Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Author:
Gayle Roper is the award-winning author of more than forty books and has been a Christy finalist three times. Gayle enjoys speaking at womenâ€™s events across the nation and loves sharing the powerful truths of Scripture with humor and practicality. She lives with her husband in southeastern Pennsylvania where Gayle enjoys reading, gardening, and her family. (ISBN#9780736925860, 224pp, $10.99)
Iâ€™d been so sure Iâ€™d lost my face. My stomach still curdled at the memory. All Iâ€™d done was bend down to pet Hawk, the sable-and-tan German shepherd sleeping contentedly in the mid-August sun. How was I to know he had a nasty cut hiding under that sleek hot fur?
I was horrified when he lashed out, startled by the pain I had inadvertently caused him. He got me in the cheek with a fang, but despite the blood, the wound was mostly superficial. The thought of what would have happened if heâ€™d closed his mouth made me break out in a fine sweat.
How dumb to touch a sleeping dog. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I knew better. Everyone knew better.
As we entered the emergency room, I rearranged my towel to find an area not stained with blood. I went to the desk and signed in with a woman whose jet black hair stuck out in spikes to rival a hedgehog. When she had my lifeâ€™s history, she patted my paperwork with a proprietary air that made me wonder if she was willing to share the information with the people Iâ€™d come to see.
â€œHave a seat.â€ She gave me a warm smile. â€œTheyâ€™ll be with you shortly.â€
Hoping shortly really meant shortly, I took my seat.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to wait,â€ I told Jon Clarke as he took the bright orange plastic chair beside me in the otherwise empty emergency room. He smiled slightly and stretched his long legs out before him, the picture of long-suffering
and quiet accommodation. His posture said it didnâ€™t matter how long things took. He was prepared to be gallant and wait it out.
â€œReally,â€ I said. â€œIâ€™ll be all right. You can go.â€
I was embarrassed to have inflicted myself upon this man I didnâ€™t know, this man whose last name I couldnâ€™t even remember. Heâ€™d pulled into the drive at the Zooksâ€™ Amish farm just as I bent over Hawk. While Mary Zook plied me with towels and bemoaned my possible disfigurement when she wasnâ€™t yelling at the innocent Hawk, John Clarke Whoever climbed out of his car, took me by the elbow, put me in his passenger seat, and drove me here.
What would I have done if he hadnâ€™t come along at just the right moment? Gone to the hospital in a buggy? Certainly that wouldnâ€™t have worked if Iâ€™d had a life-threatening injury. I guess if that were the case, someone would run to the phone down on the road and dial 911 or run to a neighbor with a car. Hmm. Peace and serenity of the Amish variety had a definite downside.
Jon Clarke smiled at me now, looking comfortable in his very uncomfortable chair. â€œOf course Iâ€™ll wait for you. Iâ€™d never run out on a lady in distress. Besides, you need a way home.â€
â€œI could call a cab.â€
â€œBird-in-Hand is too far from Lancaster for that. It would cost a fortune.â€ He smiled at me again, politely patient.
â€œItâ€™s only fifteen minutes max.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a lot when the fare indicator goes ca-ching, ca-ching. Itâ€™s better if I just wait.â€
I gritted my teeth. Just what I needed, a shining knight when I was in no condition to play the lady. I smiled ungraciously and winced.
Of course it hurt. What did he think? â€œThe strange thing is that my tongue can push into the wound from the inside of my mouth. Only a thin piece of skin on my inner cheek keeps the puncture from going all the way through.â€ I pushed against my cheek with my tongue. It was a creepy sensation to feel the hole, but I couldnâ€™t resist the need to fiddle.
He looked suitably impressed and apparently decided to keep talking to distract me from my pain and injury. I must say he shouldered the burden with stoic determination and great charm.
â€œHave you lived in the Lancaster area long?â€ he asked, and I could have sworn he actually cared.
â€œThree years. I love it here.â€
â€œWere you at the Zooksâ€™ to visit Jake too?â€
Too. So he had come to see Jake. I shook my head. â€œI live there.â€
That stopped him. â€œReally? On the farm?â€ He raised an eyebrow at me, an improbably dark eyebrow considering the light brown of his hair. â€œHave you been living there long?â€
I glanced at the clock on the wall. â€œAbout four hours.â€
The eyebrow rose once again. â€œYouâ€™re kidding.â€
â€œNope. Great beginning, isnâ€™t it? Todd spent the morning and early afternoon helping me move, and heâ€™d just left. I was on my way into the house when I stopped to pet Hawk.â€ I sighed. â€œTheyâ€™ll probably decide Iâ€™m too much trouble to have around.â€
I pulled the towel from my cheek and studied the bloody patterns on the white terry cloth. They looked like abstract art. I was an artist myself, but I never painted compositions like these. I liked more realismâ€”which meant my work would probably never hang in important galleries.
Uptight and unimaginative, according to certain professors and fellow students from my college days. â€œFlex,â€ they said. â€œSoar! Paint where your spirit leads.â€
I flexed and soared with the best of them, but the finished work still looked like what it was.
I refolded the towel, burying the modern art, reapplied a clean area, and pressed.
â€œWhoâ€™s Todd?â€ Jon Clarke asked.
I shrugged. Good question. â€œTodd Reasoner. A friend.â€
Would that Todd were as easily explained as the conclusion Jon Clarke had apparently leaped to.
â€œDonâ€™t do that,â€ Jon Clarke said.
I blinked. â€œDo what?â€
â€œDonâ€™t push against your cheek like that.â€
I hadnâ€™t even realized I was doing it.
â€œWhat if that thin piece of skin ruptures? Scarring. Infection. MRSA. Who knows?â€
I frowned. Talk about Worst Case Scenario Man. I wanted to tell him Iâ€™d play with the inside of my cheek if I felt like it, but he was probably right about all the dire possibilities. I didnâ€™t want to rupture that thin membrane so delicately protecting the inside of my mouth. And I certainly didnâ€™t want to do anything to encourage the possibility of scarring. I looked in the mirror enough to know my face didnâ€™t need that kind of help.
â€œNot many people get to stay on an Amish farm.â€ He paused. â€œBecause of their closed society,â€ he added as if I wouldnâ€™t understand his point. â€œYouâ€™re very fortunate to get the opportunity.â€
â€œI know. I consider this chance a gift straight from God. One day my principal mentioned that he had Amish friends who were willing to take in a boarder. I got the Zooksâ€™ name and contacted them immediately.â€
I didnâ€™t tell him that when I first went to the farm, I wore one of my conservative suits, a gift from my parents when they were still hoping to quell my tendency toward bright colors and what they considered the instability of the art community, not that they actually knew any artists but me.
â€œIf youâ€™re too artsy, Kristina,â€ they said almost daily, as if being â€œartsyâ€ was the equivalent of having a single digit IQ, â€œpeople wonâ€™t take you seriously.â€
What they meant was that their people, all high-powered corporate lawyers who earned high six figures or even seven annually, wouldnâ€™t take me seriously. They were a group that had no time for business casual, let alone colorful artsy.
On that first visit to the Zooks, I hadnâ€™t been certain what cultural landmines Iâ€™d have to navigate, so I determined to at least defuse the clothing issue, the one I knew about and could somewhat mitigate. Iâ€™d straightened my navy lapels and smoothed my cream silk blouse before I got out of the car, another cultural difference that I wasnâ€™t willing to yield on, not if I wanted to get to work.
To my delight, I found Mary and John Zook gracious, respectful, and kind. Mary sat there in her pinned-together dress and dark stockings, her organdy kapp crisp in spite of the humidity. John wore a white shirt and black broadfall trousers. His beard was full with only a hint of gray, and his straw hat hung on a peg by the door. They might demand the simple life of themselves and their family, but it was immediately obvious they would not demand the same of me.
Wouldnâ€™t it be amazing if I had more freedom to be myself here in the midst of this highly structured society than in my own parentsâ€™ home?
â€œYour principal?â€ Jon Clarke asked from his seat beside me. â€œYou teach?â€
I nodded. â€œElementary art.â€
â€œWhen I first pulled into the drive, I thought you must be Jakeâ€™s visiting nurse.â€
â€œNot me. Iâ€™d be a terrible nurse.â€
â€œBut a good teacher.â€
â€œAdequate, anyway. And I get the summers off to study and paint. How do you know the Zooks?â€
â€œIâ€™ve known them forever. My aunt and uncle live down the road from them. But I havenâ€™t seen them in several years. In fact, I havenâ€™t been in Lancaster for a long time.â€
So Iâ€™d bled all over his first visit in years. Great. â€œWas it a job that kept you away?â€
â€œYes and no. Yes, when I was a youth pastor at a church in Michigan. No, when I went to seminary and graduate school. I just finished my doctorate in counseling.â€
â€œReally?â€ I was impressed.
â€œNo. I confess. Iâ€™m lying. I just thought it sounded like a wonderful way to astonish and amaze a pretty girl.â€
I blinked at him, and he smiled impudently back. â€œReally?â€ he said in a dead-on imitation of me.
Flustered, I looked away from his laughing eyes. â€œI was just trying to make decent conversation.â€
His smile deepened. It was, I couldnâ€™t help noticing, a most wonderful smile, crinkling his eyes almost shut and inviting me to smile along, which I was careful not to do because of my cheek.
â€œKristina Matthews?â€ called the woman at the desk. Her nameplate said she was Harriet. She scanned the empty room as though there might be several Kristinas lurking about, and I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder to see who might have sneaked in while I wasnâ€™t looking.
When I stood, Harriet smiled brightly. â€œThere you are. Right through here, please.â€
As I entered the treatment area, I passed a teenage boy staggering out on crutches and a lady in a bathing suit with her arm in a bright pink cast. The walking wounded. I wondered what my battle scars would be.
Ten minutes later I looked away as a nurse stabbed me efficiently with a needle.
â€œThis tetanus shot may cause your arm to swell or stiffen,â€ she said, her voice filled with sorrow over my possible plight. I couldnâ€™t decide whether she was sorry I might swell or sorry I mightnâ€™t. â€œIf it swells or stiffens, donâ€™t worry. Take aspirin or Tylenol and call your personal physician if the pain persists.â€ She turned away with a great sigh and began cleaning up the treatment area.
I slid off the examination table and looked at my wobbly reflection in the glass doors of the supply cabinet. The flesh-colored butterfly bandage stuck in the middle of my left cheek distorted my face slightly, but I didnâ€™t mind. There had been no need for stitches.
â€œAny scarring will be minimal,â€ the doctor said absentmindedly as he wrote something on the forms Harriet had passed to him. He was a good match for the nurse. I doubted he even noticed her melancholia. â€œJust keep the wound dry and check with your regular doctor next week to have it redressed.â€ He ripped off the top copy of the paperwork and handed it to me. â€œIt tells you here. And youâ€™re certain the dog had his shots?â€
I nodded, took the paper, and hurried to the waiting room. At least Jon Clarke hadnâ€™t had to wait long once I was seen.
But the waiting room was empty. My angel of mercy had flown the coop. I was standing there wondering what to do next when Harriet at the desk called to me.
â€œDonâ€™t worry, honey. Heâ€™ll be right back. He said he had to run a quick errand.â€
I nodded with disproportionate relief.
â€œMen,â€ she said sympathetically. â€œYou never know what theyâ€™re going to do, do you? Sometimes they take off, and you never see them again.â€ The edge that had crept into her voice made me think she was speaking from experience. She gave herself a little shake. â€œBut yours looked nice enough to me. I think you can trust him, donâ€™t you?â€
Her guess was as good as mine. Weâ€™d both known him for about the same length of time.
She got up from her desk. â€œListen. Iâ€™ve got to go to the ladiesâ€™ room. Iâ€™m talking emergency here, believe me. Stay by the desk and watch things for me, will you?â€
Yikes. â€œWhat if someone comes in?â€
â€œTell them Iâ€™ll be back in a minute. But donâ€™t worry,â€ she called over her shoulder as she disappeared through a door. â€œNothing big ever happens on Saturday afternoon.â€
Taking no comfort from those words, I looked at the quiet waiting room.
No one, Lord, okay? Not till she gets back, okay?
The prayer was barely formed when the waiting room door slid open and an older man in khaki work clothes entered. His face, damp with perspiration, matched the color of the white envelopes sticking out of his shirt pocket, and he was rubbing his left arm. He stopped beside me at the desk.
â€œI think Iâ€™m having a heart attack,â€ he said as he might say he was going to sneeze.
I felt my own heart stop beating and my mouth go dry.
He staggered, and I reached out instinctively, taking his arm and lowering him into Harrietâ€™s chair.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he whispered.
â€œDonâ€™t apologize!â€ Now my heart was beating so loudly I could scarcely
hear myself talk. â€œDonâ€™t worry. Someone will be here to help you in a moment.â€
Suddenly he stopped kneading his arm and pressed his hand against his chest. His face contorted and I froze. He was going to die right here while Harriet was in the ladiesâ€™ room!
After a minute he relaxed, and I began to breathe again. I ran to the door of the treatment area. â€œHelp, somebody! Help!â€
The sad-faced nurse leaned out of a cubicle. â€œIs anyone bleeding?â€ She was so intent on what was going on behind that curtain that she didnâ€™t even look at me.
â€œThen weâ€™ll be there as soon as we can.â€ And she disappeared.
I could see several pairs of feet below the curtain and hear several voices,
including that of my doctor, who was barking orders with impressive authority. Through a door down the hall I could see an ambulance with its back doors still open.
â€œBut he needs you now,â€ I called desperately. â€œHe really does! Itâ€™s hisâ€”â€
â€œWeâ€™ll be there in a minute,â€ she yelled as a great cascade of blood flowed onto the floor.
Pushing down panic and not knowing what else to do, I went back to the man.
â€œTheyâ€™ll be here in a minute,â€ I told him with all the confidence I could muster.
â€œHad one before,â€ he whispered to me. â€œDonâ€™t worry. Itâ€™ll be all right. Iâ€™m not ready to die yet. Iâ€™ve got stuff to do.â€
I tried to smile to encourage him, but between my punctured cheek and my fear, I think it was more of a grimace. The man seemed to appreciate my effort anyway.
Dear God, I screamed in silent prayer, whereâ€™s Harriet? Send her out here fast, Lord! Please!
The man rested his head against the wall. â€œWhatâ€™s your name? Are you Harriet?â€
â€œIâ€™m Kristie Matthews. Should you be talking?â€
â€œI drove myself here. You donâ€™t think talkingâ€™s any worse than that, do you?â€
â€œYou drove yourself here? With a heart attack?â€
He smiled faintly. â€œI had to get here somehow. And I didnâ€™t think you were Harriet. You donâ€™t look like a Harriet.â€
I didnâ€™t look like this Harriet. Plain old straight brown hair cut to bend at my chin instead of too-black spikes and the electrified look. Five seven and slim instead of short and a fan of Dunkinâ€™ Donuts, if Harrietâ€™s figure and the box in the trash receptacle were any indication. A hole in my cheek instead of an abundance of blusher.
Suddenly he raised his head and looked at me with an intensity that made me blink. â€œWill you do me a favor, Kristie Matthews?â€
I leaned close to hear his weak voice. â€œOf course.â€
â€œKeep this for me.â€ He fumbled in his shirt pocket, reaching behind the envelopes. â€œBut tell no oneâ€”no oneâ€”that you have it.â€ He slipped a key into my cold hand and folded my fingers over it.
I heard a gasp from behind me. Harriet was finally back.
â€œHeart attack,â€ I said, but Harriet was three steps ahead of me.
Her voice boomed over the PA. â€œDr. Michaels, Dr, Michaels, stat. Dr. Michaels, code!â€ Harriet disappeared back into the treatment area yelling, â€œMarie! Charles! Where are you? Get yourselves out here fast!â€
An arthritic finger tapped my closed fist. â€œRemember, tell no one,â€ the old man managed to whisper. â€œPromise?â€
â€œI promise.â€ What else could I say?
He stared at my face as if searching my soul. He must have been satisfied with what he saw because his hand relaxed on mine and his eyes closed. â€œDonâ€™t forget. Iâ€™m counting on you.â€ He gave a deep sigh, and I froze. Was that his last breath? â€œIâ€™m counting on you.â€
The room came alive with people. Medical personnel converged on the sick man, and I stepped back with relief.
â€œDonâ€™t you ever go to the bathroom again,â€ I hissed at Harriet, who probably never would if she valued her job.
When the doors to the treatment area slid shut and I could no longer see the man, I collapsed in one of the orange chairs, struggling with tears.
This is ridiculous. Why am I crying? I donâ€™t even know the man.
I gave myself a shake and stared at the small piece of metal in my hand. Why had he given his precious key to me, a total stranger? Why hadnâ€™t he let the hospital personnel keep it for him? Or asked them to hold it for a family member?
What could it possibly open that no oneâ€”no oneâ€”must know of it?
And what in the world should I do with it?
It was a relief when Jon Clarke finally returned.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he said with that winning smile. â€œI got held up in traffic. I hope you didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d deserted you.â€
â€œOf course not,â€ I said as I slipped the key into my pocket. I hastened to correct my lie. â€œAt least, not after Harriet told me youâ€™d be back.â€
He cocked that dark, heavy brow at me again, saying as clearly as if Iâ€™d spoken aloud that he knew all too well what Iâ€™d thought.
I flushed and began talking to cover my embarrassment. â€œThis old man came in and had a heart attack. He scared me to death! I was the only one in the roomâ€”Harriet had gone to the ladiesâ€™ room. I had to be with him until help came. He gave meâ€”â€
I stopped abruptly. â€œNo one,â€ heâ€™d said, heâ€™d insisted. â€œPromise.â€ And I had.
Did I owe him my silence? I didnâ€™t even know him.
But I didnâ€™t know this sandy-haired, dark-browed man standing beside me, either. I only met him an hour or so ago. I couldnâ€™t bleed all over him anymore.
â€œHe gave me quite a scare,â€ I said, decision made. I gave a short laugh. â€œIâ€™m not used to anything more serious than the common cold or one of my students throwing up.â€
But what would I do if he died?
Click the title for more info or to purchase a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions also. Don’t forget to click the author’s name or photo to visit her website. My review is coming soon. Thanks to Harvest House for a review copy.