A Light in the Darkness, Ch. 11 & 12

Chapter 11

 

“Morning,” Holly said, plopping down beside him on the walk.

 

Gabe glanced up. “Morning.”  But his gaze held on her and fell into concern.  “Long night?”

 

Dropping the side of her head into her hand, she yawned. “I shouldn’t have started that book.  It kind of freaked me out.  I didn’t get much sleep.”

 

He turned sheepish eyes on her.  “Oh, yeah, sorry.  I didn’t think about that.”

 

She shook her head and yawned again.  “Not your fault.  I just… I’ve never thought about life like that, you know?  With the demons trying to get into our lives and the warring angels being on the case if we pray.  It’s kind of woo-hoo, out there.”  She didn’t mean to mock it, but that’s the way it came out.

 

He shrugged and went back to weeding.  “It’s not for everybody.”

 

“No,” she said, quickly, realizing her mistake.  Her head came up, but she yawned again. “I mean, I get it. And I even believe it.  Maybe that’s the problem.”

 

Less defensive, he sat back, examining the bed.  “How so?”

 

Hoping that physical activity would wake her up, Holly took up her position on the fire bush next to him.  “Well, I got in bed last night, and it was like I could see the demons, feel them sitting there in the darkness waiting to get me, you know?”  She shivered.  “It was weird.”

 

He was still watching her. “Did you pray?”

 

Her heart dropped through the suggestion.  Praying was so easy for him, second nature in fact.  For her it was last resort at best, and fake and useless at worse.  “I don’t think God would care to save me anyway.  After all, I invited them in.  It’s up to me to get rid of them.”

 

Gabe shook his head vehemently as he looked at her.  “Man, you’re sunk if you believe that.”

 

Dread traced over her, but she beat it back.  It was the truth.  If even he didn’t think she could do it, what was the chance that she could?  “Why’s that?”

 

“Look, there are some things you just can’t do on your own.  Saving your soul and banishing demons are two of them.”

 

She tore at the weeds as fear crept over her.  Somehow she had thought he might know the way out of her life.  If he didn’t and she couldn’t do it anyway, what hope was there? The grass under the knees of her jeans was wet and cold.  It seeped into the cloth in neat circles.  “I think my soul’s pretty much already a lost cause, so I guess I don’t have much shot at getting the demons to leave either.”

 

“On your own, no.  But you don’t have to fight that battle on your own.”

 

“I know. I know.  The angel thing, but seriously I don’t think they want to help me.”  She pushed a strand of hair back that had fallen out of the ponytail.

 

Suddenly he was beside her, gently pulling her out of the bush.  She let him because she was tired of fighting a battle she was sure to lose.  When she was sitting on the grass, her gaze glued to the green grass under her legs.

 

“Now, you listen to me,” he said, his voice filled with intensity.  “Don’t sell yourself out like that.  You deserve better.”

 

Helplessness drifted through her spirit.  She shook her head. “I think it’s too late for me.”

 

“It’s never too late, Holly.  God is all about giving you a fresh start especially when you don’t deserve it.  He’s done that for every single person who’s ever given their lives to Him.  He doesn’t require you to be perfect.  All He asks is that you trust Him and let Him help you.”

 

She looked up at him, tears clinging to her heart and lashes.  “But what if He can’t?  What if I’ve done things…”  Her gaze dropped on the weight of every sin of her past.  They pressed down on her, bowing her shoulders under their load.

 

“That’s just it,” he said softly.  “We’ve all done things.  Stupid things.  Things we can never, ever take back.  But it’s not about those things.  It’s about Him.  It’s not about the things you’ve done—good or bad.  It’s about Him and what He did for you.  He hung on a cross and shed His blood so that you didn’t have to beat yourself up over this stuff.”

 

“But it’s so big.”

 

“Not bigger than Him.  Look, you’re trying to do this yourself because you think you have to, but it’s not true.  Look at it this way.” He sat back, taking his hands with him.  The chill they left drove through her whole spirit.  “Let’s say that you want a garden like this one.  And let’s say you happen to know about a master gardener, someone who’s been doing gardens for years—beautiful, extraordinary gardens.  Everyone you know says he does the most amazing gardens they’ve ever seen. You’ve even seen a few of them, and they are just the kind of garden you want.  Now, you’ve got three options.

 

“First, you can go out, get a bunch of seeds and bulbs, read all the gardening magazines you can find, start planting and watering, and hope it turns out.  Unfortunately you didn’t get the kind of tulip bulbs that bloom well here.  The guy sold you some with mildew on them, and most of them will never even sprout, but you bought them because you didn’t know any better.  Worse, he gave you seeds for plants that need pollination without giving you the plants that pollinate them.  You’ve got herbs that stink, and flowers that aren’t much better.  Unfortunately, you didn’t know the difference when you bought them.  So you start planting and watering and pretty soon you have a big mess instead of the garden that you really wanted.  But you know what? You did it yourself, so it’s up to you to fix.  Right?

 

“Or, let’s say you know this master gardener pretty well.  He’s a friend, but you don’t want to impose.  So you go out and buy all this stuff—hoes, rakes, maybe a tiller.  You call the master gardener to get his suggestions for plants and a reputable place to buy them.  Then you push up your sleeves and get to work.  Of course, you don’t really know what you’re doing, and you plant everything way too close, giving nothing room to grow.  Worse, you’ve now got some plants that like shade planted in full sun, and some that don’t need much water planted right next to ones that would grow well in a pond.  Now you called the master gardener for his advice, but you don’t want to trouble him too much, so you try to fix as much as you can on your own.  But it’s still pretty much a mess that you don’t really know how to fix.  True, you did it mostly by yourself, but it’s not much to be proud of, and you know when people look at it, they’re going to see all the flaws.  That’s your second option—expensive, time-consuming, difficult, and not really producing the results you want.”

 

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed, and Holly had the feeling that they might laser holes right through her so all the yuck would spill out.  Still, she couldn’t look away.  It was as if her whole life had suddenly focused into this one moment, sitting on cold, wet grass, listening to a story about a master gardener and a garden that needed a lot of help.

 

“Your third option.”  A glint broke through Gabriel’s dark eyes as a knowing smile played across his lips.  “Is to ask the master gardener to just do the garden for you.  Top to bottom.  Whatever He wants to do, do it because you know… you know He knows what’s best.  You know you don’t have a clue, so you just get out of the way and let Him work.  Give it all to Him, and say, ‘Plant what You want where You want it.’  I trust You.”

 

“But you’d have to pay him,” she protested.  “What if I don’t have enough money?”

 

Gabriel shook his head.  “All He wants is the chance to work your garden.  He wants to so badly that He’s already purchased the land it sits on with His own blood.  He’s carefully assembled every tool, seed, and bulb He will ever need, just hoping that you’d give Him the chance to put in this garden of yours.  He’s got it planned down to the last gladiola, and it will be magnificent.  All you have to do is give Him permission and let Him get to work.”

 

Her heart wanted so much to enter that garden he was talking about—the one that had been planned and could be wonderful.  She wanted it, but she had no idea how to get it.  “But how do you do that?  How do you give Him permission?”

 

Slowly Gabriel slid across the grass to her and took her hands in his.  “Just say this.”

 

Her gaze locked on his, trusting as if she was stepping off the steep side of a cliff with no guarantee anything would hold her up.

 

“Dear Jesus,” he said softly.

 

She closed her eyes, feeling the words as much as saying them.  “Dear Jesus.”

 

“I give my life to You.”

 

“I give my life to You.”

 

“I give You those things I have done well and those times I’ve really messed up.”

 

“I give You those things I have done well and those times I’ve really messed up.” Tears began trickling out her eyelids and running down her cheeks.  It was as if she was handing her heart to Jesus, touching Him through space and time.

 

“I give You my garden because I want it to shine with the spectacular beauty You have been planning for all of eternity.”

 

“I give You my garden.”  She had to take a breath.  Life was closer than it had ever been before.  “I want it to shine with the beauty You have planned for it for all eternity.”

 

“I want You as my Savior.  I need You as my Savior.”

 

The words wouldn’t come.  Tears and only more tears flooded over the top of them.  The harder she fought the more she was gasping.

 

“Satan,” Gabriel suddenly said harshly, “You and your demons are hereby banished from this garden.  Get away by the Blood of Jesus Christ.  Immediately.”

 

The whoosh from her body was almost physical.  It was like a breath and yet not.

 

“Breathe,” Gabriel said softly.  “Just breathe.”

 

She did, taking in the fresh morning air that was warming with the arrival of the sun.  Finally she nodded the understanding that she could continue.

 

“I want You, Jesus,” he said.  “I want You as my Savior.  Come into my life. I open it to You.”

 

“I want You, Jesus.”  Suddenly her words were strong and clear.  “I want You as my Savior and none other.  Come into my life.  I give it all to You—the good, the bad, all of it.  Wreck the garden if You have to start over.  Do whatever You need to.  I trust You.  I open my life, my garden to You.  From this moment on, it’s Yours.  All of it.  I’m tired of planting and watering and coming up with trash.  You can do it so much better than me.  I trust You.  Just do it.”

 

When her words stopped, Gabriel waited another moment.  “Amen.”

 

A breeze of full-blown peace settled into her.  It would be all right.  That much she knew.  With a nod to the unseen Lord she’d just given her life to, she opened her eyes.

 

His eyes, concerned yet hopeful gazed back.  Holly brushed the tears from her cheeks.

 

“You okay?” he asked.

 

She nodded and smiled.  “Yeah.  I am.”

 

The moment stretched for two, and then he backed up.  He looked at his watch. “I’d better get.  Dad’s going to be wondering where I am.”

 

“Yeah,” she said, still trying to gather herself together.  “I’d better get too.”  She scrambled to her feet and watched him do the same.  Tucking her hands in her back pockets, she knew somehow she had to put her gratefulness into words.  “Thanks, Gabriel.”

 

“Hey, don’t thank me.”  The playful wink traipsed through her.  “Thank Him.”  He pointed up, smiled, then swiped the pathetically small pile of weeds from the walk.  Today’s work had pulled a different kind of weed up.  “Have a great day.  K?”

 

“You too.”  She felt like she might lift right off the walk and float away.  It wasn’t planned.  In fact, she hardly had time to know she was going to do anything, but impulsively she tip-toed toward him and pecked the side of his cheek.  Then she bounced backward and winked at him.  “See you later.”

***

Stunned.  It was the only word that came even vaguely close.  Gabe stood on the walk, watching her ponytail swing as she hopped down the walk.  It was weird how light she looked.  There was a part of him that said he must be imagining things, but still, it was so obvious.

 

He looked up at the sky.  “God, You have a weird sense of humor. You know that?”  With a shake of his head, he went to start his day.

***

The earth had no hold on her.  That much Holly knew because she could feel it.  Humming just because it felt good to, she sat at her computer typing the letter Luke had given her.  He walked in to look through the file drawer.  A moment and he stopped his search.

 

He turned his gaze to her. “You seem happy.”

 

“That’s because I am.  I so am.”  How could one body contain so much joy, she had no idea.  “This letter is ready.  Do you want to read it over?”

 

“Already? Sure print it out.”  He went back to the file cabinet.  “Do you know where the production costs from last year are?  I know they’re on the computer, but I was thinking…”

 

Holly stood as the printer started.  “Yeah, I filed all the accounting things in the second drawer down.”  She stepped between him and the cabinet.  A shadow of fear slid over her, but with a breath she batted it away.  “Here they are.”  She turned and handed him the file.

 

He looked at it and nodded.  The printer finished, and she picked up the letter.

 

“And here’s this.”

 

He took it as well, perused it, and shook his head.  “Amazing.  What did I ever do without you?”  His smile made her spirit once again take flight.  There was pride there and genuine admiration.  “It’s too bad you’re going to Paris next week.  I’m going to be lost without you.”

 

Holly took that statement in, breathed through it, and knew.  “I’m not going to Paris.”

 

He stopped. “You’re… not?  Why not?”

 

She sat down at her desk as determination flowed through every fiber of her.  “Well, first of all, I have a job to think about.  Second of all, I hate flying.  Third of all, my life is here not in Paris.”

 

Slowly he backed up to the little chair which he more leaned against.  He tilted his head to look at her.  “Does your mother know about this?”

 

Again she had to breathe as she shook her head.  “Not yet.”

***

“Are you out of your mind?” her mother hissed.

 

It wouldn’t have surprised Holly in the least had her mother yelled it.  Her mother’s motto had always been ‘do as I say or else,’ and Holly was about to find out what or else meant.  Her mother stood from the little couch in the sitting room, walked regally to the sliding doors, and quietly slid them closed.

 

“Now, what’s this all about?”  She turned from the doors and folded her arms over themselves. “You can’t be serious about not going. It’s Paris, Holly.  Paris.  When are you going to get another chance like this?”

 

She shrugged. “If I do, it’ll be right.  If I don’t, that’s okay, too.”

 

Her mother’s gaze bored into her, searching for either an answer or a weakness. Suddenly she relaxed.  “Does this have to do with Jean Paul? Oh, honey.  He’ll still be here when you get back.”

 

Man, how easy it would’ve been to use that excuse.

 

Squaring her shoulders, Holly sat up straight. “No, Mom.  This is about me. It’s about what I want, and what I want is to stay here and work.”

 

The word hovered in the air.

 

“Work?  What work?”  The arms uncoiled.  The scowl deepened. “I thought we talked about this. You’re not working this summer.”

 

Holly gathered all her wits. She would need them.  “Yes, I am, Mom.  I have been for a week. Luke asked me to fill in for his secretary, and…”

 

The look of pure hate in her mother’s eyes struck terror into the center of her.  It was the piece of information she had kept silent as long as possible.

 

“Why you little…”  Her mother clutched the edge of the chair back.

 

Not backing down, Holly breathed a silent though stumbling prayer.

 

“I cannot believe you would go behind my back like that.”

 

“I didn’t, Mom.  Honest.  We were just talking, and I mentioned I had wanted a job.  One thing led to another…”

 

“One thing led to another.”  The words were spiteful.  “Where have I heard that before?”

 

Guilt and shame slapped into her as heat crept up into her face.  “It’s not like that.  Luke’s not like that.”

 

“Get real, Holly.  They’re all like that.”

 

Strange.  For the first time, Holly recognized the eyes.  They were not her mother’s—not really.  They were straight out of hell.  The recognition flashed through her.  “No, Mom.  They’re not.”

 

“Oh, yeah.  You’re a great judge of character.  Look at you.  You little tramp.  All dressed up to be a secretary.”  It sounded like being equated with a pole dancer.  Her mother shook her head and dropped her gaze.  “I should’ve known letting you come out here was a mistake.”

 

“Letting me come out here?” The words flew out of her wrapped in utter disbelief.  “You made me come out here.  Remember? I wanted to stay in Boston, but no…  I had to come out here so you could show me off to your new fiancé.  Well, you know what, Mom?  I’m not your trophy, and I’m not you.”

 

“You are not going to be his secretary.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Why not?”  The hate tilted dangerously.  “You’re going to stand there and ask me that question?  I don’t believe this.  I don’t.”  She turned to the cold fireplace.  When her voice came again it was dripping with venom.  “I am one month away from my wedding, and I’m not going to let some little, home wrecking tripe ruin this for me.”

 

The arrows found their marks, but instead of tears, they brought only more determination.  Holly pulled herself full up, steadying her nerves.  “Maybe I should’ve stayed in Boston, but I’m here now.  And I’m not quitting.  I like this job, and I’m good at it.  For once, I feel like I’m worth something.  Luke is a nice guy.  He’s not like…” The name stuck in her throat.  “He’s a nice guy.  And you should learn to trust him.  After all, he’s going to be your husband.  Isn’t he?”

 

“Oh, no, ho, ho.  Don’t even… I do trust Luke.”  Her mother pointed a long, slim finger at her.  “Don’t try to play that game with me, young lady.  I wrote that game.  Now you listen to me.  Tonight at dinner, you are going to tell Luke that you appreciate the offer but that the job is just not working out for you.”

 

Holly moved to protest.

 

“And then you are going to quit.  End of discussion.”

***

Sitting at the desk in her room, Holly put her hands together and then let them hold up her head, which she laid on her knuckles.  “God, I told You about my garden.  But you know there are vipers and poison ivy growing everywhere.  You know them better than I do.  Please, please, do something about this mess.  I give it to You—all of it because I don’t know what to do about it anymore.”

 

She thought about telling Him how much the job meant, about how much she didn’t want to go to Paris, but it didn’t seem necessary.  He knew.  She felt how clearly He did.

 

Having no idea why peace would be anywhere around, she lifted her head.  “Thanks, God.”

 

He’d heard.  The next step was up to Him.

***

They’d been seated at the table barely a minute.  Holly kept her gaze down. Tension filled every molecule of the room.

 

“You know, Linda,” Luke said, cutting into his steak.  “You’ve raised one remarkable daughter.”

 

Holly wasn’t sure which gaze snapped to him the fastest.  She smiled gratefully and let hers fall back to her plate.

 

“Oh?  How so?”  Ice encapsulated the statement.

 

“She’s gotten the files more organized than they’ve been since I’ve gotten here.  The expense reports are up-to-date, and I haven’t missed a meeting in a week.”

 

The battle to stay mad at her daughter while fawning over every word Luke said was taxing her mother’s facial muscles.  “Oh, really?  Well, that’s wonderful.”

 

Strange how that word could have two separate meanings simultaneously.

 

“I’m sure glad she’s decided not to go to Paris even though I know how much she wanted to go on the trip of a lifetime.”  Luke raised his glass to his lips and took a drink.  “Kids don’t learn that kind of work ethic just anywhere.  She must have gotten it from you.”

 

Holly was cutting and eating as if nothing at all was being discussed.  If she had wanted to look up, she couldn’t have.

 

“Oh, well, thank you.” Her mother laid her knife down and forked into the steak. “I’m sure she’s learned a lot of things from me.”  There was a razor-sharp edge to the statement that Luke somehow missed.

 

“Yes, she must’ve.  She’s polite and businesslike with all of the clients.  I’ve been very impressed with everything she’s done.”

 

Her mother absorbed that in silence for a long moment.  Then she cut off a piece of steak.  “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway.  I’ve decided not to go to Paris after all.”

 

That yanked Holly’s gaze up.  Her mother smiled sweetly at her and then at Luke.

 

“I just realized our wedding’s in less than a month, and there’s so much to do here.  I can’t be traipsing around Europe for weeks at a time.  I need to be here to keep an eye on things and make sure nothing goes awry.”

 

“Oh,” Luke said, sounding genuinely happy.  “Well, wonderful.  Then it’s settled.”

***

Three minutes after she’d shut her door for the night, Holly grabbed the little backpack she had from college, threw the book in it and escaped into the night.  She should’ve asked him, but if he wasn’t there, she could always come back.  This night held no chill only a slivery moon lighting her path.

 

Her thoughts bounced from the day’s events to the book in her backpack.  She couldn’t wait to find out more of what happened.  When she pulled the heavy door open, her heart surged.  The light was on.

 

“Hey, Gabriel?  You here?”

 

“Yep.  I’m up here.”  And so he was, standing at the railing.  There was no way to explain what that did to her heart.

 

On the tips of her toes and her heart pulling her forward, she climbed the stairs.

 

“I thought you weren’t coming,” he said.

 

“And miss all this?”  She held her hands out to indicate the sparse loft.  “No way.”  Peace once again drifted through her as she sat on the couch.  “So, how was your day?”

 

He collapsed on the other side.  The stubble had gotten darker since the garden, and he really looked tired. “Ugh.  Don’t ask.  My dad is as stubborn as a mule.  He’s going to kill himself trying to make everyone happy.”  Gabriel leaned his head back on the couch and ran his fingers over his eyes.  “This wedding may kill us all.”  He froze.  Then he sat up uncomfortably.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  I forgot…”

 

Holly held up her hand to stop him.  “Hey, you don’t have to apologize to me.  Believe me, I know.”  She nodded, wishing her mother was going to Paris for Gabriel’s father’s sake if nothing else.  Tilting her head, she gazed at him. “Have you prayed about it?”  She’d seen it work once that evening.

 

He fell into seriousness as he shook his head. “Well, kind of, but I don’t even know what to pray for anymore.  At first I prayed that he’d live and be all right, and now I’m trying not to pray that he won’t be so all right so he’ll quit scaring my mother to death by insisting on working.  I don’t know.”  He looked more scattered and uncertain than she’d ever seen him.

 

Worry traced through her. “This isn’t you, Gabriel.  You’re the one who taught me about trusting.”  Her gaze searched his strained features.  “What’s really going on?”

***

This was impossible. How could he tell her what her presence did to him?  How off-kilter he felt every time she showed up—or didn’t?  Yes, his father was an issue.  Yes, the wedding and her mother were not helping.  Those things weighed on his heart and soul, but he sensed that he could’ve handled them had it not been for her complicating everything all the way to his core.

 

“Isn’t God bigger than your dad’s illness?” she asked softly, using his own words against him.  “Can’t He handle this too?”

 

He didn’t want to answer. “Yeah.”

 

“Then why haven’t you given it to Him for real?”

 

Although she was talking about his father, he was talking about her when he looked over at her.  “Because I’m scared of what happens either way.”

 

She nodded.  The knowing in her eyes drilled into him.  “Then maybe you don’t need a big miracle.  Maybe you’re overlooking the little ones.”

 

When had she suddenly become the teacher?  He laced his fingers together as his elbows leaned on his knees. “Like what?”

 

“Well, like being able to work with your dad right now.  Most people never get the chance to know their dads the way you’re getting to.  Most people never have the chance to have the kind of memories you’re making with him.  Those are priceless, you know.  And once they’re gone, you’ll never get that chance again.  So be grateful to be there… with him.  Love him right now, and let God take care of the rest.”

 

“I really can’t imagine life without him,” Gabe said, his true feelings about his dad crashing to the surface.  “He’s so strong about everything.  He always has been, but now… I see how he gets winded doing simple things.  I see the times he stops and puts his hand to the wall to rest, and I wonder… I just think… What if this is it?  What if he falls over this time, and that’s it?”

 

Softness caressed her face.  “Tell me about the first time.  The first heart attack.  Where you there?”

 

For the span of a small eternity he couldn’t answer.  The images were still too fresh. “We were refinishing the gazebo.  It used to be white.”  He shook his head.  “It was peeling and awful.  Dad had just climbed up the ladder.  It was really hot that day, and we were way behind schedule on the thing. We were all out there busting our butts to get it done.  Why he was doing the high work…”  He closed his eyes and then yanked them open, afraid to go too deep into the memories.  “I don’t really know who saw him first, me or Tim.  I looked up, and I remember asking him what was wrong. Then he looked down at me.” The breaths fought to get out. “I’ll never forget that look.  It was like, ‘Help me.’  And then he fell.  Just toppled right off the ladder.  The ladder went one way, and he went the other.  And then he was on the ground.”

 

Memories he hadn’t let himself remember surged through him.  “It all happened so fast.  I ran over to him, and he was in so much pain.  I was begging him not to leave, begging him to stay with me, to fight.  Then the ambulance came, and they took him away.  I just kept thinking, ‘I should’ve known. I should’ve done something. He shouldn’t have been up there. I should’ve known.’”

 

Then as if she belonged nowhere else, Holly was at his side.  Soft as an angel’s wings, her arms came around him, and he grabbed onto her.  Fear and helplessness from that day came out of him in gushes.

 

“I didn’t want to lose him.  I don’t know what I’d do if he was just gone.”

 

Her fingers brushed over Gabe’s hair as she cradled him to her.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

 

But that’s not what it felt like. “He’s always been so strong.  He could break a board with his bare hands.  Now, he just seems so… old.”

 

“Old isn’t a bad thing.  It reminds us to cherish the time we have.”

 

She held him until the emotion subsided, leaving him unbelievably tired.  He leaned back on the couch, her hand still on his thigh.  She was gazing at him, not eight inches away.

 

After a moment he laid his head to the side. “How’d you get so smart?”

 

Her smile was soft and concerned.  “I had a good teacher.”  The smile fell.  “Do you want to pray?”

 

The idea knifed into him.  He didn’t know what to pray for; however, in exhaustion he nodded.

 

Gently Holly took his hand in hers.  He wished he’d had time to put a bucket of lotion on it because compared with hers it was like sandpaper.  However, she didn’t seem to notice.  “I’m not very good at this, but…”  She closed her eyes, and because fascination gripped him, Gabe couldn’t get his to close.  “Dear Jesus, we know that You know what’s best here.  Give Gabriel peace and wisdom to meet the coming challenges.”

 

Finally his eyes closed too.  To feel her touch, hear her words, that was enough.

 

“Be with Gabriel’s dad and mom.  Help them to make good decisions.  Help them to seek You each moment, so that no matter where this journey takes them, they end up with You.  Please bless, Gabriel, dear Lord.  He’s very special to me as You well know.  Give Him peace, dear God.  Just give Him peace.  Amen.”

 

When she finished, he couldn’t help himself.  He leaned toward her and wrapped her into his arms, pulling her to his chest.  He’d never felt closer to anyone in his life.

***

It was late once again when Holly made it back up to her room.  This time she didn’t bother to read.  She simply slipped between the sheets and let herself remember what it was like to be in his arms.  There was no describing the warmth and safety of those arms. Closing her eyes, she breathed. “God, keep him safe for me.”

 

Demons and angels from the day battled for her remaining moments awake.  Her mother.  Luke.  The memories—hers and Gabriel’s.  And what it was to sit on wet grass and give her heart to God.  The shadows in the room retreated at that thought.  “God, whatever happens, just show me what to do.  This is Your garden now.”

***

Their morning sojourn together the next day sent Gabriel’s spirits soaring.  It had always been an incredible way to start the morning, but now to have her there with the promise of seeing her again in the evening was just too much momentum for his heart to hide.

 

He strode into the work shop and tossed the weeds into the trash.  If only he could convince his brain that this could last, he might have broken into actual song.  As it was, he settled for turning on the radio.  Liking the beat he did a little mock-samba on the way to the office desk.  The schedule for the day.  Did it really matter?  Whatever it was would be great beyond belief with the likelihood of seeing her at the carriage house later.

 

The schedule in hand, he sat down at the desk.  The pool needed attention.  They hadn’t gotten to it yesterday.  He would see to that one himself.

 

“Morning, boss,” Darius said, walking in and over to the coffee pot.  “What’s on tap for today?”

 

“I need you and Tim to head out to the bluff and get it mowed and weeded.  I’m going to tackle the pool.”

 

Darius raised his eyebrows.  “Taking your life in your hands, I see?”

 

“She’s not that bad.”  Gabe defending the Ice Queen? Who would’ve thought?  Movement at the door yanked his attention up.  “Morning, Dad.”  He pushed from the desk.  “You want your chair?”

 

“No. No.” His father, a mountain in a tan work shirt, waved him off.  “I’m just looking for some WD-40 for that cabana door.  It’s squeaking again.”  He pushed his straw hat backward and opened the cabinet.

 

Gabe’s eyes narrowed.  “Did they send a work order?”

 

His father held up the little cell phone that he had taken back the moment he got to the job.  “Imperative it is fixed immediately.  You know the drill.”

 

Yes, he did, very well.  Gabe stood, leaving the schedule.  He held out his hand for the blue and yellow can his father had pulled off the shelf.  “I’m headed that way anyway.  Why don’t you let me get it?”

 

For the span of a blink the world froze.  His father looked at him and then as if passing the torch to his son, he held out the can.  “Don’t forget the…”

 

“Knob.  I know, Dad.”

 

Slowly his father nodded, tired in his eyes although it was barely eight o’clock.  “Yes.  You do.”

***

It was crazy to think he might see her, but nothing could stop Gabe from hoping.  Being this close to the house, it was a possibility although most likely she was chained to a desk impressing everyone.  He smiled at the thought.  He was glad the job was working out.

 

Lifting the latch, he let himself through the back gate and into the backyard.  He’d only gone another three steps when an angry voice stopped him in mid-step.

 

“I’m telling you, he is serious about her working for him, and nothing I say makes any difference.”  It was the Ice Queen, poolside.  Well, so much for pool duties; however, the lack of a second voice made Gabe curious.  Carefully he peered through the thin spikes of the large fern at the corner.  No wonder.  She was on the phone, lounging on one of the long chairs.

 

He started to turn and leave.  There was no reason to get into that caldron if he didn’t have to.

 

“The little tramp.  I should’ve put her on the first plane back to Boston when I found out.”

 

Boston?  The word stopped him cold.  His gaze narrowed with concern, and he turned back slightly. He shouldn’t listen.  Really he shouldn’t, but he just couldn’t get his feet to move.

 

“Oh, you know Holly, playing the innocent card like she created it.  Then she acts like Paris is akin to hell.  No, she doesn’t want to go.  She wants to stay here.  Like she’s fooling anybody with that act.”

 

Paris?  The world tour swam through his head.

 

“My only hope is Luke’s nephew, Jean Paul.  He’s a real hottie, you know.  25, Armani and Dom Perignon. ‘ course he’s a nice kid, which lessens my chance of this working out, and he lives all the way down in San Francisco.”  There was a pause. “Are you kidding? If he was here, I have her married off already.”  Her laugh froze Gabe’s blood.  “Yeah, no lie.  That would solve a lot of problems.  Yeah.  Well, I just wanted to tell you why I’m going to be hanging around the mansion a lot more.  I don’t trust her for a minute.”  She listened.  “Yeah.  Okay.  I’ll see you for the shower next Saturday.  Take care.  You too.”

 

The beep signaled the end of the conversation.  She dropped the phone to the little table and put her head back to the warmth of the bright sunshine.

 

The world slammed to a stop. Now what?  She could well be there for hours, and he really needed to get the cabana door fixed lest she call his father again.  But how?  If he walked up now, she would know he’d been standing there.  Carefully, quietly he stepped back to the gate, lifted the latch, and shut it loudly.  He walked in as if not realizing she was there.

 

However, halfway around the pool, he felt the ice of her stare.  “Must you do that now?  I’m trying to get some sun.”

 

He played the innocent card too, but it probably didn’t work too great. “Oh, I’m sorry. I promise. I won’t get in your sun.  I’m just going to fix the cabana door.”

 

“Well, it’s about time.  I called the foreman hours ago.  Is it really too much to ask that things work properly around here?”

 

Hours ago would’ve been before the sun was up, and in all probability before she was up, but Gabe held his tongue.  Fighting wouldn’t solve anything and would probably precipitate her yelling at his father again. He went to the cabana door, opened it, hearing the nearly imperceptible squeak from the bottom hinge.  His sigh went all the way through him.  In disgust he glanced over at her.  Lying there in a microscopic gold bikini, her eyes covered by gigantic sunglasses, she looked like a French fried raisin.  Who had skin that color anyway?  It was near-orange it was so dark.

 

He was sure she thought she was incredibly attractive.  The fact was, anything attractive about her was drowned out by her sheer malice for anyone and everyone she deemed inferior to her.  That most assuredly included her own daughter.  What was all that ‘not leaving her alone for a minute’ speech about anyway?  And what in the world was she so worried about?  Holly was just doing a job, and from all accounts she was doing rather well at it.

 

Then again he knew enough about Satan to know anyone who was doing a good job at anything they enjoyed needed to be put down and eliminated.  He hated to think that, but Holly’s mom had a lot of characteristics that made him pray for the cover of warring angels.  In fact, he said one more prayer just before he finished with the knob and stepped out of the cabana.

 

“Umm, Ma’am.” He walked over to her, knowing he should probably leave without mentioning it. However, it was as if either way he went, it would be wrong.  The moment he got to her chair, he swallowed hard. What was polite and proper in this situation?  “Umm, I need to clean the pool also, but I could come back later if you’d like.”

 

“Oh, for Heaven’s sakes, do you people not know the meaning of making yourself scarce?”  She stood, a position which made him equally uncomfortable.

 

He took a step backward and pasted his gaze to the concrete. “I’m sorry. I just thought…”

 

“Let me offer you a tip, okay, honey?  If someone is poolside, assume you are not welcome.  Secondly, if you would clean the pool properly in the first place, it would not need to be cleaned every other day.  And lastly, you are maintenance.  You got that?  Maintenance. You do not own the place, you fix the place.  You are to be seen and not heard, and preferably not seen at all.  Is that understood?”

 

The lashing ripped through his spirit. “Yes…”

 

“And in the future, tell the old man to stop bothering us with his yammering about the need for more help.  How much work does it take to mow a few lawns and sweep around a pool?”  She whipped her towel off the lawn chair.  “Oh, and don’t forget that back corner.  You could grow mushrooms for all the dirt over there.”

 

With that, she flounced off.

 

When the sliding door closed on her dramatic exit, Gabe pulled his eyebrows together.  “Does that mean yes, I can clean it?”  There was no answer, so he turned to get the cleaning supplies.  No wonder Holly acted like a hive of bees might sting her at any moment.  All he had to do was work for the woman.  He couldn’t imagine living with her.

 

Chapter 12

 

“Don’t mind me,” for the nine-millionth time that day her mother breezed into the office.  “I just have to talk with Luke about tonight.”

 

Holly wondered if she had ever been in there before.  Today she seemed to be nowhere else.  Burying her gaze in her computer screen, Holly continued working on the budget report for coming month.  She was working on the grounds information, which made her feel just a little closer to him.  That was always nice.

 

“Oh, Luke.  We haven’t been out of this house in months,” her mother whined in the office. “Now, I’ve made a reservation at Costa del Sol for six o’clock.  Surely it wouldn’t hurt to take off a little early just for tonight.”

 

“I really need to get these payroll tax forms taken care of.  I’ve put it off until today.  They’re due tomorrow.  I hate being behind.”

 

“Well, then get that secretary of yours to do it.  Isn’t that why you hired her?” There was no misinterpreting the dripping sarcasm.

 

“It seems a waste to teach her this when she’s only going to do it once.  It would be so much easier if I…”

 

“Luke.”  The pleading was pathetic.  “Please.  We haven’t spent an evening alone since she got here.  Please.”

 

If she could’ve closed the door, Holly would have.  Instead, she closed her eyes and took a breath.  “Don’t let her get to you.”

 

“Well…”

 

“Please.”

 

“Fine.  Costa del Sol it is.”

 

You would have thought someone won the lottery.  “Oh, Luke!  That’s fabulous.  I’ll just go up and start getting ready.  And I’ll wear that slinky little number you liked so much in Italy.”

 

The noises were embarrassing.

 

“Okay,” Luke finally said, “you’d better let me get some work done, or we’ll be staying in for the evening.”

 

“That could be fun, too.”  A squeal emanated from the room.  “Be good, Pooky Bear.  I’ll see you in a little bit.”

 

“Count on it.”

 

When her mother sauntered past Holly’s desk, she brushed her hair back with one set of bright red fingernails.  “Don’t wait up, Darling.  We could be gone for a while.”  And with that, she stuck her chin in the air and pranced out.

 

Holly wasn’t sure whose benefit that little show was for.

 

“Holly,” Luke called, “could you come in here a minute?”

 

“Oh, sure.”  She jumped up, praying she would be able to handle whatever this was going to entail.

 

“Listen, save what you’ve got on the budget.  I need to get these payroll forms in the mail this afternoon.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Launching into a set of instructions that would have made an accountant’s head spin, he laid out the steps to completing the form, ending with, “And if you get it done before I have to leave, I’d like to check it over.”

 

She accepted the papers he handed her.  “Yes, Sir.  I’ll do my best, Sir.”

 

His smile was grateful. “That’s all I ask.”

 

Holly turned to go out.

 

“Oh, and Holly?”

 

She turned back.  “Yes?”

 

“Please call me Luke.  After all, I’m going to be your stepfather in a few weeks.”

 

It would’ve been really nice if that detail hadn’t been in the equation.

 

“Yes, Sir.” She stumbled on the word. “I mean Luke.”

 

He nodded with a smile, and she went out to work on the mind-numbing payroll forms.

***

“So, what was that thing you did?” Holly asked later in the loft as she sat on the couch with Gabriel on the other side.

 

He took a bite of one of the carrots she had brought for the faux picnic set up on the coffee table.  After putting all the pieces together and realizing she’d be eating alone if she hung out at the mansion, she’d quickly formulated a plan which was so much better than eating alone.

 

Leaning back into the couch with one arm draping over it, he looked at her.  “What thing?”

 

She ducked her head, wishing his intense gaze didn’t throw her so badly.  “Umm, you know the other day in the garden.  You were like, ‘Satan, I command you to come out of her.’ Or something like that. What was that?”

 

He laughed, leaned forward, and snatched a sandwich from the table.  “Well, you know how in This Present Darkness the demons and warring angels are real, right?”

 

Holly nodded, her gaze now solely on him.  She wanted to know everything he knew.

 

“Well,” he continued, “I’ve read other books that explained how the demons must obey any command from a follower of Christ and most especially a command in which Christ is placed as the head of the demon.  There are several places in the Bible where Jesus calls out the demons, and they have to obey.  They have no choice. It’s the same concept.”

 

He finished the sandwich, dusted his hands off, and pulled his knee up onto the couch so he was talking right to her.  “I call it banishing the demons.  When you banish them, you have to do so under God’s authority because there’s also a place in the Bible where two guys tried it, and the demons said, ‘We don’t know who you are’ and turned on them and devoured them.”

 

Holly made a face. “Ew.  That sounds a little rough.”

 

Gabriel shook his head.  “Not if you know what you are doing and you have a sincere heart, a heart truly committed to Christ.  What you do, you recognize that a demon is present.  Like the other day, in the garden.  You were just about to commit your life to Christ, but you couldn’t get the words out.  It’s like in This Present Darkness when the demons are playing with people’s minds.  They prevent you to the best of their ability from turning to Christ.  They can’t stop you, but they can confuse you and make it really tough.  I just recognized that’s why you were having trouble saying the words, and I called them out.

 

“You can do it in a lot of ways.  You can speak to Satan and his minions in general, or you can speak directly to whatever demon happens to be trying to control the situation.”

 

Holly’s gaze drilled into him, wanting more.  It felt like her life hinged on it. “Show me.”

 

He sighed one small breath.  “Okay, it’s not really that hard.  You say, ‘Satan, get away by the Blood of Jesus Christ.’ That’s the basic formula, but you can do it a whole bunch of different ways depending on what the Holy Spirit gives you to say at the moment.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Like, ‘Satan and all your minions, you must leave this place by the Name of Jesus Christ.  You are hereby cast out and down.  Be gone.’  Or you can say, ‘Fear, you are hereby cast out and commanded to go to the throne of the Most High God by the Blood of Jesus Christ to be dealt with there as He sees fit.’  They hate that one.”

 

Her gaze snagged on the small gleam in his eye. “Why’s that?”

 

“Well, I used to just send them to hell, banish them out and down.  Then I realized one day that was too good for them.  They deserve to have to go stand before the throne of their enemy and let Jesus or God deal with them.”

 

She nodded in concentration.  “That reminds me.  You say, ‘Jesus.’ And you say, ‘God.’ And sometimes you say, ‘Holy…’”

 

“Spirit.”

 

“Right.  What’s up with all three of them? I thought there was only one.”

 

Gabriel considered the question.  “Well, there’s God the Father.  He’s It.  He’s Everything.  He is the Great I Am from the Old Testament.  Then there’s Jesus, God’s Son, but they aren’t really two separate beings.  The Son comes from the Father, and Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.’  They are One in the same.  Then the Holy Spirit.  I like to think of the Holy Spirit as the love between the Father and the Son which is so real, so present that it becomes a Person of its own.

 

“When Jesus left the earth, He sent the Holy Spirit, the love between Him and His Father to dwell in our hearts, so that we’re not just people walking around on this earth.  We are literally part of God Himself, and He is us.”

 

It was mesmerizing to hear him talk about it.  Holly shook her head to break the spell.  She reached for a cucumber.  “I think you should’ve been a preacher or something.  It’s totally cool to hear you talk about it.”

 

Gabriel shook his head slowly.  “God doesn’t just speak through preachers and priests.  I think when we fall into the trap of thinking that, we don’t see the awesome power He can wield through each one of us. There’s a line in the Nicene Creed—it’s a prayer we say every week at church.  The line’s talking about the Holy Spirit.  It says, ‘He has spoken through the Prophets.’  I used to think that meant like Isaiah or Ezekiel or one of those guys.  Then I heard a priest one time talking about how we are all baptized priests, prophets, and kings.  He said we are called to be prophets for each other.  That’s when I put that together with the Nicene Creed line, and I got it.  We are called to be prophets for each other, and if we let Him, the Holy Spirit will speak through us into the lives of others, and He speaks through others to us—if we’re listening.”

 

He nodded as if he was even now getting it on a deeper level. “It’s like in the garden.  I kept trying to get out of it, of us talking in the mornings, but you just kept showing up.”

 

The words sent her gaze and spirit plummeting.  “Oh, I’m sorry.”

 

“No.” Gabriel’s hand went out to silence her protest.  “It’s not that.  It just took me awhile to realize that you were God’s assignment for me, that He sent you to me because He knew I wouldn’t try to deal with it on my own, that I would let Him do it through me.”

 

Sheepishly she looked up at him. “He doesn’t give you easy assignments, huh?”

 

The smile sliding across the deep olive skin and ending with bright white teeth lit her heart.  “They’re getting easier.”

 

She was glad of that.

 

The smile fell into thoughtfulness. “Right before you came, I was getting pretty good at just showing up.  You know, take the steps He’s giving you and just show up and let Him do it through you.  Like letting Him plant the garden. Letting Him do it.  At least I was until the heart attack and everything else.”

 

He didn’t have to elaborate on the everything else part for her to know he meant her mother.

 

Slowly he shook his head.  “Sometimes walking on water feels so easy, and sometimes it’s like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, God. That is insane.’”

 

That intrigued her.  She reached for a carrot. “Walking on water?”

 

His eyes narrowed as if he was squinting to see something.  “It’s what I feel like sometimes.  When I don’t know what’s going to happen or how this is ever going to work out.”  His gaze found hers.  “It feels like I must be walking on water because there’s no way I’m doing this on my own.”

 

The middle of her heart softened at the vulnerable look in his eyes.  “Well, I for one think you are doing a fabulous job of walking on water because I would’ve never guessed this.”  Her gaze drifted around the loft.

 

“It’s Him,” Gabriel said softly.  “Believe me, it’s all Him.”

 

She scooted over to him then and laid her head in the crook of his arm just below his shoulder.  Her hand rested on his chest as their breaths fell into rhythm together. “Then I’m going to have to thank Him because this is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

His arm came full around her, gathering her in, and she felt the brush of his lips across her hair.  “Me too.”  He breathed.  “Me too.”

***

The ground had relinquished its hold on her feet by the time Holly made it back up to her room.  The mansion was silent up and down the hallway, and she let herself in and closed the door.  What a perfectly wonderful night.  She stepped over to her bed and pulled the chain on the small reading light.  A note stuck to her pillow caught her attention.

 

Two calls.  Rebecca Avery.  Jean Paul Von Doran.  Both requested a return call. The numbers were listed.  Holly sat down on the bed, hard.  Rebecca, okay.  That was fine. Good even.  Holly couldn’t wait to tell her everything that had transpired.  But Jean Paul was another story altogether.  She glanced at the clock. 10:30 meant after 1 in Boston, so calling Rebecca was out for now.

 

Jean Paul was probably still awake.  For a moment she couldn’t decide if to bring herself down by calling him now, waiting and hoping he would forget, or just getting it over with.  The memory of Gabriel talking about walking on water drifted through her.  “Take this step.” She picked up her cell phone and punched it on.  Closing her eyes, she breathed a small prayer.  Then she dialed the number and waited for the ringing to stop.  Maybe he wouldn’t be there.  Maybe he’d forgotten.  Maybe…

 

“This is J.P.”  The noise in the background thundered through the phone.

 

Holly cleared her throat to get the words to start. “Jean Paul?  Hey. This is Holly.  I got the message you called.”

 

“Hol…? Oh.  Holly.  Yeah.”  There was a break during which she fought to figure out what was going on wherever he was.  “Well, I was going to ask you out for tonight.  A bunch of us got together to go clubbing in Frisco. It’s Ladies Night at The Blue Iguana.”

 

“Oh.”  She nodded, thanking Heaven above for letting her miss that offer.

 

“But we could go out tomorrow night if you want.”  He continued to talk as her thoughts went to the non-option of missing the loft to go to some crowded bar packed with desperate people pawing each other on the dance floor.  Not one part of it sounded even vaguely inviting, not to even mention the part about it being with Jean Paul.  “Steve said he was hoping I’d bring you around again.”

 

Steve, the name and the memory slammed into her.  Resolution solidified in her heart. This was not what she wanted for her life, trying to impress people because her mother said it was smart, not saying no when the answer in her whole being was clearly no.  No, whatever her life might bring from this point forward, this was most definitely not what she wanted.  “You know, Jean Paul, thanks for thinking about me, but I’m going to have to say no.”

 

“What?” he asked, shouting the answer.

 

“I’m going to have to say no.  I don’t want to go out with you.  Not tonight, not tomorrow night.  Not ever. Please don’t call me again.”

 

“What?”  The noise behind him was deafening even through the phone.

 

Holly put the speaker of the phone to her mouth with the earpiece right on her forehead. “I said, ‘Don’t call me again!’”  And she pulled the phone away and beeped it off. She snapped it closed and tossed it to the bed.  “Have a nice life, J.P.”  Standing, she walked to the bathroom.  A hot shower sounded incredibly good.  Besides it would give her a chance to melt into the memories of being in the loft with Gabriel again and dream about the days to come.

***

“I’m going to be out of the office for a few days,” Luke announced the next morning when Holly went in to get her first assignments for the day.  “Your mother thinks a pre-wedding get away would be… how did she put it?  Awesome.”

 

Holly nodded. Her feet were still in the clouds.  Praying with Gabriel as the sun came up was the best miracle she’d ever stumbled upon.  It had a way of making every minute that followed somehow glorious.  “Oh?  Where did she talk you into going?”

 

“Paris.”

 

That stopped her.  “Gracious.  That’s some pre-wedding get away.”

 

“Yes, well.  I have some business associates I need to touch base with one-on-one anyway, so it won’t be all fun and no work.”

 

Work.  The possibility that the job would leave with him knocked into her. “What should I do while you’re gone?”

 

“Oh, there’s plenty to do.  That budget and the expense reports we talked about.  I’ve got some dictation here for you to do.  And we’ll be back on Monday, so it’s not like I’m absconding for more than a couple of days.”

 

The understanding that no one would be keeping tabs on her wafted through her consciousness.  “When are you leaving?”

 

“This afternoon at three.”

***

She really did need the receipts, Holly told herself at four o’clock as she headed down the driveway to the work shop.  The budget needed them.  Still it wasn’t only the budget that wanted her to go to the work shop, her heart did too.  Three steps in, she called, “Knock. Knock.  Anybody here?”

 

“In here,” the deep voice rumbled back.

 

She followed the voice through the work area into the office where she found an older gentleman seated at the desk.  His dirty straw hat sat next to him on the paperwork. His hair was solid white in perfect relief to his brown-leathered skin.

 

“Oh. Um. Hi,” Holly said tentatively.

 

The man looked up and stumbled up to his feet.  He was a good seven inches taller than her, and panic mode struck her at the disparity.  However, he smiled which helped.  “Can I help you, Ma’am?”

 

“I’m Holly.”  She stuck out her hand.  “Holly Jacobs.  I’m Mrs. Keller’s daughter.” The fear that went through his eyes at that statement was undeniable.  She hated that.  “And you are?”

 

“Oh, excuse me, Ma’am.  Mr. Carlos Cabrelos.  I’m the head groundskeeper.”

 

Understanding filled her.  “Oh, you’re Gabriel’s father.”

 

Confusion scrawled across his dark eyes.  “Yes, Ma’am, I am.  You know Gabriel?”

 

Noise from behind her jerked her attention backward. “Tim’s finishing up…”

 

Holly turned to the voice, and her heart skipped inside her.  How could anyone be so gorgeous in an old, dirty gray T-shirt?  He put the other guys she’d ever been with to shame. Those green eyes alone would pull a girl’s heart to its knees.

 

“Oh,” he said, his gaze bouncing from her to his father and back.  “I’m sorry.”  His eyes questioned her. Why she was here, what was she doing talking to his father.

 

“Umm, I came for the receipts,” she said in answer to his unspoken questions.  “I’m working on next month’s budget for Mr. Teracini.”

 

“Mr. Teracini?” Gabriel’s father asked.

 

She turned back to him feeling the tug between them. “I’m filling in for his secretary for the summer.”

 

A cloud of tension that she didn’t understand wafted over the room. It was difficult to figure out what to say next.

 

“I’m sorry,” she finally said, sensing her presence was not welcome.  The two men hardly looked at each other or her. “I should have called.  I’ll just…” She pointed to the door.

 

“No, that’s okay.” Gabriel broke out of the awkward trance although he wasn’t really looking at her.  “They’re right in here. I was going to bring them up to you on Friday… um, tomorrow.”  Making enough noise to be heard at the mansion, he dug in the file cabinet and produced the receipts.  “I didn’t know you were going to do a budget.”

 

“I got all the filing done.” She shrugged. “I think he’s giving me busywork now.”

 

Gabriel handed her the receipts, and for a moment she was locked in his gaze, their fingers inches apart.  She wanted to ask if she would see him tonight, but that suddenly seemed a dangerous question.

 

Finally she backed away, the receipts in hand.  “Well, thank you.  I’ll just be going to get these done.”  At the last possible second she remembered her manners and turned to Mr. Cabrelos.  “It was nice to meet you, Sir.”  She held out her hand which he shook without saying a word.  Then she turned and half-smiled at Gabriel.  “I’ll just be going now.  See ya.”

 

With a small nod, she ducked and crossed past Gabriel.  In ten strides she was out in the hot afternoon sunshine.  It took ten more strides away from the work shop before she could breathe. She couldn’t shake the feeling that the past few minutes hadn’t gone as well as she had hoped they would.  She couldn’t read the look in Mr. Cabrelos’s eyes, and even now, she wasn’t at all sure what he thought of her showing up like that.  Worse, it worried her what he thought of her knowing Gabriel.  If she would’ve known he would react that way, she would never have said anything.  “God, please be with Gabriel.  I’m afraid he might need You right now.”

***

“She said she knew you,” his father said, looking at Gabe with the intensity of a laser beam.  “What did that mean?”

 

Gabe went over to the cabinet and started stacking cups.  “We’ve just met a few times when she came to get receipts.  That’s all.”  His heart hurt lying, but to tell his father the outright truth felt very dangerous at the moment.

 

“Well, you’d better keep it that way.”  In a huff, his father sat down.  “The apple never falls very far from the tree, and we all know what tree she came off of.”

 

Ache sliced through Gabe at the implication.  She was nothing like her mother.  Nothing at all.  But how could he say that and risk his father getting upset over it?  Worse, if he started to defend her, how far would he have to go to explain how he knew anything about her at all?  No, it was better to simply let it slide.  “I’m going to go check on Darius watering the garden.  That pond filter might be leaking again.”

 

His father grunted in response, and Gabe traced out into the sunshine.  He saw her up by the house, just climbing the steps and going into the front door.  One big part of him said his father was right.  What chance did he think he might have with her?  But another part knew he would savor every moment with her even if they had no chance at all.  He wondered if she would be at the loft later, and as he started for the garden, he sent up a silent prayer that she would be.  And from now on, he wouldn’t take any of those stolen moments for granted ever again.

***

Holly took off at precisely five o’clock.  She made sure her desk was in perfect order, snapped off the computer, and headed for her room.  She had a call to make before she went to the carriage house, and above all, she didn’t want to be late.  In her room, she shut the door, grabbed her phone, and sat on her bed.

 

Speed dial worked its magic, and in seconds the phone was ringing.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Becca.”  Holly’s heart lifted at the voice.  “Hey. It’s Holly.”

 

“Hey, girl.  How are you doing?  We haven’t heard from you in awhile.”

 

“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that.” Holly flopped back onto the pillows.  “It’s been kind of crazy around here.  I got a job.”

 

“A job? Really? How’d that happen?”

 

“Mr. Teracini, the owner, is letting me be his secretary, just for the summer, but it’s good.  I love it.” Her heart was so grateful for every good thing that had happened.

 

There was a long pause.  “Okay, what’s really up?  You sound happy.”

 

“I can’t sound happy?”

 

“Not can’t, but you usually don’t.”

 

Holly flipped over and traced her finger across the daisies on the bed.  “Would you believe I met somebody?”

 

“Somebody?” Excitement surged through Becca’s voice. “The count?”

 

“The count?  Jean Paul?  Oh, gosh no.  He’s an idiot.  In fact, I just broke up with him last night.”

 

That slowed Becca down. “O… kay.  So what’s up with this guy you met then?”

 

On wings Holly rolled so she was looking at the ceiling.  Even that was beautiful in a way she had never before noticed.  “Oh, he’s great, Rebecca.  You would love him.  He’s so down to earth and just a really nice guy.  He’s a Christian, really into Jesus and God and everything.  We stay up all night just talking and reading…”

 

“Reading?  You?”

 

“I know.” Holly laughed from the depths of herself.  “Who would’ve thought, huh?  But no, we get up in the morning and weed the garden together and pray…”

 

“Okay, who is this and how did you get Holly’s cell phone?”

 

Holly laughed with pure joy dancing in her heart. “No, it’s me.  Really.  I just… Oh, he’s so great, Becca.”  Happiness slipped from her tone and her spirit.  “I just hope I don’t mess things up.”

 

“Okay.  First of all, if he’s as wonderful as you say he is, you can work through anything together.  Second of all, you deserve a great guy, Holly.  You do.  Don’t go doing something stupid because you think you don’t.”

 

“That’s just it.  I don’t want to do anything stupid.  Not like I’m afraid I’m going to, but like it’s not even an option.”  She debated for a moment whether to tell Rebecca the whole story, but it was right there to be said so she said it.  “The other morning, on the walk…”  The memory of that moment wafted through her.  “I gave my life to Jesus.  Gabriel talked me through it, and I did it—for real.”

 

“Oh, Holly, that’s so great.”

 

“Yeah, and since then, things have been… well, different.  I told my mom I didn’t want to go to Paris, I fought for the job when Mom flipped out about it, I told Jean Paul I didn’t want to go out with him any more.  I don’t know.  I just feel so… free.  Like I can be the real me and not have to apologize to anyone for it.”

 

The pause stretched between them.

 

“I don’t know what to say,” Rebecca finally breathed.  “That’s so great.  This Gabriel guy must be one special person.”

 

“He is.”  Holly closed her eyes, and his were right there.  “He so is.”

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007

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About Staci Stallings

Staci Stallings shares her heart for God with her novels, articles, and conversations. She loves making new friends, writing, and playing piano and guitar.
This entry was posted in A Light in the Darkness, Novels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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