Hey, friends! Looking for a book to read this weekend? You should check out my book Lost and Found, which is just $3.99 on Amazon or FREE with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. It’s a love story, but it’s way more than that, delving into family issues and drama, showing forgiveness and repentance, and focusing on the grace of Christ. And – as if all of that wasn’t enough – it has lots and lots of Paul Connor, the BEST Jenn Faulk character of all time. (In my humble opinion.)
Here’s the first part of the book. Happy reading!
Sometimes it takes getting lost to find yourself.
Theoretically. Maybe. Or not.
Zoe Connor bit her lip as she looked around the concourse again, wondering if this thought was deeply profound or just a lame attempt to make herself feel better about the fact that she’d been walking circles around the DFW airport for at least an hour. Riding circles, too, because she’d gotten on this subway car thing that went from terminal to terminal until she was back where she started (or at least, she thought it looked familiar) and nowhere closer to where she was supposed to be.
Airports. They never got easier.
To be fair, it was a big airport. Bigger than most. While the airport that she was most accustomed to back home in Namibia was smaller, she’d had more than a few experiences with larger airports during all the years where they spent trips flying to and from South Africa and on those less frequent occasions when they’d come back to the US for furlough. Johannesburg and Atlanta were familiar enough airports that she could navigate them without getting lost. Well, without getting lost more than a couple of times, which was saying something. Zoe had even had a recent experience with this particular airport, when she’d come to Texas several months ago for her grandmother’s funeral.
“But you didn’t stay here long,” Zoe murmured to herself, glancing around again. “And you took a connecting flight in the domestic terminal, which is where you landed since you’d already gone through immigration in Atlanta. And the whole family was with you, so your brain was just coasting… just like it’s been coasting for the past hour.”
This made her look sane, of course. Standing in the middle of the airport, muttering to herself as she hoisted her well-worn backpack farther up onto her shoulder and blew her long hair out of her face. The immigration officials at DFW hadn’t known what to make of her and all the stamps in her passport, nor of what sense it made when they asked her where her permanent residence was and she said, “Swakopmund, Namibia.”
It was permanent enough. As permanent as permanent would ever get for Zoe, which wasn’t saying much. Sure, her parents were on missionary visas and had been since long before she was born in Namibia. Sure, it could change any day if the Namibian government so chose to send them away. Sure, the mission board could change her parents’ assignment, sending David and Camille Connor somewhere else, whenever they deemed it in the best interest of the denomination as a whole.
But permanent. Zoe knew nothing else.
Except not. She’d slapped her hand to her forehead as soon as she’d told the official what she had, amending it with, “Actually, my permanent address is here in Dallas. This residence.” And she’d fished out her grandfather’s address from her backpack, rifling through a change of clothes, snacks, books, cords for various electronics, the various electronics themselves, a mess of papers that had nothing to do with anything –
The immigration officials had regarded her backpack of wonders with trepidation, just as they had the flurry of explanations that she attempted to give as she kept pulling out one random item after another, looking for that lost business card.
Zoe was a mess, coming and going, as her father often said. Such was life, and she’d never known any different in all of her eighteen years. As such, though, even she’d been impressed when she’d been able to miraculously find her grandfather’s business card in all of that, and she’d brandished the card with her grandfather’s address on it as though it was a winning lottery ticket. The official had taken one look at the name Dr. Reverend Paul Connor, and his eyebrows had raised as he checked Zoe’s name again. Zoe Connor.
Grandpa Paul was a celebrity. Well, a celebrity as far as the church world went and as far as the American South reached. He’d been president of the denomination’s convention once upon a time and had once been pastor of the largest church in that same convention. He’d only recently begun to step down from the pastorate and its responsibilities, transitioning himself to retirement even as he was taking on a tour of sorts for the denomination. Plenty of places wanted to name buildings and libraries after him, given his legacy and how his connections magically brought more funding to the universities and seminaries that used his name, and they wanted him at these various places when they did the groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies. That was all set to start happening in a week, after the annual convention meeting, and yada, yada, yada.
There were a lot of details Zoe still hadn’t gotten, but she’d get them eventually. No matter what the details of the itinerary, the only thing she’d been telling people was that Grandpa Paul was the reason she’d come to Texas. Or rather, that’s the reason she gave, and her aunts had jumped on it like it was a brilliant idea. Someone needed to travel with him, to help him out given his advanced age and his strange new ability to get lost and confused in places like large airports.
Kind of like Zoe was as she glanced around again, biting her lip.
Well, perhaps she hadn’t been the best choice for the task, but she’d volunteered anyway. High school was over, and she was glad for that. School had never been her thing, and now, all anyone anywhere was asking her was what was next, where she was going, and what she was going to do with her life.
She couldn’t even figure out how to manage an airport, much less the rest of her life.
She sighed at this unhelpful thought and forced herself to concentrate. She needed to make it to baggage claim to get the suitcase she’d packed back in Namibia, when she’d had no clue what she was heading towards apart from these first few moments at the airport. Grandpa Paul had said he’d have a car waiting for her and a driver who could get her back to his house, as soon as she picked up her suitcase.
Now, then. How hard could it be to find baggage claim, right?
Harder than it should have been. Zoe wished again that she’d taken a pill before getting off the plane. But even having that thought, even being able to pinpoint her confusion as ADD – well, wasn’t that an indication that she was capable of focusing without the medication?
Oh, look, there in the distance was a lady in traditional Herero dress! Here in Dallas!
Zoe abandoned her search for baggage claim without a second thought, following the Herero woman with great interest, only to get close enough to see that the headdress the woman wore wasn’t quite right. Herero, no, but maybe she was from some other part of Africa. Zoe was tempted to go up and ask her –
No, Zoe. Focus. Focus, focus, focus. Baggage claim.
She set off again, determined to get it right this time.
After another lap, with all the different distractions flying into her face, Zoe finally located an exit from the bustling terminal that would lead her to baggage claim. At this point, it seemed like a magical fairy tale destination that she could hardly believe actually existed. Baggage claim. Had she actually found it?
“Praise the Lord,” she breathed even as she caught sight of the numerous bags floating by, as she miraculously located her flight number, and as she waited eagerly, smiling as she grabbed her bag off the rotating carousel and patted it affectionately like a long-lost friend.
It was covered in stickers. I Love Namibia, with the flag in vibrant blue, green, yellow, and red colors. Another one that warned Elephant Crossing. And her favorite, a sticker with the logo of her parents’ ministry to teenagers, Called Out.
Zoe had been called out herself through the work her parents did. She’d grown up in their home knowing about Christ and what He was about, but it had been through the teaching of their ministry that she’d come to know Him personally. There was a difference there, between knowing about Him and actually knowing Him, and after six years of walking with Him, Zoe was confident that of all that she didn’t have figured out regarding her life and her future, she had this part covered.
She was all in for Jesus. Called out from just doing life like normal, like the rest of the world, and called to living for Him, doing whatever it was He had for her.
Whatever that was.
Well, she wasn’t going to figure it out by just standing here at baggage claim, staring out into the crowd around her blankly, all distracted again.
Hmm… what was next…
She needed a ride, of course. She thought back to Grandpa Paul and the last words of instructions he’d given her as she’d called him in London, where she had – all praise to the Lord – made it to the right departure gate. He’d told her that he was sending a car and a driver. Someone with a sign. A really big, obvious sign so that she’d know right where to go, even in a crowd.
She looked around, already anticipating this.
There wasn’t anyone here waiting for her. She didn’t even know who she was looking for, obviously, but Grandpa Paul had assured her that someone would be holding a sign with the name Connor on it.
No signs with Connor.
Could she have thrown everything off by wandering around aimlessly for the last hour?
The odds were good. Maybe her driver had given up. She’d probably need to call a cab or something.
For the first time, she realized why her parents had balked at the idea of her traveling alone. Simply put, she had no idea what she was doing.
But she could handle this. How hard could it be? Shaking her head, Zoe fished her phone out of her backpack and turned it on, trying to remember what her dad had told her back in Namibia about international calls, about how she needed to get a phone there in Dallas as soon as possible, and how she’d be spending her inheritance if she chose to carry on long conversations on her Namibian phone in the airport.
Of course, she’d already used it in London, so what was another call, right?
“Gotta do what you gotta do,” she murmured even as she went to her contacts and called Grandpa Paul, hoping that he was waiting for her call and ready to tell her he’d send out another driver. He answered on the second ring.
“Zoe Connor, glory be.”
Ahh, Grandpa Paul. She couldn’t stop the smile that grew on her face.
“Grandpa Paul, I’ve missed you,” she sighed appreciatively. “You old jerk.”
Perhaps that wasn’t a common term of endearment, but it was fitting. Grandpa Paul had told her himself that he was an old jerk, long, long ago when her family had been on furlough in Texas after years of being gone. She’d only been four when Paul had said it to her in a teasing whisper, the corners of his eyes crinkling when he’d said, “Rumor is that I’m just an old jerk.”
Zoe hadn’t understood why her father, David, had looked at her in horror when she’d announced to the whole table at a formal dinner that night, that “Grandpa Paul is an old jerk.” Just saying what he’d told her to think, never one even then to censor her words.
David had gasped a little at the proud way she’d proclaimed it, but he hadn’t disagreed. Interesting, that. Even more interesting was the way Grandpa Paul had laughed and laughed, telling her parents, “This one is special, you know.”
She liked to think so even as he laughed on the other end of the line.
“Where are you at, girl?” he asked. “Already halfway here?”
“No, I’m still at the airport,” she said, still looking around the baggage claim area, her hand resting on top of her suitcase. “I haven’t found your driver yet.”
“What? Where is that buzzard?” Paul sighed. “I sent him off a whole hour ago.”
Yes, right about the time Zoe had been wandering aimlessly.
“Maybe he got lost,” she said helpfully.
“Maybe he hit traffic,” Paul offered. “It’s rush hour.”
“Oh… I guess that’s bad?”
Rush hour back home in Swakopmund was… well, never. It was a resort town, where people came to spend their vacations. The only time the streets got crowded was at Christmas, when all the summer holiday tourists descended on their little slice of paradise. Even then, though, it was still a low-key, laidback town.
This airport alone was likely bigger than her town. And Dallas itself…
“Must be bad if he’s still not there,” Paul said. “Let me give him a call, will you?”
“Okay,” she said. “But call me back and let me know so that I can figure out what to do.”
Yeah, she was spending a lot of her inheritance with all of these calls.
She hung up and looked around for a place to sit, pulling her luggage with her as she went and admitted to herself that the sporadic sleep she’d gotten on her flights hadn’t done much in terms of helping to beat the jet lag. Once she’d settled into a seat near the baggage carousel, she pulled her phone out again, looking at the screen and waiting for Grandpa Paul’s return call, hopeful that she’d be able to stay alert and awake if her wait turned out to be longer than anticipated.
She sat there, jiggling her leg up and down like that, until a loud screeching made her head shoot up and once again divided her attention. What was that sound? Oh, another flight was in, and another set of luggage was rotating around. A group of passengers began to make their way over from where they’d been idly waiting, looking to see which carousel would have their luggage. None of them looked half as tired as Zoe, who wanted nothing more than a good nap. Hadn’t she just been thinking that? About how tired she was? Oh, well, she needed to stay up. It would probably be better for her to stay awake until it was dark outside. Jet lag was a beast, and the only way to get over it was to adjust to Texas time and forget Swakopmund’s hour.
Speaking of, she wondered what was going on at home. Was her brother, Evan, already out the door and over to Riana’s place? They were home from college, and they’d already stunned both sets of their parents with their announcement. They were engaged, and although they weren’t intending on getting married for another couple of years, all four parents had balked, saying that a long engagement wasn’t preferable and they should have waited on that until closer to the end of college.
Please. Like they hadn’t all seen it coming. Those two had been in love forever, and Zoe was pretty sure the long engagement had been part of their plan for a long time. They just sprung it on the folks like they did for fun. Because that was who Evan and Riana were. Sheesh. Zoe was expecting the actual marriage to be as much of a train wreck as the engagement announcement had been, given how dramatic Riana was, how dramatic she’d always been, and how she’d lamented that she would die if she couldn’t be with Evan. Like anyone was contesting that, but there she went. They’d all grown up together, the Connors and the Bothas, and Zoe had hoped more than a few times that their families, who were already close, would end up being family to one another through marriage, even if it did turn things into a circus. It looked like she was going to get her wish through Evan and Riana, which was good because she didn’t particularly want to marry either of Riana’s brothers. Or her sister.
Zoe could still see her mother and Riana’s mother, Kait, both flipping out about how much Evan had spent on the ring and would he even be able to pay for next semester’s books or tuition now and was anyone thinking logically about –
She’d been glad to have a place to run away to, honestly, and so very thankful that her brother’s drama was distracting everyone away from the fact that she didn’t have a plan for her life.
Thank you, Evan and Riana.
Zoe’s mind continued to click through one tangent after another as she smiled blankly ahead. Jet lag made for even fewer lucid moments, but maybe that was good, considering –
“I think I’ve found her.”
She looked up and saw… him.
Zoe was many things, but a hopeless romantic wasn’t one of them. She’d never, in all of her life, believed in love at first sight. How much could one person know about someone else after just a few exchanged words, after all? But she’d experienced something that she couldn’t quite define, having grown up in a different culture, where she was the one who was different from everyone around her. Evan had adapted by becoming just like everyone around him – more Namibian and less American, but Zoe had always found herself feeling like an outsider, except on those odd occasions when she’d come across another American.
There you are, she’d think to herself, when the accent sounded like her own, even if the pop culture references and slang that followed sometimes confused her. There was familiarity even in this, though, and Zoe clung to it, just as she did as she looked up and into the eyes of the man standing before her.
He was handsome but not so good looking that he’d have reason to be vain about it or even realize it himself, likely. Dark hair, dark eyes, and the beginning of a beard that was faint enough that Zoe couldn’t tell if it was intentional or not. He was dressed in khakis and a button up shirt with rolled up sleeves, well put together but casual still. Young… well, not as young as her. But not old. Well… not too old. It’s all relative at eighteen. He was probably in his late twenties, maybe pushing thirty.
Pushing thirty. That was a weird way to say it. And why was she even thinking any of this as he watched her, glancing over at her suitcase and the identifying stickers there, then turning his attention back to her face?
Jet lag? Maybe that was it. Blame everything on the jet lag. She was probably hallucinating this whole exchange, as this handsome stranger watched her and she smiled up at him like an idiot.
Zoe smiled even bigger, just in case she wasn’t hallucinating.
“Hi,” he said, nodding at her, his cell phone to his ear. “Are you Zoe Connor?”
Oh, praise God. Things were working out after all.
“Yes,” she said, standing up and holding out her hand. “And you are –”
But he’d turned away already, his attention completely on his phone and the conversation he was carrying on. “Yes, sir, I’ll get her back to your place within the hour. Provided that the accident has been cleared off the freeway.”
Zoe still held her hand out, waiting for him to turn back around as he finished up his call. She wondered briefly who he was talking to, when it hit her.
“Is that Grandpa Paul?” she asked, putting her hand to his shoulder and causing him to turn back around. “May I speak with him?”
The young man frowned at her. “No, it’s –”
But then he listened and frowned even more deeply. “Yes, sir.” He held the phone out in her direction.
“Okay,” she said, putting it to her ear, still smiling. “Grandpa Paul, is that you?”
“Yeah, the buzzard got in a traffic jam or a wreck or something,” Grandpa Paul said. “That’s why he’s late, he says.”
He certainly looked stressed out over being late. Zoe would give him that. She felt a little bad for him, imagining what a traffic jam must actually look like and how unpleasant it would be to drive through one. Or in one. Around one. Whatever you did with traffic jams.
“The buzzard,” she said thoughtfully. “That’s a nice nickname.”
At this, the young man actually scowled. Over the nickname or the traffic, Zoe wasn’t sure. But traffic probably hadn’t helped anything at all and likely put all people in bad moods, then. Duly noted.
“Okay, so it’s safe to leave with him, huh?” she asked, wondering if he might be angry with her for putting him in this position in the first place. “Can’t be too careful. And he doesn’t have a sign.”
At this, the young man pulled a rolled-up sheet of paper from his back pocket and unfurled it for her, looking at her pointedly as she read the word. Connor.
“Well, I take that back,” she said. “He does have a sign.”
She could hear Grandpa Paul laughing. “That’s right. You make him work for it.” She had no idea what that even meant, but before she could ask, Grandpa Paul sent her off with a, “See you soon, Zoe girl.”
She handed the phone back to the young man and smiled, taking a deep breath. “I’m Zoe Connor, like I said. And you’re the buzzard, huh?”
He watched her with a frown. “The buzzard? Is that what he calls me?”
She was tempted to smile at this. Grandpa Paul had names for everyone. It was an endearing thing. Well, maybe it wasn’t always endearing, but she couldn’t imagine that this young man… this handsome, well dressed, attentive young man had ever given her grandfather reason to call him anything demeaning.
Buzzard was probably a good nickname.
“Might be what I have to call you, too, since you still haven’t given me your name,” she replied, all out smiling at him now.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed, absentmindedly returning that smile. Even cuter. “Luke Reynolds. Good to meet you, Zoe.”
And he held out his hand, which she thought he meant for her own hand, but it landed on her suitcase instead.
“Oh, you don’t have to take care of that for me,” she protested. “I can get it. It weighs like eight hundred pounds. I stuffed it as full as I could.”
“Dr. Connor would insist that I carry it for you, were he here,” he said, putting the rolled-up sign back into his pocket. “And so would I. Welcome to America.”
Yes, welcome to America, Zoe. Meet Luke.
She was feeling better and better about her decision to run away from reality and come here, but that was probably the jet lag clouding up things.
“Thank you,” she said anyway.
“Hey, if we hurry and get out of here,” Luke said, nodding towards the exit, “I won’t owe any more on the parking than I already do.”
She could appreciate that, and she’d spent enough time at this airport already. Nodding at this, she let him get her bag for her as he gave her a tight smile.
“You’re going to take me to Grandpa’s house, then?” she asked, following behind him as he made his way hastily to the exit.
“Those were the orders,” Luke answered. “And I would’ve been here sooner to get it done, but there was a huge accident on the freeway.”
“I heard,” she said as they stepped outside.
It was hot. Hotter than Africa. Most people wouldn’t believe it, but in terms of heat, sub-Saharan Africa had nothing on Texas in the summertime. Her parents had told her more than a few times that Swakopmund was downright breezy, even during the scorching east wind, when compared to their childhood summers in Texas.
Zoe was a believer after just a few minutes of following Luke outside and over to a parking garage.
“Sure is a lot of concrete,” she observed. “And my lands, those bakkies are big.”
Luke glanced over at her with a confused look. “Those what?”
“Bakkies,” she said, pointing to one of them. “Huge!”
He followed her finger over to a –
“Truck,” he said, looking over at her again. “Uh… that’s a truck.”
“Oh, that’s right,” she sighed, briefly remembering mention of this from her last visit and how her cousins had laughed at her when she’d called these huge monstrosities bakkies. Apparently, that wasn’t the name for them here.
“Truck,” she said, thinking that was a rather stupid name.
“That’s right,” Luke said, a small smile on his lips.
Cuter and cuter, all the time.
“Africa,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her as he kept walking.
Yes, Africa. Which explained the language difference, but what it didn’t explain was this. Why did Americans need giant bakkies… uh, trucks? Seriously, these were made for working on farms or something, or hauling trailers full of livestock. And yet, everyone drove them, including people who’d probably never even seen a cow up close. Was all of America like this? Or was it just Texas?
Luke stopped beside one of the biggest trucks in the whole lot.
“Oh, you have one, too,” she grinned at him. “Do you own livestock?”
He looked confused at this, opening the passenger door for her and sliding her suitcase in the backseat, brushing his hands off on his pants as he studied her. “No, I don’t have livestock.”
“Oh, you’re a real American then,” she said, feeling a thrill at this. There was that kinship again.
“I guess so,” he said, holding out a hand to help her up.
A gentleman. Well, that was nice. She took his hand and began hoisting herself up into the cab of the truck. Well, hoisting the top half of her body. This thing was high off the ground! And poor Luke, standing back there, with her butt in his face as she let go of his hand and struggled to army crawl her way in…
“You need some help?” he asked.
“Glory, no,” she bubbled, bringing one leg up and into the truck. “I think I got it!” She had to grab the console in the middle of the seats to do so, but once she got a good grip, she was able to get all the way in.
Short people problems. The world was full of them.
“There,” she sighed, finally sitting upright and thoroughly worn out from all the work it had taken to get that way. She grinned over at Luke. “Like I was saying, the bakk – uh, trucks here are huge! But everything’s bigger in Texas. Isn’t that what they say?”
It was what they said. She missed most pop culture references from America, but there were some that made their way to Namibia. Everything was bigger in Texas. And everyone drove a huge bakkie. And they called them trucks.
“Yeah,” Luke said, shutting the door behind her, then making his way around the front quickly until he reached the driver’s side.
This truck was backwards. The driver’s seat was where the passenger seat should be. Zoe had experienced this on her last trip to the US, but it still gave her the giggles, seeing everything switched around like that. Hilarious.
Okay, so maybe the jet lag was making things funnier than they actually were.
She turned Luke’s way and smiled as he got into the driver’s seat without nearly the struggle that she’d had on the other side. He watched her with some curiosity, likely wondering at what she found so amusing.
“Nice truck, Luke,” she said as he started it up and began to back out of the space. “Very roomy.”
“This is actually Dr. Connor’s truck,” he said.
Dr. Connor. Dr. Connor?
Oh, that’s right. Grandpa.
“Grandpa drives this truck?” she asked incredulously, looking it over with new eyes, imagining her aging grandfather behind the wheel of this beast. “I thought he had a little car.”
“He did, when Mrs. Connor was… well, before Mrs. Connor passed away.”
Grandma Phoebe. Had she really been gone a whole six months now? Zoe had to admit that Grandpa Paul had always been her favorite when she’d come for visits, because he always got involved with the kids while Grandma Phoebe was always busy with things she called “social obligations” for the convention and the church, but Zoe had still profoundly felt the loss of her grandmother, especially as she considered all that Phoebe had spent her life doing. Zoe was an adult now and could understand just how many obligations the Connors had with their position in the convention and at their church. Phoebe had likely taken on most of her husband’s load when it came to organizing events, keeping their calendar in order, getting them where they needed to go, and basically watching out for her husband. Grandpa Paul had once called Grandma Phoebe the best assistant in the world, and she had been. Her death had left a big hole in Grandpa Paul’s life, even as he assured them all that she was in a better place.
Yes. Yes, she was. And as Zoe sat in Grandpa Paul’s truck and thought about it, she had the fleeting thought that the place where Grandma Phoebe found herself now wasn’t half as hot as Texas. Praise God.
“Mind if I bump down the air a little?” she asked Luke, even as she was reaching out to do so.
“Sure,” he said, his hand brushing against hers as he went to do it more efficiently than she had, as she’d been randomly pressing buttons because there were just so many of them and who knew what was what –
“That’s helpful,” she said appreciatively as the cool air began to hit her face. She looked over the dashboard again, marveling at the amount of air being pounded out now. “This truck is so big!”
“It is big,” Luke affirmed, nodding.
“Are you Grandpa’s driver?” she asked, noting how comfortable Luke looked behind the wheel.
“Uh… yeah,” he nodded. “Well, not just his driver. I’m his administrative assistant. Well, more like his personal assistant…” He seemed to think this over. “Just his assistant, I guess.”
Luke was Grandpa’s new assistant. Just like Grandma Phoebe had been!
“You’re my new grandmother!” she blurted out before she could think through what she was saying.
Luke glanced over at her, a puzzled expression on his face.
There she went, just saying whatever she thought. Luke was going to get plenty of this in the days ahead, especially since he was the new Grandma Phoebe and would be around a lot, but she still regretted blurting out what she’d just said.
“Oh, well, I don’t mean you’re my actual grandmother,” she clarified, laughing. “Or a new grandmother. Or a grandmother at all, actually.”
That’s right, Zoe. Just keep talking.
“I meant that Grandma Phoebe handled all of the administrative tasks for Grandpa Paul for… well, forever. And now, you’re doing her job. Except you’re probably not living with him.”
Well, that was weird. Luke seemed to think it, too, as he cleared his throat.
“I actually am living with him,” Luke said in a softer voice.
Uh… even more awkward.
“Not like that,” Luke corrected himself. “I mean, I’m living at the estate. Your grandfather’s house, that is. Just because he needs help now and then. It’s part of the job, part of the reason why they hired me. I was able to move in and step up to the job right away, so to speak.”
“I’m sure your wife just loves living at the estate,” Zoe said, assuming that all men of a certain age in the conservative denomination were married. Or they were weird missionaries. Kinda like her dad had been before he’d married her mother.
Okay, so that was a far-fetched theory. (And a very unfair one, at that, she chided herself.)
Honestly, the only reason she’d deliberately thrown that part about a wife out there was to see what his response was. Because he was cute. So sue her.
“I’m not married,” Luke said, which delighted her more than it probably should have. “Which is part of the reason why I’m perfect for the job, seeing as how your grandfather and his schedule allow me no time to have any kind of life of my own, apart from work and school.”
That didn’t sound like much fun.
“School,” she said. “So, you’re a student at the seminary?”
“I am,” he said, his features brightening at this change in conversation. “I’m a PhD student, actually.”
“Fancy,” she said, meaning it entirely. It was hard work getting those letters behind your name. It also meant that… “You’re old then, huh?”
If Zoe thought something, she usually said it. She often found herself rethinking those words once they were out there, and now was one of those times.
“Well, not old,” she said diplomatically. “Certainly older than me, but old is a harsh word.”
“It’s harsh, yes,” he said. “And you’re right. You’re probably a lot younger than me.”
“I’m eighteen,” she said, smiling. “I just finished high school.”
“Yeah, you’re a lot younger,” he nodded, merging onto the freeway. “Looks like that accident got cleared away. We should have you there in the next forty minutes. Maybe less.”
“Probably a lot less,” Zoe said, stifling back a yawn. Darn jet lag. “I mean, people are going to get out of your way when you come through with your huge truck. I mean, Grandpa Paul’s huge truck. Grandma Phoebe wouldn’t have liked this much.”
Zoe tried to imagine her prim and proper grandmother climbing into this monstrosity, butt out just like Zoe’s had been as she’d scrambled to get inside. The mental picture made her giggle a little.
“What?” Luke asked. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, just thinking about Grandma Phoebe,” she said, now picturing Grandpa Paul pushing on Grandma Phoebe’s butt, yelling, glory, woman! Put some omphf into it!
That’s the kind of thing he said, all the time.
Or at least it had been. Zoe hadn’t seen him since the funeral, and when she was here for that, he’d been subdued and frail…
“How’s Grandpa doing, since…”
“Since your grandmother passed away?” Luke asked, glancing over at her for a second. “Well, he bought himself a truck, obviously. And I’m working for him now. But other than that, he’s the same as he’s always been, I think.”
Well, this was comforting.
“Your grandmother actually hired me,” Luke offered quietly. “I’m not sure your grandfather was all that excited about having an assistant, but once she got sick, she made some arrangements to have things in place for…”
For after. She hadn’t let anyone know how sick she was. There had been cancer and chemo, but she’d told them all that it had been working and that she was on the mend. They’d all believed her, Grandpa Paul included, because she’d never lied to them before. That, and believing otherwise, that she wasn’t going to get better, was something that none of them were prepared to handle, given how she’d been the glue in a family of several dysfunctional parts.
When she died, they’d all been taken aback. Her death had been sudden enough that they’d had trouble getting flights back for the funeral, only arriving the day of, much to Zoe’s father’s regret. He hadn’t been able to say goodbye to his mother, and as such, there had been too much left unsaid between them.
Unsaid was never a good thing. That’s why Zoe usually just said what she was thinking.
Like now… if this Luke guy had come along before Phoebe passed, he would have been at the funeral surely and she would recognize him –
“Were you at the funeral?” Zoe asked, studying him more closely and trying to place him in the whirlwind memories of that week.
“I was,” he said. “I’m the one who drove your grandfather to the service.”
Zoe didn’t remember seeing him. Of course, as soon as she’d arrived, she’d been swarmed by all the relatives. They hadn’t seen her or Evan either one in years, just like she and Evan hadn’t seen their cousins. They’d all grown up from preteens to adults in the interim, which was shocking.
“And after I drove him to the service,” Luke continued on as Zoe’s brain sorted through all of her cousins, “I started getting all these calls about booking him for different things. Revivals, dedication ceremonies, guest preaching, convention meetings. Your grandmother had forwarded my number to everyone while she was on her deathbed, quite literally.”
Grandma Phoebe. She had been on top of things.
“So, you were busy,” Zoe said. “Busy becoming Grandma Phoebe… at her funeral.”
Again, this probably wasn’t the best way to say it, but Luke seemed to get what she meant anyway.
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“Did you meet any of the rest of my family?” she asked. “I know you didn’t meet me. I would’ve remembered you.”
Maybe. He was cute and all, but she wasn’t really sure if she would have taken special notice of him in all the distractions that had been going on then. She’d met a ton of people that weekend before ducking out of it all later that afternoon, tagging along with Evan and their cousins, Adam and PJ. The three of them probably wished that she would stay behind with everyone else, but she’d gotten right in there with them like they actually wanted her around, climbing into PJ’s truck with them like she’d been invited. They were all close in age, so Zoe figured that’s how it would have been anyway had she lived in the States.
“I met Dr. Connor’s daughters,” Luke said. “I’ve met them more than once, actually. They get to Dallas quite frequently these days.”
“Aunt Hope and Aunt Charity,” Zoe smiled, thinking about them.
“And his sons-in-law,” Luke continued on. “I met them at the funeral, too.”
“Uncle Craig and Uncle John,” she said.
“And one of his grandsons… Aiden?”
“Yes,” Zoe smiled. “He’s an alcoholic.”
Luke gave her a funny look. “You say that with a smile on your face…”
“Oh, well, it’s a horrible thing,” she amended, mustering up a remorseful expression. “And clearly, he needs an intervention or something, but he’s always overseas with his job, so… what are you gonna do, right?”
“I guess,” Luke murmured.
“I only mention it because you were able to remember him once I said that, weren’t you?”
Zoe thought about Aiden toasting his grandmother more than once that week with all the different offerings from Grandpa Paul’s stash of alcohol.
“Actually, yes,” Luke conceded.
“Ahh, family,” Zoe sighed.
“And I met a couple of others. Aiden’s sister. And her other brother. Dr. Connor tried to get me to talk that brother into coming to seminary for his MDiv.”
“That would be Adam,” she said. “He’s still in college like my brother, Evan. And PJ, Hope’s son. All three of them are about the same age. Well, PJ’s a little younger, but he’s smarter than Evan and Adam combined, so you know. He seems old. Like you.”
Wow, she was saying it all today, wasn’t she? God bless that jet lag.
Luke said nothing as he continued switching lanes, trying to find the fastest way back to Grandpa Paul’s house, likely so he could drop her off and get on with whatever entailed being Grandma Phoebe.
But Zoe was a talker so the silence was too much for her.
“Is that it?” she asked. “Did you meet my dad?”
Luke sighed a little, as though he didn’t want to be pulled into this conversation. Zoe knew why, of course. All those unsaid things were a Connor family tradition between Grandpa Paul and her father.
“Briefly,” Luke said. “He startled me, actually. He came around the corner in the church, and he looks just like Dr. Connor, except younger, of course. I thought I was imagining things at first, until… well, until he spoke to your grandfather and it became clear who he was.”
Zoe smiled at this. “You should see Evan. Well, I guess you probably did at some point in all the funeral activities that week. Evan looks just like them, too. But neither one of them are as loud as Grandpa Paul. And Evan has a weird accent. Well, so does Grandpa Paul, but Evan’s is different.”
“Growing up on the mission field made it that way, I guess,” Luke nodded. “But you don’t have one.”
“You’re right,” she said. “Evan only has one because he spends half of his time speaking in Afrikaans because of Riana.”
At this, she rolled her eyes dramatically.
“Who is Riana?”
“Evan’s lovey,” she said, imitating her future sister-in-law’s accent. “And wow, she’s annoying. Her parents and my parents work together. Piet’s okay, but Kait is crazy. Certifiably nuts. And like mother, like daughter. I think Evan’s just as crazy for inviting that kind of insanity into his life.”
“Hmm,” Luke murmured, likely thinking that she was just as crazy for talking on and on and on…
“So, you met my dad?” she asked.
“Yeah, very briefly,” he said. “He was… well, preoccupied.”
“Well, his mother had just died, and his father… well, you know Grandpa Paul. He and Dad…” She made a face.
Luke glanced over at her. “I picked up on some of it.”
Yes, some of it, but Luke probably didn’t know the half of it. It was a tense relationship her dad and her grandfather had. It had always been like that as long as she could remember, and it hadn’t changed. Her dad had been hesitant to let her come all this way on her own, likely because of what she’d be doing, who she’d be taking care of, and because she was so young. This was one of the only things he and his father had agreed on – that Zoe shouldn’t be traveling so far on her own – but when her dad heard that her grandfather agreed with him, he’d changed his mind and told her she had his blessing.
Just like that.
It was kind of childish the way her dad had handled that. But there was baggage between him and Grandpa Paul, and baggage that great sometimes made the people involved act like spoiled children.
Apart from that, though, her dad was great, and she didn’t want Luke’s whole opinion of him defined by that tense funeral week.
“He’s awesome,” she said to Luke, grinning. “My dad.”
“I’ve heard some things about him,” Luke answered. “David Connor, career missionary to Namibia, seeing lives changed for over twenty-five years, making a difference in the nations. Called Out.”
“Yes to all of that,” Zoe said, proud to hear this. “Did you read that somewhere?”
“No, that’s just how Dr. Connor talks about him,” he said.
Did he? Grandpa Paul said positive things about his son? Would her father be shocked to hear it? Most definitely.
“Hmm,” Zoe murmured.
“Accurate assessment?” Luke asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Just surprised that Grandpa would say it like that.”
“Well, your grandfather says a lot,” Luke mused. He glanced Zoe’s way again.
He probably thought she talked a lot, too.
Guilty. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
“You know the best thing about my dad?” she kept right on talking.
“No, tell me,” Luke said, a sigh in his voice as he switched lanes again, now dodging in between cars as he went.
Zoe wasn’t bothered by it, though.
“He’s completely sold out to doing God’s will,” she said, thinking about her father and the way he lived. “Always has been. He doesn’t just talk about Jesus. He knows Jesus. And everything he does is a reflection of that.”
“Well, that’s definitely admirable,” Luke nodded. “And something we should all aspire to.”
“How about you?” she asked, her mind already switching topics. Or rather, switching to Luke. Different person, same topic.
“How about me what?” he asked, obviously not following. Which was understandable, given how difficult it was to follow her sometimes.
“Your family,” she said. “They live in Dallas?”
Luke shook his head. “Nope.”
Before Zoe could ask for more details (and wow, Luke sure wasn’t helping her when it came to offering up any good conversation without her prodding), his phone rang.
“I need to get this,” he said apologetically before reaching for the phone and turning it on. “This is Luke.”
He listened for a few seconds. “Yes, I have it on the calendar,” he said. “I sent out the flight details on the same day I confirmed the hotel rooms.” A pause, as he listened again. “Yes, there were three. Dr. Connor added his granddaughter to the itinerary at the last minute.”
He glanced over at Zoe.
Oh, he was talking about her! About the trips she was going to make with them! Blame it on jet lag, but she’d been wondering for a brief moment why Grandpa Paul had added Amelia to any itinerary. Amelia was a granddaughter and all, but she was a travel agent, so she could probably do that herself.
But, of course. They were talking about Zoe.
The first trip! Where would it be? Some exotic destination? Some place full of adventure?
“Columbus, Ohio,” Luke repeated. “Yes, that’s what we’ve got first.”
Zoe’s American geography was lacking, as was her knowledge of most American subjects, which is probably why she couldn’t figure out for the life of her why they’d be going to Columbus, Ohio. Nay, why anyone would be going to Columbus, Ohio.
“Convention meeting,” Luke repeated to the caller, but Zoe took it as his answer to the question she hadn’t voiced.
“Of course,” she murmured, making him glance over at her again.
“Standard events, just like every time,” Luke said, his attention back on the call. “Luncheons, the introductions of all the former presidents, and a… what?”
Zoe strained to hear what was being said, given the tension that had come on Luke’s face.
“An award?” he asked. “Dr. Connor is being presented with an award. I knew that, but… he’s preaching the keynote, then?”
She’d get to hear Grandpa Paul preach. She’d never heard him preach. Blame it on the bad relationship he had with his son, but Zoe had never once heard her grandfather, who was a prince among pulpit dwellers, ever exposit the word of God. He’d been doing it since he was a teenager, so there’s no telling how many sermons there had been over that lifetime, but Zoe hadn’t heard any of them.
She’d gladly go to Columbus to hear Grandpa Paul preach.
“Well, he’ll do fine,” Luke said. “I only worry about… well, he’s recently widowed and… the New Life transition.”
He’d said this with lowered voice.
What was that all about? What was going on at Grandpa Paul’s church? She knew that he was transitioning to retirement, but why had Luke said it like this?
“All the presidents come up with their wives,” he said. “And if we’re going to single out Dr. Connor to give an award, it seems an even greater singling out – in a negative way, given his bereavement – to have him up there alone. And letting him speak afterwards, when he’s sure to deliver a scathing indictment –”
Zoe didn’t know anything about what kind of scathing indictment he’d deliver (or even what that meant) or what was going on with the church, but she did pick up on one thing.
“Luke, I can go up there with him,” she said, already picturing it in her mind. Wasn’t that why she was here? To help Grandpa Paul?
Luke made a face at this, probably ready to tell her why it was a bad idea or just to be quiet either one since he was on the phone, but the caller on the other end kept him from saying a word.
“Oh, you think that’s a good idea?” he finally asked, looking away from Zoe. “Well, she’s certainly willing.”
Well, that settled it then, didn’t it?
He turned to her. “It’s a very formal event,” he whispered. “You’ll need to be dressed up. Did you pack something like that… like a formal dress?”
No. No, she hadn’t. She probably should have.
“We can take a shopping trip,” she grinned at him. “Here in Dallas! Or in Columbus!”
He stared at her for a long moment, and she could tell that he was fighting to keep from rolling his eyes.
She smiled at him. He turned back to his phone.
“Okay, we’re confirmed for that. So, now I’ve got to get her ready and make sure she doesn’t say anything crazy, too? While I’m keeping a leash on Dr. Connor as well?”
A leash, as though she was like a dog. And she wouldn’t say anything crazy.
“Maybe you should be the one escorting him up there, Luke,” she said thoughtfully, entirely serious as she thought through it. “You’re the new Grandma Phoebe, after all.”
And that rendered both the caller and Luke completely silent. Luke stared at her.
Well, maybe she would say something crazy.
“Jet lag,” she grinned, resting her head on the seat and drifting off to sleep as Luke continued to plan their trip to Columbus.
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