Read And the Greatest of These Is Love: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel Online

Authors: Staci Stallings

Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction, #Inspirational

And the Greatest of These Is Love: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel (4 page)

BOOK: And the Greatest of These Is Love: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“We had a visitor today,” Jerry said slowly. He stepped in as if the next step might in fact plunge him to his death.

“A visitor?” she asked, already wary because of how wary he looked.

“Yeah, a guy from The Herald. Andrew something-or-other. He’s going to be doing a story about us in tomorrow’s paper.”

She went back to cleaning. “Oh, yeah? Why?”

“I figured it couldn’t hurt.” Jerry leaned on the bookcase and folded his arms, looking more tired than she’d ever seen him. “Truth is, I don’t know what else to do, Gabi. 18 years this place has been my life. 18 years...”

“And look at all the kids you’ve helped,” Gabi said in defense of him and all he had done.

“But there’s so much more to do.” He shook his head, and his smile was tight and sad.

“Look.” She quit cleaning and stabbed the multi-colored cloth in the air like a sword. “I’m not going to say I don’t know how you feel, because I do, but I will say this. I’m not going down without a fight, and neither should you. Now, I don’t know how, but we’re going to find a way to do this — we’re going to keep this place going.” Passion, anger, and fear sounded in her voice overlapping each other. “I’m not giving up on these kids. Not now. Not ever.”

Going over to the other wall, she stuffed the remaining paints in the drawer as he watched her, saying nothing. She straightened and went to her desk

“Now, I’m going home to work on these,” she said, holding up the now dwindling stack of papers. “And I want you to go home and get some sleep. You dying is not going to help this place one bit. Do you hear me?”

He nodded with resignation lacing the movement. “Yes.”

“Good, now let’s get out of here before it’s time for us to be back.” Gabi took hold of his elbow and steered him out of her classroom.

“Gabi, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Believe me, Jerr, you’re never going to have to find out,” she said as she turned off the lights and locked the door.


“Dang it,” Andrew said under his breath as he tried to edit his story down to ten inches of copy. Writing had never been a problem — editing, however, was a different story.

“Problem, Son?” Bill asked, appearing above him.

“It’s this story.” Andrew squinted at the screen, looking for something to excise.

“The Center story?”


“Not enough info?”

“Just the opposite.” Andrew sighed, deleted a word and then shook his head and replaced it. It was hopeless. There was no way to fit everything he wanted to say about the place in ten inches.

“Ahh, a much more difficult problem,” Bill said with a knowing nod.

“Tell me about it.” Then like a shot a thought struck him just as Bill turned to leave. “Hey, Bill, why don’t we run some kind of series on the place?”

“A series?” Bill turned back in surprise. “But I thought you didn’t even want to write this one.”

“I could do it, Bill. We could kick it off in Sunday’s edition. I could get on it this week — interview some of the kids, the teachers,” he said, thinking of one in particular he’d like to interview but pushing that down under professional.

“I don’t know, Drew. What about Woodruff?”

Woodruff. The story of a lifetime. It would hit the streets in just under six hours. Andrew thought about it for a moment.

“Rob might be able to pick up some of it for me,” he said, indicating the empty desk across from him.

That surprised Bill even more. “Rob?”

“Yeah, but only if I need it — which I won’t,” Andrew said, the determination to make both stories work flooding through his veins. “Come on, Bill. This is important.”

Bill’s eyebrows arched as he tilted his head. “Well, I guess if it’s that important to you…”


Chapter 4


Jerry stopped by the newsstand on his way in. He couldn’t wait to see the article. It wouldn’t be much, he was sure, but it was something. Something to give him hope for one more day.

At his desk, he scanned the first page with anticipation. Okay, so it wasn’t front page news. Slowly, he flipped through the paper, reading every headline and even a few of the paragraphs that looked promising. Nothing. Not one word.

Section A — nothing. Section B — nothing. C, D, E nothing. Hope slipped from his fingertips as he closed the paper and laid it on the desk in front of him.


“Hey, boss. So how is it?” Gabi asked, bouncing into his office, but the look on his face stopped her cold. Cheerfulness slid away from her. “That bad?”

“Bad?” Jerry snorted. “Bad would be a good thing.”

“Huh?” Coming in, Gabi slipped into the seat in front of him. “What does that mean?”

“It means there’s nothing there. Nothing. Zero. Nada. It’s over, Gabi,” he said, flipping the paper over the desk to her and obviously holding back the tears forming behind his tired eyes.

Thinking it must be some horrible mix-up, she slowly picked up the paper and scanned through it, but she, too, came up empty.

“Well, who needs them?” She folded the paper and pitched it to the desk, trying to keep her determination intact although now it felt more like anger. “I filled out the rest of these last night. We can mail them today. Surely one of them will hit.”

He shook his head. “We need more than one.”

The sadness in Jerry’s eyes gripped her soul, and Gabi struggled to keep her composure, her hope, her faith. But their options were thinning quickly, and true desperation was starting to take hold.

“How long can we stay opened like this?” she finally asked slowly not because she wanted to, but because she needed to know.

“Well, let’s see.” He leaned back, closed his eyes, thinking about the budget he probably had memorized by now. “For last month, we’re about $10,000 down. This month we need to pay our insurance, and taxes come due. Right now about half our parents are at least two months behind, and we really need one more teacher to work the baby room each day. If pressed, I’d say we’ll be down about $20,000 by the end of this month, and at that point I think things will get really serious.”

Gabi sat in shocked silence. She’d had no idea it was this bad.

“By month’s end, we’re probably going to be out on the streets — and so are the kids.”


Across town, the courthouse was in an uproar, reporters and cameramen were everywhere. Justin Woodruff had been accosted by a myriad of them on his way to court, where he found more reporters than defendants, as well as a visitor from the FBI. All trials were suspended shortly after nine, pending the soon to be begun investigation into the matter.


“This is Kelly Bennett reporting live from the courthouse, and now we’ll take it back to Bob in the newsroom,” the voice on the radio droned.

Andrew took a deep, slow breath. That was his story. The story of a lifetime. He had dreamt of this moment — hearing his story reported frantically by every news organization trying to play catch-up. But he’d never quite pictured it like this. He wasn’t standing in the white marbled courthouse foyer accepting the jealous congratulations of his colleagues. No, he was driving down a bumpy half-paved street among housing projects that might fall down at any second toward a place that only yesterday, he swore he never wanted to get near.

And the weirdest thing was, he’d asked for this. Begged for this. He must be totally out of his mind. He should turn the car around right now and get back to his real life.

But the music pulled him in.


With every passing minute the dread in her heart and the rock on her shoulders grew. Each little face, each little voice reminded her that it would all be gone soon, and that thought brought her close to tears on more than one occasion. Somehow, Gabi had to shake out of this for the kids’ sakes. She needed something to take her mind off the impending doom settling on this place. She needed to be outside.

“How many of you have noticed the pretty leaves on the ground outside?” she asked as the children sat at her feet.

“Me. Me.”

“What colors are the leaves?”

“Brown, red, yellow,” the answers came flying back.

“Well, I think we should all put our jackets on and go find as many different colored leaves as we can,” she said as cheerfully as possible.



As he pulled into the parking lot, the knot in Andrew’s stomach from the day before returned. What was he doing here? This wasn’t his beat. This shouldn’t have even been his story. He should be back in the courthouse, but his feet weren’t listening to his brain— they were moving in the direction that his soul was pulling him.

He could almost hear the building groaning with age as he took his first real look at it, but suddenly the groaning was drowned out by the shouts of excited, happy children that filled the morning air. He smiled in spite of himself and all the harsh thoughts. Even here in this unimaginable poverty, the children could be happy. In fact, if he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine he was back in the park— with Greg and his friends. The thought of Greg made him smile even more. He was going to have to make it a point to take him out again.

As he opened the heavy door to the place, his ears strained for the music inside. Hearing the happy children beyond the door lifted something in his soul, and it seemed for a moment as he paused inside and the two worlds— inside and out— blended together and that the music was in fact there. But then the door closed behind him with a clang, and there was only silence.

He walked slowly down to Jerry’s office, wishing he knew which room she was in. It would be easy to walk by and get a glimpse of her. He had wanted nothing else for 24 hours now, and his heart felt like it might quit beating if he didn’t get another glimpse of her before she flitted from his grasp again.


Gabi was sitting on the ground watching the children play in the leaves, and in spite of everything, she smiled. She just couldn’t be sad here. There was something about happy, joyous children at play that dusted the dark clouds from her mind. These children knew the dinginess of life, and yet, if given the chance to simply play in the pretty leaves, they did it with passion.

“Miss T!  Miss T!” Leslie said, skipping over to her. “Come play with us!”

Gabi smiled at the beautiful, little girl. So much life. So much promise wrapped in that tiny package.

“Please!  Please!” the other children chorused, and Gabi got to her feet to join them.


Jerry was buried ten deep in applications when the knock sounded on his door.

“Come in,” he replied gruffly, never averting his eyes from the papers.


“Mr. Richardson?” Andrew asked, pushing the door further open, sensing this was a bad time. “I’m sorry to bother you.”

Jerry looked up, and for a moment his eyes jumped open. Then they fell back as anger replaced the surprise. “What do you want?” he asked, returning to his papers.

“Oh. Um. I was hoping you might have a few minutes to talk,” Andrew said, suddenly wishing he hadn’t bothered. “But if this is a bad time...”

“No.” With a hard sigh, Jerry threw his pen to the desk. “Have a seat.”

“Thank you.” Andrew was grateful for whatever opening he could get. “The reason I’m here… Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but my story didn’t run in this morning’s paper.”

“I noticed,” Jerry said, leaning back in his chair and staring holes through Andrew.

“Yes, well. There’s a reason for that.”

Jerry’s eyes narrowed. “That’s nice to know.”

“Bill and I talked about it last night, and... well, we think this place deserves more than just one story. In fact, we want to do a series about it in next week’s paper.”

The chair crashed to the floor as shock registered on the older man’s face. “A series?”

“Yes, I’m thinking maybe six stories starting Sunday and running through Friday,” Andrew said, knowing instinctively he had Jerry hooked. “I could interview you and the teachers, the volunteers, the kids, the parents, maybe even some contributors. I just feel like there’s more to this place than people normally see, and I was hoping...”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, sir. Very serious.”


It had become an all-out leaf battle on the playground, and Gabi was losing pitifully. She flung leaves in every direction as fast as she could, but there were too many children throwing them right back at her.

“Mercy!  Mercy!” she finally cried, throwing her hands up in defeat and collapsing onto the ground as the children covered her with more leaves. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and her body was convulsed with laughter as the children shrieked in glee at defeating their teacher.

She lay on the hard ground for a long time. It would be nice to stay here forever, she thought. But finally, she took a deep breath, pulled up to her knees, and brushed the leaves from her dress as the children giggled around her.

“Okay. Okay. I think that’s enough for one day,” she said, smoothing her skirt and regaining her footing.


“Well, maybe, if you’re good, we’ll come out and play again later.”


“But right now everybody get their buddy. We’re going in.”


“Well, I was hoping to get to interview some of the teachers today,” Andrew said, pleading with God to let her be here today.

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Jerry said with marked enthusiasm. “And I know just who you should start with.”


Gabi walked into the darkened hallway beside the children. After the fresh outside air, the air in the building was suffocating. She wished again that there was enough money to at least paint the hallways something other than dull, lifeless brown. It was depressing, and not in a good way.

“Gabi!” Jerry called from behind her just as the children trooped into the classroom in front of her. She turned around and stopped short in surprise. It was Jerry all right, but he wasn’t alone. Walking right next to him was a god in a suit. Charcoal hair clipped just right, green eyes, and a three-piece suit and a smile that immediately made her face burn. Unconsciously she smoothed out her skirt wishing she could look in a mirror, and knowing even as she thought it, she hadn’t taken nearly enough time with how she looked this morning.


Andrew’s heart soared as he looked at her, the leaves and twigs still clinging to her almost straight dark hair, and in his soul he knew without asking that she was the cause of the laughter he’d heard outside. He couldn’t have stopped himself from smiling at her if he’d wanted to— which he so didn’t.

“Gabi, this is Andrew Clark, the reporter from The Herald that I mentioned. Andrew, this is Gabriella Treyvillion,” Jerry said, tipping his head in introduction. However, neither of them moved as they both stood there, staring at the other.

“Oh. It’s nice to meet you, Gabriella.” Andrew managed to extend his hand though it took real effort to get himself to keep thinking straight.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” she said, the final word catching in her voice when her hand touched his. She seemed to shake herself a little before she smiled the most amazing, heart-stopping smile he’d ever in his life seen. The dimple in her cheek stopped his heart with one brief appearance. “And please, call me Gabi.”

“Oh, okay, Gabi,” he said, holding her hand in his a moment more. He never wanted to let go. Why did he have to again? She looked at him and then glanced down at their hands still connected between them. A jerk of his thoughts, and he finally managed to pull his hand away. That didn’t stop the joy dancing in his soul as he noticed the leaves in her hair once again. Reaching over, he plucked one from the strands and held it up. “Looks like you’ve been attacked by an oak tree.”


“Oh, my…” Instantly Gabi reached up to her hair and swiped at it in utter humiliation. Her smile disintegrated as she realized how middle school she was acting. “The children and I were just playing outside. I… didn’t have time to...” but explanations were useless at this moment because nothing was making any sense to her anymore anyway.

“Gabi, Andrew tells me he’s going to do a whole series on the center,” Jerry said, and there was a lilt in his voice she hadn’t heard in a long time. “I thought he might want to interview you as a start.”

“Me?” she asked. The swiping stopped, and she looked at Jerry in surprised panic. “Why me?”

“Because next to me you know more about this place than anybody,” Jerry said matter-of-factly. “I thought maybe I could take your class for a little while and give the two of you a chance to talk.”

“Now?” Gabi asked, her eyes widening as the air clutched her lungs.

Jerry leveled his gaze at her as if to express the gravity of the situation. “Yes, now. Is that a problem?”

BOOK: And the Greatest of These Is Love: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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