Category: This and That

FIRST WILD CARD TOURS: Red, White, and Blue by Laura Hayden

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!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Red, White, and Blue

Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Laura Hayden began her reading career at the age of four. By the time she was ten, she’d exhausted the children’s section in the local library and switched to adult mysteries. Although she always loved to write, she became sidetracked in college where differential equations outweighed dangling participles. But one engineering degree, one wedding, two kids, and three military assignments later, she ended up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she met people who shared her passion for writing. With their support, instruction, and camaraderie, she set and met her goal of selling her first book. She has now published ten novels and several short stories.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414319401
ISBN-13: 978-1414319407

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Kate Rosen sat on the edge of the stage, the large hotel ballroom stretching beyond her, long emptied of people. The only things left behind were the detritus of a grand night of celebration—balloons skimming over the carpet, trampled paper streamers, discarded signs, and swags of limp bunting that sagged against the walls.

No more cameras, no strobe lights, no cheering throng.

The exuberant but exhausted audience had finally faded away hours earlier, the journalists following suit shortly afterward. America had finally gone to bed, either celebrating or lamenting the fact that that they’d just elected their first female president.

Kate cherished the silence. She needed someplace where she could collect her thoughts, which had been shattered tonight. She’d discovered things she could hardly believe even still about her best friend. And she’d been disillusioned in a way that nobody, even a politician’s top aide, was prepared to be. Her headache and heartache had been made worse by the oppressive crush of supporters commemorating their candidate’s—her candidate’s—triumph. Once Emily and her entourage, minus Kate, went upstairs, the party had finally broken up and the ballroom’s capacity crowd started to stream home for their own private celebrations.

But Kate’s ears still rang with the sound of more than a thousand people cheering, screaming their support of their candidate.

“Benton! Benton! Benton!”

Emily Rousseau Benton, former governor of Virginia, Kate’s best friend, had been elected president of the United States, in no small part due to Kate’s hard work. Emily’s race for the White House had dominated both of their lives for the past four years. Everything Kate did, every action she took as Emily’s campaign manager, had been done solely in support of her friend’s bid for the presidency.

And now that Emily had won, Kate was alone, horrified at the prospect that she might have made a terrible mistake.

She slipped down from the stage riser and kicked idly at the balloons in her path, creating a slight rippling effect across the bubbled mass of them. An occasional balloon still floated down from the ceiling, a day late and a dollar short.

Kate’s most recent revelation had been like that, one day too late. . . .

“Hey, Kate.”

A lone voice penetrated the silence. She stiffened in surprise and raised her hand to shade her eyes and get a better look at the person standing on the balcony. Her mood lightened and her shoulders relaxed when she realized who had spoken.

“Hey, Wes.”

“Y’all all right? Need some company?”

She nodded.

It was a classic Southern salutation, and the familiarity of it was oddly comforting. Then again, Wes Kingsbury always knew what to say—he was equal parts her friend and her spiritual mentor. Disappearing into the shadows, Wes emerged a few moments later from the staircase leading to the balcony box.

Kate glanced at her watch and stifled a yawn—3:46. That was a.m. Too early to be called morning, too late to be called night. The true dark hours of the human soul, when body rhythm and spirit were at their lowest point.

“I can’t believe you’re still here,” she said. The man had a wife and a small child, a real world and home to which he could return. He hadn’t closed his life down to a single obsessively sought goal. That had been her mistake.

“And I can’t believe you’re not upstairs. M’s still up in the suite, partying hearty.”

She kicked at a balloon, stirring up a small whirl of color. “I know. I’m not in much of a party mood.”

“So I see.” He fell into step next to her. “What’s going on? I would have thought you’d be thrilled. This was the goal, right?” He pointed to an abandoned placard: Benton/Bochner ’08.

“It was. It is.” She couldn’t help but shiver. “It’s complicated.”

“It’s Emily. It’s always complicated.” He chuckled, then sighed. “Okay, what has she done now?” At Kate’s hesitation, he added, “It’s got something to do with Talbot, doesn’t it?”

Charles Talbot had been Emily’s opponent in her race for the White House. As such, he’d pulled out all the stops to find all the dirt he could on his challenger. Kate, as Emily’s friend and ally for more than twenty years, had been positive there was no dirt to be found.

She’d been so wrong. . . .

Talbot’s investigators discovered that Emily’s family had illegally won important highway construction contracts in Virginia while Emily was the state’s governor.

When Kate learned his camp was prepared to release this information, the only way she could stop him was to explain to him exactly the unsavory facts that her own investigations had uncovered on him—details she’d kept out of Emily’s hands.

The last thing Kate had wanted was her friend to strike an ill-timed and unnecessary first blow—using a nuke when a nudge would have worked just as well. She’d learned the hard way that Emily, though a talented politician, wasn’t exactly good at being subtle when she had a bigger weapon handy. But when Talbot made his big, bold move to not only discredit Emily but take down her family by attempting to dismantle the entire Benton legacy, Kate had intervened by threatening to use her opposition research.

Talbot had killed . . . and Kate felt that she had no choice but to remind him of the lengths to which he’d gone to cover up his own crimes. She had the bloody proof that he’d been criminally negligent, if not morally responsible, in the grisly death of his college girlfriend. Talbot might have maneuvered his way out of the scandal, but Kate had the goods on him—incontrovertible evidence.

If released to the public, her evidence would have been sufficient to end his campaign, destroy his reputation, and possibly land him in jail for a long, long time. Talbot saw the light and backed down from his threats.

So Talbot had been stopped. The situation had served to cement Kate’s resolve that Emily Benton would make a far better president than her opponent. Emily was a policy wonk who knew her stuff, she was talented at getting things done, she worked hard for the people she represented, and she was charismatic enough to persuade even those who opposed her to allow time for her ideas to have a chance to work. In other words, Emily was the best politician of her time.

However, Kate soon learned not only that her actions had made Talbot her enemy for life, but also that no one ever wins in a competition of “who has the best blackmail” because the games like that never end. She’d felt sickened, soiled, and finally betrayed.

Kate drew a deep breath. “Emily found out.”

Wes straightened for a moment. He’d been one of only two confidants who knew the sins of both candidates, other than the candidates themselves.

“About . . .” Wes paused and glanced around as if gauging the likelihood of being overheard. Even though no one was in sight, he kept his voice low. “About the ammunition you had? How?”

“I told her I’d stopped Talbot, but I refused to tell her how. I didn’t think she needed to know. So in the middle of the night, my best friend M sent one of her protégés to ‘borrow’ the report from me.”

“‘Protégés’?” Wes’s gaze narrowed. “Maia,” he said in a flat voice.

Kate nodded. “Our very own ingenue in training.” She stared across the vast ballroom, watching a piece of bunting as it slipped from the balcony railing and wafted gently to the floor. “Though apparently she’s more iron maiden than ingenue. Scruples don’t seem to concern her. I rip my heart out every day, trying to find the right balance between my Christian convictions and loyalty to my country and to my friends—especially Emily. I want to make a difference in the world, make people’s lives better. I don’t always like how I do it. Maia didn’t have a second thought when Emily asked her to steal the reports from me in the middle of the night. She made copies, then replaced the originals so I wouldn’t know. Then Emily had Maia contact Talbot with what you’d call a very thinly veiled threat.”

Wes read between the lines. “Destroying any hope of the campaign staying out of the gutter.”

“Yeah. But then came the weird part. It did—stay out of the gutter, I mean.” A shiver coursed up her spine and she crossed her arms in an effort to combat it. “Buttoned up tighter than Fort Knox. Maybe my way wasn’t effective enough. Maybe Emily’s decision to send him a second threat was the only real way to stop him.” A second tremor joined the first, and Kate knew it wasn’t because she was cold. “Maybe I was wrong. Or maybe I’m in the wrong business. Or maybe I’m simply overreacting.”

“Or maybe not.”

They took several more steps through the remains of the revelry before Kate stopped. She reached down and rescued a placard bearing Emily’s likeness.

“In any case, I don’t know . . .” She hated how her voice broke when she spoke. “I don’t know if I can stay. If I can continue working with her. She lied to me, stole from me. Maia actually expected me to be impressed by their cleverness. Emily knew better. But she set it up anyway.” She studied the picture plastered across the placard. Emily’s resolute smile looked effortless despite the fact it’d taken the photographer over two hours to capture the perfect expression.

“You have very high standards for your behavior.” Wes took a few more steps, then stopped, pivoting to face her, his hands jammed in his pockets. “Emily’s a lot more flexible; she’s a big proponent for ‘the end justifies the means.’ You know that. I know that. The question is, can you tolerate that? Jesus himself said, ‘Render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s.’ But there have to be consequences when a person crosses the line. Nobody’s above the law, not even Emily—though she’d probably argue that point. The big question you have to answer here is what is the right thing for your faith and the right thing for the world. Think hard about that and then move forward. I’ll pray for you. I know it’s going to be a tough decision.”

Kate looked up from Emily’s compelling expression, the look in her eyes that said, You know you can trust me. “A decision I was hoping you’d help me make.”

To her utter surprise, Wes shook his head. “Nope.”

“But—”

He raised his palm to stop her. “Hear me out. I’m always willing to offer advice, lend a hand or even a shoulder, but when it comes to something like this, you need to work with a higher authority.” He pointed upward.

Kate managed to conjure up a tight smile. “Somehow, I don’t think you mean President-Elect Benton in the penthouse suite.”

“Nope. A lot higher.”

***

They rode up the elevator in silence. It wasn’t until they reached the door to the suite, flanked by Secret Service agents, that Wes hesitated.

Kate fought the urge to say, “You’re going in with me, aren’t you?” She realized she needed to speak to Emily in private. If any of the campaign entourage still hung about, Kate would have to bide her time, smile, make nice with the natives, and wait for her chance after all the hoopla finally ended. It had been relatively easy to have the candidate’s ear in private, but getting the attention of the next president would be more complicated.

She practiced her smile on the two agents, whose names she needed to learn. Then she stopped herself.

Or maybe after tonight it wouldn’t matter.

“This is where I say good-bye.” Wes leaned over and kissed her forehead. “And good luck. Let me know what happens.”

“Thanks. I will,” she whispered. Drawing in a deep breath, Kate reached for the doorknob, but the agent on the right beat her to it.

“Allow me, Ms. Rosen.” He opened the door.

It was a testament to the construction of the hotel that she heard little in the way of sound from the suite until the door opened. Then a cacophony of laughter and voices met her, the celebration evidently still in full swing. The crowd had dwindled some, but an impressive number of folks still lingered, including several of Washington’s biggest power players, senior members of the party, a large assortment of Benton family members, and some of the key campaign staffers.

Kate didn’t see Emily at first but finally spotted her in a corner of the room, holding court. They made eye contact and Emily raised her hand as if saying, Over here and motioned Kate over. In response, Kate began to pick her way through the clusters of people. She was stopped every foot or so to be congratulated, hugged, and offered a drink.

She felt odd accepting the accolades, but she had no trouble waving off the libations. The last thing she needed was the muddle of alcohol. She could only hope that Emily had kept a clear head as well.

Before Kate could reach Emily’s position, she bumped into a rather solid male form. Before she could recover her balance, a hand grasped her elbow and she was hit in the face with a cloud of whiskey breath.

“Katie-girl!” Emily’s old family adviser Dozier Marsh pulled her into an awkward embrace. He might have looked like someone’s sainted grandfather, but it was as far from what he really was as the North Pole from Antarctica. He was the ultimate political fixer—a devious, dangerous old power broker with a fondness for hard liquor and Emily, though not always in that order. And right now, he was acting like a lecherous uncle.

Great-uncle.

“Where you been, darlin’?” he wheezed. “Hard to have a party without Emily’s right-hand gal!” He tried to swing her around. The move would have made them both fall over had the young aide standing next to him not reached up and steadied him.

“Sir, perhaps you’d rather sit,” the aide said.

Dozier gave Kate a grin and leaned heavily against his aide. “I suspect you’re right, Percy. The room is definitely leaning to one side.” He dropped heavily into the nearest chair, managing to spill two drinks that were abandoned on the nearby end table. He stared blearily at the mess. “Would you be a dear, Kate, and get me a couple of cocktail napkins so I can clean up behind my sorry, drunken self? I’d ask Perry here, but he’s playing a key role in supporting me.”

“Now, Dozier . . .” Emily’s voice knifed neatly through the chatter, instantly commanding the attention of the room. “You’re not asking the future White House chief of staff to be your fetch-it girl, are you?”

Dozier’s ruddy complexion deepened. “Of c-course not, Emily. . . . I mean . . .” He pulled awkwardly to his feet, away from his aide, and managed a small stiff bow without falling over. “Madam President.”

The room went silent, no one quite sure what direction Emily’s response might head next.

“I’ve never really liked being called ‘madam.’” After a tense millisecond, Emily allowed a smile to spread across her face. “But I guess I’ll get used to it, if president gets to follow.”

Dozier, freed from the sharp conversational hook on which he’d impaled himself, offered a weaker version of her smile and lifted the drink he’d never lost grip of. “Hear, hear.”

With the momentary tension broken, the room went back to its earlier state—celebrating people clustering in small discussion knots. Dozier’s aide, a young man whose name was neither Percy nor Perry but Zack, distracted Dozier with something shiny, giving Kate a chance to escape. Once again, Emily gestured for Kate to follow her and led to the bedroom portion of the suite.

Once the door was closed behind them, Emily gave her a warm hug. “I was starting to get worried about you.” She gave Kate a close scrutiny. “Honey, you look like the weight of the free world is still on your shoulders. But the campaign’s over. We won. You can afford to relax now.”

“No. I can’t.” Kate said. She bit her lip before her words started pouring out, uncontrolled and bitter. She wanted to be completely in control of her emotions before she confronted Emily.

Emily sighed, obviously ignorant of the battle brewing inside Kate. “I know. I feel the same way. Campaigning is hard work, but nothing compared to running a country.” She dropped to the bed. “If I allowed myself a chance to stop and think about what I’m taking on, I’d probably run out of this hotel screaming like the Madwoman of Chaillot.

“Remember when we went to New York on spring break back when we were in school? How we jumped on our beds at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and had a pillow fight? Mom was horrified, but Dad told me that he hoped I’d never get too old to bounce on the bed.”

“Yeah,” Kate said. Decades of memories came crashing down upon her. Room service, going to plays, Emily’s genuine pleasure at sharing the treat with her friend. The phrase had become an inside joke, a motto for that trip and later, the watchwords for those times when the responsibilities of law school—and beyond—threatened to drag them down.

When Nick and Emily got married, their gift to each bridesmaid included a sterling silver box engraved with that motto. Kate still had that box sitting in a place of honor on her dresser.

“Well?” The next president of the United States, the Honorable Emily Rousseau Benton, took off her shoes and took a few experimental bounces on the bed as if to test the bed’s recoil potential.

“Not today.” Kate tried to smile, desperately wanting to recapture that same sense of giddy accomplishment that Emily evidently felt. Kate had indeed expected to feel a sense of joyous triumph when thinking ahead to this day. But now her heart was too heavy, her mind too burdened with the difficult decision that lay ahead of her.

Emily stopped jumping, the bed undulating in her wake. “Why not?” she said. The confusion that initially filled her face dissolved into an expression that Kate couldn’t quite understand. Then it passed almost immediately to a tight, guarded smile. “You have a point. I need to be dignified. Somehow, I don’t think the White House curator is going to let anyone jump on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. Not you. Not even me.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Emily locked eyes with her for a moment. Then she turned away, unable to hold the contact for long. A Benton never crumbled under pressure. A real Benton dodged it. The president-elect slid off the bed, pulled on her heels, and straightened her skirt. She didn’t meet Kate’s gaze.

“You’re right. We’re both exhausted. You’ve always dealt with exhaustion in different ways than I do. Why don’t you take off a—”

“I’m exhausted. But that’s not the problem. I’m confused. Angry. And I’m disappointed in you.” Kate’s heart took the extra beat it always did when she made the final decision to confront her best friend. “You didn’t need to send Maia to steal the files from me. You should have talked to me about it.”

“Oh.” Emily spoke in a low, even voice. “You found out about that?”

Kate nodded.

“I didn’t send her,” Emily said. “She did that on her own, trying to curry my favor.”

Kate didn’t know whom to believe. She knew Emily better than she knew herself in some ways. Emily was brilliant, capable, the best person imaginable to have around in an emergency. She was a born leader. But part of that leadership tool kit was that she would also stop at nothing when she wanted something. Of course, Maia was cut from the same cloth. Emily’s words were plausible. “So did the favor currying work?” She tried to keep any emotion out of her voice. “Did she make a big impression on you?”

“Yes, but it was a mixed bag. I thought Maia showed a remarkable amount of initiative, but I told her that she’d chosen the wrong person to cross.”

“But that didn’t stop you from reading the reports, did it?”

“Of course not. I’d have been a fool to lose that unexpected opportunity. I’m no fool. You know that.”

“Yes, I do. And I guess that’s why you instructed her to send the threatening e-mail to Talbot. Were you just taking advantage of another unexpected opportunity?”

“Sure. It seemed the wise thing to do at the moment. He was a loose cannon. He needed to be locked down.”

“And now? Are you still glad you did it?”

Emily collapsed on the bed, her ice queen facade shattered. A single tear trickled down her face, leaving a glistening trail through her perfect makeup. “No. I regret it more than you’ll ever know.” She bent her head, trying desperately to hide the additional tears, but a sob tore through her, making her shoulders shake.

Kate almost gaped at her friend. She’d seen Emily’s crocodile tears before. But they didn’t look anything like this. This was the real thing.

Real emotion. Real regret. . . .

Emily continued. “Mind you, I didn’t hate what I did to Charles Talbot. He’s a pariah, an abomination. A murderer. He should never have been able to get away with driving that car while drunk, and leaving that poor girl behind, still clinging to life, to take the rap for his actions. Had he gotten her help at the time of the accident, she might have survived the crash as something other than a vegetable. But no, he had to save face, run away, pretend nothing had happened. He left her to die in that car. It took hours for anyone to discover the wreck. Then he had the audacity to bribe and threaten people into giving him an alibi. He had to make everyone think she’d been the one driving while intoxicated, even if it killed her. He’s the lowest of scumbags. I won’t apologize for pricking whatever fragments he has left of his conscience. I’m pretty sure all I did was dent his enormously bloated and unconscionable pride.”

Emily’s flare of anger dissipated quickly, as if she suddenly felt guilty of failing to be remorseful for her own actions. Kate knew that, for Emily, anger was an emotion easier to understand and embrace than remorse. Especially when she felt that anger was righteous. Emily could move mountains when she had on a full load of righteous anger. Kate had seen her shame an entire state legislature into voting for health insurance for disadvantaged children, all because she’d vented her anger into a biting five-minute speech to them.

Kate gave her friend a steady stare. “What he did and what you did are separate issues. And you know it.”

“I’m sorry.” Emily’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You’re right. When Maia gave me those copies, I did exactly what you were afraid I was going to do.” She looked up, naked emotion filling her face, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I allowed my need for revenge to overwhelm my sense of honor. I’m so sorry.” She stood, her arms at her side. Her voice broke in a show of raw emotion that Kate had never seen from her before.

“Kate, can you forgive me?”

Kate felt tears forming in her own eyes.

Could she forgive Emily? Of course she could. Christ was clear on the responsibility to forgive a repentant sinner. Kate could do no less.

But could she trust Emily enough to continue working for her? That was another question entirely.

For now, she reached over and hugged her friend. The two of them cried together for what seemed like hours.

But the big question—whether Kate would stay on after this—hung over them. No matter how often Emily asked it, Kate refused to answer.

Finally Emily said, “Take some time, go home, cool off, and then we’ll talk.”

As was often the case, Emily was right.

Happy St. Patties Day

Did you wear green today? Ah this holiday can be an annoying one at times for me because growing up I always heard Erin Go Blah, Erin Go put a bra on, and the list goes on of horrible holiday sayings using my name. 😛

I’ve been keeping busy going through things and packing up our apartment for our move next month.  I’ve also have been blogging in advance! There are quite a few great reviews and giveaways scheduled to be posted next week! Don’t forget about my current contest that are ending this Sunday either!

Typically this would be LG night but in so many words we won’t be attending anymore. That’s leaves me time to do other things now and I guess I can catch up on American Idol.

I really can’t wait to move, I know it’s probably going to be quite the transition for my little one but I think she’ll adjust just fine.

FIRST WILD CARD TOURS: Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline B. Cooney

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!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Diamonds in the Shadow

WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (March 17, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Caroline B. Cooney is the author of A Friend at Midnight; The Face on the Milk Carton (an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice book); its companions, Whatever Happened to Janie and The Voice on the Radio(each of them an ALA Best Book for Young Adults); and many other award-winning novels. Caroline divides her time between Madison, Connecticut, and New York City.

Product Details:

List Price: $8.95
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (March 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 140007424X
ISBN-13: 978-1400074242

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Jared Finch could not care less where some refugee family lived.

“Drew and Kara Finch have generously volunteered to take the family in,” said Dr. Nickerson. The room applauded. Jared stared at his parents in horror. The refugees were coming here? His little sister, a mindlessly happy puppy of a kid, cried out in delight. If Mopsy had ever had an intelligent thought in her life, she kept it to herself.

“Yay!” cried Mopsy. “It’ll be like sleepovers every night.”

Jared gagged.

“You see, Jared, we have a lovely guest suite,” said his mother, as if he didn’t live here and wouldn’t know, “where the parents can stay and have their own bathroom.”

This implied that there were kids who would not be staying in the guest suite. So they would be staying where, exactly?

“Your room and Mopsy’s are so spacious, Jared darling,” his mother went on. “And you each have two beds, for when your friends spend the night. And your own bathrooms! It’s just perfect, isn’t it?”

Jared’s mother and father had volunteered his bedroom for a bunch of African refugees? And not even asked him? “I’m supposed to share my bedroom with some stranger?” he demanded. Jared did not share well. It had been a problem since nursery school. Mrs. Lane, a woman Jared especially loathed, because he was fearful that Mopsy would grow up to be just like her—stout and still giggling—said excitedly,

“That’s why your family’s offer is so magnificent, Jared.” Jared figured her last name was actually Lame.

“You will guide and direct young people who would otherwise be confused and frightened by the new world in which they find themselves,” cried Mrs. Lame. She definitely had somebody else in mind. Jared did not plan to guide and direct anybody. Jared’s bedroom was his fortress. It had his music, his video games, his television and his computer. It was where he made his phone calls. As for Africa, Jared knew nothing about the entire continent except what he’d seen on nature shows, where wild animals were always migrating or else eating each other. But about Africans themselves, aside from the occasional Jeep driver, TV had nothing to say. And there was always more important stuff on the news than Africa, like weather or celebrities. Jared would be forced to hang out with some needy non-English-speaking person in clothes that didn’t fit? Escort that person into his own school? Act glad?

“I decline,” said Jared.

“The church signed a contract, Jared,” said Dr. Nickerson.

“We are responsible for this family.” “I didn’t sign anything,” said Jared. “I don’t have a responsibility.” The committee glared at Jared. Jared glared right back. They weren’t volunteering to share their bedrooms. No, they could force two handy kids to do it. “My sister and I are the only ones who actually have to do any sharing? You guys get to contribute your old furniture or worthless televisions that you didn’t want anyway for when these guys get their own place, but meanwhile Mopsy and I have to take them in?” He hoped to make the committee feel guilty. Everybody did look guilty but also really relieved, because of course they didn’t want to share a bedroom either.

“It’ll be so wonderful!” cried Mopsy, hugging herself. “Is there going to be a girl who can be my best friend?” It was getting worse. People would expect Jared to be best friends with this person who would invade his life.

“What went wrong with the rental?” asked Jared, thinking he would just kill whoever was getting the apartment, thus freeing it up again for these refugees.

“The owner’s eighty-year-old grandmother, who’s blind, is moving in with her caregiver.”

Oh, please. That was such a lie. How many eighty-year-old blind grandmothers suddenly had to move in with their caregiver? The owners were probably remodeling so they could sell the place for a million dollars instead.

“What are we supposed to do, Jared?” asked Dr. Nickerson in his most religious voice. “Abandon four people on the sidewalk?” They’d been abandoned anyway; that was what it meant to be a refugee. Jared opened his mouth to say so, but a movement from his father caught his eye. Dad was sagging in his chair, deaf and blind to the meeting. Having a family of refugees in the house probably wasn’t his choice either; Mom had saddled him with it. He wasn’t on this committee, and the last committee on which Dad had served had gone bad. His co-chairman had turned out to be a felon and a bum. But Jared had more important things to worry about right now. “How long are these guys supposed to live here?” he demanded.

“We don’t know,” admitted the minister. “This is an expensive town. We’re going to have trouble finding a low-cost rent for people earning minimum wage. We probably found the only place there is, and now it’s gone. We’ll have to look in the cities nearby—New London, New Haven. And probably in bad neighborhoods. It’s a problem we didn’t anticipate.”

Jared never prayed, because the idea of a loving God seemed out of sync with the facts of the world. Nevertheless, Jared prayed now. Please, God, don’t let there be a boy in this family. Make Mopsy do all the sharing. I can squeeze my extra twin bed into her room. I’ll even move it cheerfully. “What do we know about these guys?” he said.

“Very little.” Dr. Nickerson waved a single sheet of paper. He handed it to the person sitting farthest away from Jared, ensuring that Jared would be the last to know the grim truth. “That’s why we’ve gathered here tonight. Let me introduce our representative from the Refugee Aid Society, Kirk Crick.”

What kind of name was that? It sounded like a doll Mopsy would collect. And what was up with Kirk Crick that he couldn’t even photocopy enough pages for everybody to have one? It didn’t exactly give Jared faith in the guy’s organizational skills.

“He’s going to discuss the work ahead of us and some of the difficulties and joys we can expect,” said the minister. Like there could be joy with four total strangers in your house for an unknown period of time. The guy didn’t smile, which Jared appreciated, since it was easy to overdose on good cheer. Just look at Mopsy.

“I find that my name annoys people,” said Kirk Crick, “but it’s memorable. You can call me either one—or neither.”

This worked for Jared, who hoped to have nothing to do with the man or his refugees. Kirk Crick launched into a long, tedious description. It seemed that the African family to be foisted off on Jared might never have been in a grocery store, never used an indoor stove or a computer, maybe never driven a car or heard of credit cards, never taken a hot shower or encountered cold weather, never seen a shopping mall. In their entire country, there was not a single ATM. There had not been reliable electricity for a decade.

“They probably can’t drive,” said Kirk Crick, “a problem here in suburbia. They’ll be used to buses, and maybe taxis, but mostly if they have to go somewhere, they walk. Or run. Remember, they fled a civil war. They’ve lived in a refugee camp in Nigeria for several years, with little shelter of any kind—six thousand people in an outdoor pen.” This was an obvious exaggeration intended to make Jared feel sorry for people who were going to trespass on his life. “The good news is that they speak English, the official language in Liberia, where native tribal languages are used mostly at home. Their accent will be difficult to understand, but they won’t have difficulty understanding you. “According to this, the parents finished eighth grade. The kids probably attended school at the refugee camp, although those schools usually have no paper, pencils or books. Sometimes no teachers either. The children are fifteen and sixteen, but we can’t tell from their names whether they’re boys or girls. We’ll just run with it when we meet them at the airport. We weren’t expecting this family to arrive for another month, so it’s just great that you people are so flexible.” Nobody here has to be flexible but me, thought Jared. Mrs. Lame suddenly decided that everybody needed coffee. Right in the middle of the guy’s talk, off she went into the kitchen, which meant Jared’s mom had to go with her, and then the two of them circulated, offering regular and decaf, whole milk and skim and sugar or sweetener in yellow, pink or blue packets. Brand preference was one of the million things this African family was going to have to learn. As long as Jared didn’t have to do the teaching—whatever. Kirk Crick droned on. Basically nobody except Jared even knew he was up there; certainly not Jared’s parents. They were such bad listeners that Jared didn’t see how they’d ever gotten through college. They multitasked to the max. When they watched television, they were also cooking, leafing through the newspaper, talking on the phone and balancing their checkbooks. Here was information that would change their lives and they were thinking about ten other things instead. The Finches’ beautiful yellow and cream family room was a huge space, with three soft, welcoming sofas and four large armchairs. As the sun went down beyond the wall of glass, people nestled into cushions and got sleepy. “Refugees,” said Kirk Crick, “have nothing, and that also means no paperwork. People racing out of villages only inches ahead of madmen with machetes or AK-47s don’t pause to collect birth certificates or vaccination papers.” Mom was arranging desserts, something church ladies did well. Jared wondered what Mrs. Wall had brought, because she was a great cook.

Then he remembered. Mrs. Wall wasn’t here. It was her husband, Brady, who had co-chaired the fund-raising committee with Dad. Over two years they had raised seven hundred fifty thousand dollars for the new church building. They’d had fairs, auctions, pledge campaigns, concerts and dinners. And three days earlier, the church had found out that Brady Wall had been siphoning off that money and gambling it away at Foxwoods. It wasn’t just stolen. It was gone. Jared’s mom was friends with Emmy, Brady Wall’s wife. Jared had a bad feeling that one day soon Emmy would be in the kitchen sobbing all over Mom. It was going to be a very crowded kitchen, since it would also be full of Africans sobbing all over Mom. Jared hoped she was up to it, because he had just decided to sign up for every school-sponsored ski trip in order to be out of town Fridays through Sundays. The less sharing, the better. “One problem getting refugees to America is just finding seats on a plane,” said Kirk Crick. “There aren’t many flights. Probably something opened up very suddenly, or four other people couldn’t go after all, so your four moved to the head of the line. Your family is flying to London, where they’ll change planes for Kennedy Airport. Now, you’ll need subcommittees. Who will be handling medical needs and doctors?”

“Wait,” said Jared. “What medical needs? Are these people planning to show up complete with typhoid and malaria?”

“No. They get checked in Africa for that stuff. But the kids can’t start school until they’ve been inoculated for tetanus and all. Just like any other kid starting school. They’ll be spending a bunch of time at the doctor’s. Your family’s background has been screened as well. African civil war consists of people butchering each other. Our task force makes sure you’re not getting some mass murderer responsible for destroying whole villages, or a dealer in blood diamonds, or some vicious boy soldier.”

“I’ve heard about boy soldiers,” said Mr. Lane. (Jared was always surprised that anybody had married Mrs. Lane and even more surprised that such a person ever had a chance to talk.) “Ten-year-olds who chop people’s arms off and walk away,” explained Mr. Lane. No kid would do that. It was the kind of hype spewed on satellite radio—anything to make the world sound even more violent than it was. The whole idea of screening people struck Jared as useless. Being screened would be like taking an essay test where you wrote whatever your teacher wanted to hear. We’re kind and gentle, the refugees would say. We didn’t hurt anybody. Goodness, no. We were the victims.

“What are blood diamonds?” asked Mopsy.

“Diamonds that are mined in West Africa and used to pay for war,” said Kirk Crick. He seemed ready to expound on this, but

Jared didn’t care about mines. He cared about the strangers soon to be under his roof.

“If the family doesn’t have any papers to start with, how does the Refugee Aid Society even know for sure who they are?” Jared asked.

“We’re very, very, very careful,” said Kirk Crick.

Jared was suspicious. Right in their own church they had been careful and they’d still ended up with a major-league thief on the fund-raising committee. “Is there really such a thing as a boy soldier?”

“Yes. Often when a village is attacked, the boys are out in the fields watching the cattle. So parents get caught, killed or maimed, girls get raped and killed, villages get burned to the ground, but young boys get rounded up. They’re forced to use machine guns and machetes on their own neighbors.”

Nice. Jared decided to e-mail everyone he’d ever met and find someone to live with until this was over. “A boy who spends the day out in some field with cows won’t exactly fit in with suburban America in the twenty-first century,” he pointed out.

“You have your work cut out for you,” agreed Kirk Crick.

“Now, your African family may not wish to discuss their past. They want to look ahead, not back. You’re getting an intact family, which is unusual. Four people who struggled and suffered and now hope to put terror behind them. Your church signed on to cover housing and food for three months and to find jobs for the parents. After three months, the family is on its own. If they can’t function—and that’s rare, because refugees are fighters—the Society takes over.”

Three months? thought Jared. Three months? Nobody but Jared seemed to think this was insane.

“You are doing a good deed,” said Crick.

The committee loved hearing how good and generous they were. They sat tall. They took lemon bars as well as double-chocolate brownies. Jared’s dad began talking softly to one of the husbands, undoubtedly about Brady Wall, because that was now Dad’s only topic of conversation. Mom was asking Mrs. Lame for her toasted almond cake recipe. The rest of the crowd was finding car keys. Jared was the only person listening to Kirk Crick.

“In a civil war,” Crick said, “there are no good guys. They’re all guilty of something. You are probably not saving the innocent, because in a civil war, nobody is innocent.”

Jared had never seen a refugee; the Society had seen thousands. Maybe tens of thousands. And that was the summary? There are no good guys? This made the refugee scene quite exciting. Jared’s roommate would have a history of fighting and killing. On the other hand . . . how much fighting and killing did Jared really want in his own bedroom? The piece of paper describing this family finally circulated to Jared. On it were four black-and-white photographs that had probably been grainy and unfocused to start with. After much copying or downloading, they were so blurred that the four faces hardly had features. The photos were from the shoulders up, and everybody’s hair was pulled tightly back, or else cut close, and as far as Jared could tell, these guys could be anybody. These could even be four photographs of the same person. There were dates below each photo, possibly dates of birth, but they were smudged and only partially legible. After close scrutiny, he decided that the two on top looked older. Probably the parents. The names typed under those photos (Typed! Not even done on a computer!) were Celestine Amabo and Andre Amabo. It seemed odd that they had French-sounding names. The photo in the lower left was labeled “Mattu” and the one on the lower right, “Alake.” No clues how to pronounce those names or whether the people were male or female. We are taking people under our roof for months at a stretch, thought Jared Finch. We can’t read their dates of birth. We can’t tell what gender they are. We can’t recognize them from their photographs. We know in advance that they are not good guys.

Answered Prayers

God has answered our prayers in many ways this past week and for that I am thankful. I’m not sure exaclty were we are going to be ending up in certain aspects in our life but I do know that we are moving next month into a great new home. 🙂 We signed the paperwork this morning and it’s a done deal and it feels great.

My husband is having a reading of some of his works in second life today and I’m pretty excited for him and I hope there’s a good turn out. I’d join him in the cyber world but my computer can’t handle the graphics and that’s one reason why I’m saving up for a nice laptop. 🙂

Melody start clapping last night! It’s so cute and it’s another first to jot down in her baby book! 🙂