Thursday, September 25, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 26th, 2008

“Precocious by Design” is a story I’ve had in work for a little while, though it’s been on a back-burner while I’ve done some other things. This story has some similar themes to the Pod stories, though my intention is not to connect it to the other books. My main character is Detective Lloyd Timmons, and the story will follow the investigation of a murder, and the odd circumstances surrounding it. This, so far, has been one of the most difficult stories I’ve tried to write, because the subject matter is much darker than my preferred fare. I think, before I go much further with it, I want to do some more research on forensic and investigation techniques, to help lend more authenticity to the story.

This excerpt is from chapter 4, and I offer it for this week’s Friday Fiction just because I like the way it helped me get into the character’s mind.

Ilsa’s Voice
From “Precocious by Design”
By Rick Higginson



He stopped at the break room on his way back to his desk, and studied the options in the snack machine. His favorite candy bar had been stocked by the concession vendor that morning, but had two bars that he didn’t care for in front of them. He selected a package of cookies instead, and waited to eat the first one until he was leaning back in his chair.

Ilsa stared out from the photograph at him as he bit into the second chocolate chip cookie. You pretended to be a child, Ilsa. What kinds of things did you really like when you were just being yourself? Why the charade? You got off the train and left with some guy; did you know him? Did he know you weren’t what you appeared to be? I wonder how many more questions your case is going to raise before I find the answers.

People thought his job was about catching murderers; it wasn’t about that at all. His job was about asking the right questions and finding the answers which would lead him to the murderer. All too often, catching the perpetrator of a crime was the easy part. Proving a suspect was guilty was the difficult task, and his job was to provide the District Attorney’s Office with sufficient evidence to prove that he had, indeed, apprehended the guilty party.

In the midst of that, he had to keep his sanity intact. There were voices that went with each case, and even those he had never heard in life would whisper to him in the quiet moments. It wasn’t just the victims, either; their families and friends would speak to him in words of anger or anguish, demanding some kind of answers that would make sense of the tragedies and restore balance to their worlds.

Ilsa Levitsky had a voice to go with her face and her name, though her whispering was still indistinct. Hers was a shy voice, uncertain whether to invite him closer or to keep him away from her secrets, and he closed his eyes to imagine her standing in front of him. Conversing with her in his mind, he worked to persuade her to trust him, in much the same way he’d tried to persuade frightened children in life to trust him. The eyes that looked back at him, though, were those of a woman who had outgrown the optimism of her youth.

You wish to know me, detective? The girl in his daydream said. She drew close to his face, bringing her eyes right to his to meet his gaze in bold defiance. Neither of them blinked, even as the once-youthful eyes began to glaze over and cloud. The skin lost its color, becoming the dirt-covered gray of the cadaver in the field as her stare lost all traces of the soul behind it. Be careful what you wish for.

An involuntary shiver ran down his spine as he opened his eyes. His pastor had told him once that such mental exercises were probably not healthy for either his mind or his spirit, and as the filthy corpse floated in his memory, he wondered if the reverend had been right about that.

Tearing the page with Dorothy Hensel’s number and office location from the notepad, he logged himself out of the office for the follow-up interview. That was the official reason, at least. At that moment, he also wanted the warm afternoon sunshine to banish the dark feelings, and the drive to the University Main Campus would offer plenty of chances to soak up the rays.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 19th, 2008

Another new piece this week. I think I’ll forego the commentary this time. Friday Fiction Central.

The Meeting
By Rick Higginson

The meeting was a wonderful example of diversity. People of all ages, races, and classes gathered in the sanctuary, taking their seats to await the guest speaker that night. Oft repeated comments about “the Manifestation” were passed around, and the sense of anticipation permeated the air.

Doug Pitts took his seat and glanced around. He wondered if the tie was going to be over-dressed for the meeting, and was relieved to see everything from ratty cut-offs with t-shirts, to men in business suits. The family that sat a few seats to his right were dressed casual but nice, while the man that took the vacant chair to his left wore blue jeans and a chambray shirt, looking very much as though he’d just left his factory job to attend the meeting.

The blue-collar worker smiled at him, and then turned his attention to the program for the evening.

He’d already looked at his. It was the first night of a five night revival-type crusade for the big church, and both the advertising and the program promised an incredible outpouring of God’s Spirit that night. There would be healings, the promotional materials declared, and all who attended would be “wonderfully blessed” when the Manifestation happened. Lord, I don’t know about this Manifestation, Doug prayed, and I’m not sure I care. All I want to know is if this man really does have a gift of healing.

The music stopped, and the church’s pastor came onstage to welcome everyone. He opened with prayer, though much of what he said was lost in the loud and frequent calls of agreement from the congregation, and then introduced the guest speaker for the night. After shaking hands with the traveling evangelist, the pastor left the stage amidst thundering applause, and the service began.

The speaker started with some general statements of what they could expect that night, and then launched into some fifteen minutes of humor. At first, the response from the audience was weak, and then as people caught the mood, the laughter was freer and louder.

Laughter is supposed to be part of the Manifestation, but this couldn’t be it, could it, he wondered. This isn’t any different from what I would expect of any stand-up comedian. He wasn’t in much of a mood to laugh anyway. Please, he thought, let’s leave the Vegas act behind and get on to what we’re really here for. He glanced to his left; the worker wasn’t laughing, either. Instead, he watched the speaker with a sad expression on his face.

The evangelist began to teach, bringing out Bible verses to explain what was going to happen that night. Some of what he said was good, but a few things made Doug wonder how his home church would have reacted. The small congregation in his home town several hours away was more reserved and less given to embracing such overt displays of God’s power. The prayers of the church family were welcome and appreciated more than he could express, but Cherry wasn’t getting better. If something didn’t happen, they would have a sedate funeral in his quiet home church. It was bad enough she’d had to spend her young life with a name like “Cherry Pitts”, thanks to their father’s odd sense of humor. She shouldn’t have to be buried with a name like that, too.

The mood in the room was changing; the anticipation was giving way to excitement, and people were on their feet. The evangelist left the stage to minister directly to people in the audience, and came first to the section where Doug waited. He went to the first woman in the front row, laid hands at each side of her neck, and after a moment’s prayer, the woman fell backwards to be caught by two attendants.

Cries of praise, cheers, and applause filled the room as he repeated the process on the next person in the row, working his way down the line and leaving each to be eased to the floor by attendants. Doug’s heart pounded as the evangelist took a position in front of the man in the chambray shirt next to him, and he waited his turn for a chance to make his request.

The working man didn’t fall, though. Instead, he reached up and removed the evangelist’s hands from his neck. “No more tricks,” he said. “Hear now the word of God; you have gone among God’s flock, deceiving and stealing, as a false shepherd.”

The evangelist looked up into the man’s eyes, mortified, while the attendants stood shocked behind him.

“You have counterfeited the power of God through stage tricks and smooth words,” the man continued, and the evangelist’s lapel microphone carried the sound to the stunned audience. “Therefore, God says that for each day you have gone among His people with false words, you will find your strength gone and your words absent. You shall neither rise from your bed nor speak a word until you have fulfilled the days of your deceit.” He removed his hands from the evangelist’s arms. “God needs not constrict pressure points nor push people off balance to make them fall before Him. I implore you, when you awaken in your bed, that you repent and seek His face.”

With that, the evangelist collapsed to the floor. Doug looked from the worker to the fallen preacher, feeling a tightening in his chest. He’s a fake? What now, Lord? I came here hoping to see Your power, and that I’d be able to bring Cherry here this weekend for healing.

A low murmur replaced the silence that had settled over the sanctuary during the confrontation, and occasional angry words reached his ears. Are they angry at the fake? Or are they angry at the man who exposed the fake? He looked back up, and met the worker’s eyes.

“You came here tonight to see God’s power, Doug,” the worker said. “Now, you have truly seen it. Is your faith strengthened by what you have seen?”

He shook his head. “No.”

The smile was gentle and encouraging; nothing like the expression of distaste the man had given the evangelist. “Then this is not the place you should be looking for it.” He walked for the exit, and though many pointed at him and made loud suggestions, no one moved to block his path.

Doug took one more look at the fallen man, with the attendants crowded around him, trying to revive him. One had his cell phone to his ear, presumably calling for emergency services, while the deacons of the church rushed forward to help keep the audience at a safe distance. He grabbed his Bible from the chair, and rushed after the worker.

He caught up with him just outside the building, walking towards the parking lot. “What just happened in there?” he asked.

“God got somebody’s attention,” the worker said.

“That guy has been traveling and speaking for years,” Doug said. “Why did God wait until tonight to try and get his attention?”

“You’re assuming he was the one God wanted to speak to. No, Doug; that charlatan was merely an added bonus to my work. Why did you come here tonight?”

“My sister is sick, and the doctors don’t expect her to last much longer. I was hoping she could find healing here.”

“Then why didn’t you bring her along with you tonight?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if this was real or not, and I didn’t want to subject her to the stress of the trip for nothing.” He glanced back towards the building. “He wasn’t real, was he? Are they all fakes?”

“No, not all of them are fakes. There are some who are truly ministering in God’s power to hurting people, but there are others, like him, who figure out how to turn people's desire for God’s touch into profit and prestige for themselves.”

“What am I going to do for my sister now?”

“What were you going to do for her here?”

“I was going to ask him to pray for my sister’s healing.”

“Why would you not pray for her healing yourself?”

“We have been praying; she’s not getting better.”

“Would you like to pray for Cherry right now?”

“Here? In the parking lot?”

“God hears you wherever you pray, Doug. God has heard you every time you have prayed for your sister. He answers in His timing, though, so sometimes we might think He does not hear or does not care.” He placed a gentle hand on Doug’s arm. “We think we have to go someplace special to meet God, such as a certain mountain or even-” He gestured back towards the opulent church building. “- a highly touted meeting.”

“So I wasted my time coming here.”

“Not at all; you came seeking the right person to pray for your sister, and God has been trying to tell you all along that you are that person, and this is the time.”

He received an encouraging nod from the man. “I’ve already prayed so much, I’m not sure what else to say.”

“Just pray what’s on your heart; pray what you would have asked that guy in there to pray.”

“Father, please heal my sister,” he prayed.

“Now that is the kind of honest prayer I can say ‘amen’ to without reservation. Go home, Doug. Your sister has been healed.”

“How do you know?”

“The same way I knew your name, and your sister’s name, and why you were here. If we listen, God will tell us what we need to know, just like He’s been telling you what He wants you to do in your church.”

“I didn’t get your name, mister -?”

“Just call me Eli. Good night, Doug. Go home; your sister is waiting.” He turned and headed towards a nearby bus stop.

Doug watched him until a large RV blocked him from view, and then walked towards his car. His cell phone warbled, and he flipped it open and held it to his ear. “Hello?” Stopping short, he turned around and looked for the working man. “Yeah, Cherry; I’ll be home tonight. No, I’m not surprised you’re feeling better. Isn’t that what we’ve been praying for?”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 12th, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is an excerpt from “Marta’s Pod”, and features a minor character that I quickly learned to love. Hal Swenson is one of those “extras” that steals the scene, and is described earlier in the story as a retired dock worker who, even in his seventies, looked like he could easily throw any man in the congregation.

This scene takes place after a heated meeting wherein a faction has tried to remove Diego as pastor, and I’m sad to say that I’ve lived through a couple of meetings like that in my lifetime. They are not shining moments for many Christians, and prove all too well that we are as capable of petty vindictiveness as the world is.

What I have also seen, though, is that such times of stress are also when God may choose to tap someone to rise and shine for Him. I very much enjoyed writing such a part for Hal Swenson, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

What Needs Said
From the novel, Marta’s Pod
By Rick Higginson

Diego had prepared a lesson for the evening service while sitting in the Family Room the day before. The notes rested in his old Bible, folded neatly and waiting while the preliminary portions of the service transpired. He sat in his customary position on the dais while the opening worship songs were sung, the announcements read, and the offering taken. Following the offering, they allowed a few minutes during the evening service for testimonies from the Congregation, and Diego noted with some satisfaction that Hal Swenson was the first to stand and take the pulpit.

“Before I get started,” Hal began. His voice was an interesting blend of strength and gentleness. “I think we need to have someone else up here tonight. Sister Hyland, if you’d please join your husband up here?”

Sally sat in her normal place in one of the front pews and looked confused until Dan Cavelli stepped up to her and offered her his arm, ushering her up the steps to where Diego sat likewise confused.

Hal watched with a quirky smile as she took a seat next to Diego, and then turned back to the microphone. “I know some of you are expecting a message from Pastor Hyland, but we have something else planned for tonight.” He turned to look Diego in the eye. “I hope you don’t mind, Pastor?”

He gestured for Hal to continue.

“The lessons we learn in life that stick with us the most are the ones that were the hardest to learn,” Hal said. “One of those is the lesson I learned when I lost my wife a few years ago. I was never much for saying what I felt, and it wasn’t until Evelyn was gone that I realized how much I wanted to tell her. Now, if I think something needs to be said, I say it, because I may not have the chance to do so later.”

He turned back to look at them. “Reverend and Sister Hyland, you two are the reason I’m here today. When Evelyn was sick, it was you two who were at my house. You didn’t preach at me, you didn’t offer sugary words. You cleaned the house; you cooked meals; you even washed my clothes. Pastor, I watched as you read to Evelyn, and Sister, you bathed her when she needed it. But what surprised me most was that when I yelled at you because your God wasn’t helping Evelyn get better, you just let me. You didn’t argue, and more important, you didn’t run away.

“One of the last things Evelyn said to me was that God was going to make her better; just not in this world. I asked her that night what kind of God would put her through what she was going through, and she just answered, ‘the kind that sends folks like Diego and Sally to help me prepare for the trip. If you want to see God’s love, look at them’. Well, I did, and here I am today.

“The last time you two sat there, some folks got up and said some unkind things about you two. I waited for my chance to get up and say what I thought, and when you left I was afraid I’d done just like I’d done with my wife and waited too long to say what I felt I needed to say to you. I talked about it with the Elders, and they agreed that tonight, we’d open the floor to those in the flock who, like me, wanted to say what we felt before we lost the chance.

“Pastor; Sister; for years you two have been blessing us. Tonight we’d like the opportunity to return the favor, and to tell you both how much we thank God that He’s chosen to love us through you two.”

With an embrace for both Diego and Sally, Hal turned over the pulpit to the first of what would be many that would follow his lead that night.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More for Monday

Several people expressed an interest in more details from this week’s Friday Fiction. Since Merrowsong has two other books ahead of it in the Pod series, meaning it’s going to be a while before it’s even considered for publication, I thought I’d excerpt a little more about Leah and the Nickmans.

A Good, Submissive Wife
From the novel, Merrowsong
By Rick Higginson


*** (That same night from the Friday Fiction)

Will turned to his father when Leah left the restaurant table to visit the bathroom. “Well, Pop, what do you think?”

“Nice girl, nice girl,” he said. “She’s intelligent, but quiet overall. Her defense of her sister, while na├»ve at best, demonstrated a solid family loyalty; that’s a laudable trait and one that will serve her well. Her father is a pastor, so she already has a good idea of what will be expected of her as a pastor’s wife, and based on your observations of her at the Rescue Mission yesterday, she’s not afraid of hard work. Does she keep her dorm room clean?”

“Pretty well; maybe not as clean as Mom keeps the house, but considering she’s also carrying a full class load, it’s much better than most dorm rooms I’ve seen.”

“Good, good. How about cooking? Does she know how to cook?”

“From some of what she’s said, I assume she knows how, but since we don’t have kitchens in our dorms, I haven’t had a chance to see her demonstrate.”

“I see, I see. Tell you what; why don’t you invite her to join us for Christmas, and we’ll see how she does in the kitchen with your mother and sisters?”

“I think she’s already planning on going to visit her family for Christmas.”

“You don’t say. That’s something to watch; if she consistently chooses her family over yours, it’s going to cause problems, it will, it will.” He picked up the menu and looked at the dessert listing. “A good, submissive wife should defer to her husband’s decisions, including over where to spend the holidays.”

“Pop, she’s not my wife yet.”

“True, true, but how she acts now is a good indication of how she will act once you’re married. If she’s contentious about things now, don’t expect her to stop being contentious after the wedding.”

“I don’t think Leah has a contentious bone in her body.”

His father looked over the top of the menu at him with a serious expression. “It’s there, my boy, it’s there, all right. Every woman has a contentious side; it’s part of the curse. It’s up to us men to make sure they stay where God ordained them, and to do that you must be the assertive one. Mark my words, Will; women may say they want a sensitive man that treats them as an equal, but that’s just the devil’s influence trying to subvert God’s order. Deep down, every woman has a spiritual need for the man in her life to be in charge. She may resist for a while, but the sooner you take your ordained position, the sooner she’ll get in line with what God wants.”

***

Leah washed her hands and looked in the mirror, thinking about the movies she’d seen where someone escaped from a situation by climbing out through a bathroom window. Nuts; no windows.

“Like father, like son,” the old saw went. She could see its application in J.T., who shared a lot of traits with their father, and in Marcel, who was in many ways like Joshua Cardan. Would Will end up just like Pastor Norm someday? At least he didn’t have that annoying trait of repeating random phrases, but the way he treated his mother was not a good foreshadowing of things to come.

Drying her hands, she wished she could be more like Rachel. Her sister might not have outright contradicted the man, but she would have imposed more of herself into the conversations and deflected much of the sexist ideas. Of course, if she had been more like Rachel, she doubted Will would have asked her out in the first place.

On the plus side, she doubted she would ever have to worry about speaking in front of the congregation in the Nickman’s church. While neither man had specifically said so, she had the impression they held to the doctrine that women should not speak in church. On the minus side, Pastor Norm seemed to extend that well beyond the church. Wilma Nickman hadn’t said more than two dozen words all night. Most of the time, her husband spoke for her, answering questions on her behalf, ordering her food for her, and even going so far as to state her opinions as if she wasn’t even there.

If that was what Will expected of a wife, he needed to either change his expectations, or find another woman to marry. She might be terrified of speaking in front of a group of people, but she had no desire to be silenced everywhere.

*** (Just over a week later)

A light knock on her door interrupted her thoughts, and though she didn’t feel much like talking to anyone, she opened her room anyway. She looked at the face outside, and started to close the door.

“Leah, please wait; I won’t come in, and all I ask is one minute,” Will said.

“What do you want, Will?”

“I didn’t tell the Dean it wasn’t you in class on Friday; your instructor told me, and the only person I said anything about it to was Rachel.”

“It doesn’t matter at this point who figured it out. It was a pretty dumb idea in the first place, but that doesn’t change that it’s over between us.”

“I kind of figured that, but I wanted to apologize anyway and ask your forgiveness. I’m sorry. I let the thought of you being alone down there with him fill me with jealousy and anger, and in response I did a lot of stupid things that ruined it for us.”

She shook her head. “It was already over for us before Friday, Will. It was over before dinner with your parents was finished.”

“Huh? What are you talking about? I thought the evening went well.”

“Maybe for you it did, and maybe for your dad it did, but I spent that whole evening looking at your mother and thinking that was going to be me in a few years. I watched how you and your father treated your mother, and I kept coming back to the thought that Daddy never treats Mom like that, Marcel’s dad never treats his wife that way, nor does Marcel treat his mother that way. I decided that night I wanted someone who would treat me the way my dad treats my mom, and the way Marcel’s parents treat each other.”

“It’s the Biblical order of things; Mom accepts that.”

“She may accept it, but if you spent any time looking into her eyes, you would see that she doesn’t like it. My parents’ marriage conforms to the Biblical order, too, but Mom has her own mind and her own voice. God didn’t give those to her just so she could act stupid around Daddy; He gave her those so she could be the helpmate God intended for her to be. Many times she has raised questions and objections that Daddy hadn’t considered, and in so doing helped him avoid making a mistake. Can your mother disagree with your father, Will?”

“Pop won’t tolerate anything less than proper submission from her.”

“Too bad for both of them, and too bad for you if you cannot take this piece of counsel from a woman. Don’t repeat your father’s error. Find a wife who will be a helpmate for you, not a mindless servant.” She stepped back from the door. “I forgive you, Will, though I cannot speak on Rachel’s behalf for what you did to her. I’ve given you your minute and more, and I think it’s time we just said good-bye.”

*** (Christmas Day, a few weeks later)

Will Nickman sat in the living room, glancing through the doorway into the dining room of his parents’ Oregon home, where early preparations for Christmas dinner were underway. “Do you ever think, Pop, that maybe we should help out around here more and not take Mom so much for granted?”

“Not at all, not at all,” his father replied. “It’s the natural order of things; the home the way God intended. The only true domestic harmony is found by everyone staying to their proper place. We men should be in charge, doing work in the garage or in the yard, and women should be in submission, taking care of the home and cooking the meals.”

“I’m just not sure I’ve ever seen Mom enjoy the holidays, though. It seems like for her they’re just a whole lot of extra work.”

“Ah, but there is joy in a job well done, there is, there is. Your mother cooks an excellent Christmas feast, and for her to see people enjoying that, well, that’s about one of the greatest feelings a woman can have.”

He stood up and turned towards the kitchen. “Maybe I’ll see what I can do to help with dinner.”

“Sit down, boy, sit down. The best help we men can be is to just stay out of the way. Your mother has your sisters to help her, and they have that God-given knack for domestic things that we lack.”

“Maybe, Pop. But it doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?” He entered the kitchen and found his mother standing at the cutting board, dicing apples. “Mom, I’d like to help with dinner. What can I do?”

She turned surprised eyes on him, and he looked into them with a new perspective. Leah had been right; there was resignation in his mother’s eyes more than there was agreement. She had accepted her lot in life, but she had never learned to like it.

He lowered his voice so only she could hear him. “I lost Leah, Mom, because she wouldn’t accept being treated the way Pop and I treat you. I don’t ever want to lose someone like that again. I can’t change Pop, but I can change me. What can I do to help?”

It was the first time he could remember his mother smiling in years.
-
-
(What did Leah do that made him so jealous, and just exactly how stupid did he act? Does Will win Leah back with his new perspective? What does the story hold for our characters? These questions, and more, are answered in the pages of Merrowsong.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 5th, 2008

Welcome to my Friday Fiction submission for September 5th, 2008. This week’s story is an excerpt from the fourth book in the Pod series, Merrowsong. One of the things I think Christian writers need to work on more in our stories is our willingness to deal with the foibles in our own midst. It’s easy to polarize our characters across the Christian/non-Christian line, and make the Christian characters all good, and the not-so-good characters non-Christian.

I believe if we want the world to take our fiction seriously, so that the themes we wish to convey are communicated effectively, we need to quit turning a blind eye to the not-so-good characters among us. A character doesn’t have to be blatantly bad to be an example of what we shouldn’t want to be, nor do they need to have malicious motivations.

Leah in this story is the daughter of Rev. Diego and Sally Hyland. She and twin sister Rachel are now college aged, and living in Southern California. Rachel is the outgoing, impulsive daughter, while Leah has always been more shy and inhibited. This scene takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, as Leah meets her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Don't forget to check the Patterings page for links to more Friday Fiction


The Girl in the Chair
From the book, Merrowsong
By Rick Higginson

Will whipped the Honda into the hotel parking lot, taking the corner just a bit faster than he should have and laughing when the back end fishtailed a little. She hated it when he drove like that, and Leah held tight to the armrest on the door through the maneuver. She refrained from comment; he never reacted well to critiques of his driving.

They parked next to the car with the Oregon plates, and he bounced out of the car with boyish enthusiasm. “Come on,” he said. “Their room is over here.”

She was starting to wish she’d had other plans for Friday evening. Meeting Will’s parents at their hotel and then going to dinner with them had sounded fine when the idea had first been discussed, but she was having second thoughts at meeting Reverend and Mrs. Nickman. Straightening the long skirt he’d suggested she wear for the evening, she did her best to ignore her nervous feeling and hurried to catch up with him.

He knocked on the door, which opened promptly to reveal a balding, portly man.

“William, my boy! Come in; come in!” The man threw an effusive embrace around Will.

“Hi Pop; I’m so glad you decided to come down for the weekend. I’ve wanted you to meet Leah for so long!”

She stood outside the door, feeling very self-conscious, when the man grabbed her in a bear-hug.

“So this is the little girl that caught our William’s eye, eh?” he said, releasing her from the hug but holding her out at arms’ length to look at her.

Feeling more like a used car the man was evaluating, she gave her best attempt at a smile. “I’m Leah Hyland, sir,” she said, annoyed that Will hadn’t bothered to introduce them. Marcel had made a point of introducing all of them to his friend, Lana; was it that difficult for Will to introduce his parents?

“Norman Nickman,” he said, grasping her hand in an uncomfortably tight handshake. “Most folks just call me Pastor Norm, though. The little woman over here is my lovely wife, Wilma.”

She was thankful his name hadn’t been Fred. She wasn’t sure she could have contained her laughter if they’d been Fred and Wilma, as much as he was already reminding her of the cartoon caveman.

“Charmed,” Wilma Nickman said. Her handshake was every bit as limp as her husband’s was firm.

“Come in, come in,” Pastor Norm boomed. “No point in hovering in the doorway, eh?”

She didn’t bother to point out to him that so far he had blocked the entrance. When he moved back and gestured, she and Will entered the room and the door was closed behind them.

“Have a seat, have a seat; take a load off your feet and we can get to know each other.” He settled regally into a well-padded recliner, while Will plopped onto one of the two dining room style chairs in the room.

She looked at the remaining chair, and the tired look on the older woman’s face. “Mrs. Nickman, why don’t you take the other chair? I’ll either stand, or just sit on the bed.”

“Call her Sister Wilma; everyone does,” Pastor Norm said. “You take the seat, Leah; you’re the guest tonight. Wilma, my dear, would you bring me a cup of coffee? Will, Leah; would you like anything? We have coffee in the pot, and sodas in the fridge.”

“Nothing for me, thank you,” Leah said.

“I’ll take a cola if you have one, Mom.”

The woman moved almost mechanically to the back of the room where the coffee pot sat, and prepared her husband’s cup with a practiced routine. Pulling a can of cola from the refrigerator, she carried both back up the men.

Pastor Norm took his cup. “Sit; sit,” he said with a gesture towards Leah. “Are you sure you don’t want anything? If it’s something we don’t have, Sister Wilma can get it from the vending machine down the hall.”

Will took his soda with barely an acknowledgement. She knew her mother would not tolerate such treatment, and Marcel always treated Marta with respect and courtesy. Was Will allowed to all but ignore his mother?

“Really, I’m fine; thank you,” she said, taking the chair reluctantly.

“Good, good; so, Will tells me you’re studying Christian Education?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent, excellent. Such a degree can be a valuable asset to a church in setting up a good Sunday School program. I hear you have a twin sister; what’s she studying?”

“My sister Rachel is hoping to get into the art program at San Diego State University.”

“I see, I see; Will tells me she’s living with a young man down in San Diego. Not good; not good at all. Your father is a pastor also, I hear? Her arrangement doesn’t reflect well on him at all, at all.”

“The arrangement is completely platonic, I assure you.” She suspected Pastor Norm already knew more than enough about Rachel and her aspirations.

“Yes, yes; it’s very admirable that you believe the best of your sister and defend her. Very admirable, very admirable, indeed.” His tone was dismissive of her argument.

Wilma Nickman stood quietly to the side, her head lowered and her hands clasped loosely in front of her skirt. Pastor Norm started an aside discussion with Will concerning Rachel, and Leah stole a glance at the older woman.

There was a sharp intelligence lurking behind the woman’s eyes, but her expression showed she had learned to keep it to herself. The look of empathy she gave Leah was at once endearing and frightening. Once upon a time, she had been the girl sitting in the chair.