Excerpt for Cries of Grace by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Cries of Grace

By Angela Beach Silverthorne


Copyright © 2017 Angela Beach Silverthorne

Published by Angela Beach Silverthorne


License Notes:


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be copied or re-distributed in any way. Author holds all copyright.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


Edited by Tia Bach

Proofread by Jennifer Oberth

Cover design and interior layout by Jo Michaels

all of INDIE Books Gone Wild ibgw.net

Cover image by Julia Popova at www.forestgirl.ru


The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment.

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Author’s Note


I am humbled to continue Bren Parrot’s story. My faith has grown with hers. In developing the characters, I have learned more about God’s timing. He has also led me through the scriptures on spiritual warfare, and the sacrifices endured by God’s followers. It’s hard. Every day I have to purpose myself to stay strong and stand firm.

The concept of a Lighten came from the idea of becoming enlightened by the Holy Spirit. It was what we see in the life of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). Writing this series has taught me what it means to persevere when our tomorrows look bleak.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, but there’s more. This isn’t the end of the story.


Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone),

Angela Beach Silverthorne



















For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (ESV)

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Map of The Haven

The map of The Haven can be found in the printed edition of Cries of Grace

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The day hung over Bren, heavy and unsure. Another life-chapter would close to herald in a new one.

Bren watched Caroline stuff the last shirt into her suitcase. Fear and joy, two diametrically opposed feelings, laced her insides into knots.

“There. I’m done.” Caroline swung her petite body around and faced Bren. “I’m headed down the hall to do my last hugs. Wanna come?”

Bren felt her chest tighten. “No. I think I’ll finish packing.” Standing up, she walked to the window to look out over the campus. People were scurrying from one dorm to the other. Parents and siblings were lugging suitcases, carrying overfilled, used liquor boxes and oversized beanbags to cars parked in every available spot. The ritual of campus evacuation happened twice a year.

“The time went by too fast, didn’t it?” The words faintly tumbled from Bren’s mouth.

Caroline came up behind Bren, placing a hand at the small of Bren’s back. “It sure did. You were the best part of the last five years. I’m so glad we roomed together.”

Bren turned around and smiled. “Who would’ve thought we’d make it through undergraduate and graduate school together. Same room. Same view. Looking back, it seems impossible, doesn’t it?”

The girls laughed and hugged. Bren had dreaded this day for weeks. Bittersweet memories filled her mind, softening the moment into a triumph of blessings.

Bren declared, “Just think, in two weeks you’ll be Mrs. Thomas Canfield.”

“And you’ll be my maid of honor.” Caroline squealed, causing Bren to laugh out loud. “I’m so excited. You know how much I love Tommy. We’ve waited so long, and it’s almost here.” Caroline squealed again.

“You know I wouldn’t miss your wedding for the world.” Bren walked back to her cot, swinging a large duffle bag on top.

When Bren heard the door softly close, she began to cry. Thinking of the future was daunting. The last five years had given her a driven purpose. For the first time in her life, she had known what was expected of her. She felt secure, and she liked the woman she had become. But over the previous few weeks, old feelings, insecurities, and tension had filled her dreams, leaving her days marked with worry. What would it be like to go back to The Haven? Would the nightmare of the assault on her family five years before loom over her? Could she cope with the past and build a new future?

Reaching under her bed, she pulled out a small trunk. With the tail of her shirt, she rubbed its top, removing the light coating of dust. Her hands trembled as she opened the leather treasure. Lifting her grandmother’s journal up to her chest, she pressed her sacred gift in close. Bren had read its contents many times and more often in the last few weeks. Lowering her head, she pressed her lips to the top of the journal. She could almost smell the lavender scent she identified with her grandmother, GG. More tears burned as Bren remembered their last moments together. Would she ever be whole again? Would this intense loss ever find rest in her soul?

Bren pushed the duffle bag to the floor, sat down, and opened the journal to her grandmother’s last entry.


Dearest Father,

Tonight my heart found peace. Perfect peace. Since my darling husband died, I have struggled to remain strong and focused. Every foot forward was because You gave me the strength, Lord. Now my precious granddaughter, Bren, is back in my life. She came disheartened and broken, but You, Heavenly Father, loved her through it all. Jesus, You gave us the words to calm her spirit so she could begin to feel Your strength. The Haven has now become her home. She is strong. You have a mighty warrior in this child. She will honor You, Jesus, just as I have. I know my time on Earth is short. Bren will need You every hour. The fifth point on the star is coming. I feel him approaching. His gift will be love. Love is the only thing that can win over the evil ready to attack us. You proved the power of love when You gave Your life for us. Let love soak this land that has been consecrated to Your glory. Put a balm of blessings over my Bren’s heart after I’m gone. She has much work to do. Don’t let her wind her heart around what-ifs but around You and the kingdom work that needs to be done. Let my last breath be declaring my love for Thee. Your child, Gwendolyn Grace (GG)


Bren closed her grandmother’s journal and placed it lovingly back into the trunk. The words grounded Bren. She had a lot to get done. The next day’s trip back to The Haven would be her first in over a year. Cards, pictures, letters, and phone calls had kept her informed while she was in nursing clinicals and finishing up the last semester of studies. But it wasn’t the same as being there. Had everyone changed as much as she had? Would they all look at one another like strangers? The thought caused her chest to ache. Would Joseph look at her differently? For five years he had been devoted to work at The Haven. Copious letters and pictures showed the beautiful progress and growth he and Moses had accomplished. Joseph always insisted every new project have Bren’s stamp of approval, especially since Falon had left.

Falon. Bren closed her eyes, stalling another avalanche of tears. Falon wouldn’t be there to help ease Bren back into home and the business. Bren understood. Falon had stayed for a year to begin restoration on The Haven. At that point she felt comfortable to leave and pursue the dream she and Lael had envisioned. The last time Bren spoke to Falon, she was finishing her doctorate degree and running a home for abused children in Montana. Bren knew her grandparents were in Heaven applauding Falon’s strength and determination to help others and rejoicing to see The Haven in its height of lushness. Business had quadrupled. New partners had come on board. More importantly, The Haven was at peace.

It had also been a year since Bren had seen her mom and sisters. Plans to go home over Christmas break ended when Bren got an opportunity to tutor under a renowned midwife in Durham, North Carolina. She almost reneged, but her mother insisted Bren go. Thank goodness for the twins. The girls had been great communicators. Since they were ten years old, they called, sent letters, and drew hundreds of pictures, many filling up the wall above Bren’s desk. Whenever she got blue, she would cast her eyes up and see her whole family in vibrant colors, active, safe, and happy. They would no doubt welcome her wholeheartedly.

Looking at her wall of memorabilia, she spied a crayon drawing of Moses and Miriam trimming the Christmas tree. They were family. Moses was more like a father than hers could have ever been. Would things be different when she returned? After the satanic attack on The Haven, Moses was injured. Thinking he was going to die, Miriam convinced Dominique to come to the hospital and marry Moses and Miriam. In the middle of questions and reservations, Miriam stood determined.

Standing close to Moses, Miriam whispered in his ear, “Dominique’s here to marry us. You better wake up in time to say I do.”

Moses coughed and sputtered, opening his eyes wide. “Woman, I decide when and if I’m gonna be married!” Then his eyes softened when he saw her anguished look. “You’re my woman, the love of my life. Will you marry me?” Miriam flung herself over Moses body, causing him to wince in intense pain.

Bren laughed just thinking about it. She’d been in the room as a reluctant witness. Uneasy, thinking Miriam’s plan might not be legal, or that Moses might not respond, Bren stood ready to protest as Moses’s advocate. When Bren did suggest an alternative action, Miriam’s response stood final. “My man’s gonna marry me even if he can only lift his little finger to signal yes!”

Looking back, Bren knew their marriage had been an anecdote for healing. Within three weeks of hospital stays and rehabilitation, Moses was walking with a cane. As a wedding gift, Falon contacted Isaiah Bennett and purchased a plot of land large enough to make a road between The Haven’s Purple Region and Moses’s home place, Moss Run. She deeded it over to a weeping Moses and Miriam, assuring them it was to make their travels to The Haven easier. Over the next five years, Moses not only worked at The Haven but managed to restore Moss Run to Miriam’s specifications.

Bren started taking down one picture, one drawing at a time, holding each a little longer to savor the memory. Lifting one picture caused another to fall to the floor. Pushing her desk away from the wall, she retrieved the photo. It was of Creed at his undergraduate ceremony from the University of North Carolina. She remembered meeting his mother, Jennybelle, at the coliseum and watching her cry through the whole ceremony. Creed graduated with honors and immediately began law school two weeks later. He had lost the lanky, scrawny look and developed into a tall, handsome man. Every time Bren saw a picture of him, he had a new girl on his arm, a measure of Creed’s outgoing nature and continued success. Bren knew Moses’s dreams for Creed to be a successful lawyer were being realized.

The door opened with a knock. Stacy, a fellow student, stuck her head around the doorframe. “Hey, are you going to the graduation ceremony tonight?”

Bren shook her head. “No. My family made the trek for undergraduate, but I told them not to come for this one. I’m not staying. I need to go home.”

Stacy waved and blew a kiss. It didn’t register with Bren when she said it, but all she could focus on were the truth in her words. She needed to go home.

Bren had already loaded the car, cleaned the room, and showered before collapsing on the cot, exhausted. Car horns blared, voices were raised in jubilation, fireworks exploded, and people ran up and down the hall. Bren let go and drifted off to sleep. A deep silence draped around her. She felt the world shift. Fitful dreams collided into one another, disconnected and troubling. A man’s face ebbed between each venue, hazy and unrecognizable. The last thread of visions cleared and she was running, continuing to look over her shoulder. In a flash, the man’s face appeared again, handsome and regal. When he smiled, terror slammed her. Sitting straight up, she wrestled her consciousness from the image.

Folding in an act of prayer, Bren found no words of comfort. Feeling helpless, she walked over to the window, opened the blinds, and perused the campus lawn below—empty except for two lone walkers. Taking in a deep breath, she said out loud, “Here I am, Lord. Send me. I’m not sure what lies ahead, but I’m keeping my eyes on You. Give me wisdom. Keep my feet firmly planted.”

Looking around a near empty dorm room, she sighed, watching threads of light push through the louvers and cascade around the room, pulsing in live undulations. Dust motes danced between ribbons of color, dainty fairies announcing a new day, a new beginning.

Taking a last look, Bren picked up her purse and remaining items and left. There was no power in her exit, only resolve.

On purpose, Bren kept the time of her return home a secret from her mother. Bren had something to take care of, a visit she had wrestled with, prayed over, and finally acquiesced to do. In order to make a new beginning, she had to finish something she had started five years ago. An image of her father surfaced, standing over her, hatred etched into his face. She drew her lips together and blew out a long breath to keep panic at bay. Frightening as it was, her grandmother had taught forgiveness was freedom for the one offering it. And Bren had. She longed to seal it by telling her father goodbye. It was a journey she had to do alone. She wanted to enter The Haven free of regret, bitterness, and loss. There were too many things ahead. Starting them with anything less than joy was unacceptable.

Bren stopped at her favorite coffee hangout for a mocha espresso and bagel. The stretch home went quickly. The radio was set to her favorite station, the volume raised, and her windows were open, as she sang loud enough to get two waves and an upturned thumb. She traveled, taking in each sound, sight, and smell offered. Five miles from her destination, she reversed everything, turned off the music and rolled up the windows. She drove deliberately and mindfully. Pulling into Memorial Gardens, she began looking for the tombstone bearing the name of her father: Larry Ji Parrot.

Winding around the strips of pavement that ran between rows of graves, she traveled slowly, reading each name. Many names were familiar. Most held memories. Like Mrs. Gladys Webb, Bren’s first grade teacher. Or John Griffin, a schoolmate’s dad. Then there was Molly Grimes who died at two years old. Etched on her tombstone was: She only knew love. The list grew. Bren kept driving. As she turned the last bend, before entering the graveyard’s new section, she spied her father’s tombstone. Pulling off to the side, she reached behind her seat, pulled out a bouquet of artificial flowers and her journal, got out of the car, and headed toward the variegated gray slab of granite.

Standing in front of her dad’s burial site, she stared at each letter. Bren lowered herself to the grass, her gaze fixed. A gentle breeze rolled across the newly manicured lawn, lifting the ruffled sleeve on her blouse, sending a prickling sensation up and down her arm. It caused her to smile, thinking it was probably GG’s spirit whisking by in gratitude.

Scooting closer, Bren reached her hand out and traced each letter. Dropping her hand, she reached beside her and grabbed the journal. This would be the first entry—a new tradition to herald a new beginning. This, too, had been planned. Taking the pen out of the journal’s binding, she began to write.


June 1992

Dear Dad,

I love you. I forgive you. I said these words five years ago. I still mean them. No, I haven’t forgotten what you said to me or what you did. Forgiveness doesn’t wipe out memory, but it eases the pain and lets you heal within the hurt and brokenness. I can say it doesn’t hurt as much. I don’t have as many nightmares. And, I’m not searching the crowds, thinking you’re coming back for vengeance.

God has blessed me with a new view on life with Him at the center. I cannot hate you where I exist now, circled in God’s love. All I can do is feel sad for you. You must have suffered things we did not understand to have turned to Satan for affection. I wish you could have seen all the love waiting for you . . . Mom, me, GG, Falon, Abigail, and Amy. At any point and time, you could have changed the course of our lives with three little words: I love you.

Since I cannot know the whys, I trust Jesus to stand in your place and guide me into the future. I’m scared. I want to be GG’s granddaughter, to stand tall and bring others to Christ. As a nurse, I want to heal and offer people a glimpse at what real love looks like.

I’ve come to realize all the things that happened to our family had a purpose within God’s will. Today, our family is strong, healthy, and at peace. Right now, I want to confess one of many blessings I’ve received from all that’s happened to me. I’ve been afraid to even voice it, but I wanted you to know. In the darkest hours of my life, in the deepest suffering I’ve ever experienced, God remembered me and gifted me Joseph. Over the last five years, I have grown more in love with this man. I keep wondering how this can be, but I know it’s right.


Bren lifted her head, looked around, and seeing no one, yelled, “I am madly in love with Joseph LeMaire!” Tears spilled down onto her journal. She drove her tongue hard into her upper left molars to squelch the tears and bared down on her uneven breathing. Swiping at her cheeks, she continued writing.


Lord, give me strength. Let me be still and wait patiently for Your will to be done. You know what I have to do. You know how I feel about Joseph. I realize he may not feel the same. He may want to leave once I get home and go back to his family. Oh Father, keep my heart from breaking. I cannot let feelings stand in the way of the work You have for me to do.

Dad, I pray for your soul.

Your loving daughter,

Bren


Bren stood up and wiped her face. Picking up the flowers, she placed them in the urn vase built into the base of her father’s tombstone. Completeness filled her. It is finished.

As soon as Bren got back into the car, she decided to make one more stop. Pulling up in front of Skip Hardy’s house caused her heart to leap for joy. Every step up to the front door was a silent plea that Skip and Marcy would be home. The doorbell rang clear, a dog barked, and she heard a familiar voice shouting, “I’ve got it!”

The door opened, and Skip Hardy yelled again, “It’s Bren! Marcy, it’s Bren!” before pulling her into his arms and twirling her around. Then Marcy came up and joined the merriment. When they released, Marcy and Bren were crying. Skip rubbed his nose and dabbed his eyes.

Marcy grabbed Bren’s hand. “I’ve got someone you’ve got to meet!” Bren looked up at Skip, and he winked. She knew exactly who this special person was. As they rounded the corner into the living room, there was the bassinet.

Bren walked over and peered down at Benjamin Allan Hardy, Jr. He was perfect! Without one minute of trepidation, Bren picked Ben up and pulled him into her chest. His sweet, warm body was a reminder of God’s graciousness.

Marcy and Skip stood close, leaning into one another.

“God is truly amazing,” Bren announced as she ran her fingers lightly over the baby’s peach-fuzz head.

“We were told we couldn’t have children,” Marcy confessed. “Guess the doctors hadn’t consulted with the Great Physician.”

“Strangest thing,” Skip stated, “when Marcy told me she was pregnant, I just stared at her. When I saw her getting upset, I acted like I was happy. But I can admit it now; I really didn’t believe her until we went for the ultrasound. When I saw Ben, moving and sucking his little finger, I cried like a baby. The attending tech looked miserable, not knowing what to do. I don’t know if she thought I was filled with anger or joy. Outside of marrying Marcy, that was the best day of my life.”

Bren kept her eyes on Ben. Watching him studying her made her heart soar. His little eyes grew wider as she moved closer to kiss his forehead. Seeing his hands open and close, clutching nothing but the air, caused her to giggle. When the dog barked, Ben’s eyes fluttered as if the noise was in his face.

“Have you been to The Haven yet?” Skip asked.

Bren hated to break her observations of a sweet miracle, but did, looking up and smiling. “No, I haven’t been home yet. I needed to go to the graveyard. It was my first time to go to Dad’s grave, and I wanted to leave some things there. You know what I mean.”

Marcy picked up on the conversation. “Bren, I’m so sorry about your dad. He was a tormented soul. I thought when he was captured after the attack that he would change for the better. Did Skip tell you he saw him in prison?”

Bren shot Skip a heated look. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Skip motioned for everyone to sit down. Marcy took Ben from Bren’s arms, excusing herself to nurse him. Skip waited for Bren to sit down before he drew up a chair, almost touching her, knee to knee.

“I was working on a case that took me up to the prison. I did not go with an intention to see Larry. I’m sorry to say, but I really hadn’t thought much about him since he got captured. I was so glad to see it over and your family finally safe that I sorta forgot about him.”

Seeing Bren’s face, he paused, touching her knee. “I’m going to tell you the truth about that visit. I know this will be painful, but I always believe the truth is easier in the long run.”

When Bren nodded, he continued. “A buddy of mine that works at the correctional facility asked me about Larry. Seemed he remembered we used to be childhood friends. When I acknowledged that, he asked me to come to his office. He retrieved Larry’s file and showed me several entries noting your father screaming and demanding help, feeling someone was trying to kill him. Often during the night, inmates would begin clanging their cups against the bars to get the guards to come and shut your father up. He would scream blood-curdling yells that scared a lot of the men on his floor. The warden had doctors and psychiatrists involved. At first they thought he was pulling a prank to get out of his cell. As he became more insistent that evil was coming to kill him, the warden took more precautions.

“Extra guards were put on duty, hoping to see if any of the inmates were threatening Larry. When that didn’t pan out they put him in isolation, but Larry kept insisting someone wanted to harm him. One night the doctor went to the area to check on him. Larry was lying on the floor, cut from one end to the other. Blood was everywhere. The doctor rushed inside to see if Larry was dead. He was not. Rushing to the door, the doctor hollered for the guards. Within minutes the guards and warden arrived. They all stood outside the prison cell staring in horror at your father.”

Skip tried to gauge Bren’s reaction, but she just stared at him, not in disbelief, but in acceptance.

“You know this is killing me, but I thought you needed to know the truth,” Skip said.

In the background Bren heard Marcy singing a lullaby. Bren couldn’t make out the words, but the cadence was soothing and somewhat familiar. She concentrated on the ceiling fan for a few seconds, hoping to process the news without becoming terrified. She closed her eyes and silently prayed the Serenity Prayer. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. She repeated it three times before opening her eyes and facing Skip.

“Go ahead,” she told Skip.

“They brought in a gurney, covered your father with a sheet, and took him to the infirmary. The doctor felt ill-equipped to handle the situation, so the warden had your father transported to a psychiatric ward in a nearby hospital under full police protection. I got a call from a buddy at the prison and went to see him.”

Skip hung his head, staring at his lap. “I almost backed out of going. I truly didn’t want to see him, but I felt it was the right thing to do. Anyway, I went up, totally unprepared. The guy at the prison only told me half the story. When I saw Larry, I almost passed out. He looked like a monster. His arms and legs were bandaged, but his ragged, torn face had been left exposed. His mouth was so distorted from the cuts and swelling that he could barely speak. He recognized me and asked me to sit close. He told me they would kill him soon. He wasn’t hysterical or panicked. In fact, he seemed lucid and reconciled. I asked him who wanted to kill him and why. Larry told me he had failed the Evil One and must die. He was unworthy to continue following the master.”

Lifting his head, Skip stared at Bren. “I asked your dad if I could pray for him. He laughed, saying prayer was for idiots. Then he stopped cold and tried to reach for me, but he couldn’t. So he settled back and asked me to please forgive him. I got down on my knees and began praying. As I was ending my prayer, Larry began reciting the twenty-third Psalm. I opened my eyes and watched as he finished with an “Amen.” He opened his eyes, and we sat still for a chilling few minutes before he told me I needed to go home. His voice was kind and gentle. I almost thought I could see the edge of his lip turn up.” Skip put his hands on either side of his face, and anguish cut into his voice. “I don’t know. Maybe I wanted to see good in him. Maybe he realized what he had done and wanted to be forgiven. I will never know now. I got up and left. Two days later I got an anonymous call that Larry hung himself.”

“What?” Bren gasped. “I thought the autopsy said. . .”

“The autopsy report said he died of natural causes.”

“Dad was part of a satanic cult. Do you believe he died of natural causes?”

Skip shook his head.

Bren heard Marcy reenter the room. “Marcy, I want you to hear what I’m about to say to Skip.” As soon as Marcy sat beside Bren, she opened up. “Skip, you asked me to trust you. It took the third request before I did. You were part of the team that defeated the evil that attacked my home. You were a major part of the team that rescued us. My father would’ve destroyed us if he could have. I pray he had remorse. I pray he sought Jesus before the Evil One took his life. That little glimmer of hope is enough to give me joy. But my greatest joy right now is seeing you, Marcy, and Ben together. You realize, more than anyone else, that things could have turned out very different. Don’t second-guess your last visit with my father. You prayed with him. Do you know how thankful I am? I owe you so much. Never think about this again. You’ve been blessed for being a servant. You did what Jesus would have you do.”

Bren reached over and kissed Marcy’s cheek, tasting salty tears rolling down her face. Then Bren reached over and took Skip’s large hands in hers and pulled him forward to kiss him, too. “I love both of you. Now I have Ben to love, too. With all our might, we must stay focused and strong in our faith to make sure Ben never sees what we’ve witnessed. We must fight until the end for Ben, Abigail, Amy, and our community to keep them safe from the evil that exists. We need to educate them so they can be watchful. Satan would like nothing better than for us to be numb and ignorant.”

“You’re right. The Bible says a prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple man passes on and is punished. That speaks volumes for me.”

“Me, too. Okay . . . I have to go home. But I want you to know I’m available to babysit. I can’t wait to have some quality time with Ben. And please visit The Haven. I have very little possessions to get into place. Come soon, promise me.”

Outside, Marcy pointed to the sky. “Looks like there’s going to be a shower. You’d better get home quick. Your mother will be worried about you.”

Bren did her final hugs, got into the car, and started for her final stop of the day. Home.

The view heading there hadn’t changed much. The same pine thickets, crumbling tobacco barns, and rusted, abandoned cars, which had become greenhouse-refuges for young saplings. As she approached The Haven, she saw the newly constructed wooden fence lining the property edge. When she got to the entry road, she stopped. A large ranch gate built from sturdy railroad ties made a heartwarming entry. It was beautiful, denoting the strength and endurance of her family. An iron gate spanned between the ties, open and inviting. Bren’s excitement grew. Her heart swelled. She was home.


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Turning the last bend, the main house came into view. It was all she could do to stay in the car and not jump out and run. Within a few feet of the house, the front door flew open, and two squealing girls ran to meet her. Their high-pitched voices prompted another elevated sound, a howl from Dominion, who came running around the back of the house to join in the revelry.

Before Bren could get the car in park, the girls had the door open. Long, thin arms wrapped around her, their voices echoing in her ear. “Bren! You’re home! You’re home!”

Dominion had reared up onto their backs, licking at the wind between howls. Bren laughed so hard her side cramped, but she loved it. From behind her, she heard her mother chastising, “Girls! Dominion! Brenda Sue can’t even get out of the car. Move away!”

The girls moved back, jumping up and down. Grabbing one another’s hands, they swirled round and round, yelling, “Bren’s home forever! Bren’s home forever!” Not knowing what else to do, Dominion ran around them barking.

Linda finally got to Bren and hugged her deeply before pulling back, looking her over from top to bottom. “I can’t believe my eyes. You’re a woman! Where’s my little girl?”

Joy wrapped its arms around Bren’s heart, sealing it in love.

“Now wait a minute. You’re going to get all the hugs before I can get there,” a voice shouted.

It was Grandma Bunch. She dug her cane into the ground, pushing her body forward and extending her good leg as far as she could, mimicking an ice skater. By the time Bren and Linda got to Grandma Bunch, she was totally out of breath. “I’m ‘bout to have a heart attack.” Linda yelled for the girls to keep Dominion away from Grandma as everyone maneuvered her back toward the house.

“What did you do to your hip?” Bren asked, noticing how weak her grandmother’s right side was.

“I near ‘bout fell out of the porch the other day. Tripped on my own dang feet and lost my balance. As I was tumbling down the stairs, I caught the handrail and slid into the yard. Miss Ethel Mae yelled out the door for me not to move. She called the ambulance first and then yor mama. Those young quack doctors wanted to run tests. I can’t afford no tests. I told Linda to get me outta there and back home. Reckon she can’t hear worth a darn cause she brought me here. That’s all right. Juanita’s been cooking, praise Jesus. But now you can take me home.”

“First of all, we need to get you up the stairs and into the house. I want to examine you, okay?”

Grandma Bunch dug in, halting both ladies from proceeding farther. “You hold on a confounded minute. Examine me? I’ve already been poked and prodded like one of Bill’s cows. I’m fine. I want to go home!”

Looking over at Bren, Linda shook her head.

Once inside the living room, they were able to get Grandma into a chair and settle her down with a promise of iced tea and cookies. For the moment, Grandma forgot all about going home. She was off her feet in a cool house, and refreshments were coming. Her whole demeanor changed. As Grandma settled into the chair, she slumped forward, a veil slipping across her face.

Walking back to the car, Linda expressed her concerns. “Bren, I’m worried about Mom. I know she’s had a fall, but for the last couple of years, her behavior has been erratic. She sleeps a lot and remembers very little about the present. The only thing she wants to talk about is the past. I mean thirty or more years in the past. She has little interest in the girls. I’m afraid for her to go back home and be alone.”

“I understand. Over the next few days, I’ll observe her. How long has she been here?”

“Three weeks.”

“And she’s still not settled in?”

Linda answered with a defeated look, her shoulders slumped and gaze turned downward.

“Mom, don’t worry. We’ll figure out what to do. For now, Grandma’s safe. Let’s keep an eye on her. I’m sure she’s going to be fine.” Bren put her hand on her mother’s shoulder for added comfort.

Looking relieved, Linda stated, “The girls wanted to have a big homecoming party ready for you. I mean today. Right now.” Linda laughed. “It was all I could do to convince them that you needed to settle in and get your things straight before a party. But we do have the big event scheduled for Saturday night. We’re so excited! So, you have three days to settle in, look around at all the new changes, and see Joseph.”

Joseph. Bren had done everything in her power to keep from thinking about him. Opening up her heart at her father’s gravesite proved hard enough. She didn’t know if her heart could take seeing Joseph. A tinge of anguish flushed her face. She wanted desperately to see him but feared he’d see straight through her. She loved him. How would she keep love from radiating from her very pores? Would he see love undulating like a heartbeat around the periphery of her body? For a split second, she wondered if love had an aroma. That thought snapped her back to full attention.

“Oh yeah . . . I’m sure I’ll run into Joseph in the next day or two.” Bren’s vocals shredded into thin notes as she eked out his name.

Gathering Bren’s possessions from the car, the ladies decided to head toward the back of the house so as not to disrupt Grandma Bunch’s snack time. Juanita had the door opened for them as they stepped onto the back porch.

Bren’s hands were full, but she arched a cheek toward Juanita for a kiss, declaring, “I have missed you so much! Let me unload these things, and I’ll give you a real hug.”

Juanita beamed. “, Miss Bren. I’m in the kitchen fixing you a nice dinner.”

Linda went past Bren and walked down the hallway toward the bedrooms, wobbling under the weight of the boxes. When her mother halted in front of GG’s bedroom, Bren emphatically shot an answer. “No, Mom. I can’t take GG’s room.”

Shifting the burden in her arms, Linda sat both boxes down outside the door. “This is your room now. I took Larry’s old room. It felt natural since I’d shared it with him early in our marriage. The girls are in Falon’s room. The twin beds were perfect for them.” Linda seemed to notice Bren’s resistance. “When Falon was here, she moved a couch into the girl’s room. She said she wanted you to have GG’s room. Nothing has been changed. Her things are still just like she left them. We clean the room but wanted you to be the one to go through her things. Falon felt GG would have wanted it this way.”

Linda turned the knob and opened the door. She heard Bren gasp. “Over the last five years, Juanita and I have alternated cleaning the room. Every time I open the door, I do the same thing. Even now my heart is thumping, expecting GG to be sitting on her bed, reading, or at her dressing table, winding her long hair into a bun. I can still smell lavender. At times, I even feel her presence.”

Bren’s eyes went straight to the bed. She’d never forget her grandmother tapping the bed and asking Bren to crawl in. Being that close to GG in such an intimate way highlighted Bren’s memories of her grandmother. Bren closed her eyes, still seeing GG’s eyes, bright and excited as she talked about the vision Bren’s grandfather had about the five-pointed star. The memory was etched in her mind and heart. Over the last five years, Bren had filled a notebook with remembrances of GG, trying to capture how she looked, what she said, how she walked, and how reverent people were around her. There was no one in this world Bren would rather emulate than her grandmother.

Walking into the room, the faint scent of lavender danced in subtle tones as she breathed in deeply. “Mom, this is perfect. Thank you. It’s an honor to be in this room.”

“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.”

Bren swung around so fast she almost fell. “Moses!” Dropping everything to the floor, Bren ran and wrapped her arms around his waist. He smelled like newly mown hay, pungent and alive. His arms went around her, hugging her close and protective. She heard his whispers. “My baby girl is home. Thank you, Jesus, for keeping her safe and bringing her back to us.”

Bren clung to Moses. She felt his frailty, but she pushed everything out of her mind, wanting only to feel his arms around her. He could never imagine how much she loved him. He was the father she never had. Protective. Corrective. Dependable. Faith-filled. Loving.

“Okay, I’ve waited long enough. Let me in there!” Moses held out his arm, and Miriam squeezed in, putting one arm around Bren and the other around Moses. Miriam pressed her nose into Bren’s hair and announced, “I’m so glad you’re home.”

Moses gave one huge squeeze and released. Bren looked up into his face and smiled, turning the same countenance to Miriam. “This is the best day ever!”

Moses twisted his head, giving her a bruised look. “That’s all you’ve got to say? That this is the best day ever. Did you not notice how much better looking I’ve gotten?” Both women pushed hard against his ribs, eliciting a moan. “Okay . . . okay! I may not be the best looking guy around, but I have more character than most. Do you buy into that?”

Bren looked from one to the other, tears springing to her eyes. “I’m so glad to be home. I hadn’t realized it fully until right now. For five years I concentrated so hard on my studies for fear I would go AWOL and rush back home. Now I’m here. Thank you, Jesus.”

Moses gave Bren another hug and told her he and Miriam had to head home but would be back the next day to take her around the property. Kissing Bren on the forehead, Moses whispered, “I love you, baby girl.”

No words could have been sweeter. Watching them leave gave her comfort. They were all together again. All her young life, she desired a family like she saw other kids have. Now she had that and more. God had brought her through the fire without one smell of ashes. He had continually blessed her, even when she refused to acknowledge Him.

Just as she turned to walk back into the bedroom, she saw her mother running toward the living room. Bren reacted quickly and arrived just as her mother knelt beside Grandma Bunch who was lying on the floor. The girls stood huddled together in the corner, their eyes wide with fear.

Getting in close to her grandmother, Bren began checking Grandma’s vitals, assessing quickly that everything seemed fine. Bren hadn’t realized her mother had left the room until she extended GG’s medical bag toward Bren. “Thanks, Mom, but she seems fine.”

Looking at Abigail and Amy, Bren asked, “Did you girls see what happened to Grandma Bunch?”

The girls looked frightened. Linda walked over and hugged them. “Grandma’s okay. We were wondering if she might have fallen and hit her head or something.”

“Grandma stood up, but she looked funny,” Abigail stated.

“She didn’t look funny. Grandma looked spacey,” Amy corrected.

“How could she look spacey when we live on Earth, you dumbo?” Abigail retaliated.

Amy pushed her lip forward and crossed her arms in open defiance. “I’m not talking about outer space. I’m saying she looked confused.”

“Both answers helped us, girls,” Bren acknowledged. “After Grandma stood up, what happened then?”

“She fell down,” Amy and Abigail said in unison.

“Mom, is Grandma on any medications?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Bren could see her mother struggling.

Finally, she continued. “You know, when we left the hospital, I went by the house to gather some things for her. She waited in the car. I don’t remember seeing any prescription drug bottles on her nightstand or in the bathroom. It never dawned on me to ask her about medications.”

Bren looked at her watch. “Where would Grandma get a prescription filled?”

“She always went to Rite Aid.”

“Does she still see Dr. Williams?”

“Yes.”

Bren moved over and sat in the chair beside the phone. Predictably the phone directory was under it and a pad and pen nearby. Bren looked up both numbers and wrote them down. As she began dialing, Grandma started moaning. Bren lowered the phone into its cradle and went back to her grandmother’s side.

“Grandma, do you hear me?” Bren asked loudly.

Grandma Bunch moaned louder, rolling onto her back and then stretching her arms over her head, letting out a huge sigh. Grandma opened her eyes and looked at Bren and Linda. “What’s wrong?” Grandma asked.

“You fell. Are you okay?” Linda asked.

“Fell? I did no such thing. I laid down to take a nap. What’s all this nonsense about?”

Linda looked from Bren to the girls and back before addressing Grandma again. “When I came into the room, you were lying on the floor. How was I to know you were napping?”

Grandma Bunch looked puzzled. Then she shot a life-threatening glare at the twins. “You made this up, didn’t you?”

The girls drew close to one another, both shaking their head from side to side.

Bren touched Grandma’s shoulder, but she pulled away, sneering. “You in on this, too? As much as I’ve done for you, and now this.”

Grandma turned on her side, pushing herself up to knee level, and grabbed the chair to finish pulling herself up to standing. “Where’s my purse?” She tossed the chair cushion to the floor. “Where is it?” She screamed. Turning around, she faced Linda and Bren and threatened them. “I’m calling the police. You cannot keep me here. I’m not a prisoner.” When no one moved, she limped over to the phone, picked it up, hit zero, and waited for an answer. “Hello? Hello? Yes, I’m reporting a kidnapping. What? I’m the one being kidnapped, you fool! And you better get here fast before they decide to kill me.” Grandma slammed the receiver into the cradle. Facing Bren and Linda, Grandma made her last declaration. “You’re all going to jail.” Pointing to the twins, she added, “You, too! They’ll put you in jail, and all you’ll get is bread and water.”

As Grandma limped to the door, Bren asked, “Hey, do you need your cane?”

Grandma whirled around, furious. “A cane?”

Bren held it in the air for her to see.

Turmoil tied Grandma’s face into a mass of flushed, distorted knots. Confusion caused her eyes to bat in a frantic motion as she turned her head left to right. She lifted her hands to her forehead and began rubbing her temples frantically.

Bren slid sideways to draw closer to Linda and whispered, “Call 911.” Bren could feel Linda’s distress. Rotating slowly toward the twins, Bren mouthed, “Go fetch Moses.”

Twisting back toward her grandmother, Bren noticed Grandma had settled down and was staring blankly ahead. Approaching her, Bren kept talking soft and slow. “Mrs. Bunch, you look like you need a nice cold glass of tea. I think we’ve got some cookies. Would that be nice, Mrs. Bunch?” Bren kept the repetition up until she got close enough to her grandmother to slip an arm under hers and direct her toward the chair. Grandma Bunch followed compliantly. Bren never took her hand away or stopped talking.

The police arrived within seconds of the ambulance. Linda met them before they got to the door to apprise them of the situation. One of the men on the medical team, Bob Rouse, went to school with Linda and knew her mother. Linda brought them in through the back door, hoping it wouldn’t upset her mother further.

Bob walked up to Grandma Bunch and introduced himself. He began talking about Lizzy Maynard, a neighbor who used to live near Grandma. It was common knowledge the two hated one another.

“Hey Mrs. B., how’re you doing?” Bob held her hand, slipped two fingers under her thumb for a pulse and then continued talking. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about Ms. Lizzy. That woman keeps trying to get me in trouble with my parents. I accidentally rode my bike over her back lawn. Next thing I knew that crazy woman was running me down with a broom in her hand. She called my dad. I’m in a lot of trouble. What can I do, Mrs. B.?”

Grandma Bunch lit right up. “Lizzy Maynard? Why, that witch! I’ve got more dirt on that woman than Carter’s got liver pills.” When she looked at him, she softened. “Little Bobby Rouse? You’ve always been a good boy. You raked my lawn. Mr. B. really likes you. Says you always do a nice job. Why don’t you see him and ask him what to do? That man has a way with women. He might be able to soften up old Lizzy.” In a surprise movement, Grandma leaned over and hugged Bob, tears springing to her eyes. “You remind me of my Georgie. Do you know where he is?”

Bob took Grandma’s hand, led her out the front door and into the back of the ambulance. Linda and Bren couldn’t hear what he was saying, but from the way he casually leaned into her, they knew he had the situation under control. They watched as the ambulance driver talked to Bob, and then the driver came back to the house.

“Bob’s taking Mrs. B. to the hospital. He said he’ll stay with her until they get her settled. He’s officially off work, but when we got the call, he insisted on coming here. Don’t rush. The hospital’s packed. We had a serious car wreck two hours ago, and the ER is understaffed. It’s crazy over there!”

Moses came up as the driver headed back to the ambulance. “Abigail called and said Grandma Bunch had gone crazy. Then I heard the girls wrestling for the phone. Amy got on and said Grandma was putting everyone in jail. I told Miriam I’d better get over here and check out the evidence. I’ve never heard the girls so upset.”

“We aren’t sure what happened to Grandma,” Bren offered. “I’ll get over to the hospital in a bit and see if they can get her set up for an evaluation. Mom doesn’t know if Grandma was on any prescription drugs. If she was, she hasn’t been on any for the past three weeks.” Bren looked up at Moses and shrugged her shoulders. “Hey, I’m sorry about dragging you back over here. The girls were probably glad to hear your voice. They were scared. But, I think everything’s okay now.”

Amy and Abigail came into the room, and Moses turned his attention to them. “Girls, I appreciate you calling me. You can call Uncle Moses anytime you want to, you hear?” Moses rustled Amy’s and Abigail’s hair, and as he left, he waved a goodbye.

Linda went over and picked up the chair cushion off the floor, setting it back in place. Next, she began collecting the glasses and plates from the side table.

“Mom? Are you all right?”

Linda sat down, stared ahead, and asked, “Do you think Mama’s losing her mind? Her mom was about Mama’s age when she started forgetting things and acting strange. I don’t know what happened to my grandmother. We weren’t close to her. It’s like I saw her, and then she just blanked out of existence. No one ever mentioned her again. It was as if she never existed.”

Bren sighed deeply before walking over to her mom and squatting down in front of her. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s going on with Grandma. We’ll get her evaluated. It’s probably something simple. Let’s don’t jump to the negative. If it’s something serious, we’ll handle it together.” Bren motioned for the twins to join them. “Let’s all pray for Grandma.”

“Can I say the prayer?” Abigail asked. Bren waited for Amy’s rebuttal. When none came, she told Abigail to pray.

“Dear Jesus, Grandma Bunch is at the hospital. We are very worried. Mama said if we take all our problems to You that You will gladly take them. We’re giving you Grandma, Jesus, because we don’t know what to do with her. She’s acting funny. Thank you for bringing Bren home. Everything’s better when we’re all together. Amen.”


***



At two in the morning, Bren quietly entered the house and slipped down to GG’s bedroom. She was exhausted. It had been hard convincing her mother to stay home with the girls after they had supper. Bren knew hospital politics, and she knew she might have to get nasty. Her mother had been through enough. As she suspected, Grandma was tormenting the nurses, threatening a lawsuit, and demanding to be released. When Bren tried to talk to her grandmother, she insisted on speaking to her deceased husband, Harold, who managed her affairs. Bren stayed until they had her grandmother in a room, had administered a sedative, and watched her drift off, still arguing about the harsh treatment she’d received from the hospital staff.

When Bren entered her new bedroom, she realized all her bags were in the floor right where she had left them earlier. Reaching into her duffle bag, she pulled out pajamas, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Dragging herself to the bathroom, she quickly undressed, brushed her teeth, and found a washrag to scrub fatigue off her face. Spying a half-used jar of lavender cream, she picked it up, took out a full fingertip of the emollient, and massaged it into her face and neck. The aroma spiraled around her nostrils, releasing its relaxing oils into the air.

Heading toward the bed, she felt suspended within a capsule of divine luxury. Sliding beneath the cool sheets intoxicated the senses. Her head had just rested on the pillow when a barely audible knock pierced her awareness.

“Come in.”

The knob turned, and a small hand rounded the doorframe, pushing it open wide. “Bren, I forgot to tell you something.”

Seeing it was her sister, Bren leaned forward. “You’re up too late. What could be so important?”

Amy rubbed her eyes and lowered her shoulders, her pink gown too long for her small frame. “Joseph called. He said to wish you a welcome home. I told him about Grandma Bunch, and he sounded upset. Mama got the phone and told him where you were. Did you know Joseph is my boyfriend? We’re going to be married. He said I just had to grow up some more.”

Bren smiled. “Thank you for telling me. I’ll call Joseph tomorrow, okay?”

Amy rubbed her eyes again. “Okay. Love you, Bren.”

“You, too, Patty Cake.” Bren almost gasped when she realized what she had said. Patty Cake. It was the name Falon had called Bren when she was young. A deep sadness pierced her consciousness. Bren loved Falon. She had the type of personality that drew people to her, wanting to know more about this woman who gave her all to everything she was passionate over. Even after losing her best friend, Lael, Falon wrapped her faith into an invisible turban and secured it on her head. Around her heart she sealed memories and love. Lael had led her back to Jesus. It was Lael who revealed Falon’s legacy, being a Lighten. After the family said goodbyes to Lael, Falon flew Lael’s body back to her home in Texas. Falon stayed for a month to comfort Lael’s grandmother. Returning home, Falon’s healing was evident. Her language about Lael was to savor the blessings of friendship and love, knowing God had His reasons for bringing Lael home to Him, as He did her mother, GG. Such tender memories.

The need to sleep dissolved into a flurry of images, words and thoughts, strands weaving around one another until Bren sat up on the side of the bed, having to take deep breaths to regain composure. So much had changed in five years. Could she flip back through time and bridge then to now? Were her expectations too high? Did she think everyone was going to roll over, welcome Bren back home, and move forward as if nothing had ever happened? If everyone had changed as much as she had, would it be possible to come back like you were sliding into home base, hoping to be the victor?

All she had thought about the last five years was getting her nursing degree, coming home, and healing people. In that whole time, she had not tried to even begin to heal herself. Never tried to face the anger. Never wrestled with the evil that came after everyone she loved. Bren squelched the thought of GG’s and Lael’s deaths. Who did Bren think she was to have left everyone to take charge of The Haven, while she strolled off to college to do her own thing? What a selfish, horrible person she was. And the real revulsion was realizing this was the first time the truth of her actions had penetrated.

Getting out of bed, Bren threw on her jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Quietly exiting through the back door, she began running as soon as her feet hit the ground. She ran in circles, not knowing where to go. She ran from her thoughts. She ran from herself. Pumping her arms. Pumping her legs. Feeling her breath ache in heated blasts of torment, she finally slowed the pace. When she looked up, she was standing in front of the prayer shed. The sight of its rugged beauty made her sink to her knees. Rounding into a child’s pose, Bren took control of her breathing. Feeling steadier, she got up, walked over to the prayer shed, and went inside.

When the door closed behind her, darkness became her companion. Taking off her shoes, she wed her toes to the hewn floor to acclimate. As she remembered, the atmosphere and temperature inside elicited calmness. Stretching out both arms and extending all ten fingers, she moved forward in graduated measures. When her hand rested on the back of one of the benches, she maneuvered her body until she could sit, allowing her eyes to adjust.

The crosses at the front of the chapel were the first images to emerge. Barely visible, until her memory fleshed them out, the crosses anchored her sense of awareness that darkness robs from within as much as on the outside. In casual conversation, she began talking to God. Bren shared her thoughts, frailties, and longings to the Father. Heaviness pushed against her shoulders as she talked. Dreariness kept her eyes at half-mast. Leaning more and more toward the left, she finally slid until she was lying on her side, still talking to God. For comfort, she rolled up in a fetal position. Outside the periphery of consciousness, she saw a lithe woman dancing. Closing her eyes, she watched the woman more fully. Words slipped off her tongue, silent.


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