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Book

A Midnight Miracle

Hardcover: 176 pages
Revell Books
September 2005
ISBN: 0800718593

 
About the Author
Gary E. Parker is the author of fifteen novels, one of them a Christy finalist, and several nonfiction books and articles. He and his family live in Suwanee, Georgia, and he serves as a pastor in the Atlanta area.
 
Related Link
More book excerpts and author interviews on CBN.com
 
FICTION EXCERPT

A Midnight Miracle

By Gary E. Parker

CBN.comThis magical tale set in the hills of North Carolina will captivate fiction enthusiasts everywhere as they discover that miralces sometimes come in unexpected packages. Read an excerpt below.

Chapter One

Bing Crosby crooned, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” through the grocery-store sound system. The smell of fruitcake and fresh pine filled the air. People pushed shopping carts full of hams, turkeys, and fixings for cranberry salad and green bean casserole and all kinds of other holiday dishes up and down the store aisles. Scores of voices chattered, threatening to drown out Crosby’s music. A Christmas tree decked with red bulbs, white lights, and gold beads almost reached the ceiling near the front of the store. Electronic doors opened and closed every few seconds, and a blast of cold air jumped into the grocery each time.

Sitting at a card table about ten feet from the doors, Jenna Newsome pushed back her sandy blond hair and smiled at the old man standing on the other side of the table. She’d known Handy Jones, a mechanic who lived about three miles out of Hilltop, North Carolina, for most of her thirty years. At least twenty cakes and ten pies sat on the table between them. A stand-up poster with an eight-by-eleven-inch picture of a baby boy stood behind the pies and cakes. The words “Support Mickey’s Miracle” were written in bold letters above the picture.

“You want two cakes, is that right?” she asked.

Handy, dressed in worn overalls and a red baseball cap with “Chew” written on it, handed her fifty dollars. “Two ought to do real good,” he said, his voice heavy with mountain twang.

“They’re only fifteen apiece,” Jenna said. “You spend fifty dollars on two cakes, and Martha will skin you when you get home.”

Handy refused the twenty she tried to hand back. “It all goes to help Mickey, don’t it?”

Jenna nodded. “Yeah. Ladies from Hilltop Community Church made and donated the cakes and pies. Every dollar we make goes to pay for Mickey’s medical costs.”

“Keep the change then,” Handy said. “Martha won’t mind. Heck, she probably made a couple of cakes herself.”

“You’re mighty nice,” Jenna said. “Every dollar makes a difference.” She pulled a brown bag from the floor, opened it, and sat the two cakes inside. A man, this one a lot younger, stepped up behind Handy.

“How much you got so far?” Handy asked.

“Not nearly enough,” Jenna said. “About forty thousand dollars, and we’ve been at it close to two months.” She glanced at the man behind Handy, and her eyes widened as she recognized Rem Lincoln. What in the world was he doing back in Hilltop?

“That’s a heap of cakes to sell,” Handy said.
Jenna smiled at Handy again but didn’t really feel very happy. “Most of the money came from donations,” she said. “People didn’t even get a cake.”

“Folks around here got good hearts.”

She handed Handy the bag and tried to stay positive but found it tough. As the chair of a group raising money for a bone marrow transplant for a baby boy with no health insurance, she knew better than anybody that things didn’t look good.

“How much you got to raise?” Handy asked.

Rem shifted, and Jenna thought he was going to leave without speaking. Maybe he didn’t recognize her.

“Close to two hundred fifty thousand,” she said, her eyes still on Rem. “Within the next couple of weeks too. If we don’t get it by then, it might be too late.”

“You needin’ a miracle, I reckon.”

“You can say that again. Say hello to Martha for me.”

Handy tipped his hat and stepped away. Rem moved to the table, and Jenna sat up straighter without quite knowing why. Rem wore khaki pants, a chocolate-brown V-neck sweater, a navy waist-length jacket, and an expensive-looking watch. He had dark hair, cropped closely but not severely. Although no taller or heavier than average, he carried himself just like she remembered—with a coiled energy that seemed about to burst from the hiking boots on his feet. Rem’s eyes locked on hers, and she stared into them against her better judgment. They looked like black bullets, only alive.

Her face warming, Jenna wondered again if Rem remembered her; they’d graduated high school together twelve years ago.

“Long time no see,” he said.

She glanced down. “I’m surprised you remember me.”

“How could I forget?” he said. “Yeah, you’ve changed a little, but I’d recognize those eyes anywhere. Bluest things since God made the sky. You’re Jenna Newsome, former editor of the Hilltop High Herald. Best student in every English class ever taught at Hilltop, head of the Code of Conduct Council, and secretary of the Bible Club. A most serious young woman, if I recall correctly.”

“You recall more than I’d like,” she said, trying to ignore the flirty comment about her eyes.

“I saw you a few years ago at my mom’s funeral,” he said. “I asked my dad about you; he said you’d moved up to Winston-Salem for a while but then came home. What brought you back?”

“It’s not worth telling,” she said, firmly shaking her head. “It grieved me when your mama passed.”

“It surprised me you attended her funeral,” he said.

“She went to my church. I wanted to pay my -respects.”

“That’s right.” He laughed. “Everybody goes to everybody’s funeral up here on the mountain.”

“And they bring a casserole to the house -beforehand.”

A cell phone rang, and Rem held up a hand to put Jenna on hold, pulled a sleek little gadget from his pocket, and stepped back a few steps to take the call. Something in the gesture bothered Jenna, and she suddenly recalled that Rem had always annoyed her, that he seemed to treat people like they worked for him. Although no one else ever appeared to notice this, Jenna had long ago reached the conclusion that Rem Lincoln was a snob.

Part of her wanted to forgive him for the trait. After all, he’d moved to Hilltop at a hard time—the summer before his junior year, when his dad became the chief of the four-man police department. Another part, however, felt no pity whatsoever, because Rem had quickly taken the little town by storm. A star athlete, he’d played quarterback on the football team, point guard in basketball, and pitcher during baseball season. In addition to his abilities in anything competitive, he’d also whipped through his studies, particularly excelling in math. Cutting a wide swath in the eight-hundred-student school, he’d picked up friends as easily as a black skirt picks up lint and by his senior year had become class president and earned the “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative. Every girl in the school had fallen in love with him, Jenna included, and it seemed he’d eventually gotten around to dating all of them but her.

Rem closed his cell phone and moved back to her. “Sorry,” he said. “A pressing situation.”

“You were always busy,” she said stiffly.

He pocketed the phone. “I’ve got to make a business decision,” he explained. “Almost the end of the year; taxes and all.”

“What are you doing home?” she asked, a slight edge rising unbidden in her voice. “Couldn’t you do your business better in . . . well . . . where do you live now?”

“Atlanta. Yeah, guess you’re right. But my dad, his heart isn’t so good, and it’s been a while since I saw him. Figured I’d come for Christmas this year, flew in a couple of hours ago.”

He pulled a prescription slip from his jacket and held it up. “He sent me to pick up his medication.”

“What’s wrong with his heart?”

“The usual. High cholesterol, some clogging in the arteries—too much bacon and eggs, that kind of thing. He never exercises now that he’s retired. Not that he did much before.”

“He getting a bypass?”

“Not sure. Since Mama died, he doesn’t seem interested in much of anything, his health included. I come through every now and again to check on him, usually for a day or so. He doesn’t seem to care if I’m here or not.”

Jenna thought of her parents. Although both were alive, they’d been divorced for about seven years and seemed to find most of their pleasure by making each other miserable. She usually got caught in the middle.

“I hope your dad gets better,” she said.

Rem shrugged. “He’s sixty-six. Getting older isn’t for sissies.”

Jenna smiled but only briefly.

“Age isn’t bothering you,” Rem said. “Unless it’s for the better.”

Jenna waved off his flippant charm, but her heart jumped a little just the same, and she remembered the first time she’d ever talked to Rem, the interview she’d done for the school paper. Serious about her writing, she’d wanted to give the students of her isolated hamlet a sense of what it felt like to transfer to a new place. Pen and pad in hand, she’d approached him after basketball practice near the middle of the season. For some odd reason, he’d seemed familiar as they sat down on the bleachers a few feet from the court. Although she knew it was crazy, she’d felt like she’d met him somewhere. She’d started to say something about the weird sensation, but her courage had failed as she opened her mouth, and she’d moved straight to the interview.

Surprisingly, Rem had revealed little about his background, only that his dad—a policeman in Knoxville—had gotten shot in a drug bust and a few months later loaded everybody up and moved them to Hilltop, where his family had long held some land.

“I had no choice in the move,” Rem had told her matter-of-factly. “I’ll make the most of it until graduation, then sayonara.”

She’d pressed him to tell how it felt to leave old friends, what he liked about Hilltop, what he didn’t, what was hard, what was easy. But he’d refused to discuss any of that.

“Don’t ever look back,” he’d said, his eyes distant and his tone slightly weary. “Something might be gaining on you.”

Looking back now, the words sounded too mature for a seventeen-year-old and vaguely sad too, but she’d not understood that then and had left the interview frustrated and a little angry. Not only had she not gotten the story she wanted but Rem had made no romantic advances, and since he’d made a play on just about every other attractive girl in school, that had bothered her a lot. Wasn’t she pretty enough for him?

Rem pointed to Mickey’s picture. “A sick kid, huh?”

Jenna blinked back to the present and reminded herself she wasn’t a teenager anymore. So what if Rem hadn’t tried to charm her when they were high school classmates? She didn’t like him anyway; his ways were too forward for a good Christian girl.

“Yeah, a sick kid,” she said.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Myelodysplastic syndrome. We need money for a bone marrow transplant.”

“A form of cancer, right?”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s a long story,” he offered. “How long you been here?”

She glanced at her watch and saw it was already 9:15. Her eyes suddenly felt grainy, and she wished she could take out her contacts, change into soft pajamas, and sip some hot tea.

“Since about six,” she said. “Came right after work.”

“How long you staying?”

“Store closes at ten. I’ll pack up then.”

“Makes for a long day, I guess.”

She shrugged.

“Can I buy a cake?” he asked. “Help the kid out?”

“Sure,” she said. “They’re fifteen dollars.”

Rem pulled out his wallet and handed her a hundred-dollar bill. She bagged the cake and gave it to him, then started counting out change.

“Keep it,” he said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, no problem. Tough break about the boy. How’d you get so involved?”

She almost asked him why he cared but held her tongue and put the hundred dollars in the cash box. “Mickey’s family moved here last summer. I direct the day care he started attending. His father took a job as a custodian at the high school. But Mickey got sick before the family insurance kicked in.”

“That’s insane,” Rem said.

She nodded. “I know. But we’ve done everything we can do. Hired a lawyer, talked to the insurance company until we’re blue in the face. But everything’s by the book, no exceptions.”

“The boy’s going to die if he doesn’t get this -transplant?”

“Yep.”

Rem’s face reddened, and a vein in his neck seemed ready to pop. His concern surprised Jenna, and she wondered why this mattered to him. He’d leave town the day after Christmas and never think of Mickey again.

A woman with a couple of children stepped up behind Rem, and Jenna decided to move Rem along.

“Good to see you,” she said. “Take care of -yourself.”

He propped a hand on the table and gave her a slightly crooked grin, and Jenna’s spine suddenly felt like someone had run a frozen feather up and down it. Where had she seen him before? Not high school, but somewhere else . . .

“I’m here through Christmas,” Rem said softly. “Maybe we could get a cup of coffee in the next couple of days.”

Jenna saw no reason to drink coffee with a man who would disappear in a few days. “I don’t like coffee,” she said.

“Lunch then,” he insisted. “You eat, don’t you?”

Jenna glanced at the woman and children behind Rem. The children pulled at the woman’s skirt, and she looked anxious to get going. Jenna looked back at Rem and thought she saw a touch of sadness in his eyes, perhaps even loneliness. Her heart softened, and she almost said yes but then remembered another man from about four years back, a man who had cut up her heart and left it in little clumps. She’d sworn she’d never let that happen again. Of all the men she needed to avoid, Rem Lincoln stood at the top of the list. To go out with him made absolutely no sense at all.

“I’m awfully busy between now and Christmas,” she finally said.

“For old times’ sake,” he pressed. “There’s not much of my old gang around anymore.”

Jenna’s bad feelings about Rem roiled back up. “I was never part of your old gang,” she sniffed.

Rem threw out a hand, palm out in defeat. “Okay, tiger,” he said. “I meant no offense.”

“None taken,” she said, slightly regretful of her attitude.

Rem picked up his cake. “Can’t blame a man for trying,” he said.

Jenna nodded. “Merry Christmas.”

“Take care.”

Rem walked away, and Jenna gave her attention to the woman and children. The woman’s jeans were old and the children’s shoes scuffed and worn.

“Cakes are fifteen,” Jenna said. “Pies are ten. All the money goes to the Mickey’s Miracle Fund.”

The woman opened her wallet, and Jenna saw she didn’t have much money. “Make it five for either,” she said. “The cakes aren’t as fresh as they were this morning.”

The woman smiled and handed her ten dollars, and Jenna gave her a cake and a pie. The woman and children moved off, and Jenna pulled fifteen dollars from her purse, added it to the ten from the woman, and put it in the cash box. The store fell quiet for a second, and she glanced around and saw Rem in the pharmacy at the edge of the store. He had his cell phone to his ear as he waited for his prescription, and she wondered what kind of work he did that stayed busy right up to Christmas. Important stuff, she guessed; he dressed like he had money.

She glanced down at her clothes—a pullover wool sweater that matched her eyes and a pair of black slacks that fit well against her slender but well-toned legs. She touched her earrings, a pair of simple aquamarine studs. Although nearly thirty, she kept in shape by lifting a few weights about three times a week and running on the treadmill in her mother’s basement. She’d blossomed since high school; everybody said so. Lost all her baby fat, let her hair grow some, wore contacts now instead of glasses. A lot of men found her attractive, and she knew if she lived in a bigger town, she’d receive a lot of male attention. Of course, she’d tried that once, and it hadn’t worked out too well.

She sighed as her mood dropped. Here she was, a month shy of her thirtieth birthday, and the sight of an acquaintance from high school caused her this much nostalgia. What was wrong? Rem made her heart race. So what? His kind and hers didn’t match. Even if he suddenly announced he planned to settle in Hilltop and wanted to start seeing her, she wouldn’t go out with him. His type brought trouble; she knew that from her past. A woman of faith didn’t waste time with men like Rem Lincoln. She’d decided that a long time ago and saw no reason to change it now.

Rem pocketed his cell phone, and Jenna turned back to her pies and cakes. An elderly woman stepped to the table and Jenna said hello, but her mind stayed on Rem. Why did he disturb her so? Why did he feel so familiar? What if he called her and asked her out? She’d say no, that’s what. She did hope he called though. At least then she’d get the satisfaction of having been asked.


Excerpted from A Midnight Miracle, by Gary E. Parker, Copyright 2005, by Revell Books. Used by permission.

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