Friday Sneak Peek – Close Enough

This week’s sneak peek is my newest book, Close Enough! This book has been in the works for a long time, and I can’t believe it’s finally done and out there. I went to Dubai in January of 2018 and spent ten days exploring the city. At the end of that time, one of our American friends there told me that I should write a book set in Dubai. I wasn’t sure that I actually could because I didn’t feel like I knew enough about the UAE or the culture to pull it off. Then I got to thinking… since when has ignorance on a subject ever stopped me from writing about it as though I’m an expert? (Ha!) Even with that thought, I still put it off, knowing I’d need to do some research before I jumped in. And this summer and fall, I was able to get a lot of reading in on Arab culture and Dubai itself, spending most of my time in books by an Emirati author and a Western author who’s an expert on Arab culture. Then, I read a couple of books written by Muslims who came to Christ, primarily focusing my attention on what the two faiths share and where their theology differs when it comes to Jesus. At one point, Wes told me that most Muslims and Christians wouldn’t be thinking as academically as I was about it all and that I needed to stop the research and just write the book already.

So, I did. My apologies for anything I didn’t get quite right when it comes to the culture of Dubai or Arabs in general. I can promise you that I got Beckett — my clueless, freaked out American character — just right, so there’s that. Ha!

Close Enough is just $3.99 on Amazon or, as always, FREE with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. Check out the first part…

21232339 - close up portrait of romantic kiss on beach.

 

~Beckett~

The flight to Dubai was scheduled to take fourteen hours and fifty minutes from beginning to end, and Beckett Huntington was willing to swear under oath that the first ten hours had been all turbulence.

What was in store for the last five?

He closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and tried, yet again, to relax. Tried to imagine that this was just a normal flight across the States, like any of the hundreds of flights he’d been on during the past decade, doing the bidding of Global Resource Enterprises, selling strategies and parts and making promises to rich oil executives with a smile on his face.

Promises. All the promises he’d made…

He could make those promises. He’d been fresh out of school with an engineering degree when he’d gone to work for the company, intending to be part of their research group, another one of their collection of employees who studied methods and equipment and strategized more effective ways of drilling and mining oil. He’d gone on site to the different places they were actively drilling, always thankful after talking with the engineers on the ground that he’d shot for the stars and gone for a position at the corporate office. He could’ve been one of them, being sent all over the world to dirty jobs in dangerous places.

No, that wasn’t for him.

Neither was a job solely in research, as it turned out. As he’d worked at his research position with diligence and more enthusiasm than most, he’d caught the eye of some of the higher ups. There had been something about Beckett personally that his company found immensely valuable, much to his surprise. His knowledge of the engineering side of the corporation and what he saw on the ground was something that they knew they could use in their sales department, and so they trained Beckett to assist them in that direction, even sending him back to school for a few business classes, on how to negotiate big contracts with important people, which he did after explaining to clients, using his knowledge as an engineer and his expertise in the field, why they needed to buy every last one of the company’s products.

It was a cushy position that came with a big pay raise and the added security of staying right where he was in New York City.

Staying right where he was until… well, until they decided to send him overseas.

Just as he had the thought, the plane hit another patch of turbulence.

He’d never been airsick before, but he was feeling it with an overwhelming magnitude now. Was that because of the turbulence or the knowledge of where they were heading?
He wasn’t sure as he glanced out the window, frowning at all of the clouds obstructing his view of the ground.

Where were they now? He would look at the map on the screen on the seat in front of him, but that was one sure way to make his anxiety even worse. It was better to not know, just wonder. Were they flying over water? Over Europe? When would they officially be over the Middle East?

The Middle East. This was really happening.

Beckett felt his stomach pinch in anxiety even as he had the thought. It’s not like he’d never gone overseas before. Several years ago he’d visited his sister in China for a couple of weeks, on what was supposed to be an isolated overseas trip for business. Hannah had been a missionary there in Beijing, and she was so acclimated to Asia that he’d felt like he had a personalized tour guide to take him to the sites there. It hadn’t felt all that foreign thanks to her, honestly, but he’d been glad to get back to the airport at the end of that holiday, ready to head home to familiarity. But still, he counted that trip as experience in going to another country, so it’s not like this would be that different…

Except it would, because he wasn’t just visiting this time, and this country wasn’t China.

Beckett thought back to one of his last meetings in New York, where he’d been getting all of his details sorted out with the HR office and accounting.

“Best to set up an offshore account,” the woman in charge of payroll had told him when he’d met with her. “Or to maintain your accounts here, though those will be subjected to taxes as if you’d made the money here in the US. So I would recommend doing something offshore.”

“Why not just set up an account there in…” He’d struggled to say the word. “Dubai.” He’d finally forced it out.

Dubai. He was going to Dubai –

“You can,” she’d answered, shrugging. “But we don’t recommend it. In the event of your death –”

“My death?!” he’d asked, his thoughts of Dubai and where he was heading even scarier at the very mention of his possible death. Was he going to die in Dubai?!

She leveled an even look at him, unconcerned by his outburst. “In the unlikely event of your death, any accounts you have in the UAE will be frozen. Your wife wouldn’t be able to access even a joint account in that situation, so we recommend keeping your money in a different account.”

“Wife?” he asked, not sure what to make of any of this, his mind hardly able to wonder on the improbability of a wife not being able to access the joint accounts she shared with a husband, his thoughts still fixed on his impending death and doom. “That doesn’t apply to me.”

“Oh,” the woman said after a moment. “My apologies, Mr. Huntington. I think your husband actually would be able to access your joint accounts given that he’s a man, but I’ll have to check on the legality of the two of you setting one up in the first place, as I’m not sure the UAE would recognize your marriage as legal. Might make for a hold up, you know.”

Husband?

“And as far as your marriage goes,” the woman had prattled on, “I would advise you to visit HR to discuss this further and have them talk with you about recommendations and concerns for LGBT workers in the Middle East. Dubai, while very modern, is still a Muslim country, and –”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Beckett had said, stopping her there. “I don’t have a husband or a wife either one.”

“Oh,” she said, smiling tightly. “Then, you’re good to handle your finances however you see fit. Offshore account or Dubai account either one should suffice.”

But Beckett had been hung up on something. “You said my husband – well, if I had a husband – would be able to access a joint account if something happened to me.”

“That’s correct,” she’d said, already moving onto the next part of his paperwork. “I mean, I’m assuming. Because you’re men.”

“But a wife wouldn’t?”

She looked up at him. “That’s correct,” she said. When he looked at her with confusion, she went on. “Sharia law still applies in the UAE.”

“Sharia law?” he’d asked weakly, a whole litany of images appearing in his mind with these two words, all of them negative.

“Yes, Sharia law,” she kept on. “A woman’s rights are different than a man’s. Your joint account with your wife, if you had one, wouldn’t be easily accessed by her in the event of your death. The primary accessibility would go to your next of kin. Your male next of kin, that is.”

He’d frowned at this. “That’s weird.”

“Not weird,” she’d corrected. “Just different.”

Different. That was the word of the day, Beckett thought. Not like women’s rights had any bearing on him, but what he’d learned regarding their place in the country he was going to had him even more anxious about what was ahead. How foreign would Dubai feel? More than he’d even been counting on in his craziest musings, if this was any indication of anything.

Dubai was foreign… and it was only five hours away now.

He couldn’t keep dwelling on this. No, he had to think about something – anything – that might be positive in all of this. He had a job. He had a good job. He’d be making more here in Dubai than he’d made in New York, given the pay increase the company had given to him. The cost of living wouldn’t be as astronomical as it had been in New York, and his apartment here was being handled by the company, making for even more money saved.

Money. That was the only positive in all of this. If he’d been sent to another site in the US where he had some contacts, he might have considered the job – the way that he was being tasked with being the first representative from corporate to work remotely at this location – as a bonus as well. But as it was, that was more of a negative since he was coming into a place where he knew no one. A place where he wasn’t even sure any other American lived.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true.

He did know another American in Dubai. “Know” was generous, though. “Know of” was probably more accurate, as he’d never met the woman his sister, Hannah, had told him about.

His mind went back to that conversation with Hannah from a month ago.

“You do know that we know someone in Dubai, right?” she’d asked as they’d had lunch together at a Chinese restaurant in Houston.

He’d watched as she guided the noodles to her mouth effortlessly with her chopsticks and he’d struggled with his own, finally just throwing the blasted sticks down on the table and looking around for the waiter, ready to call it quits and ask for a fork.

“I don’t know anyone in Dubai,” he’d said sullenly.

“Avery’s husband,” Hannah had said. “His sister lives in Dubai.”

“Avery who?” he’d asked, making a face.

“Our cousin, Avery,” she’d said. “Uncle Seth’s daughter.”

Uncle Seth. The man had so many kids and grandkids that Beckett was certain he didn’t know them all.

He’d frowned at Hannah. “Uncle Seth has, like, eight hundred children –”

“Avery, you moron,” Hannah had sniped at him. She was light and sunshine to a whole lot of people, but Beckett had never been one of them. It was a younger brother’s privilege to annoy her the way that he did, so he’d smiled even as she’d closed her eyes and likely prayed for patience with him. “Avery Huntington. We met up with her a few times over the years at different family reunions. She was the one who always had these raggedy mutt dogs that she was fostering. Don’t you remember?”

He’d shrugged, not remembering any of this.

“Well, anyway, she’s Avery Collins now. And her sister-in-law lives in Dubai. Avery connected me to her years ago, right before Holly left. Wanted me to talk to her about living overseas… doing the kind of work I do.”

The kind of work I do.

Missionaries. Oh, no…

“Oh, then, her sister-in-law is one of those, huh?” he’d said, giving up on getting a fork and just stabbing the pieces of meat on his plate with one single chopstick, raising it up to his mouth and taking a bite that was much too big to be polite.

“One of those what?” Hannah had asked, frowning at him again. “And her name is Holly. Holly Collins.”

“And Holly Collins is like you,” Beckett had said around a mouthful of food. “Living for Jesus. Crusading for the Lord. In Dubai.”

“I’m not sure about the crusading part,” she’d said, eyeing him with concern. “But essentially, sure.”

He’d grumbled a little at this.

“What did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything,” he’d said, sighing. “But I’ll say it now. It doesn’t matter that I know someone in Dubai, because she’ll be just as foreign to me as everyone else if she’s made her whole life Jesus and God’s calling and…”

He’d gestured at Hannah with his hand.

Missionaries. People who actually believed that they were the only ones who had the absolute truth about God, about mysteries that no one could prove. It was admirable when missionaries went overseas to help alleviate poverty, sure, but going abroad with the assumption that they were bringing “good news” to people – news that was probably nothing but pure fantasy – was detestable. Detestable and presumptuous, reeking of elitism and white privilege, honestly. Beckett’s own grandfather had been a missionary to Africa, and Beckett could hardly stomach that, knowing what it was like centuries earlier than his grandfather had gotten there, when colonialism started with missionaries who came in thinking that they were better than everyone else. Not that his grandfather had done this, but that had been the legacy left in Africa as Beckett figured it. Missionaries who thought themselves better or more enlightened than anyone else.

Not that Hannah was like this. Holly Collins probably wasn’t either. They both probably went with the best of intentions.

But still. Beckett didn’t want to get mixed up with those kinds of people, especially if they were pedaling fantasies to others and calling it some sort of divine appointment or assignment from the Lord.

The Lord. As if. Even the idea had Beckett shaking his head.

“You know, Beckett,” Hannah had said carefully as she watched him, “at one time, you were also living for Jesus. Or at least I thought you were.”

She’d met his eyes across the table.

“I don’t know that I believe it anymore,” he’d said with a shrug.

“And by it, you mean?”

“Any of it,” he’d said, finally putting down his chopsticks. “Everything we were taught growing up. All that you believe. Because living where I’ve been living… it’s just weird, Hannah. None of that translates to where I’m at.”

There was no blind faith in New York, not like he’d found growing up in the Bible belt. His last years of high school had marked a distance between him and God, a chasm that had only grown as he’d prepared to go to college and leave behind his childhood. When he’d gotten to New York and saw how so many people lived just fine without God at all, he’d considered why he’d ever been told that he needed God in the first place. Everything he’d learned in school had assured him even more of the necessity of self above God, heralding his own praises as he’d become more enlightened and seen his previous involvement with faith for what it was – nothing.

Not that the faith had ever really been his, though. The disconnect he’d always felt with Jesus made it that much easier to let Him go.

But he wouldn’t tell Hannah that he’d never really believed, never bought into it like she had, like the rest of their family had.

He’d softened the blow, still wanting her to know where he was at now.

“My faith just feels… well, dead,” he’d said to her at the restaurant, shrugging again. “And I don’t know. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe I’ve gotten to a place that’s just a little more enlightened than everyone else.”

He believed it. He honestly did. And when the time had come to leave for Dubai, he’d told Hannah that he didn’t need Holly Collins’s information because there was no way that even in the most remote place he’d ever been to that he’d be reaching out to one of those kinds of people.

But as he considered what he was heading towards and how it might actually be nice to know someone else – religious fanatic or not – he began to rethink things.

Holly Collins. Maybe he could look her up somehow. Or not. If she was like Hannah, serving as a missionary in some place where that kind of thing wasn’t allowed, she probably didn’t have any social media at all and had likely done a great job of concealing herself entirely online. And there was no way he was going to go back now after he’d been so adamant earlier and ask Hannah to get him her number.

Besides. He was only going to be here for six months. Six, long, torturous months that would feel even longer without knowing anyone…

Not like it mattered, he thought, as they hit more turbulence and he pulled his seat belt tighter around him. He was going to get in there, do his job, and go home.

And that was it.

~Holly~

“And that’s it until next time.”

She released a breath after giving her final words for the day, watching with contentment as her students began putting away all the fancy electronics they’d been using to take notes as their discussion on A Tale of Two Cities had transitioned to a lecture.

Books. It was easy to get lost in them as a reader, and Holly had discovered years ago, when she’d begun her teaching career, that it was even easier to get lost in them as you shared the riches and treasures from good literature with others.

Contentment. She felt contentment here. Or something that was close enough.

She pulled the sleeves of her cardigan down farther at the thought, feeling the rub and pull against the hidden scars on her arms that reminded her as they always did to be content with where she was. Not just geographically but in her life, with where she was emotionally, spiritually. It had been a struggle not so long ago to be content with who she was, and Holly had to remind herself again and again to remember how far she’d come in Christ.

Geographically was another story altogether.

How had a girl from a small town in West Texas that no one had ever heard of end up here, halfway across the world, in one of the largest and fastest growing cities on the Arabian peninsula?

Arabian peninsula, she thought to herself, smiling even as she did so. That was all God that she was here, that she’d found her place here, and that she was planning on being here forever.

She loved Dubai. She loved everything about it, from the food, the culture, the friendships she’d made, her expat church, and her work at the American school where she was, ironically enough, the only American on staff. The school had been founded decades ago as Dubai had begun to experience unprecedented growth, as the population began to creep up as rapidly as the skyscrapers that turned what had been a desert into a cosmopolitan city that rivaled anything that the Western world had to offer. The American school had found a place in Dubai’s history, providing education to children of parents from all the Gulf countries, parents who had come to the UAE for work and had brought their families with them. The school marketed itself as an English language school, first and foremost, with a curriculum for grades one through twelve that was comparable to the education that students in the States would receive.

But this school was better than any school in the States. Holly wasn’t sure what made it so. Was it the rich blend of cultures that made up the teaching staff? The international tapestry of the student body, woven together from so many different cultures and countries? Or was it the work ethic of her Arab students, who were ever diligent in their studies, able to discuss literature with her and write thoughtful research papers as if they were already university-level students?

Holly wasn’t sure, but it was a balm to her soul to come here every day and to teach a familiar subject, her mind only occasionally going back to a dark classroom in Texas, her junior year of high school, her teacher’s words just a whisper now, about how special she was…

She would close her eyes at the thought, reminding herself that God could redeem every hurt, every wrong done to her, and every wrong that she’d been complicit in. Dubai, her career here, was proof of that, that Jesus was a Redeemer in the truest sense, redeeming even the worst parts of every story.

She rubbed her hands along her arms again as the room emptied of students, her mind pushing the past away and considering what was up ahead for the evening.

Holly made her way to her desk, gathering up the papers she’d need to grade tonight and fitting them all into her messenger bag, a gift that her brother had given her seven years earlier when she’d first moved to Dubai.

Travis. It was his birthday today. She’d been thinking about it all day long and checked her watch now, mentally calculating the time difference as she pulled her phone out, deeming it a great time to give him a call.

He answered on the first ring, recognizing her number, of course.

“Happy birthday,” she said before he could get a word in. It would have to be a quick call, because she had to get down to the Metro station and be on her way out to the older part of the city for her Bible study with a couple of ladies from her church. Life was busy in Dubai.

And it was busy back home, judging by the sounds on the other end of the line. Lots of hammering, drilling, the sound of a generator?

She smiled at this, cherishing the sounds of her childhood. She’d been so young when her parents had been killed in the car accident and had very few memories of them. But she remembered the sounds of their business, the company they’d struggled to build and sustain. When Travis, her much older brother, had stepped in after their deaths, taking custody of all three of his younger sisters, he’d also taken up the business as his own. He’d made a great success of it, something that he credited entirely to the provision of God, who knew that the Collins family needed a break in the worst way possible.

“Hold up!” she heard Travis yell. Then a few moments later, she could hear a door slam, shutting out the sounds from earlier. “Holly? You okay?”

It was his birthday, and she was calling him to simply send him good wishes. But he was being him, more like a parent than a brother, checking to make sure that she wasn’t calling in trouble, in need, or even homesick.

She’d not been homesick here. Not once.

“I’m fine, Travis,” she said, pulling her bag onto her shoulder, adjusting her cardigan again, making sure that she was well covered as she exited her classroom. “I was calling to wish you a happy birthday.”

“Oh, is that today?” he asked.

She rolled her eyes just a little at this, still unable to keep from smiling as she made her way out of the school and out onto the streets of the city, her feet pointed towards the nearest Metro station.

“Please,” she said. “I know you couldn’t have forgotten. Leslie said she’s hosting some big to do for you.”

“Oh, that,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s a big to do. Just Avery, Leslie and Blake, Jordan and Brooke. And Molly and Ben, of course.”

Her sisters, their husbands, and her niece and nephew, neither of whom she’d ever met in person. She’d come to Dubai right before Brooke had Molly, and she hadn’t been back to Texas since then.

“The whole family,” she said to Travis now, crossing the street with the light, moving with a crowd of people. Women in abayas and hijabs, men in kandurahs, her people now in nearly every way after all this time. Even as she spoke with Travis, she was praying for each and every one that she saw, asking that God would make a way for them to hear about who Jesus really was, and that He would do the impossible, reaching them with the truth.

“It’s not the whole family,” Travis interjected, pulling her back to Texas with the words. “You’re not here.”

And that was always a point with him. Not of contention necessarily, as he’d always been adamant that his sisters should feel free to live their lives, to go out and pursue their dreams, and leave him.

Theoretically.

The actual practice of doing so had been tough on Travis, and he wasn’t immune from making comments every so often.

“I’m hoping you’ll come home for Christmas, at least,” he said. “Not that you have in the past, but you know I have the money for a plane ticket just sitting here, waiting…”

“I know,” she said. “And you know that you and Avery are always welcome to come out here and celebrate Christmas with me.”

They’d done it before. So had Leslie and Blake. She’d expected that her family would embrace where she was, that they would really truly “get it” when they came to Dubai and glimpsed what she was doing at the school, with the relationships she was always attempting to form with women she’d meet in the community. And they had, for the most part, listening patiently as she’d explained it to them, her heart in her throat.

“Some days I feel like Satan himself is sitting up on a ledge here,” she’d said so passionately, really truly imagining it. “And he’s looking out at the lostness of this city and laughing. Because what’s really being done to reach people here?”

She’d half expected that her family would declare themselves called to Dubai as well. But they hadn’t gotten it. And she’d known that it was even more critical for her to be here in every season, serving, in a place where not many people were.

“Hmm,” Travis said. “I just miss you is all.”

She missed him, too. But Jesus had promised that there was no one who had left behind home and family who would not receive a hundredfold back. And if that reward was in an eternal form, it was still worth it to Holly.

“I miss you, too,” she said, stepping into the Metro station and grabbing her pass. “And I’ll call back soon, check on you then, okay?”

And before he even said goodbye, Holly’s mind had already gone back to praying for the people around her.

 

Something was different on this Metro trip.

She’d spent the first few minutes on the train texting her friend, Jameela.

Holly, I haven’t seen you in two days!

Two days, no time at all in the West, but for her Emirati friend, it was like a lifetime.

I know, Holly texted back. School has kept me busy.

A second later, a response had come.

School has kept me busy as well, but I must make time to see you.

Holly smiled.

You’re always welcome to the ladies’ study, she typed back.

This wasn’t the first time she’d invited her friend to her Bible study, and it wouldn’t be the last. Jameela was a Muslim, as were the great majority of the people in Dubai, but she appreciated Holly’s commitment to her Christian faith, even if she didn’t understand it.

I cannot make it today, friend.

Maybe next time. Holly texted, praying it so. Can you meet for lunch tomorrow, perhaps?

I will do my best.

Holly nodded, as though Jameela could see her, right before sending one last text.

See you then. Inshallah.

God willing.

She slipped her phone back into her bag, feeling a strange sense as she did so, as if something was off. They stopped at the first stop where several others entered the train, then sped along, Holly’s unease growing.

She hadn’t been able to pinpoint what it was that had her feeling strange as she’d stood in the women’s car, pushed in tightly with several other ladies, all of them in their abayas and hijabs, a few offering smiles to her as her eyes swept the car, wondering what it was that had her looking over her shoulder inconspicuously.

And then, she saw him in the next car.

There was a man, staring at her.

Men generally didn’t stare at women here. In a culture that was notoriously and wrongly deemed as one that devalued women, she had been surprised to find that the respect for women was actually so great that they weren’t subjected to being stared at or hassled whenever they went somewhere, simply because the culture forbid men from being improper with them in any way. It was one of the things that Holly loved about living in Dubai, how she could move around almost invisible, feeling as though she was only being seen by other women, ignoring men as well as they ignored her.

But this guy wasn’t from around here, clearly. He was white. Very white, his eyes widening as he took her in and started moving towards her in the Metro car, right up to the line that divided the women’s car from the others.

And then, he stepped over the line.

There were some grumblings from the other women there – quiet but there nonetheless – as this clueless man went beyond where he was supposed to go, all but ignoring the line clearly marked between the cars.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. No, he actually reached out and touched – touched! – Holly on the shoulder.

The grumblings of the other women turned to outright gasps as Holly took in a sharp breath.

“What are you doing?” she asked breathlessly, so shocked by his boldness.

“Hi,” he said weakly, coming even closer, a smile on his lips.

Freak. Didn’t he see everyone staring at them? And why was he looking at her like that?

“Step back,” she said in an even tone, stepping back even as she commanded him to do the same. “This is the women’s car. You’re not allowed to stand here.”

Saying it was a kindness that he wasn’t due, but he was clearly foreign. Holly threw out the clarification to him without thinking through it, a generosity she wasn’t entirely conscious that she offered because of the way she’d felt foreign here once upon a time.

“You’re an American,” he said, still not backing off as he heard her words, pure delight in his eyes now. “Your accent… that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! I’ve been here a whole week, and you’re the first American I’ve met!”

He was closer now. Holly could feel everyone watching them. She wasn’t sure what alarmed her more – that everyone was staring, that she was suddenly the center of attention, or that this strange man was being so aggressive.

She steeled herself and stood taller.

“Back. Up.” She said it between clenched teeth.

He wasn’t listening, though. His relief was nearly palpable as he continued chattering on.

“I thought you might be American,” he said. “You look American. Which is crazy, right? Because who even knew we looked different than everyone else, even other white people, right? But you do! So do I! I saw you as soon as I stepped aboard, and it was like coming home –”

And his incessant talking was cut short as a man from the far edge of the men’s car reached out and tapped him on the shoulder, pulling him back across the line with a few Arabic words that Holly understood well enough.

Leave her alone. That’s basically what he said, stepping in like a big brother looking out for another one of his sisters, standing up on Holly’s behalf.

“Shukran,” Holly breathed quietly, her eyes averted from the Arab man’s for a brief moment, then directed back at the clueless American.

He was staring at the man who’d pulled him back, as more Arabic words came from the latter, about how there was a women’s car, that men weren’t allowed to cross the line, and how he needed to stay back and leave the women alone.

Holly could see that the American didn’t understand. And what was more, she put herself in his shoes for an empathetic moment, hearing the perfectly kind and generous words that likely sounded to an English speaker’s ears like harsh and confrontational demands in the Arabic.

She’d been there before, too, attempting to adjust to the differences, learning bits and pieces of the language, and realizing that just because you heard it one way didn’t mean that it had been intended that way at all.

She could sympathize with this American and his plight, even if he’d scared her initially.

The stranger’s face and the fear there in his eyes prompted her to offer him an explanation in English, even as she second guessed talking to this man, this creepy man…

“This is the women’s car,” she said, meeting his eyes, which felt strange to do after all the years she’d spent avoiding men’s eyes. “No men are allowed past this line.” She pointed that out to him as well then looked back up at him, hoping to see that he understood.

“My bad,” he said. Then, turning around to the man who’d confronted him for Holly’s sake, “My bad, dude.”

That wouldn’t translate, of course, but the other man seemed to get the gist of it, waving a hand over his head in a dismissive gesture before turning away.

Holly was ready to turn away as well, but there the American was again, stepping up as close as he could to the line without stepping over it.

“Hey, my name’s Beckett,” he said. “I should have started with that, instead of rushing you like I did. I’m sorry. What’s your name?”

He looked to her expectantly, his expression almost pleading, as he waited for her to give him her name.

Did she really want to do that?

She could feel the Lord prodding her even as she had the uncharitable thought. The guy was clueless, probably lost as well, and was clearly in need of some familiarity from the States. She could sympathize, as she had once felt foreign here as well. There had been people who had shown her kindness back then, were still people every day who did.

Shouldn’t she give as freely as she’d been given?

Fine, then, Lord, she thought begrudgingly. Have Your way.

And that made her feel guilty, that the thought was begrudging at all. But the way this guy had come up on her so forcefully was well beyond her comfort zone.

But did that really matter?

“My name’s Holly,” she finally said, managing a tight smile, praying that he’d leave her alone after this. There. She’d given him her first name. Not her last name, though –

“Holly Collins?” he asked weakly, disbelief in the words.

She felt a chill at this, at the shock on his face as he stared at her.

How did he know her last name?

Her expression, something between stunned and apprehensive, was all the answer he needed. Before she could say anything either way, he fell to his knees before her, very nearly bowing down at her feet.

Good grief. Now everyone was staring at them again, men and women alike. The man who had spoken up earlier shook his head and began walking back towards Beckett, likely to drag him back once more. But before he could, Beckett looked up at her.

“God or whoever’s up there has had mercy on me, Holly Collins!” he practically shouted. Then, seeing the stares, he added. “Allahu Akbar!”

And now, no one was sure what to do with him, Holly least of all.

“May have picked that phrase up,” he said in explanation, still on his knees before her. “Which is saying something because I’ve been a miserable failure all week long.”

Before she could even decide how to respond to this, he laughed out loud and smiled at her.

“Holly Collins! Of all the people in all of Dubai, what are the chances that I would run into you?!”

She shook her head, uncertain what he meant, wondering still how he knew her name.
“I’m your cousin, kind of,” he said, grinning broadly. “Your brother is married to my cousin, Avery! I’m Beckett Huntington!”

Huntington. He was a Huntington, just like Avery had been before she married into the Collins family. Avery, who even now was probably doing her best to drag Travis from the worksite and getting him to a birthday dinner at Leslie and Blake’s house, where Brooke and Jordan would come over with Molly and Ben. Avery, who would make sure there was a house full of people to celebrate Travis, doing her best to make him forget that one of his sisters was halfway around the world where he couldn’t take care of her –

Avery, the best part of her family most days, solely because of her care to do this.

“You’re Avery’s cousin?” she asked the strange man. What was his name again? She’d missed it.

“I am!” he said, still on his knees and laughing out loud again. “We’re family, you and me! And you’ve gotta help me, Holly.”

What? “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Beckett,” he repeated.

But her mind was caught on something else.

“We’re not actually related, right?” she asked, studying him.

“Not by blood,” he said. “No.”

“Good,” she said. “Then I’m really under no obligation to help you.”

Wow. That was harsh. She surprised even herself when she said it, but when he’d mentioned help, she’d felt her defenses go up again. Even if they were distantly related, she didn’t know him, and the thought of going out of her way to be around or spend time with a strange man… well, it had her acting more defensively than was probably logical.

There were reasons for this. Reasons that Holly had never told another living soul.

She subconsciously pulled her sleeves lower down her arms again as she watched Beckett distrustfully.

“Well, of course, you’re under no obligation to help me out, but I was hoping that you might take pity on me maybe,” he said hopefully, already in the begging position, making his plea look even more desperate. “Hear me out at least, please?”

Everyone was staring at them. Still. Holly had been too busy battling her troubling thoughts to notice that no one’s gaze had so much as shifted.

“Get up, please,” she whispered, her face aflame. She just wanted to disappear, go poof as if she’d never even stepped on this train, and here was this man, making that impossible.

“What?” he asked. “I didn’t hear you.”

“Please, get up,” she said again, her voice a little louder this time. “Everyone is staring at you. At us. You need to get up. Please.”

He finally seemed to take note of the spectacle he was making and got to his feet slowly.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “But will you hear me out?”

Still a distance to go until her stop, she noted, looking out the window and biting her lip.

“Hearing you out on what?” she said, hoping that she could stall for time, maybe take the next stop and just walk to her friend’s home.

“I need your help,” Beckett said, leaning in again as close as he could dare. “My sister, Hannah. She told me about you.”

Hannah. Hannah Huntington. Yes, Holly vaguely remembered that name and the woman connected to it, a missionary to China who had given Holly some good pointers years ago about living overseas, sharing Christ in a closed country –

“She told me that you’ve been here a while,” Beckett continued on. “That you work here. That you’re a…”

Here he didn’t say anything else. He just put a finger to his lips, knowingly.

What did that mean?

“You’re… you know,” he said, his voice lowered when she looked at him, puzzled. “You do very delicate work here in Dubai.”

Delicate work.

“I’m a teacher,” she said. “Why all the secrecy?”

He looked a little surprised by that, maybe even confused. “Oh. A teacher. Okay, well, that’s not what I thought you were doing here.”

What did he think she was doing here?

“Not that it matters,” he said, grinning. “Because no matter what you’re doing, you’re doing it here, which means you’ve been living here a long while and you clearly know a lot more than I do about being here.” He stopped smiling, that desperate look back in his eyes. “Which brings me back to my original point. I need your help, Holly. Seriously.”

This whole exchange was making her uncomfortable. She could still feel other people watching her, and she wanted to tell him to leave her alone already, to go away –

And again, she felt the prodding of Christ, compelling her to be better. To move past her past, the demons there, to really cast all of her cares and troubles on Him, to be a light in darkness, even as she struggled.

She knew what she should do, but she just couldn’t.

“It’s nice to meet you, Beckett,” she said, a dismissal already in her tone, “but –”

“Seriously,” he said, stepping even closer, edging nearer to that line. “I need help.”

He kept saying this. Why would he need help, apart from being completely and obviously clueless about some very clear cultural rules, mainly the big, huge line drawn on the floor of the train?

“Help, you know,” he continued. “Someone to help explain some things to me. Help me retrace my steps this past week, explain why I’ve offended people in all the social situations I’ve been in. Because I’ve been doing that a lot. I need someone to help me figure out how to get around the city better than I have been. I’ve spent so much money riding this train, missing all my stops and not being able to figure out how to get back. I thought it would be simpler, but absolutely nothing about any of this move has been simple.”

She felt a twinge of sympathy at this, remembering her first days here once again. Poor guy. It sounded like he’d had a terrible introduction to the UAE.

But he’d figure it out. Holly had.

“I’m not sure I’m the person who can help you out,” she said, feeling only slightly guilty as she did so. He was Avery’s cousin, sure, but maybe they were distant cousins? She probably had hundreds of those given the size of the Huntington family, which Holly had never honestly given a second thought to after Travis and Avery had gotten married.

“I’m family, though,” Beckett said, apparently reading her mind on the subject.

Family. Sorta. And family or not, shouldn’t she be kinder and more charitable than she was being?

“How exactly can I help you?” she asked, praying that it was nothing huge. Maybe he just needed directions. A simple explanation of the different travel options here within the city. She could do that much.

“As if it isn’t totally obvious,” he said, gesturing down to the line between cars, then carelessly gesturing back towards all the men behind him, including the one who’d stepped up for her, “I’m out of my element here.”

“Are you on vacation or something?” she asked, noting that he was definitely out of place. He was probably just a tourist, here for a few weeks and having a little bit of culture shock.

“If only!” he said dramatically. “No, I work here now. Live here. For like the next six months, which I’m not sure I’m going to survive, Holly, because I’ve spent the last week running around in circles with this ridiculous government, getting lost in this huge city, and offending everyone I meet.”

No, he probably wouldn’t survive if he kept on like that. Especially if he kept on loudly talking about the “ridiculous” government as an expat here on the mercy of the powers that be.

“It’s been a hard week, then,” she said, her voice lowered, glancing inconspicuously around to make sure that no one had understood that unfortunate bit about the government.

“Understatement of the year,” he said. “But I feel like things are looking up now. Because the odds of me meeting you were slim to none, and yet, here you are. Like an angel sent straight to me.”

And he smiled at her so genuinely that she felt another twinge of guilt.

She thought about Avery, about all the good she’d brought to their lives when she’d become part of their family. She thought of the hospitality and kindness friends here had shown her when she was a newcomer to Dubai herself. And she thought, above all else, of Jesus and how He would have her honor Him in this situation.

Didn’t He command her to show compassion to the foreigner?

She looked at Beckett Huntington again and found herself wondering if this was the kind of foreigner that Jesus meant.

Close enough, probably.

“Okay, I’ll help you,” she said hesitantly without any idea of how she actually would, wanting to grab the words back as soon as they were out of her mouth.

Her stop was coming up. Praise God. She was tempted for a moment to just step right off the train and away from this man, not bothering to make any real plans, hoping that she could escape before she had to make good on her words –

“Can I get your number?” he asked, his own phone in his hand, his eyes back up to her, hopeful and waiting.

Kindness. Empathy. Doing good for the foreigner.

What choice did she have?

So she gave her phone number to him, entering it into his phone for him and feeling only slightly less uneasy when he beamed at her and promised that he’d be seeing her soon.

 

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