Authors: Katelyn Detweiler
Tags: #Young Adult, #Contemporary, #Romance
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
USA * Canada * UK * Ireland * Australia
New Zealand * India * South Africa * China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015
Copyright Â© 2015 by Katelyn Detweiler
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN
Immaculate / Katelyn Detweiler.
Summary: Mina, seventeen, has everything going for her until she discovers she is pregnant and no one, especially her boyfriend and her father, will believe that she is a virgin except for the few who have faith that miracles are possible and that her unborn child could be the greatest miracle of all.
[1. PregnancyâFiction. 2. FaithâFiction. 3. VirginityâFiction. 4. Family lifeâ Fiction. 5. FriendshipâFiction.] I. Title.
To Carebear & Denny,
because your faith makes all things possible.
“There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Whenever I think
back to that night at the restaurant, that night that changed everythingâand I do mean absolutely everythingâI wonder if I could have done or said anything different, somehow convinced the old woman that she had the wrong girl. That my life was just fine as it was, no life-altering, world-altering miracles necessary, though I appreciated the once-in-a-few-millennia-or-so offer.
Or maybeÂ .Â .Â . maybe there'd never been a choice at all, no right or wrong answer.
Maybe the decision had already been made for me from the second my life began.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
At the time, she was just one more obstacle standing between me and my freedom, one more slice of wilting pizza to heat up in the oven, one more sticky table to wipe down before I could untie my apron and savor the last precious minutes of my Friday night. It wasn't even just a regular Fridayâthis Friday had been the last day of junior year, a night to rejoice, to be giddy and high on all the gloriousness of the summer that stretched out ahead. But instead I was scraping grease off pizza pans and stacking towers of plastic dressing containers in the refrigerator.
I'd never seen her there before, an occurrence which in and of itself was something of note at Frankie and Friends' Pizzeria. Between me, my parents, and my seven-year-old sister, Gracie, we were somehow known or connected to most people in the town one way or another. More often than not I was serving overflowing plates of fettuccini Alfredo to one of my old elementary school teachers or one of my mother's colleagues from the Green Hill Historical Society, someone who would much rather talk about how I'd scored on the SATs or where I was applying to college than about our dinner specials for the night. The same was true for any public place in all of Green Hill, Pennsylvaniaânot that “all of” means that much in a town that spans about ten miles and has five thousand or so residents, give or take a few recent babies or nursing-home casualtiesâso, really, Frankie's was no exception. No grocery store, coffee shop, or doctor's office was safe from the threat of discovery and the inevitable and generally unnecessary conversation that followed.
I was staring at the clock by that point in the night, swirling a spoon through the vat of day-old garlic knots and oil, when I heard the bell above the front door jingle. I straightened and glanced back, hoping it was just Frankie or one of the guys from the kitchen coming in after a cigarette break out on the front lot. But instead there was a very short, very wrinkled old woman in a worn patchwork jacket, struggling to keep the front door open as she strained against her tall black cane. After successfully making it across the threshold, she lifted her hunched shoulders and took in the view, bright green eyes scanning the booths and the counter until her gaze met mine. She grinned at me, her lips curling to reveal two scattered rows of broken, yellowed teeth.
“Can I help you, ma'am?” I asked, shifting as best as I could into my perky waitress mode, an automated tone that probably did little to hide the fact that helping her was actually the last thing I wanted to do at 9:55 on a Friday night.
“Yes, dear, I think you can. I know you can, really.” She smiled again, her eyes crinkling nearly all the way up to her hairline, a bright white tangle pulled into a loose knob at the top of her head, and started her slow, methodical shuffle to the closest booth.
“Can I start you off with a drink?” I asked, loud and pronounced, as I put a sticky menu down on the table in front of her. “We have Coke, Diet Coke, Spriteâ”
“Just a water for now, my dear,” she cut in. “With lemon and a little dollop of sugar, if you don't mind.”
“Sugar water and lemon, coming right up,” I said brightly, as if I got that request all the time, glad for an excuse to turn away and let the edges of my tight smile slip. I grabbed a small paper cup on my way through the kitchen and dragged it along the bottom of the cooler, at that point filled with mostly melted ice water. I sprinkled in a packet of sugar and topped it off with the last wedge of shriveled lemon, and then I started back for the dining room.
I could hear my phone vibrating on the shelf beneath the register, and I looked up at the clock. Ten on the dot. I knew it would be my boyfriend, Nate, checking in to see if I was still coming over to his place, where practically half of the junior class was already gathered, celebrating life and nearly three months of freedom. But I kept walking toward the table, efficiency being my top priority. Older people rarely ate more than half of the food on their plates, so with any luck, this lady would gum a few bites of pizza and be out in less than ten minutes.
“What else can I get for you, ma'am?” I asked, placing the cup between her shaky fingers. Her clasped hands were laced with veins so pronounced and so blue, I almost had to reach out and touch her, had to feel for myself the mark of that much time, that many years of life. I turned my gaze over to her face, the wrinkles etched so deeply into the papery white skin that her other featuresâher eyes, her nose, her mouthâseemed to poke out defiantly from the folds, as if they were determined not to be swallowed up and erased from existence altogether. She was without a doubt the oldest woman I'd ever seen in person.
“I think the water should be just fine for now,” she said, and I snapped back, realizing how closely I'd been staring at her. She smiled again and reached out with one of her hands, patting my wrist as if she had somehow heard my thoughts. I flinched at the leathery cool of her touch.
“A little conversation would be nice, too. Would you sit with me for a bit?”
Frustration flashed across my face before I could check myself, but if the old woman noticed the brief slip, she appeared unfazed, nodding toward the opposite bench of the booth. Guilt settled into my stomach, and I knew I shouldn't reject her. It could have been weeks, months, since she'd had any real human interaction. Maybe she had no family, no kids or grandkids to take care of her. I thought of my own grandmothers, both gone, and missed them with such a sharp, surprising pang that I sat down without even realizing I'd made the decision.
“What a lovely, happy place to work,” she said, her wispy voice crackling with effort. “Such wonderful decor, don't you think?”
I glanced around the dining room as if I hadn't seen it thousands of times before, and assumed she must be kidding. Frankie's was a complete pizza joint clichÃ©, tables covered in faded red-and-white-checkered cloths, bunches of plastic grapes clumped along the ceiling, Catholic icons and other biblical paintings squeezed in against landscapes of the homeland and pictures of wine bottles and fancy cheese wheels.
She appeared to be sincere, though, no hint of sarcasm in her twinkling eyes as she looked up at the life-size portrait of the Madonna hanging above our table. It was fairly standard, a poker-faced Mary with a chubby baby Jesus in her arms, halos over their heads. I frowned, noticing the layer of dust coating the painting's thick bronze frame. That would have to be a job for tomorrow's waitress.
“Sure, it's nice enough, I suppose,” I said. “I've worked here for so long, I guess I don't really think about it anymore.”
“You're a dedicated young lady, working on a Friday night when you could be enjoying yourself instead.” She reached out and covered one of my hands with her spindly fingers. “They're lucky to have you.”
I blinked, shaking off her strange spell, and shifted my eyes back to the clock. Our kitchen guys, Carl and Johnny, were in the back with Frankie, prepping for tomorrow and no doubt waiting for me on any last plates and utensils that needed to be washed. My hand felt prickly, and I itched to pull it out from under the old woman's grip, but I couldn't bring myself to disappoint her so soon. There was something about her, the hopeful twist of her smile, the soft shine of her eyes, that made me want to please her.
“Do you live in town?” I asked, still curious how a woman like this could exist in Green Hill without me knowing.
“Oh no, no,” she gasped, shaking her head. “I'm not from here. This isn't my kind of home.”
I laughed out loud. “Yeah, you're not alone. Green Hill certainly isn't for everyone.”
She looked puzzled for a second, tilting her head at my response. “I'm not sure I know what you mean, dear, but no bother. I must explain something to you now, something very important. I'm here in your town, in this restaurant, for a special reason.” She paused for a few seconds, taking in a deep, rattling breath. “I'm here to see
A chill spread up through my arm, and I looked down at my hand, numb under the strange, unfamiliar pressure of her palm.
“Why would you be here to see
?” I paused, torn between the desire to humor her and the desire to put as much distance between us as possible. My eyes shifted over to the closed kitchen doors. Why hadn't Johnny or Carl come out to harass me about the dirty plates yet? They were usually so dependably cranky at the end of a shift. Why be so patient with me tonight of all nights?
I turned back to her. “We've never met before, ma'am,” I said, slow and even, the same tone I would use if I were explaining some serious fact of life to a kindergartner. “You don't know me. You couldn't possibly be in Green Hill to see me.”
“Oh, Mina,” she said. “Mina, Mina.” She was shaking her head as if
were the five-year-old who needed to understand. “Just because we've never met before doesn't mean I don't know you.”
I leaned back and jerked my hand free from her grasp. Not disappointing her no longer felt like the most pressing concern. “How do you know my name?”
“I've always known your name, Mina. I've always known everything about youÂ .Â .Â .” Her voice trailed off. She bit down on her lower lip and squirmed in her seat, her body squealing against the shiny plastic upholstery.
“Oh, dear, I'm afraid I'm not explaining myself very well, am I?” she said after a few more tense secondsâtense seconds in which I was busy debating the ethics of defending myself in a physical altercation with this obviously very disturbed old lady. That ratty, moth-holed jacket of hers could have easily been hiding a whole treasure trove of potential weapons: a rusty letter opener, knitting needles, the broken shards of a reading glass. It was a balmy June night, after all, and the quilted coat was excessiveâmaybe it was serving some ulterior purpose beyond just keeping her warm. And her black cane, the cane that had seemed completely innocuous a few minutes ago, suddenly looked so ominous propped against the crook of her arm. Maybe those wrinkles were expertly molded on like a mask, some fancy trick of makeup, and she was actually a spry and powerful warrior who could ninja-kick me over the back of the booth.
Nate had made me watch too many superhero action movies for my own good. My already very creative mind didn't need the additional material.
“I don't want to scare you, Mina. That's really the last thing I want to do. I need you to trust me.”
“And I don't want to be rude, but trusting a complete stranger who claims to know everything about me is a little difficult to do. You have to understand that,” I responded. “I don't know a single thing about you. I don't even know your name. Who are you?”
“Good idea,” she said, looking relieved and more at ease, a small smile back on her face. “Let's take it a little slower, ease into this a bit more.” She extended her right hand and let it hover over the middle of the tabletop. “I'm Iris, and it's a pleasure to finally meet you.”
I looked down at her hand, hesitating before giving her a few limp, halfhearted shakes. “Okay, Iris, please just tell me why you're here, and then I really have to clean up and close this place down for the night. There are people back in the kitchen waiting for me.”
I wanted to add,
I was supposed to be at my boyfriend's house, hanging out with all my friends and actually enjoying one small shred of my Friday night. But no, I'm sitting here with you, instead. Not quite how I planned on kicking off my summer vacation.
“We've decided that it's time, Mina,” she said, her small voice filled with a startling amount of conviction. “It's time. We've decided that you're ready, that everyone's ready. The longer we wait, the more trouble we'll see, and I think that the world has seen enough trouble, don't you?”
“Okay, Iris, I wanted to give you a chance, I really did, but to be completely honest, I'm starting to feel uncomfortable having this conversation. Incredibly uncomfortable, actually.” I pushed back from the table and stood up.
“No, Mina, wait. I'm here to warn youÂ .Â .Â .”
me?” I asked, snapping at her. I could feel the heat spreading up the back of my neck and flaming out across my cheeks.
Iris drew back. Her face pinched inward, making her wrinkles even sharper and more severe. “No, no,” she said, stumbling over her words. “
wasn't the right word to use. I'm so sorry. I'm making such a mess of this, aren't I? I'm not going to harm you, Mina, of course not. You're so important, so valuable to us. Keeping you and the child safe is all that matters now.”
“Child? What child? Gracie? What in God's name are you talking about, Iris?”
Her green eyes, steady and unblinking, pierced me. “No, not your sister. Not Grace. Your child, Mina.
I could feel something in my knees starting to give way, a building tremor that threatened to bring me down to the tile floor. I took a deep breath as I backed away, toward the front counter, propping myself up against the glass pizza display case for support.
“I have no idea what you mean by that, Iris, but I need you to leave.”
“But, Mina,” she said, putting her cane down and steadying herself as she tried to push up from the booth. “You need to understandâ”