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LeavingBailey Flanigan Series
By Karen Kingsbury
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Karen Kingsbury
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGoodbyes were one of the hardest things about life ... one way or another people were always leaving. Always moving on. That was the point the pastor was making, and Bailey Flanigan blinked back tears as she shifted in the pew beside her family. Like Cody Coleman, she told herself. Always leaving.
"Life changes. People come and go, and seasons never last." Pastor Mark Atteberry's voice rang with passionate emotion. "Nothing stays the same. We can count on that. Good times come and go ... finances are ever changing ... our health will eventually fail us. And through death or decision, everyone we know will someday leave us." He paused, his eyes searching the congregation. "All except for Jesus Christ. Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. And because of that we have the strength to love with all our hearts ... even unaware of what tomorrow brings." He smiled. "That's what I want you to take away from today's ser vice. Jesus stays."
Pastor Mark asked them to turn their Bibles to the book of Deuteronomy. Bailey did as she was told, but the rest of the sermon she struggled to stay focused. Cody hadn't talked to her since that day on her parents' porch, the day he tried to convince her it was finally and absolutely time to move on. Now, two months later, the pain and silence of the passing time was just about killing her.
When the hour was almost over, Bailey's mom, Jenny, turned to her. "Powerful message." Her voice was barely a whisper, only loud enough for Bailey.
Bailey nodded and managed a slight smile. She'd tell her mom later how much her heart hurt, how Pastor Mark's talk about goodbyes stirred up all the missing she'd ever felt for Cody. Never mind the days when she seemed over him, when she didn't look for a text every hour or catch the phone ringing at night and hope it was him. Today, even with her mom and dad and five brothers seated along the pew beside her, there was no way around her feelings.
She missed Cody with every aching breath.
The ser vice ended with a song Bailey loved — a Chris Tomlin song called "Our God" that always stirred her love for the Lord and her belief in His promises. She stood next to her mom and glanced down the row at her family. How great that they could be here together, worshipping and praising God, and sharing everything they believed. How amazing to celebrate Sundays with them always. She smiled, ignoring the sting of fresh tears in her eyes. Wasn't that the point Pastor Mark was making? This picture of the Flanigan family wouldn't last either. They were all growing up. And some Sunday not far down the road they'd be spread out to other churches, other places where they would begin their own lives.
Because only Jesus stayed.
But God in all His goodness still allowed moments like this, and no matter how far they might someday be from each other, they would hold tight to the memory of this: what it felt like to be a family who loved each other deeply and cared for the people around the dining room table like they were each other's best friends. The sort of family other people only dreamed about.
Bailey closed her eyes and let the music fill her soul. "Our God is greater ... our God is stronger ... God you are higher than any other ..."
The beauty of the moment mixed with the sweet sadness of losing Cody, of not knowing where he was or what he was doing. The idea seemed outrageous, really. He hadn't felt this far away when he was fighting in Iraq. Now he was only an hour away in Indianapolis, but it seemed like he'd fallen off the planet. At least that was where she assumed he was — the place he'd been the last time they saw each other.
Pastor Mark dismissed them, and Bailey felt her mother give her a side hug. "You were thinking about him." She pressed her cheek against Bailey's.
Bailey had nothing to hide where her mom was concerned. She looked straight at her. "How could I not?"
"We'll talk later."
"Okay." Bailey returned the hug and they moved into the aisle with the rest of the family. The knowing in her mother's eyes made Bailey grateful. Bailey kept no secrets from her mom and, because of that, they would always be close.
Anyway, the conversation would have to come later. Ashley Baxter Blake and her husband, Landon, had invited them over for dinner, which meant a house full of people. It was a Baxter family tradition, and at least once a month the Baxters invited Bailey's family too. The more people the better — that was Ashley's theory. She and Landon bought the old farmhouse from John Baxter, Ashley's father. Bailey was sure she saw a wistfulness in John's eyes whenever they gathered for dinner. A longing for days gone by maybe. Days that hadn't lasted any more than the ones now would last for the Flanigan family.
Bailey couldn't imagine raising a family for decades in a house and then coming back only as a visitor. But it was better than having strangers live in the place. Especially with all the memories that still lived between the walls and windows.
On the drive to the Baxter house, Bailey caught herself more aware than usual that even this — all eight of them traveling somewhere after church — wouldn't last. She was almost twenty-one, after all, in her third year at Indiana University. She leaned against the car door and listened to her brothers' conversations around her. Connor was seventeen and closest to Bailey in age. This was his junior year, and he was about to begin his final football season as starting quarterback — throwing for more than 200 yards a game, the way Cody had taught him.
Connor was class president and debating themes for the Spring Fling dance — an annual costume event at Clear Creek High. "I'm thinking 'Meant to Be.'" Connor glanced back at his brothers Shawn and Justin — both sophomores — and BJ, a freshman. "I mean, I kinda like it. What do you think? 'Meant to Be.'"
"Meant to be what?" Justin frowned.
In the seat beside Bailey, the youngest Flanigan boy — towheaded twelve-year-old Ricky — giggled. "Like, you come as Batman, but you tell everyone you meant to be Robin?"
A round of laughter filled the Suburban. Bailey chuckled to herself and gave Connor a helpless look. The younger boys had a point.
Connor flashed a patient, crooked grin. "Not like that." He waited until he had their attention again. "Meant to be, like Batman and Cat Woman — two characters who were meant to be together."
"Or maybe just sort of 'Meant to Bee.'" Ricky let loose another few delightful bouts of laughter. "Like a bumblebee. Then everyone could dress in yellow and black."
"Yeah, or maybe Meant to B." Shawn's laugh was always louder than the others. "You know ... the letter B. That way everyone could dress as something that started with a B."
"Okay ... you're all comedians." Connor gave a mock surrender. "I'll ask the leadership class."
From the front passenger seat, their mom looked over her shoulder. "I like it." Her smile was kind, her eyes thoughtful. "A cowboy and a cowgirl ... a doctor and a nurse ... that sort of thing."
"Yeah, only if Justin goes with Kayla, he'll have to be the nurse." Shawn was working to keep his laughter down, but he was losing the battle. "Because she's a whiz kid at science. She wants to be a surgeon."
The conversation soothed the rough edges of Bailey's soul, helping her find perspective after an hour of being flooded with memories of Cody. This was her reality now. And though Pastor Mark was right — this season wouldn't last — for now it was exactly where she wanted to be.
"Have you heard from Brandon?" Her dad caught Bailey's attention in the rearview mirror. "Since they pulled the movie?"
"He texted me yesterday." The memory warmed her heart. "He's so different from the guy he used to be. His faith means everything to him."
"And the media knows it." He looked happy about the fact. "I'm proud of that young man. Very proud."
Bailey's mom angled herself so she could see Bailey. "His manager knows it, too. That's why they shelved the movie, I'm sure."
"Of course ... I agree, definitely."
The boys still chattered about the upcoming dance, but the family could easily hold more than one conversation at a time. Bailey slid forward so her parents could hear her. "Brandon knows that's the reason. Everyone loved us in Unlocked, but his manager doesn't want Brandon to seem soft to the Hollywood crowd."
"Casting him in a movie about a NASCAR driver will definitely keep that from happening." Her dad raised his brow. "And Brandon's doing his own stunts, is that true?"
"It is." Bailey wasn't happy about that part. "I'm still trying to talk him out of it."
"Next time you two chat, tell him we said hi." Her dad kept his eyes on the road. "I pray for him every day." He caught her eye one more time. "The same way I pray for Cody." He hesitated. "Which reminds me ... Matt Keagan asked about you the other day. He figured out you were my daughter about a week after the season ended. Every time he stops in the weight room he doesn't let up."
Bailey laughed under her breath. "That's nice dad." She shared a look with her mom. "Matt Keagan has a million girls in love with him. I'll pass."
"He is cute, though." Her mom's eyes twinkled — proof that she was only having fun.
"Of course he's cute." Bailey shook her head, enjoying the lighthearted silliness of the discussion. "He's the strongest Christian in sports, he wears a wristband with Philippians 4:13 on it, and he takes mission trips to Ethiopia whenever he has a spare weekend. He's perfect." She laughed, and the feeling lifted her heart. "I heard he's dating the daughter of a pastor in South Africa."
"Last week everyone on Facebook and Twitter said Matt's hanging out with a finalist from Dancing with the Stars."
"Exactly." Bailey laughed. An icon like Matt Keagan? The line of girls would be longer than ten football fields. "I'm not interested."
The three of them fell quiet again, leaving just the boys' conversation the rest of the way to the Baxter house. Bailey stared out the window. The countryside in Bloomington, Indiana, the rolling snow-covered hills, and the crisp, blue sky that spread out forever around them spoke peace to her soul. February brought a mix of weather, but always snow clung to the ground somewhere. This year more than most.
Bailey thought about her life and the guys God had brought across her path. The last year was so crazy amazing she almost felt like the whole thing had happened to someone else. Brandon Paul — the nation's most popular young actor — had singled her out to star in his blockbuster movie Unlocked. The film was set to release in April, but it was still being edited. Bailey had never worked harder, and in the end she was satisfied with her performance.
But Bailey's was nothing to Brandon's. He played a teenager whose beautiful soul was locked in a prison of autism. She played his friend, the girl who believed she could draw him out and find a way for God to work a miracle in his life. She couldn't wait to see what critics would say about the movie, about Brandon's stunning portrayal of Holden Harris. The story was riveting — just like the bestselling novel by the same name.
Brandon had done the story justice, for sure. But, along the way, God had given him more than a key performance for his resume. During the shoot Bailey had talked to Brandon about the Lord, and the Bible, and God's plan for him. Last New Year's Eve Brandon came to the Flanigan house and had prayed to ask Jesus into his heart. Later that night, Bailey's dad even baptized Brandon in their Jacuzzi.
Never mind that Brandon had a crush on Bailey. She didn't see him that way — not with his past and the throngs of girls screaming his name. Brandon was a friend, nothing more. But in the wake of filming Unlocked, talk had immediately turned to the two of them starring in a love story.
"The chemistry between you is too strong to stop with Unlocked," the producer told them. He wanted to film this spring. But in late January the movie was shelved so Brandon could focus on a NASCAR story about a guy living fast and dangerously, a guy in conflict with his racecar driver father. The story was called Chasing Sunsets, and Brandon had already signed on to play the part.
Bailey had been offered roles in other films, but nothing she would take. Agents and producers in Hollywood didn't understand. She didn't want to move to LA and spend her days auditioning. She was two years from finishing her theater degree at IU. After that, she still dreamed about performing on Broadway in New York City. But no matter where she did or didn't act in the future her friendship with Brandon Paul would remain — she was sure of that.
She blinked, and lifted her eyes to the sky over Bloomington. The boys were talking about basketball, how Justin would be the fastest guard in the league.
"Cody Coleman was the fastest guy ever at Clear Creek High — football or hoops," Ricky made the pronouncement proudly. "But Justin, you never know ... maybe you'll be faster."
Cody Coleman. The boys' voices faded as Bailey pictured Cody and the way he'd looked the last time they saw each other. She had just wrapped up the shoot with Brandon, and Cody seemed distracted. Different. Maybe the movie had something to do with his distance. Or maybe he pulled away because of Bailey's closeness with Brandon Paul. A quiet sigh slipped from her throat.
Brandon could never be Cody Coleman.
She heard the slightest buzzing sound from her purse and realized she still had her phone on mute from church. She dug around, but by the time she found it the call was gone. She pressed a button at the top of the phone and a number flashed across the screen — one she didn't recognize. The area code was 212. New York City.
Strange, she thought. Tim Reed was the only person she knew living in New York. But she had his number programmed into her contacts, so unless he used a different phone, the call couldn't be from him. She was still staring at the number when her phone flashed that a voicemail had come in. At the same time, her dad pulled into the Baxters' driveway. The place looked beautiful, surrounded by snow and barren trees. A thin ribbon of smoke came from the chimney, and already six cars packed the area adjacent to the garage.
"I can smell the barbecue sauce from here." Ricky took a long whiff as they stepped out of the SUV. "Best barbecue in Bloomington." He grinned at the others, but then his expression changed sharply as he caught a teasing look from their mother. "Except for yours, of course. Second best. That's what I meant to say."
The air was cold against Bailey's cheeks as they walked across the cleared sidewalk and into the house. For the next two hours the warmth from the fire and the Baxters was enough to keep Bailey distracted. They heard about Ashley's paintings being discovered by a new gallery in New York City — one much larger than any gallery that had ever carried her work — and about how well the Baxter grandkids were doing in school and sports.
Bailey sat near her dad and keyed into a conversation between him and Ryan Taylor, the head football coach at Clear Creek High. Ryan was married to the oldest Baxter daughter, Kari. Until this school year, Cody had always been connected to Clear Creek High. Like Ricky said, he was the fastest football player there when he was a student and then, after returning from the war, he coached at Clear Creek.
Her dad and Ryan talked about how off-season training was going, and then Ryan set down his fork. "You hear much from Cody Coleman?"
A shadow fell over her father's expression. "No." He shook his head and wiped a napkin across his mouth. "Not for a couple months. I'm a little worried about him."
For a few seconds Ryan didn't say anything. "Rumor has it he's going for the assistant job at Lyle — that small Christian school outside Indianapolis."
Excerpted from Leaving by Karen Kingsbury Copyright © 2011 by Karen Kingsbury . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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