Authors: Myra Johnson
Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Mystery & Suspense, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Christian, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction
Copyright © 2014 by Myra Johnson
Cover design by Myra Johnson
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This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it or borrow it through the Kindle lending system, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Scripture quotations from:
The New International Version
. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version
. (1989). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
because you never stopped
believing in this story!
In memory of our own Brynna-dog,
a sweet and affectionate Greyhound
who loved her retirement!
I owe my husband, Jack, a huge debt of thanks for all the years he has encouraged and supported me along this roller-coaster writing journey. Thanks for reading my manuscripts, helping with research, and for taking over so many of the daily household tasks so I could spend more time writing. I appreciate you and our beautiful daughters, Johanna and Julena, so very much for the many ways you have expressed your confidence in my dream.
Special thanks to Julena for your assistance with edits and proofreading
Pearl of Great Price
in its final stages. Your critical eye helped make the story even better.
I’m grateful to Drs. Erv Janssen and Kathleen Klaassen for answering my questions about psychiatric disorders during the early development of this story and for giving me greater insight into my characters. Any discrepancies are strictly my own.
I’ll be forever indebted to twelve wonderful authors whose friendship, prayers, and the occasional kick in the pants never fail to lift my spirits even during the most difficult writing days. I love you all, my Seeker sisters—Audra, Cara, Debby, Glynna, Janet, Julie, Mary, Missy, Pam, Ruthy, Sandra, and Tina. Thanks for always being there when I need you!
June, 24 years ago
Little Rock, Arkansas
Mama was dead.
Thank you, Lord!
Not that Rennie put much stock in prayer or even God anymore. But three days ago she’d found Mama stretched across her bed, one arm flung across the frayed chenille spread, the other draped in graceful repose across her abdomen. Sightless eyes peered from beneath half-closed lids as if watching, waiting, wishing for that sweet chariot Mama used to sing about to swing low and sweep her out of this cruel, cruel world.
The water glass next to the empty prescription bottle bore Burgundy Nights lip prints. Leave it to Mama to put on her makeup before committing suicide. And dress in her prettiest batik caftan, too.
They should have expected this, especially if anyone had bothered to check the calendar. People said anniversaries were always the hardest. Rennie had tried her best to forget this anniversary, the first one since the accident. How stupid could her parents be? Abandoning the resort, leaving Hot Springs, moving into a dank little bungalow up the highway in Little Rock and pretending that day on the lake never happened?
A day that would haunt Rennie for the rest of her life.
At least now Mama wouldn’t be around anymore, piling on the blame, shooting hateful glances. It was all Mama’s fault, anyway. Rennie hoped she burned in hell.
Daddy touched her arm. “Rennie, it’s your turn.”
Her head snapped up. A ripple of surprise coursed through her before she remembered where she was. The cemetery, beside Mama’s open grave, on a sultry June morning with rainclouds looming. Stately pines stood motionless, not a breath of breeze to stir their branches. A carpet of neon-green fake grass rustled beneath the soles of Rennie’s patent-leather pumps. She’d saved up months of baby-sitting money to buy them for her new friend Linda’s “sweet sixteen” dance party at the country club.
Which she’d be missing today, no thanks to Mama.
Sometime during Rennie’s woolgathering, the coffin had been lowered into the hole. She cast Daddy a blank stare. “My turn for what?”
Aunt Geneva, on her other side, handed her a long-stemmed, pale-pink lily. “Say your good-byes, honey.”
Rennie stepped forward, chin raised. She shredded the lily and flung the pieces onto the coffin lid. “Good-bye, Mama. Good riddance.”
“Rennie!” Daddy’s voice broke on a sob.
Across the chasm, the preacher in the frumpy suit cast her a stunned frown. The other mourners—what few there were, which served Mama right—lowered their eyes and whispered among each other.
“What? You expect me to be sorry she’s dead, after how she ruined my life? You weren’t there. You don’t know—”
Aunt Geneva seized Rennie’s wrist. “Please, child, not here.”
, you mean! Nobody knows how awful she treated me. I did
to try to please that evil woman.” She clamped her mouth shut and swallowed unshed tears. No longer would she silently take the blame for something that was
not her fault!
“Your mama wasn’t evil.” Aunt Geneva edged closer and drew Rennie into her arms. “She was very troubled, very . . . sick.”
“She was sick, all right. Sick in the
!” Rennie clenched her fists at her sides and stood stiff as a fence post, hoping Aunt Geneva would take the hint and release her.
But she didn’t. Aunt Geneva held on tight and planted kiss after kiss on Rennie’s throbbing temple, as if atoning for her own guilt in this madness. Because Aunt Geneva should have seen it, too—Mama’s neediness, her violent mood swings, her obsession with perfection. She should have done something. They all should have done something.
Now it was too late. Too late for Mama, too late for Rennie.
Saddest of all, it was a year too late for Jenny.
Caddo Pines, Arkansas
“You’re late, Julie Pearl.”
Flinching beneath my grandpa’s pointed stare, I settled onto the barstool behind the front counter of our family-owned indoor flea market. “Sorry, I overslept. Had another bad night.”
“Thought I heard you tossing and turning again.” Grandpa replaced the waste bin he’d just emptied. “Ain’t been sleeping so well, myself.”
I shot him a worried glance. “Everything okay?”
He just grunted and headed toward the back of the shop. Didn’t even ask what had kept me awake half the night.
Not like it was anything I could share with the sweet old man who raised me. Just my ever-growing sense of restlessness. I wouldn’t call it dissatisfaction, exactly. I loved my grandpa and I loved the flea market. Nope, this was all about filling in the holes in my life, finding the missing puzzle pieces that would make my story complete.
The problem was I didn’t even know where to begin, and at age twenty-seven maybe I’d waited too long to try.
Truth be told, some days I felt like a naïve schoolgirl. Other days, so much older. Folks have often told me I should have been born half a century ago. I’ve been called an ancient in a young woman’s body, a flower child amongst Generation Nexters. Guess that’s what comes of being raised around old things. Vintage clothing and costume jewelry. Dented avocado-green refrigerators and antique furniture. Depression glass, a 1956 set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, and don’t forget those eight-tracks and cassettes of Carly Simon and the Beatles. You could find all that and more at our drafty, gymnasium-sized warehouse where thirty-seven vendors displayed their wares. Otto Stiles’ Swap & Shop (no “s” after the apostrophe, thank you; it’d spoil the sibilance). Otto Stiles. Out of style. Get it? And yes, that’s his real name.
Maybe some of the stuff we offered should have been thrown in the dumpster years ago, but most of it could still be useful, or carried sentimental value anyway. Grandpa had been reusing and recycling since the days when “green” meant either a bad case of envy or serious tummy trouble. Yes, indeed, he had a real gift for discerning the hidden worth of a thing.
Not the least of which was me.
I’d lived with my grandpa in a four-room apartment above the Swap & Shop for as long as I could remember. As a school kid, I spent my weekends and summers tagging merchandise, sweeping aisles, greeting customers, and manning the checkout counter. After I earned my community college degree, Grandpa promoted me to manager—which turned out to be a smart move on both our parts, since not three months later, Grandpa landed in the hospital for a quadruple bypass. The thought of losing him scared me spitless, but thank the Lord he came through just fine. Certainly there was no shortage of prayers, including my own and the promise that if only God would let me keep my grandpa around a few more years, I’d devote my life to taking care of him and the Swap & Shop.
No regrets about that promise, I guarantee! Although I will admit managing a flea market is not the most exciting job in the world, even on the busiest days. And we sure didn’t get much excitement in Caddo Pines, Arkansas, barely a bulge on the winding back roads between Hot Springs and Little Rock. Nope, Caddo Pines was not exactly what you’d consider a “happening” kind of town. But all in all, it was a good life, a life I cherished, a life I wouldn’t trade for anything.
So why couldn’t I shake this confounded restlessness? I’d spent most of my life shoving aside unanswered questions about where I came from—the mother I barely remembered, the father who remained nothing more than a scribbled name in Grandpa’s family Bible. Why should today be any different?
Except, to be completely honest, a heavy disquietude came upon me about this time every year. Along about Memorial Day, I’d start feeling an edgy kind of dread, like a bunch of nervous frogs jumping around in my belly. I used to blame the onset of summer and the fear that Grandpa would put me in swimming lessons again—which I hated!
But swimming lessons ended the year I turned fourteen, hallelujah, so what was my excuse for the past dozen or so years? By hook or by crook, I made up my mind this would be the summer I put an end to it.
Grandpa appeared beside me and slapped his car keys onto the counter. “I’m fixin’ to run some errands, Julie Pearl. You got the bank deposit ready?”
“Just finished.” I shoved the cash drawer shut and zipped up the bank bag. “Pretty good weekend, all things considered.”
Grandpa tucked the bank bag under his arm. “After I drop this off, I’m gonna check out an estate sale over in Benton. You be okay till I get back?”
“Are you kidding? It’s Monday, remember?” The slowest day of the week in the flea market business. And I expected
Monday would be even slower than normal—partly the heat, partly the fact that most people already shopped till they dropped the previous weekend over Memorial Day.
“Just the same, buzz if you need me.” Grandpa patted the pants pocket where he kept his cell phone—his one concession to the twenty-first century.
“You bet.” I flicked him a two-finger salute. “Drive safe.”
He tossed a wave over his shoulder and shuffled out through the back, where he usually parked our white 1984 Econoline delivery van. Ancient as the Ozarks, but it still hummed along like a Swiss watch.
Okay, an old, beat-up Swiss watch with rusted gears and a couple of parts missing.
I pursed my lips as I watched Grandpa leave. No doubt about it, part of my unease had to do with him. Normally chatty and cheery, he’d been unusually quiet all weekend. I hoped his heart wasn’t worrying him again.
My breath hitched.
Please, dear Lord, don’t let anything happen to my grandpa!
Just then, the miniature brass bells on the front door clanged against the glass, and my heart spasmed like a decapitated chicken. I tried to get a grip and forced a smile as one of our repeat customers breezed in. Charming and pleasant though she was, this woman’s arrival never failed to churn up an unsettling sense of déjà vu.