Hey, friends! It’s Friday, which means another sneak peek of one of my books. Woo-hoo! This week, I’m posting the first two segments of Always, which was just released this Tuesday. Always is a story about friendship and faith, grace and restoration… but it’s a little different from my other stories. While it is most definitely Christian fiction, it deals with some sensitive topics and details not often found in this genre and may make some readers uncomfortable.
All that said, Brooke and Jordan’s story is more than a romance. It’s a story of what it means to be forgiven and to find redemption, even in the worst circumstances.
Here’s the beginning…
It started like this.
An unfamiliar room. An unfamiliar pain. An unfamiliar taste in my mouth as I slowly sat up on the unfamiliar couch I was lying on, catching sight of my reflection in a mirror on the wall as I did so.
This was familiar, at least. The face in the reflection was mine. Brown hair, blue eyes, a little too much makeup, smudged now. I was still in the dress I’d worn to my brother’s wedding, which had ended… a few hours ago? I thought through this, trying to calculate the hours. It had only been a few, right? That couldn’t be right, though, because the sunlight coming into the room was all wrong.
It should still be dark outside. I couldn’t remember so many hours going by…
I closed my eyes trying to think through this, trying my best to ignore the unsettled feeling that had already lodged itself into my gut. A few hours… or had it been longer than that?
And I could see Jordan, smiling at me from across the church, wordlessly communicating all that I’d hoped he’d say. As my head pounded, I could visualize him later on, leaning over at the reception, telling me that we could go out later, long after we’d closed it all down. And with a gasp at the memory that still wrenched my heart, I remembered how it had felt to kiss him at last, how he’d wrapped his arms around me, how…
How he’d pushed away. How he’d said it had been all wrong.
I’d left. I’d come here to find Heather but had found Cody instead.
It had only been a few hours, surely…
No. No, it had been longer than that.
It was morning. That much was clear. It was morning, and I was still here in this room, in this place, confused and groggy.
Had my brother’s wedding been yesterday? How had the night already come and gone? Had that horrible rejection from Jordan happened several hours ago, instead of just a few?
And where was I?
Focus. Just for a second. Think.
Cody’s voice came back to me.
Hey, Brooke, don’t cry… here, have a drink and let’s talk about what he did to you…
I blinked, and the simple movement caused more pain. Right behind my eyes, which were processing the sunlight streaming through the windows, windows which were, as everything else, unfamiliar. It was a pounding pain that only increased as I moved my legs to the edge of the unfamiliar couch, as I put my feet to the floor, wincing as another pain hit me anew. An unfamiliar pain that was terrifying given the intimate location and the fact that my panties were lying on the floor.
Only one conclusion to draw from all of this, my ordered and logical mind said to me quite sternly.
Oh… oh, no…
This was bad. Everything was unfamiliar, but clarity on one thing, at least, had come.
Something had happened to me. Someone had done something to me…
I scanned the room while holding my head in my hands, no longer needing answers. Not right this minute. As I looked around, familiarity began to come back. I was at Cody’s house. I hadn’t recognized it because everything was fuzzy, my movements slower. That, and I’d never been here before at this hour. This was a place I only came to late at night, and I’d never stayed overnight.
Suddenly, I felt some urgency to get out, at the same time that my conscience screamed to me that it was much too late and the damage had already been done.
Even still, I needed to get out of this place, get somewhere safe.
With trembling hands, I picked up my underwear from where they were thrown on the floor by my feet, feeling my face blaze with shame as I put them back on. Shame over what, though? I didn’t know any details, but it was enough that I was here in this position, wasn’t it? Guilty because I was here, because I’d…
Had I had something to drink?
No time to figure it out. Get out. Get out now.
I had to leave. I had to get out of here. Even as my head continued pounding, I looked around for my purse, spotting it a foot away. Grabbing it up, I fished my hand inside, praying that my keys were there, that I could go out to my car, and get out of here.
My hand met my phone first, though.
I pulled it out and felt my throat tighten at the text, sent last night sometime…
Brooke, we need to talk. You ran off last night without telling me where you were going, without letting me explain anything. I’m worried about you. Call me.
Well, that part of last night was clear enough. Jordan, standing outside at my brother’s wedding reception, telling me that we needed to talk this out instead of just reacting on emotions. Jordan, backing away from me with his hands held up, insisting that I didn’t understand. Jordan, trying to convince me to stay when I was certain that all he wanted was for me to leave.
Jordan, who cared enough that he was worried.
I bit back a sob, wondering if he was sitting at my brother’s house now, waiting for me. He was so far from this unfamiliar place, from all that I still didn’t know. He would never imagine what was happening, what had happened, what I wasn’t even clear on now.
Jordan and his goodness seemed like the answer now, and part of me wanted to rush to him, to tell him everything I knew and all that I didn’t. But his words, what he’d said to me, how I must have reacted afterwards, coming here, where something horrible had happened…
This was mine. All that had happened. I’d have to figure it out, and I’d have to own it.
And Jordan… I couldn’t think about him right now.
Taking a breath and swiping at the tears that now covered my face, I rose to my feet tentatively, testing my own ability to stand and wondering again at what I’d had to drink. As soon as I was certain that I could make it to the door then out to my car without falling over, I took a step that way, my head hung down in shame, praying that no one would try to stop me, even as I stepped out into the bright sunshine.
His dad was probably going to get fired.
That’s what Jordan Sanders had gathered in the past five minutes, as they drove to the church. Most eight year olds probably wouldn’t even know what fired meant, but Jordan was a reader, which meant he knew words he figured even his parents, who were adults, didn’t know.
Reading was a good way to escape, and with two little brothers who were a little annoying sometimes and a bigger brother who didn’t like him much at all, Jordan was always glad for an escape.
He pretended to read the book he’d brought along with him for the car ride as his parents continued their whispered conversation in the front seat. There was a new boss at his dad’s work, which was also his mom’s work. His dad did construction – worked with his hands building things – and his mom was a secretary. They both worked for the same company, Collins Construction, which was a little office way out on the outskirts of town. Jordan had been there more times than he could count, running toy trucks along the carpet with his brothers when the school bus dropped them off just down the street after school. Mrs. Collins always kept the fridge full of juice boxes for her two daughters, Leslie and Holly, who also got dropped off after school, and Jordan and his older brother, Ben, enjoyed them as well.
Mrs. Collins was dead now. So was Mr. Collins. There had been a car wreck, and they’d both died. Jordan had watched his mother cry at the news, but now, she seemed more upset about her job and her new boss than she was about losing her friend, Mrs. Collins.
Yes, they were getting a new boss. Jordan’s dad didn’t seem very excited about that.
“He’s a kid,” Elliott Sanders whispered to his wife, knowing that the four boys in the backseat could hear every word. “Nineteen years old with no idea what he’s doing.”
Nineteen seemed pretty old to Jordan, honestly. But maybe nineteen was actually very young to be running a construction company. Jordan wondered very briefly how the guy had even gotten the job given his age.
“And the company is in bad shape,” Gina Sanders affirmed, worry in her voice. “I mean, it was in bad shape before the accident. We lost the last few contracts, and the books are a mess. And now, with this…”
“Bankruptcy,” Elliott hissed. “It’s all heading towards bankruptcy, and it’s only going to speed faster along to that point with this kid in charge. What are we going to do if we lose our jobs?”
“Shh,” she said softly to him, her eyes darting back to their sons.
The other three boys weren’t listening, though. They never did. Only Jordan listened. Jordan, who shot his eyes back down at his book, not wanting his mother to see that he’d heard every last word.
This wasn’t the usual kind of conversation they had on the way to church. No, usually the talk was about the devotional they’d done over breakfast or reminders to the boys to listen carefully during the sermon and take notes. Jordan’s parents were serious about church and not just on Sundays. God came home with them, and no matter what problems the family was having, Jordan’s parents were always quick to point them all back to Christ and how He was sufficient.
Sufficient. That was another big word that Jordan knew. It meant that Jesus was able to take care of them and be everything for them, no matter how big the troubles they were facing. Jordan knew this completely. He also knew Jesus like his parents did now, even at eight years old, which made him wonder over how worried they seemed to be about work and how it sounded like they weren’t sure they could trust Jesus with this.
Everyone had a bad day now and then, though, didn’t they?
Jordan concluded that they did and could, just as the family car pulled into the parking lot of the familiar church.
His mother turned around in her seat and gave them all a tight smile, meant to be reassuring likely but still just a little too tense to cover up how she was honestly feeling. Not like Ben, Mason, or Toby noticed as they all spilled out of the car just as soon as their dad had parked.
But Jordan just smiled back at her understandingly, just for a moment, before following his brothers out. He’d always been like that, able to pick up on things that other kids didn’t always notice.
Church was crowded and loud. It was most Sundays, right at the time when the Sanders boys would run out from the children’s wing and join their parents in the sanctuary for the service. The family had missed Sunday school this week, though, which was unusual. But things had been unusual since Mr. and Mrs. Collins died and his parents’ work schedule got all messed up. Jordan doubted his brothers could figure out the reason for any of it as they all clambered into a pew and as he filed in last amongst them.
Jordan loved church. He loved everything about it, from the snacks in Sunday school to the busy activities during the summer to the loud, exciting music that was played from the front. He even loved the sermons, where the preacher used big words that Jordan almost always understood, even if he had to ask for clarification afterwards from his parents. He loved that these moments in here helped him to know his Bible better and learn how he could live the right way. With Jesus in his heart, Jordan felt like he could do great things for God one day.
He believed it. His parents were always good to teach him that and to encourage him, putting their arms around him and telling him, “Jordan, life is all about honoring God.”
He thought briefly of reminding them of it as they settled into their pew and he saw their faces turn hard for just a second as a new family entered the church.
It wasn’t just his parents, though. It was like everyone in the room, apart from his brothers, took in a breath and moved their attention to the back doors and the family that was now coming inside. Jordan craned his neck with them, curious as to what could be so interesting.
It was just a teenage boy. Or maybe he was a man. It was hard to tell from where Jordan sat. The stranger was dressed like the kids in the youth group, but the look on his face was much more serious than any of those kids’ expressions ever were. He looked vaguely familiar to Jordan, as though he might have been here before, a long time ago. Wasn’t he in the youth group once? Didn’t he sit on the back row with the pastor’s son not that long ago, making jokes and laughing?
Jordan wasn’t sure, but he was certain that he knew the two girls walking in with him. Holly Collins, who he knew from school and those afternoons at his parents’ office. Leslie was beside her, holding her hand, walking bravely into the church.
The Collins sisters had never been to their church.
The sanctuary was so quiet that Jordan could hear the voice of the pastor’s wife, Mrs. Pearson, as she came down the aisle and gave the young man a hug, wiping away tears with one hand as she did so. Her hug had been awkwardly done, largely because of the lump in the young man’s arms.
That wasn’t a lump, though. It was another girl. A smaller girl, one who Jordan had never seen. She was too young for school probably, which meant she’d never ridden the bus with them to her parents’ office.
“I can take her,” Mrs. Pearson said softly, but the lump just grabbed Travis tighter.
“It would be better if you could help Leslie and Holly,” Travis said, his voice soft and sad.
Mrs. Pearson nodded her head and turned to the girls, leading them right to the pew in front of the Sanders family, where she sat down with them, shooting a reproachful look to the crowds of people who were still watching and staring.
Well, they would stare. Mr. and Mrs. Collins were dead, so everyone was going to stare at their children for a long while probably. And their children seemed to include the young man, who glanced over at Jordan’s parents with an uncertain look.
If Mr. and Mrs. Collins had been the bosses… well, maybe their son was the boss now. Jordan’s mind went back to the conversation in the car about how “the kid” was nineteen, didn’t know what he was doing, would lead them all into bankruptcy –
“Travis, how can we help?”
His mother’s voice had suddenly lost the hard edge he’d been able to hear in the car. Jordan marveled at this and at the tears in her eyes as she looked at Travis and his sisters. Maybe Jesus was showing her that she could trust Him after all, that she didn’t have to be afraid about what would happen with her work, and that she could be kind to Travis even if he didn’t know what he was doing.
“Anything,” Jordan’s dad said, reaching out and grasping Travis’s arm. “We’re here for you… we’ll do anything to help.”
Travis just nodded, blinking back tears. “Tomorrow,” he said weakly. “I’m planning on coming to the office tomorrow to… well, I don’t even know…”
He didn’t know what he was doing, then. That much was clear.
“We’ll work it out,” Jordan’s mother managed. “You’ve got us.”
And this seemed to encourage Travis as he finally sat down in the pew up ahead, choosing the seat right in front of Jordan as he shifted the lump in his arms again.
Soon, music began to play. The church came to life again with greetings all around, but Jordan was rooted to his spot as the lump on Travis’s shoulder moved, just slightly.
Dark blue eyes met his, peering at him from underneath a mop of brown hair that was clumsily done up in a messy ponytail.
The little girl didn’t let go of her brother, even as she studied Jordan thoughtfully. Jordan didn’t dare move as she stared at him, very nearly pierced by the sadness in her eyes.
As the noise around them rose with more music, Jordan just barely heard her when she offered him this quiet, small greeting.
And that was how it all began with Jordan and Brooke.
Interested in finding out what happens next? You can get a copy of Always here on Amazon!