Tragedy, love, and secrets meet on a journey of faith.
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Meet the Author
Kathy Harris is an author by way of a divine detour into the Nashville entertainment business. She graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Southern Illinois University and has spent the past two decades employed as a marketing director in the Nashville music industry. Abingdon Press will release her fiction debut titled The Road to Mercy, in Fall 2012. Kathy regularly interviews literary and music guests on her blog at www.DivineDetour.com.
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Read an Excerpt
The Road to Mercy
By Kathy Harris
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Kathy Harris
All rights reserved.
Josh Harrison looked into the eyes of five thousand people, but he felt only the presence of one—the spirit of the Almighty God.
"Thank you, Lord," Josh whispered as he lifted his hands toward the multicolored light truss above him. He stood motionless, soaking in the warmth. "Praise Yeshua," he said.
"Praise Yeshua," voices in the auditorium echoed.
From the stage, Josh could hear them. First one thousand, then two thousand—and finally all five thousand—praising God. Spotlights flashed across the crowd. The blue-white glow illuminated ten thousand hands in the air, an almost unearthly vision. Some swayed back and forth. Others held up lighted cell phones.
He signaled Ryan Majors, his lead guitar player. Ryan struck a low, reverberating E chord, which grew in intensity. At its high point the tone seemed to ricochet off the civic center walls. The crowd fell silent, still on their feet, when the hall went black.
Exactly three seconds later a laser light split the stage in two. The drum thundered and the cymbal crashed.
"He is the Light in the darkness," Josh shouted. "He has come."
The audience cheered and the band commenced a familiar melody. Josh began to sing the tender lyrics of "He Has Come," his biggest single yet. He loved to sing it. The song was the main reason he had been invited to join the Triumphant Tour, the most successful U.S. concert series in Christian music—ever.
God had blessed him with the privilege of doing what he loved. He often wondered why people thanked him for his music. His reward came from doing the will of the Lord, whose presence especially filled him when he was onstage. It was a complete and awesome substantiation of his chosen career. A confirmation he was doing what he had been born to do, praising Jesus in song.
A few hours later, Josh sank into the comfortable leather seat next to the front door of his bus. More than a day stood between Rapid City, South Dakota, and his wife, Bethany. He longed to see her. To be home. He could be there sooner, but he hated to fly. It would be a long ride to Nashville.
"Do we have any jelly beans, Danny?" Josh asked, settling into the seat just as the bus rolled forward.
"You betcha, boss." The driver glanced at his side mirror, assessing the lane to his left. "Look in the drawer under your seat."
Josh leaned forward and pulled the drawer open. He found five or six bags of the colorful candies. "You're too good to me, man." He grabbed a bag and tore it open.
"Just trying to get on your good side." The stocky driver laughed while merging the bus into the late-night traffic to head east on Interstate 90. "Actually, I need a favor. My mom's surgery has been scheduled for next week, and I'd like to be with her if you don't mind hiring a substitute driver."
"How's she doing?"
"As well as can be expected when you're facing major heart surgery. I know I need to trust the Lord to get her through this, but I've only got one mom. It's hard to imagine...." The driver choked up.
"Let's pray for her right now." Josh stood and laid his hand on Danny's shoulder. "Father, I know how much you love Danny's mother. I ask that you wrap your arms around her and her family. Give them peace—and bring something positive from this trial. I ask for complete healing, Lord, and pray for your will in Jesus' powerful name. Amen."
"Amen ... and thanks." Danny took a hand off the steering wheel to swipe his face.
"Can Mitch do the Tulsa trip on his own?" Josh asked, returning to the jump seat.
"He could if Ryan will lend a hand. He's had an attitude lately when I ask him for help."
Josh threw too many jellybeans into his mouth and contemplated what Danny had said. "What's the problem?" He chewed through the words.
"I ... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Ryan has a lot on him with playing guitar and road managing."
"Don't worry about it. I'll talk to him. You just take care of your mother." Josh stood, stretched, and stifled a yawn.
"You need to get some sleep instead of feeding that sugar addiction."
"You're right. I think I will. Let me know when we stop for fuel. I want to pick up a paper at the truck stop. Alabama played Tennessee tonight."
"Will do, boss. See you in the morning."
"Get us there safe, man." Josh pulled back the thick black curtain that separated the driver's compartment from the front sitting area of the bus.
He walked across the dimly lit lounge, between empty sofas and captain's chairs, and pushed the white button on the far wall of the kitchen galley. The bunkroom door opened with a whoosh. The sliding air lock door always reminded him of a device from Star Trek. If only he could be beamed home instead of having to endure an eighteen-hour bus ride. Yet, at this point, he was thankful a comfortable bunk awaited him.
In a few seconds his eyes adjusted to the low light in the windowless hallway, which was little more than a twenty-foot compartment that had been divided into stacked bunks and skinny closets.
The band and crew had turned in for the night, which was evidenced by six drawn curtains. Sleep would pass the time and help heal the stress of the last few weeks. So could a phone call to his wife, but it was after two in the morning and Beth would be in bed. He would call her tomorrow.
Josh reached to switch on the overhead light inside his bunk. Because he was the lead performer and business owner, he could have commandeered the back lounge for a star bedroom, but he enjoyed being with the others. Most buses had bunks stacked three high. His 2003 Prevost had two stacks of two on each side of the aisle. Eight bunks. Enough for him, his band, and Mitch, his merchandise manager, plus one for Danny when he napped between shifts. They stowed miscellaneous gear and bags, or an occasional guest, in the extra bed.
Josh's bunk was in the first stack on the left. Climbing in, he decided not to turn on the small television bolted to the wall. He pulled the covers up, tucked himself in, and prayed silently for a safe trip home. He knew it wouldn't take long for the purring of the diesel engine and the gentle motion of the big bus to rock him to sleep.CHAPTER 2
Bethany Harrison measured a cup of chocolate chips and poured them into the soft cookie dough. Ordinarily she would have popped a few of the delectable morsels into her mouth, but not before breakfast. She glanced at the clock. Eight a.m. She hadn't even dressed for church.
The smile on Josh's face would be worth her rushing around this morning. It had been a month and a half since she'd seen him. She hated the separation.
Thinking about him temporarily stilled the nagging headache that had awakened her. No doubt the Nashville weather had taken a toll on her sinuses again. Allergies were part of the Middle Tennessee Welcome Wagon. One negative in her otherwise blessed life.
Help me, Lord, not to complain. But, please, relieve me of this headache. And soon?
After rolling dollops of the cookie dough into balls, she placed them onto prepared baking sheets and reached for her secret ingredient—raw sugar to sprinkle on top. The caramel colored crystals added sparkle and sweetness to what Josh called her Chocolate Chip Pizzazz Cookies.
She popped the two pans into the oven, fed Buster, their one-year-old Boston terrier, and then sat at the kitchen table to sift through her Bible study materials and nibble on a breakfast bar. Alexandra Hayes would arrive soon to pick her up for church. Maybe she would pack a few cookies for Alex to take home.
The sweet aroma of sugar and butter prompted Beth to check the oven just as the timer chimed. Perfect. She grabbed a potholder and moved both trays to the nearby stovetop. With a metal spatula, she transferred the warm cookies onto a cooling rack.
She had just enough time to change into church clothes. When she turned toward the hall door, the pain hit her. The most devastating pain she had ever experienced, like a bolt of lightning had struck her left temple.
Clutching her head, she fell to the floor.
* * *
The siren shrieked as the ambulance made its way through the East Nashville streets. Beth tugged at the oxygen mask covering her mouth and nose. If she could only ask the driver to turn off that intolerable noise, her head might not hurt.
She couldn't remember: had the discomfort come first—or the noise? Pain blurred her normally focused vision. She no longer had her bearings. The throbbing in her head drew a line between reality and illusion, trapping her on its jagged edge. She could only pray that, if she fell, she would fall the right way.
Blackness began to overtake her. And silence chased away the noise. Only the feeling of motion remained, as the ambulance rolled through time and space.
Suddenly, a herd of horses thundered through her head and arcs of white light shot across the horizon of her semiconsciousness. Her dreamlike existence unlocked an aural display of colors, sounds, and memories. She could almost reach out and touch the special moments from her life.
Delicate pink roses adorned her wedding bouquet. Josh stuttered as he proposed. Bright yellow galoshes splashed through buckets of rain on her first day of school. Growing up in Kentucky ... her first pony ... sleeping in the backseat of the car on the way to her grandparents' house in Illinois. The memories came faster and faster, reminding her that she had enjoyed a lifetime of love.
Loving and being loved had taught her the greater love of God. She knew she could rest assured that the Giver of all good things had plans for her, whether in this life or beyond. She ached to know him better. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.
Perhaps this was her time to know fully.
Warmth and peace enveloped her, and when the ambulance pulled into Davidson County Medical Center, Beth felt closer to heaven than to earth.CHAPTER 3
A vibrating phone jarred Josh from deep sleep. He fumbled with it in the darkness.
"Josh, it's Alex Hayes. Beth is on her way to the hospital."
"What's wrong?" He wiped the sleep from his eyes.
"She's complaining of a headache, and she's disoriented. I found her passed out on the kitchen floor and called an ambulance."
"An ambulance?" Josh threw back the curtain that separated him from the bunkroom hallway. In the soft glow of the hall light he could read the numbers on his watch. 9:36. "Is she o ... okay?" The words caught in his throat as he dangled his legs over the side of his bed and then jumped to the floor.
"What's going on?" Ryan interrupted, poking his head outside his curtain.
"She's in a lot of pain, but she's responsive," Alex said. "I'll know more when I get to the hospital. They took her to Davidson County Medical Center. I'll call you after I talk to a doctor."
By the time Josh ended the conversation he was standing in the front lounge of the bus with several members of his band gathered around him. After a brief explanation, and each person's assurance of prayer on Beth's behalf, Josh set the wheels in motion for the quickest route home.
He consulted with Ryan and then Danny.
"How far are we from St. Louis? Can I catch a plane and make it home faster than we can drive?"
"We're about a hundred miles from St. Louis," Danny estimated. "Maybe more."
"I'll check flights." Ryan pulled a phone from his pocket and punched in numbers.
Josh settled onto the jump seat and stared at what seemed to be a never-ending white line in the center of the highway. For the first time in his life he regretted his career. He should have been home with his wife when she needed him.
Danny interrupted his thoughts. "Boss, I just saw a mileage sign. I can make it to the St. Louis airport in about ninety minutes."
Josh turned to Ryan, who stood with a phone cradled between his ear and shoulder. "Will that work?"
"I'm talking to the travel agent now," Ryan mouthed before he paced toward the back of the bus.
Josh gulped air. Why was it so hard to breathe?
Lord, I know you love Beth; please protect her until I get there. He had prayed the same prayer a thousand times in the past half hour.
Ryan stepped back to the driver's compartment. "That's the earliest flight? What time does it arrive in Nashville?" He directed his attention to Josh. "I can get you there at ten o'clock."
"Tonight?" Emptiness hit Josh in the gut. "I can't wait that long." He turned to Danny. "How soon can you get us to Nashville?"
"Maybe six hours."
"Then do it. Get me to my wife."
Josh's cell phone rang as he retreated to the back lounge of the bus. It was Alex's number on the caller ID.
"How is she?" he asked, forgoing the pleasantries.
"She was disoriented and vomiting when she got to the hospital. That has been over an hour ago. They won't let me see her, but the nurse says she's stable." Alex hesitated. "Josh, the doctors believe she's had a cerebral aneurysm."
"A tear in an artery in her brain."
"Is she conscious?"
"Yes. They're doing a CT scan now."
Josh heard himself breathing into the phone. He latched onto the side of his bunk and held on.
"Josh, keep the faith. God will see her through this."
"I want to talk to a doctor."
"I'll do my best. How soon before you're here?"
"Five o'clock—or before."
He put the phone down and stared out the window of the back lounge. From a cloudless sky, the autumn sun highlighted the rich colors of the Midwestern farmland. A few red leaves still clung to the woody skeletons of nearby trees, and the green fields wore a partial camouflage of yellow and brown in preparation for the coming battle with winter.
Josh felt his life changing just as the seasons.
A panorama of Americana sped past. Modest white houses snuggled near gray and red barns. Livestock grazed peacefully. Cars meandered a country road that paralleled the superhighway on which his bus traveled. Although within plain sight of each other, the two roads ended in different places.
Had he taken the right one?
* * *
The technician stroked Beth's forearm. His eyes offered reassurance. "Can you hang in there for a little while longer?"
Beth nodded and pulled the white sheet closer to her body. Her teeth chattered, making it difficult to speak. The temperature in the exam room had to be freezing.
"You look cold. I'll bring you a blanket."
"Th-thank y-you." She tried to form the words.
He returned with two warm blankets and a clipboard. "I need to ask you a few questions. Do you remember what you were doing when your headache started this morning?"
"Yes. I-I was in my kitchen baking cookies."
"So you had no intense physical activity? Just a normal morning?"
"Yes." She watched as he jotted down notes.
"Is there any possibility you could be pregnant?"
"I don't think so."
"Are you allergic to any medicines?"
He finished his note taking, then laid the clipboard on a nearby table and picked up a needle. "Have you had a CT scan before?"
"No." She shook her head, rousing the pain.
He thumped her left forearm. "Okay, you're going to feel a little stick."
She closed her eyes when he inserted the tip of the hypodermic needle into a vein. Seconds later the sensation of heat scurried up her arm. It dissipated when it reached her shoulder.
"You should be feeling a little warmth. It's a benign dye we need to view the arteries in your neck and head." He laid a heavy quilt across her midsection. "As a precaution against the radiation, I'm covering you with a lead blanket."
The weight of the blanket heightened Beth's awareness of breathing. Or trying to breathe. Everything she had once taken for granted seemed now to be in question. Would she live or die? And would she ever see Josh's face again?
Dear God, please bring my husband home to me.
Within seconds the platform underneath her began to move.
"Try to relax," the technician spoke from behind a glass booth. "After we're finished, the doctor can give you something for pain relief. Now I need you to lie very still. On the count of three, breathe, exhale, and hold. One ... two ... three."
The giant metal ring encircling her head began to rotate.
"Good. Now breathe and relax. Let's try it again."
Excerpted from The Road to Mercy by Kathy Harris. Copyright © 2012 Kathy Harris. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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