Authors: Penelope Stokes
Penelope J . Stokes
The Treasure Box
Copyright Â© 2001 Penelope J. Stokes
Published by WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.,
P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, Tennessee, 37214.
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means-electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other-except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stokes, Penelope J.
Â Â Â Â The treasure box : a novel / Penelope J. Stokes.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
Â Â Â Â ISBN 0-8499-1705-0 (hardcover)
Â Â Â Â ISBN 0-8499-4464-3 (trade paper)
Â Â Â Â I. Title
Â Â Â Â PS3569.T6219 T74 2002
Â Â Â Â 813'54âdc21
Printed in the United States of America
04 05 06 07 08 PHX 10 9 8 7 6
whose greatest gifts to me are
the Treasure Box
our lifelong friendship
Special thanks are due to certain people God has placed in my
life, people who remind me that mystery, miracle,
and wonder still exist in the world:
My Covenant GroupâCindy, Kay, and Kirstinâ
who dare me to grow with their spiritual questions,
their intellectual honesty, and their love;
Carlene and Sandi,
who wouldn't let go until I found my joy
and reconnected with my soul again;
Ami and Lil,
who challenge me to the best in myself and in my work;
and B. J., who cheers me on.
Thanks, too, to Henrik Ljungstrom,
His excellent Web site provided me with invaluable
information (as well as many hours of fascination),
and his personal assistance in research made my
work on this novel much easier.
Wonder is the basis of worship.
ita? Vita, it's Mary Kate. Are you there?”
Vita Kirk grimaced and kept on typing. On the tinny answering machine speaker, her sister's voice sounded even more whiny and insistent than it did in real life.
“I know you're there, Vita. You're always there. For heaven's sake, pick up the phone!”
Vita whirled in her chair and scowled at the machine. She had bought the thing for the sole purpose of screening calls from her garrulous editor Nick, who kept phoning at all hours trying, in his words, to “establish rapport” with his most prolific writer. Rapport. Vita didn't want rapport. She wanted to be left alone.
And now the contraption's bright red eye blinked off and on, signaling that a recording was in progress. A recording of the voice she hadn't heard in ages but still recognizedâthat familiar, high-pitched mewling. Mary Kate's voice.
“Vita, please.” Her sister's tone shiftedâless petulant, more desperate. “I need to talk to you. It's about Gordon.”
. Vita's stomach twisted, and her mind lurched into reverseâback sixteen years, to 1985.
Sixteen years and a hundred lives ago. How old had she beenâtwenty-two, twenty-three? Old enough to have finished her B.A. and begun working on her master's in English literature. Old enough to know better when Gordon Locke had swept into her life like a brash young Byron and demanded her undivided attention.
“Go out with me,” he had said, gazing into her eyes across a small battered table in a secluded corner of the student union. “I won't take no for an answer.”
Did anyone ever say no to Gordon Locke, Duke University's golden boy and most eligible bachelor? A Ph.D. candidate in anthropology. Five years Vita's senior. Handsome, brilliant, with those amazing, mesmerizing blue eyes. He was perfect. And certain of everything.
“Marry me,” he said six months later, looking into her eyes the very same way across the very same table. “I won't take no for an answer.”
Vita hadn't even thought of refusing. With Gordon, everything was yes. Yes to his proposal. Yes to a deadly dull administrative job in the chancellor's office so that she could support them while he finished his degree. Yes to putting her own studies on hold. It would all work out, Gordon assured her.
Vita believed him. After all, she had looked into his eyes and seen the certainty there. Except that when she brought him home to Asheville, he had looked into someone else's eyes. Mary Kate's.
In 1985, Mary Katherine Kirk had been a not-quite-twenty-year-old beauty. The year before she had taken third runner-up in the Miss North Carolina Pageant and declared her primary interests to include modeling, fashion design, and world peace. Could she have been more unsuited, Vita wondered, for a learned anthropologist? Didn't Gordon need someone who was his intellectual equal, a scholarly woman, educated in literature and the arts?
Someone who could hold her own in the academic worldâor at least carry on an intelligent conversation?
But there was no wisdom in love. Gordon married Mary Kate six months later, in a simple ceremony with the bride's sister as reluctant but dutiful maid of honor. The last twist of the knife.
Vita had seen Mary Kate only twice since the receptionâonce at their father's funeral in 1989, and a year later at their mother's.
Her sister still lived in Asheville, barely thirty miles from Vita's home in the small town of Hendersonville. Thirty miles . . .
“Vita, I'm going to keep talking until you pick up the phone.
This is important. Gordon is in the hospital.”
Vita snatched up the receiver, and the answering machine beeped loudly before shutting off. “All right, I'm here. What is it? But make it quick; I'm working.”
“Gordon's had a heart attack. He's in the cardiac unit at Mission Hospital.”
“I'm sorry to hear that.” Vita kept her voice low, calm.
“It wasn't a bad one, fortunately. He was playing tennis, andâ”
Vita's mind conjured up an image of Gordon in his tennis whites, tanned and shining, a young Robert Redford, his blond hair damp with sweat and ruffled by the wind . . .
“Vita, are you there?”
“I need someone to take the twins for a few days. They're on break from school, andâ”
. Little Gordy, the flaxen-haired image of his dad. Mary Vitaâso named, Vita was certain, as a vain attempt at reconciliation. They had been toddlers at Mother's funeral; they would be eleven or twelve by now.
“Surely you have someone else who could look after them,” Vita suggested.
“We have friends at the university, of course, butâ”
. The same onesâat least some of themâwho had once orbited around Vita and Gordon. They had transferred their loyalties to Mary Kate as easily as Gordon had transferred his affections.
But Vita hadn't been surprised. At Duke, they were Gordon's friends all along, faithful followers of the golden boy. Some of them had even wrangled teaching positions and moved to UNCA after Gordon had received his appointment there. For years now they had all lived together in a closed little academic enclave, an intellectual and social ghetto.
Vita returned her attention to Mary Kate. “So call one of them.”
“But they're not family.” Her sister sounded uncertain. “And besides, they're busy people. They've got their ownâ” She bit back the rest of the sentence, and Vita heard the sharp intake of air.
“Go ahead and say it. They've got their own lives. Unlike me.”
“I didn't mean it like that. Vita, please. I need you to do this.”
“I'm sure you can find someone else. Someone more appropriate.” She hung up the phone and turned the volume on the answering machine down to zero.
An hour after her conversation with Mary Kate, Vita was still steaming, still trying to settle down to work. But her concentration had been broken, her momentum interrupted. At last she gave up. She might just as well get some errands done and try to start fresh in the afternoon.
With a collapsible shopping bag draped over her shoulder, Vita left the house and headed toward town. It was a perfect April day, with dogwoods blooming and ornamental pear trees shedding their petals on the breeze like pink confetti. Between the trees, in the distance, the mountains rose up in lush blue-green layers. To Vita's eyes, they always looked like women napping, their rolling dark hips and rounded shoulders gently rising and falling against the blue dome of sky.
Hendersonville, North Carolina, lay nestled in a hollow of the Blue Ridgeâthe kind of place where people still sat on benches along the treelined streets or chatted around open-air cafÃ© tables. Main Street hosted the Apple Festival in fall, the Bluegrass Festival in spring, and the Antiques Festival somewhere in between. Visitors flocked in for the celebrations, and some of them decided they had found heavenâor Mayberryâ and simply stayed. Low crime, wonderful weather, stunning mountain vistasâwhat could be better?
But Mayberry had its drawbacks. For one thing the place, in the parlance of the locals, “had got overrun with foreigners.”
Translation: wealthy retirees, attracted by the temperate climate and natural beauty of western North Carolina, had flocked in with their New York and Florida money and driven real-estate prices through the roof. Traffic had doubled. On weekend afternoons, you'd have to stand in line for half an hour just to get a table at the Park Deli. Finding a parking place on Main Street was a major life accomplishment.