I released a new book this past week! Woo-hoo! Those of you who have followed the different Huntington books will appreciate this one. Hannah is Scott’s daughter (this Scott), and her story involves missionaries and marching bands, which is like the greatest combination ever, right? Where You Are is available now on Amazon for just $3.99 or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!
Check out the first part of the story…
“Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved Jesus so much that she packed all of her bags, got on an airplane, and went halfway around the world.”
Hannah Huntington leaned back on her grandfather’s lap, tilting her head to the side so that she could see him more clearly, watching him intently as he smiled down at her.
“Is this a story about Grammy?”
Her grandmother, who was in Heaven now. Her grandmother, who should have been in the room next to the one where Hannah now sat, the room where the rest of the family was. Her father, her older brother, Nate, her younger brother, Beckett, and her little sister, Aubrey.
And her mother, of course, who was pregnant with another baby, a girl they were already calling Edie. That’s what they were doing in the next room, talking through the plans they had for the newest nursery in the Huntington house, just as they’d done many times over the years.
Hannah didn’t care to hear what the new room would look like. She was too busy listening to Gramps, to the story he was telling, certain that it was about her grandmother, about him as well, about the time that they spent half a world away on the mission field in Africa.
Daniel shook his head as he grinned at her.
“No,” he said. “Though your grandmother’s story… well, that’s a good story. A story you could probably tell me after the number of times you’ve had me tell it to you.”
Yes. Yes, she could.
Her grandmother’s story. That was a story about a girl named Sara, who got on a plane and traveled far, far away, emerging from the tight space after hours and hours of speeding across the world, and stepping foot for the first time in a country called Namibia. Sara was by herself, sent all that way by a mission board that had commissioned her to share the Gospel with a people who had yet to hear it.
A good story.
“This story is about a girl who had so many adventures,” Daniel kept on talking, his voice excited and enthusiastic as he went back to the new story, a story that sounded so much like Hannah’s grandmother’s story. “So many adventures as she began her life overseas. Every day was a new opportunity to learn something extraordinary, to do something incredible, and to know God in a way that she never had before. Before long, she was even speaking an entirely different language, thinking like the people around her, a stranger in a strange land, strangely at home…”
He’d grinned at Hannah even wider at this. “She was good with languages, you know. Like someone else in her family.” At this, he winked.
Hannah knew all about people who were good with languages. Gramps knew more languages than anyone Hannah knew. He spoke four – English, Afrikaans, German, and something called Oshiwambo, which no one in America had ever even heard of before. He’d been teaching it to Hannah, proclaiming that she was better with languages than even he was.
“And then what?” Hannah asked, eager to hear about Sara’s adventures in Namibia (because she was certain that this was what it was after all), how she’d made friends, how she’d seen new places, how Jesus had been so very good to her…
“And then there were some challenges,” Daniel said softly. “There were seasons where she learned to trust God more, in a way that she’d never known Him before. She learned to walk with Him when she didn’t understand where He was leading her, to live out her faith in a way that she never had before. And there were joys, triumphs, as she saw amazing things happen in the most ordinary of places, met people so different from her right there in her own backyard, and as she witnessed God move in so many lives in a way that she never would have dreamt He could…”
Hannah could imagine it, her mind going to her grandmother’s friends who had come to Christ because of her witness, the generations since who knew Him and served Him, the legacy of faith left for so many people…
“Jesus saved them,” she said, her hands in her grandfather’s as she closed her eyes and saw the places her grandmother would have seen, the faces of the people she loved. “He did something wonderful.”
Oh, how wonderful He was. Hannah knew it better and better every day, as she learned more and more Bible stories, as she listened to her parents pray, and as she talked with Jesus on her own, telling Him everything.
“He did do something wonderful,” Daniel said. “But, hey, I’m the one telling this story, not you.”
She smiled at this as she looked up at him in expectation, eager for him to continue.
“She was bold,” he said, his eyes shining. “She was brave. And she was, above everything else, committed to Jesus, to loving Him most of all, and to trusting Him with every step, which wasn’t always easy.”
Trusting Jesus was easy, though. Hannah had been trusting Him for a whole year now. Baptized by her grandfather, committed to walking in the faith, all of seven years old.
Jesus was everything now. And hardships could come and sadness with it. She would be okay because trusting Jesus was easy.
She would be brave and bold, just like the heroine of this story.
“And there were times when she questioned what God was doing,” her grandfather said. “Because God doesn’t always do things the way we think He will. Sometimes we think we need to be in one place, and God moves us to another…”
“But she learned, along the way, that it wasn’t about where you serve the Lord… it was about how you serve Him, no matter where you are.”
Well, then. This was her grandmother’s story then, surely. After a lifetime of service in Namibia, she’d been forced to come back to the US. And years later, when she could have been used by God to minister to her family here in the States, He took her to Heaven.
Hannah smiled at her grandfather even though that part made her sad. She gazed at him now, eager to hear him say that this story was about Sara.
“Who is this story about?” she asked, admiring the heroine she’d just heard all about, certain that she already knew her.
That’s why she was so surprised when her grandfather leaned in close to her as though he was telling her a great secret.
“This story,” Daniel said, lowering his voice as he smiled at her, “is about you, Hannah Huntington.”
Twenty-two Years Later
Hannah blinked up at the ceiling in the darkened room, unable to fall asleep.
She turned her head and unintentionally inhaled the scent of her brother’s pillow, wondering at how it could still reek of teenage Beckett, even though he hadn’t been living in this room for years and certainly wasn’t a teenager any longer. No one would be able to guess otherwise if they came in here, though, what with all the sports posters on the walls, sports trophies on the shelves, and pictures – all the pictures – of Beckett and his friends still haphazardly tacked onto the walls, just where he’d left them when he’d gone to college.
Their mother was keeping this room as a shrine to him, obviously. She’d changed Nate’s room without a second thought years ago, when she’d found out she was having a late in life baby. That move had been out of necessity more than anything, but the change had been swift. It was Nick’s room now, full of toys and destined to be a shrine of its own once he grew up, an homage to the last Huntington baby. Their mother hadn’t been able to be nostalgic about Nate’s room because of Nick’s impending arrival, and by the time she’d probably felt bad about that, Nate had gotten married and moved on for good.
And that? Marriage? Was like permission for their mother to totally redo their rooms, box up their memories, and send them off.
Marriage. The ultimate send off.
She’d changed Aubrey’s room a few years back when she and Tucker had married, making it into another guest room. And she’d packed up Edie’s room as well, telling her that her old room would become a playroom for the grandkids that were certainly going to come one day soon with so many children getting married.
“But I’m not even married yet,” Edie had protested the week before when Marie, their mother, had pulled down all the Elvis posters in Edie’s room, rolling them up and adding them to the stack of boxes outside in the hall, all of them labeled “Edie and Tate’s stuff.”
Hannah hadn’t been sure whether Edie’s surprise had been regarding the talk of grandchildren or the fact that their mother was moving her out so close to the wedding, not even allowing herself a couple of days of weepiness.
No weepiness on their mother’s part, though. Marie had been grinning too much for tears. “You and Tate are as good as married,” she’d said. “I’m excited about the extra room and about moving onto a new season of my life!”
So it had been with every room in the Huntington house. Even Hannah, who wasn’t married, had come back to the States just the week before to find that her room was a mess of renovation.
“I don’t have a room here anymore?” she’d asked her mother as they could hear Edie down the hall, hissing to Tate, her fiancé, that there wouldn’t be room at the parsonage they were moving into for all of her childhood junk. “I’m not getting married. Why are you kicking me out of my room?”
Marie had shrugged as she’d looked at Hannah with some guilt.
“We’re not kicking you out,” she’d said. “We just… moved on. We never thought you’d come back from China, honestly.”
Hannah had never thought she’d come back either, apart from a couple of weeks for Edie’s wedding. A couple of weeks that would now be… well, who knew how long she’d be here?
Here, in Beckett’s room, the one room that her mother was leaving as is, leaving it for him as the last unmarried Huntington young adult (apart from Hannah, of course), who they hoped might one day come home. Ironic, since Beckett was the only sibling who hadn’t come home for Edie’s wedding or any event since he left, always stuck with work obligations on the East Coast.
Hannah was thankful for that as it gave her a place to stay. She’d taken one look at Aubrey’s room, now a sterile, formal guest room, and chosen the familiarity of Beckett’s space, thinking that it might make home feel more like home and less like a strange, strange place…
But it was strange. Everything in the US was strange after so many years in China, living her destiny, being all but Chinese herself. She’d felt it earlier as she’d gathered with the rest of her siblings (minus Beckett, of course) in the bridal room of the church where they were going to pray over Edie. Hannah had started them out, talking with Jesus like the friend that He was, so comfortable with all the words she was whispering over her sister, not even realizing that she’d slipped into Mandarin as she did so, not knowing that anything was off until she’d said her amen and looked up to find all of her siblings staring at her.
“Well, that was weird,” Nate had murmured, glancing over at eight-year-old Nick, who had nodded in affirmation.
“Just a little,” Aubrey had agreed, watching her sister with wonder.
“You’re a weird freak, Hannah,” Beckett’s voice had echoed from the phone that Aubrey held, letting him be a part of this sibling moment with all of them.
A weird freak. Probably. She’d heard it before, back when she’d been a young adult and the devotion to Jesus she’d had as a child had gone from sweet to strange as it was such a contrast to the rest of her peers, hormonal, angsty teens that had more earthly concerns than Hannah ever seemed to. She’d heard that about herself a few times since those days. A weird freak, even at times with her siblings who believed as well, her passion for Jesus just a little too different, her heart just a little too bold, like she’d been there in that bridal room.
But Edie had blinked away the tears in her eyes as she’d taken in Hannah’s Mandarin prayers. “Just completely awesome,” she’d said. “Picking up a language like Chinese, so much a part of the mission field, just like that… just like Gramps.”
Just like Gramps. Good with the languages, more comfortable in a foreign culture than his own, trading in his English not for Mandarin but for Oshiwambo.
Gramps, who had been born to be a missionary.
Wow, how Hannah missed him. What she wouldn’t give to talk to him now about all that was going on, all that she’d left behind in China, what might now be forever lost to her…
She blinked back tears as she held Beckett’s pillow tighter, refusing to think like this, to let her mind go there…
“Jesus, please,” she whispered into the darkness. “Show me what’s next. What You have for me, because…”
And before she could finish the thought, she heard a thud across the room, right by the window.
Her attention turned that way immediately, her body freezing as her eyes adjusted to the darkness enough that she was able to see a shadow crouched just outside Beckett’s window, right over the awning that hung over their front porch. Beckett’s room was on the second floor like all the other siblings’ rooms, but his faced the front of the house, making it possible for someone to crawl in his window if they were adept enough at climbing onto the roof and shimmying their way over…
Hannah hadn’t even considered that this was a possibility – people sneaking into the house – not in all the years she’d lived here. And why would she? She’d never tried sneaking anyone into her room in the middle of the night. She followed the rules, did what was right, and –
Why was she even thinking this right now? Why was she sitting there in bed, watching as someone, their features cloaked in darkness, was now attempting to look into the room, staring right at her, and –
And now they were lifting the window!
She should be scared, right? Right?!
In all of her time living by herself in China, she’d never – not once – worried about her personal safety. God’s grace to her, no doubt, prayed into reality by those who were her prayer partners on this side of the world. But now, now on American soil, in her brother’s childhood room, she was genuinely terrified, so much so that she couldn’t manage to scream as she watched the intruder make his way in, her voice paralyzed.
Jesus, help me, she managed to pray silently.
And He answered, just as the intruder stepped into the room with a deep, masculine laugh, no doubt chuckling over some evil and nefarious scheme. Hannah was out of the bed and rushing towards the stranger on nothing but adrenaline, launching herself at him in a feat of alarming bravery, knocking him right off his feet as she did so, ending his laughter and hearing it replaced with a stunned sounding “oof!”
She’d just taken down an intruder on nothing but faith in Jesus alone. (And adrenaline. But still.)
“Who are you, and why are you in my room?!” she hissed confrontationally, adjusting herself so that she was now sitting on the intruder, pinning his arms down with her knees, her face close to his.
Who knew she was so tough? She sent up another thank You to Jesus for making her just so at exactly the right time.
The man (and he was clearly a man, judging by his size and the sound of his voice even as he groaned) didn’t say anything for a long moment.
Then, in a breathy voice that was filled with surprise, he managed this…
That voice. Familiar. But she couldn’t quite place it…
“Did I crawl into the wrong room?” he continued, a little laugh at the end of the question.
She stopped short at this, even more confused about who this could be. “Whose room were you trying to crawl into?”
Not that this question was the most important. Hannah shook her head at her own idiocy – questioning an intruder with such politeness as if she was a concierge at a hotel and he was a guest – and tried again. “And answer my first question! Who are you?”
“Owen,” the stranger said. “Owen Robinson.”
Owen Robinson. Not a stranger then.
And Hannah could see him in her memories, her brother’s best friend, always hanging out around the house. She could see him at school, where he was usually rushing to and from classes, always chatting up people as he went and waving to her as he did so. She could see him at church, when he came with Beckett, where he gave his life to Christ as a teenager. She could see him when he’d come over here to spend time with Beckett, always grabbing her up in a bear hug when he saw her because he knew she didn’t like being all up close with people and he was annoying sometimes, just like her own brothers, certain to do just what she disliked.
She knew Owen.
It was this that prompted her to get off of him finally and rush over to Beckett’s bedside table, where she fumbled with the lamp there, an apology on her lips as a soft light filled the room, as she turned to Owen –
And the words stayed on her lips, subdued into silence by the sight of Owen Robinson all these years later.
He’d been reasonably good looking as a teenager. Not that Hannah had spent a lot of time thinking about him like that, though. She didn’t think about any boys like that. She’d been too busy with school, with church, with dreaming of a future very different than one that included the American dream of settling down in her own culture, her own hometown…
She’d been too focused on China, on the world beyond her front door to even really notice what was here at home. Owen had been here in the Huntington home more than any of the other friends she and her siblings had brought around over the years, and she hadn’t really noticed him.
Well, maybe she had noticed him a little.
A little, enough to know that he was sweet and kind and handsome, way back when he’d been seventeen.
He stood in front of her, running his hand through his brown hair, with the bluest eyes smiling back at her as he straightened the t shirt and shorts he was wearing. Probably because she’d thrown him to the ground like she had, wrinkling him all up in the process.
But that smile… better than she remembered it.
Handsome. He was so handsome. And still kind and sweet as he shook his head apologetically, his smile understanding.
“Owen,” she said softly, unable to keep from shyly smiling back at him.
“I’m so sorry, Hannah,” he whispered, laughing a little. “I could have sworn I was crawling into Beckett’s room –”
“You did,” she said apologetically. “My room is being renovated, so I’m staying here, and I wasn’t expecting late night visitors –”
And with that, he was reaching out for her, pulling her close, still laughing as he squeezed her tight.
This. Oh, this. Another bear hug. Though not as annoying as it had been when she’d been a teenager –
What a strange thought. Maybe she was a weird freak just like Beckett had said.
“I’m sorry,” Owen repeated. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You must have thought I was some creeping pervert!”
“Yeah, well,” she murmured, remembering her initial fear now that the adrenaline was rushing out of her. She sighed, so relieved that it had been him, someone familiar, that she wrapped her arms back around him and put her head to his chest.
She knew Owen, of course. Not that she’d ever held him like this before, but…
“I used to sneak in here all the time,” he laughed quietly, his chest rumbling against her face as she smiled. “Back when Beckett lived here. And I just assumed that he was here for the weekend. Then when I got in here and you jumped on me, I thought maybe I’d forgotten which room was his. I was thinking I must have counted wrong. There are too many rooms in this house, you know?”
“Too many kids, big family, the story of my life,” she said, looking up at him and backing away just fractionally. “But this is Beckett’s room. My mom has become a renovation queen in my absence and has completely destroyed my room. So I’m stuck in my little brother’s room.”
Owen’s lips quirked at the corners. “Beckett, always the little brother,” he said. “But Beckett and I aren’t that much younger than you, Hannah.”
Not that much. Beckett, yes, but Owen was only a month or two younger than she was. But she had a summer birthday, he had a fall one, so they’d been in different grades all the years they’d known one another.
Which had made him younger in a whole lot of ways back when they’d been teenagers.
Not so much now probably.
“We’re all old now,” she said diplomatically. “Older and older every day. Practically ancient at this point.”
“You look great for ancient,” he said, grinning.
Owen. Had he always been this charming?
He smiled even wider at her. “Seriously, when I saw you in bed like that, I knew you weren’t Beckett, clearly,” he said. “And for a minute there, I thought God had answered all my prayers and dropped a goddess of a woman out of the sky and into Texas, just for me, which is why I got in here as quickly as I could –”
“Stop it,” she laughed, pushing him away softly.
“But it was you,” he kept on, sighing as he grinned, “and that’s just about the same thing. Maybe even better.” He shook his head, his hands finding hers. “Wow. Hannah Huntington. What are you even doing here?”
She felt strangely shy, standing like this with him, even as she released his hands and gave him a smile, wondering if she should offer him a place to sit down.
He took it, though, not waiting for an invitation and likely not even thinking it strange as he sat down on Beckett’s bed, probably like he’d done a thousand times, back when he’d had a game controller in his hand as the two boys had played round after round of the same idiotic video games.
She sat down next to him, turning to face him as she put Beckett’s pillow in her lap.
“Edie got married last night,” she said. “Or just a few hours ago is more accurate, I guess.”
“Close enough to morning that it’s good to call it last night,” he said, glancing down at his watch. “And I knew that. That Edie was getting married. Heard about it from my mom.”
“Your mom was there,” Hannah nodded. “I didn’t get a chance to talk with her, but I saw her.”
Didn’t get to talk to much of anyone but family, as she’d been waylaid by so many of her relatives, all of them eager to see her and talk to her since this was the first time she’d been back from China in… well, forever.
“My sister was there, too, I think,” Owen said. “My family is still around here, unlike the Huntingtons, dispersing to the four corners of the world like you all have. You especially. I mean, you’re in China. Doesn’t get much farther than that.”
She felt her heart break a little at this, just like it had been breaking again and again as she’d thought about the last few weeks.
“I was in China,” she said softly. “But I’m back here now. They didn’t renew my visa.”
They didn’t renew her visa. But what was more troubling than this was that God had allowed this to happen, that God, who could do anything, had seen fit to not intervene and keep her in China.
She had more questions than answers regarding why He would do this.
“Really?” Owen said, unaware of her struggle but looking sensitive to the emotion that must have been making itself apparent in her expression. “Is it hard to get a visa to China?”
“It hasn’t been in the past,” she murmured, thinking about how every door had always been wide open for her when it came to her home in Asia. “But this last time, when I went to apply…” She shrugged, still unable to understand the why behind the rejection.
What are You doing, God? That’s what she’d asked herself as she’d tried other ways to stay, as she’d considered other options, as she’d researched whether or not she could just go to Hong Kong as a tourist for a few months, hopefully figuring out a way to get back to the mainland legally in the meantime.
Maybe that would have hurt her chances, though, would have been a red flag to the government, a blot on her record that would have brought her under greater suspicion and scrutiny. She wasn’t certain, and she hadn’t been able to test it out either way. Edie was getting married, and while she’d missed Aubrey’s wedding, Nate’s wedding, and even her grandfather’s funeral while overseas, she’d felt that all of it – Edie’s whirlwind engagement and the loss of that visa – had come at the same time for a reason.
She’d left China, immigrating out with a strange sense of finality that even now she wasn’t conceding to.
She’d be back. She’d have to go back. What else would she do with her life? Her life was China.
“Anyway,” she said, looking up to find Owen watching her sympathetically, “enough about me. You said your mother and sister were at the wedding. You should have come as well.”
“I hated to miss it,” he said regretfully. “My band had a performance on the other side of the city.”
“Band?” she asked, wrapping her arms around her knees and studying him. “You’re in a band?”
“No, that would actually be cool,” he said, leaning back against Beckett’s headboard. “I’m not in a band. I’m a band director.”
And suddenly, her high school memories came into even better focus. Beckett and Owen had been teammates in every sport their high school offered, but Owen had done more than that. And what was more, he’d excelled at something very different.
Band. As fun as he’d been to watch on the field and the court when it came to sports, it had been nothing compared to his skills when it came to music. He’d been a drummer, and now…
“Owen Robinson, band director extraordinaire,” she said, smiling at him. “I can totally see that.”
“Lame, I know,” he sighed, grinning as well.
“Not lame at all,” she said. “I think I might remember Beckett saying something about how you were majoring in music.”
Becket had actually mentioned that Owen was going to major in music at a college close to home, not too far away from this very place, but Hannah had gone to college far away on the east coast, on a fast track degree program to get her onto the mission field.
It had seriously been years since she’d seen Owen or even really thought about him.
“Where are you serving as a band director?” she asked, wondering where he was living now.
He gave her a sheepish grin, nodding out the window and shrugging, a series of gestures that said it all.
Hannah found herself smiling at the very thought of him here, in their town…
“You’re at our high school?!” she asked, lowering her voice as she glanced toward the door. Her parents were downstairs, but if she kept on, Nick would wake up, then he’d go and wake them up. “You’re the band director at our high school?”
“The high school and the junior high,” Owen nodded, grinning even wider. “Finished college just as Mr. Jacobs was retiring. Even did my student teaching alongside him. So when I started looking for work…”
“You stepped right into his job,” she said. “Brilliant actually.”
“Not sure about that,” he said. “But he was excited to hand the job onto a former student. And this is a good place, this town. I live just down the street now, not on the other side of town like I did back in high school.”
“Do you really?”
“Yeah,” he said. “And living practically next door to this place would have been more convenient back when I was a teenager. Wouldn’t have had to go so far to sneak into Beckett’s room like this.”
“And he’s not even here,” Hannah said. “Which you probably guessed already, since I’m in his room.”
“He missed the wedding, huh?” he asked with a sigh. “I’ve lost touch with him, actually. Tried to keep up with him after college, but he’s been crazy busy. The man is a workaholic.”
He was that. Apart from a trip that Beckett had made to China for business several years ago, she’d not seen him in what felt like forever.
“I guess you thought he’d be back for the wedding, huh?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Owen nodded. “And I would have come to visit him at a better hour. But you know, I had to climb into his window in the middle of the night for old time’s sake.”
“Of course,” she said, smiling at this.
He sat back and looked at her again. “Hannah… wow.”
She wasn’t sure what that wow meant… or why she was thinking the same thing as she watched him.
“So, are you going to be in town for a while or…” He looked up at her, the question there in his expression.
It was a good question. She was here for a while, looking for opportunities to serve the international community here in Houston while waiting for her visa mess to be sorted out. The mission board was being really great about it all, telling her that this could be her furlough, which she’d been close to anyway when her visa hadn’t been renewed. She was welcome to stick around and take some time off, they’d told her. Reconnect with her family and take it easy.
Not that she would. Take it easy, that is. She was already itching for opportunities to do something, to work with Chinese here in the city, biding her time until she could get back to China.
“I’m here for a while,” she said simply.
“Well, then,” he said, looking at his watch, “I’m sure you need to get some rest, and now that I know this won’t be an isolated incident, I’m okay with saying goodbye and see you later.”
This wouldn’t be an isolated incident?
“Are you planning on seeing me again?” she asked as he stood up and gave her another hug, her breath catching at his closeness, at the warmth it brought to her heart.
“I hope so,” he said, releasing her and making his way to the window.
And why was she asking why when for some inexplicable reason, she found that she wanted to see him again, too?
He was leaving now, though, and so she said what she was thinking, knowing that he was planning on seeing her again, irrationally wondering if that meant that he was going to be coming through the window again some other night…
“Yeah?” he asked, one leg out the window already.
“Next time, use the front door, huh?”
And he grinned at this. “So you want to see me again, too, then?”
She hadn’t meant that. Maybe she’d thought it, but she certainly hadn’t said it out loud. She gave him a look, certain that he was teasing her.
“Breakfast in the morning, then,” he said, seeing that look and grinning, a glint in his eyes. “I’ll pick you up.”
And like that, she had a date with Owen Robinson.
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