world can’t lose someone like that and ever expect there to be closure.

“Mrs. Steen,” she says as I sign the last of her forms. “I know this has been an awful day for you. Are you able to get home okay, or should I arrange a ride?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Yes… I think I can make it home.”

Chapter Four

ALICE

I used to pretend that I enjoyed football. Maybe I did enjoy watching Ty make great plays, and hearing everyone cheer for him, and seeing how excited Mom and Dad got every time he threw a touchdown or evaded a tackle, but the rest of it bored me to death. I guess I’m not really a sports person. Mentally, it’s just not all that stimulating. Plus, there are people at those games. People who I don’t especially like. Seventh-graders, specifically.

I used to go to the games all the time. Now, Friday nights are “me time.” Me, myself, and I, alone at the house. Free to watch, read, or do whatever I please. Last Friday I reread Anne of Green Gables for the fourth time. The week before that I memorized the first eighty-two elements of the periodic table, including all of the lanthanides. The Friday before that I put on one of my mom’s bras and tried to calculate how many decades it would be before I fit into something like that.

Anyway, if it weren’t for mean people, I’d probably still be going to the games with my parents. The last one I attended was the season opener, at the end of August. After our team won, rather than leaving with my parents I hung around the stadium to hitch a ride home with Ty. I figured, hey, if I’m spotted with the star of the team, maybe people will treat me differently.

What a mistake that turned out to be.

While I was waiting for him to change out of his uniform, Ashley saw me standing there and sent Bridgette, one of her poufy-haired friends, to dump a soggy hot-dog bun—loaded with ketchup, mustard, and relish—in my hoodie when I wasn’t looking. But that wasn’t the worst of it. What really hurt was when I turned around to see who’d done it, Ty was walking toward me, just twenty paces away. I knew he’d seen what happened, but he didn’t do anything to stop it! A bunch of kids were laughing off to the side, and my own brother acted like it was no big deal. When he got to where I was, he was so embarrassed by me that he didn’t bother stopping to help me clean up; he just kept walking without even slowing down. When he passed by, he mumbled, “Sucks to be you.”

Sucks to be me? No kidding!

The stains on my sweatshirt eventually came out. The marks on my self-esteem, however, along with the utter disappointment in my brother for allowing such a thing to happen, won’t fade so easily.

So rather than watching my jerk of a brother getting cheered by thousands of adoring fans, I’m glued to a show on the History Channel about ancient Mayan civilizations. The narrator is explaining why the Mesoamericans sacrificed humans to their gods, when I hear a car in the driveway. I don’t look up when Mom walks into the room. There’s a gruesome-looking stone altar on the screen, but I’m not so into it that I don’t realize she’s home really early. While still staring at the screen, I ask her why she isn’t watching Ty’s game.

“Alice,” she says. “We need to talk.”

“Later? They’re about to reenact cutting out a woman’s heart.”

“Let me tell you how that feels.”

It’s a weird thing for her to say, and her voice sounds strange. I look up to find Mom is fighting back tears. “Mom? Are you okay?”

She shakes her head, then falls into the cushions of the couch next to me and wraps me up tightly in her arms.

I’m shaking. I don’t know if it’s coming from my body or hers, but I’m definitely shaking. I think it’s mine, because all of a sudden I feel this overwhelming anxiety. This is not the way that Friday nights are supposed to go down.

What’s going on? Mom doesn’t miss Ty’s games. She’s not known to cry for nothing. And it’s certainly not her norm to flop on the couch and hug me like she’s holding on for dear life.

“Alice, honey… I have some very sad news to share.” I take a long breath. Mom’s dad, out in Ohio, has had poor health for a couple of years now. I prepare myself to hear that his aged body has finally failed. Only she starts again with, “Your dad…”

Instantly the shakes are gone—my body is now rigid. This isn’t about Grandpa Giles? “Dad!” I spit out. “What about Dad?”

“Al,” she continues, wiping at the river of water flowing down her face, “your father passed away today in a car accident. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, honey, so I won’t even try. He’s gone.”

I want to scream, to lash out at somebody, but Mom has me wrapped up too tight to do much of anything. Instead, I melt into a puddle in her arms and we both cry until all the tears are gone.

Chapter Five

TY

If someone were dumb enough to stare up at the stadium lights for more than a couple of blinks, would that be enough to blind them? This is the largest high school stadium in Texas… there’s got to be enough watts up there to do some damage, right? I don’t even need permanent loss of vision. Just a minute or two of impairment would suffice.

That’s what I’m thinking as I’m marching down the field, trying to salvage the game. I wish the defense would just look up at the lights for a second or two to blur their sight. Aren’t linebackers dumb enough for that?

The newspapers say I’m the heart and soul of the mighty Mesquite football team, but I’m not so sure. All of the guys out here give everything they’ve got every time we suit up. I just happen to be the senior captain and starting quarterback, so I’m an easy story for local journalists—the unflappable hero when we win, the inglorious scapegoat when we lose.

Unfortunately, tonight we are. Losing, that is. On our home field no less, against North Mesquite, our biggest rival. You name an appendage and I’d gladly give it up for a come-from-behind win. Not so much for myself, but for my team. And for the fans who showed up tonight expecting me to deliver. And for my dad. I know his text said he’s proud either way, but I’ve seen the twinkle in his eye when I do well.

I take a quick peek to the corner of the end zone where he likes to sit with my mom. Usually I can pick him out in a crowd, but tonight I haven’t been able to spot him.

There’s only a minute to go in the fourth quarter. We’re trailing by three, but we’ve scored fourteen unanswered points, and with the ball on the eighteen-yard line, we’re quickly closing in on the go-ahead touchdown.

“This game is ours!” I shout at my teammates in the huddle. “We own them! Let’s keep ’em guessing with another play-action fake. Their safety is overprotecting the middle, so I want you receivers to go straight at ’em like you’re running a post route, then cut hard to the corners. That’s where I’ll find you. Everyone else run the same play we just ran, but option left on three.” I zero in on the linemen, hoping they understand how important they are to what we are about to do. “You guys hold your blocks long enough for me to get the pass off and we’ll have six points. Got it?”

Dillon, who plays tight end, clears his throat to speak. I usually don’t like a lot of extra chatter in the huddle, but he’s a co-captain, so he’s earned it. Still, I cross my fingers that he has something more inspiring to say than he did last week, when he railed on the guys to “man up, ’cuz the ladies are watchin’.” “Uh… dude,” he says. “Why is your mom talking to Rawlins?”

I follow his gaze to the sideline, hoping that Dillon’s eyes have deceived him. But there she is, standing in the drizzle without a coat, chatting up the head coach at the most critical point in my entire football career. She’s never talked to him or any other coach during a game before, so why now?

As much as my mother’s interruption ticks me off, I scowl at Dillon as if the whole thing is his fault. “Who knows? Probably thinks the other team shouldn’t be allowed to hit me so hard.” Before any of the linemen can chuckle, I turn on them again and bark, “Which they wouldn’t be able to do if y’all would just hold your stinkin’ blocks! Now, are we gonna win this game or not?”

The huddle erupts in a deep chorus of cheers and grunts, then everyone disbands and takes their places on the line of scrimmage. The mental image of my mom and my coach is hard to push aside, but I am reminded of what my dad taught me about handling pressure way back when I was throwing bullets in Pop Warner football: Your greatest strength on the field, as well as in life, isn’t your arm, it’s your mind. You’ve got to keep your head in the game to win. Lose focus, and it’s all over.

With one calming breath, I call out a cadence to start the play.

The snap of the ball in my hands brings me back to full attention. Like I’ve done a thousand times before, I turn to my left and fake a hand-off to the halfback, then drop three steps and check downfield for an open receiver. But instead of a receiver, all I see is the white jersey of an opposing linebacker blowing through the line like a tank.

What the…!

Instinctively, I bolt to the right, heading for open space a little closer to the sideline where I might still be able to make a clean pass, or at least scramble for positive yardage.

That’s when I see my mom again.

Only now she isn’t just talking to the coach, she is hugging him. Right there in front of God and everyone in the stands.

Holy crap!

I slow just a step, distracted, but that’s enough.

The blind hit is so fierce that my head is spinning. The would-be assassin is a blitzing cornerback I hadn’t accounted for, though I swear I could have avoided him had it not been for the Mother-Coach sideshow. As I’m flying backward toward the artificial turf, tangled in a web of arms and football pads, I’m still trying to wrap my head around whatever is going on with my parents. Why is my mom hugging my coach rather than watching the game? And where the heck is my dad? None of this makes any sense.

To seal our fate, the football slips out of my hands just before I hit the ground. During the ensuing melee, the linebacker who’d pounded his way through my offensive line picks up the fumbled ball and runs it eighty-two yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown that puts the game out of reach.

The rest of the offense is walking slowly to the sideline, their heads hanging down. I don’t move a muscle. I could, but I don’t want to. I just lie there on my back, unwilling to pull myself off the damp field. I don’t want to see the disappointed looks of my teammates who were counting on me to lead them to victory. Nor do I want to see the crowd, whose once-raucous cheers have devolved into morbid silence. But mostly, I don’t want to see if my mom still has her arms draped around Coach Rawlins.

Dillon finally comes and yanks me to my feet, swatting the back of my helmet like he always does. “Don’t sweat it, dude. Anybody would have coughed up the ball with a hit like that. You got rocked.”

“Yeah, well, I’m guessing most of the fifteen thousand people watching don’t see it that way. Wait; make that fourteen thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight people. I don’t think my mom or Rawlins saw any of it.”

Dillon smirks awkwardly. “I don’t know about that. Coach looks like he’s been kicked in the crotch. Better hurry over. He wants to talk to you.”

Chapter Six

HALLEY

It’s drizzling outside, and I’m freezing. Should have put on a coat… and brought an umbrella… or not come at all.

What was I thinking?

I should have just waited for Ty to come home on his own so we could break the news in private. But somehow in our commiserating, Alice and I decided we needed to get to the football game. “Dad would want someone there for Ty,” Al pointed out. I knew she was right, so we hopped in the car and drove over. Only when we finally found a parking spot, several blocks away from the school, Alice wouldn’t get out, saying she couldn’t risk “the seventh-grade snots” seeing her cry.

“Fine,” I said. “But promise me you’ll stay in the car until I get back. There are too many people here to go looking for you in the crowd. I’ll be back with your brother as soon as I can.”

As the scoreboard comes into view, it’s clear that Alice won’t have long to wait. There are only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. If I’m on the sideline when it ends, I should be able to grab Ty and go.

I snake through the crowd, trying to go unnoticed, until I find a clearing right behind the team bench. The area is roped off from visitors, but I don’t figure anyone will mind.

It’s not hard to pick Coach Rawlins out from among the players. He’s the one with a shaved head who stands at least a head taller than anyone else and is barking orders to the offense.

My eyes dart over to Ty, who is on the field. He takes a snap, drops back, and fires a pass to the near side. The crowd goes wild.

Almost instantly, the announcer is heard over the PA system. “Pass complete from number seven, Ty Steen, to number fifty-six, Chad Hastings. That’ll be good enough for another Yellow Jacket first down!”

As the announcer’s voice dies down, someone says, “Mrs. Steen?” It’s one of the trainers standing behind the bench. I recognize him from a team party we hosted last year, but I can’t remember his name. “Is everything okay?”

I don’t want to lie, but I don’t really want to talk about it either, so I just shake my head.

“Well, come on over here,” he says.

Rather than make a big scene by protesting, I join him at the trainer’s table.

“Don’t take this wrong,” he continues, “but you don’t look so hot. What seems to be the trouble?”

“I just… need to talk to my son.”

The man looks out at the field, then up at the game clock. “It’s kind of a bad time, you might say. But follow me.” He leads me through a group of players, all of them wet with sweat and rain, toward Coach Rawlins. When we’re standing right next to the towering man, the trainer says, “You just stay put right here, ma’am, and as soon as the game is over, Coach Rawlins will take care of you.”

Upon hearing his name, the coach glances down. At first there’s no recognition, then a lightbulb seems to go on. “You’re Nathan’s wife, right? Ty’s mom?”

“Halley,” I say. I don’t expect him to remember my name. We’ve only met informally at football functions.

He looks me up and down. “Right. Halley. I’m Randy.” He pauses to watch Ty hand the ball off to a tailback, who gains five or six yards. As the team goes into a huddle, he turns back to me. “Halley… I can’t help but notice you got makeup all down your face. Everything all right?”

I shake my head, just as I did for the trainer. “No. Not so much.” I can feel tears trying to squeeze their way out of my tear ducts. I don’t want them to, but at the moment they are stronger than my will to fight them off. Coach Rawlins is really looking concerned. I can tell my brief, weepy answer is not going to satisfy him, so I ask, “You knew Nathan, didn’t you?”

“Back in high school. Yeah.”

“Friends?”

He nods. “Something like that. For a while.”

“Well, if it’s okay with you, I really need to talk to my son as soon as the game is over. I need… to be with him.”

The coach crosses his arms. “Mrs. Steen, what’s going on? This is terrible timing, but if something’s wrong, just say the word and I’ll do what I can to help.”

When I hear his offer, it occurs to me that having his head coach around when Ty hears the news might not be such a bad idea. He’ll need his support. “Well,” I venture, “the truth is…” I hear another roar from the crowd, but Coach Rawlins and I both ignore it. “I mean… there’s been an accident. I hate to burden you with this, but I know Ty looks up to you, so maybe you can help him through it.”

“Is it Nathan?” he asks slowly.

“Yes,” I say through another gush of tears. “He died today. Unexpectedly.” I can’t say any more. The words won’t come.

For a moment Randy’s face hardens into something completely unreadable. Then he purses his lips tightly as he opens his arms, and suddenly I’m hugging this giant man. I don’t know how long we’re standing there like that. Thirty seconds? A minute? It eventually registers that the game is over, and I look up to see we’ve lost. The other team is celebrating another touchdown in their end zone.

As he finally pulls away, Randy barks at Dillon to go get Ty, who is lying on his back on the grass about thirty yards away.

Even under the pads and helmet I can tell by Ty’s body language as he’s walking toward us that he senses something is wrong. As soon as he’s within reach, Randy wraps an arm around him and mutters, “Great game, kid. You did good out there.”

“What’s going on?” Ty asks his coach, motioning at me with his head.

Randy suggests we find someplace drier to talk. He leads us to a private room under the stadium where he keeps some of the equipment. Dillon watches us go, clearly unsure whether to follow. I wave at him to join us—not only to be there for Ty, but Nathan was about the closest thing Dillon ever had to a father, so he needs to hear this from me.

When the musty room’s single bulb flickers to life, Ty finally removes his helmet. Most people say he looks more like me than Nathan, but right here, at this moment, I see every last part of my husband reflected in my son’s face. Just watching him looking at me breaks my heart, because I know he’s waiting for me to say something, but he has no clue that I’m about to break his heart too.

“So,” he says, “is someone gonna tell me what’s going on?”

As I’m looking at him, my eyes begin to lose focus, and I realize they’re filling with water. I wipe it away, then cross to him in two strides and wrap him up. Ty is much easier to hug than Randy Rawlins.

“Mom,” he says as he hugs me back, “just say it. Whatever it is.”

I squeeze harder, then whisper—or whimper—in his ear, “There was an accident, Ty. He’s gone.”

He pulls back nervously so he can see my face. “Who?”

I can’t do anything but stare at him and sob. It doesn’t matter. After a few seconds it’s obvious that the bad news has registered. I can read the sorrow in his eyes and in his quivering mouth. He knows who I’m talking about without me having to verbalize it.

“No!” he says defiantly. Then, more as a groan, “How?”

Before I can answer, I hear Dillon ask, “Did someone die?”



Continues...

Excerpted from The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne Copyright © 2013 by Kevin Alan Milne. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    Loved it!

    Great character development. Well written. Great story. What more could you ask for?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    WHAT A DELIGHTFUL , FEEL GOOD BOOK !!!! i HAD NOT READ THIS AUT

    WHAT A DELIGHTFUL , FEEL GOOD BOOK !!!! i HAD NOT READ THIS AUTHOR BUT WILL GO BACK AND READ HIS OTHER BOOKS. THIS BOOK MADE ME WANT TO RELOOK AT ALOT OF THINGS I COULD BE DOING FOR OTHERS. IT WAS WELL WRITTEN AND IF I COULD HAVE, I WOULD HAVE READ IT IN ONE SETTING. ENJOY YOUR TIME WITH "THE ONE GOOD THING" !!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    What a good read! I heartily recommend this one. Stellar writin

    What a good read! I heartily recommend this one.

    Stellar writing helps the plot to flow. Realistic dialogue for each character.Twists and turns continue to surprise. Although the main character, Nathan Steen, dies early on, this is far from a depressing tale; instead, it is one filled with hope. A Facebook page is created that allows those touched by Nathan to comment about his many acts of kindness. Various characters tell their perspective of the story.

    Two themes are woven throughout: bullying and family secrets.

    Although this can be labeled Christian fiction, there is little religion in it.

    Reading group guide inside.

    Thank you to Sarah Reck at Hachette Book Group and Center Street for my copy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 5, 2014

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    Posted June 1, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2013

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