Tuesday, October 07, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-Runaway by Dandi Daley Mackall





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!











Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



Runaway (Book #1 in the Starlight Animal Rescue Series)

Tyndale Kids (August 4, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Dandi Daley Mackall has published more than 400 books for children and adults, with more than 3 million combined copies sold. She is the author of WaterBrook’s two other delightful Dandilion Rhymes books, A Gaggle of Geese & A Clutter of Cats and The Blanket Show. A popular keynote speaker at conferences and Young Author events, Mackall lives in rural Ohio with her husband, three children, and a menagerie of horses, dogs, and cats.



Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $5.99

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Tyndale Kids (August 4, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1414312687

ISBN-13: 978-1414312682



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Wherever we’re going, I won’t be staying. That much I can promise. I’ve run away seven times—never once to anything, just away from. Maybe that’s why they call me a “runaway” and not a “run-to.”



The way I figure it, these “ideal placements” by Chicago’s social services never add up to much. And anyway, so far, my life has been subtraction. Two parents and a brother and me. Take away one brother, and that leaves two parents and me. Take away one parent, and that leaves one parent and me. Take away another parent, and that leaves me, Dakota Brown, age almost 16, trying not to wonder what it will be like when I’m the one taken away.



Bouncing in the backseat of the social worker’s car—the front seat has too many papers and folders about me to fit the real me in it—I decide it’s time for a list. I love lists. You can take a mess like Ms. Social Worker has going for her in the front seat and, in a few minutes, turn it into a list that fits on a single sheet of paper. Lists bring things under control. My control.



I take my list-book out of my backpack and turn to a clean page. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I catch the frown of concentration on the social worker’s face. She’s too busy trying to get us out of Chicago traffic to worry about what I’m doing in the backseat.



I know her name is Ms. Bean, but in my head I keep thinking of her as “the social worker” because things are easier that way. She’s not a bad person, and I’m not trying to get her into trouble or anything. But because I’m so good at what I do—running away—I’m bound to make her look pretty lousy at what she does. She thinks she’s driving me to my new foster family, where I’ll live happily ever after and forever be a pleasant anecdote for her to share with friends and family and future fosters everywhere.



Poor Ms. Social Worker. She is doomed to fail. The State of Illinois has not invented a foster family from which I, Dakota Brown, cannot escape.



In my list-book, I form an action plan.



The Plan:



A. Pay attention to the route leading to my new location. It is also my route out.



B. Control reaction to new setting. It’s important that the social worker believes I like my new digs.



C. Headache. This will be my medical weapon of choice, the only complaint I’ll voice, my one excuse to get out of whatever needs getting out of.



D. Observe. Knowledge is power.



E. Never cry. At least, never let them see you cry.



F. Never get angry. (Yeah, right.) Don’t let them see the anger.



G. Never “confide,” as the social worker likes to call it.



H. Be friendly, but do not make friends.



“Dakota, what are you writing?” Ms. Bean asks.



“Sorry.” I close my list-book and flash a smile to the rearview mirror.



“Don’t be sorry,” she says, smiling back at the mirror. This action makes her come up too fast on the little sports car in front of us.



“Ms. Bean!” I shout.



She slams on the brakes, forcing the car behind us do the same. Horns honk. “I hate traffic,” she admits.



I wonder how she ended up in Chicago when she hates traffic so much. But I don’t ask. My mind reaffixes the Ms. Social Worker label, and I stare out the window.



Ms. Bean is not the clich├ęd social worker. She’s a stylish, 24-year-old college graduate with light red hair, funky earrings, and clothes I wouldn’t mind wearing myself. I know she’s engaged. But other than the fact that she’s a lousy driver, I don’t know much else about her. That’s the way I like it.



I lean back and close my eyes, hoping she’ll drop the subject of my writing notebook, her driving, and everything else. After a minute, I open my eyes and stare out the window again. Cars whiz by all around us. Every car window is closed. Heat rises from the pavement between the lanes. Even with the air-conditioning blasting, I can smell Chicago, a mixture of tar, exhaust fumes, and metal.



The social worker slams on her brakes again, but I can’t see any reason for it this time.



“Sorry about that,” she mutters. Maybe to me. Maybe to the guy behind her, who rolls down his window long enough to scream at her.



“Don’t stop writing on my account, Dakota,” she says. “Unless it makes you carsick. It always makes me carsick.”



I’m thinking that if I get carsick, it will have more to do with her driving style than it does with my writing style. But Rule #11 on my “How to Handle Social Workers” list is “Don’t criticize. It puts them on the defensive.”



I say, “You’re right, Ms. Bean. I really shouldn’t write while I’m in the car.”



“My sister is a journalist,” Ms. Bean tells me.



It’s more information than I care to know. I don’t want to picture her as a person, with a newspaper-writing sister.



“Charlotte has a mini recorder she carries with her everywhere,” the social worker continues. “Instead of writing notes, she talks into that recorder, even when she’s driving. My dad keeps telling her not to record and drive, but she won’t listen.”



She hits her horn when someone changes lanes right in front of her without signaling.



“How far out of Chicago is this place?” I ask.



“Nice?”



I know this is the name of the town they’re dragging me to, but it takes a second to register. “Yeah. Nice,” I say. “Only are you sure they don’t pronounce it ‘Niece,’ like that city in France?” Both cities are spelled the same, but I’m guessing the similarities end there.



“That would make sense,” she admits. “But no. You’ll be living in Nice, Illinois.” She giggles. “And going to Nice High. And I’m sure you’ll be a nice resident of Nice.”



I manage to smile, although I can only imagine how old this play on names must get. I’m already feeling not so nice about it. “So, are we getting close?”



“It’s still a good ways,” Ms. Bean answers. “The board thought a rural home might be a nice change for you.” She smiles, then lets the “nice” thing fade without comment.



Neither of us says anything, so her last words bang around in my head. The board thought a rural home would be a nice change? The board doesn’t know me well enough to know how ridiculous it is to think a rural home would be just the ticket for Dakota Brown. The “ticket” for me is a one-way ticket out of there.



“Are you writing a book?” Ms. Bean asks.



“No,” I answer, hoping she’ll leave it alone.



“No? A letter, maybe?”



Those files scattered all over the front seat have enough information on me that she should know there’s nobody in the world I’d write a letter to. “It’s just lists,” I say to get her off my case.



“Like a shopping list?”



“Just a list,” I answer, trying not to let her see that this conversation is getting to me.



“Like what, for example?” Ms. Bean can turn into a little kid sometimes. She reminds me of this girl, Melody, who was in a foster home in Cicero with me for two months. Melody would grab on to a question and not let it go until she shook an answer out of you.



“Read me one, will you, Dakota?” she begs.



I’m pretty sure Ms. Bean will keep asking me about lists until I either read her one or get so angry I won’t be able to keep up my cheerful act. That, I don’t want.



I open my list-book and flip through dozens of lists until I come to a social worker–friendly list. “Okay . . . here’s a list of five cities I want to visit one day.” This is a real list I’ve made, but I have a hundred cities on it. Not five.



“That’s awesome!” she exclaims. “Which cities, Dakota?”



“Paris, Vienna, Rome, Moscow, and Fargo.” I stop and close the notebook before she can peek in the rearview mirror at the next list, because it looks like this:



Top 8 Cities I Never Want to See Again



1. Elgin, IL



2. Evanston, IL



3. Aurora, IL



4. Glen Ellyn, IL



5. Kankakee, IL



6. Cicero, IL



7. Chicago, IL



8.



Ms. Bean was my social worker in only the last two cities, but she’s got files on me from the other five. So she’d pick up on this list right away and make a big deal of it if she saw it.



I wait until she’s totally confused and trying to study her map while avoiding crashing into trucks. Then I open my list-book and fill in that blank by #8 of the cities I never want to see again.



When I’m sure she’s not looking, I write in big letters:



Nice, IL



Copyright © 2008 by Dandi Daley Mackall. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 06, 2008

CFBA Tour-A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

A Constant Heart

(Bethany House October 1, 2008)

by

Siri Mitchell



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Siri Mitchell graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and worked in various levels of government. As a military spouse, she has lived all over the world, including in Paris and Tokyo. Siri enjoys observing and learning from different cultures. She is fluent in French and loves sushi.

But she is also a member of a strange breed of people called novelists. When they’re listening to a sermon and taking notes, chances are, they’ve just had a great idea for a plot or a dialogue. If they nod in response to a really profound statement, they’re probably thinking, “Yes. Right. That’s exactly what my character needs to hear.” When they edit their manuscripts, they laugh at the funny parts. And cry at the sad parts. Sometimes they even talk to their characters.

Siri wrote 4 books and accumulated 153 rejections before signing with a publisher. In the process, she saw the bottoms of more pints of Ben & Jerry’s than she cares to admit. At various times she has vowed never to write another word again. Ever. She has gone on writing strikes and even stooped to threatening her manuscripts with the shredder.

A Constant Heart is her sixth novel. Two of her novels, Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door were Christy Award finalists. She has been called one of the clearest, most original voices in the CBA.



ABOUT THE BOOK

In a world of wealth, power, and privilege...love is the only forbidden luxury.

“Trust was a valuable commodity at court. Traded by everyone, but possessed by no one. Its rarity was surpassed only by love. Love implied commitment and how could any of us commit ourselves to any but the Queen? Love implied singularity and how could any of us benefit another if our affections were bound to one in exclusivity? Love was never looked for and rarely found. When it was, it always ended badly.”

In Queen Elizabeth’s court where men and women willingly trade virtue for power, is it possible for Marget to obtain her heart’s desire or is the promise of love only an illusion?

A riveting glimpse into Queen Elizabeth's Court...

Born with the face of an angel, Marget Barnardsen is blessed. Her father is a knight, and now she is to be married to the Earl of Lytham. Her destiny is guaranteed ... at least, it would seem so. But when her introduction to court goes awry and Queen Elizabeth despises her, Marget fears she's lost her husband forever. Desperate to win him back, she'll do whatever it takes to discover how she failed and capture again the love of a man bound to the queen.

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Constant Heart, go HERE

FIRST Wild Card Tour-My Sister Dilly by Maureen Lang





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!











Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



My Sister Dilly

Tyndale House Publishers (September 10, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Maureen Lang has written three secular romance novels as well as Pieces of Silver, Remember Me, The Oak Leaves and On Sparrow Hill. She is the winner of multiple awards including the Noble Theme Award from American Christian Fiction Writers. Lang lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and three children.



Visit the author's website.



Product website



Product Details:



List Price: $ 12.99

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (September 10, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1414322240

ISBN-13: 978-1414322247









AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:







The prison was in the middle of nowhere; at least that was how it seemed to me. Not many property owners must want a facility like that in their backyard, even one for women. So there were no crops of housing developments taking up farmland around here the way they seemed to everywhere else. Not that I thought much about farmland, even having grown up in the middle of it. The only green cornfields I’d seen since I’d left for college were from an airplane as I jetted from one end of the country to the other.



“Are you here for the Catherine Carlson release?”



I looked up in surprise as not one but a half dozen people seemed to have appeared from nowhere. I’d noticed a couple of vans and cars farther down the parking lot but hadn’t seen any people until now. My gaze had been taken up by the prison, a forlorn place if ever I saw one. Even the entire blue sky wasn’t enough to offset the building’s ugliness. Block construction, painted beige like old oatmeal. If the cinder walls didn’t give it away, the lack of windows made it clear it was an institution. The electric barbed wire fencing told what kind.



Two men in my path balanced cameras on their shoulders, and in front of them a pair of pretty blonde journalists shoved microphones in my face while another thrust forth a palm-sized recorder. One on the fringe held an innocuous notepad.



My first impulse was to run back to my car and speed away. But Dilly was waiting. I clamped my mouth shut, gripped the strap of my Betsey Johnson purse, and walked along the concrete strip leading to the doors of the prison. There was an invisible line at the gate that not a single reporter could penetrate. But I knew they’d wait.



At the front door, a woman greeted me through a glass window. Dilly was being “processed,” she told me, then said to have a seat. I turned, noticing the smell of inhospitable antiseptic for the first time. Hard wooden benches were the only place to sit. Evidently they thought the families of those in such a place needed to be punished too. I’d have brought a book if I’d known the wait was going to be so long; there wasn’t even a magazine handy to help me pass the time.



Only thoughts. Of how I would make up for my failures. I’d told Mac, my best friend—and somehow it seemed he’d become my only friend—that this was the first step in fixing things. Keeping a broken past in the past. Dilly’s . . . and mine.



I remembered the day our parents brought my sister home from the hospital just after she was born. The excitement was as welcome as the warmth of the sun shining through the bare trees that early March afternoon. Everyone smiled, and even though Mom was moving kind of slow up the stairs to our farmhouse, she smiled too. It was the kind of excitement you see when there’s a new and hopeful change, like at weddings.



I was five, and even at that age I knew my parents had waited a long time for my sister. I heard Mom say once that she’d envisioned a houseful of kids, but the Lord hadn’t seen fit to bless her with a productive womb. I think I wondered, even then, what my mother would have done with a bunch more kids when I seemed to be in the way of other things she did: lunches with friends she’d known all her life; making decorative quilts and pillows she sold at fairs; canning fruits, pickles, and jam; or endless work on the farm. In retrospect maybe it was a surprise they’d even had me and Dilly; she must have been so tired at the end of the day.



I wondered later if everybody was happier because things you wait for seem better once you finally get them. But in recent years I thought everybody in town might have been relieved there weren’t a whole slew of kids born into our family.



“Go take a seat, Hannah,” Dad had said to me after Mom told us I couldn’t hold the baby unless I was sitting down.



I skipped over to Aunt Elsie on the couch and hopped up next to her, holding out my arms as my mother made the careful transfer. It wasn’t like holding one of my dolls, even though the blanket was made of the same soft material my plastic babies enjoyed. Unlike my dolls, my sister was warm and squirmy. Dad told me not to hold her too tight, so I put her on my legs and pulled back the cover to get a good look at her.



Her eyes were closed, and she wore a pink cotton bonnet. Even then, the straight lines of her brows had been drawn, which later filled in so well. Her cheeks were splotched red and white and her arms and legs moved in four different directions. When she opened her mouth, I saw her flat gums, no hint of the teeth to come someday. I thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.



“She’s a dilly,” I whispered to Aunt Elsie, who’d taught me her favorite word for the things she liked. It came from a song called “Lavender Blue,” and while my parents spent so much time at the hospital in those last couple of days, that was what my aunt and I had been doing—going about farm chores singing of things being dilly.



The name on my sister’s birth certificate was Catherine Marie Williams, but neither Catherine nor Cathy nor even Marie ever stuck. She was Dilly from that day on.



Nearly thirty years later, here I was, ready to bring Dilly back home to our farmhouse.



Finally I heard something other than the distant sounds of an institution. Closer than the clatter of plates somewhere, something nearer than the echo of a call down a corridor. I heard the click of an automatic door lock, followed by the swish of air accompanying a passage opening.



Dilly. Instead of prison orange, she wore regular street clothes. Was it possible she was taller? Did people grow in their twenties? She was still short, having taken from the same gene pool I’d inherited, but I was barely an inch taller now. Spotting me right away, she dropped her black leather suitcase on the floor. For a moment the case looked vaguely familiar, but that thought was lost when I noted a shadow of someone standing next to Dilly. My eyes stayed on my sister. She flung herself at me before I had the chance to go to her.



“Thanks for coming,” she said, and her voice was so wobbly I knew she was fighting tears. I choked back my own.



“Thanks?” I repeated. Thanks? How could I not come?



“It’s a long way from California.”



I laughed. “Yeah, another galaxy.”



The woman beside Dilly stepped closer and I couldn’t ignore her any longer. She was tall and thin, dressed in jeans but with a more formal black jacket that somehow didn’t look misplaced over the denim.



I pulled myself away from Dilly and accepted the woman’s handshake.



“I’m Catherine’s social worker, Amanda Mason. We just finished our exit session and she’s all set to go.”



Dilly held up a folder. “Probation rules, contact names, phone numbers.”



“Formalities, Catherine,” Amanda said. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”



It was always something of a surprise to me that others outside of our hometown knew my sister by any name but Dilly. She certainly looked ready to go home, wearing a spring jacket I hadn’t seen before, carrying a suitcase I now recognized as one I’d left behind when I headed to college so long ago.



“I didn’t know you’d have luggage,” I said when she picked up the black leather case. I didn’t know what else to say.



“The women are allowed to purchase certain necessities during their stay. Clothes, mostly.”



I knew that, because Mom had told me I could send Dilly money—no cash, just cashier’s checks or money orders, no more than fifty dollars at a time—but somehow I never connected that money with actual purchases. It wasn’t like there could be a regular store inside a prison.



“Socks,” Dilly said with a grin. “My feet still get cold.”



When we were little, we shared a full-size bed, before our parents finally bought a set of twin beds. I still remember her icicle feet in winter. “You have a suitcase full of socks?”



“Just about. They never let me keep them all in one place till today. Guess I didn’t know I had so many.” Then she turned to the other woman and set the suitcase down again. “Thanks, Amanda. You—” Something caught in her throat, and she stopped herself. “You did so much for me.” She put both of her hands on the woman’s forearms, and the social worker didn’t even flinch.



Amanda shifted her arms to take Dilly’s hands in hers. “I haven’t done enough,” she said. “Not nearly enough.”



They hugged and I watched, wondering if the prison movies I’d stopped watching since Dilly’s arrest had given me the wrong impression. No hint of inmate animosity toward those in power here.



“Keep praying, though, will you? I won’t stop needing that.”



“You don’t even have to ask.”



Then Dilly slipped away and I had to turn and follow her or be left behind.



Prayer. That was what Dilly had asked for. All our life we’d been told to pray. On our knees, right after we got up, right before going to bed, and as often as possible in between. I might have had faith as a child, but by the time I was in high school, I began wondering what I was praying to. Some light in the sky that saw all the suffering in this world and didn’t lift a finger—a supposedly all-powerful finger—to do something about it?



I’d given up prayer years ago; spiritually, long before I left home for college. Physically, once I stepped foot outside my parents’ home. I eyed Dilly, trying to see if she’d been serious about the request or said it because that was what the other woman wanted to hear. But Dilly was looking ahead, walking out the door.



The reporters were still there when we stepped outside. I meant to warn Dilly, to make some sort of plan about getting to the car as fast as we could, telling her in advance which way to go.



But when Dilly came upon them, instead of hustling past, to my amazement she stopped. For a moment she looked to the ground, then to me, and I thought I saw a hint of uncertainty before she took an audible breath. “I just want to say one thing.” Her voice trembled slightly, and she paused long enough to look down at the sidewalk again, then at each one of the reporters.



“When I did what I did so long ago, I didn’t have any hope. When I stepped into this place, I didn’t have hope. But that’s all changed now because of the Lord Jesus.”



I stared, aware of the silence that followed as the reporters waited to see if she was finished. But that wasn’t why I couldn’t find words or even the gumption to pull her along to the car. What was she talking about? Between this obviously rehearsed statement and the request for prayer, it was as if she’d “done found Jesus,” as Grandpa used to say.



A barrage of questions shot from the reporters.



“Are you going to see your daughter?”



“Are you going to try to regain custody?”



“Has your husband forgiven you for what you did?”



Dilly didn’t answer a single question. Instead, she looked at me, then toward the parking lot. It took the briefest moment for me to realize she didn’t know where to go, which car was mine, so I led the way. I pressed the keyless remote to unlock her door before she reached it. She struggled a moment to get her bag into the rear seat, then settled herself just as I slid behind the wheel.



One of the reporters, the one I’d mistakenly believed harmless because the only technology he held was a pad of paper, had followed us to the car. He tapped on the window. I saw Dilly reach for the button, but quicker than her, I touched the window lock.



“I was only going to crack it,” she said.



“Do you really want to hear what he has to say?”



He was yelling now, his young, impassioned face nearly pressed to the glass. “Did it take prison to teach you you’re not the one to take matters into your own hands? that your daughter’s life is just as important as anyone else’s?”



Dilly and I exchanged glances. I put the car in reverse; there was something militant about the young man that made me want to get away from him, spare Dilly from anything else he had to say. I’d seen judgment in people’s eyes before and I was sure Dilly had too. This guy might be a reporter, but he wasn’t an unbiased one. If such a kind existed.



Dilly stared at him, the brows everyone noticed on her, so thick, so dramatic, now drawn. A moment ago she’d found the courage to speak about something most people kept to themselves: faith. Now she looked like the Dilly I’d known when we shared the same roof. Timid, malleable. Maybe hoping I would take her away as fast as I could.



I backed out of the spot even as a thousand questions came to my mind too. I wanted to resist asking, though, unlike the guy with the notepad. His emphasis had been all wrong. He’d asked about the effect of prison, unconcerned about what Dilly really believed these days.



I still felt awkward after being away from her so long. But even that wasn’t enough to keep me quiet. Once an older, wiser sibling, always so. I figured it gave me the right to be nosy.



“Did you mean what you said back there?” Since I was navigating out of the now-busy parking lot, I had to focus on driving, avoiding the need for eye contact.



“About Jesus?” She looked behind us at the reporters now packing up. “Wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t.”



“What did you mean?”



“Just what I said.”



I didn’t know how to rephrase the question to get an answer I could understand, so I found the silence I probably should have stayed with. Once we pulled away from the prison grounds, Dilly touched my forearm much as she had the social worker’s. I spared a quick glance, keeping both hands on the wheel.



“I’ve changed, Hannah. God changed me.”



I wasn’t yet sure I believed her. I wasn’t the only one who’d grown up in a house where rules were more important than people, work more important than any kind of play, keeping up an appearance of holiness more important than living a holy life. We’d both vowed never to set foot in a church once we moved out of our parents’ house, and I’d kept my end. I thought Dilly had too. I knew she’d stopped going to church after she got married. But lately . . . Did they even have church in prison?



“Since when has God done anything for either one of us, Dil?” I asked.



“I wanted to write you, tell you all about it—”



“Right.” Even I heard the cynicism. I’d received exactly three letters from her the entire six years she’d been in prison, despite the hundreds I’d written. Well, one hundred, anyway. That first year. After that I just sent money orders as I made my plans. True, I’d made those plans without input from her, but I’d made them to benefit both of us.



Her eyes, brown like two spots of oversteeped tea, shone with sudden, yet-to-be-shed tears. “You know me, Hannah. I’m a talker, not a writer. I tried a thousand times to write, but every time I did, my brain froze. I can’t explain it on paper. It’s something I wanted to tell you in person.”



“What about last Christmas? I visited you then.”



She let out something that sounded a little like a Ha! but not quite as cynical as me. “In front of Mom and Dad? Are you kidding? I couldn’t explain it with them there.” She sat back in her seat, and laughter squeezed out one tear, leaving her eyes dry. “Not that everybody wouldn’t have liked to see a good argument—from Mom and Dad about what grace and forgiveness really mean and from you about . . . about everything. The inmates would’ve laid bets for a winner, except if nobody drew blood they wouldn’t have been able to figure out who won.”



I didn’t know if she was being sarcastic or not, since our family didn’t argue. We hid all our resentment and anger, especially from each other. Even now I held my tongue. For a moment I felt like I was back home, preparing to listen to one of Dad’s endless sermons at the family altar he’d set up in the corner of the living room.



I sucked in a breath. “Okay, let’s have it, then.”



But Dilly didn’t reply. She shook her head, her whole body facing me instead of the dashboard. “I will tell you, Hannah. Everything. But not right now. Not yet. I need to know something first.”



I glanced at her again, prepared for the questions I knew she’d ask.



“Have you seen Sierra?”



I nodded. “Yesterday.”



“They let you? Nick’s mother let you—you know, in the same room? You talked to her? How is she?”



I shook my head. “I went to her school. They wouldn’t let me into her classroom, but they told me she was there. That she’s all right. Then I waited outside until the buses came, and . . .” I was tempted to lie, to tell her I’d seen Sierra close enough to prove what the school receptionist had said, that Dilly’s daughter was okay. “I saw all the kids get on their buses, and they looked happy.”



Whatever joy, whatever light I’d seen in Dilly’s eyes since the moment she mentioned her daughter’s name began to fade before I’d even finished talking.



“So she wouldn’t let you see her?”



There was no way I’d describe the phone conversation I’d had with Nick’s mother; I didn’t use that kind of language. Nick had never really taken charge of his own daughter’s care, but his mother had taken full responsibility for Sierra. One thing she’d stipulated: no visits from anyone in our family.



“I’ve got to see her,” Dilly said, so low I barely heard her.



I knew seeing her daughter was only the beginning. I knew what she really wanted, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted. Did I really want a fight to restore everything to the way it used to be or should have been? What if we won?



But I reminded myself that when determination was greater than fear, people could do just about anything, even take charge of someone like Sierra.



All I had to do now was make sure that determination stayed stronger than my fears. All I had to do was convince myself, and then Dilly, that I wouldn’t let my fears stand in the way.



Because if I knew Dilly—and I still did, even when she seemed different—my guess was that our future held three of us together. Somehow, in some way.



Me, Dilly, and her daughter, Sierra.



But not God.