In celebration, I have decided to post a few pages for your reading enjoyment, because I’m a nice person, but mostly because I hope once you read it, you’ll feel compelled to go and buy it. If you haven’t read Courage (Book 1) yet, you should probably pick that up too, though you can read Faith without it. (but then you’ll be missing some good stuff, and you don’t want to do that, do you? Do you? No, I didn’t think you did.) And… if you have Kindle Unlimited you don’t even have to buy it – it’s free.
Okay, I’m shutting up. Here’s the promised beginning.
(By reading the first chapter you are agreeing to go and get the full book, we run on the honesty program here, so be honest.) Just kidding. Kinda.
Walking down the stairs is easier now than it was a week ago, but it’s still not a pleasant experience. Sleeping on the couch downstairs would be easier on my muscles, but I feel bad enough about taking up a room in Chance’s house, I would feel much worse if I took over his living room too. Actually, it’s Chance and Alex’s house. That still feels weird to say, or really, even think.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Alex was living with me and Mike. Pregnant, abused, and alone. I still can’t quite believe how quickly our roles in each other’s lives have switched. Now I’m the one that needs help, and my reasons for needing it aren’t nearly as noble as hers.
Alex has always been a little wounded, a little broken. She’s the kind of girl that most days you’re amazed she found the will to get out of bed. That’s how it used to be, anyway. These days she’s an entirely different person. And so am I.
“Good morning, Sunshine!” Alex’s voice carries up the last couple of stairs from the kitchen.
“How can you be so happy this early?” I ask, irritated that even speaking makes my head hurt worse than it did a minute ago, and it didn’t feel good then.
She’s sitting at the breakfast counter, long red hair in a ponytail. Her smile still surprises me every time I see it. The Alex I knew before was a tough girl. She was smart, pretty, and no matter what happened to her, she just kept going, but I would never have described her as happy. This new, happy, life-loving Alex is taking a lot of getting used to.
She looks up from Cadan in his bouncy seat, the tiny spoon in her hand hovering above a jar of pureed peaches. “Early?” she laughs. “It’s not early, Bay. It’s almost eleven o’clock. This is Cadan’s lunch.” Her smile fades to concern. “Still having trouble sleeping?”
I consider my answer. She deserves the truth of course, but I don’t want this to turn into another long conversation about how I should go back to the doctor again. “It’s getting better,” I say. Not the complete truth, but not a lie either.
She nods and spoons more peaches into Cadan’s smiling mouth. He’s such a cute baby. I feel a small pang of jealousy and tamp it down. I’m not jealous, I’m happy for her.
I make funny faces at Cadan and my heart aches when he giggles. I open the fridge door and dig around for a bottle of orange juice. It’s not my favorite thing, but I know Chance buys it, in these single serving little bottles, just for me. I need the vitamin C, whether I want it or not, and I force it down. If he can go to the trouble and expense of making it available for me every day, the least I can do is drink it. Even if it does make me want to gag.
I know I should eat something, but nothing strikes me as even remotely appealing. I glance at Alex and notice her features are once again pinched with concern, so I make my way to the bread drawer and pull out two slices of honey wheat bread and put them in the toaster.
“What are you and Cadan up to today?” I ask.
“Not much. I’ve got laundry to do, floors to clean, and dusting to do. When that’s done I think I’ll just hang out on the porch with Shadow and read a book or something while Cadan naps.”
I look at the temperature gauge on the wall by the window. The outside temp is a chilly 50 degrees. “Don’t you think it’s a little cold to be hanging out on the porch?”
“No, not really. It’s nowhere near as cold as it will be in a couple of weeks and I want to enjoy it while I still have time to do it without risking frostbite,” she says with a chuckle.
“Fair point, I guess. It’s way too cold for me though.”
“I know it is. You haven’t been here long enough to adjust to the weather yet, but you will.”
I want to tell her that I probably won’t be here long enough for that, but I don’t want to upset her. They keep telling me I’m welcome here as long as I wish to be here, but it’s difficult being here. She’s my best friend and I love her like a sister, more probably, but I can’t help feeling like I’m in the way.
Alex had such a hard time, such a hard life, and when she needed me the most I wasn’t there for her. It’s not even that I wasn’t there for her, I actively participated in the actions that hurt her. My ex-boyfriend, Mike, kicked her out of our house and left her homeless at 7 months pregnant. I wasn’t there, but I know I wouldn’t have been able to stop him from doing it.
Of course, I’m forever grateful that Chance was there for her and turned out to be a truly good, honorable, and loving man, but how can I forgive myself for contributing to the situation that left her with nowhere else to turn? I can’t. My participation is unforgivable, more than anyone knows. Continuing to avail myself of their hospitality makes me feel like scum.
“So, what are your plans for the day?” she asks as I retrieve my toast, and search for the butter.
“I have to look for a job again. I don’t know why I’m having so much trouble finding one. I have a solid work history, and even though I kinda fell apart there at the end, does that get rid of everything else?” I know she can hear the frustration in my voice and I wish I could take it back. I sound like a whiny child.
“I don’t know. What I do know is that Chance and Jace have offered you a job about 50 times since you got here. Why won’t you just take it?” She pulls Cadan out of his bouncy seat and motions for me to follow her up the stairs. “Nap time, buddy,” she says cheerfully as his head drops onto her shoulder, his eyes heavy with sleepiness.
I follow her up the stairs, using the time to consider my answer. I couldn’t answer her right now if my life depended on it, the act of walking up the stairs requiring all my concentration. I know she’s forgotten how much I hurt, or she wouldn’t have asked me to follow her.
At the top of the stairs she turns into the beautiful bedroom shared by Chance, Alex, and Cadan. Down the hall is my bedroom, previously occupied by Alex and Cadan, and another bedroom that will eventually be Cadan’s as soon as Alex is comfortable enough to have him sleeping in a different room than her.
Placing Cadan on the cherry wood changing table, she sends me a questioning glance. She’s not pushy, never has been, but I know she’s waiting for an answer. She deserves an answer.
“I’m already taking enough from you guys. From them. It’s not fair for Chance to put a roof over my head, feed me, pay for my medical bills, and then pay me for working for him too. Why would he even consider it? I have to find a job on my own, so I can pay him back and get a place of my own.” Even saying the words terrifies me, but I can’t tell her that.
“Okay,” the word just hangs there as she finishes changing Cadan and places him in his crib. She kisses him on the tip of his nose and then winds up his zoo animal mobile. He kicks and giggles, suddenly not as tired as he was a few minutes ago. “Uh-uh, little man! It is nap time!” she giggles as she turns on the baby monitor and heads out the door.
We make our way back downstairs, me painfully slowly, and then back into the kitchen. I follow her like a puppy, because I know she has more to say, whether or not I want to hear it, and I owe her everything I can give. She rinses out the baby food jar, and puts the tiny spoon in the dishwasher. I just stand there, until she motions for me to sit. I pick a red and chrome bar stool at the kitchen island and carefully sit. Everything hurts. I know this pain will go away eventually, at least that’s what they keep saying, but every day it feels more permanent.
She stands across the island from me, and leans over, resting her elbows on the counter. “Bay? You know that your reasoning doesn’t make any sense, right?”
“Yes, it does. I can’t keep mooching off them forever. Chance shouldn’t have to pay all my expenses and pay me to work for him.”
“So, what are you going to do if you can’t find a job? Work for them for free?”
“I tried that. They won’t let me,” I know I sound huffy, but I can’t help it.
“Of course, they won’t let you, Bay, that would make you the equivalent of an indentured servant. They would never let you do that, and while I completely understand the sentiment, I really do know how you feel, you shouldn’t want to do that.”
“I can’t owe them any more than I already do, Lex! I feel like I have nothing at all to offer and I know I’m still weak, but I can run a checkout register. Why won’t anyone here hire me? I don’t understand it,” I feel tears rising and I know I sound hysterical. “I’m a good worker. I don’t understand this town!”
“I know you’re a good worker, Bay, and you will find a job, but you’re missing the point that there is a job offer on the table. You can take my job, in the office.”
“I can’t take your job, Lex!” I say, rolling my eyes, “That would make me friend of the year, wouldn’t it?”
She laughs, her head falling forward onto her hands.
“I don’t go to the office anymore. Or at least, hardly ever. I do most of the work from here and go in for a few hours on the weekend to do filing and billing, but it would be so much better if there was someone in the office to do that stuff as it comes in. We’ve been making this work, but there really should be someone in the office full time. I can still answer the phones when you’re on break, or at lunch or whatever, and I can handle any billing you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s a good offer, Bay, and it’s not going to hurt me at all. We need another office clerk besides me anyway. It feels like the business is growing every day and it’s just going to keep growing.”
“I hear you, but then what happens when Cadan is big enough for daycare, or when he goes to school? Then one of us is out of a job. That’s not fair to either of us.”
“You’re not listening, Bay,” she says with an exasperated sigh. “The company is growing. By the time I’m ready to leave Cadan with someone else during the day, we’ll probably be looking for a third office clerk!”
“Okay. I’ll think about it more. Okay?”
She rolls her eyes as tires crunch on gravel outside and Shadow starts barking, “Think faster.”
We’re almost to the front door when it opens and Shadow bounces happily to greet Jace. His tall, muscular frame is covered in worn jeans and a camouflage hooded sweatshirt, that does nothing to camouflage his build. His bright blue eyes glance in my direction for a split second before landing on Alex, “Hey, sis, where’s little man?”
“He’s napping,” Alex replies. Jace immediately turns towards the stairs, making Alex grab the hood of his sweatshirt, “Oh, no you don’t! I just put him down and he’s staying there!”
He turns wounded puppy eyes on her as he shoves a hand through unruly dark hair, “Aw, come on, Alex! I’ll tire him out and he’ll go right back to sleep.”
“Uh-huh, just like last time when he was miserable for the rest of the night and kept me up until two a.m. I don’t think so.”
“Well, I thought that’s what Uncles were for!” he whines as she pulls him towards the kitchen. I look longingly at the stairs, desperately wanting a nap, but not bad enough to make the climb, so I turn and follow them.