Fragile Hope

Fragile Hope

by Cynthia Ruchti

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Overview

Josiah Chamberlain's life's work revolves around repairing other people's marriages. When his own is threatened by his wife's unexplained distance, and then threatened further when she's unexpectedly plunged into an unending fog, Josiah finds his expertise, quick wit and clever quips are no match for a relationship that is clearly broken.



Feeling betrayed, confused, and ill-equipped for a crisis this crippling, he reexamines everything he knows about the fragility of hope and the strength of his faith and love. Love seems to have failed him. Will what’s left of his faith fail him, too? Or will it be the one thing that holds him together and sears through the impenetrable wall that separates them?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426791505
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 03/24/2017
Pages: 322
Sales rank: 456,103
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope. She’s the award-winning author of 16 books and a frequent speaker for women’s ministry events. She serves as the Professional Relations Liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers, where she helps retailers, libraries, and book clubs connect with the authors and books they love. She lives with her husband in Central Wisconsin. Visit her online at CynthiaRuchti.com.

Read an Excerpt

A Fragile Hope

A Novel


By Cynthia Ruchti

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Ruchti
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-9150-5


CHAPTER 1

This wave of pain will pass. So will the next. Life's hard seasons rock us. Hold on. Some years, spring comes early.

~ Seedlings & Sentiments from the "When Sorry Isn't Enough" collection


She punched the blender's Off button hard enough to rock the unit. Not good. All she needed was for that slurpy mixture to go flying across the shop. Maybe Josiah had a point about the blender noise. She couldn't think with it whirring. How could she expect him to?

But thinking could be dangerous.

"I love this one."

The voice came from behind her. She had no trouble discerning who it belonged to. She gripped the handle tighter to override the slick of her sweating palms.

"Karin, did you hear me? I said I really like this one."

She lifted the blender pitcher from its base and held it close to her body. Not a traditional self-defense posture. With his work cap too far back on his head to hide the questioning crease in his forehead or the tuft of artificially bleached-blond hair that teased the crease, Wade Frambolt waited for her response.

"It's part of our 'When Sorry Isn't Enough' collection," she said as casually as she could manage. "Still so new, the ink isn't dry yet." She should turn, empty the contents of the blender onto the mold-and-deckle screen prepped for it. She should.

Wade's mouth drew up on one side. "I don't know how you two keep coming up with these things. You find a way to express what people are thinking but don't know how to say."

Karin's tension eased one notch on an emotional belt with its holes punched too close together. Not much help. "We'd better be able to do that, or we shouldn't have gotten into this business." Her nervous laugh belonged to a fourteen-year-old girl, not a business professional. With a husband.

Wade pulled at his lower lip. She followed the path of his gaze. The shop. Her shop. Seedlings & Sentiments.

"So, now what? What are you working on now?" Wade pointed to the blender she clutched like a security blanket.

"Mulberry paper. Hence the color." She held the pitcher to catch the light from the antique chandelier Leah had insisted would soften the glare from the ceiling's overhead lighting. The mulberry slush had already begun to settle out. It would need another pulse or two to remix.

"Do you have a plan?"

No. That was the problem. Every plan sounded like a prison break, admission of defeat, or certain death of what she cherished most. Once cherished most.

"For the mulberry paper. Do you have a plan for the mulberry paper?" Wade stepped closer. "Karin, are you okay? Your reaction time is way off normal."

That her best friend's life mate knew her response time better than her husband did underscored part of the need for a plan. "Not sure yet." No matter the question she'd been asked, that was a safe, all-purpose answer.

And it was the truth. She wasn't sure of anything.


* * *

"Refill on your coffee, Wade?"

Karin watched Leah stretch an extra length of packing tape across the address label on the last of the boxes, smooth the crinkles with her thumbnail as she always did — crinkles or not — and head for the coffeemaker without waiting for Wade's reply. "Miserable night like this one's promising to be, you might want to try the cardamom mocha." Leah hesitated. "Not the night for either of us to be gone from home. Hope you're okay with frozen pizza while I'm at the accountant's, shuffling through the business's tax maze. So ..." Leah turned to face her husband. "Cardamom mocha?"

Karin caught his look — a cross between curiosity and disgust. "It's her own blend," Karin offered. As if that would help.

"Madagascan?" he asked, twisting the lid from his travel mug.

"Scandinavian. Smell." Leah held the coffee carafe toward him and fanned the aroma his direction.

"Mmm. Cookies."

"That's the cardamom." She poured. "Said to aid everything from digestion to depression."

Karin's stomach churned. Don't believe it. On either count.

"Your packages ready now?"

What must it be like to see your husband during the workday, and have him care about what you do? To have him involved in delivering what you create rather than dismissing it as "that little hobby of yours"?

Karin turned back to the task of leveling the paper pulp on the screen, distributing chunkier bits with her gloved fingers. Gloves — a concession to the natural dyes and the less-than-natural coloring from shredded junk mail for which the shop had become all of the town of Paxton's repository. She lifted the mold and watched pinkish liquid drip through the screen into the catch pan below. If the packages were ready, that meant Wade was leaving.

"Yes. Sorry about making you wait. Again." Leah smiled, winked, and dumped the last half-inch of coffee into the shop's splattered stainless steel work sink. "It's the efficiency in me. I can't stand the idea of having an order almost ready to send off and needing to wait until tomorrow."

Sometimes a person can wait too long.

"But," Leah added, "that's why Karin's the artist and I'm the business manager. Right, Karin?"

"Are we the last stop of the day?" Karin knew the answer, but all the other questions in her mind couldn't be answered as easily.

"As always," Wade said. "I like to end the day on a positive note."

"My coffee has that effect on people." Leah arched her hand and pressed three fingers to her chest, pinkie extended, eyebrows arched, head titled just so, her grin rolling into a giggle.

"Not denying the power of coffee, but it's" — he scanned the room.

Karin held her breath.

"'It's the atmosphere. There's something in the air here. It feels like safety, looks like friendship. And it keeps me coming back.'"

"Aw. How sweet." Leah's expression could have revived the coffee resting in the crook of the drain pipe.

"He's reading the whiteboard." Karin pointed.

"What?"

"Failed brainstorming session." She set the paper mold on the flat pan and crossed to the whiteboard wall. She rubbed away everything except the word atmosphere. "I'll know to wait for inspiration next time."

Wait.

Josiah. We need to talk.

She knew what he'd say. "Can it wait?" And then he'd assume the answer was yes.

No. Not anymore.


* * *

Leah closed the door behind package-laden Wade. "I chose well. He's one of the good guys."

"Uh-huh."

"He looks a little like a younger Tom Hanks, don't you think?"

"I guess so." Karin slipped the newborn mulberry paper onto the waiting sheet of kitchen parchment paper on the worktable. She sprinkled another few cornflower seeds onto the surface of the mulberry fibers and pressed them lightly into the still damp, but already beautiful pulp. Another layer of parchment. Then the sponge. The rhythm of pressing out more water — more of the unwanted — covering every inch of the sandwiched paper, helped slow her pulse.


* * *

Not fit for man nor beast. Karin could hear her father's well-rehearsed assessment of nights like this one. Dark too soon. Rain threatening to become something solid if the temp dropped another degree or two. Wind intent on driving the precipitation through buttonholes or jackets merely resistant, not rainproof.

One more trip back into the store before she could turn out the rest of the lights. For the last time for a while. Maybe forever. Janelle insisted Josiah would fight for her. Karin had given him every chance. She texted Janelle then started her note to Leah.

"Leah, you don't deserve the mess I'm leaving you."

She stopped writing. Her hands shook from more than the cold. Rain dripped from her wet hair onto the sheet torn from her ever-present idea notebook. "Forgive me. Please."

A fist-sized rock the shop used as a doorstop in summer became a paperweight on Leah's pristine desk. A boulder-sized lump clogged Karin's airway as she turned toward the rear exit of the building, slapping at light switches along the way.

She stepped onto the back stoop, tried the door to make sure it was shut, keyed in the security code, and faced the night. The phone in her coat pocket played a familiar two-toned alert. Only an insane person would stop her current mission to look. So she did.

It was Josiah, technically speaking. But he wasn't answering her last text, the one that could stop her. Instead, his automation system had sent a preprogrammed text to his reader fans with his "Marriage Moments" wisdom of the day.

Mister Irony.

"'The path to your happiness,'" she read on the screen," 'lies in paying attention to your spouse's heartbeat.'"

Rain on its way to sleet slid down the back of her neck as she lifted the Dumpster lid to toss in her phone with its cutting message.

Her coat sleeve caught on something. She tugged against whatever it was lurking near the top but hidden in shadows. Numbing cold stiffened her fingers as she dug with her right hand to free her sleeve. Pain. There shouldn't be pain. No. I have to go. Have to leave. Let me leave!

A broad dagger of glass flew from the Dumpster and shattered at her feet as she extricated her arm. Sleeve ripped. Skin slashed. Blood. So much blood.

Sleet. Cold. Stop the blood. Stop it. Not in my escape plan. Can't hold pressure and unlock the door. Can't get in.

But help will come, won't it? He'll be here soon. In books, heroes always show up on time.

Sound behind her. Steel door slamming hard. "Karin?" I knew you'd come.

CHAPTER 2

No one knows the work you've put into this project, the heart you've invested. Take a moment to celebrate. You won't be alone. I'm here.

~ Seedlings & Sentiments from the "Celebrate" collection


Josiah Chamberlain's flat-tipped fingers — from the maternal side of the family — hovered over the keys. One moment. Two. He expelled the breath he'd held since page 249. Reaching his arms overhead, elbows toed in, he grabbed the back of his skull. Eyes pinched shut, he forced himself to swallow. The tennis ball in his throat refused to dislodge. Agony now ecstasy.

It. Is. Finished.

The low ceiling of heavy clouds had drafted his green library lamp into service earlier. Its light camouflaged the passage of time. Dark. But it had been dark all day.

What time was it? Six-thirty. Karin would have eaten an hour ago. Had she called him to the table? Probably. If he'd put her off, he'd done it unconsciously. That's what laser-like focus did when he was on deadline. She'd understand. What a trouper.

He pulled himself from his reverie, laid his hand over the still-warm curve of his wireless mouse, and clicked the X in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

Save changes? Yes.

He e-mailed the file to himself then pushed away from the oak trestle table, whistling the Doxology. The space shuttle had nothing on his liftoff from his leather chair. For a non-dancer, he traced a respectable jig across the wide plank floorboards on his way to the door. Hand on the white porcelain doorknob, he paused.

Can't be too careful.

He scooted back to his laptop, inserted a thumb drive in the USB port, and saved the freshly minted file in triplicate.

This time when he turned his back on the project, he straightened the framed certificate that had allowed him five years as a marriage counselor before taking his show on the road. Highly touted seminars, sold-out weekend events, and — he glanced at the now quiet computer — perhaps another best seller to add to his growing collection. Who wouldn't enjoy a moment like this?

He left the room whistling "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

Tomorrow night — thick steaks on the grill. No. We'll go out. Russell's. Karin deserves her bacon-wrapped scallops. And what she'll call a "guilt-drenched" dessert. And a little more of my time. Okay. A lot more.

What other woman would put up with his disappearing into his cave for weeks at a time for a deadline or spending so many long stretches on the road when he wasn't on deadline? The picture of grace. That's what she was.

He descended the steps like a teen late for football practice and slid into the kitchen like Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld.

No Karin. No plate on the dark granite kitchen island or waiting by the microwave. No matter. She probably had another plan. He yanked at the pantry door. A little bubbly would be nice. He scanned for the sparkling pear juice Karin favored. He'd grab goblets out of the china cabinet on his way through the dining room to find her.

"Karin! Where are you?" No answer.

"Karin? I'm done. Let's celebrate." Wait until he told her the brilliant idea he'd used to end the book.

She'd had a project or something. Was this the week she said she was going to paint the back bedroom? No. Work related, right? Or what she called work. Best decision he ever made was to get her that storefront downtown. All the mess and that incessant whirring noise of the blender was miles away now. Sure, it cost him money he shouldn't have had to spend. But it was either he rent an office or she did. And what she did with that homemade card place wasn't completely without value.

"Babe," he called into the silence. "Deadline week. You know it's always like this. But it's over now. I haven't sent it off to Morris. I can do that after we pop the cork on this vintage pear juice. Two thousand seventeen. It was a very good year." He held the bottle high, as if she could see it.

Sure, it was corny, but couldn't she crack an I'm-disgusted-with-you-but-you're-adorable smile? Laundry room. She probably can't hear me because of the dryer.

After his last successfully met deadline, he'd made the same suggestion. "How about we make reservations at Russell's for tomorrow night, Karin? An ocean-view table."

She'd quirked an eyebrow at him, her dimples trying not to materialize. "We live in Cheese Curd Central, you lunatic. Totally landlocked. How do you propose we'll find an ocean view?"

"The a-quar-i-um in the lobby?"

Considering how sequestered he'd had to be for the last couple of weeks, he should probably back off on the sarcasm this time. When he found her.

Josiah's word-weary brain formed a question that refused to take itself seriously. He could feel his pulse in his temples, neck, and behind his eyeballs. The chill of the travertine foyer floor seeped through his cushioned socks. "Karin? Not funny anymore."

His stomach rumbled. He was perfectly capable of fixing himself something to eat. But that wasn't the point. Where was she? She knew he was near his deadline.

Josiah pulled out his phone and checked for messages from her. Nothing. He unmuted the phone from deadline mode, and punched in her number. No answer. Good. Probably on the road. Probably almost home. Doubt dialed the phone again. The Seedlings & Sentiments landline. Answering machine. He called Karin's number and left a message this time, regretting his tone as soon as he ended the call. He was tired. She'd understand. She'd forgive him the small offense.

If not, I can slip her chapter 7 of the book I just finished.

The thought ricocheted through the empty house. "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath" doesn't apply if sunset was more than an hour ago, does it?

Not wrath. Something between disappointment and anger. Closer to disappointment. She should be here to help him celebrate. Like always. Her absence took some of the joy out of meeting his deadline. Who else did he want to tell? Even if his dad were alive, news like this would elicit anything but what Josiah needed.

"Couldn't get a real job, boy?"

"Dad, this is a real job. I graduated magna cum laude, for Pete's sake."

"And what's the level just above that? Oh, that's right. Summa. Kind of like coming in second in a two-person race, isn't it?"

Never enough. Never ever enough for the man.

Josiah set the goblets on the kitchen counter for the postponed celebration and dug into the refrigerator for leftovers. Not what he had in mind. Not at all.


* * *

What just happened?

Finished the book. Came downstairs to tell Karin. Yada yada, she's gone.

Not the ending he'd written into this night. He actually thought the evening would end with a delicious drifting off to sleep, her body curled into his.

What an idiot.

No. That was his dad's voice. His dad's curse. Josiah mentally walked over to the garbage disposal, tossed the condemnatory phrase through its black rubber flaps, and flipped the switch to pulverize the thought.

Another round through the house to look for a note or something he might have overlooked. He'd overlooked too much lately. Time for a course correction.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Fragile Hope by Cynthia Ruchti. Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Ruchti. 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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