Meanwhile, Keira's beloved 17-year-old niece, Kirsten, has just discovered an unwanted pregnancy. Her boyfriend, Jose, is bound for college and Kirsten does not know what to do. As the family comes together for a reunion, Keira and Kirsten struggle with their fractured pasts and jumbled present. Will truth and honesty be the catalysts that allow the entire family to find peace?
Inspired by events in Lauraine Snelling's own life, REUNION is the author's finest novel to date.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
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By Lauraine Snelling
FaithWordsCopyright © 2012 Lauraine Snelling
All right reserved.
The tissue-wrapped box on the dining room table failed to answer. Strange, no name on it. No card. Just a square, white box with a curly blue ribbon spilling over its sides.
Curiosity was one of Keira Johnston’s failings. Although she’d never opened a present before its time, she’d thought about it a lot. Shaking the box, albeit gently, left her with no more information. Since she and her husband, Bjorn, were the only two people who now lived in this big old house, it had to be for one of them. She pondered the box, then picked it up and sniffed it. Still no clues.
Just as she dug her cell phone out of her purse, she heard the back door open. She called, “I’m in here.”
“The dining room. Do you know anything about this box on the table?” She turned at her husband’s entrance and gave him a welcome-home hug.
“Hmm. Who could have left that?” His blue eyes twinkled. “Who’s it for?”
“No card, no name, just a white box with a pretty ribbon.” She watched his face to see if he was teasing her. He seemed as confused as she was.
“So open it.”
“What if it’s for you?”
“Why would someone give me a present? It’s not my birthday.”
“Nor mine. Our anniversary is still three months away. Who would put a present here on the table?” She looked pointedly from him to the box, swiping a strand of hair behind her ear. Her hair usually swung in the blunt-cut style she’d worn for years, but now it was in need of a cut and probably a highlight session again. Dark blond, it looked naturally sun streaked due to the gray turned silver around her face. “You open it.”
“What, you’re afraid of a bomb or something?”
“No. I’m just trying to be generous and my curiosity is killing me.”
He hefted the box. “Can’t be a bomb, too light.”
“Bjorn Johnston, just open it.” She rolled her eyes when he shook his head. “All right. I’ll get the scissors and we’ll open it together. Surely there will be a card or something inside.” She dug a pair of scissors out of the “stuff drawer” in the kitchen and returned to stand by him.
“Maybe we’d better sit down.” Bjorn pulled out an oak chair from the table. “Oh, did you tell Paul about the date for the family reunion? He called and I couldn’t remember the exact day.” Paul was their elder son, who was twenty-four and married to Laurie. They lived in Houston, Texas.
She rolled her eyes again. “How could you not know? It is on every calendar in the house and the office. The third weekend in June. I’ll e-mail him. We’re due at Leah’s for supper tonight.”
“Oh, I forgot that too. Something must be wrong with the calendar on my cell phone. I set the reminder feature but it didn’t. Remind me, that is.” He picked up the box, propping his elbows on the table. “Okay, cut the ribbon.” Together they unwrapped the tissue paper to find a white box, about eight inches square. They set it on the antique dark-oak table. Bjorn shrugged, opened the one flap lid, and handed the box to her.
Using finger and thumb, Keira lifted the layer of tissue paper inside to see some papers fanned out in a circle so they’d fit in the box. She pulled them out and let out a shriek.
“Norway, tickets to Norway!”
“I was listening, you know.”
Keira Johnston danced across the room, waving the packet with airline tickets and threw her arms around her husband, nearly toppling him from the chair.
“Easy.” He hugged her back, halfway righting himself. “I wasn’t sure you really wanted to go.”
“You!” She gave him a playful swat on the shoulder. “How could you tease me like this? How could you keep such a straight face, lying through your teeth? You had me really believing you.”
“I know. I think I deserve an Oscar for this performance.”
“Modesty sure becomes you.” Keira checked the box. “That’s all, eh? No wonder there was no rattle and no weight. Tickets to Norway.” Keira’s eyes widened and she hugged him again. “You said we couldn’t go this year. That we’d celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary next year.”
“Really? Did I say that?”
She pulled back enough to stand next to him, one hand on his shoulder. “Stop with the teasing. You know you did.”
“Well, how could I surprise you if I gave in so easily?”
“True.” She leaned her head on his. “Will Leah and Marcus be able to go?” Her brother, Marcus, was pastor of a local church and his wife, Leah, was Keira’s best friend.
“They don’t know yet.” He looked up to search her face. “We could go alone, couldn’t we?”
“Sure, but… it’s just that we’ve always talked about all of us going together. Of course we always used to plan on taking Mother with us.” After a moment’s silence, Keira tucked the rebellious strand of hair behind her ear again. “I think I can’t believe this yet.” She stared at the picture on the front of the brochure of deep-blue fjords set against snow-crowned mountains. “Wait, what are the dates?”
“August. I know the family reunion is eating up all our time between now and the end of June. By August we’ll be more than ready for some away time.”
Keira leaned closer and kissed him again. “You are such a good man, Bjorn Johnston.” She smoothed a lock of white hair across his widening crown. “Not sure why you love me, but I am grateful that you do.”
“Ah, Keira, you promised to stop thinking that. Remember?”
“I know. I don’t think about it, or at least not like I used to, but…”
Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her into his lap. “Uffda, good thing this is a sturdy chair.”
She nestled against him. “Have you told the boys yet?” Besides Paul, they had a younger son, Eric, who was still in college and majoring in business.
“Nope, I thought you’d like to do that.” He nuzzled her ear. “You know this means finding your birth certificate so you can get a passport. And it needs to be done soon.”
Keira bolted upright and stared at him. “Oh, I forgot about that. It does.” She scrubbed her fingers through her hair, making it messy again. She glanced at her watch. “Well, I can’t go out to Mother’s today but I’ll get on it. We’re due at Leah’s for supper in ten minutes and you know Marcus likes his meals on time.” She paused. “If only I knew for sure where I was born, I could call the hospital and get another copy. Why didn’t I ever ask Mother?”
Bjorn heaved a sigh and himself to his feet. “I’m sure she put it somewhere safe. What are you bringing?”
“The pan of rolls. I’ll get my jacket.”
“Drive or umbrella?” she called from the coat closet.
“Get mine, will you please? And you’d better comb your hair.”
Keira groaned, slung the two coats over her arm, and grabbed an umbrella from the hall stand. “I’ll be right back.” She stared into the mirror in the guest bath. “You know better than to just finger comb it.” She brushed her hair and grinned at the face in the mirror at the same time. “Norway. We are going to Norway after all.”
Bjorn honked the car horn from the garage to let her know that he had decided to drive. It wasn’t just raining; now the windows ran rivers.
They pulled under the overhang of the garage at the house three doors down, which was actually a pretty far distance, since the lots were large enough to make it a city block away. Grateful for the breezeway that led to the back door, they hustled inside where Leah held the screen door open for them.
“Good thing you drove or you’d have to have worn scuba flippers.”
Keira handed her the foil-wrapped pan. “These are still warm, but you might want to heat them a bit.”
“Do you know?” She glanced from Keira to Bjorn, who was standing right behind his wife.
“He gave me the tickets!” Keira threw her arms around her best friend, who was also her sister-in-law. “I am so excited.”
“I never would have guessed.” Leah gave her a one-armed hug back. “Careful, I might drop the rolls.”
Keira’s musical laugh danced along in front of her. “Is Marcus already seated at the table?”
“No, he’s still in his office. Bjorn, you go right on in and I’ll see if I can get Miss Flabbergasted here calmed down.”
“Just remind her she has to find her birth certificate. That’ll do it.” He hooked his jacket on the row of glass cabinet knobs on the board and strode through the kitchen. “Marcus, come help calm your sister down.”
“Coming,” a deep voice returned from the other end of the house.
Keira heaved a sigh. “I’ll start seriously looking tomorrow. Where can it be? I have already torn that house apart, searching for Mother’s important papers so I could settle her estate.”
“I know you have. I was there, remember? Well, we’ll just have to look for it again and at the same time we’ll dig out all the pictures for the memory book for the family reunion. I should have had that at least half finished by now. Reunion will be here in just a few weeks.” Leah, a barely five-foot dynamo with short curly hair, smiled up at Keira.
Keira reached up in the cupboard for a basket for the rolls and Leah dumped them in. The two had worked together for so many years that, like a good old married couple, they read each other’s minds. “Anything else need doing?”
“Just set the serving dishes on the table.”
“Is Kirsten here?” Keira paused and sobered. “Oh, Leah, I so want you both to go. It would be absolutely perfect if all the kids could go too, but I know that’s impossible. Remember how the boys always played so well together? The best of friends. There are good reasons for having cousins about the same ages.” Her eyebrows rose. “You are going, aren’t you.” It was a statement, not a question.
“We’ll see.” Leah popped the basket in the microwave. “Fifteen seconds enough time?”
“That should do it.”
“I thought you said dinner was all ready?” Marcus called from the dining room.
“Coming.” Leah pulled the casserole from the oven and motioned Keira to bring the rolls.
The foursome was seated and grace had been said when the front door opened and Leah and Marcus’s daughter, Kirsten, blew in, shouting a good-bye over her shoulder. “Puppies, I should have waited. I thought you’d be done eating by now, so we stopped for a burger.”
“And hi to you too,” Leah greeted her teenage daughter.
As the youngest and only girl between the two families, her niece held a special place in Keira’s heart; she was more like a daughter, really. After her two sons were born, Keira lost two babies in the first trimester and she’d ended up needing a hysterectomy. She’d always dreamed of having a daughter. Although she now had her daughter-in-law, Laurie, she and Paul lived too far away to spend much time together. Sometimes life just wasn’t fair.
Tall, blond, and walking like the “princess” her father called her, Kirsten hugged each of those around the table. “Sure smells good in here.”
“Get yourself a place setting.”
“No, thanks. I’ll be back down for dessert. I’ve got a bunch of calls to return for the committee.” Kirsten was heading the decorations committee for her graduation ceremony in a week. “And then I have to prep for my finals. Aunt Keira, did you by any chance bring any cookies to keep my energy up while I study until the wee hours?”
Keira passed her plate to Marcus, who was serving from the pottery dish in front of him. “I’ll make sure you have plenty. I thought you were all ready?”
“I thought so too, but lately it’s been so crazy, my mind has holes in it. Need to plug up a few.”
“Thanks.” Keira smiled at her brother, then looked back to her niece. “You heard anything on that application yet?”
Kirsten looked to her mother, who shrugged. “Yes! I got it! The packet came today. The scholarship will cover tuition, books, and fees. I just have to pay for housing.” Her eyes sparkled. “I thought for sure Mom would have told you by now.”
“I’ve not seen her until ten minutes ago.” Leah winked at Keira. “And we had something else to discuss too.”
“You want to go to Norway with us?” Was that a slight flinch she saw on Bjorn’s face? Why would he do that?
“You are going? Oh, I’d love to, but…” Kirsten squinted to think better. “It’s the last three weeks of August, right?”
“Yes. Three whole weeks in Norway, the land of your forefathers.”
“And mothers,” Leah added.
“I have to be at school by then. Could you go any earlier?” Kirsten shook her head, setting her straight blond hair to swinging. “But even if you could, it won’t work. All my money has to go for school expenses.” She turned to her mother. “Are you and Dad going?”
Kirsten came around the table, draped her arms over her aunt and uncle, and kissed their cheeks. “You deserve a trip like that. I’ll go someday.” She headed for the stairway and called over her shoulder. “But take Mom and Dad with you.”
“Right. Then who’s going to help you get ready for school?” Leah raised her voice.
Kirsten called back from three-quarters of the way up the walnut staircase. “That’s what July is for.” Her laugh made those around the table smile.
“I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.” Keira smiled at her brother and her best friend. “If I ever had a daughter, I would want her to be just like Kirsten. What a kid.”
“If only she wouldn’t drive herself so hard. Going to end up in bed again the way she’s going.” Leah’s smile took the sting from her words. “But we’ll make it through.”
“And then she can sleep for as long as she needs.”
“Me too.” Leah sighed. “I wish.”
“As long as you’re looking for your birth certificate, maybe you can find mine.” Marcus took a roll from the basket and inhaled deeply. “Glad we only needed our baptismal certificates to get our driver’s licenses. Being fifteen sure was a long time ago.” He chuckled and inhaled again. “Ah, nothing smells as good as freshly baked rolls.” He looked toward his sister. “So, where will you start? I know you brought home all the papers from Mother’s desk and the file cabinet after her funeral. Where else might she have kept them?” His eyes widened. “You don’t suppose she put them away for safekeeping and…”
“And never found them again?” Keira finished his sentence. She nibbled her bottom lip. “Oh, I hope that’s not it. Please, Lord, let that not be so.” A chuckle skittered around the table. They all knew Dagmar Sorenson and her stash-and-store habits.
Bjorn set his knife precisely on the edge of his plate. “Well, all I have to say is that we all better be praying hard.” He smiled. “Otherwise, Keira, you’ll be spending all of your time researching to find out for sure if you were even born and you just might miss the passport deadline.”
“And I still need to get ready for the family reunion.” Keira groaned and huffed out a breath.
“Tomorrow we start looking,” Leah said with a firm nod. “Tomorrow morning at eight.”
Please, Lord, help me find it and quickly.
They were halfway out to the farm, just past the Munsford city limits sign, when Keira slowed to a stop on the side of the street. She heaved a sigh and turned to stare at her best friend. “I have to confess that I hate going out there now that Mother is gone. Bjorn took care of all the winterizing and he’s the one who’s been going out to check on the place. Maybe we ought to sell it or rent it or something. The house needs to be lived in; houses don’t do well at all when they’re left vacant.”
“Well, first we’ll have to clean it up, toss out all the stuff Dagmar kept saving, and label all of her ‘treasures.’ ” Using her years of nursing skills, Leah kept her tone even and matter of fact. “Then the sale has to be agreed upon by you and Marcus. I know the kids will go along with whatever you decide.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“About selling the house? I don’t know. Right now you need to find your and Marcus’s birth certificates, and I want the photographs for the memory book.” She raised a hand to stop Keira from answering. “I think we can leave any decision for a later time, like after the reunion.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Keira muttered under her breath. She put the car in gear and pulled back onto the street. Why she was so hesitant to visit the home place she had no idea—and no desire to search deep enough within herself to find an answer.
She parked in the driveway to the separate garage and stared at the square, two-story white house with the wraparound porch across the front and to the side toward the garage. White sheer curtains crossed in the upper windows, geraniums no longer graced the kitchen windows, and the drapes in the living room closed off the sunlight. The lilacs along the back fence were sprouting but not blooming yet, and traces of yellow remained of the forsythia that used the pump house for support. The oak trees wore the fuzz of a new season and the climbing Paul’s Scarlet rose stretched along the upper edge of the porch, the leaves and sprouting canes still more red than green. The barn swallows were dipping and catching flying insects along with building their mud nests under the eaves of the barn and the garage. Her father had always chased them away from the garage eaves, one more sign of change.
Keira got out of the car without paying much attention to the flora around her and automatically slid her car keys into the pocket of her jeans. How could this house appear so normal when normal would never come again? Someone had been out and weeded the flower bed that circled the house. Guilt stabbed in her heart region. Weeding the flower beds had been more delight than chore when she and her mother had done it together. Bjorn had even offered to help her weed, but she couldn’t force herself to come out and do it. Swallowing the pain and the tears that threatened, Keira pushed open the peaked picket gate and stopped at the fading daffodils that bordered the concrete walk. She should have picked a bouquet and put the flowers on her parents’ graves. Her mother had loved daffodils, a sure sign that spring had arrived. A path circled around to the front of the house and another led to the three stairs up to porch level. The door was locked. The door had never been locked in all the years her parents had lived in this house. She dug in her purse for the keys and finally handed them to Leah to open the door. Tears made inserting the key in the lock impossible.
“I thought I was done with this,” she whispered as they finally stepped inside the kitchen. She tried not to inhale the musty smell, the this-house-is-not-lived-in odor, but finally gave up, knowing she had to breathe.
“I’m not sure we are ever done with the tears of grieving. Sometimes they just get put on hold until such a time as this.” Leah set her purse on the white drop-leaf table in front of the window and turned to hug Keira. “She loved you very much.”
“And I her.”
“I know.” Ever practical, Leah crossed back and reopened the door. “We need to air this place out and let the sunshine in to freshen it up. Then you can show me where I might find the old pictures and I’ll let you search for those birth certificates. Then maybe we can spend an hour tossing, starting in the pantry. Have you thought of having a rummage sale?”
“No, but it might be a good idea.” Keira pulled a tissue out of the box on the counter, blew her nose, and poured herself a glass of water. “Ugh, the pipes are rusty.” She dumped the glass and let the faucet run until the water ran clear, refilled the glass, and drank it all down in one gulp.
“Where do you think the pictures are?”
“Hmm. Let’s start with the closet in Mother’s original bedroom.”
The two friends climbed the dark walnut stairs, which divided the living room in half, and entered the front bedroom on the right. “Remember the year we added a bathroom up here? Even though it took up such a large part of her bedroom, Dagmar was so happy to not have to go downstairs all the time.”
“And then we had to move her downstairs into the room behind the kitchen when she grew too weak to climb the stairs.” Keira shook her head at the memory. “And she sure fought that.” Walking over to the closet, which was stuffed with old clothes, round hatboxes, and stacks of cardboard boxes, she reached in and took out one of the boxes. She peeled back the tape and opened it. “I thought so.” She held up an album. “The last few years, Mother put a lot of her pictures into albums. I sure hope she labeled them. Here you go.” She was aware that Leah knew all this too, but for some reason she kept babbling.
Several times during the past few years, Dagmar had asked her and Marcus to come out and go through the pictures with her so she could identify the people in the photos for them, especially the older ones. But with two busy lives, they’d never taken the time to do this simple thing that would have made their mother so happy.
Lord, I want out of here. Please, can’t I just leave and not come back? Her common sense chided her. After all, it had been a year since Mother went home to the Lord. A whole year. Both the longest and the shortest year of her life. Remember Norway. Remember Norway.
“You sure you wouldn’t rather help me at first? Working together can sometimes beat the doldrums.” Leah turned from opening one of the double-sashed windows.
“No, I’ll start searching the rolltop desk again. Maybe I just missed the birth certificates before. Besides I need to locate some labels in case we find anything we think the family would like.” Keira blew out a breath and blinked away the tears. “I know I got all the business papers out of there but I didn’t have the heart to sort through all the correspondence Mother saved. I think she saved every card any of us ever sent her. If you find a box like that, just put it aside for me.”
“Will do.” Leah flipped through one of the albums and set it aside. “Too recent.” She paused. “You know the birth certificates could be in one of the envelopes.”
“I don’t think so. I remember flipping through them enough to see if there were any that were official looking.”
“Keep in mind, they may not be in anything official. They could be in a plain envelope or just loose. Once I go through the boxes, I’ll take the pictures off the walls, okay?”
“Whatever you need to do.” Keira made her way back down the stairs, trailing her hand along the rail worn silky smooth by all the years of use. Her father’s rolltop desk, inherited from his father, reigned in what they had come to call the television room. She had cleaned out the file drawers when working on the estate business, but had never attacked the cubbyholes and the upper drawers. The shallow center drawer held pens, pencils, stamps, and other odds and ends. She felt like finding a box and just dumping things into it and sorting them at home, but her fingers continued to shuffle through, discarding, saving, and bringing order to the clutter. The desk was to go to Marcus, as the remaining son. In the divided drawer that held cards and stationery she flipped through the envelopes to make sure there were no letters or official documents mixed in.
She paused and glanced at the ceiling when she heard a thump from the floor above. Should she go see if Leah was all right? Instead she raised her voice.
“You all right up there?”
“Yes, just dropped a box. All is well.”
Keira pulled a larger envelope from the stack she’d collected and sat down in the oak chair mounted on casters. The photograph inside needed to go in Leah’s pile. Her father, Kenneth Sorenson, smiled back at her. His dark hair had gone pearly white, including his eyebrows. Thick hair so like her own. People had always said she not only looked like her father but also had many of his mannerisms too, like the way his smile lit up his eyes or the way he’d cock his head slightly to the side when listening intently. Something he did so well was listening. He’d sit her on his knee and listen to her stories; always asking her questions, oftentimes questions that made her laugh. “Oh, Dad, hard as it was to lose Mother, your death so young was even harder to bear.” She shook her head. “Life’s just not fair.” Rolling her lips together did nothing to stem the drips from her eyes. She held the photograph away from her face so her tears wouldn’t mark it. Slipping it back in the envelope, she set it on Leah’s stack and wrote herself a sticky note. “Blow this one up and frame.”
“Help! I need more hands.”
Keira jerked herself back to the farmhouse. “Coming! Are you all right?” She charged up the stairs and burst into the bedroom just in time to catch the box that the tips of Leah’s outstretched fingers kept from crashing down.
“Oh, thank you. I didn’t really want that on my head or on the floor either.”
“You ever think of a step stool?” Keira lowered the heavy box to the floor.
Leah threw her best friend a grin, turned back to the box, and paused before sending a questioning look over her shoulder. “Okay, what happened?”
“Nothing. We kept the box from killing or at least maiming you.” Keira glanced around at the open boxes scattered on every flat surface in the room, including the floor. “My word, but you’ve been busy.”
“If you say so.” Leah turned her head slightly to the side, narrowed eyes studying her accomplice in sorting. “What did you find?”
“A picture of Dad, one of the last ones taken before he died. The memories about drowned me.” She sniffed and dug out a tissue to blow her nose. “Anything else you want taken down?”
“Just that box on the back of the shelf, and that’s the last of it for this room. Your mom must have the older pictures stashed somewhere else.” She pointed to the boxes. “I’ve been labeling them with a marker so we know the time periods of each box. Your mother did a good job of putting a year or so of them in each box. She sure loved photographs.”
Keira glanced around the room again. “I thought for sure all the pictures were in here. Have you looked anywhere else yet?”
“Just here. What kinds of things did she keep up in the attic?”
Keira stared at her friend. “I don’t know if she stored anything up there. After Dad… Dad put in the pull-down stairway, at her insistence, I don’t remember her ever mentioning it again. Funny. I mean a strange kind of funny, don’t you think?” So why had her mother been so insistent about the ladder? “I’ll check the closet in the sewing room while you go look in Marcus’s old room.”
“Should I put all of this away first?” She waved her hand at the cardboard boxes strewn around the room.
“Why? No one else will come out here to help unless we do some real arm twisting.”
“Or hint at buried treasure,” Leah replied.
The two crossed the hall, each going to a different door and pushing it open. Keira entered her favorite room in the house. It used to be her bedroom, but after she was married, Mother had painted the walls sunburst yellow and stained the old wood floor a dark cinnamon. A sewing cabinet sat in front of one of the double-hung windows with a view of the garden and the barn beyond it.
Blindsided by memories, Keira felt an ache begin behind her eyes and sank down in the armless rocker in front of the corner window.
“I didn’t find any more pictures.” Leah paused in the doorway. “Are you all right?”
Keira shook her head. “Just a headache, I think.”
Leah crossed the room and laid the back of her hand against Keira’s forehead. “You sure? You never get headaches. Anything else?”
“You feel up to doing more here?”
“Of course.” Keira heaved herself to her feet, wishing the rocker had arms to propel her upward. She turned to the row of louvered bi-fold doors and pushed them open. Boxes and plastic crates lined the shelves, each one labeled RED, GREEN, YELLOW, NEUTRAL, and so on; all of the quilting fabrics categorized by color to make piecing easier. One shelf held batting, another held quilting books, while a box of patterns sat on another. Her mother loved quilting, piecing many tops for the church women to make quilts for the less fortunate. Each of her children and grandchildren had a quilt from Dagmar, all with memories sewn into them.
Keira knelt in front of the daybed and pulled out the tray on rollers that filled the place that used to house the trundle bed. Her mother and father had given her that bed when she was ten and wanted to have girlfriends spend the night. Four girls had a slumber party to celebrate the new bed and giggled the night away. Yarns of all colors, styles, and weights filled the tray. One section held three-ply yarn in soft pastels for baby afghans. “How many babies around here have slept under afghans Mother knitted or crocheted for them?”
“No idea, but lots.” Leah turned from inspecting the shelves of boxes on the other wall. “No pictures here.”
“I know. What did you find in Marcus’s old closet?”
“Old woolen coats, suits, and stuff like that. Not sure what they’re used for.”
“For rugs. Remember how Mother rolled strips for braiding rugs even when her fingers were so weak she could no longer braid them? I wonder who might want it all now.”
“Not me. I have enough projects for the next ten years.” Leah shook her head. “You’re looking like the proverbial ghost.”
“I think I have a marching band in my head.” Keira shoved the tray back in place and stood. The change in altitude made her flinch.
“You take anything for the headache?” They often teased Leah about kicking into nurse mode. She had worked two or three nights a week at a local convalescent center for years.
“I’ll be right back.”
Keira followed her friend down the stairs. There was no other place to look for photographs upstairs, so she’d best try the closets below.
“Here.” Leah handed her a couple of tablets and a glass of water. “This might help.”
“Thanks.” The cold water felt good on her desert-dry throat but hit her stomach, making it groan.
“Why don’t we head home? I can come back to search for the pictures later.”
“Let’s check down here first.” But none of the boxes on the shelves or closet floors on the main floor contained pictures or photo albums, so they put the boxes all back and closed them up. “The attic. They’ve got to be in the attic.” Keira closed her eyes. The marching now included drums. Might this be what a migraine was like? She’d never had one, but she’d never felt quite like this before either.
“Let me drive you home. I don’t like the looks of you at all.”
Sometimes having a medical professional in the family was helpful. At the moment Keira didn’t want to drive either. What might be more advantageous, bed, hot bath, or hit the kitchen? Her stomach lurched and twisted. She picked up her purse and handed her keys to Leah. “Be my guest.”
Once in the car, Keira tipped her head back and closed her eyes. But the words flashing in neon on the backs of her eyes made her groan. Birth certificate. Where’s my birth certificate? Why was she getting in such a stew about this? After all, this was the first real day of searching. Surely that picture of her father had not brought this headache on.
“I’ll send Marcus over with a plate for Bjorn. He’s bringing take-out home tonight.”
“We have plenty of leftovers in the fridge.”
“And I know how much he likes fixing his own supper. You want anything?”
“No, but thanks.”
“If there is anything I can do, you would tell me?”
“Of course.” With the car now parked in front of the Johnstons’ garage, both women climbed out. Leah handed Keira’s keys back and then gathered the bags of pictures she had found. “Call me.”
“Will do.” Instead of going through the garage, Keira crossed the grass that needed mowing to the wide concrete steps. The steps were edged with pots of tulips, just showing their brilliant red coloring but still tightly clenched. Usually Keira stopped to admire her flowers, but today she marched right on into the house, purposely ignoring the yellow pansies so similar to those Mother had always planted at the farmhouse. Upstairs, she stopped by the bathroom to start the water flowing in the bathtub before continuing to her closet to get undressed. She eyed the bed. Maybe sleep was the answer to this agony in her head. No, a bath was necessary after working in the dust all day. Dithering like this was not like her either. What was going on? Sorting through her mother’s things should not bring on something like this.
After dumping her clothes in a pile, as if she were walking in her sleep, Keira entered the now steaming bathroom, turned off the water, and slid into the warmth. She pushed the button for the jets and stared at the rising bubbles. Settling a rolled towel behind her neck, she closed her eyes. Surely she would feel better in a while.
Finished with her last class of the day, Kirsten followed the river of students back to her locker and leaned her head against the shelf inside. Tired didn’t begin to describe how she felt, and if her stomach didn’t calm down pretty soon… Maybe something worse was wrong, like an ulcer or something. Her mother would insist she see the doctor any day now, but she didn’t have time to be sick.
She sensed his presence before he said a word.
José Flores, her best friend and confidant, and also the love of her life, laid a hand on her shoulder. “You all right?”
“I will be.”
“You want to go for ice cream or get something to eat before I take you home?”
“Aren’t you working?”
“Later. I have a couple of hours before my shift.”
“Oh, that sounds perfect. We have a meeting about the graduation decorations, but it’s not until five. Just the two of us?” Lockers banged closed around them and people called out to each other. Just the typical end of a school day, but for the seniors, the true end was coming as fast as the finish line of a NASCAR race.
“Unless you want to invite someone else. I’d rather it just be us.”
José always considered her wishes, but still she knew what he really wanted. “Good. I don’t feel like a group right now.”
“Call me when you get home,” Lindsey said from right behind her. “Or are you walking?” Lindsey Weaver had been her best female friend since before kindergarten.
“I will. José and I have an errand to run.”
Kirsten answered other greetings as she pulled papers and books out of her locker and stuffed them all in her backpack. Cleaning out her locker wasn’t a disaster, like it was for some of the students. She never could tolerate a mess and had often been teased about her compulsion for neatness. She dug a lip gloss out of the pocket where she kept her makeup, applied it, and rubbed her lips together. Seeing his face in the mirror, she caught José’s gaze. “What?”
“I just like to watch you do that.”
“Right.” She checked her face and hair in the mirror, decided she was presentable, and shut the door with a click, not slamming it like others did. “Let’s go. I feel better already.” They strolled out to the car hand in hand, the top of her head a little higher than his shoulder. Tall as she was, she was grateful he was taller. She liked looking up to him in many ways, not just in stature. He opened the car door for her, something that most guys didn’t do for their girlfriends. His grandmother had taught him good manners, one of those things her parents appreciated too. No honking the horn and waiting for her in the car. He always came to the door and rang the bell.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked after buckling his seat belt.
“The drive-in. I want a chocolate shake, and they make the best.” She leaned her head against the back of the seat. “Finals start in two more days.”
“You’re not worried, are you?” He backed out of his parking place and drove out onto the street. “You’re sure you wouldn’t rather go to a sit-down restaurant?”
“Nope. And by the way, I’m buying.” She raised her hand, palm out. “Don’t argue with me. I’ve been letting you buy lately and I know you don’t have extra money either. I’ve got my allowance. Been too busy to spend it.”
“But I’m the one with a job.” His brow wrinkled.
“Oh, for puppies’ sake, don’t go pulling macho on me. I know you have a job and I’ll have one soon. So just order what you want and let me feel useful.”
“Puppies’ sake?” He tried to keep a straight face. “Puppies’ sake?” And failed.
That was one of the things she liked to do, make him laugh. José Flores had the most wonderful male laugh in all of Munsford. She giggled along with him. It worked and got him to quit harping on letting her pay. After all, they had agreed to be partners, and partners shared expenses.
When her milkshake came, she drew in a long swallow. Uh-oh, big mistake. “Oh ugh, brain freeze.” She rubbed her forehead and sinuses.
“Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, it’ll stop.”
She gave him a funny look but did as he said without arguing. “Hey, it worked. Where did you learn that?”
“Read it online.” He sipped his own shake, being careful not to do the same thing.
When they stopped in her driveway, she unbuckled and turned to face him. “You are coming in, aren’t you?”
He checked his watch. “Not for long. I need to go home and change.” He climbed out and came around the car, where she waited.
She swallowed. The milkshake was not sitting well in her stomach. “You’re at the grocery store tonight?” He often filled in for the courtesy clerks at the grocery store, always in the hope that he would get hired on full time for the summer. Once graduation was over he would also be lifeguarding at the pool. They probably wouldn’t see a lot of each other this summer.
“What’s the matter?”
She couldn’t tell him she felt like throwing up, but closing her eyes and letting her head fall forward helped.
“Are you all right?”
“I will be.” Sucking in and holding a couple of deep breaths helped too. Surely it couldn’t be anything else. Her stomach was just touchy. But what if…?
“Kirsten.” He crouched beside the car. “Tell me.”
“I said it’s nothing, but I’m… I’m just PMSing and it’s making me feel icky.”
“I feel lots better. The milkshake upset my stomach, I think.” Please God, let it be so.
He reached for her backpack at her feet, his face concerned.
“All will be well, José, my grandma always said so.” She climbed out and kissed him on the chin. “You’ll see.”
She’s never sick, and this came on so suddenly.
Leah swung the plastic bags of pictures she’d found. Her mind continued to dig into the quandary. Keira hadn’t wanted to go out to the home place but she was fine, at least it seemed so at first. A few tears, but that was to be expected. Losing her mother had been hard on her, especially the long fight against cancer. Dagmar Sorenson had indeed been a strong woman, but in spite of the prayers of so many people, the cancer had won.
Like so many medical professionals, Leah had to fight against taking death personally. They had done all they could and had prayed that God would do the final healing. He had, just not the way they all wanted. She’d loved Dagmar too, something that was not hard to do. None of the typical joking comments fit her as either a mother or a mother-in-law. Leah pushed open the wrought-iron gate and took the steps to her house in a rush. So much to do in spite of not having to cook supper. Since Kirsten wouldn’t be home until later, she could work for a couple of hours on the counted cross-stitch sampler she’d started for her daughter’s high school graduation present. It included a favorite Bible verse, date, and place, all surrounded by pansies, Kirsten’s favorite flower.
Humming, she strolled through the entry and turned into the south-facing room that had at one time been a bedroom but now had morphed into her hideaway, complete with sign above the door that read LEAH’S LAIR. She put the sacks of pictures on the table where she had the memory book in progress spread out and stared down at one of the pictures she’d been working with: the day Curt, their older son, had been baptized. She and Marcus looked so young and they’d thought they were so mature. She stared at her husband’s face, that look of pride and awe and maybe even a bit of fear. After all, they’d promised to rear their baby in the love and fear of the Lord and teach him to follow God’s will. Looking back, they’d lived up to their promises of that day, although the way had not been easy. Curt was now in his first year of seminary. Maybe she should enlarge this print and give it to him framed for his future office.
Turning on the stereo, she settled into her chair, clicked on the floor lamp, and picked up her stitchery. The needle flashing in and out was as mesmerizing as the piano playing her favorite classics. She knew better than to dwell on Keira and the other worries, like how Kirsten had been feeling the effects of graduation stresses and how Marcus was still finding it difficult to counsel people suffering from cancer.
“You must be home, the music is on,” Marcus called from the kitchen.
“I didn’t hear you come in. I’m stitching.”
“Be there in a minute.”
She thought of getting up to go greet him, but opted instead to put a few more stitches in the remaining two-toned purple pansy. She loved the homecoming time of day with the lowering sun’s rays slanting in through the window, sitting in her comfortable chair and working on her favorite—or rather one of her favorite—hobbies. As much as she loved sharing supper with Keira and Bjorn, having just her and Marcus alone together tonight was a special treat. She reminded herself to mark this on the calendar, a gift from God to rejoice over.
“Now this looks like a bit of heaven.” Marcus crossed the room and dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
She reached up and patted his cheek. “Feels like it too.”
“You want to eat in here?”
“Why yes, what a great idea. You want me to help set up?”
“No, stay where you are. I’ll bring in one of those craft tables.”
“How come I was so smart?”
He turned from heading out the door. “How so?”
“I married you.”
“I thought that was supposed to be my line.” He winked at her and continued on his way. Once Marcus started something, he carried through, the sooner the better.
So what had happened with Keira? Pondering this didn’t slow down her stitching. And pondering wasn’t really worrying, only thinking about an issue. Right? She switched needles for the next color. On a project like the one on her frame she kept extra needles, each threaded with a different color, to speed up the process. She moved the marking magnet down on the pattern on the metal stand and started stitching again, slanted lines marching across the fourteen-count cloth.
“Oh my, but that smells good.” She smiled at her husband as he set up the table and placed the sack of carry-out food on it.
“I know. It was all I could do to keep my fingers out of it in the car.” He opened the containers and set paper plates on each side. “What do you want to drink?”
Leah shrugged. “Nothing for right now, let’s just eat.”
Marcus pulled up a wingback chair and settled into it with a sigh.
“Somewhat. Let’s say grace and I’ll tell you about it.” He bowed his head and exhaled a deep breath. “Lord God, thank you for this food and our time together. I thank you that you are always beside and in us and you have a plan for all the craziness I see going on around me. Thank you that you promise wisdom and insight. In your son’s precious name, Jesus, amen.”
They each helped themselves to the chicken and sides and dug in. After a few bites, Marcus wiped his mouth and fingers. “How come we don’t do this more often?” He reached for the drumstick on his plate.
“We used to.”
“I know.” He paused. “So what happened with Keira and Bjorn? You said they’d be joining us tonight.”
“Keira got sick out at the home place. It started with a headache, and then her stomach got queasy. Came on so suddenly, but then you know how she treats symptoms, says they’ll go away if you ignore them.”
“So what happened?”
“She couldn’t ignore how bad she felt, so I drove us home. She’s either soaking it out in the tub or sleeping it off in bed. I said we’d take a plate over to Bjorn.” She peered into the bucket of chicken. “I see you brought lots.”
“Leftovers for lunch.”
“So how did your day go?”
“Mrs. Updahl asked me to come to the hospital and pray for her husband.”
“Yes, although it seems they might have gotten it in time.”
“And you went?”
“Of course. But it felt like my prayers didn’t even make it to the ceiling. I was just saying the words.” He looked from his plate to his wife. “I know God always hears and I know faith doesn’t depend on feelings, but…”
“But you prayed for your mother fervently and for such a long time and she still died.”
He nodded as he tipped his head back. “The enemy would have me think I failed.”
“Oh, Marcus, you didn’t fail. You were obedient and faithful. What more can you be?”
“My faith wasn’t strong enough.”
“Or God just saw things differently. Your mother was so ready to go home.”
“Of course. After the long fight she put up, she was exhausted.”
“All the way through, she said, ‘God’s will be done.’ I don’t think her faith ever wavered. Dagmar absolutely trusted God to do the best. Remember her saying, ‘I don’t like the way they are running things here in my country anyway. I’d rather go home where sanity and love reign. Where all will be well.’ I remember laughing at the time, because it was so like her. And she got her wish.”
“But God let her suffer so terribly.”
Leah blinked back the tears and left her seat to kneel beside her husband’s knees. “I don’t have any answers for that, either. I don’t know why, but I sure want to be like her, a warrior to the end. What an example of a daughter of the king.”
“You sound more like a pastor than I do.” He laid his hand gently on the back of her neck. “What would I ever do without you?”
She turned her head to kiss his wrist. “I wonder the same. You remember that song we heard? The one that goes, ‘How will I stand heaven till you get there?’ That’s us.”
“I fight tears every time I hear it.” He blew out a breath. “Thank you.”
She laid her cheek on his thigh, the soft khaki fabric over a sportsman’s muscles. Lord God, keep him safe and remind him again how much you love him. He loved his mother so very much, and we still miss her every day. “Being out at the farm is still hard. Are we sure we want to do the reunion out there this year?”
“I think we should. Better to get it over with than dread it for the future. Besides, we need to make some decisions about the place and I’d like everyone’s input. I think Keira feels the same.”
“I suppose so. We couldn’t find the boxes of early pictures. You think Dagmar might have put them up in the attic?”
“Perhaps. I have some phone calls I need to make, so could you fix up a plate for Bjorn and I’ll take it over?”
“Of course.” Leah rose and started putting lids back on the containers. “The mail is on your desk. Bjorn’s plate will be ready in a couple of minutes.”
“Just pack it all back in the sack and I’ll take the whole thing.”
Food in hand, she headed for the kitchen where she divided up the food and put containers of everything back in the plastic bag and others in the fridge. Taking a pad of leaf-shaped sticky notes, she wrote. “Hi, Bjorn. No idea what bug got your wife, but here is supper. Call me if there is any news. We love you. L and M.”
Leah cleared off the counter and returned to her stitching. Kirsten had said she’d be home around seven, so she had maybe an hour left. She had a bag ready for hiding the sampler and a decoy piece out to help keep the secret should her daughter walk into the room unexpectedly. As she stitched, one ear kept track of Marcus. He was still on the phone. As soon as he hung up, now wearing running clothes, he breezed by her, blew her a kiss, and exited out through the kitchen. Perhaps Bjorn would run with him, something they used to do together a lot, but too often now Bjorn would rather ride his bicycle. Said his knees were happier that way, ever since he passed the fifty mark.
Her cell phone rang. She clicked on. “You’re not even out of the driveway yet.”
“I know. What time is Kirsten supposed to get home?”
“She said seven.”
“Okay, I should be back by then.”
They clicked off and she sat staring at the flat black face. How about that? An evening with no meetings for anyone. How could she stand it? She shook her head at her slight sarcasm and returned to stitching.
Sometime later, when Leah heard a car pull in the driveway, she tucked the sampler down in the bag and picked up the small piece she was doing just to have a quick gift on hand. The garage door opened and closed, and after a few minutes the kitchen door did the same.
“Mom, you here?” Kirsten called.
“In my lair. Have you eaten?” When no answer came back, Leah put her stitchery down and went looking for her daughter. At five-nine and all bone and muscle, Kirsten took after Marcus’s side of the family. She stood staring into the open refrigerator, her long blond hair twisted and caught up in a plastic clip.
“Have you eaten?”
“Not really, I had a milkshake. Nothing sounds good.”
“Did you and Keira catch the same bug? She got sick this afternoon too.”
“I’m not sick and I don’t have a bug.” She shut the door with a bit more force than necessary and went to the cupboard to get a glass so she could pour herself some cold water from the spigot on the refrigerator door.
Leah studied her daughter. The teen had lost weight in these last weeks of being overly stressed out about finals and graduation. While Kirsten kept saying everything would be all right once the ceremony was over, something made Leah think it was more than that. Had perfection become an obsession with her daughter? She was sure she’d heard Kirsten throwing up the other night. The girl had not done that for a long, long time. Leah often wondered how she and Marcus, with help from their two older sons, had managed to rear their youngest without spoiling her beyond belief. Besides doing so well in school, Kirsten and José were devout Christians and planning to go on a missions trip to Mexico this summer. Like her mother, Kirsten felt a deep need to help people.
Leah let her thoughts roam. With their number two son in his junior year of college, promising to help Curt out with his seminary expenses, and now Kirsten talking about joining José in med school after college, Leah figured she might be forced to work full time to help pay all the college expenses.
Excerpted from Reunion by Lauraine Snelling Copyright © 2012 by Lauraine Snelling. Excerpted by permission.
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