When You Believeby Deborah Bedford
Lydia Porter has waited a long time to be happy. She loves everything about being a school counselor at Shadrach High School, and she loves everything about teacher Charlie Stains, her new
Award-winning author Deborah Bedford tells the story of a young couple in love, a troubled teenage girl, and a confession that will rock one small community to the core.
Lydia Porter has waited a long time to be happy. She loves everything about being a school counselor at Shadrach High School, and she loves everything about teacher Charlie Stains, her new fiancé. So when one of her students confides that she's been sexually abused by a teacher and is terrified of what he'll do if she tells, Lydia is devastated: the student claims the abuser is Charlie. Now Lydia is legally bound to report the girl's charges. What happens next will test her love, her resolve to uncover the truth, and her belief in the power of faith to comfort, redeem, and heal.
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When You Believe
By Deborah Bedford
Warner FaithCopyright © 2003 Deborah Bedford
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe afternoon started like any other afternoon. The first Tuesday of October was a solid, bright school day and, outside on the school steps, the sun fell across everyone's arms like a warm shawl. The glare on Lydia's desk had veered to the left along the windowsill. She knew it was after two p.m., yes, because the shadows of the sumac stalks outside all bent toward the east.
Lydia Porter had been in her cubicle at Shadrach High School ever since the second lunch bell. She still had three months to work on this Missouri standards-test schedule, and it would take her that long to figure it out. If the juniors and seniors tested upstairs, she'd been thinking, the sophomores could take over B-hall downstairs. But that would leave a quarter of this year's freshmen wandering around A-hall after third period with nothing to do.
Her biggest challenge every year, this test schedule. She propped her chin in her palm and stared at her notes. That's when the timid tap-tap-tapping began at the counseling office door.
The door opened five inches and a teenager's head appeared in the crack. Amazing how the young ladies always acted so hesitant, when the boys just burst in.
A little wave, an uncertain smile. "Miss P?"
"Hey, Shelby. How are you?"
For the moment, the teenager left the door open behind her. Halls that in nine minutes would be coursing with students-friends shouting, conversation rising- stood empty. Rows of beige metal lockers waited, closed. Except for the hum of incandescent lights in the ceiling and the far, muted voice of someone's emphatic lecture in a classroom, the building was quiet.
"I'm ... I'm okay. Well, I guess."
Lydia's chair rolled over the plastic floor mat with a welcoming clatter. "So, how's that leg?"
Shelby had gotten hurt tripping up the goalie from Osceola in the third game of the season. Since then, everybody had teased her about how, for a gentle and sweet girl, she'd been getting downright mean on the soccer field.
"It's getting better."
"Yeah." A pause, while they studied each other. "Miss P? You got a minute?"
"Sure I do. Come on in. What's up?"
"I was hoping ... maybe ... we could talk."
"I'd love to."
In Shelby came, her messy bun sprouting from her crown like a rhododendron and her sunglasses perched high atop her head. She pulled up a chair, adjusted her tiny skirt, and sat. She stayed a good minute with her knees together and her feet splayed apart, her clog-toes tapping the ground.
She fiddled with the engraved nameplate on Lydia's desk that read, "Miss Porter. School-to-Careers Counselor."
"So," Lydia asked in a light voice, slapping her legs with her hands, settling in. "You been thinking about colleges lately?"
"No, not really."
Shelby Tatum was one of Lydia's favorites. She was one of those lucky kids whose mother showed up at every parent/teacher conference, giving proof to their favorite dictum in this office: the parents who showed up at teacher's conferences were seldom the parents who needed to. Recently, Shelby's grandfather had sold an old house down in Barry County and her parents had let him build a guesthouse on their property. Such a blessing; most kids never even got to know their grandfathers. And Shelby's stepdad parked himself on the sidelines of every soccer game, roaring his approval of her team. Every week he'd be there with his golf umbrella, a folding chair, and a dilapidated briefcase as wide as a corn-fed piglet, filled with documents from Place-Perfect Missouri Real Estate, where he worked.
So college wasn't the right button to push. Well, she was only a sophomore. Lydia probed a little further. "Your classes coming along okay?"
"Yeah," the girl said. "Okay."
Over the past year Shelby had sealed Lydia's admiration by launching into those loose, comfortable conversations in the hall. Not the way adults launched into them, mind you, but the way only a sixteen-year-old would do it: stony silent if you dared ask questions, burbling torrents of information when you least expected it.
That's why it seemed odd today, after the door shut quietly behind them, that Shelby didn't have anything to say.
Lydia's pointed questions, Shelby's short, vague answers, fizzled into silence.
A heavy breath lifted Shelby's breastbone and set it down again. Her eyes had taken on an unfathomable hue, a darkness that made Lydia lean forward.
No, I can see. It's more troubling than school stuff.
She waited for Shelby to volunteer something. She knew she had to be willing to wait. This girl who normally gestured largely to her friends in the hallway, who slumped against her locker chattering on her cell phone, now sat with her chin against her collarbone, a twist of hair fallen from her bun, hiding her face. As she studied her, Lydia noticed the swollen eyes, the smudges beneath them as dark as slashes of purple lipstick. She had never seen Shelby this distressed.
Lydia felt a draw toward the girl so strong and natural that it might have been a tide in the ocean or the pull of the moon. She cared so much about all of them, especially the discomfited ones-the ones who had pushed boundaries a little too hard, the ones broken and flailing out against people, who didn't understand how worthy they were.
A sense of warm purpose welled in her bosom.
How she longed to touch these kids with her heart, to share with them real tools for living instead of the slick pages of college catalogs.
It's the future you see in this place, never the present, Lydia thought. Never the present, until a worried student comes walking in the door.
Now that Lydia thought about it, she remembered Amy Mera mentioning that Shelby, usually a stellar student, had missed homework in history. She hadn't finished a French II assignment, either.
So she asked, "You've been having trouble keeping up in class?"
Besides soccer, Shelby sang in honor choir, had been picked to be on the mock trial team, and came early for meetings of the student council. And, as everyone knew, the good kids could get way too busy.
Shelby had kept her backpack slung by one strap over her shoulder. Now, she let it slip to the floor between her legs. "If I had problems in one of my classes," she asked as she replaced Lydia's nameplate on the desk and reached for a paperclip instead, "could you help me?"
"Of course I could. We could get you into a study hall fifth period. We could find you a tutor for French II if you needed it."
"That's all it would take to get you to help me with something, Miss P? To tell you about it?"
"I want to tell you about it," Shelby said, "because you're the only one I can talk to."
Lydia nodded, waited.
"You're the only one who's really listened to me for a long time."
Lydia waited some more.
"Well." Shelby's fingernails, painted a Glamour-magazine buff, had been chewed on. With them, she bent the paperclip into the shape of an elongated S and dropped it on the desktop. "Really, it's nothing."
"It is that, then? Do you need a tutor?"
They listened to each other breathing for a while.
"No, it isn't that, either."
Another dead end. Well, Lydia knew how to find her way around dead ends. She began to try a little harder. "Things okay with your peers? Everything okay between you and your friends?"
"Yeah." The girl cocked her head. "Everything's fine."
"So, everything okay at home?"
At that moment the door burst open and in barreled three uninvited boys. "Hey, Miss P," Tommy Ballard announced as the door hit the wall. "My mom said I was supposed to stop by here and pick up something."
"Don't remember what it was, though."
Lydia resented the interruption, but tried to sound reasonable. "Are you going to be out? Homework, maybe?"
"No. Something else."
"You know the rules around here, don't you? When you come into this office, you're supposed to knock. We were talking."
"Oh." Lydia saw Tommy glance with interest at Shelby. "Sorry."
Shelby surveyed the weave of the industrial carpet beside her left clog as if it were the most intriguing pattern she'd ever laid eyes on. She looked like she wanted to disappear into thin air.
"What are you doing in here, Shelb?"
"None of your business, Ballard."
"Oh." He snapped his fingers. "I know what I needed. Is this where we get those SAT sign-up things?"
In the same way they'd burst in with no regard, the boys overzealously helped themselves to what they needed. They started out before Lydia finished. "And this is the book of sample questions on the test," she called as she held out another pamphlet. "You boys knock next time."
Tommy seized the booklet from her hand, rolled it inside his palm, and smacked the doorjamb with it. "See you, Shelb." He led his tribe of friends out the door.
Wordlessly, they watched Tommy Ballard go. Lydia readjusted herself, settled in the chair. Shelby played with a buckle on her backpack.
Lydia tried again after the silence seemed like it had gone on forever. "You didn't answer my question, Shelby. Is everything okay at home?"
Shelby tossed her head so one strand of unrestrained hair flew back against her shoulder and then fell forward again. Her shoulders slumped against the back of the chair. Lydia saw her slight hesitation. The girl's lips parted as if she wanted to say something. Then they shut again.
Shelby grappled on the floor for her backpack. "I've got to go."
Lydia couldn't lose her now. If she did, Shelby might be gone completely. She might disappear into the river of students that coursed toward their next classes when the bell rang.
With a sinking heart, she tacked a different direction, broaching the subject the way someone would check a tender bruise. "You're frightened. I can tell that much."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you want to run away."
"I-I can't do this."
"But you're here. You came because you wanted to talk."
The girl rose, upsetting the nameplate on the desk. "I said I've got to go."
"Shelby." Lydia reached for her arm and grabbed her, but didn't rise. To rise would have meant concession, and she wouldn't do that.
"It doesn't matter."
"I can't do it."
Lydia searched her mind for something, anything, that might change the girl's decision to leave. "Don't let Tommy Ballard mess this up."
They stared each other down. At last, Shelby plopped back into the chair and dropped her backpack again.
"Okay," Lydia said. "Let's start over."
Outside the counseling-office window, a sprinkler kicked out its traveling arc of water over grass that looked as shorn and sun cured as a drill sergeant's haircut. The letter board proclaimed in four-inch red-and-blue capitals GO FIRE-RATTLERS! 1999 MISSOURI STATE CLASS 2A CHAMPS.
Underneath, smaller type declared Homecoming Dance, Oct. 10, A Night To Remember.
"It's hard, you know."
"Whatever it is that's happened, Shelby, there's probably a way to make it
"Sometimes there's things that are just ... impossible to tell."
Folks in St. Clair County, Missouri, liked to say that Lydia Porter had once had a gift. When she'd been a little girl, she'd been able to take her father's hand, lead him into the hill country, and find deer hunters who had lost their way. They'd written up a story about her in the weekly Shadrach Democrat Reflex when she'd been ten and her father had brought her here to visit her Uncle Cy- the year Eddy Sandlin had turned up missing during Cub Scout Troup 517's day hike.
She'd helped find him sitting on a beaver dam in Yesterday Creek, snagging driftwood with his feet.
They said she did it by listening to the trees. They said she walked along through the forest at the edge of town, guiding her way through the dusk, touching the heels of her palms against the shaggy, rough bark of the hickory and the smooth, overlapping blue-gray mottles of the sycamore, listening. Letting something bigger than herself guide her, thinking maybe it could be the Lord who whispered to her. For a long time, she'd been willing to hear Him with an innocent child's ears.
They said she heard things that grownups wouldn't let themselves hear anymore.
But that sort of thing hadn't happened to Lydia Porter in a very long time. Except for the yellowed newspaper clipping her mother kept pressed in the family scrapbook between faded Polaroids of Border collie pups and her first communion, Lydia could hardly even remember.
Lydia had learned to rely on other things now. She relied on asking the right questions.
And so she kept asking questions now. "If there isn't something wrong at home, is it anything to do with the boys?"
A bloom of color burned Shelby's cheeks. Lydia knew she was on to something. She tried to see into the girl's downcast eyes. "Is that it? Boys?"
The girl clenched her fist in her lap. "No." Then she unclenched it again. "Maybe." Tears glossed her waxy lashes. One escaped and ran down, leaving behind a track of eyeliner. "I keep thinking maybe it's something I've done. Maybe it's something I've said to him to make him think-"
Lydia watched Shelby try to focus her attention anywhere but on a counselor's face. She watched her stare at the square letters on the sign beside the desk that read LACK OF PLANNING ON YOUR PART DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY ON MY PART. She watched her play with the tiny gold promise ring on her left hand, with its almost-invisible diamond chip. She watched her snuffle and wipe her nose on the back of her wrist.
"Well," Shelby said at last, "you know there's Sam Leavitt." In distress, she stopped and began to wiggle the ring back and forth until the tiny stone captured a prism of sunlight from the window. The reflection moved like a flitting bug against the wall.
"You want to finish that sentence?"
"I'm in family science this semester, you know."
"W-we talked about abstinence, how it was the best thing to do to keep your body healthy, to be pure. We talked about signing a contract."
A tear fell onto Shelby's hands. Another onto her jeans. Then another, leaving wet splotches on her denim the size of nickels.
"See, I told you there wasn't anything anybody could do."
"That contract makes you uncomfortable?"
"I c-can't sign something like that. Not after what's-" The girl tucked her elbows hard against her ribcage and moaned. "Sam wouldn't ever want somebody like m-me."
Instinctively, Lydia moved toward her. She was caught off guard by the flare of terror in Shelby's eyes. Shelby tucked up her body to protect herself, warding Lydia off with her hands. Lydia was stunned. Hastily, she withdrew to the other side of the desk. "You can't think that about yourself. Why would you?"
Their eyes met.
Excerpted from When You Believe by Deborah Bedford Copyright © 2003 by Deborah Bedford
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Deborah Bedford is a career fiction writer who began her professional life as a journalist in a Colorado mountain town. Deborah and her husband, Jack, have two children and live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
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The author pulls you in from the beginning. Great turn of events one you can't put down. Great message the author presents to the reader!