Renewing Hope: A Story

Note: This page will be continually updated–I will keep adding more chapters to the story! Here you can find the prologue through chapter 4.

This story is for all the overcomers. God holds your hand, dear Warrior.

Chapter 4

Friday morning, I trudged down the stairs rubbing my eyes open. I tightened the belt of the thin robe wrapped around my waist. My feet met the icy tile in the kitchen. Shivers hurried up my spine. I should have worn my fuzzy robe and slippers. The temperature must have dropped last night…I was surprised to find Mom awake and dressed in her scrubs.

“Are you going to work today?” My eyebrows drew together.

Mom glanced upwards from pouring herself a cup of coffee. “Hi, honey. Yes, I am going to work. I’d better hurry or I’ll be late.”

I yawned, “I thought you were on vacation?”

She looked amused. “I’ve been off for two weeks.”

“Oh, has it been that long?”

“Mm hm.” She took a sip of coffee, “This is not hot enough.” Mom said to herself more than anyone else. She placed the mug of coffee into the microwave, hitting the start button.

I leaned against the counter. “It doesn’t feel like it has been two weeks.”

Mom smiled, “Vacation days always go by faster than regular days.”

“Very, true.” I walked over to the cupboard and grabbed a cereal bowl. “When will you be home?”

“I’m working later, so I’ll be home at nine. Eat dinner without me.”

“Okay, but I’ll save some food for you.”

“Sounds good! I have to go. Bye.” Mom’s arms wrapped around my shoulders for a heartbeat. Then she was gone.

I stood there, staring off into space. It was going to be weird not having Mom home every second of every day. My eyes felt heavy, and I attempted to rub them awake.

     “Oh, and I forgot to tell you…”

I jumped in my seat.

Mom popped her head back into the kitchen, “at about twelve o’clock Stephen is going to drop off a book for me-from Mary.”

“Wait, today?”

“Yes, see you later!”

Mom’s voice echoed throughout the house. I stared off into oblivion. Stephen is coming at twelve to drop off a book. My brain clicked. Stephen is coming over at twelve! Uh oh! I leapt up and glanced at my watch; it was only nine. Giving a sigh of relief, I sank back down into the bar stool. There was plenty of time to get ready.

After eating my cereal and running upstairs, I serveyied my room and knew it needed some major cleaning.

Music lilted from my radio, as the broom sashayed and danced with me across the room. Tugging the curtains open, dazzling sunlight streamed onto the floor. With it, warmness cascaded over the scene, asking one to look upon its beauty. For some reason cleaning always put me in a good mood. Next, I went to my desk, and cleared everything off, cleaning it with dusting spray. All my art supplies were placed into their proper containers.

*

     Later, with my legs stretched out in front of me, I leaned back lazily on a blanket. The long grass tickled my bare toes. The breeze made it sway. Tipping my head backwards, the sun kissed my face, and white clouds sailed overhead. Flying on the wind sounded thrilling.

“Meeeoooww.”

I opened my eyes. Such a noise certainly had not come from my throat. It came again; a loud meow. Rising to my feet, my gaze roamed around the backyard.

“Here kitty kitty…Here kitty kitty?” I tromped around on the grass, listening. “Where are you?”

The insistent meow came again accompanied by a small black body stumbling along the fence. I crept closer. A raven kitten with one white ear crouched low, like it was ready to attack. It’s blue eyes stared at me. It’s hair stood straight up, despite its obvious trembling.

“Where did you come from, little guy?” I gently rubbed its back. A quiet purr emanated from the kittens throat, seeming to relax. It rubbed against my leg. You’re so adorable. I scooped up the kitten and held it close to my chest.

“The main question is how did you get here?” Our fence was tall, standing at least six feet high and there weren’t any cracks or holes. The ambitious creature must have climbed it.

A heard a ringing sound coming from the inside the house. Oh! That’s the door! Stephen! I rushed through the back door and sprinted through the house. The doorbell rang again.

“I’m coming!” My socks slid across the floor. No, no! I caught my balance just before I fell over. The cat let out an offended screech and clawed my arm. “Hey, ow! Watch where you put your claws…” I reached the front door and opened it, catching my breath and blinking.

Stephen stood at the door. One muscular arm rested in his jeaned pockets, while the other held the book. He sported a pair of thin wire-rimmed glasses. “Hi,” He said, breaking the silence. A slight smile tipped his lips into a very handsome curve. “Here’s the book your Mom wanted.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry, you had to wait.” Warmth climbed up my face. “Blame my clumsiness.” I said with lightheadedness, trying to cover my embarrassment. “I’m not the most graceful person in the world.”

He laughed. “No worries. I bet your clumsiness doesn’t even compare to mine.” He gave me a knowing look.

“Mm. Don’t be so sure…You didn’t witness what I did in art class…

Something flickered in his eyes.

 Time to change the subject. “I almost didn’t recognize you with your glasses on.”

“Oh, those.” He took off the glasses and shoved them into one of his pants pockets. “I just have to wear them for driving. Here is the book your mom wanted.” He extended his hand.

I shifted the cat in my arms. Please don’t claw me. “Thanks.”

“And who is this?” Stephen scratched the kitten’s head.

“I actually don’t know.”

Stephen took his eyes off the kitten. “He doesn’t have a name?”

“Well, no. But I mean, I don’t know where he came from. Or if it is a he…I just found it in our backyard.”

“Oh. Do you mind if I hold it?”

“Sure.” I handed over the kitten.

”It is a he.” Stephen sent me a wink. Then went to petting him, the cat purring in his arms. “Well, he seems awfully friendly to be wild.”

“Yeah. He must have escaped from a neighbor’s yard or something. He seems to like you.”       “He does.” Stephen grinned down, like he was sharing a secret with the little creature. He grimaced. “Well, I should go. I have a college class to attend in half an hour.”

“Oh. What kind of class is it? Are you catching up on some schoolwork?”

He rolled his eyes. “More like getting ahead. My Dad wants me to take a ministry class to ‘prepare for seminary’. But I don’t really want to take it. I don’t want to be a pastor.” His eyes widened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I’m just frustrated.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s pretty natural.”

He seemed to ease. “Thanks…Well anyway I should be going.”

Stephen handed the feline back to me. “We don’t have any kittens,” he added, “just one lazy cat, and a hyper dog who doesn’t like being by herself. Count yourself lucky!”

I laughed, “But your house sounds like so much fun.”

“Yep, it is.” Stephen chuckled, moving down the steps. “Okay see you uh…sometime.” He waved at me and stumbled on the way to his car.

I waved as he pulled out of the driveway and closed the door. I leaned against it, looking at the kitten. “What do you think? He’s nice wouldn’t you say?” The kitten rubbed his head against my hand. “I’ll take that as a yes.” I kissed his head. “Even though you won’t be here for long, we should give you a name. How about Oliver? Doesn’t it sound fitting?”

It appeared he liked the idea, as he snuggled into my arms.

“Oliver it is.” I smiled. “Wait until Mom sees you. Won’t she be surprised.”

*

     I slouched at our kitchen table, colored pencils spilled out and the bucket of roses standing in front of me. Oliver lay curled up in my lap, while eyes drooped, and purring noises thundered from his throat.

A gust of wind blew into the kitchen and Mom appeared in the doorway, following on its heels.

“Hi Mom.” Wait until you hear about the kitten!

“Hi, honey.” Mom placed her purse on the table. “What did you make for dinner?” She rubbed her forehead and yawned.

I set my pencil down. “Tacos. But I overcooked the meat, a little. I’m sorry.”

“As long as you made some food, I’m happy.” She trudged to the stove and slid the lid off the pot. “How was your day?”

“It was good. I cleaned up my room, Stephen dropped off the book…”

“That’s nice.” Mom set her plate on the table, and spread a napkin on her lap. “This looks good. I’m hungry.”

“Meow,” Oliver moaned.

Mom jolted a little. “What was that?”

My hand caught the kitten from jumping off my lap. “I was going to tell you about that.”

Mom’s eyebrows climbed her forehead. “Hope Elizabeth Atwood, is there a cat in this house?”

“Yes?!” I lifted Oliver up, and showed him to Mom.

Her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. “Hope!” Her voice rose, “where did this kitten come from?!”

“You don’t have to get upset.”

“I don’t have to get upset? I’ve been working all day and come home to find a cat in my house? A cat who needs cat food and a litter box, which we do not have. I think that is a good reason to be frustrated.” She blinked and massaged her forehead.

“I’m sorry, Mom.” I reached for her hand. “I was so excited that I didn’t really think about those things.”

She squeezed my hand. “It’s okay. I’m just tired. It was a long day.”

“Did anything happen?” Oliver shifted in my arms.

“Oh, I just had a hard patient.”

“Thus, the hard day…”

“Yeah, but I’m home now,” she sighed, and leaned forward to ruffle Oliver’s fur. “He is pretty cute. I like his white ear. Where did he come from?”

“The backyard. He must have climbed the fence. I’m guessing he’s one of our neighbors’ cats.”

Mom smiled. “Did you give him a name?”

How did she know? “He isn’t our cat.”

She nodded. “I know, but did you give him a name?” She picked up her taco and took a bite. Her eyebrows rose in enquiry.

“His name’s Oliver.”

“Oliver…I like it. How is your picture coming?”

I glanced down at my drawing. A little round table stood in the middle of the picture, with a bucket of roses sitting on top. To my enjoyment the roses looked in proportion and real.  “Good. I think. The roses aren’t colored yet, but they look decent. I just need to make sure they are varius shades.”

Mom lips lifted at the corners, as she gazed down at the paper. “Yes, it looks very good! The other picture you drew was beautiful, but this one is more realistic. Good job, honey!”

I beamed. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Well, I think I’m going to bed.” Mom stood up and threw her paper plate in the trash. “Where is Oliver going to sleep?”

“With me.” I snuggled him close. Ah, he is so soft.

     Mom grimaced. “What if he has to, you know, go outside?”

“Oh,” my hands stilled, “right.”

“We have some empty boxes in the garage. You could put some newspaper, and an old towel in one” She yawned again. “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay up any longer. I’m so tired.”

Standing up, I set Oliver on the floor. “Good night.” I gave her a hug.

“Night. Can you lock all the doors and turn off the lights?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.” Mom put a hand on my shoulder, then walked out of the kitchen.

“Oliver are you ready to go to sleep?” I glanced down. “Where’d he go?” My gaze encompassed the room, and there was no trace of the little black body. Oh, no. “Oliver?” Where are you? A loud screech met my ears.     I made a beeline to the garage door and laughed. Half of Oliver’s body stuck out of the doggie door, and he squirmed for dear life. Another screech of terror escaped his mouth before I rescued him. Gently, I pulled him out and he clawed me again. I set him down. “Hey, you’re not supposed to hurt the rescuer.” He gave an offended meow, his fur standing upright- like it had been rubbed by a balloon. If no one claims him, this is bound to be an adventure.

Chapter 3

A few days later, I stood before a classroom door at Lincoln Community college. I took a deep breath and knocked on the classroom door. I checked my phone screen. 1:00PM.  Clenching and releasing my fists, I forced myself to exhale and find calmness. Trying out a summer art class was going to be fun and challenging.  I can do this. Stephen’s sister is teaching the class. She should be nice, right? 

Was this such a good idea? Before I could turn and run, the door opened. The scent of roses tickled my nose. Is that her perfume? 

A younger version of Mary Crane smiled at me from the doorway. Shiny red hair cascaded down her shoulders, flowing like a waterfall. Warm brown eyes met mine, brightening at my appearance. She’s definitely related to Stephen.

“Hello, you must be, Hope! Stephen told me we might have a visitor today.” She shook my hand with a sturdy grip.

“Yes, I’m Hope Atwood.”

She smiled with warmth, “My name is Pearl Morris, you can call me Pearl.”

“That’s a pretty name.”

She winked. “My parents thought so too. Anyway, come on in. You’re right on time.” She guided me into the classroom.

Bunches of roses filled the room. On every table, windowsill, and bookshelf, there was a vase, bucket, or basket of roses. Each one was unique with different color combinations.

So much beauty.”

“I know, isn’t it breathtaking?” Pearl uttered. “Roses are gorgeous.”

Had I said that aloud? Oops. “Yes, they are. They’re my favorite.”

Pearl’s smile sparkled. “Your timing is perfect then, we’re drawing roses today!”

We. Right. I’m not the only student attending art class. My gaze fully encompassed the room.

Students sat on stools arranged in a semicircle in the middle of the room, easels and canvases standing in front of them.
One girl looked up and smirked. Her brown eyes stared at me with disdain, and I looked away. Weird!

“Come on, Hope.” Pearl showed me across the room and handed me an art canvas and a folded easel.“You can sit next to Katie. She’s the one at the end, on the left.”

I glanced at the girl Katie, and she smiled at me. At least someone is friendly.

“Thank, you. Was I supposed to bring my own art supplies?” I bit my lip.

“Some students prefer to bring their own supplies, but we have plenty here in the classroom. You’re welcome to use them.” Pearl went to the wall behind her desk where there were floor to ceiling cabinets. She started to open doors and pull materials off shelves. Pearl handed me a package of colored pencils. “Do you want to use Bristol paper or Stonehenge?”

“I’ll go with the Stonehenge.”

She smiled. “That’s what I always recommend.” She opened another cabinet and handed me a large, 10 X 30 sheet of the thick paper.

“Thank, you.”

“You’re welcome. So, if you’ll go and take a seat, we’ll begin class.”

I walked over to my seat, by Katie. She gave me a welcoming smile. I set up my easel and attached my paper to the board, fixing my attention on the front of the classroom.

Pearl walked to the whiteboard up front. “Okay, everyone. I hope you’ve all had a fantastic week. We’re going to dive right in. We have a new student as you may have noticed.” Pearl beckoned for me to stand up. “I expect you’ll make her feel welcome.”

She wants me to stand up? I came to my feet, knocking over my easel and canvas. Mocking laughter met my ears, and color climbed up my neck. I gave an awkward wave, and sat back down. How embarrassing! Picking up my easel and canvas, I set them upright.

Pearl cleared her throat and shot some of the students a pointed look. “Today, we’re going to be drawing roses. It will be a simple project, but fun! I’m not going to display an example, but I want to see how you do.

Now what you have to keep in mind is the proportion of your subject.” Pearl faced us and picked up a pencil from her desk. “If something is too big or too small it can mess up the whole picture. When the proportion is off, your picture is off. Ok? Also, when you draw something, you have to pay attention to the colors. Normally the sky or even a person’s face, is not all one color or one shade. For example, an impressionist named Gwen John, did a study on Marigolds in 1918. In Gwen’s picture, all her flowers are very colorful and vibrant. Even her flowers that are the same color, each have a different shade. None of her flowers are the same; they are all unique. This is something you want to pay close attention to. And your lighting. Make it detailed! Draw shadows or a reflection or just a ray of sunlight setting something all aglow!
These are the things I want you guys to keep in mind as you draw.” She smiled at us. “You may begin! I’m excited to see what you come up with.” Pearl sat down behind her desk.

I retrieved a red pencil. An insistent ringing filled the room.

“Oh, excuse me.” Pearl snatched up her phone from the desk. She stared at it. “I’m sorry, I have to go answer an important phone call; are you guys okay?”

A few students nodded.

“Thanks. I shouldn’t be too long.” Pearl went out the door, closing it behind her.

“Ha, this should be easy,” said the grouchy girl, “but I’m glad she is out of the room; her smile is annoying.” She stood up and stretched.

One of the boys snorted, “You got that right.”

My eyes widened. These kids are disrespectful. 

“Hey, I’m Katie Parker.”

My head came up, and Katie’s blue eyes met mine.

“My name’s Hope Atwood.”

Katie shook my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Hope.” Her voice lowered, “And don’t pay any attention to Carol and Kevin. They are rude. Most of us try to just ignore them when they’re like that. You’ll get used to it.”

I attempted a smile, “Oh, thanks.”

“No problem.”

I turned back towards my drawing. Katie was sweet and upfront- I liked her already.

Carol moaned, “This is so boring. But I suppose I have to do it since my Mom wanted me to take a summer art class. Although, I don’t see the point,” she grumbled.

Attempting to ignore Carol’s words, I started sketching a bucket to hold the roses.

*

“Hey, how is everyone doing?”

What? I looked up from my paper. Pearl entered the room, closing the door behind her. It seemed like only a few seconds had passed by.

“I’m sorry that I took so long. I was delayed.” For an instant, amusement flashed across Pearl’s face. My husband needed some assistance.”

“No worries. We’ve just been working on your projects,” Katie insisted.

Pearl smiled. “Okay, good. Do you guys mind if I look at what you have done so far?”

“No, course not,” Carol yawned.

A few heads gave a nod.

Goosebumps traveled up my arms. “You- you want to see our work?” I hadn’t shown anyone my drawings since my parents divorce. A lump formed in my throat. I tugged at my hair.

Pearl laughed. “Of course, I’m the art teacher after all! Can I see?”

“You can- but-but- it’ll take some getting used to. I don’t usually show anyone my art work. Ever.”

Pearl’s smile vanished, like she sensed my fear. “You don’t have to show us your work, Hope. Only if you’re comfortable.”

I metally shook off my worry, trying to act pleasant. “No, you guys can come and look.” Scooting back, I gave them room to study my drawing.

All of them crowded behind my easel, Carol being the last one to peer over, like she couldn’t care less.

The three seconds of silence felt like hours. I squirmed. Someone please say something!

“It is a very nice picture, Hope.” Pearl tipped her head to the side. “But you made the roses way out of proportion. They are too big, and there aren’t enough shades of red. Red roses aren’t just one shade, they can be many. Remember what I said about color?”

I studied the picture. “I see what you mean; I’m lacking variety.”

There was a loud cough.

Pearl turned to Carol, “Were you going to say something, Miss Beachy?”

Carol’s eyes enlarged innocently, “No, ma’am. I just had something stuck in my throat.”

Pearl’s eyes narrowed. She turned back to me. “Yes, you need more variety. Your lighting, however, is superb! Well done. I love the contrast between light and dark. And it is beautiful, how you can see the twinkly lights reflected off the roses! Great job.” She gave me a smile.

“Whose picture should we look at next?”

“We can look at mine, Mrs. Morris,” Kevin volunteered.

Everyone started to move to where he had been sitting.

Although Pearl had approved of my drawing, all I could think about was her critiques. How could I have messed up so much?

“Hey, Hope.”

I looked down at Katie next to me. She was a few inches shorter than I.

Her eyes were full of understanding. “This is all normal stuff, so don’t be hard on yourself. She critiques our work and it isn’t even uncommon for us to take something home and rework it.”

I stared at her. Apparently Katie was not only nice, but could read thoughts too.

She chuckled. “Your facial expressions told the whole story.”

My mouth turned down at the corners. “Am I that obvious?”

“No, but I know how I felt when I first came to this class. I got really depressed. I focused on criticism way too much.”

“How did you get over it?”

“The second week of class, Pearl explained that critique isn’t bad and that it makes us better artists. Also, someone is always going to critique us in life. We shouldn’t get offended, but see it as an opportunity to improve.”

“Yeah, very true. I just didn’t expect I would get two things wrong. However, I’ve never been to an actual art class before and certainly haven’t shown my work to a professional.”

She gave me a sympathetic nod, and I followed behind her to look at Kevin’s picture.

His drawing was simple, but he was praised for following all the technical guidelines.

I fought to keep myself from crying in front of everyone. Failure consumed me, and I saw no way no way out.

        You aren’t good enough, Hope, and never will be. You will never be a real artist.

*

I pushed the front door open, with my drawing and a bucket of roses in my hand. I dropped my keys on the wooden table by the front door and headed to the kitchen.

     I need to work harder. I must get this right. 

Yes, I had obsessed over my art project the whole drive home. Brushing a wisp of hair out of my face, I shuffled into the kitchen, eyes on the ground. I’ll get something to eat then make a whole new picture.

“How was the art class, honey?”

“Ah!” My head bolted upright, and I noticed Mom sitting at the kitchen table. Papers were strewn in front of her. A pair of reading glasses sat on the bridge of her nose.

“You could have given me some kind of warning! I didn’t know you were sitting right there!”

Mom’s brow furrowed. “Sorry. I thought you saw me.”

“Well, I didn’t.” I plopped down onto a kitchen chair and stared at my drawing. All its faults hit me in the face. Improvement seemed impossible.

Mom sat down beside me. “What’s wrong? Did you have a bad day?”

I exhaled and rubbed my forehead, “Not exactly. It was fine…at first. But then it turned depressing when I went to my art class.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“The teacher, Pearl Morris, was pleasant, and the students were welcoming.” At least most of them.

“But?” Mom prompted.

“Well, we drew roses.” I turned to look at her. “I didn’t know it would be so hard. I tried and failed. Pearl said the proportion was off Pearl and there was not enough shades of color. I expected to do better.” I let out a breath and studied the drawing. “I have always drawn more fairytale-like pictures, and changing my technique just seems so difficult.”

Mom patted my hand. “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you won’t have to work at it. You can’t expect everything to come easily.”

I let out a sigh, “You’re right,” I gave a soft smile. “Thanks, Mom. I needed that.”

Mom hugged me. “What are Moms for? And by the way I think that your picture is very pretty! Even though it’s not exactly how the teacher wanted it. I think it is a piece of art. I like the detail you put into the flowers and the bucket they are standing in.” She traced a rose with her finger.  “Do you mind if I keep this one? I think the last drawing you made for me was when you were seven. I didn’t realize that you still liked to draw until the Crane’s came over.”

My gaze dropped to the ground, attempting to ignore the vulnerability in her eyes. I couldn’t bear to see it. There are a lot of things you don’t know, Mom. I wish I could tell you. 

“Yeah, you can have that one. I don’t need it anymore.” I released her hand. “I’m still going to work on another picture. Get some practice. Call me when dinner’s ready.” Hurrying away, I headed upstairs with the bucket of roses.

Mom looks worn out and tired. I can’t keep hiding my feelings from her. I ought to let go of this bitterness. But how? I don’t speak to God about my hurt. So, how can I talk to Mom?” I entered my bedroom. There is no use. God won’t listen, and Mom is just Mom. She won’t understand. She wouldn’t understand all the pain I have.

My hands groped for my sketchpad and tore out a piece of paper. Any distraction from my thoughts was welcome.

     Proportion, and color. The fiery orange roses glowed. I had to draw them exactly how they looked, not how I imagined them.

Chapter 2

     “Hope, ten minutes until church! Be ready!”

     What? My head jolted up. I rubbed my eyes open. Church? Where are we going this time?  Sitting up, groaning, and attempting to rub my stiff neck, I crawled out from beneath my blanket. 

     The drawing on my desk seemed to taunt me. Dad. I gulped against the tears that threatened to spill from my eyes and clog my throat. There would be no crying!

    I stumbled to my closet and reached for my favorite yellow sundress. Why Mom made me attend church, I’d never know.

     What was faith? My confidence in God had practically turned into ashes after my parents divorced. My normal had become crying in the bathroom and avoiding all conversations about the other kid’s fantastic dads; believing in a faithful, loving God seemed ridiculous. With bitter and sorrowful tears, I had decided long ago that if ruining my life was God’s way of expressing His love for me, I wanted no part of it. 

    I applied makeup, surveyed myself in the mirror, and nodded. I’m doing great.     

    “Hope! We’re going to be late!” Mom called in a worried voice.

    My thoughts skidded to a halt. “I’m coming!” Spying a pair of white heels, I snatched them up…and my purse. 

     Mom met me at the front door.

    Mom’s hair was curled, and it lay in cascading waves down her shoulders. She wore a black skirt with a pale pink blouse and heels. 

    She looks pretty. I wish I looked more like her.

    “You don’t even have your shoes on yet?” Mom asked, not uttering a word about last night and how I had stormed from the table. 

     My eyes drew to the frown creasing Mom’s forehead. She must have thought me childish. 

   “What? Oh that.” I glanced down at my toes, and looked back at her. Warmth climbed up my neck. “I just woke up, when you called me.”         

    “Oh. Sorry. I thought you would have been awake.”   

    Why would she think that? I frowned. “Well, it’s not like church is something I look forward to.” And I don’t plan on it.

     Sadness crept into Mom’s eyes. “Well, let’s get going. We don’t want to be any later than we already are.”

    My gaze dropped to the ground. I didn’t miss the slight rasp in her voice.

     The car ride to church was silent. As Mom drove I glanced at her unreadable profile. The urge to apologize arose, but I couldn’t find the words. Guilt from my lack of respect burned in my chest and I pressed my cheek against the passenger window.      

     Mom turned into the church parking lot, packed with cars. “We’re here.” A smile brightened her face.

     Yay. I tried not to frown. Our car stopped. 

    As we approached the building, I stared. It was beautiful (despite being a “church”). Bursts of color glowed from the stained glass windows, and it seemed to brighten the white brick structure. It looked like something out of a book. 

     “Are you coming?” Mom looked back at me from a couple feet ahead.

     Oh. I quickened my pace. “Sorry, I was distracted.”

     She gave a pointed look at the building. “Pretty, isn’t it?”

    “Yeah, it’s like a painting.”

     Mom nodded as we came to the church’s front doors. She opened one with a creak, and held it for me. 

     I hope the pastor isn’t praying or anything. That is the worst time to come in. Experience gave me this wisdom.

   We walked down the hallway- Mom with purposeful, confident strides. How does Mom know where to go? Has she been here before? We stopped at an open doorway. 

     Great. In front of me there were people standing with their heads bowed. A loud voice came from the front, obviously praying. I clenched my teeth together.

    Mom grabbed my hand and dragged me into the room.

     She could wait until they are done praying!

     To my horror she went to the front row; ironically two seats begged us to occupy them. After arguing with hand gestures and head shaking, I was forced to go in first. I had to stand next to a stranger. 

     This is just great. I put my purse on the ground with a little bit of noise. Who cared if I drew attention. 

    As I glanced to the right, my gaze was drawn to the person next to me–a boy. To my surprise, he was young and cute. He had blonde hair with a slight curl to it, and he was even taller than me. Since his eyes were closed, I couldn’t see their color. But I imagined them to be blue. A sparkling blue.

     Suddenly his eyes opened. Oh great. Rich brown eyes collided with mine, seeming to peer into my heart and mind at the same time. They drew me in. 

     He gave me an amused smile, like he wanted to laugh. Then, he winked and closed his eyes again. 

     My gaze directed itself elsewhere. Hope, you are so dumb. Why were you staring at him? It’s not like you haven’t seen a boy before! They weren’t from Mars, despite what people claimed.    

    When the long prayer ended, I stiffened. Mom peered at me, but I refused to look her way. Disappearing sounded nice.  

     I could feel the boy’s eyes on me, and looked straight ahead. Just don’t look at him.

The worship team came on stage, and everyone stood up. I mouthed the words to Blessed Be Your name. The next thing I knew, the pastor was back on stage.   

     “The title of the sermon for today is Forgiveness,” proclaimed the Pastor.

Great.

    The pastor looked over the congregation. “Isn’t forgiving people hard? I mean somebody wrongs you in some way and you are expected to forgive them? What? That doesn’t make sense.”

    My thoughts exactly.

    “But God forgives us all the time and we don’t deserve it. So, why shouldn’t we forgive others?”

    My hands fidgeted in my lap. Why does he have to go ahead and say that? Forgiveness–it seemed crazy…Why couldn’t the sermon be about patience or something?

    The pastor bowed his head and said,“Let’s pray.”

Praying again?

    “Okay. So, if you’ll turn with me to Matthew 6:14-15 we’ll look at this more…”

    The sound of pages turning filled the room. The boy next to me quickly flipped through the chapters of Matthew. Sunlight warmed my back as it streamed in through the tall windows.

    “Matthew 6, verses 14 and 15: For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” He looked up, “Do you see what this is saying? If we don’t forgive others then God won’t forgive us. It’s simple. Hard to do, but simple…”

    He kept talking, but I blocked him out. This wasn’t for me. Dad didn’t count. 

    Before I knew it, the service was over. Yes! I almost did a fist pump right there in church. Now I can get out of here.  

    I turned to Mom, but she blocked my path. She was talking to a redheaded woman. 

     Brushing a lock of hair behind my ear, I wondered about the woman. Who is she and how does she know Mom? Mom must have come here before. I sighed. And I suppose I’m going to have to meet her friend…

    “What is the sigh for?” A deep voice asked.

     Ah! I turned around, coming face to face with him– the guy who’d caught me gawking at him.  

     Even though he wasn’t rude or forward, I answered back curtly, “Excuse me?” 

      My hands almost went to my hips, but I dropped them back down to my sides. He was a complete stranger; why would he want to talk to me? 

     His eyes widened. He tried to clear his throat, attempting a smile. “I said, ‘What is the sigh for’?”

    I noted his nice clothes—dress pants and tie.

     “What if I don’t want to tell you?  You’re a stranger. I don’t know you.” 

    “Oh well, let me introduce myself.” He offered me his hand, “I’m Stephen Crane. What is your name, my lady?” He arched his eyebrows and tried a bow.

     My lady? I frowned. “Um.”

     The smile left Stephen’s face, replaced with a look of embarrassment. He shuffled his feet. “Sorry, I was trying to be charming. It came across as really weird didn’t it?”

      “Yes. It did.” I almost wanted to smile at his discomfort. Almost.

     He glanced down at his shoes. “Sorry.”

     “Stephen!”

      He looked up, seeming to notice someone motioning towards him. He focused on me. “Well, bye. It was nice to, almost, meet you.” He gave me an awkward grin, and hurried away.

      I stared after him. What just happened?

[The rest of Chapter 2 will be continued]

Chapter 1

Five years Later

She’s like the wind. She can fly wherever she wants. She can soar. She escapes danger with a sword by her side. She is fearless, brave, confident, courageous…

“Hope, it’s time for dinner!”

Mom’s voice jerked me out of my thoughts. I stared down at my drawing of a woman and looked deep into her eyes. They were filled with determination and resolve. “She is everything that I’m not,” I whispered in despair. 

    Sighing, I closed my sketchpad with a bang. I rose from my chair and walked to my bed, shoving it underneath the pillow- into its hiding place. My legs were stiff as I came down the wooden stairs. 

     The aroma of spaghetti and Italian sausage filled the air. Reaching the dining room, my pace slowed. 

     What’s this? Mom’s fine china, a vase of daisies, and a blue checkered tablecloth graced the table. I hadn’t seen that tablecloth in ages and flowers…flowers were never in the house. When’s the last time we “set” the table?

   Mom halted in her tracks as she came out of the pantry. “Oh.” She stammered, then brightened. I didn’t hear you come down the stairs, honey.” She smiled and gestured to the table. “Come and eat while the food is hot.”

Okay. I followed Mom’s lead and took my place at the table. She offered me her hand, and bowed her head. I took it with reluctance.

    “Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for this time together. I pray that you will bless this food to our bodies. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.”

    Mom squeezed my hand then let go.

    I stared at her while she unfolded a napkin onto her lap. A napkin? When did we ever use cloth napkins?

     Her straight blonde hair was pulled back in a high ponytail. Stains shown underneath her fingernails and a dark mark on her shirt seemed to scowl. That wasn’t normal. 

     “Mom, were you gardening?”  

    Her head came up. “Yes, I was. I raked out those old flower beds in the front yard and planted sunflowers. It was in dire need of some love. I’m excited to watch the flowers bloom! Such beauty.” She flashed me a bright smile.

    “Hmm.” My eyebrow quirked upwards. Picking up my fork, I twirled the spaghetti noodles around and around.

    “I hope it tastes good,” Mom said. “I know it’s your favorite.”

    I gave her a nod. “It smells heavenly.” Taking a bite, my eyes closed as the yumminess filled my senses. 

“Good?”

    Oh. Mom was staring at me. Why did she have to stare? 

    “Yeah, it’s delicious.” I took another bite, and glanced anywhere but at her.

    She smiled and seemed pleased.

    “I got an email from your Dad today,” she said with the most matter-of-fact tone.

    “What?” I choked, reaching for my glass of lemonade and clearing my throat. “What did you say?”

Mom looked me in the eye. “I got an email from your Dad today. He is moving here, to Oregon…and he wants to see you.”

    “What?” I practically squeaked. “Why?”

    “He found a job that pays better. Still as a mechanic, just for a dealership now.” She took a bite of cheesy bread.

      I let my fork clank on the tabletop. My voice rose. “But why now? I don’t get it.”  Heat climbed up my neck.

   Mom placed her slender hand on mine. “He is not out to ruin your life, honey. He cares for you, you can’t fault him for that.”

 “Mom, he doesn’t care for me.” I pulled my hand away and shook my head. “He stopped caring when he abandoned me. Us.” 

    Mom hesitated. “I know that you were so hurt and still are, when your dad left. I’m sorry for how I’ve failed you. I never helped you grieve or forgive or feel normal as much as I should have. My own problems and grief took up all my energy and time.” Her eyes welled up with tears. “But let me help you now. Tell me anything. Talk to me. There were some counseling videos at the very beginning of the divorce that helped me…” 

After all this time, she wanted to really help me? It was years too late.“I can’t handle this.”  I pushed back my chair and bolted.

     Tears blurred my vision as I ran. Mom shouted after me. 

     Run. That’s all I could do.

     I slammed my bedroom door closed behind me. My body went limp against it and slid to the floor.

    Why does this have to happen now? We finally moved to a place that doesn’t remind me of Dad and now he’s here?

I was 17. It had been five years since the divorce. Why did it affect me so much? I buried my head in my hands as the memories came crashing down. Voices replayed in my head like a recording.

    “What are you so concerned about, Hannah?”

    “I’m concerned about our daughter Mark! She has noticed how distant you’ve become, and she’s hurt. She can feel it. You hardly pay any attention to her! You act as if work is your child and wife”

    “What about you, huh? Last time I checked you just fill your time with menial tasks. All you care about is how things look!”

     “Now Mark, that’s not true and you know it! Open your eyes. I purposely make things nice when you get home after a long day. It’s not for possible company coming over or that everything must be clean. I do it for you!”  

    “Well maybe I’m just tired of this. All of this! Everything’s the same…”

     “Mark, I’ve said over and over, we can move to a new house! We don’t have to stay here.” 

      “That’s the problem, Hannah. It’s not the house. It’s the people.” 

        There was silence for a few seconds.

        “This isn’t working for me, Hannah. I can’t take it anymore.”

       “Take it?” Mom’s voice broke on a sob. “What are you saying, Mark?”

     “I’m saying that I’m leaving. For good.” His voice raged.

Lifting my head, I took several deep breaths. That wasn’t happening. My bedroom surrounded me–not a dark hallway where I had held my breath with silent tears. Eavesdropping had become my super power the month before Dad had left. 

      However, right now, no yelling or arguments filled the house. I’m fine. I’m fine.

      I rose, knees shaking. Everything’s okay. I snatched a clean shirt from my bed and started smoothing out the creases. Life is peaceful. But no matter how many times I ressured myself, it remained a lie. And no one looking in would believe my lies, including myself. 

     Turning towards my mirrored closet, I caught my reflection. Seeing my dirty-brown hair and green eyes, made Dad’s face appear fresh in my mind. Oh, Dad.

    The shirt crumpled in my hands. The desk beckoned me to place everything in order. What I couldn’t fix in my life, I could always fix on my desk. 

   Then my gaze unwillingly moved towards my secret hiding place. Should I?

    Retrieving the sketchpad, I sat, flipped it open and came to my latest sketch of the woman. 

She emanated beauty. 

     She had sparkling blue eyes, dark brown hair, and strength. Her strength seemed to come off the page. 

     Everything about her appealed to me.

     For years, the people I sketched were always perfect. Not one single flaw. Now it was time for a change. 

     On the next page, I started a much different sketch. This sketch was of a man. A man who had thousands of flaws.

[End of Chapter 1]

Prologue 

A long roll of butcher paper covered the living room floor. It shone with its blankness. I couldn’t help smiling. 

    “You ready for this, Hope?” Dad asked. 

I gazed at my dad’s sparkling eyes, his tousled hair going every direction, and the huge grin on his face. 

Returning his grin, my voice followed. “I love you.” I snuggled his arm. “I’m ready for anything with you.” 

   He squeezed my shoulder. “Then let’s get to it!”  Dad sat down on the floor.  

    Brushing a long, tangled braid over my shoulder, my excitement mounted. “What do you want to use? Chalk, crayons, colored pencils, or markers?” 

    “Hmmm.” Dad scanned the choices laid out in front of him. “Hey, why can’t I use watercolors?” He teased.

    “Well, we could use them, but we would have to cover the floor to be safe from your artistic expression!” My hand patted the wood floor for emphasis. I was twelve, I knew these things.

Dad nodded. “Good point. Let’s use colored pencils. They are fun to work with.”

“Okay.” Shoving all the other things away, I spilled out the colored pencils. Every color winked back.  “What should I draw?”

    “Oh, I can’t tell you what to draw. It must be your drawing. It has to come from your own imagination, your own heart.”

It must come from my heart? I gave him a blank look.

    Dad caught my stare, and laughed. “Go ahead, draw. It’s not that hard.” He shooed me with his hand. “Try.”

    I gazed down at the white paper and tapped a pencil against my cheek. Draw from the heart. My family? Maybe? .

I started sketching our house as I imagined it, from the bottom to the very top. Slowly, the landscape surrounding the house took shape. The dainty flowers, and the large trees. Nothing was left out. A satisfied smile escaped my lips. Drawing always felt so right.

    “I’m home! Where is everyone?” A familiar voice called. 

    “In here, honey.” Dad answered.

    Mom walked into the living room.

   “My, my what do we have here?” She peered down at the paper.

    “You can’t tell?” Dad said in mock seriousness, rising to kiss Mom on the cheek. “You have two artists in your midst who possess great talent. I think my drawing is quite beautiful.”  

Oh. My stare went to his drawing. In the drawing Mom looked back at me with a soft smile, and merry eyes.

    “What is the other artist drawing?” Mom asked.    

    “I drew a picture of our house.” I brushed my finger across it. “You see, on the second story right through that window is my bedroom, then downstairs is your bedroom, and…”

    “Wait, honey,” Mom interrupted, “the picture is beautiful, but this isn’t our house. We live in an apartment.”

    “Well, Dad said to draw from the heart. So, I did. This is how I imagine our home—how I imagine us.” I shrugged. 

    Tears welled up in Mom’s eyes. “Oh sweetie, you don’t know how good…”

    Dad’s phone suddenly started to ring. “Oh, sorry.” He pulled it out of his pocket and answered.  “Hello? George. Hi. How are you?” Dad started walking around the room. “Wait, what? Are you serious?” He stopped in his tracks. “Yeah, I can be there bright and early tomorrow!” Dad pulled his phone away from his ear and stared at it, hardly moving.

    “What is it, Mark? Is something wrong?”

    Dad sprung back to life with a whoop. “Wrong? Oh no, everything is right! I got the job at Jackson Family Automotive, as the mechanic! I get to start tomorrow!” 

    “Oh Mark, that is an answer to our prayers.” Mom hugged him tight.

He got the job? Our drawings were practically garbage now. But what about me? Oh stop, you should be happy for Dad. He just got the job he’s wanted for months. 

     Frowning at my selfishness, I cleaned up. 

     Dad’s gaze bore into my back. Please don’t say anything.

He came over and hunkered down beside me. “What’s wrong, Hope? Aren’t you happy that I was able to get a job?”

    I forced myself to glance at him, squirmed, then avoided his gaze.  “Nothing is wrong. Really. I’m glad you got the job.” 

    “But?” Dad prompted.

Might as well say it. “We won’t be able to spend as much time together.” Sudden loneliness washed over me.      

    “Oh, is that all? I thought something was wrong. Hope, doing this job won’t change anything. I might not have as much time as I would like to spend with you and your Mom, but I will make it work. I promise to draw with you twice a week,”

    My hopes soared and it just wasn’t because of my name.  “Really?!” 

    He chuckled, “Really, honey.”

    I hugged him tight, burying my face in his shoulder. His shirt smelled like old spice colon. “Love you, Dad.” 

    “Love you too.”

This is perfect. I sighed. Just perfect.

“Why don’t you finish cleaning up this stuff, then we’ll go out and celebrate! What do you think about that?” He pulled away, happy.

    “Sounds great. I’ll hurry!”

      Dad leapt to his feet, “I need to get my jacket and wallet.”

     My hands moved as quick as lighting, cutting out our pictures and rolling up the butcher paper. 

        Mom slung her purse over her shoulder, beaming. “We haven’t been out to dinner in a long time. It’s going to be nice.”

     “Mm hmm.”    

     Dad walked into the room, his attention captured by the wrinkles in his jacket. He attempted to make them disappear, brushing his hands over them without success. “You guys ready?” He said, distracted. 

    Mom rose to her tiptoes and kissed his whiskered cheek. “I’ll iron it later, honey.”

     He nodded, his frown turning into a smile. 

     I folded Dad’s drawing and shoved it in my pocket–to keep it safe. 

Then with all three of our hands joined, we strolled out the door. And yes, if someone had snapped a photo, it would have been a beautiful picture indeed.