Are you looking for a book to read this weekend? How about a FREE book? (I know, I’ve been giving books away all over the place lately!) Meant To Be, my FAVORITE of all the Jenn Faulk books, is free today and tomorrow. Please, please, please go and get your copy while it’s still free!
Want a sneak peek first? Okay, here we go…
Jude Botha could hold onto this thought, just this one, as his phone rang obnoxiously loud on the nightstand next to the bed in the dirty and cheap hotel room he’d landed himself in the night before.
As the phone rang and brought him back to the present, he tried, through his grogginess and the haze left over from the night’s excesses, to piece together where he was and what had brought him here. A show. They’d had a show last night, like most nights, and he’d had a lot to drink afterwards. Like most nights. And there had been… had there been a woman?
He couldn’t rightly remember, like most nights.
Oh so cautiously, he opened up one eye and saw that, yes, there was a woman, right there next to him in the bed, still dressed, looking like she’d had a rough night. Well, that made two of them. He took a short breath and chanced a glance down at his own body.
He still had pants on. Miraculously.
Whew, he’d not have anything to feel guilty about today, then. Not too much, at least.
Maybe the drunkenness would cause some regret (it already was, honestly, given the pounding of his head) and the way he’d likely kicked the rest of his bandmates out of the hotel room, forcing them to sleep in the van for the night, which they’d hold against him.
He could regret all of that, but he’d kept from having sex with this woman he didn’t know, making for an eight-month celibacy streak, prompted because the guilt he’d feel afterwards, every time he lived the way he wanted to at the basest levels of his soul, even while knowing that –
The phone just kept ringing and ringing.
Hectic. This caller just wouldn’t give up, would they?
With an irritated breath, Jude reached out for the phone, nearly falling out of the bed in the process.
“What?! What?! What?!” he shouted into the screen after snatching it up, if only to keep the infernal ringing from continuing to make his head pound.
He’d have to repent of this as well. Yelling at some poor, unsuspecting fool on the phone. But not any illicit activity with this strange woman in this strange bed. Wouldn’t have to repent of that.
Good job, Jude.
“Good morning to you, too, domkop.”
The voice on the other end of the phone came after a significant delay, speaking not to the situation but to the distance.
Namibia was far away from this dirty hotel in America.
Home was far away from this place he found himself in.
“Mom,” Jude sighed, lying back and rubbing his eyes before sneaking a glance at his watch. “Calling me a domkop at this hour. Nicely done.”
“Aptly spoken, likely,” she said, noting the sarcasm in his tone and answering with some of her own. “And in two vastly different time zones. You’re a domkop no matter where in the world you are, Jude. Back home in Namibia or over in America. A domkop in either culture.”
Ahh, his mother. What was it like to have a gentle, sweet, and kind mother, who said tender things? Jude sure didn’t know. He could count on his mother, Kait, to say honest things, hard things. She was far away, but she’d heard about how he was living, thanks to social media and the things that fans and incredibly indiscreet women posted. She’d given him some honest rebukes, as had his father, on those rare phone calls they shared these days, which she’d always conclude by saying that she’d be praying for him to get right with God.
He was saved. He knew that Christ had saved his wicked soul years ago, before he even knew what true depravity could look like. And now that he did, now that he knew just how far his own depravity could reach, he found that the redemption of Christ was sufficient but still left even the strongest believer engaged in a war with the flesh, a war that Jude himself lost more often than he won.
But he still had his pants on this morning. Victory in Jesus.
“Why are you calling me so early?” he yawned, staring at the ceiling and sending up a silent prayer to anyone who might still be listening that this call would end soon, before she could convict him any further. The real question in his mind was simply “why are you calling me at all?” since he’d given no encouragement to her to keep on doing so in the past, which had likely been why the phone calls had dwindled to nearly nothing as of late.
Yet here she was, calling him way too early –
“It’s not that early,” Kait chided. “It’s eight am there.”
“Is it now?” Jude asked, frowning, thinking that it was still plenty early and wondering for just a brief moment how his mother even knew which time zone he was in. He could be on the west coast right now, even earlier than this.
“You should already be awake,” Kait said, odd knowledge in her voice. “Or did you have a show last night?”
“I’ve got shows most nights,” he said. Six years he’d been at this, singing and playing his guitar, begging for gigs and waiting tables on the side, trying to make a breakthrough. He’d left Africa at eighteen and had traveled to America, intent on becoming a star and only slightly disillusioned when his limited cash ran low and he was still just playing amateur nights at shady venues. He’d had to work a lot of odd jobs and made the decision not too far into things that he’d get farther if he had a band around him rather than continuing on with his fruitless attempts to become a solo star. He’d found himself some bandmates, and they’d made a go of it, but there at the beginning, the only real improvement was that Jude began to tend bar instead of waiting tables.
Moving on up in the world.
But it was better than it had been, even if he was pessimistic about how far away his rock star dreams still were. The gigs were more plentiful, but he figured that some of that was because there were four of them working towards securing them rather than just him on his own. They’d booked themselves through multiple events for the summer out in California where opportunities were more plentiful. Their own tour, they’d congratulated themselves boastfully as they’d made plans, squirreling away every cent they could to fund the dream, to increase their visibility, and to hopefully play for someone out there who could get them farther into fame than they’d been able to do on their own.
Maybe they’d make something of this after all.
“I’ve been praying for you, Jude.”
He heard his mother’s words and knew that he could take it as her promise that she was praying for his success, but he knew better. She was praying that he would be a better man, truer to Christ, truer to his faith –
“Is that why you’re calling?” he asked, not wanting to deal with this today. “Because I need to be prayed for?”
“No, although you do need to be prayed for,” she said. “I’m calling because I need you to get in touch with someone for me.”
He could feel his brow furrow in confusion at this. Who would he need to get in touch with?
The woman beside him gave a muffled sigh, and he turned away, holding his phone even closer.
“Who do I need to get in touch with?” he asked, lowering his voice.
“Lucy Anderson,” Kait said. “Her parents are back in Oshakati this year, and she’s still in the States by herself. In Houston, Jude. You guys haven’t started your tour yet, right? Aren’t you all heading down that way for a show before it starts in earnest?”
But his mind was still on her first words, on that name.
“Lucy Anderson,” he said, her face coming to mind, even all these years later.
Years ago, back when he’d been a teenager still at home in Namibia, Lucy Anderson and her family had come to Africa for a year. Just one year, so that her father, Joey, could go up north to the rural part of the country and work with pastors, doing seminary training with them. Jude had spent Christmas of that year introducing Lucy to the holiday town of Swakopmund, his home town, before she’d traveled up north with her family, but he hadn’t seen her since. He’d come to the US just as she and her family had finished up their year in Oshakati, and he’d honestly not thought twice about her.
She’d been a cute kid, all wide eyed and amazed by Africa and all of the changes up ahead in her life. He could remember talking through some of the details with her, assuring her that it was going to be great, promising that he would remember her, that he would never forget her.
He hadn’t done such a great job of that, had he? Or maybe he had if he could recall it all now.
“Are you still there?” his mother barked in his ear.
“Ja, I’m still here,” he said.
“In Houston? Are you in Houston?”
“Ag, man, ja,” he muttered, running his hand down his face. “I’m in Houston for another week. And you’re saying that Lucy Anderson is here? In Houston?”
“That’s what Beth said,” his mother continued on. And then, Jude was picturing Beth Anderson, Lucy’s mother, on that day that they’d all run into one another at the orthodontist office in Swakopmund, where she’d entrusted him to get Lucy back home to the temporary missionary housing while she went on to the immigration office to deal with some business.
Entrusting him with Lucy. Lucy, who was, like his mother said, not that far away –
“Maybe you can give her a call and see her, then, huh?” his mother kept on. “You’re not that far away from each other. And your tour hasn’t started yet.”
All of her comments came rushing back to him. How did she know any of this? About the tour, about the destinations, about any of it?
“How do you even know that many details about my schedule?” he said, changing the subject. Not because he didn’t want to talk about Lucy anymore but because his mother was suddenly too much in his business, nosing around in places he didn’t want her nosing around in –
“I’ve been checking all of Bad Song’s social media sites, of course,” she said. Then, after a pointed silence, “I’ve already mentioned that I’m praying for you, Jude.”
Ugh. Probably more than she had been if she’d been checking out the band’s pages and accounts online.
Just as he was thinking through how he might block her from some of those accounts and keep her from seeing all the sordid details, she spoke up again.
“So, you’ll call her? Meet up with her?”
He wasn’t even sure what their schedule would look like in Houston or that he even wanted to meet up with a girl who was a stranger now, all these years later. Sure, she’d been a sweet kid, and he had some fond memories of the time he’d spent with her. But he was a different person now, and meeting up with Lucy Anderson suddenly felt too much like revisiting who he’d been, who he should be now –
“I’m really busy, you know,” he said, already attempting an excuse.
Not that it would work.
“Surely you’re not too busy to at least call her,” his mother kept on. “I mean, you’re too busy to keep in touch with your own family back home, sure –”
“But I’ve seen the band’s schedule on your website. It’s not like you picked up more than a couple of gigs in Houston. Probably couldn’t find more than just two, given the bleak reviews you got in Dallas last month.”
Ouch. And wow. He needed to block her out of those sites.
“Be that as it may,” Jude said, now sitting up and already making plans to get her off the phone so that he could get this woman out of his room and get on with the rest of his day and all that he needed to do for the tour ahead of them, putting her negativity and her prayers behind him. “I’m not sure I can meet up with Lucy Anderson.”
“Sure you can.”
“I’m busy,” he argued. “And really, I don’t have time to argue it with you –”
“But I told Beth that you’d be happy to look out for Lucy,” Kait argued right back.
“I really wish you wouldn’t have committed me to anything,” Jude sighed, barely keeping his irritation hidden. Maybe it was the guilt he had from the life he was living, but it felt like she was being pushy, that he owed her something, that –
“I’m not asking you to marry the girl, Jude,” his mother huffed. “Just visit her. Just once.”
“Her parents have been so good to us,” she said, and he could hear her voice change ever so slightly. More memories swept over him as he took in her new tone, memories of how his parents’ marriage had been in a difficult season back when the Andersons had gone to Africa that first time, how Lucy’s parents had stood beside his parents as they worked out their issues, as their marriage was saved, as they were reconciled, and as they stayed together.
The Andersons had been good to the Bothas. His parents were still married all these years later, better than they’d ever been, and he knew a large part of that was due to the Andersons’ friendship.
“Please,” Kait said to him. “Just go see her.”
He could hear the small pleading in his mother’s voice, something that wasn’t unusual or foreign either one. How often had he heard it when he’d first gotten to America, when he’d begun to make choices of a few tiny steps away from Christ, away from godly living? Just a few drinks after a show, because he needed to chat up the right people, and they networked over drinks… and a few other substances. Tiny steps that he rationalized because they were for his career. Those concessions made it easier to rationalize the hookups with random women that followed, because being seen with beautiful women helped his image, helped his career… helped him to enjoy himself at least for a few moments, even if he felt dirty and wrong every time. Cutthroat decisions he began to make once he had bandmates, selfish choices where he used them as a ladder to his own success, dismissing them and doing what he had to do, even though he knew it went against what he fundamentally believed about loving others as Christ had loved him.
Christ had loved him. Jude wondered some days when he took an honest look at who he was if Christ still loved him.
His parents had been far away, but they’d been there still, in prayer for him and in those futile attempts they made as they called, pleading for him to return to his faith. As the time had passed and those tiny steps away that he’d been taking turned to all out running from God, farther and farther away, there was disappointment and greater urgency in that pleading that his parents did, until he was to the point that he no longer felt like he could listen to either of them without drowning in guilt and conviction. Fewer and fewer phone calls, more and more distance from home, from who he’d been…
He wasn’t living the life that he’d been meant to live, the life God had called him to live, the way he should’ve been all along.
He could hear the simple pleading in his mother’s voice over just one visit to an old friend. After all that he’d been unable to do to keep peace in their family, this – just a visit – seemed like so very little to ask or do.
He couldn’t honestly refuse to do it, could he?
One visit. He could do that, at least.
“I’ll do my best,” he said, right before he hung up on his mother.
The text hadn’t been entirely unexpected.
Lucy Anderson had known to anticipate it after the phone call from her mother, Beth, earlier that week.
“So, is it the same?” Lucy had asked, taking a breath and marveling at the pause in the line, the way that even the greatest technology was still lacking in some respects. And given the distance and the destination of that phone call, it had been no wonder.
Ahh, Oshakati. She’d missed it more than once over the years as her mind frequently traveled back to that one year of her life that she’d been at home in Namibia, every day spent in the rural outreaches, living a great adventure.
“Very nearly the same,” Beth had answered, her voice warm and full. “Went by your old school yesterday to get all the details about my new job finalized.”
Her new job was her old job. The plan all those years ago when they’d first gone to Namibia had been for Beth to homeschool Lucy and her younger brother, Tate, for their year in Oshakati, but once word got around that an American elementary school teacher was coming to live there and wouldn’t be seeking employment (because Beth considered homeschooling her own children to be employment enough, quite frankly), the school officials came to her with a proposition. It wasn’t the small salary or the opportunities for ministry that called most to Beth when it came to the question of whether or not she would be a teacher at the small school in Oshakati, enrolling Lucy and Tate as students.
No, what convinced her to go for it was how quickly Tate jumped into games and fun with the other boys his age, the lone white child out there, completely oblivious to how different he was. They all loved soccer, so… well, maybe they weren’t that different after all.
It had ended up being the best thing for Lucy, too, who had quickly found friends at school, making for a better experience all around than she’d dreamt possible when Namibia had been a theoretical discussion back in the States and not their reality. She’d even picked up quite a lot of Afrikaans, though most of that had been lost in the seven years since.
“You’re going to do great,” Lucy had said to her mother. “Just like you did back then. I imagine you’ll have many of your students come by just to visit with you again, even though they should all be moved up to the higher grades.”
“And quite a few of them out to Windhoek and Swakopmund for school,” Beth had finished after a delay in the line. “Some of your classmates have gone on to university. And some to different countries.”
“And some to a combination of both, like me,” Lucy said, taking in her dorm room with pleasure. It felt like home after the year she’d spent here.
“It worries me that you’re there by yourself, without us nearby,” Beth said softly, and Lucy could hear the emotion in her voice. “And before you say it, I know you’re an adult. That you’ve been away at college, far away from us for a whole year already. I know.”
Lucy had smiled, knowing just exactly what was coming.
“But we were just a state away,” Beth said, as expected. “Not a whole world away.”
“I know,” Lucy had said patiently. “But this is the right thing for you and Dad to do. Haven’t we all been praying this past year that God would make it clear what He had for the two of you? And Tate?”
Lucy thought of her little brother, who wasn’t so little anymore. He’d told her the last time they’d been together that he wasn’t all that excited to be leaving his school for a year but that he’d likely get ahead academically while in Oshakati with the online college courses he was already registered to take. He’d miss all the fun of his junior year at a normal high school, but if she knew him, he’d have twice as much fun his senior year back in the States to make up for it.
“Tate talked us into letting him go down to Swakopmund,” Beth said. “The Connors and the Bothas are still down there, of course. And Evan and Riana are there as well. Evan’s a teacher at the German high school, and he said Tate could go there and live with them.”
“You’re really going to let Tate live with someone else?” she asked, imagining her parents letting Tate be so far away from them.
“I think it’s the best thing for him,” Beth said. “He can’t wait to live in a holiday town, he said. And who knows? Maybe he’ll come back to the States next year fluent in German. Won’t that be a great thing to put on college applications?”
“It will,” Lucy had agreed.
“And Kait and Piet are nearby, home in Swakopmund whenever they’re not up north together with his medical clinics,” Beth continued on. “And after all these years we’ve spent being in touch with them, they feel like family. So Tate can go to their home, too, when he needs someone. Or if he just needs to get away from Evan and Riana’s twins. I’m told they both have colic.”
“Ugh,” Lucy said, trying to imagine the horror of that. Then, she thought about her parents’ home in Oshakati and how different it would be. “So, it’s just going to be you and Dad, without any kids at home…”
“It’ll be different,” Beth said quietly. “But wasn’t this the end goal of having children in the first place? Doing our best while God gave them to us, then being wise enough to step back and let them go when it was time for them to live their lives for Him?”
“Maybe,” Lucy murmured, thinking that even if it was the end goal, it probably hadn’t been easy for either of her parents.
Just a chance to know God better, though. Working through the hard times.
“I think we did a decent job of it months ago when you left for college,” Beth said. “I only cried a little.”
Lucy rolled her eyes on the other end of the phone, thinking of the day they’d dropped her off at the university, their car and hers both loaded up with her stuff, Joey loudly introducing himself to everyone in her dorm while Beth dutifully put together her room, fighting back tears the whole time.
It had been a big deal. Lucy was thankful that God had allowed them to stay put in America and their church ministry that first year, where it had been easier to only be a state away from her and where she’d been able to come home for the holidays, at least.
It was easier now for them to go, now that Lucy had her own life at school.
Still hard but a mercy from God all the same.
“And speaking of letting go, don’t be upset with me,” Beth said, “but I did something.”
That always prefaced bad news, didn’t it? Don’t be upset with me… now here’s some news that’s going to upset you.
“What did you do?” Lucy had asked hesitantly.
“I wanted to make sure you had some people there stateside that you could contact in case you needed something,” she said. “If your car breaks down or you have a medical emergency or if you just need a homecooked meal.”
“I can make my own homecooked meals,” Lucy said, smiling, thinking about all the hours she’d spent in the kitchen over the years, side by side with her mother, learning everything Beth knew and becoming quite an accomplished cook herself as they’d had so much time together, growing closer…
She was going to miss her. Lucy blinked back tears and forgave her mother for whatever it was that she’d done, whoever it was she’d gotten in touch with to help Lucy out if she needed it.
“I know you can,” Beth said, her voice thick, her mind likely on the same memories. “But it’s good for you to have some people there, close by, who you can count on.”
No matter how independent Lucy was, she could appreciate this. “Okay, so what did you do, then? Did you adopt me out to a local family?”
“No,” Beth said, and Lucy could hear her smile. “I passed along your number to an old friend. Or rather, I gave it to Piet and Kait so they could.”
Piet and Kait. Who would they know in America?
“What old friend?” Lucy asked, truly curious now.
At just the mention of his name, Lucy had smiled, widely and sincerely, a laugh bubbling up as the memories came back to mind. She could see him, seventeen and grinning that crooked smile of his, introducing himself to her. Jude, walking backwards toward the beach, asking her what she thought of Africa. Jude, telling her to wrap her arms around him as he got on his motorcycle. Jude, with the pfeffernusse cookies, listening to her thoughts on God. Jude, wishing her a merry Christmas in a cabana on the beach as it rained and poured all around them, then telling her goodbye.
“He’s a rock star, right?” Lucy asked, remembering the very last conversation she’d had with Jude Botha.
“A rock star?” Beth asked. “Well, I’m not sure what he’s doing, only that Kait said he’d be in touch with you.”
“Jude Botha,” Lucy said again, imagining what he must be like now. He’d be, what? Twenty-four? She couldn’t imagine that. No, she could only picture him as he’d been on Christmas morning, dripping wet underneath the cabana on the beach, telling her that the jackal was marrying the wolf’s wife.
“Why are you laughing?” Beth asked.
Because she was happy. Happy with where she was in life, happy with this adventure her parents were on, and happy with the memories from those days in her life.
Happy at the memory of Jude and who he had been when she needed a friend.
“Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou,” she said thoughtfully.
It rained and shined all at the same time. Sometimes.
“Well, listen to that,” Beth said appreciatively. “You’ve still got some of your Afrikaans after all.”
And Lucy had sighed, looking out her window and out across campus, thinking of a very different time and place.
“God’s been good to us, hasn’t He?” she said softly, her words as true here as they were half a world away.
“Always,” Beth agreed.
And Lucy had smiled, thinking of how good it would be to see Jude again after all these years.
She thought it again when the text had come on her phone a few days later. It was a number she didn’t recognize, but the sender introduced himself immediately, much to her delight…
Lucy, this is Jude Botha. From Namibia.
Jude. Her heart had swelled at this.
My mother tells me that you’re in America by yourself.
By yourself. Lucy very nearly cringed at that, imagining how Beth must have described it to Kait, painting a desolate picture of Lucy all on her own, without friends or a life at college either one.
Thanks for that, Mom.
She’d texted back without overthinking her response.
Jude! How are you?!
It had only taken a few seconds for her to get his response.
Baie goed. I’m on tour with my band.
His band. He’d done it. He was a rock star, just like he’d said he would be all those years ago.
Your band? And a tour! How exciting!
She’d been grinning like an idiot as she typed it out, only thinking to reel in her excitement after the text was already out there, exclamations galore trumpeting her enthusiasm. Her enthusiasm at getting a text, in which he’d said that she (basically) had no life.
Keep it cool, Lucy, she chided herself as she waited to get his next text.
Ja. Bad Song. That’s my band. And our tour has us in Houston for the next week.
Houston. She felt her pulse pick up at this.
Houston? I’m in Houston.
Had he known this? Was this why he was texting her?
She kept herself from texting questions beyond what she’d already typed out without thinking, vowing to simply respond back as though he was one of her parents’ colleagues. Because he was, by association, of course. Polite and professional, not giddy and elated.
Keep it cool, Lucy.
But she still nearly fell over herself when he texted back.
So I’ve heard. Thought maybe we could meet up while I’m in town.
She’d felt herself smile even more broadly at the thought.
That sounds great.
She’d just ended her semester classes and wouldn’t leave until the next week for the camp where she was slated to work for the summer. Her schedule was wide open, in other words, and she was excited about getting Jude penciled in.
It was only after they’d made definite plans with short, to the point texts, that she began to wonder if they’d have anything to talk about, if it would be completely awkward, and if she’d been silly to answer his text in the first place.
And it wasn’t until she was sitting in the coffee shop near campus that she wondered if she’d even recognize Jude when she saw him, all these years later.
That fear had been completely unfounded, though, she noted as she’d looked up from the seat at the corner table that she’d claimed at the coffee shop, her eyes going to the entrance, where a bell had chimed as the door opened, where in walked…
She’d risen to her feet right away, her joy buoying her as she recognized her old friend, even as his eyes swept over the interior of the coffee shop, missing her by inches, until finally his eyes settled on her.
“Jude,” she said, smiling brightly at him as she stood there, rooted to her spot, just barely suppressing a sigh at all of the beautiful memories that came rising to the surface of her heart as she looked at his familiar face.
Her first day in Africa, when he’d looked over and seen the sketches she was doing, telling her that maybe it was her gift from God. That afternoon that she’d ridden on the back of his motorcycle down to the beach where they’d talked about her mother’s cancer, about the fears that Lucy still had even though it was in remission. The night that she’d watched him lead worship for the crowd that had gathered for the Christmas Eve service. And that very last morning, as she’d said goodbye to him on the beach in Swakopmund, so thankful for the time he’d spent with her and how he’d been her very first Namibian friend.
She might have thought of him a few more times over that year that she spent in Africa, even if she never saw him again. Maybe that – the distance between them – made her remembrances sweeter as he only became wiser, godlier, and cuter in her mind and her heart without any kind of reality to mar the vision of perfection that she’d made of him.
Cuter seemed not at all appropriate now, though. Jude was… well, he wasn’t cute anymore.
He was hot.
And confused. He seemed very confused as he looked at her and as he cleared the distance between them, standing before her with a befuddled look on his face.
“Lucy?” he asked.
That accent in his low, throaty voice, that same voice that she remembered, transporting her back to another time and place. Was this why her heart raced like it did, as she felt as though she was back in Namibia, underneath the African sun?
“Lucy Anderson?” he repeated when she remained silent, smiling at him like a total idiot.
She laughed a little, finally realizing that even though she would have recognized him anywhere in the world, he was having a little trouble reconciling her to his memories.
If he even really remembered her at all.
“Have I changed that much?” she asked, still smiling, fighting back the twinge of self-consciousness that had come up as he’d watched her. The cut-off shorts paired up with the vintage T-shirt she’d found at a thrift store, heralding some band from the seventies, was pretty much standard attire on the college campus, as were the flip flops she wore and the giant aviator sunglasses that rested on her head, holding back her long, free flowing locks of hair, but maybe she just looked sloppy off campus. She’d taken special care with her makeup that morning and wondered briefly if she maybe should have taken time picking out a better outfit –
That was silly. This was Jude. He didn’t care.
And it wasn’t like he was wearing a suit or something ridiculous like that. No, he was casual, too, in jeans that looked just perfectly well worn enough to be hip and not old, a beat-up old pair of Converse sneakers, and a shirt –
He was wearing a vintage T-shirt just like hers with the very same band on it. Granted, it looked very different on him. Whereas hers hugged her figure and made her look, admittedly, a little curvier than most of her clothes, his stretched across his broad shoulders and had the opposite effect. Not feminine in the least, just masculine.
All out man masculine.
And he was staring at her.
Had she changed that much? Really?
Jude blew out a long breath and shook his head, his expression very nearly comical as he took her in from head to toe.
“Ja,” he managed.
Ja. When had she last heard someone use any kind of Afrikaans?
“Ja, man,” she said, laughing out loud, switching right back to the way she’d spoken once, the way all Namibian teenagers spoke. “Hectic. You’ve changed as well.”
Only in the best ways, she was certain now as he finally managed a smile. Just that simple smile transformed his entire countenance, taking her back to Namibia and back to him, Jude Botha, the boy she’d known… the boy she’d had the biggest crush on.
Looking at him now, she congratulated her younger self on her exquisite taste in men, even then.
“Lucy,” Jude said, smiling even wider, stepping closer to her and not even hesitating as he reached out and pulled her into an embrace.
He’d hugged her once years ago when they’d said goodbye on the beach, and that had nearly been too much for her twelve-year-old heart to take.
This… well, this was different. Thrilling in nearly the same way, yet different, so different.
After returning his hug for a few moments, she pulled back, her hands still on his biceps (wow, his biceps) and his hands still at her waist, as she tilted her head and looked him over again. “It’s good to see you.”
“Likewise,” he said, leaning in, his eyes on her lips.
Before she could even make sense of what he was doing, he placed one kiss on her left cheek then another on her right.
Simple, lingering kisses. Innocent… but maybe…
“I’m sorry,” he said a moment later, taking in her expression.
What kind of face was she making? She felt like she was about to melt into a puddle on the floor, a hormonal mess of goo, heating up again and again with that look in his eyes –
He let go of her arms slowly and ran a hand through his hair. He was wearing it longer than he had in Namibia, and Lucy couldn’t decide which way she liked best. He looked so great either way.
She forced her mind back to the present, to what he’d just said.
“Sorry?” she asked.
“That,” he said, gesturing toward her cheeks, where she still felt the pleasant sensation of his lips, of his kiss. “I come into contact with a beautiful Namibian girl and suddenly, I transform into one of those creepy old Afrikaner men.”
She laughed out loud at this, treasuring for a moment that he’d called her a Namibian girl.
She felt that way in her heart. Always had, always would.
And beautiful. Wow.
“Well, you are an old Afrikaner man,” she said, remembering the social custom that the older men sometimes still held to, giving kisses to women like this as an innocent greeting. She’d been up north for most of the time, where all of her friends were Oshiwambo, but there were times that her parents had Afrikaans visitors. Lucy could still remember the surprise on her mother’s face the first time she’d gotten kissed as a greeting.
Of course, her mother was married. And that ancient codger that had kissed the pastor’s wife had not looked like Jude.
“Old?” Jude laughed at her description of him.
“Yes. Now the creepy part remains to be seen, but wow… what are you? Twenty-four?”
“Ja,” he said, grinning. “And you’re… not twelve anymore.”
She smiled. “No, I’m nineteen.”
At this, he’d shaken his head, his smile growing. “I came here thinking that you would still be…”
“In my awkward preteen years?” she said. “No, praise God. Those days are over.”
No, now she was just an awkward young adult. Feeling even more awkward as she stood before the boy who had stood in for every hero in every preteen fantasy she’d ever had –
She caught his gaze drifting over her again, right before his eyes snapped back to her face.
“I say that,” she said, just a little flustered, “and that was one of the best times of my life, you know, back when I was twelve and in Namibia, finding my place in the world.”
He was still watching her, that look in his eyes, in his smile…
“And speaking of finding your place in the world,” she said, talking over herself now, “I’m glad you were able to find this place.”
She gestured toward the table where there was a teapot and two teacups waiting on them already, where she wordlessly slid into a seat and invited him to do the same.
“Not too difficult,” he said, finally sitting with her. “I’ve left all of my bandmates stranded to come here, though, without realizing that Houston isn’t a very pedestrian friendly city.”
“Too big for that,” she said. “And now I feel guilty that I’ve unintentionally stranded them by meeting up with you.”
“Don’t,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes as he smirked. “It’s not like they were even awake when I left anyway.”
It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Lucy managed a smile, wondering at the oddity of grown men still asleep at this hour.
“Late nights with the tour,” Jude said, explaining it away as he noted her confusion. “We don’t have many early mornings.”
“The tour,” Lucy nodded. “And your band… Bad Song?”
“Ja,” Jude nodded. “That’s us.”
“How in the world did you come up with that name?” she asked.
“You know that song, Hey Jude, right?”
“There’s a line in there, about taking a bad song and making it better,” he continued.
She was confused again. “I think that… well, I think it’s actually take a sad song and make it better… right?”
“Ja,” Jude sighed. “I misheard it. And by the time someone corrected me, I already had a logo painted on the side of my van. And so, we were Bad Song.”
She couldn’t help but laugh at this, especially as he smiled at her again. “Well, it keeps you humble, I guess, huh? Having the confusion from your name follow you like that.”
“Humble, yes,” he agreed.
“Which you probably need since you’re a bona fide rock star, just like you said you’d be, huh?”
Amazing. Just like he’d said he would be.
“Did I say that?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” she nodded. “Said you were going to have stadiums full of people yelling your name. Jude, Jude, Jude! And now, it’s reality.”
“I don’t know about all of that,” he said, shrugging.
“You’re going on tour,” she insisted. “That’s a big deal, right? Sold out venues, fans, groupies?”
Who even knew what that looked like, what it was really like to be in a rock band? She could only assume that it was like she’d seen in movies. Late nights, plenty of excitement, fans all screaming his name, the emotion of the music…
And Jude, in a Christian band, giving all glory to God – it had to be even more incredible, right?
She glanced over at him, seeing it all so clearly in her mind, admiring him even more than she already had. This Jude was the reality of all those dreams he’d dreamt all those years ago, godly and focused, sharing Christ through his music and his life –
“Well,” he said, “ja, of course. Just like that.”
“That’s so exciting, really,” she said, meaning it entirely. “I knew you’d be a big deal one day, Jude. Way back in Namibia, I knew it. God had his hand on you, you know. I’ve prayed it so.”
He met her eyes at this, and she could nearly feel his appreciation, mixed with something else…
It was making her feel more than a little fluttery inside, honestly.
“And speaking of Namibia,” she said, forcing herself to keep from getting giggly and girly over the rock star sitting across from her, “I went ahead and ordered for us.”
She gestured grandly to the teapot in front of them.
“And what is this?” he said, his hand already out to sneak a peek.
“Oh, no,” she said, reaching out to beat him to it, unintentionally brushing her hand against his in the process.
Sparks. She felt sparks from the top of her head to the tips of her toes just from touching his hand. How completely ridiculous was that?
He met her eyes, though. And she could have sworn that he felt it, too.
“Umm, let me pour it for you first, before you get a look, huh?” she nervously managed, picking the teapot up.
“I shall close my eyes then and wait for your instructions.”
And he did with a smile, his eyelids lowered as she put her hand on his cup.
All the more reason for her to take a longer, deeper look at him as she poured out his portion, biting her lip and willing her heart to calm down.
Once both cups were full, she put the teapot down.
“Shall I open my eyes now?” he asked.
“Not yet,” she said, adding the sugar, her mind going back to all the times she’d done this in Namibia, seen her mother do this very thing for the guests to their home, Jude’s own parents among the long list. Lucy had watched how Jude’s dad, Piet, had taken his during their first visit, committing it to memory so that she could try it later for herself, figuring that all that he added made it just right, just like it was supposed to be taken.
Hopefully Jude took his the same way.
“Now now?” he asked.
She smiled at this. So Namibian.
“Yes, now now,” she said. “Reach out and take your cup. It’s right in front of you.”
He did, a smirk on his lips as he did so. “Is it going to burn me?”
“It should be perfect,” she said, tasting her own. Yes. Just perfect.
And with bated breath, she watched as he lifted the cup to his lips and took a slow sip.
It only took him a moment, just a taste, before he opened his eyes, an even deeper appreciation for her in their depths now.
“Rooibos,” he said, grinning widely now. “You’ve served me Rooibos.”
The red tea that she knew he’d recognize on sight and most definitely on taste.
“Ja, man,” she said, parroting his accent back to him.
“Ja,” he nodded, tasting it again with clear satisfaction in his eyes. “I grew up where this was standard everywhere, and now I can hardly find it. Can you believe that?”
“Tragic,” she said. “Houston’s an international city, though, so I was able to find this fairly easy. Some other favorites as well.”
“Pfeffernusse, right?” he said thoughtfully, and Lucy swore her heart swelled.
“You remember,” she said, disbelieving.
He’d introduced her to the German sweets, sharing one with her on the day she’d ridden behind him on his motorcycle. And for Christmas, she’d made him a whole batch of them, knowing they were his favorite.
“Of course,” he said. “Though yours were better than any I ever had, so I’m sure they’re better than whatever you’ve been able to find at a store here.”
They were. She made them every Christmas now, just for the memories.
“Well, thank you,” she said.
“No, thank you for finding this,” he said, lifting his cup to hers. “Cheers.”
She drank with him, amazed that she could find such joy in simply drinking tea.
“Lekker,” he said softly. “You added sugar to it, too, didn’t you?”
“Just the right amount?” she asked. “And not the white sugar, but the –”
“Brown sugar,” he laughed out loud. “You got it just exactly right. How did you know to do that?”
“I remember Namibia,” she sighed. “And miss it.”
“Do you?” he asked.
“So much so that I wondered if I shouldn’t have taken this year of school off and gone back with my parents and my brother.”
“Really?” he asked. “That much?”
She had. There had been many weeks of prayer regarding whether or not she should stay in the States or follow her family overseas. In her mind, she thought up several ways that she could be helpful to them, ministries she could get involved in or start herself. There would have been a place for her in Namibia, to be used by God. She was certain of this. But when she’d told her parents what she’d been thinking, they were quick to tell her that perhaps university and finishing up there was the higher calling for her life at the moment.
She’d always respected her parents and their godliness. So she’d put away thoughts of going back to Namibia and had readied herself to live here in the States away from them.
But she still thought about it.
“I did miss it that much,” she said, smiling at Jude. “But not you, huh? You seem to be doing well over here. You look well.”
Understatement. But Jude smiled anyway.
“It’s grown on me,” he said. “America. And all the colloquialisms as well. Grown on me.”
“That is an American colloquialism,” she said. “You bet.”
“Which is another,” Jude said, laughing softly. “It was quite the culture shock my first year here, realizing that none of you Americans actually speak English –”
She laughed with him on this.
“But I feel like I’ve adjusted,” he concluded, taking another sip of tea.
“Adjusted professionally as well,” she said. “Tell me about the tour your band is taking.”
And she listened with rapt attention as he gave her the details. They’d start off with some shows in Houston, and in a week’s time, they’d head west out to Los Angeles, where they’d spend the majority of the summer, a long list of gigs already on a schedule with hopefully more to be scheduled once they got there.
“That all sounds so exciting,” she sighed appreciatively as he finished up. “What an incredible summer you’re going to have.”
Everyone was having an incredible summer. Jude, on tour with his band. Her parents, up in Oshakati. Even Tate, going down to Swakopmund…
Perhaps Tate would be having the most exciting summer of all.
“What’s that look for?” Jude asked before Lucy even realized that she’d been making a face.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, forcing it away with a smile. “I was just thinking about my own summer plans. And they’re not nearly as exciting as yours.”
“And what are your plans?”
“I’m going to be a counselor at a summer camp,” she said. “An un airconditioned summer camp in the Texas heat.”
“Not so different from Oshakati,” Jude noted.
“Well, that’s true,” Lucy agreed. “I could always count on Oshakati to be hot, no matter what season we were in.”
“True enough,” he said. “You don’t want to work at the camp, though?”
“Oh, no, I do,” she said. “It’s something good for my resume one day, and I’m going to get some class credit for it, to go towards my teaching degree. And I’ll have somewhere to live, so that ranks up on the list of reasons to appreciate it, I guess.”
But she didn’t appreciate it as much as she should have, probably. The thought of her family in Namibia had a way of subduing everything, her own plans most definitely included.
“You don’t have any place to live otherwise?” Jude asked.
“The dorm closes for the summer,” she said. “I’m getting evicted in a week. Which, of course, is when I’m slated to leave for camp. So it worked out perfectly.”
He nodded at this thoughtfully. “Camp.”
“Yeah,” she said, wondering at how even more unappealing it sounded now. “Camp.”
“You don’t sound very excited about it,” he noted.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,” she said, shrugging. “It’s just when you compare that to the thrilling life you’re going to be leading, on the road touring with your rock star band –”
“Ja, I know,” he said, grinning wider.
“Then maybe you should come and be one of the roadies on our tour,” Jude said, smiling at her. “Just blow off that job at the camp and join me this summer.”
Join me this summer.
“Blow off,” Lucy said, focusing on this instead of the thrilling possibility that Jude had just jokingly suggested. “That’s an Americanism as well, isn’t it? One of those colloquialisms that you’ve picked up since moving here, huh?”
“No, I think that one’s always been part of my speech, thanks to my mother,” he said. Then, with a dramatic voice in a distinctly American accent, “Did you just blow off your finals at school, Jude?!”
She smiled at this, imagining his mother.
“Kait,” she said, laughing out loud. “I can hear her saying that!”
“God help you then,” Jude muttered, taking another drink.
“But your accent,” she said. “You sound like home, Jude.”
Home. She’d only spent one year in Namibia, but that one year had changed her life. And he’d been part of it in that brief window of time she’d known him, sharing Christ with her, leading her to a faith that had become real to her on African soil. She’d been in such an awkward phase, but Jude had never looked at her as though she was an annoyance or an irritation. He’d just been strong and kind, blessing her with his friendship.
Like a big brother.
Except not. So totally not…
“Well,” she said with a sigh. “I would totally be your roadie this summer, but I can’t leave all those campers hanging.”
Oh, but if she could…
“My loss,” he said softly. “Then you’ll be settled in soon for the summer, back at school in the fall. I don’t suppose then that there’s anything I can do for you, is there?”
She let her mind wander to a few scandalous possibilities as his gaze seemed to search the very depths of her being –
What in the world was she thinking?
“No,” she said. “And I’ve got to apologize for my mother, passing my number on to your parents and making it seem as though I needed someone to take care of me. I’m good. I have family here in the US.”
He raised an eyebrow at this. “Family that you know well?”
Well… no. She was a pastor’s daughter, going where God called which was oftentimes nowhere near family. She’d not grown up around any of them, and with her parents overseas, it was like she didn’t have any family here at all.
But that was life. And besides, Jude wasn’t in a much better situation, was he, being a whole ocean away from his family?
“Well,” she said, “I could ask the same of you, Jude. You don’t have anyone here either. No family.”
He shrugged. “My mother’s sister lives here in the States. My aunt, Maddie. And my uncle, Grant. My cousin, Sawyer…”
There was no affection in the names, likely because they were strangers to him.
“Do you even know them, though?” she asked.
He shrugged, grinning. “I’m good.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head at him. “Maybe that’s why my mother got your mother to get us in touch with one another, huh? Because you have no family here either and she only just realized it after moving away. These past six years, since we arrived back from Namibia, we could have stepped in and been your family.” She felt a twist in her heart at this, thinking of how they could have done better.
She could do better now, though. “Maybe that’s what my mother was getting at,” she said simply. “Maybe she wanted me to be there for you.”
“Think about it,” Lucy said. “I could take care of you, Jude.”
Only after the words were out of her mouth did Lucy think of some of the flirtier implications of what she’d said, a small blush rising to her cheeks.
But Jude didn’t say anything about it.
“Why would your mother do that for me?” he asked.
“Because she always liked you, Jude,” Lucy said, thankful that he wasn’t dwelling on her unfortunate choice of words. “She thought you were cute, back in the day.”
“Really now?” he asked, his interest piqued. “Did she?”
“Didn’t we all,” Lucy said softly, taking a sip of her tea afterwards to cover the blush that had come to her cheeks with the admission.
“And how is your mother?”
Lucy heard all that he didn’t say in the question, all of the conversations she’d had with him in Swakopmund years ago about her mother’s health, the cancer, the very real fears that Lucy had grappled with that year as they’d wondered if she would stay in remission.
They were still in the clear, all these years later. Lucy was more confident of God’s goodness than she’d ever been before in light of her mother’s continued good health and the happiness they’d all had as a family in the past several years.
“In remission, still,” Lucy said. “God is good.”
“I’m thankful,” Jude said. “For what God has done for your family. And hopeful for what’s ahead.”
And the conversation turned to Jude’s brother and his sisters, to Riana and her family in Swakopmund, to Annika who was working abroad in Germany, to Hansie who was at university in South Africa. To his parents, who continued on with their ministry in Swakopmund and who Jude heard from every now and then.
Lucy had wondered at this, at the distance there between Jude and his parents, as he’d shifted the conversation before she could ask for any particulars. Questions about Tate, which she’d answered with great joy, thinking of her seventeen-year-old brother, taller than her now and smarter as well, destined for great things, she was certain, in ministry one day, maybe just like their father, as a pastor, or as a missionary. Or as both.
He was young. She was young. They had all the time in the world to figure out where God was leading them.
The hour slipped away quickly, too quickly as Lucy’s phone chimed a text and alerted her to the time.
Didn’t get kidnapped, right? You’ve been gone forever. About to come search for you myself.
Her roommate, Marissa. She’d given her the details of this meeting before leaving, making sure someone knew where she was and when she expected to be back to the dorm.
“Anything wrong?” Jude asked, as she picked up her phone and frowned, her fingers already moving to send back a text, telling Marissa she’d be a little longer. Maybe a few more hours –
“Just my roommate, checking up on me.”
“Smart,” Jude said. “I’m glad you have a good friend to look out for you.”
“Well, we look out for each other,” she said simply, putting her phone back down. “And I’d worry about her, too, if she’d gone MIA for a couple of hours –”
“Couple of hours?” Jude asked, glancing at his watch.
Oh, she hadn’t wanted him to do that. Because now he’d have some reason to leave, to end what had been the best afternoon she’d spent in a long, long while –
“It flew by,” she said before she could ask him to stay a little longer, marveling over how they’d just picked up right here like no time had passed between them.
“It’s been good,” Jude said, grinning. “And I hate for it to end, but I’ll need to be heading back soon. Get ready for another performance tonight.”
Well, then. That was it.
“Thank you for meeting up with me,” she said, trying to put off the goodbye for a little longer. “Or maybe I should thank our mothers?”
“I should be the one thanking them,” he said, his eyes on hers.
“Well,” she somehow managed, uncertain of how to answer this, how to feel about this admission.
The longer that she sat there, with him watching her that way, the more she felt without her permission…
“Here,” she said, changing the subject as best she could while scooting around to his side of the table, holding her phone out away from their faces. “Speaking of our mothers, let’s take a picture for them, huh?”
She could feel the goosebumps rise up on her arms, her legs, everywhere, as Jude slipped his arm around her and tilted his head so that it was resting on hers.
“Giving them something to talk about as they micromanage our lives from afar, chatting over tea and scones in Swakopmund,” he said, smiling up at the screen as she settled in with him.
“Not so different from us doing the same half a world away, huh?” she asked. “Cheers, Mom.”
She snapped the picture, then held it closer to them both so that they could see this moment captured in time.
They looked happy, grinning for the camera, tucked in close to one another like they were.
Lucy swallowed as she let her eyes trail over him again, thankful for the conversation they’d had and the unexpected camaraderie she’d felt with her old friend.
“Text that to me, would you?” he asked with fondness in his voice, meeting her eyes and smiling.
“Of course,” she said, doing so immediately, her thumbs flying over the screen easily, then looking up as his phone beeped a moment later, prompting him to pick it up and study the picture again.
“I’m glad that Beth reacquainted us,” Jude said.
No kidding. So was Lucy.
Thanks for that, Mom.
“And maybe I’ll see you again at some point?” Jude asked hopefully.
“I wish,” Lucy said, honestly meaning it. “But I’m not going to head out to California like you are.”
“Camp,” he sighed. “It would be more fun to be a roadie.”
She laughed out loud. “That it would…”
“Maybe just come to our show tomorrow night? Or tonight?”
He wanted to see her again. That much was clear.
“Bad Song,” she said, thinking through the details.
“You can find our schedule online easily enough,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m not much for online or social media or…”
Not much for it. And by that she meant she was never online and hadn’t touched social media of any kind in years. Would she sound like an idiot if she said that out loud? Would she come across as a complete freak?
“Well, then you’re freer than most of us,” Jude said, smiling, his mind clearly not on any of those questions. “I can text you the details for the show tonight…”
She wanted to go. So desperately.
But what was the point? She’d be leaving for camp soon and seeing how cool the tour was and how amazing his music was would probably only make her more discontent about her own plans for the summer.
She should probably just say goodbye to Jude and be done.
She smiled apologetically. “I’ve got a lot of packing up so that I can move next week…”
Lame. That sounded so entirely lame.
“Moving, getting ready for the summer,” he said, not calling her out for a flimsy excuse. “I understand.”
She was thankful for this. Thankful and at the same time disappointed because they were going to say goodbye and never see one another again.
What a sad thought.
“But it’s been so good to see you,” she said. “Regardless of whether or not I see you again, Jude. It’s been like…”
Like home. Like a visit home.
“Ja,” he said, the same sentiment in his eyes as they met hers.
And he leaned over one last time and embraced her before they left, planting a kiss on her forehead as they parted ways.
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