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Authors: Carolyne Aarsen

The Only Best Place

BOOK: The Only Best Place
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Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE:

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing
House. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2006 by Carolyne Aarsen

All rights reserved.

Warner Faith

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

www.twitter.com/faithwords

Warner Faith® and the “W” logo are trademarks of Time Warner Inc. or an affiliated company. Used under license by Hachette
Book Group, which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc.

First eBook Edition: September 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56623-0

Contents

Copyright

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Reading Group Guide

About the Author

A Preview of
All in One Place

From All in One Place

For my beloved family;
Richard, Jesse, Cheyanne, Fern, and Amiel.
You are the best part of home.

Acknowledgments

T
hough the front cover lists only one name, the reality is that this book was not written alone.

First off, I owe a huge thanks to Karen Solem, who believed in this book and found its home. You are a super agent, Karen.

Then, thanks to Anne Goldsmith, who helped me shape this book and find its focus. I appreciate your patience and humor and
ideas.

A heartfelt thank-you goes to Corinne Aarsen, my dear sister-in-law, and Diane Wierenga, my dear friend, and Michelle Klosterman
for all their help with E.R. nursing information. Any mistakes that other nurses may find in this story can be blamed on me,
not them.

Also, thank you to Rev. Jack Huttinga for his help in researching the beautiful area in which the book took place.

Finally, Linda Ford, what would I do without you to run ideas past and struggle with story ideas? Thank you, thank you.

Chapter One

S
mile. Think happy thoughts. Take a deep breath and…

“Hello. I'm Leslie VandeKeere, and I'm a farmer's wife.”

No. No. All wrong. That sounds like I'm addressing a self-help group for stressed-out urban dwellers.

I angled the rearview mirror to do a sincerity check on my expression and pulled a face at my reflection. Brown eyes. Brown
hair. Both the polar opposite of the VandeKeere signature blonde hair and blue eyes repeated throughout the Dutch-based community
of Harland.

I cleared my throat and tried again. “This will be interesting.”

Worse yet. Most women could break that code faster than you could say “fifteen percent off.”
Interesting
was a twilight word that veered toward either the good or the dark side.

Right now my delivery was pure Darth Vader. A quiet and subdued Darth Vader.

I had to keep my voice down so I wouldn't wake my two kids. After four
Veggie Tales
and a couple of off-key renditions of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” they had finally drifted off to sleep and I didn't want to
risk waking them. The trip through two states and one time zone had been hard on us. They needed the rest.
I
needed the rest, but I had to drive.

I stretched out hands stiff from clutching the steering wheel of my trusty, rusty Honda, the caboose in our little convoy.
My husband, Dan, headed the procession, pulling the stock trailer holding stage one of our earthly goods. Next came his brother-in-law
Gerrit, pulling his own stock trailer loaded with our earthly goods, stage two.

I had each bar, each bolt, each spot of rust on Gerrit's trailer indelibly imprinted on my brain. Counting the bolt heads
distracted me from the dread that clawed at me whenever I saw the empty road stretching endlessly ahead of me.

A road that wound crazily through pine-covered mountains and wide-open, almost barren, plains. Now, on the last leg of our
journey, we were plunging into a large, wide basin flowing toward rugged blue mountains. The fields were broken only by arrow-straight
fence lines and meandering cottonwoods. Tender green leaves misted the bare branches of the poplars edging the road, creating
a promise of spring, which I hadn't counted on spending here.

I hadn't gone silently down this road. I had balked, kicked, and pleaded. I had even dared to pray that a God I didn't talk
to often would intervene.

Of course, I was bucking some pretty powerful intercessors. I'm sure the entire VandeKeere family was united in their prayers
for their beloved brother, son, cousin, nephew, and grandchild to be enfolded once again in the bosom of the family and the
farm where they thought he belonged. So it was a safe bet my flimsy request lay buried in the avalanche of petitions flowing
from Harland.

The one person I had on my side was my sister,Terra. But she talked to God only when she'd had too much to drink. Of course,
in that state, she chatted up anyone who would listen.

The friends I left behind in Seattle were sympathetic, but they all thought this trip would be an adventure. An
interesting
adventure, my friend Josie had said when I told her.

I glanced in the rearview mirror at my sleeping children. Nicholas shifted in his car seat, his sticky hands clutching a soggy
Popsicle stick. The Popsicle had been a blatant bribe, and the oblong purple stain running over his coat from chin to belly
would probably not wash out. A constant reminder of my “giving in.”

Since Missoula, I'd been tweaking my introduction, and now that we had turned off the interstate, the miles ate up what time
I had left. I had only ten minutes to convince myself that I'd sooner be heading toward the intersection of “no” and “where”
otherwise known as Harland, Montana, than back in Seattle.

We would still be there if it weren't for Lonnie Dansworth—snake, scumbag, and crooked building contractor. The $90,000 worth
of unpaid bills he left in the “VandeKeere Motors” inbox tipped Dan's fledgling mechanic business from barely getting by to
going under. The Dansworth debacle, in turn, wiped out the finely drawn pictures I'd created in my head of the dream life
and home Dan and I had been saving for. The home that represented stability for a marriage that had wobbled on shaky ground
the past year.

The second push to Harland came when Dan's stepfather, Keith Cook, booked a midlife crisis that resulted in him doing a boot-scootin'
boogie out of hearth, home, Harland, and the family farm, leaving a vacuum in the VandeKeere family's life that Dan decided
we would temporarily fill.

Temporary
had been a recurring refrain in our life so far. The first two years of our marriage Dan had worked for a small garage in
Minneapolis while I worked in the ER at Abbot Northwestern Hospital. When a large company in Dallas needed a maintenance mechanic,
we went south to a land of heat and long vowels. Two years later an opportunity to be his own boss came up in Seattle. When
we packed up and moved, Dan promised me this was our final destination. Until now.

“It's only a year,” Dan assured me when he laid off the employees, pulled out of the lease on the shop, and filed away the
blueprints we had been drawing up for our dream home. We could have lived off my salary while Dan got his feet under him—worked
on our relationship away from the outside influences of a mother Dan still called twice a week. But Dan's restless heart wasn't
in it. Being a mechanic had never been his dream. Though I'd heard plenty of negative stories about his stepfather, Keith,
a wistful yearning for the farm of his youth wove through his complaints. We were torn just like the adage said: “Men mourn
for what they lost, women for what they haven't got.”

The final push came when a seemingly insignificant matter caught my attention. The garage's bilingual secretary. She could
talk “mechanic” and “Dan” and seemed far too interested in the state of our marriage. Her name showed up too often on our
call display when I worked evenings. I confronted Dan. He admitted he'd been spending time with her, but was adamant they
had never been physically intimate. Though the relationship had been over for a few months, she still worked at the garage.

I was angry, Dan was chastened, and her name never came up again. But her shadowy presence reminded me of how fragile a relationship
can be.

Now, with each stop that brought us closer to the farm and Harland, I'd seen Dan's smile grow deeper, softer. The lines edging
his mouth smoothed away, the nervous tic in the corner of one eye disappeared.

Mine grew worse.

A soft sigh pulled my eyes toward the backseat. Anneke still lay slack jawed, her blanket curled around her fist. Nicholas
stirred again, a deep V digging into his brow, his bottom lip pushed out in a glistening pout. Nicholas was a pretty child,
but his transition from sleep to waking was an ugly battle he fought with intense tenacity.

I had only minutes before the troops were fully engaged.

My previous reluctance to arrive at the farm now morphed into desperation for survival. I stomped on the gas pedal, swung
around the two horse trailers, and bulleted down the hill into the valley toward my home for the next year.

My cell phone trilled. I grabbed it off the dashboard, glancing sidelong at Nicholas as I did.

“What's up?” Dan's tinny voice demanded. “What's your rush?”

“The boy is waking up,” I whispered, gauging how long I had before his angry wails filled the car.

“Just let him cry.”

I didn't mean to sigh. Truly I didn't. But it zipped past my pressed-together lips. In that too-deep-for-words escape of my
breath, Dan heard an entire conversation.

“Honestly, Leslie, you've got to learn to ignore—”

Dear Lord, forgive me.
I hung up. And then I turned my phone off.

I hadn't perfected Dan's art of selective hearing. He could let Nicholas cry while he calmly read the paper. The phone would
ring and he wouldn't even look up.

Ignoring the phone was a genetic impossibility for me. Call display only increased my curiosity. Why had Josie phoned me at
nine o'clock at night? What did the hospital want from me on my day off?

As for ignoring Nicholas? Not even an option. My little tyrant pushed and demanded until I paid attention, and then, when
he got it, exacted more. Ignoring Nicholas was as easy as ignoring the guilt that had been my constant companion ever since
I found out I was expecting an unexpected second child.

My master plan included one child, Anneke, followed by a maternity leave wherein I suitably bonded with my daughter, then
enrollment in a day-care center chosen for its forward-looking program and trained caretakers. After Anneke's arrival, I returned
to work as an emergency room nurse, doing a job I loved while saving up money needed for the large down payment on the dream
home Dan and I had been planning since our wedding day.

God, it seemed, had a sense of humor. Twenty months after I ushered Anneke into the world, I found out I was pregnant again.

I didn't put on maternity clothes until the very last button refused to go into its buttonhole on my largest pair of surgical
scrubs. I worked until the head nurse pried my fingers off the vital-signs monitor and pushed me out the door. When Nicholas
fought through twenty hours of excruciating labor, I knew it was this child's way of getting back at me. I wondered if I could
truly love this child the same way I loved Anneke.

However, as soon as the nurse brought that tight little bundle of flannelette that was my son—cap of dark hair, his unfocused
eyes slightly crossed—a drowning wave of love and guilt washed over me.

How could I not have wanted this beautiful child? How could I have resented this innocent being? This perfect little person
with fingernails like fragile shells, eyelashes that were a mere whisper across delicate eyelids. As I touched him, felt his
realness nestling in my arms, I prayed for forgiveness to a God I had acknowledged only briefly before.

But Nicholas wasn't as forgiving and quickly started making me pay for my sins. All the kisses and cuddles snatched between
housework and night shifts couldn't eradicate the debt he thought I owed. Nicholas was a tiny, unrelenting loan shark and
guilt, his nasty skip tracer. No matter how hard I worked, how often I played with him, sang to him, told him I loved him,
the interest on the loan kept accruing.

BOOK: The Only Best Place
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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