Kat Davies is suddenly wondering if her good deed was a bad idea.
Kat may be new in her faith, but she’s embraced the more radical implications of Christianity with reckless abandon. She invited Rochelle—a homeless mother—and her son to move in the apartment she shares with two other housemates. And she’s finally found a practical way to channel her passion for healthy eating by starting a food pantry at the church.
Her feelings for Nick are getting harder to ignore. The fact that he’s the interning pastor at SouledOut Community Church and one of her housemates makes it complicated enough. But with Rochelle showing interest in Nick as a father-figure for her son, their apartment is feeling way too small.
But not everyone thinks the food pantry is a good idea. When the woman she thought would be her biggest supporter just wants to “pray about it,” Kat is forced to look deeper at her own motives. Only when she begins to look past the surface does she see people who are hungry and thirsty for more than just food and drink and realizes the deeper significance of inviting them to “come to the table.”
“. . . the plot and characters remain fresh and vibrant, shining spiritual truth from each page.” —Romantic Times TOP PICK for Stand by Me
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come to the tableA SouledOut Sisters Novel
By neta jackson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Neta Jackson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe dark, curly head at the other end of the table busily slurped each long, limp noodle with obvious joy. Nick Taylor, pretending to ignore him, watched sideways as the boy selected another noodle between thumb and forefinger, lofted it high above his open mouth, then sucked it down his gullet like a baby bird devouring a juicy worm.
"Conny!" snapped the boy's mother, coming back to the table from the kitchen holding a steaming pot of spaghetti sauce between two pot holders. "Those noodles gonna be gone before you get any sauce on 'em. And quit slurping."
"Don't want any sauce." The boy sucked in another noodle, leaving half of it hanging out of his grinning mouth. "Like 'em bald."
Nick hid a smile. Life in the apartment he and a few other CCU students had sublet for the summer had sure turned topsy-turvy in the past week. Olivia, the youngest of their group of four, still an undergrad at Chicago Crista University, had found urban living too intense. Having her purse snatched and falling down the stairs at the el station had been the last straw, and she'd gone home for the rest of the summer. And Kathryn—dear Kat, in her own impetuous way—had brought home a homeless mom and her kid to take Olivia's place.
Who just happened to be the missing daughter and grandson of the middle-aged African American couple upstairs.
Huh. Nick wanted to laugh. He oughta write a novel.
Rochelle Johnson pointed at the steaming pot. "Sauce?"
"Please." The seminary student held out his plate as Rochelle, her honey-brown skin glistening from the steam, scooped hot spaghetti sauce over his pasta, then served her own plate and sat down. Tiny tendrils of black hair stuck to her damp face. She was a pretty young woman—like her mom, he decided. Avis Douglass, on the third floor of the three-flat, was one of those classy black women who turned heads even in her fifties.
"When are Kat and Bree getting home?" Rochelle nodded at the two empty plates at the table. "There's lots of pasta, but we gotta make sure we save enough sauce."
"Uh, well, Kat oughta be back anytime now. But Bree's got the evening shift at the coffee shop." The other two young women sharing the apartment each had part-time jobs at The Common Cup, a local hangout, their shifts often running back-to-back. Nick wound another forkful of spaghetti and shoved it into his mouth, avoiding the "save the sauce" issue. Knowing Kat, she'd probably opt to stir-fry some zucchini, onions, and red pepper to top off her pasta rather than sauce from a jar.
A key rattled in the front door of the apartment. Speaking of Kat ...
"Hey!" The door flew open and Kat Davies practically fell into the room, her thick brunette hair frizzing from the humidity and falling out of the clip on the back of her head. "That darn door's starting to stick something awful— Oh, yum! Something smells good, and I'm starving." The young woman tossed her backpack toward the couch in the living room and pulled out a chair in the dining nook between the living room and kitchen. "So, Mister Conny, did you save me any food? Is that mine?" And she pretended to steal the little boy's plate, which he grabbed back with a squeal.
"Hello to you too." Nick tossed out his greeting, half amused and half annoyed at the way Kat bounced into a room already running on five cylinders.
Kat blew a damp curl off her forehead. "Hi, Nick. Sorry I'm late ... Oh, thanks, Rochelle." She took the bowl of hot noodles Rochelle handed her. "What goes on top?" She peeked under the lid of the pot. "Is this that jar stuff? Hmm ... do you mind if I add some veggies?" Kat got up and headed for the kitchen. "I'll just be a minute."
Rochelle frowned at Nick. "What's wrong with spaghetti sauce?"
"Don't mind Kat," he murmured. "She's got her own ideas about food. Vegetables, lots of vegetables."
"Yeah, but on spaghetti?"
Nick shrugged. He should have warned Rochelle about Kat's "food issues" when she offered to cook her first meal for them tonight. But with four unrelated adults sharing an apartment, they all had to get used to each other's cooking, didn't they? And frankly, he'd been grateful their newest apartmentmate had offered to cook supper, because he was a little nervous about the meeting at SouledOut Community Church tonight. He glanced at his watch. In just a little more than an hour.
This was the meeting where his name was going to be proposed to the congregation as a paid pastoral intern, a requirement to complete his seminary studies at CCU. And he wasn't even a member! Not yet, anyway, though he'd do it in a heartbeat. But everything had happened so fast after the death of SouledOut's beloved copastor, Pastor Clark—
"Veggies coming up!" Kat breezed back into the dining nook holding a sizzling frying pan. She spooned out a generous helping on her spaghetti noodles and then looked around the table. "There's more. Anyone else?"
Conny turned up his nose. "Yuk. I like my noodles bald."
But between the three adults, the stir-fry vegetables disappeared, and Kat and Nick cleared off the table—the general agreement being that the non-cooks on any given night did the dishes. "Can we let the dishes air dry?" Nick asked, sticking the last of the leftover pasta in the fridge as Kat ran hot soapy water in the sink. "I'd like to get to the church early. Uh ..." He looked at Kat hopefully. "You going to the meeting?"
"Who, me?" She whacked him playfully with a dish towel. "Would I miss my first opportunity to call you Pastor Nicky?"
Nick groaned. Knowing Kat, she just might. In public!
But as the two friends turned out the kitchen light—dishes in the drainer with a clean dish towel over them—and got ready to leave, Nick was tackled by forty-two inches of boy, nearly making him lose his balance. "I want Nick to put me to bed!" Sprawled on the floor, Conny hung on to Nick's legs as his mother tapped her foot.
Nick reached down and pried the little boy's arms off his ankles. "Hey, buddy, I can't tonight. Miss Kat and I gotta go to church."
Conny scrambled to his feet, crossed his arms, and screwed up his face into a pout. "Church! It ain't Sunday."
Rochelle rolled her eyes and wrestled Conny toward the bathroom. "Sorry, Nick. You guys just go. He'll be fine."
"Noooo-o-o-o-o!" Conny yelled as the bathroom door slammed behind them.
Kat laughed. "We're outta here." She grabbed Nick by the hand and the two scurried down the stairs of the three-flat and out onto the street. "Whew. I think you've got a new appendage, my friend."
Nick grunted. My friend. He'd like to be more than that, though he'd never told her so. He wished Kat would keep holding his hand, but she let go as soon as they got outside and walked two steps ahead of him, chatting away about ... what? He wasn't listening. This was the first time he'd been alone with Kat in days. Maybe weeks. Ever since they'd moved into the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, it'd always been the four of them from CCU—Kat, Brygitta, Olivia, and Nick—or some combination. But Olivia had moved back home, Bree was at work, and Rochelle was back at the apartment putting Conny to bed.
Now. They'd be at the church in twenty minutes. Maybe he should talk to Kat about "taking their friendship to another level." Weren't those the buzzwords these days? Take your career to another level? Take your goals to another level? Why not—
"Are you nervous? You shouldn't be. It was the Douglasses' idea, after all, to put your name out there as an intern on the interim pastoral team. And Pastor Cobbs agrees, right?"
It took several seconds—felt like a whole minute—for Nick to shift mental gears. "Uh ... well, sure, a little nervous. But it's not a slam dunk. Some people might want to keep the original proposal for both Avis and Peter Douglass to assist Pastor Cobbs until they find a new copastor. I mean, they're mature folks, been at the church since the beginning. I'm just a greenhorn, don't even have my seminary degree yet."
"Silly." Kat stuck her hand through his arm and playfully pulled him along. "Mr. D said he doesn't really need to be on the interim team, since he's already an elder. And you have to do your internship somewhere. Why not SouledOut? I, for one, think it's a cool team. Pastor Cobbs, Mrs. D, you ... old and young, black and white, two men and a woman, new blood and fresh ideas alongside age and wisdom—"
"Hey! Are you saying I don't have any wisdom?"
Kat pulled her hand away and ran ahead, laughing over her shoulder. "Did I say that? Who, me?"
The moment was gone. Nick sighed and picked up his pace to keep up with Kat. Well, maybe they could "talk about us" on the way home. Right now they were both distracted by the upcoming meeting anyway—a meeting with a multicultural congregation in a retail space tucked into the Howard Street Mall along Chicago's northern city limits that might determine his whole future.
* * *
"Congratulations, son." Pastor Joe Cobbs pumped Nick's hand as the congregational meeting broke up a couple hours later. "I'm excited to see how God is going to use you in the life of this church. I think you and Sister Avis will make a good team."
Nick swallowed. At six feet, he had to look down at the five-foot-eight, stocky black man. "Thanks, Pastor Cobbs. I know I have a lot to learn, but I'm excited to work with you and Mrs. Douglass and the elders. It's a dream come true for me."
The vote to confirm the new proposal had been nearly un animous, especially after Peter and Avis Douglass—who had both been proposed as interim leaders at the last congregational meeting—had themselves proposed that Nick replace Peter, since he was already an elder. They gave all the good reasons: Nick needed an internship to complete his seminary studies, he was studying to be a pastor, it made sense to do his internship in the church he was currently attending, and, they said, they had seen his character, his integrity, and his pastor's heart even in the short time the CCU students had been living in the apartment below them.
He hoped he could live up to their expectations. Right now he had butterflies.
Many other members shook his hand, wished him the best, said they'd be praying for him, told him that working with Avis Douglass and Pastor Cobbs would be a privilege. He nodded, said thank you, said he agreed. But he didn't know what to say to the woman—one of the elders' wives, he thought—who pulled him aside and whispered, "Sure glad to see a white face on the interim pastoral team. No offense meant. Just got to be careful we don't slide into ... well, you know."
No, he didn't know.
But he was glad when the well-wishers thinned out. The Douglasses offered him and Kat a ride home, but Nick thanked them and said no, he'd rather walk, he needed to unwind. Well, it was the truth, even if not the main reason. He caught Kat's eye—those blue eyes, so striking with her dark-brown mop of hair. "Ready to go?" He grinned, relishing the walk back to the apartment, just the two of them.
Kat looked at her watch. "Almost nine ... perfect! I told Bree we'd stop by the coffee shop and walk her home after the meeting. She gets off at nine."
Bree?! Nick felt his happy expectations deflate faster than a balloon stuck by a pin. A few nasty words rose like bile to his mouth, but he pressed his lips together. Right. How would that go over for the newly appointed pastoral intern at SouledOut Community Church?
* * *
Brygitta Walczak—a brown-eyed brunette with a short, pixie haircut—and Kat chatted nonstop from the time they met her at the door of The Common Cup to the time the trio let themselves into the foyer of the three-flat on the narrow residential street. Bree wanted to hear all about the meeting—What happened? Did they confirm Nick? What about the whole interim team? What did the pastor say? Did anybody protest that Nick wasn't a member yet?
Nick let Kat do most of the talking.
Climbing the stairs to the second-floor apartment, Nick let them in with his key, motioning to the girls behind him to be quiet. "Conny's probably asleep."
He needn't have bothered.
"Nick!" Swathed in summer-weight Superman pajamas, the little boy launched himself off the couch and jumped into Nick's arms. "Now you can put me to bed!"
"What are you doing up, young man?" Nick loosened the stranglehold around his neck.
Rochelle appeared from the hallway that led to the two bedrooms and single bathroom. "I'm sorry, Nick. It's been one big fight ever since you left. I finally gave in. He ... I think he misses his daddy. Conny stayed with him a couple months, you know, when I ... well, you know what it's been like for us lately."
"Don't miss Daddy," the little boy pouted. "He didn't read me stories. Just had to go to bed." Conny wiggled out of Nick's arms and ran to the coffee table, grabbing a couple of books "Grammy Avis" had gotten for him at the library. "Read me a story and then I'll go to bed. I promise!"
Nick chuckled. "Okay. This time. Come on, buddy. We'll read in the study." Nick led Conny into the study that served as his bedroom ever since he'd surrendered the larger bedroom to Rochelle and Conny. Kat and Bree had claimed the twin beds in the second bedroom of the apartment they'd sublet from the owners of the condo, who were currently traveling in South America on business.
Conny cuddled under Nick's arm as they settled on the futon in the study and opened The Saggy Baggy Elephant. Nick pulled him closer, conscious of the little boy's sweet, soapy smell. Maybe someday he'd have a little boy like Conny ...
Halfway through the second book he realized the boy's breathing had slowed and his head had fallen forward. Carefully picking him up, he tiptoed through the living room, passed Kat on the couch doing the newspaper crossword, and headed down the hall to the far bedroom. He knocked. Rochelle opened the door. Her long black hair, which she usually wore wavy and full—looser than what he expected from "black hair"—had been braided and wound around her head for the night.
"Okay." The young mother stood aside. "Just lay him on the bed."
Nick laid the little boy on the large queen-size bed, drew the sheet up over him, and turned to go. Rochelle was still standing in the doorway as he squeezed past. "Thanks," she said. Quickly standing on her toes, she kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Thanks for being there for Conny." And then she closed the door behind her.
Nick was so startled he just stood in the hallway a moment. What was that about? ... Nothing, he decided. Just a thank-you from a grateful single mom.
He turned to head back to the living room ... and saw Kat at the opening, framed in the light from the front room. "Sweet," she said. But there was an edge to her voice. Before he could say anything, she took several quick strides to the doorway of the bedroom she shared with Bree, disappeared inside, and quickly shut the door.
Chapter TwoKat Davies flopped down on the twin bed in the "perfectly appointed" guest room of the sublet and punched her pillow.
Her roommate peered over the top of the book she was reading on the other bed. "What?"
Brygitta rolled her eyes and tossed the paperback onto the bedside table between the two beds. "Right." Yawning, she kicked off the lightweight bedspread and pulled the sheet up to her chin. "You're going to tell me, you know."
Kat said nothing. She felt confused by her feelings. So she'd seen Rochelle Johnson give Nick a peck on the cheek after he read her little boy to sleep. What was that about? Probably nothing. At least Nick would say that. But what did she know about Rochelle, after all? The girl was a mystery. Girl ... not really. Might even be a few years older than she was. She'd been married, after all, and had a six-year-old kid.
And it was her own fault Rochelle and Conny were staying in the condo she and the other CCU students had sublet for the summer. It was her big idea to invite them when their fourth housemate moved back home. Seemed to make sense at the time. Skinny thing like Rochelle digging in Dumpsters for food, living from hand to mouth, with a kid to support—all because she'd had a falling-out with her parents who lived one floor up.
Well, okay, it was more complicated than that. But still.
Kat slid off the bed, shed the skirt and top she'd worn to SouledOut that evening, wiggled into the sleep tee wadded up under her pillow, and turned the fan in the window on low. She hadn't brushed her teeth, but no way was she going to the bathroom now and risk running into Nick. She didn't want to deal with him right now. Or Rochelle. That was the problem with these older apartments—only one bathroom per unit.
Kat turned out the bed lamp and slid between the cool sheets. She lay staring into the darkness for several long minutes.
Excerpted from come to the table by neta jackson Copyright © 2012 by Neta Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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