Read an Excerpt
Who is My Shelter? Book 4
A Yada Yada House of Hope Novel
By Neta Jackson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Neta Jackson
All rights reserved.
The Good Shepherd painted on the wall of the Manna House Women's Shelter seemed to hover over the crowd in the multipurpose room, as if the babble of street talk, Jamaican patois, and bits of Spanish swirling around me was an extension of the motley herd of sheep in the mural itself.
Standing in front of the mural holding a plastic cup of red, watery punch, I savored the unusual painting once more. The pictures of the biblical Good Shepherd I'd seen as a kid always had a flock of clean, white, woolly sheep looking up at the shepherd adoringly. But the sheep on the wall were all different shades of white, black, brown, and tan, some with scraggly, dirty wool, some scrawny and hungry looking, others with bloody or bandaged wounds. But the thing about the mural that never failed to grab me was the Shepherd's face as He coaxed the bedraggled sheep into the pen where they would be safe and warm.
A look of sheer love.
I dabbed at my eyes with a wadded-up tissue. How I wished my mother—Martha Shepherd—could see this beautiful mural and be here for the dedication of the room that had been named after her: Shepherd's Fold.
"Gabby Fairbanks! You blubbering again, girl? Here." Precious McGill, on-again, off-again resident of Manna House, took the plastic cup out of my hand and replaced it with a mug of steaming coffee. "You need somethin' stronger than Hawaiian Punch to prop you up today. I know, I know, we all feelin' sad that Gramma Shep be gone. But it's all good. It's all good."
I took a swallow of the hot liquid. "Mmm. Good coffee. And just enough cream. Thanks."
The thirty-year-old single mom—soon to become a grandmother herself—craned her neck, checking out the crowd. "So where's this famous artist we s'posed to meet today? Ain't he gonna show up for the dedication? I thought that's what today was all about."
I took the arm of my friend and turned away from the mural. "I'm sure he'll be here. And he's not famous yet—he's still an art student at Columbia College. I don't see his parents or the Baxters yet, so I imagine they're all still on the way." Now it was my turn to case the room. "But I don't see Lucy either. She better show up. This whole dedication thing was her idea."
Precious snorted. "Yeah, but you know Lucy. Never can tell when she gonna show up—or not. Uh-oh, gotta go. Estelle's givin' me the Evil Eye 'cause I abandoned my post. Ya gonna take your boys to the Lock-In tonight up at SouledOut? Sabrina wants to go—which I think is crazy, her bein' six months pregnant an' all." Without waiting for an answer, Precious scooted through the crowd and a moment later I saw her head full of wiry twists pop up behind the snack table where Estelle Williams, the shelter's cook, was busy setting out hot wings and fresh veggies.
I groaned to myself. Why did the church schedule a youth group Lock-In the same day as the dedication here at Manna House? Josh Baxter was involved in both—a volunteer here at the shelter as well as one of the youth leaders at SouledOut Community Church. So what if he was only twenty-something. He should know better.
Guess I'm showing my age. All-nighters of any variety were definitely a thing of my past.
But the Lock-In had put a crunch on other things as well. I still needed to take my boys to see their dad in the hospital this afternoon—but there wouldn't be a lot of time after the Shepherd's Fold dedication if P.J. and Paul had to be at the church by six o'clock. And, darn it, I'd been hoping to have a potluck or something this weekend to celebrate our first week at the House of Hope, our experiment in "second-stage housing" for homeless single moms—moms like Precious McGill and her daughter, Sabrina, who'd moved in a week ago across the hall from me.
But that was a wash now. Not with the Lock-In tonight, which took out my boys and Sabrina. Not to mention Josh and his wife, Edesa, too. The young couple had moved into the House of Hope last week after Josh had agreed to be the property manager for the six-flat. Josh and Edesa definitely needed to be at any "festivity" we had to celebrate this new beginning.
A commotion at the double doors leading into the large multipurpose room shook me out of my thoughts. Oh, Gabby, quit complaining, I told myself, seeing Josh's parents and their friends, the Hickmans, arriving with a young man I presumed was our guest of honor. As usual when I got an idea—like this potluck, which I was already envisioning as a once-a-month get together for the residents and staff of the new House of Hope—I wanted it to happen now. But who said the potluck had to happen on the first weekend of the month? Having another week to plan wouldn't hurt either.
Huh. God seemed to think patience was a virtue I still needed to practice. On a daily basis, no less.
Making my way to the knot of people greeting each other by the double doors, I hesitated, suddenly feeling shy. What in the world was I going to say to the young man who'd painted the awesome Good Shepherd mural? I didn't have words.
I recognized his mother, Florida Hickman, one of the Yada Yada Prayer Group sisters, and I'd seen her husband, Carl, a couple of times. The story was, their son Chris had been a teenage "tagger," illegally decorating garage doors and El underpasses with his cans of spray paint. Until somebody recognized that the kid had real talent—
"Gabby Fairbanks!" hissed a familiar voice in my ear. "Where've you been? I want you to meet Chris!" Jodi Baxter—Josh's mother and one of my best friends—grabbed my arm and dragged me right into the middle of the group of people clustered around the young artist. "Chris, this is Mrs. Fairbanks, the program director here at Manna House. She's—"
"I know. Gramma Shep was her mama." The young black man's soft voice surprised me, and I was completely dazzled by his beautiful grin. He shook my hand, a nice, firm grip. "My pleasure, Miz Fairbanks. Saw you across the room and knew who you were." He pointed to my hair and grinned even wider. "The Orphan Annie hair, like the movie, know what I'm sayin'?"
I had to laugh. "I know. Dead giveaway." I took a deep breath. "I'm so happy to finally meet you, Chris. I've been wanting to thank you. The mural—" Darn it if those rogue tears didn't come rushing to the surface and I had to fish for another tissue. "Um, sorry. It's just that the mural is ... is ... so meaningful. So perfect for Manna House and the lost sheep who come here." Uhh, that sounded lame. I could feel the tips of my ears turning red. "Oh! Here are my boys."
Jodi had managed to pry my young teenagers away from the hot wings at the snack table and was herding them toward us. "P.J., Paul, this is Chris Hickman, the artist who painted the mural over there."
P.J. nodded in greeting and awkwardly bumped fists with the older teenager. But Paul's eyes widened in twelve-year-old awe. "You did that? Man, I thought you'd be a lot—you know—older."
Chris started to say something when we were interrupted by Estelle banging on the bottom of a pot, followed by the voice of Mabel Turner, the director of Manna House. "Everyone, please find a seat and let's get started. We have a short program of dedication for the naming of our multipurpose room, and we also want to introduce the young artist who ..."
Mabel continued her introductions as the crowd—current residents of the shelter, members of the board of directors, volunteers, staff, and "friends of the shelter"—obediently began finding seats in the rows of folding chairs facing the mural. Leading Chris toward the front row, I whispered, "Thanks again, Chris. I only wish my mom could see it."
"Yeah, me too," he whispered back. "Wish I could've met her. Whole time I was paintin' that mural, folks here at Manna House came by wantin' to tell me stories about Gramma Shep. She must've been quite a lady."
That made me smile. "Actually," I murmured as we found seats, "she was just an ordinary woman with ordinary gifts. But that was her strength. She didn't see herself as anything special, which made everyone feel comfortable around her. She loved people and treated everyone like her best friend."
Everyone, I mused, as Mabel opened the dedication service with a prayer—even Lucy Tucker, the seventy-something "bag lady" who'd been my introduction to Manna House six months ago. My mom and Lucy had bonded in a strange, sweet way the last few weeks of my mother's life—partially because my mother could no longer take her yellow mutt, Dandy, for walks here in the unfamiliar city, and streetwise Lucy had risen to the occasion. Which was why I'd given the dog to Lucy when my mother died two months ago.
It was Lucy who'd made a fuss that Manna House didn't have a proper memorial for "Gramma Shep." Lucy who first raised the idea of renaming the multipurpose room, and who kept fussing until a brass plaque with "Shepherd's Fold—Dedicated to Martha Shepherd" had been engraved.
I twisted in my seat and gave the room another cursory glance.
So why was Lucy missing now?
To my disappointment, Lucy and Dandy never did show. I would have liked to stay to visit with all the other friends, staff, and former residents who'd shown up for the dedication, but once the board chairman delivered the final "Amen," I had to slip out with P.J. and Paul and head straight to Weiss Memorial Hospital where my estranged husband had been admitted a week ago after a vicious beating.
When we got off the elevator on the patient floor, Paul darted ahead of us and into his dad's hospital room—but he came right back out. "He's not there!" Sure enough, the hospital bed laid flat, side rails down, clean sheets tucked and military taut, pillow stiff and undented. The monitoring machines were gone—no beeps, no blips, no drips—as if the room had never been occupied. "Philip?" I called, peeking into the bathroom, which was silly because the room was obviously empty.
"Mom?" Paul's voice wavered. "Dad isn't ... he didn't ... you know ..."
"No, no, honey!" I put an arm around my youngest in a quick hug. "They either moved him to another room or he's been discharged. Come on, we'll find out."
I hustled both boys out of the room and down the hall to the nurses' station. "Can you tell me if Philip Fairbanks has been moved to another room?"
The light-skinned African American woman at the desk—her ID tag said Floor Manager—held up a finger, then typed something into her computer. "Let's see. Pretty sure he was discharged this morning—yes. Here's the discharge order from Dr. Yin."
"Already? He was still having a lot of pain. And he can't drive with just one arm—"
"Taxi, Mom," drawled fourteen-year-old P.J. in his parents-can-be-so-dumb tone of voice.
The woman behind the desk smiled. "Yes. But I think he got a ride. A young man met up with him when they brought the wheelchair for your husband, said something about getting his car from the parking garage. Nice-looking young man, sandy hair, maybe nineteen or twenty ... not your son?"
I shook my head. Did I look old enough to have a twenty-year-old? I thanked her, and the boys and I headed for the elevator. Who in the world came to pick him up? Sandy hair, college age—almost sounded like Josh Baxter. But he'd been at the dedication the past couple hours. So who?
The elevator doors pinged open and we crowded on with an empty gurney, a transport tech, and two women in housekeeping tunics talking to each other in rapid Spanish. I looked at my watch. Already past four thirty. I had to get P.J. and Paul to SouledOut by six. Did we have time to stop by Richmond Towers and make sure their dad had gotten back to the penthouse safely and had everything he needed? Prescriptions? Food in the house? Laundry done?
Cool it, Gabby, I told myself. You're not his mother. Not even his wife exactly. We'd been separated for more than three months—under ugly circumstances. But Philip had been so different the past few weeks ... well, halfway decent, anyway. He didn't fight me for temporary custody of the boys, and we'd worked out a reasonable weekly visitation when the boys slept over at the penthouse. But his gambling losses ... whew. Philip's addiction to the poker table had turned his well-planned world inside out, and I couldn't turn my back on him when some loan shark sent his hooligans to "persuade" Philip to pay up.
"So what do you guys want to do?" I asked the boys as we located our second-hand Subaru in the parking garage and climbed in. "We could go to Richmond Towers and try to see your dad now. Or we could go tomorrow after church when there won't be any rush."
"I wanna go see Dad now," Paul piped up from the back seat.
"You sure? We won't have much time to visit if you guys still want to go to the Lock-In. And what if he asks you to stay overnight? You missed your overnight with him last weekend when he ended up in the hospital."
"He just got out, Mom." P.J. sounded ticked off. "It's not like we'd be able to do anything together."
"I wanna go now," Paul repeated.
I backed out of the parking spot and headed down the multilevel ramp toward the exit. "Okay. Now it is." Maybe just as well. We'd have a natural leave time since I had to get the boys to the Lock-In.
I handed four bucks and my parking ticket to the attendant at the exit, and within minutes we were heading north on Sheridan Road toward the luxury high-rise I'd once shared with my husband.CHAPTER 2
I pulled the Subaru into a Visitor Parking space on the narrow access road between Richmond Towers and the park that ran along Lake Shore Drive in the distance. The trees in the park were still full and green this first weekend of October since the weather was fairly warm. But I imagined the park would be dressed in beautiful reds and golds in a few weeks ... before the lakefront turned to ice and the Windy City lived up to its name during a sharp, biting Chicago winter.
And what would Lucy and Dandy do then?
Following my boys toward Philip's building, I glanced back over my shoulder on the off chance I might see my bag lady friend and the yellow dog she'd adopted after my mom died. This park was one of Lucy's favorite hangouts and where I'd run into her the first time we'd "met" last spring. Didn't see either of them ... but I did catch a glimpse of the opening to the pedestrian tunnel that ran beneath Lake Shore Drive, allowing dog walkers and joggers access to the shores of Lake Michigan on the other side.
The tunnel where Philip had been viciously attacked and beaten a week ago today while out jogging.
A cold shudder ran down my spine as the boys and I pushed through the revolving door into the lobby of Richmond Towers. Lucy had seen some suspicious characters hanging around the luxury high-rise for several days before the beating took place. Since the attackers hadn't taken his watch or anything valuable, it looked like a "warning" from the loan shark who'd been threatening Philip.
Those brutes obviously knew where Philip lived. Was he safe coming back here?
Using the key card I still had in my purse, I swiped the security pad that let residents into the small elevator lobby. A few minutes later the boys and I stepped out of the elevator into the marble foyer of the thirty-second floor. The penthouse was the only living unit on this floor. Even though I still had a key, I pushed the doorbell. No way was I going to walk in if Philip was already there.
The door opened. But it wasn't Philip framed in the doorway. A young man stood in the gallery, sandy hair sticking out from under a Cubs baseball cap, a curious grin on his face. "Hi!" he said. "You looking for Mr. Fairbanks? C'mon in. He's in the living room. Guess that's what you call it. Wow! Never seen such a view."
P.J. and Paul both stared at the stranger, then Paul ran inside. "Dad? Dad! You okay?" P.J. and I followed.
Philip was sitting in his recliner, facing the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that wrapped around one corner of the large room. He turned his head as the boys came close. "Hey, guys," he said, wincing as though the movement took too much effort.
Excerpted from Who is My Shelter? Book 4 by Neta Jackson. Copyright © 2011 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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