Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Author:
Robin Jones Gunn is the bestselling author of sixty books, representing 3.5 million copies sold. A dozen of her novels have appeared on the top of the CBA bestseller list, including her wildly successful Sisterchicks series. Thousands of teens from around the world have written letters to Robin sharing how God used the Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen series to bring them to Christ as well as lead them to make life changing decisions regarding purity. Robin and her husband of thirty years live near Portland, OR, where they are members of Imago Dei Community along with other Christian authors.
Visit the author’s website by clicking on her name or photo. (ISBN#9780446526296 & 9780446179461, ea 176pp, ea $13.99)
As I peered inside through the thick-paned window, I could see a cheerful amber fire in the hearth. Tables were set for two with china cups neatly positioned on crimson tablecloths. Swags of green foliage trimmed the mantel. Dotted across the room, on the tables and on shelves, were a dozen red votive candles. Each tiny light flickered, sending out promises of warmth and cheer, inviting me to step inside.
Another more determined gust made a swoop down the lane, this time taking my breath with it into the darkness of the December night.
This trip was a mistake. A huge mistake. What was I thinking?
I knew the answer as it rode off on the mocking wind. The answer was, I wasnâ€™t thinking. I was feeling.
Pure emotion last Friday nudged me to book the round-trip ticket to London. Blind passion convinced me that the answer to my twenty-year question would be revealed once I reached the Carlton Photography Studio on Bexley Lane.
Sadly, I was wrong. I had come all this way only to hit a dead end.
I took another look inside the teahouse and told myself to keep walking, back to the train station, back to the hotel in London where I had left my luggage. This exercise in futility was over. I might as well change my ticket and fly back to San Francisco in the morning.
My chilled and weary feet refused to obey. They wanted to go inside and be warmed by the fire. I couldnâ€™t deny that my poor legs did deserve a little kindness after all I had put them through when I folded them into the last seat in coach class. The middle seat, by the lavatories, in the row that didnâ€™t recline. A cup of tea at a moment like this might be the only blissful memory I would take with me from this fiasco.
Reaching for the oddly shaped metal latch on the door, I stepped inside and set the silver bells jingling again.
â€œCome in, come in, and know me better, friend!â€ The unexpected greeting came from a kilt-wearing man with a valiant face. His profoundly wide sideburns had the look of white lambâ€™s wool and softened the resoluteness in his jaw. â€œHave you brought the snowflakes with you, then?â€
â€œThe snowflakes?â€ I repeated.
â€œAye! The snowflakes. Itâ€™s cold enough for snow, wouldnâ€™t you say?â€
I nodded my reluctant agreement, feeling my nose and cheeks going rosy in the small roomâ€™s warmth. I assumed the gentleman who opened the door was the proprietor. Looking around, I asked, â€œIs it okay if I take the table by the fire? All Iâ€™d like is a cup of tea.â€
â€œI donâ€™t see why not. Katharine!â€ He waited for a response and then tried again. â€œKatharine!â€
No answer came.
â€œShe must have gone upstairs. Sheâ€™ll be back around.â€ His grin was engaging, his eyes clear. â€œI would put the kettle on for you myself, if it werenâ€™t for the case of my being on my way out at the moment.â€
â€œThatâ€™s okay. I donâ€™t mind waiting.â€
â€œOf course you donâ€™t mind waiting. A young woman such as yourself has the time to wait, do you not? Whereas, for a person such as myself . . .â€ He leaned closer and with a wink confided in me, â€œIâ€™m Christmas Present, you see. I canâ€™t wait.â€
What sort of â€œpresentâ€ he supposed himself to be and to whom, I wasnâ€™t sure.
With a nod, the man drew back the heavy door and strode into the frosty air.
From a set of narrow stairs a striking woman descended. She looked as surprised at my appearance as I was at hers. She wore a stunning red, floor-length evening dress. Around her neck hung a sparkling silver necklace, and dangling from under her dark hair were matching silver earrings. She stood tall with careful posture and tilted her head, waiting for me to speak.
â€œI wasnâ€™t sure if you were still open.â€
â€œYes, on an ordinary day we would be open for another little while, until five thirty. . . .â€ Her voice drifted off.
â€œFive thirty,â€ I repeated, checking my watch. The time read 11:58. The exact time Iâ€™d adjusted it to when I had deplaned at Heathrow Airport late that morning. I tapped on the face of my watch as if that would make it run again. â€œI can see you have plans for the evening and that youâ€™re ready to close. Iâ€™ll justâ€”â€
â€œChe-che-che.â€ The sound that came from her was the sort used to call a squirrel to come find the peanuts left for it on a park bench. It wasnâ€™t a real word from a real language, but I understood the meaning. I was being invited to stay and not to run off.
â€œTake any seat you want. Would you like a scone with your tea or perhaps some rum cake?â€
â€œJust the tea, thank you.â€
I moved toward the fire and realized that a scone sounded pretty good. I hadnâ€™t eaten anything since the undercooked breakfast omelet served on the plane.
â€œActually, I would like to have a scone, too. If itâ€™s not too much trouble.â€
â€œNo trouble at all.â€
Her smile was tender, motherly. I guessed her to be in her midfifties or maybe older. She turned without any corners or edges to her motions. I soon heard the clinking of dishes as she prepared the necessary items in the kitchen.
Making my way to a steady looking table by the fire, I tried to tuck my large shoulder bag under the spindle leg of the chair. The stones along the front of the hearth were permanently blackened from what I imagined to be centuries of soot. The charm of the room increased as I sat down and felt the coziness of the close quarters. This was a place of serenity. A place where trust between friends had been established and kept for many years.
A sense of safety and comfort called to the deepest part of my spirit and begged me to set free a fountain of tears. But I capped them off. It was that same wellspring of emotion that had instigated this journey.
Settling back, I blinked and let the steady heat from the fire warm me. Katharine returned carrying a tray. The steaming pot of tea took center stage, wearing a chintzquilted dressing gown, gathered at the top.
Even the china teapots are treated to coziness here.
â€œIâ€™ve warmed two scones for you, and this, of course, is your clotted cream. Iâ€™ve given you raspberry jam, but if you would prefer strawberry, I do have some.â€
â€œNo, this is fine. Perfect. Thank you.â€
Katharine lifted the festooned teapot and poured the steaming liquid into my waiting china cup. I felt for a moment as if I had stumbled into an odd sort of parallel world to Narnia.
As a young child I had read C. S. Lewisâ€™s Narnia tales a number of times. In the many hours alone, I had played out the fairy tales in my imagination, pretending I was Lucy, stepping through the wardrobe into an imaginary world.
Here, in the real country of Narniaâ€™s author, I considered how similar my surroundings were to Lewisâ€™s descriptions of that imaginary world. A warming fire welcomed me in from the cold. But instead of a fawn inviting me to tea, it had been a kilted clansman. Instead of Mrs. Beaver pouring a cup of cheer for me by the fire, it was a tall, unhurried woman in a red evening gown.
An unwelcome thought came and settled on me as clearly as if I had heard a whisper. Miranda, how much longer will you believe it is â€œalways winter and never Christmasâ€?
Copyright Â© 2007 by Robinâ€™s Ink, LLC
This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Robin Jones Gunn. All rights reserved.
I tried to call Ian again. His voice mail picked up for the third time. â€œItâ€™s me again,â€ I said to the phone. â€œIâ€™m here at Paddington station and â€”â€
Before I finished the message, my phone beeped, and the screen showed me it was Ian.
â€œHi! I was just leaving you another message.â€ I brushed back my shoulder-length brown hair and stood a little straighter, just as I would have if Ian were standing in front of me.
â€œYou made it to the station, then?â€
â€œYes. Although I was about to put on a pair of red rain boots and a tag on my coat that read, â€˜Please look after this bear.â€™ â€ I was pretty sure Ian would catch my reference to the original Paddington Bear in the floppy hat since that was what he had given to my niece, Julia, for Christmas last year.
â€œDonâ€™t go hanginâ€™ any tags on your coat,â€ Ian said with an unmistakable grin in his voice. â€œIâ€™m nearly there. The shops were crammed this morning, and traffic is awful. I should have taken the tube, but Iâ€™m in a taxi now. Iâ€™ll be there in fifteen minutes tops. Maybe less if I get out and run the last few blocks.â€
â€œDonâ€™t run. Iâ€™ll wait. Itâ€™s only been, what? Seven weeks and three days since we were last together? Whatâ€™s another fifteen minutes?â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell you what another fifteen minutes is. Itâ€™s just about the longest fifteen minutes of my life.â€
â€œMine too.â€ I felt my face warming.
â€œYouâ€™re at track five, then, as we planned?â€
â€œYes. Track five.â€
â€œGood. No troubles coming in from the airport?â€
â€œNo. Everything went fine at Heathrow. The fog delayed my flight when we left San Francisco, but the pilot somehow managed to make up time in the air. We landed on schedule.â€
â€œLetâ€™s hope my cabbie can find the same tailwind your pilot did and deliver me to the station on schedule.â€
I looked up at the large electronic schedule board overhead, just to make sure my watch was in sync with local time. â€œWe have about twenty minutes before the 1:37 train leaves for Carlton Heath. I think we can still make it.â€
â€œI have no doubt. Looks like we have a break in the traffic jam at the moment. Donâ€™t go anywhere, Miranda. Iâ€™ll be there as soon as I can.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be here.â€
I closed my phone and smiled. Whenever Ian said my name, with a rolling of the r, he promptly melted my heart. Every single time. His native Scottish accent had become distilled during the past decade as a result of his two years of grad school in Canada and working in an architect office with coworkers from around the world. But Ian knew how to put on the â€œheather in the highlandsâ€ lilt whenever he wanted. And I loved it, just as I loved everything about this indomitable man.
I looked around the landing between the train tracks for an open seat on one of the benches. Since none were available, I moved closer to the nearest bench just in case someone decided to leave.
Balancing my large, wheeled suitcase against a pole so it wouldnâ€™t tip over, I carefully leaned my second bag next to the beast. This was my third trip to England since my visit last Christmas and the first time I had come with two suitcases. This time I needed an extra bag for all the gifts I had with me, wrapped and ready to go under the Christmas tree at the Whitcombe manor.
Last Christmas and for many Christmases before that, the only gift I bought and gave was the one expected for the exchange at the accounting office where I worked in downtown San Francisco. Up until last Christmas I had no family to speak of â€” no parents, no siblings, no roommate. I didnâ€™t even have a cat. My life had fallen into a steady, predictable rhythm of work and weekends alone, which is probably why I found the courage to make that first trip to Carlton Heath last December. In those brief, snow-kissed, extraordinary few days, I was gifted with blood relatives, new friends, and sweetest of all, Ian.
Christmas shopping this year had been a new experience. While my coworkers complained about the crowds and hassle, I quietly reveled in the thought that I actually had someone â€” many someones â€” in my life to go gift hunting for.
I had a feeling some last-minute shopping was the reason Ian was late. He told me yesterday he had a final gift to pick up this morning on his way to the station. He hadnâ€™t explained what the gift was or whom it was for. His silence on the matter led me to wonder as I wandered along a familiar path in my imagination. That path led straight to my heart, and along that path I saw nothing but hope for our future together â€” hope and maybe a little something shiny that came in a small box and fit on a certain rather available finger on my left hand.
Before my mind could sufficiently detour to the happy land of â€œWhatâ€™s next?â€, I heard someone call my name. It was a familiar male voice, but not Ianâ€™s.
I looked into the passing stream of travelers, and there he stood, only a few feet away. Josh. The last person I ever expected to see again. Especially in England.
â€œMiranda, I thought that was you! Hey, how are you?â€ With a large travel bag strapped over his shoulder, Josh gave me an awkward, clunking and bumping sort of hug. His glasses smashed against the side of my head. He quickly introduced me as his â€œold girlfriendâ€ to the three guys with him.
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€ He unstrapped the bag and dropped it at his feet.
One of the guys tagged his shoulder and said, â€œWeâ€™ll be at the sandwich stand over there.â€
â€œOkay. Iâ€™ll be there in a few minutes.â€ Josh turned back to me. â€œYou look great. Whatâ€™s been happening with you?â€
â€œIâ€™m good,â€ I said. â€œWhat about you? What are you doing here?â€ I was still too flustered at the unexpected encounter to jump right into a catch-up sort of conversation after the almost three-year gap.
â€œJust returned from a ski trip to Austria with a group from work. Incredible trip. Iâ€™m in a counseling practice now. Child psychologist. I donâ€™t know if you knew that.â€
â€œNo. Thatâ€™s great, Josh. I know thatâ€™s what you wanted to do.â€
â€œYes, itâ€™s going well so far.â€ He seemed at ease. None of the stiltedness that had been there right after I broke up with him came across in his voice or demeanor.
â€œAnd what about you? What are you doing in England?â€
Before I could put together an answer, Josh snapped his fingers. â€œWait! Are you here because youâ€™re looking for your birth father?â€
â€œYou remembered.â€ Once again he surprised me.
â€œOf course I remembered. You had that picture of some guy dressed as Father Christmas, and it had the name of the photography studio on the back. That was your only clue.â€
â€œSo? What happened?â€
â€œI followed the clue last Christmas, and it led me here, to my birth father, just like you thought it would.â€
â€œNo way! Did it really?â€
I nodded, knowing Josh would appreciate this next part of the story. â€œThe man in the photo dressed like Father Christmas was my father. And the boy on his lap is my brother, or I guess I should say my half brother, Edward.â€
â€œIncredible,â€ Josh said with a satisfied, Sherlock Holmes expression on his unshaven face. â€œWhat happened when you met him?â€
I hesitated. Having not repeated this story to anyone since it all unfolded a year ago, I didnâ€™t realize how much the answer to Joshâ€™s question would catch in my spirit and feel sharply painful when it was spoken aloud.
â€œI didnâ€™t meet him. He passed away a few years ago.â€
â€œOh.â€ Joshâ€™s expression softened.
â€œYou know, Josh, I always wanted to thank you for the way you urged me to follow that one small clue. Iâ€™ve wished more than once that I would have come to England when you first suggested it four years ago. He was still alive then. Thatâ€™s what I should have done.â€
â€œAnd I should have gone with you,â€ he said in a low voice.
â€œWhy do you say that?â€
Joshâ€™s eyebrows furrowed, his counselor mode kicking in. â€œI felt you needed that piece in your life. By that I mean the paternal piece of your life puzzle. I didnâ€™t like you being so alone in the world. I wish you could have met him.â€
â€œI do, too, but I actually think things turned out better this way. Itâ€™s less complicated that I didnâ€™t meet him while he was still alive.â€
â€œWhy do you say that?â€ Josh asked.
I hesitated before giving Josh the next piece of information. In an odd way, it felt as if he needed the final piece of the puzzle the same way I had.
â€œItâ€™s less complicated this way because my father was . . .â€ I lowered my voice and looked at him so he could read the truth in my clear blue eyes. â€œMy father was Sir James Whitcombe.â€
Copyright Â© 2008 by Robinâ€™s Ink, LLC.
This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Robin Jones Gunn. All rights reserved.
Reviews to come. Don’t forget to click the bookcovers or titles for more info or to buy your own copies. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on these books in today’s blog postings. Click the author’s name or photo to visit her website.