Leave it to Chance: Excerpt: Fiction FIRST

It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and his/her book:

Leave it to Chance
David C. Cook (May 2008)


Sherri Sand is a wife and mother of four young children who keep her scrambling to stay ahead of the spilled milk. When she needs stress relief from wearing all the hats required to clothe, feed and ferry her rambunctious brood, you may find her sitting in a quiet corner of a bistro reading a book (surrounded by chocolate), or running on one of the many trails near her home. Sherri is a member of The Writerís View and American Christian Fiction Writers. She finds the most joy in writing when the characters take on a life of their own and she becomes the recorder of their stories. She holds a degree in psychology from the University of Oregon where she graduated cum laude. Sherri and her family live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

She's also a blogger! So stop by and say hi to Sherri at Creations in the Sand!

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 353 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (May 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434799883
ISBN-13: 978-1434799883


ìA horse? Mom, what am I going to do with a horse?î Just what she and the kids did not need. Sierra Montgomery sagged back against her old kitchen counter, where afternoon sunlight dappled the white metal cabinets across from her. She pressed the phone tight against her ear, hoping sheíd heard wrong, as her four-year-old son, Trevor, ate grapes at the kitchen table.

ìMiss Libby wanted you to have it. Iíd think youíd be delighted, what with the kids and all. You remember Sally, Miss Libbyís daughter? Well, she just called and said it was all laid out in the will. None of their family could figure out who Sierra Lassiter Montgomery was until Sally remembered me from her momís church. So she called and sure enough, you were my daughter.î Sierraís mom tsked into the phone. ìWell, you know how Sally is.î

Sierra hadnít the foggiest how Sally was, or even who she was. She barely remembered Miss Libby from her Sunday school class eons ago.

ìShe acted pleased that her mother gave you the horse, but I could tell she was miffed. Though what Sally Owens would do with a horse, Iíd like to know.î Her momís voice was tight and controlled as if they were discussing how to deal with black spot on her Old English roses.

ìBut I donít want a horse. You, of all people, should know that after what happened whenóî How could her mom even suggest she get a horse? Painful pictures of her childhood friend Molly floated through her mind.

ìHoney, accidents like that donít happen more than once in a lifetime. Besides, Miss Libby wouldnít have owned a crazy horse.î

Sierra stared out the window where the school bus would soon release her most precious treasures. Her mom never had understood the resounding impact that summer day had made in her life.

ìYou really need to think of the kids and how much fun theyíd have. Itís not like youíd ever be able to afford to buy them one.î

Sierra wished she were having this conversation with Elise rather than her mother. Her best friend would understand the danger she feared in horses, and in her humorous way come up with a sensible plan that would include not keeping the animal.

Her mom, on the other hand, lived life as if she were on one of those moving conveyors at the airport that people can step on to rest their feet yet keep moving toward their destination. As long as everyone kept traveling forward, she could ignore the emotional baggage dragging behind.

ìI donít understand why Miss Libby would give the horse to me.î

ìYou know how my bingo club visited the Somerset rest home every week? Well, Miss Libbyís been there for years and she always did comment on how horse crazy you were when she taught your Sunday school class.î

ìMom, that was a phase I went through when I was ten and found National Velvet and Black Beauty at the library. I havenít seen Miss Libby since middle school.î

ìObviously you were special to Miss Libby. Iíd think you might be a little more grateful.î

Deep breath, Sierra told herself. ìI am grateful.î An errant grape rolled next to her toe. Trevorís blond head was bent, intent on arranging the fruit like green soldiers around the edge of his plate. Sierra tossed the grape into the sink and considered how to respond to her mom. She was a dear, but sometimes the woman was like dry kindling on a hot day, and one little sparkÖ. ìIím just not sure that owning a horse would be a wise move at this point in our lives.î

The front door slammed and Sierra felt the walls shudder with the thud. The 3:00 p.m. stampede through the house meant it was time to get off the phone and determine how to get rid of a horse before the kids found out about it.

Her mom sighed. ìItís too bad Sally wonít keep the horse at her place for you, but she said her husband wants the horse gone. He wants to fill the pasture with sheep.î

Sheep? A kitchen chair scraped over the linoleum as Trevor scooted back from the table and dashed for the living room. ìMommyís got a horse! Mommyís got a horse!î Wonderful. Little ears, big mouth.

Braden and Emory shot into the kitchen, bright eyes dancing in tandem. Their words tangled together in fevered excitement despite the fact that she was on the phone.

ìWhere is it?î Bradenís eleven-year-old grin split his face, and his dark hair was rumpled and sweat streaked, likely from a fevered game of basketball during last recess.

She held a hand up to still the questions as her mom went on about the sheep that Sallyís husband probably did not need.

ìWe have a horse?î Nine-year-old Emory, her blonde hair still neat in its purple headband, fluttered in front of her mom, delight and hope blooming on her face.

Despite the fear of horses building deep in Sierraís gut, her childrenís excitement was a little contagious. She wished Miss Libby had willed her a cat.

Sierra ran her hand down Emoryís soft cheek and whispered. ìIíll be off the phone in a minute, sweetie.î

ìCan we ride it?î Em looked at her with elated eyes.

Braden tossed his backpack on the table. ìWhere are we going to keep it?î

The kids circled her, jabbering with excited questions. Sierra rubbed her forehead with the tips of her fingers. ìI gotta go, Mom. Iíve got to break some cowboy hearts.î

The kids clamored around her, Braden taking the lead with an arm draped across her shoulder. When had he gotten so big? ìDo we have a horse, Mom?î He asked the question with a lopsided grin, a foreshadow of the adolescence that had been peeking through lately. The preteen in him didnít truly believe they had a horseóhe was old enough to realize the oddsóbut little-boy eagerness clung to his smile.

ìThat would be yes and a no.î

ìWhat? Mom!î he complained.

ìI was given a horse, but weíre not going to keep him.î Bradenís arm slid off her shoulder, a scowl replacing his smile. ìWhy not?î

ìSomeone gave you a horse?î Emory ignored her brotherís attitude and flashed her most persuasive grin. ìCan we keep him? Please!î

Sierra smoothed her hand over the silky hair and leaned close to her daughterís face as Emory went on. ìI think we should get four horses so we each have one. We could go trail riding. Cameronís mom has horses, and they go riding all the time as a family.î

ìWeíre not a family anymore,î Braden cut in. ìWe stopped being a family when mom divorced dad.î

A shard of pain drove into Sierraís gut. She hadnít had time to brace for that one. Bradenís anger at the divorce had been building like an old steam engine lately.

ìThatís not fair!î Outrage darkened Emoryís features. ìItís not Momís fault!î

Sarcasm colored Bradenís voice. ìOh, so itís all Dadís fault?î

Sierra saw the confusion that swept over her daughterís face. She was fiercely loyal to both parents and didnít know how to defend them against each other.

Sierra spoke in a firm tone. ìBraden, thatís enough!î

He scowled at her again. ìWhatever.î

Sierra held his gaze until he glanced away.

ìGuys, weíre not going to play the blame game. We have plenty to be thankful for, and thatís what is important.î

Bradenís attitude kept pouring it on. ìBoy, and we have so much. Spaghetti for dinner every other night.î

ìSo what, Braden-Maden!î Emory made a face and stuck her tongue out at him.

ìNo more fighting or you two can go to your rooms.î Her kids were not perfect, but they used to like each other. Something had changed. Her gut said it was her ex-husband, Michael, but what if she was falling into the whole ìblame the dadî thing herself? What if she was really the problem? Two weeks without a job had added stress and worry. Had she stopped hugging them as often in between scouring the want ads and trying to manage a home and bills?

ìMom?î There was a quaver in Trevorís soft voice.

ìYes, honey?î Sierra gave him a gentle smile.

ìCan we keep the horse?î

Emoryís blue gaze darted to meet hers, a plea in them. Braden sat with his arms crossed over his chest, but his ears had pricked up.

Sierra looked at them, wanting them to understand and knowing they wouldnít. ìNone of us know how to handle or care for a horse, so it wouldnít be safe to keep him.î

Emoryís face lit up. ìCameronís mom could teach us.î

ìHoney, itís not that simple. We canít afford an animal that big. He probably eats as much in groceries as we do, and it would be very expensive to rent a place for him to live.î

ìI could mow yards.î Anger at his sister forgotten, Braden turned a hopeful face to her. ìWe could help out.î

Emory jumped onto the working bandwagon. ìYeah. I could do laundry or something for the neighbors.î

Braden drilled his sister a look that said idiot idea but didnít say anything.

Trevor bounced in his chair, eager to be a part of keeping the horse. ìI could wash cars.î

ìThose are great ideas, but they wonít bring in quite enough, especially since itís getting too cold to mow lawns or wash cars.î

ìYou just donít want to keep the horse, Mom,î Braden said. ìI get it. End of story.î

ìHoney, Iíd love for you to have a horse, but when I was young I had a friendóî

Emory spoke in a helpful tone. ìWe know. Grandma told us about the accident.î

They knew? Wasnít the story hers to share? ìWhen did Grandma tell you?î

Bradenís voice took on a breezy air. ìI donít know. A while ago. Come on, Mom. Weíre not going to do something dumb like your friend did.î

Defensiveness rose inside. ìShe didnít do anything dumb. It was the horse thatóî

ìSo because something bad happened to one person, your kids can never do anything fun for the rest of their lives.î

Sierra gave him a look. ìOr you learn from your mistakes and help your kids to do the same.î

Braden rolled his eyes at her.

Worry drew lines across her daughterís forehead. ìAre you going to sell him?î

ìYes, Em. So weíre not going to discuss this anymore. You and Braden have homework to do.î At the chorus of groans she held her hands up. ìOkay, I guess Iíll have to eat Grandmaís apple pie all by myself.î

Braden grabbed his backpack and slowly dragged it across the floor toward the stairs, annoyance in his voice. ìWeíre going.î Emory trotted past him up the stairs.

Trevor remained behind, one arm wrapped around her thigh. ìI donít have any homework.î

She squatted and pulled him in for a hug. ìNope, you sure donít, bud.î

He leaned back. ìDo I get a horse?î

Sierra distracted him by inching her fingers up his ribs. ìWhat, Trev?î

He tried to talk around his giggles. ìDo I getóMom!î Her fingers found the tickle spots under his arms and he laughed, his eyes squinted shut and mouth opened wide. She found all his giggle spots, then turned on Sesame Street as the second distraction. Good old Bert and Ernie.

Now what? She had roughly forty-five minutes to figure out how she was going to get rid of a horse and not be a complete zero in her kidsí eyes.

She eyed the phone and made her next move. Five minutes later a white Mazda whipped into her driveway. Sierra hurried out the front door waving her arms to stop Elise before she could start her ritual honking for the kids.

Wide eyed, her platinum blonde friend stared, one long plum-colored nail hovering above the ìoogaî horn on the dash. ìWhat?î

ìI donít want the kids to know youíre here.î

Wicked delight spread across her perfectly made-up face. Light plum shadow matched her nails. Tomorrow, both eye shadow and nails could be green. ìLet me guess! Mr. Pellum asked you out!î

ìNooooo!î Mr. Pellum was a teacher Sierra and Elise had had a crush on in seventh grade.

ìUmmm Ö you robbed a bank and need me to watch the kids while you fly to Tahiti?î

Sierra gave her a mock-serious look. ìDone?î

Elise tilted her head. ìCan I get out of the car?î

Sierra glanced toward the house. All was still silent. ìYes, you may.î

Deadpan, Elise nodded and opened the door. ìThen Iím done for now.î Her plump body, swathed in a creamy suit with a purple scarf draped across one shoulder, rose gracefully from the small two-seater.

Sierra closed the door for her, then leaned against it. Elise had a way of removing the extraneous and reducing a problem down to the bare essentials. ìElise, Iím in a predicament.î

ìHon, Iíve been trying to tell you that for years.î

Sierra shook her head. ìI donít think you could have seen this one coming even with your crystal ball.î

Elise gave her the spinster teacher look through narrowed eyes. ìI donít think I like the implications of that.î

Sierra held her hands out. ìYou are the queen of mind-reading, according to my children.î

Elise chuckled. ìItís a good thing I was just headed out for a latte break when you called. Now whatís the big emergency?î She owned a high-end clothing store for plus-sized women in downtown Eugene.

ìA horse.î

Elise glanced around as if one or two might be lurking behind a tree.

ìA herd of them or just one?î

ìOne. Full-sized. Living and breathing.î

ìI believe Iím missing some pieces here. Is it moving in with you? Holding one of the children hostage? What?î

Sierra breathed out a slight chuckle and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. ìYouíre not going to believe this, but I inherited it.î

Her friendís eyes grew wide, emphasizing the lushly mascaraed lashes. ìLike someone died and gave you their horse?î

Sierra nodded, raising her brows. ìAnd the kids want to keep him.î

Furrows emerged across Eliseís forehead. ìWho is the idiot that told them about the horse?î

Sierra tilted her head with a look that only best friends could give each other.

Eliseís perfectly painted lips smirked. ìMoving along, then. Why donít you keep it? The kids would love it. Heaven knows they deserve it.î She clapped her hands together. ìOh, oh! They could get into 4-H, and Braden could learn to barrel race. That kid would think heíd won the jackpot. Emory and Trevor could get a pig or some of those show roosters.î

Sierra let the idea machine wind down. ìI donít think so.î

ìAngora rabbits?î

ìNo farm animals.î

Eliseís mouth perked into humorous pout. ìSierra, youíre such a spoilsport. Those kids need a pet.î

ìA hamster is a pet. A horse is not.î

Diva Elise took the stage, hands on her ample hips. ìDonít tell me you didnít want a horse growing up. Remember, I was the one who had to sit and watch National Velvet with you time ad nauseam. Youíve said yourself that Braden needs something to take his mind off the problems heís having at school and with his dad.î

Guilt, a wheelbarrow load of it, dumped on Sierra. ìYou are supposed to be helping me, Elise, not making it worse. I want to get rid of this horse and Öî her eyes dodged away from her friend, ìÖ you know.î

ìMmm-hmm. And still look like Super Mom in your childrenís eyes.î

Sierra nodded, but couldnít find the nerve to say yes.

ìSierra Montgomery, those children have been to heck and back in the last couple years and youíre willing to deny them the pleasure of owning their own free horse because Ö because of what?î

Sierra stared at the ground for a moment, feeling a tangle of emotions rise within. She let her eyes rest on Eliseís and said quietly, ìFear? Terror? Hysteria?î

A look of puzzlement, then understanding settled on Eliseís face, smoothing away the annoyance. ìMolly.î

Sierra nodded. ìI wonít put my children in that kind of danger.î

Elise leaned forward and grabbed Sierraís hands, holding them tight. ìOh, hon. That was a long time ago. Donít let your life be ruled by the what-ifs. Thereís a lot of living left to do. And your kids need to see you taking life by storm, taking chances, not hiding in the shadows.î

ìThatís easy for you to say. You were voted most likely to parachute off the Empire State Building.î

Elise gave her a cheeky grin, both dimples winking at her. ìWe could do it tandem!î

ìIf you see me jump off the Empire State Building youíll know my lobotomy was successful, because there is no way in this lifetime youíll catch this body leaving good sense behind!î Sierra heard the words come from her own mouth and stared at her friend in wonder. ìOh, my gosh. That was so my mom.î

ìIt was bound to happen, hon.î

Was she serious? ìYou think Iím turning into her?î Sierra brought a hand to her throat and quickly dropped it. How many times had she seen her mom use the same gesture?

Elise laughed. ìYou need to stop fretting and just live. We all turn out like our mothers in some respect.î

ìAll except you. Youíre nothing like Vivian.î

ìOther than the drinking, smoking, and carousing, Iím exactly like her.î

Sierra lifted a brow. Her mom had rarely let her go to Eliseís house when they were growing upóand for good reason. Elise struck a pose like a fashion model. ìOkay, Iím the anti-Vivian.î She gave Sierra a soft smile. ìAll funniní aside, I really think you should keep the horse.î

ìIím not keeping the horse. And even if I wanted to, I couldnít.î Sierra took a settling breath and stared at the tree over Eliseís shoulder.

ìMichael still hasnít paid?î

Elise knew more about her finances than her mom did. ìHe paid, but the check bounced again. So now heís two months behind in child support.î

ìHave you heard if Pollanís is rehiring?î

ìTheyíre not.î Jarrettís, the local grocery store where she worked for the three years since the divorce had been recently bought out by Pollanís. They had laid off the majority of the checkers with the possibility of rehiring some.

Elise cringed as if she was bracing herself for a blow. ìAnd the unemployment fiasco?î

Sierra shut her eyes. ìMr. Jarrett did not pay into our unemployment insurance, so there is no benefit for us to draw from. Yes, it was illegal, and yes he will pay, but it may take months, if not years, for various lawyers and judges to beat it out of him.î She gave Elise a tired smile. ìThatís the version minus all the legalese.î

ìSo the layoffs are final, no unemployment bennies, and youíre out of a job.î

ìMomentarily. The rÈsumÈ has been dusted off and polished.î She gave a wry grin.

ìI wish I could hire you at Deluxe Couture, but I promised Nora fulltime work. And besides, your cute little buns would drive my clientele away.î

Sierra waved a hand over her jeans and sweatshirt. ìYour clientele would outshine me any day.î

ìYou sell yourself far too short.î Elise glanced at the hefty rhinestone encrusted watch on her wrist. ìAnything else I can do for you? Help the kids with their homework? Babysit while you sweep some tall, dark, handsome man off his feet?î

Sierra laughed. ìAnd where is this dream man going to come from?î

Elise gave a breezy wave of her hand and opened the car door. ìOh, heíll turn up. Youíre too cute to stay single. I actually have someone in mind. Pavo Marcello. Heís a new sales rep from one of my favorite lines. Iíll see if heís free Friday night. You arenít doing anything, are you?î

ìHold on!î Sierra stepped in front of the car door to keep her friend from leaving. ìFirst, Iím not looking. Second, given my history, Iím not the best judge of character. Iíve already struck out once in the man department.î She pointed to her face with both index fingers. ìNot anxious to try again. Third, you just told me Iím turning into my mom, which makes me definitely not dating material.î

A twist of Eliseís lips signaled a thought. ìYou know, now that I think about it, I believe he has a boyfriend.î She shook her head and lowered herself into the car. ìWeíll keep looking. Iím sure Sir Knight will turn up.î

Sierra shut the car door and grinned down at her friend. ìAnd what about finding your knight?î

Elise gave her a bright smile. ìMr. Pellum is already taken. You really need to find a way to keep that horse; itíll be your first noble sacrifice.î


The little car backed up, and Elise spoke over the windshield. ìThe others donít count.î

Sierra stared at the retreating car. There was no way she was keeping that horse.

After dinner, Sierra crept into Bradenís room. He sat on the bed intent on the Game Boy in his lap, the tinny sound of hard rock bleeding out of his earphones. She waved a hand and he glanced up. She waited and with a look of preteen exasperation he finally pulled the headphones to his shoulders.

ìWhat, Mom?î

ìI just wanted to say good night.î

ìGood night.î His hands started to readjust the music back into position.

ìI looked at your homework.î

ìYou got into my backpack? Isnít that like against the law or something? Youíre always telling us not to get into your stuff.î

She crossed her arms. Frustration and worry gnawed at her. ìYou lied to me about doing your assignment. Why, honey?î

He ignored her and started playing his Game Boy.

She took one step and snatched the game from his hands.


ìI want some respect when I talk to you, Braden.î

His chin sank toward his chest, his gaze fixed on his bed, his voice low. ìI didnít want to do it.î

She sat next to him, her voice soft. ìIs it too hard?î

He shrugged. ìIt gives me a headache when I work on it.î

ìBraden, if you need help, Iíd be happy to work with you after school.î

He stared at his knees and picked at a loose string of cotton on his pajama bottoms.

ìI got a phone call from Mrs. Hamison today.î

His body came alert, though he didnít look at her.

ìShe said youíre flunking most of your subjects, and she hasnít seen any homework from you since school started a month ago.î

He glanced up, his jaw belligerent, but with fear in his eyes.

ìWhatís going on? I know school isnít easy, but youíve never given up before.î

ìMiddle schoolís harder.î

She wanted to touch him, to brush the hair off his forehead and snuggle him close the way she used to when he was small. Back when a hug and a treat shared over the kitchen table was enough to bring the sparkle back to her son. ìShe thinks we should have your vision tested.î


ìSheís noticed some things in class and thinks it might be helpful.î

He shrugged again. ìCan I have my game back?î

ìYou lied to me, son. Again.î


ìYou break trust every time you choose to be dishonest. Is that what you want?î

His voice was sullen and he stared at his comforter. ìNo.î

She touched his leg. ìWhatís bothering you, honey?î

ìI dunno. Can I have my game back?î

She stood up. There was a time for talking and this obviously wasnít it. ìYou can have it tomorrow.î

But would tomorrow be any different?


Fiction FIRST: Excerpt from Forsaken by James David Jordan

It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and his book:

B&H Fiction (October 1, 2008)


James David Jordan is a business litigation attorney with the prominent Texas law firm of Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C. From 1998 through 2005, he served as the firm's Chairman and CEO. The Dallas Business Journal has named him one of the most influential leaders in the Dallas/Fort Worth legal community and one of the top fifteen business defense attorneys in Dallas/Fort Worth. His peers have voted him one of the Best Lawyers in America in commercial litigation.

A minister's son who grew up in the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois, Jim has a law degree and MBA from the University of Illinois, and a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. He lives with his wife and two teenage children in the Dallas suburbs.

Jim grew up playing sports and loves athletics of all kinds. But he especially loves baseball, the sport that is a little bit closer to God than all the others.

His first novel was Something that Lasts . Forsaken is his second novel.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Fiction (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805447490
ISBN-13: 978-0805447491


Even in high school I didnít mind sleeping on the ground. When your father is a retired Special Forces officer, you pick up things that most girls donít learn. As the years passed I slept in lots of places a good girl shouldnít sleep. Itís a part of my past I donít brag about, like ugly wallpaper that wonít come unstuck. No matter how hard I scrape, it just hangs on in big, obscene blotches. Iím twenty-nine years old now, and Iíve done my best to paint over it. But itís still there under the surface, making everything rougher, less presentable than it should be. Though I want more than anything to be smooth and fresh and clean.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen if the paint begins to fade. Will the wallpaper show? I thought so for a long time. But I have hope now that it wonít. Simon Mason helped me find that hope. Thatís why itís important for me to tell our story. There must be others who need hope, too. There must be others who are afraid that their ugly wallpaper might bleed through.

What does sleeping on the ground have to do with a world-famous preacher like Simon Mason? The story begins twelve years agoóeleven years before I met Simon. My dad and I packed our camping gear and went fishing. It was mid-May, and the trip was a present for my seventeenth birthday. Not exactly every high school girlís dream, but my dad wasnít like most dads. He taught me to camp and fish and, particularly, to shoot. He had trained me in self-defense since I was nine, the year Mom fell apart and left for good. With my long legs, long arms, and Dadís athletic genes, I could handle myself even back then. I suppose I wasnít like most other girls.

After what happened on that fishing trip, I know I wasnít.

Fishing with my dad didnít mean renting a cane pole and buying bait pellets out of a dispenser at some catfish tank near an RV park. It generally meant tramping miles across a field to a glassy pond on some war buddyís ranch, or winding through dense woods, pitching a tent, and fly fishing an icy stream far from the nearest telephone. The trips were rough, but they were the bright times of my lifeóand his, too. They let him forget the things that haunted him and remember how to be happy.

This particular outing was to a ranch in the Texas Panhandle, owned by a former Defense Department bigwig. The ranch bordered one of the few sizeable lakes in a corner of Texas that is brown and rocky and dry. We loaded Dadís new Chevy pickup with cheese puffs and soft drinksóhealthy eat≠ing wouldnít begin until the first fish hit the skilletóand left Dallas just before noon with the bass boat in tow. The drive was long, but we had leather interior, plenty of tunes, and time to talk. Dad and I could always talk.

The heat rose early that year, and the temperature hung in the nineties. Two hours after we left Dallas, the brand-new air conditioner in the brand-new truck rattled and clicked and dropped dead. We drove the rest of the way with the windows down while the high Texas sun tried to burn a hole through the roof.

Around five-thirty we stopped to use the bathroom at a rundown gas station somewhere southeast of Amarillo. The station was nothing but a twisted gray shack dropped in the middle of a hundred square miles of blistering hard pan. It hadnít rained for a month in that part of Texas, and the place was so baked that even the brittle weeds rolled over on their bellies, as if preparing a last-ditch effort to drag themselves to shade.

The restroom door was on the outside of the station, iso≠lated from the rest of the building. There was no hope of cool≠ing off until I finished my business and got around to the little store in the front, where a rusty air conditioner chugged in the window. When I walked into the bathroom, I had to cover my nose and mouth with my hand. A mound of rotting trash leaned like a grimy snow drift against a metal garbage can in the corner. Thick, black flies zipped and bounced from floor to wall and ceiling to floor, occasionally smacking my arms and legs as if I were a bumper in a buzzing pinball machine. It was the filthiest place Iíd ever been.

Looking back, it was an apt spot to begin the filthiest night of my life.

I had just leaned over the rust-ringed sink to inspect my teeth in the sole remaining corner of a shattered mirror when someone pounded on the door.

ìJust a minute!î I turned on the faucet. A soupy liquid dribbled out, followed by the steamy smell of rotten eggs. I turned off the faucet, pulled my sport bottle from the holster on my hip, and squirted water on my face and in my mouth. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my T-shirt.

My blue-jean cutoffs were short and tight, and I pried free a tube of lotion that was wedged into my front pocket. I raised one foot at a time to the edge of the toilet seat and did my best to brush the dust from my legs. Then I spread the lotion over them. The ride may have turned me into a dust ball, but I was determined at least to be a soft dust ball with a coconut scent. Before leaving I took one last look in my little corner of mir≠ror. The hair was auburn, the dust was beige. I gave the hair a shake, sending tiny flecks floating through a slash of light that cut the room diagonally from a hole in the roof. Someone pounded on the door again. I turned away from the mirror.

ìOkay, okay, Iím coming!î

When I pulled open the door and stepped into the light, I shaded my eyes and blinked to clear away the spots. All that I could think about was the little air conditioner in the front window and how great it would feel when I got inside. Thatís probably why I was completely unprepared when a manís hand reached from beside the door and clamped hard onto my wrist.


Fiction FIRST: Single Sashimi by Camy Tang

It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and her book:

Single Sashimi
Zondervan (September 1, 2008)


Camy Tang is a FIRST Family Member! She also is a moderator for FIRST Wild Card Tours. She is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.

Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) was published in March of this year. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) came out in September 2008!

Visit her at her website.

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310274001
ISBN-13: 978-0310274001


Single Sashimi
Camy Tang

Chapter one

Venus Chau opened the door to her aunt's house and almost fainted.

"What died?" She exhaled sharply, trying to get the foul air out of her body before it caused cancer or something.

Her cousin Jennifer Lim entered the foyer with the look of an oni goblin about to eat someone. "She's stinking up my kitchen."

"Who?" Venus hesitated on the threshold, breathing clean night air before she had to close the door.

"My mother, who else?"

The ire in Jenn's voice made Venus busy herself with kicking off her heels amongst the other shoes in the tile foyer. Hoo-boy, she'd never seen quiet Jenn this irate before. Then again, since Aunty Yuki had given her daughter the rule of the kitchen when she'd started cooking in high school, Jenn rarely had to make way for another cook.

"What is she cooking? Beef intestines?"

Jenn flung her arms out. "Who knows? Something Trish is supposed to eat."

"But we don't have to eat it, right? Right?"

"I'll never become pregnant if I have to eat stuff like that." Jenn whirled and stomped toward the kitchen.

Venus turned right into the living room where her very pregnant cousin Trish lounged on the sofa next to her boyfriend, Spenser. "Hey, guys." Her gaze paused on their twined hands. It continued to amaze her that Spenser would date a woman pregnant with another man's child. Maybe Venus shouldn't be so cynical about the men she met. Here was at least one good guy.

Trish's arms shot into the air like a Raiders' cheerleader, nearly clocking Spenser in the eye. "I'm officially on maternity leave!"

Venus paused to clap. "So how did you celebrate?"

"I babysat Matthew all day today." She smiled dreamily at Spenser at the mention of his son.

Venus frowned and landed her hands on her hips. "In your condition?"

Trish waved a hand. "He's not that bad. He stopped swallowing things weeks ago."

"I'm finally not wasting money on all those emergency room visits," Spenser said.

"Besides, I got a book about how to help toddlers expect a new baby." Trish bounced lightly on the sofa cushion in her excitement.

"And?" It seemed kind of weird to Venus, since Trish and Spenser weren't engaged or anything. Yet.

Trish chewed her lip. "I don't know if he totally understands, but at least it's a start."

A sense of strangeness washed over Venus as she watched the two of them, the looks they exchanged that weren't mushy or intimate, just . . . knowing. Like mind reading. It made her feel alienated from her cousin for the first time in her life, and she didn't really like it.

She immediately damped down the feeling. How could she begrudge Trish such a wonderful relationship? Venus was so selfish. She disgusted herself.

She looked around the living room. "Where is -- "

"Venus!" The childish voice rang down the short hallway. She stepped back into the foyer to see Spenser's son, Matthew, trotting down the carpet with hands reached out to her. He grabbed her at the knees, wrinkling her silk pants, but she didn't mind. His shining face looking up at her -- way up, since she was the tallest of the cousins -- made her feel like she was the only reason he lived and breathed. "Psycho Bunny?" he pleaded.

She pretended to think about it. His hands shook her pants legs to make her decide faster.


He darted into the living room and plopped in front of the television, grabbing at the game controllers. The kid had it down pat -- in less than a minute, the music for the Psycho Bunny video game rolled into the room.

Venus sank to the floor next to him.

"Jenn is totally freaking out." Trish's eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.

"What brought all this on?" Venus picked up the other controller.

"Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor's appointment today -- "

"Is she doing okay?" She chose the Bunny Foo-Foo character for the game just starting.

"Clean bill of health. Cancer's gone, as far as they can tell."

"So that's why she's taken over Jenn's domain?"

Trish rubbed her back and winced. "She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along."

Jenn huffed into the living room. "She's going to make me ruin the roast chicken!"

Venus ignored her screeching tone. "Sit down. You're not going to make her hurry by hovering." She and Matthew both jumped over the snake pit and landed in the hollow tree.

Jenn flung herself into an overstuffed chair and dumped her feet on the battered oak coffee table.

Venus turned to glance at the foyer. No Nikes. "Where's Lex?"

"Late. Where else?" Jenn snapped.

"I thought Aiden was helping her be better about that."

"He's not a miracle worker." Spenser massaged Trish's back.

"I have to leave early." Venus stretched her silk-clad feet out, wriggling her toes. Her new stilettos looked great but man, they hurt her arches.

"Then you might not eat at all." Jenn crossed her arms over her chest.

Venus speared her with a glance like a stainless steel skewer. "Chill, okay Cujo?"

Jenn pouted and scrunched further down in the chair.

Venus ignored her and turned back to the game. Her inattention had let Matthew pick up the treasure chest. "I have to work on a project."

"For work?"

"No, for me." Only the Spiderweb, the achievement of her lifetime, a new tool that would propel her to the heights of video game development stardom. Which was why she'd kept it separate from her job-related things -- she didn't even use her company computer when she worked on it, only her personal laptop.

A new smell wafted into the room, this one rivaling the other in its stomach-roiling ability. Venus waved her hand in front of her face.

"Pffaugh! What is she cooking?"

Trish's face had turned the color of green tea. "You're lucky you don't have to eat it. Whatever it is, it ain't gonna stay down for long."

"Just say you still have morning sickness."

"In my ninth month?"

Venus shrugged.

The door slammed open. "Hey, guys -- blech."

Venus twisted around to see her cousin Lex doubled over, clenching her washboard stomach (Venus wished she could have one of those) and looking like she'd hurled up all the shoes littering the foyer floor.

Lex's boyfriend Aiden grabbed her waist to prevent her from nosediving into the tile. "Lex, it's not that bad."

"The gym locker room smells better." Lex used her toes to pull off her cross-trainers without bothering to untie them. "The men's locker room."

"It's not me," Jenn declared. "It's Mom, ruining all my best pots."

"What is she doing? Killing small animals on the stovetop?"

"Something for the baby." Trish tried to smile, but it looked more like a wince.

"As long as we don't have to eat it." Lex dropped her slouchy purse on the floor and walked into the living room.

Aunty Yuki appeared behind her in the doorway, bearing a steaming bowl. "Here, Trish. Drink this." The brilliant smile on her wide face eclipsed her tiny stature.

Venus smelled something pungent, like when she walked into a Chinese medicine shop with her dad. A bolus of air erupted from her mouth, and she coughed. "What is that?" She dropped the game controller.

"Pig's brain soup."

Trish's smile hardened to plastic. Lex grabbed her mouth. Spenser -- who was Chinese and therefore had been raised with the weird concoctions -- sighed. Aiden looked at them all like they were funny-farm rejects.

Venus closed her eyes, tightened her mouth, and concentrated on not gagging. Good thing her stomach was empty.

Aunty Yuki's mouth pursed. "What's wrong? My mother-in-law made me eat pig's brain soup when I was a couple weeks from delivering Jennifer."

"That's what you ruined my pots with?" Jennifer steamed hotter than the bowl of soup.

Her mom caught the yakuza-about-to-hack-your-finger-off expression on Jenn's face. Aunty Yuki paused, then backtracked to the kitchen. With the soup bowl, thankfully.

"Papa?" Matthew's voice sounded faint.

Venus turned.

"Don't feel good." He clutched his poochy tummy.

"Oh, no." Spenser grabbed his son and headed out of the living room.

Then the world exploded.

Just as they passed into the foyer, Matthew threw up onto the tiles.

Lex, with her weak stomach when it came to bodily fluids, took one look and turned pasty.

A burning smell and a few cries sounded from the kitchen.

Trish sat up straighter than a Buddha and clenched her rounded abdomen. "Oh!"

Spenser held his crying son as he urped up the rest of his afternoon snack. Lex clapped a hand to her mouth to prevent herself from following Matthew's example. Jenn started for the kitchen, but then Matthew's mess blocking the foyer stopped her. Trish groaned and curled in on herself, clutching her tummy.

Venus shot to her feet. She wasn't acting Game Lead at her company for nothing.

"You." She pointed to Jenn. "Get to the kitchen and send your mom in here for Trish." Jenn leaped over Matthew's puddle and darted away. "And bring paper towels for the mess!"

"You," she flung at Spenser. "Take Matthew to the bathroom."

He gestured to the brand new hallway carpet.

Oh no, Aunty Yuki would have a fit. But it couldn't be helped. "If he makes a mess on the carpet, we'll just clean it up later."

He didn't hesitate. He hustled down the hallway with Matthew in his arms.

Venus kicked the miniscule living room garbage basket closer to Lex. "Hang your head over that." Not that it would hold more than spittle, but it was better than letting Lex upchuck all over the plush cream carpet. Why did Lex, tomboy and jock, have to go weak every time something gross happened?

"You." Venus stabbed a manicured finger at Aiden. "Get your car, we're taking Trish to the hospital."

He didn't jump at her command. "After one contraction?"

Trish moaned, and Venus had a vision of the baby flying out of her in the next minute. She pointed to the door again. "Just go!"

Aiden shrugged and slipped out the front door, muttering to himself.

"You." She stood in front of Trish, who'd started Lamaze breathing through her pursed lips. "Uh . . ."

Trish peered up at her.

"Um . . . stop having contractions."

Trish rolled her eyes, but didn't speak through her pursed lips.

Venus ignored her and went to kneel over Matthew's rather watery puddle, which had spread with amoeba fingers reaching down the lines of grout. Lex's purse lay nearby, so she rooted in it for a tissue or something to start blotting up the mess.

Footsteps approaching. Before she could raise her head or shout a warning, Aunty Yuki hurried into the foyer. "What's wron -- !"

It was like a Three Stooges episode. Aunty Yuki barreled into Venus's bent figure. She had leaned over Matthew's mess to protect anyone from stepping in it, but it also made her an obstacle in the middle of the foyer.

"Ooomph!" The older woman's feet -- shod in cotton house slippers, luckily, and not shoes -- jammed into Venus's ribs. She couldn't see much except a pair of slippers leaving the floor at the same time, and then a body landing on the living room carpet on the other side of her. Ouch.

"Are you okay?" Venus twisted to kneel in front of her, but she seemed slow to rise.

"Venus, here're the paper towels -- "

Jenn's voice in the foyer made Venus whirl on the balls of her feet and fling her hands up. "Watch out!"

Jenn stopped just in time. Her toes were only inches away from Matthew's mess, her body leaning forward. Her arms whirled, still clutching the towels, like a cheerleader and her pom-poms.

"Jenn." Spenser's voice coming down the hallway toward the foyer. "Where are the -- "

"Stop!" Venus and Jenn shouted at the same time.

Spenser froze, his foot hovering above a finger of the puddle that had stretched toward the hallway. "Ah. Okay. Thanks." He lowered his foot on the clean tile to the side.

Aiden opened the front door. "The car's out front -- " The sight of them all left him speechless.

Trish had started to hyperventilate, her breath seething through her teeth. "Will somebody do something?!"

Aunty Yuki moaned from her crumpled position on the floor.

Smoke started pouring from the kitchen, along with the awful smell of burned . . . something that wasn't normal food.

Venus snatched the paper towels from Jenn. "Kitchen!" Jenn fled before she'd finished speaking. "What do you need?" Venus barked at Spenser.

"Extra towels."

"Guest bedroom closet, top shelf."

He headed back down the hall. Venus turned to Aiden and swept a hand toward Aunty Yuki on the living room floor. "Take care of her, will you?"

"What about me?" Trish moaned through a clenched jaw.

"Stop having contractions!" Venus swiped up the mess on the tile before something worse happened, like someone stepped in it and slid. That would just be the crowning cherry to her evening. Even when she wasn't at work, she was still working.

"Are you okay, Aunty?" She stood with the sodden paper towels.

Aiden had helped her to a seat next to Lex, who was ashen-faced and still leaning over the tiny trash can. Aside from a reddish spot on Aunty Yuki's elbow, she seemed fine.

Jenn entered the living room, her hair wild and a distinctive burned smell sizzling from her clothes. "My imported French saucepan is completely blackened!" But she had enough sense not to glare at her parent as she probably wanted to. Aunty Yuki suddenly found
the wall hangings fascinating.

Venus started to turn toward the kitchen to throw away the paper towels she still held. "Well, we have to take Trish to the hospital -- "

"Actually . . ." Trish's breathing had slowed. "I think it's just a false alarm."

Venus turned to look at her. "False alarm? Pregnant women have those?"

"It happened a couple days ago too."

"What?" Venus almost slammed her fist into her hip, but remembered the dirty paper towels just in time. Good thing too, because she had on a Chanel suit.

Trish gave a long, slow sigh. "Yup, they're gone. That was fast." She smiled cheerfully.

Venus wanted to scream. This was out of her realm. At work, she was used to grabbing a crisis at the throat and wrestling it to submission. This was somewhere Trish was heading without her, and the thought both frightened and unnerved her. She shrugged it off. "Well . . . Aunty -- "

"I'm fine, Venus." Aunty Yuki inspected her elbow. "Jennifer, get those Japanese Salonpas patches -- "

"Mom, they stink." Jenn's stress over her beautiful kitchen made her more belligerent than Venus had ever seen her before. Not that the camphor patches could smell any worse than the burned Chinese-old-wives'-pregnancy-food permeating the house.

At the sound of the word Salonpas, Lex pinched her lips together but didn't say anything.

Aunty Yuki gave Jenn a limpid look. "The Salonpas gets rid of the pain."

"I'll get it." Aiden headed down the hallway to get the adhesive patches.

"In the hall closet." Jenn's words slurred a bit through her tight jaw.

Distraction time. Venus tried to smile. "Aunty, if you're okay, then let's eat."

Jenn's eyes flared neon red. "Can't."


"Somebody turned off the oven." Jenn frowned at her mother, who tactfully looked away. "Dinner won't be for another hour." She stalked back to the kitchen.

Even with the nasty smell, Venus's stomach protested its empty state. "It's already eight o'clock."

"Suck it up!" Jenn yelled from the kitchen.

It was going to be a long night.


Venus needed a Reese's peanut butter cup.

No, a Reese's was bad. Sugar, fat, preservatives, all kinds of chemicals she couldn't even pronounce.

Oooh, but it would taste so good . . .

No, she equated Reese's cups with her fat days. She was no longer fat. She didn't need a Reese's.

But she sure wanted one after such a hectic evening with her cousins.

She trudged up the steps to her condo. Home. Too small to invite people over, and that was the way she liked it. Her haven, where she could relax and let go, no one to see her when she was vulnerable --

Her front door was ajar.

Her limbs froze mid-step, but her heart rat-tat-tatted in her chest like a machine gun. Someone. Had. Broken. Into. Her. Home.

Her hand started to shake. She clenched it to her hip, crushing the silk of her pants. What to do? He might still be there. Pepper spray. In her purse. She searched in her bag and finally found the tiny bottle. Her hand trembled so much, she'd be more likely to spritz herself than the intruder.

Were those sounds coming from inside? She reached out a hand, but couldn't quite bring herself to push the door open further.

Stupid, call the police! She fumbled with the pepper spray so she could extract her cell phone. Dummy, don't pop yourself in the eye with that stuff! She switched the spray to her other hand while her thumb dialed 9 - 1 - 1. Her handbag's leather straps dug into her elbow.

Thump! That came from her living room! Footsteps. Get away from the door! She stumbled backwards, but remembering the stairs right behind her, she tried to stop herself from tumbling down. Her ankle tilted on her stilettos, and she fell sideways to lean against the wall. The footsteps approached her open door.

"9 - 1 - 1, what's your emergency?"

She raised her hand with the bottle of pepper spray. "Someone's -- "

The door swung open.

"Edgar!" The cell phone dropped with a clatter, but she kept a firm grip on the pepper spray, suddenly tempted to use it.

One of her junior programmers stood in her open doorway.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Camy Tang
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530


2008 ACFW Book of the Year Winners

Below is the list of winners from the recent ACFW Conference. Congratulations to all! And a special cyber hug to pals, Sharon Hinck and Camy Tang! Way to go, girls!

Debut Author
Sushi for One? (Camy Tang) – Zondervan, Sue Brower

Contemporary Novella
Finally Home (Deborah Raney) – Barbour Publishing, Susan Downs

Historical Novella
Love Notes in Love Letters Anthology (Mary Davis) – Barbour Publishing, Rebecca Germany

Splitting Harriet (Tamara Leigh) – Multnomah Books, Julee Schwarzburg

Long Contemporary
Within This Circle (Deborah Raney) – Steeple Hill Books, Krista Stroever

Long Historical
Veil of Fire (Marlo Schalesky) RiverOak, editors Jeff Dunn/Jon Woodhams
Where Willows Grow (Kim Vogel Sawyer) Bethany House, editor Charlene Patterson

Your Chariot Awaits (Lorena McCourtney) – Thomas Nelson, Amanda Bostic

Short Contemporary
The Heart of Grace (Linda Goodnight) – Steeple Hill Love Inspired, Allison Lyons

Short Contemporary Suspense
Caught Redhanded (Gayle Roper) – Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense, Krista Stroever

Short Historical
Canteen Dreams (Cara Putman) & Golden Days (Mary Connealy)
–Barbour/Heartsong Presents, JoAnne Simmons

The Restorer’s Son (Sharon Hinck) – NavPress, Reagan Reed

Black Ice (Linda Hall) – WaterBrook Press, Traci DePree

Women’s Fiction
Remember to Forget (Deborah Raney) – Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, Philis Boultinghouse

Young Adult
In Between (Jenny B. Jones) — NavPress, Jamie Chavez


Fantasy Fiction Tour

Question: What do the following authors have in common?

Wayne Thomas Batson, Sharon Hinck, Christopher Hopper, Bryan Davis, Donita K. Paul, Eric Reinhold, L.B. Graham, and Jonathon Rogers.

This may seem like an easy answer.

They all write Christian fantasy fiction, you say.

Well, yes, you got that right. They do. In fact, between them, they’ve written 37 fantasy novels. They’ve written about other worlds, alternate realities, talking dragons and more. They’ve written ground-breaking stories in one of today’s fastest growing genres.

But, wait. There’s more.

This group of eight authors will be touring the West Coast from Oct. 4-12.

Below is a list of events that will be taking place in the Los Angeles area. And note, blog readers, the last event on this list will take place at my church. I’m helping to set up this event, so you’ll be hearing more about as we draw nearer.

If you like reading or writing fantasy fiction, I highly recommend you attend one of these event.

St. Genevieve High School
9:00am - 11:00am
13967 Roscoe Blvd
Panorama City, CA 91402
(818) 894-6417

Bethany Christian School
1:00pm - 2:30pm
Attn: Amber Ryan
93 N Baldwin Ave, Ste B,
Sierra Madre, CA 91024
Phone is 626-355-3527 ext 1652

Valley Book & Bible
5:00pm – 7:00pm
6502 Van Nuys Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA 91401
Toll Free: 800-421-8906

Village Christian Schools
8:50am - 1:00pm
8930 Village Ave.
Sun Valley, CA 91352
(818) 767-8382
Co-hosted by Barnes & Noble Burbank Store

West Covina Christian School
2:00pm - 4:00pm
763 N. Sunset Ave.W
West Covina, CA 91730
Co-hosted by Barnes & Noble Glendora Store

Calvary Chapel Huntington Beach
7:00pm - 9:00pm
7800 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 891-9495


FIRST Day Fiction: The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name

It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and his book:

The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name
NavPress Publishing Group (August 2008)


Don Locke is an illustrator and graphic artist for NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has worked as a freelance writer and illustrator for more than thirty years. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Susan. The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name, prequel to The Reluctant Journey of David Connors, is Don's second novel.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 355 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (August 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600061532
ISBN-13: 978-1600061530



Until recently my early childhood memories werenít readily available for recollection. Call it a defective hard drive. They remained a mystery and a voidóa midwestern landscape of never-ending pitch-blackness where I brushed up against people and objects but could never assign them faces or names, much less attach feelings to our brief encounters.

But through a miraculous act of divine grace, I found my way back home to discover the child Iíd forgotten, the boy Iíd abandoned supposedly for the good of us both. There he sat beneath an oak tree patiently awaiting my return, as if Iíd simply taken a day-long fishing trip. This reunion of spirits has transformed me into someone both wiser and more innocent, leaving me to feel both old and young.

And with this new gift of recollection, my memories turn to that boy and to the summer of 1960, when the winds of change blew across our rooftops and through the screen doors, turning the simple, manageable world of my suburban neighborhood into something unfamiliar, something uncomfortable. Those same winds blew my father and me apart.


Route 666

With a gentle shake of my shoulders, a kiss on my cheek, and the words Itís time whispered by my mom, I woke at five thirty in the morning to prepare for my newspaper route. Careful not to wake my older brother, Bobby, snoozing across the room, I slipped out of bed and stumbled my way into the hallway and toward the bathroom, led only by the dim glow of the nightlight and a familiarity with the route.

There on the bathroom floor, as usual, my mother had laid my clothes out in the shape of my body, my underwear layered on top. Youíre probably wondering why she did this. It could have been that she severely underestimated my intelligence and displayed my clothes in this fashion in case there was any doubt on my part as to which articles of clothing went where on my body. She didnít want to face the public humiliation brought on by her son walking out of the house wearing his Fruit of the Loom undies over his head. Or maybe her work was simply the result of a sense of humor that I missed completely. Either way, I never asked.

Mine was a full-service mom whose selfless measures of accommodation put the men of Texaco to shame. The fact that she would inconvenience herself by waking me when an alarm clock would suffice, or lay out my clothes when I was capable of doing so myself, might sound a bit odd to you, but believe me, it was only the tip of the indulgent iceberg. This was a woman who would cut the crust off my PB&J sandwich at my request, set my toothbrush out every night with a wad of Colgate laying atop the bristles, and who would often put me to sleep at night with a song, a prayer, and a back scratch. In the wintertime, when the wind chill off Lake Erie made the hundred-yard trek down to the corner to catch the school bus feel like Admiral Perryís excursion, Mom would actually lay my clothes out on top of the floor heater before I woke up so that my body would be adequately preheated before stepping outside to face the Ohio cold. From my perspective my room was self-cleaning; toys, sports equipment, and clothes discarded onto the floor all found their way back to the toy box, closet, or dresser. I never encountered a dish that I had to clean or trash I had to empty or a piece of clothing I had to wash or iron or fold or put away.

I finished dressing, entered the kitchen, and there on the maroon Formica table, in predictable fashion, sat my glass of milk and chocolate long john patiently waiting for me to consume them. My mother, a chocoholic long before the word was coined, had a sweet tooth that sheíd handed down to her children. She believed that a heavy dusting of white processed sugar on oatmeal, cream of wheat, or grapefruit was crucial energy fuel for starting oneís day. Only earlier that year Iíd been shocked to learn from my third grade teacher, Mrs. Mercer, that chocolate was not, in fact, a member of any of the four major food groups.

Wearing a milk mustache and buzzing from my sugar rush, I walked outside to where the stack of Tribunesódropped off in my driveway earlier by the news truckówere waiting for me to fold them.

More often than I ever cared to hear it, my dad would point out, ìItís the early bird that catches the worm.î But for me it was really those early morning summer hours themselves that provided the reward. Sitting there on our cement front step beneath a forty-watt porch light, rolling a stack of Tribunes, I was keenly aware that bodies were still strewn out across beds in every house in the neighborhood, lying lost in their dreamland slumber while I was already experiencing the day. There would be time enough for the sounds of wooden screen doors slamming shut, the hissing of sprinklers on Bermuda lawns, and the songs of robins competing with those of Elvis emanating from transistor radios everywhere. But for now there was a stillness about my neighborhood that seemed to actually slow time down, where even the old willow in our front yard stood like one more giant dozing on his feet, his long arms hanging lifeless at his sides, and where the occasional shooting star streaking across the black sky was a confiding moment belonging only to the morning and me.

From the porch step I could detect the subtle, pale peach glow rise behind the Finneganís house across the street. I stretched a rubber band open across the top of my knuckles, spread my fingers apart, and slid it down over the length of the rolled paper to hold it in place. Seventy-six times Iíd repeat this act almost unconsciously. There was something about the crisp, cool morning air that seemed to contain a magical element that when breathed in set me to daydreaming. So thatís just what I did . . . I sent my homemade bottle rocket blasting above the trees and watched as the red and white bobber at the end of my fishing pole suddenly got sucked down below the surface of the water at Crystal Lake, and with my Little League teamís game on the line, I could hear the crack of my bat as I smacked a liner over the third basemanís head to drive in the go-ahead run. Granted, most kids would daydream biggerótheir rockets sailed to the moon or Mars, and their fish, blue marlins at least, were hooked off Bermuda in their yachts, and their hits were certainly grand slams in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series for the Redsóbut my dad always suggested that a dream should have its feet planted firmly enough in reality to actually have a chance to come true one day, or there wasnít much point in conjuring up the dream in the first place. Dreaming too big would only lead to a lifetime scattered with the remnants of disappointments and heartbreak.

And I believed him. Why not? I was young and his shadow fell across me with weight and substance and truth. He was my hero. But in some ways, I suppose, he was too much like my other heroes: Frank Robinson, Ricky Nelson, Maverick. I looked up to them because of their accomplishments or their image, not because of who they really were. I didnít really know who they were outside of that. Such was the case with my dad. He was a great athlete in his younger years, had a drawer full of medals for track and field, swimming, baseball, basketball, and a bunch from the army to prove it.

It was my dad who had managed to pull the strings that allowed me to have a paper route in the first place. I remember reading the pride in his eyes earlier in the spring when he first told me I got the job. His voice rose and fell within a wider range than usual as he explained how I would now be serving a valuable purpose in society by being directly responsible for informing people of local, national, and even international events. My dad made it sound importantóan act of responsibility, being this cog in the wheel of life, the great mandala. And it made me feel important, better defining my place in the universe. In a firm handshake with my dad, I promised I wouldnít let him down.

Finishing up folding and banding the last paper, I knew I was running a little late because Spencer, the bullmastiff next door, had already begun to bark in anticipation of my arrival. Checking the Bulova wristwatch that my dad had given me as a gift the morning of my first route confirmed it. I proceeded to cram forty newspapers into my greasy white canvas pouch and loop the straps over my bike handles. Riding my self-painted, fluorescent green Country Roadñbrand bike handed down from my brother, I would deliver these papers mostly to my immediate neighborhood and swing back around to pick up the final thirty-six.

I picked the olive green army hat up off the step. Though most boys my age wore baseball caps, I was seldom seen without the hat my dad wore in World War II. Slapping it down onto my head, I hopped onto my bike, turned on the headlight, and was off down my driveway, turning left on the sidewalk that ran along the front of our corner property on Willowcreek Road.

I rode around to where our street dead-ended, curving into Briarbrook. Our eccentric young neighbors, the Springfields, lived next door in a house theyíd painted black. Mr. and Mrs. Springfield chose to raise a devil dog named Spencer rather than experiencing the joy of parenthood. Approaching the corner of their white picket fence on my bike, I could see the strong, determined, shadowy figure of that demon dashing back and forth along the picket fence, snarling and barking at me loudly enough to wake the whole neighborhood. As was my custom, I didnít dare slow down while I heaved the rolled-up newspaper over his enormous head into their yard. Spencer sprinted over to the paper and pounced on it, immediately tearing it to shredsóa daily reenactment. The couple insisted that I do this every day, as they were attempting to teach Spencer to fetch the morning paper, bring it around to the back of the house where he was supposed to enter by way of the doggy door, and gently place the newspaper in one piece on the kitchen table so it would be there to peruse when they woke for breakfast.

Theirs was one of only two houses in the neighborhood that were fenced in, a practice uncommon in the suburbs because it implied a lack of hospitality. Even a small hedge along a property line could be interpreted as stand-offish. The Springfieldsí choice of house color wasnít helpful in dispelling this notion. And yet it was a good thing that they chose to enclose their property because we were all quite certain that if Spencer ever escaped his yard, he would systematically devour every neighborhood kid, one by one. The strange thing was that the picket fence couldnít have been more than three feet high, low enough for even a miniature poodle to clearóso why hadnít Spencer taken the leap? Could it be that he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to jump that hurdle? So I was thankful for the Springfieldsí ineptitude when it came to dog training because it allowed me to buffer Spencerís appetite, knowing that whenever he did decide to make his move, I would most likely be the first course on the menu.

The neighborhood houses on my route were primarily ranch style, third-little-pig variety, and always on my left. On my left so that I could grab a paper out of my bag and heave it across my body, allowing for more mustard on my throw and more accuracy than if I had to sling it backhand off to my right side. This technique also helped build up strength in my pitching arm. I always aimed directly toward the middle of the driveway instead of anywhere near the porch, which could, as Iíd learned, be treacherous territory. An irate Mrs. Messerschmitt from Sleepy Hollow Road once dropped by my house, screaming, ìYouíve murdered my children! Youíve murdered my children!î Apparently Iíd made an errant toss that tore the blooming heads right off her precious pansies and injured a few hapless marigolds. From that day on I shot for the middle of the driveway, making sure no neighborsí flowers ever suffered a similar fate at my hands.

I passed my friend Mouse Millerís house, crossed the street, and headed down the other side of Briarbrook, past Allison Hoffmanís houseóour resident divorcÈe. All my friends still had their two original parents and family intact, which made Mrs. Hoffmanís status a bit of an oddity. Maybe it was the polio scare that people my parentsí age had had to live through that appeared to make them wary of any abnormality in another human being. It wasnít just being exposed to the drug addicts or the murderers that concerned them, but contact with any fringe members of society: the divorcÈes and the widowers, the fifty-year-old bachelors, people with weird hairdos or who wore clothing not found in the Sears catalogue. People with facial hair were especially to be avoided.

You didnít want to be a nonconformist in 1960. Though nearly a decade had passed, effects of the McCarthy hearings had left some Americans with lingering suspicions that their neighbor might be a Red or something worse. So everyone did their best to just fit in. There was an unspoken fear that whatever social dysfunction people possessed was contagious by mere association with them. I had a feeling my mom believed this to be the case with Allison Hoffmanóthat all my mother had to do was engage in a five-minute conversation with any divorced woman, and a week or so later, my dad would come home from work and out of the blue announce, ìHoney, I want a divorce.î

Likely in her late twenties, Mrs. Hoffman was attractive enough to be a movie star or at least a fashion modelóshe was that pretty. She taught at a junior high school across town, but for extra cash would tutor kids in her spare time. Despite her discriminating attitude toward Mrs. Hoffman, my mother was forced to hire her as a tutor for my sixteen-year-old brother for two sessions a week, seeing as Bobby could never quite grasp the concept of dangling participles and such. Still, whenever she mentioned Mrs. Hoffmanís name, my mom always found a way to justify setting her Christian beliefs aside, calling her that woman, as in, ìjust stay away from that woman.î Mom must have skipped over the part in the Bible where Jesus healed the lepers. Anyway, Mrs. Hoffman seemed nice enough to me when Iíd see her gardening in her yard or when Iíd have to collect newspaper money from her; a wave and smile were guaranteed.

I delivered papers down Briarbrook, passed my friend Sheenaís house on the cul-de-sac, and went back down to Willowcreek, where I rolled past the Jensensí vacant house. The For Sale sign had been stuck in the lawn out front since the beginning of spring. Iíd seen few people even stop by to look at the charming, white frame house I remember as having great curb appeal. Every kid on the block was rooting for a family with at least a dozen kids to move in to provide some fresh blood.

A half a block later, I turned the corner and was about to toss the paper down Mr. Melzerís drive when I spotted the old man lying under his porch light, sprawled out on the veranda, his blue overall-covered legs awkwardly dangling down the front steps of his farm house. I immediately stood up on my bike, slammed on the brakes, fish-tailed a streak of rubber on the sidewalk, dumped the bike, and rushed up to his motionless body. ìMr. Melzer! Mr. Melzer!î Certain he was dead, I kept shouting at him like he was only asleep or deaf. ìMr. Melzer!î I was afraid to touch him to see if he was alive.

The only dead body I had touched up till then was my great-uncle Frankís at his wake, and it was not a particularly pleasant experience. I was five years old when my mom led me up to the big shiny casket where I peered over the top to see the man lying inside. Standing on my tiptoes, I stared at Frankís clay-colored face, which I believed looked too grumpy, too dull. While alive and kicking, my uncle was an animated man with ruddy cheeks who spoke and reacted with passion and humor, but the expression he wore while lying in that box was one that Iíd never seen on his face before. I was quite sure that if heíd been able to gaze in the mirror at his dead self with that stupid, frozen pouting mouth looking back at him, he would have been humiliated and embarrassed as all get out. And so, while no one watched, I started poking and prodding at his surprisingly pliable mouth, trying to reshape his smile into something more natural, more familiar, like the expression heíd worn recalling the time he drove up to frigid Green Bay in a blizzard to watch his beloved Browns topple Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers. Or the one heíd displayed while telling us what a thrill it was to meet Betty Grable at a USO function during the war, or the grin that always appeared on his face right after heíd take a swig of a cold beer on a hot summer day. It was a look of satisfaction that I was after, and was pretty sure I could pull it off. Those hours of turning shapeless Play-Doh into little doggies and snowmen had prepared me for this moment.

After a mere twenty seconds of my molding handiwork, I had successfully managed to remove my uncleís grim, lifeless expression. Unfortunately I had replaced it with a hideous-looking full-on smile, his teeth beaming like the Joker from the Batman comics. Before I could step back for a more objective look, my Aunt Doris let out a little shriek behind me; an older gentleman gasped, which brought my brother over, and he let out a howl of laughter, all followed by a flurry of activity that included some heated discussion among relatives, the casketís being closed, and my motherís hauling me out of the room by my earlobe.

But you probably donít really care much about my Uncle Frank. Youíre wondering about Mr. Melzer and if heís a character who has kicked the bucket before you even got to know him or know if you like him. You will like him. I did. ìMr. Melzer!î I gave him a good poke in the arm. Nothing . . . then another one.

The fact is I was surprised when Mr. Melzer began to move. First his head turned . . . then his arm wiggled . . . then he rose, propping himself up onto an elbow, attempting to regain his bearings.

ìMr. Melzer?î

ìWhat?î He looked around, glassy-eyed, still groggy. ìDavy?î

I suddenly felt dizzy and nearly fell down beside him on the porch. ìYeah, itís me.î

ìI must have dozed off. Guess the farmer in me still wants to wake with the dawn, but the old man, well, he knows better.î He looked my way. ìYouíre white as a sheetóyou okay, boy?î

Actually I was feeling pretty nauseated. ìYeah, Iím okay. I just thought . . .î

ìWhat? You thought what?î

ìWell, when I saw you lying there . . . I just thought . . .î

ìThat I was dead?î I nodded. ìWell, no, no, I can see where that might be upsetting for you. Come to think of it, itís a little upsetting to me. Not that Iím not prepared to meet my maker, mind you. Or to see Margaret again.î He leaned heavily on his right arm, got himself upright, and adjusted his suspenders. ìThe fact is . . . I do miss the old gal. The way sheíd know to take my hand when it needed holdiní. Or how she could make a room feel comfortable just by her sitting in it, breathing the same air. Heck, I even miss her lousy coffee. And I hope, after these two years apart, she might have forgotten what a pain in the rear I could be, and she might have the occasion to miss me a bit, too.î

Until that moment, I hadnít considered the possibility of the dead missing the living. Sometimes when he wasnít even trying to, Mr. Melzer made me think. And it always surprised me how often he would just say anything that came into his head. He never edited himself like most adults. He was like a kid in that respect, but more interesting.

ìYou believe in heaven?î I asked Mr. Melzer.

ìRather counting on it. How íbout you?î

ìMy mom says that when we go to heaven weíll be greeted by angels with golden wings.î

ìReally? Angels, huh?î

ìAnd she says that theyíll sing a beautiful song written especially for us.î

ìReally? Your motherís an interesting woman, Davy. But I could go for thatóI could. Long as theyíre not sitting around on clouds playing harps. Donít care for harp music one bit. Pretty sure it was the Marx Brothers that soured me on that instrument.î

ìHow so?î

ìWell, those Marx Brothers, in every movie they made theyíd be running around, being zany as the dickens, and then Harpoóthe one who never spoke a lick, the one with the fuzzy blond hairóalways honking his horn and chasing some skinny, pretty gal around. Anyway, in the middle of all their high jinks, Harpo would come across some giant harp just conveniently lying around somewhere, and heíd feel obliged to stop all the antics to play some sappy tune that just about put you to sleep. I could never recover. Turned me sour on the harp, he did. Iím more of a horn man, myself. Give me a saxophone or trumpet and Iím happy. And Iím not particularly opposed to a fiddle either. But harpsóI say round íem up and burn íem all. Melt íem down and turn them into something practical . . . something that canít make a sound . . . thatís what I say.î

See, I told you heíd pretty much say anything. I donít think that Mr. Melzer had many people to listen to him. And just having a bunch of thoughts roaming around in his head wasnít enough. I think Mr. Melzer chattered a lot so that he wouldnít lose himself, so he could remember who he was.

ìYeah, well, anyway, I figure Iíll go home when itís my time,î he continued. ìJust hope it can wait for the harvest, seeing as thereís no one else to bring in the corn when itís time.î

As far back as I could remember, Mr. Melzer used to drag this little red wagon around the neighborhood on August evenings, stacked to the limit with ears of corn. And heíd go door to door and hand out corn to everybody like he was some kind of an agricultural Santa.

ìDo you know I used to have fields of corn as far as the eye can see . . . way beyond the rooftops over there?î

I did know this, but I never tired of the enthusiasm with which he told it, so I didnít stop him. About ten years before, Mr. Melzer had sold off all but a few acres of his farmland to a contractor, resulting in what became my neighborhood.

ìI still get a thrill when I shuck that first ear of corn of the harvest, and see that ripe golden row of kernels smiling back at me. Hot, sweet corn, lightly salted with butter dripping down all over it . . . mmm. Nothing better. Donít nearly have the teeth for it anymore. You eat yours across or up and down?î


ìMe too. Only way to eat corn. Tastes better across. When I see somebody munching on an ear like thisîóthe old man rolled the imaginary ear of corn in front of his imaginary teeth chomping downóìI just want to slap him upside the head.î

I was starting to run very late, and he noticed me fidgeting.

ìOh, yeah, here I am blabbering away, and you got a job to do.î

ìIíll get your paper.î I ran back to my bike lying on the sidewalk.

ìSo I see nobodyís bought the Jensen place yet,î he yelled out to me.

I grabbed a newspaper that had spilled out of my bag onto the sidewalk, and rushed back to Mr. Melzer. ìNot yet. Whoever does, hope they have kids.î I handed the old man the newspaper.

ìListen, Iím sorry I scared you,î he said.

ìItís okay.î I looked over at a pile of unopened newspapers on the porch by the door. ìMind if I ask you something?î


ìHow come you never read the paper?î

ìOh, donít know. At some point I guess you grow tired of bad news. Besides, these days all the news I need is right here in the neighborhood.î

ìSo why do you still order the paper?î

The old man smiled. ìWell, the way I see it, if I didnít order the paper, Iíd miss out on these splendid little chats with you, now wouldnít I?î

I told you youíd like him. I grinned. ìIím glad youíre not dead, Mr. Melzer.î

ìLikewise,î he said, shooting a wink my way. When I turned around to walk back to my bike, I heard the rolled up newspaper hit the top of the pile.