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Authors: Debbie Macomber

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BOOK: Touched By Angels
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It did. Jenny sat upright and rubbed a hand down her face. “I don’t know if I’m up to this. Rejection hurts. Frankly I’m not sure this is what I really want anymore,” she whispered. Admitting this to her best friend was hard, but it needed to be said. She loved New York, but at heart she would always be a country girl.

“You can’t think of it like that. Rejections are simply the rungs to the ladder of success,” Michelle announced, ever positive, ever confident.

Jenny sighed audibly. “You’ve been listening to motivational tapes again, haven’t you?”

Michelle nodded. “It shows that much?”

“Yes.” Almost against her will, Jenny tossed aside the bedding and climbed off the mattress. “All right, I’ll go, but I’ll need a few minutes to put myself together.”

“Good girl.” Michelle pulled open her bottom drawer and took out a pair of black leotards. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your life waitressing at Arnold’s, do you? Sure you get to sing, but it isn’t anywhere close to Broadway.”

Jenny sincerely hoped her roommate didn’t let anyone back in Custer know that. The entire town firmly believed in her talent. Firmly believed in her.

After so much time, she couldn’t continue to make up excuses why her name didn’t light up a marquee. So she’d stretched the truth. All right, she’d elasticized it to the point where it was no longer recognizable. Performing in an Off Broadway musical was a long shot from her job as a singing waitress. Her friends and family believed she was well on the road to becoming a star. Little could be further from the truth. The light of ambition in Jenny’s eyes had dimmed considerably in the past three years. Not so long ago she would have jumped at the chance to audition for John Peterman. These days it was difficult to find the energy to drag herself out of bed.

“I don’t know if all this trouble is worth the effort,” she confessed as she reached for her beige dancing shoes.

“Don’t talk like that, Jenny. This is your dream.” She hugged her clenched fists to her breast. “Don’t let go now. Not when you’re so close to making it all come true.”

Jenny wished she shared her friend’s limitless enthusiasm. Michelle had been spurned as many times as Jenny. Yet her roommate continued to bounce back with renewed optimism, ever hopeful, ever cheerful, ever certain their big break was just around the next corner.

Part of Jenny’s reluctance had to do with the season. Christmastime away from her family had always been difficult, but it seemed even more so this year. Not only could she not afford the trip home, but once she was with her family and friends, Jenny realized, she’d never be able to continue with the lie. One look and her parents would guess the truth.

Then there was Trey, their neighbor and longtime family friend. The boy next door, only anyone who met the cattle rancher would be hard-pressed to refer to him as a boy. Whenever Jenny became disheartened, she closed her eyes and remembered Trey.

Trey sitting atop his roan, his Stetson dipped low enough to disguise his eyes. He did that on purpose, she believed, just so she couldn’t read his expression. His ranch bordered her father’s spread, so Trey had been around for as long as Jenny could remember.

While in school, Jenny had never given much thought to her handsome neighbor. In the years since she’d been away, all that had changed. Whenever Jenny thought about home, it was Trey LaRue who popped into her mind. Trey riding the open range. Trey gentling a startled filly. Trey carrying a sick calf.

Of course he might be married by now, although she doubted it. Surely her mother would have said something if he’d tied the knot. He was at the age—past it, really—when most ranchers married. Three years was a long time to be away from home. Although she remembered him, there was nothing to say he thought about her. A lot of things changed over time.

“Are you ready?” Michelle asked. Her roommate’s eagerness was a burr under Jenny’s saddle. By all that was right, she should be in bed. Her feet hadn’t stopped hurting, nor had her back ceased to ache. Yet when she’d finished dancing her heart out, singing until her vocal cords were strained, she’d be due back at Arnold’s.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Even as she said the words, Jenny felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. Auditioning seemed a waste of effort. A waste of time. A waste of her heart.

“That’s Jenny?” Mercy asked Gabriel, standing in the corner of the tiny apartment.

“That’s her.”

“Who’s been praying for her?” This question came from Goodness.

Mercy glared at her friend as if to say she was the one who would be asking the questions. After all, this was her assignment. Goodness had already met her charge, and as always, her friend was looking to meddle. Mercy knew that look and sincerely hoped Gabriel didn’t.

“The prayer originated from her neighbor in Montana,” Gabriel answered. He frowned as he said it, as if plowing through his memory to put a name to the request. “Trey LaRue, I believe,” he said decisively. “Trey’s known Jenny most of his life.”

“What has he asked?”

“Trey wants Jenny to come home for the holidays. It seems Jenny’s father has been feeling poorly. Dillon Lancaster won’t ask his daughter to come home, and neither will Jenny’s mother. But both miss her terribly.”

“Why don’t they visit New York?” The solution seemed obvious to Mercy. She could easily manipulate the couple into heading for the wonders of the big city. Naturally Goodness and Shirley would be willing to lend her a hand. Already she was formulating a plan.

Why, the three of them had gotten so good at this sort of thing that it wouldn’t surprise her if the Lancasters never guessed how they’d gotten to New York. A little celestial manipulation never hurt anyone.

“Jenny has discouraged them from coming,” Gabriel explained.

“But why . . .” Mercy stopped herself. She already knew the answer. Jenny didn’t want her family to know that she’d lied. She wasn’t starring in an Off Broadway production of Guys and Dolls. She was a waitress who quite literally sang for her supper. The line of success she’d fed her family was gagging the young woman now. Jenny couldn’t allow her parents to see where she worked. Being forced to admit the truth would humiliate her, so she continued to sabotage herself.

Lies were like that, Mercy realized, and wondered why humans so readily fell into that trap. She’d seen for herself how lies tainted human lives. Would they never learn?

What had started out as a slight exaggeration on Jenny’s part had turned into a monster that separated her from those she loved most. All because she hadn’t wanted to disappoint her family. Instead she’d disappointed herself.

“This shouldn’t be so hard, should it?” Goodness said, looping her arm through Mercy’s. “From what we’ve seen, Jenny’s ready to give it up and head back to Montana all on her own. Not just for Christmas, either. After all the disappointment she’s suffered, she’s more than ready for the green, green pastures of home. I can’t say that I blame her. The time has come for her to face up to a few home truths.”

Gabriel’s brow rose as if Goodness’s insight surprised him, and Mercy’s friend beamed. “Is that a fact?”

“I wouldn’t be so fast to form an opinion about Jenny,” Gabriel warned. “She’s very talented. I shouldn’t need to remind you what God says about the desires of one’s heart.”

“You mean she isn’t ready to relinquish her dream?” Mercy asked. She’d read the situation the same as Goodness. It seemed all Jenny needed was one good excuse to pack her bags and head home to Montana. And to Trey, the young man who cared enough to pray for her return.

“I’m not here to answer those questions,” Gabriel said, “but I don’t think you should underestimate the power of a dream. Jenny has lived and breathed little else for three long years. It’s true she’s discouraged, but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to give up. You might be surprised to discover just how close she really is to seeing her name in lights. Don’t forget,” Gabriel warned, “that the darkest hour is just before dawn. She could be on the brink of something big.”

“Do you really think so?” Mercy felt the excitement churning inside her. But that enthusiasm slowly ground to a halt as she studied the archangel. “Is there something you know that we don’t?” Gabriel occasionally withheld information in a blatant effort to teach them a lesson. Mercy had long suspected it to be so.

“No,” the archangel assured them. “Just don’t be so quick to assume the obvious.”

“My oh my, she is talented,” Mercy admitted, watching her young charge’s agile leap across the stage.

It was at times like this that Jenny realized how badly she hungered for this dream. Once she stood on stage with the other dancers, her adrenaline started flowing, pumping her deflated hopes until they soared higher and higher.

This was where she belonged, where she longed to be. Her heart hummed with excitement, waiting for the opportunity to prove herself.

“Jenny Lancaster.” Her name was called by a man sitting in the theater seating. Since the lights blocked her view, the casting director was no more than a hoarse, detached voice. From her best guess, she figured he was somewhere in the first five or six rows.

Jenny stepped forward and handed the piano man her sheet music.

“What will you be singing?” asked the same uninterested voice.

She moved one step and peered into the dark. “ ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.’ “

“Fine. Give us your best eight bars.”

It was always the same. Rarely did it vary. Jenny suspected she could have sung a tune from a Sesame Street production and no one would have known the difference, least of all the casting director. He’d made up his mind even before her turn had come, even before she’d been given a chance to prove what she could do.

Argentina might not weep for her, but Jenny felt the tears welling up inside her. Tears of disappointment. Tears of struggle. Tears of a dream that refused to die.

The first chords from the piano filled the silence. Jenny hung her head and closed her eyes, allowing the music to transport her to another world. She drew in a deep breath and slowly lifted her head. No longer was Jenny Lancaster auditioning for a bit part; she was playing the role of her life. Within the magic of a few notes, she was transformed from a disillusioned waitress into the ambitious wife of a South American dictator.

“Wow.” Mercy was set back on her wings. “That girl can sing.”

“She is talented,” Shirley was quick to agree.

“Incredible.” Goodness seemed to be at a loss for words, which was completely unlike her.

Mercy knew she could accept no credit for Jenny’s skill; nevertheless she experienced a deep sense of pride that she should be assigned to this amazing young woman.

“Her voice, why, it’s almost . . .”

“Angelic,” Gabriel supplied, grinning broadly. It was a rare treat to find the archangel in such good spirits.

“Yes,” Mercy agreed. “Angelic.”

“You believe you can handle this request?” he questioned.

Mercy was sure she could. “Yes,” she assured him confidently. “Leave everything to me.” Somehow, some way, Mercy would come up with the means of helping Jenny fulfill her dreams. With a little help from her friends.

Anyone with this much talent, this much heart, deserved a break. A bit of intercession from the heavenly realm never hurt. Naturally Mercy wasn’t about to let Gabriel know her plans, but then what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

And while she had her hand in Jenny’s life, Mercy decided, she might as well do what she could about getting the talented singer home for the holidays.

“No funny stuff,” Gabriel warned.

Mercy managed to look offended. “Gabriel, please, you insult me.”

“I won’t have you hot-wiring cars and sending them where you will.”

Mercy’s shoulders went back in a display of outrage. “I’d never resort to anything that underhanded.”

Gabriel didn’t say anything for several moments. Then, scratching his head, he studied the three prayer ambassadors. “Can anyone tell me why I don’t believe you?”

Four

“I’d like everyone to take out a clean piece of paper,” Brynn instructed, standing in front of the classroom. It sounded like a simple enough request, one would think. But from the moaning and groaning, it was as if she’d sprung a surprise quiz on them.

“You aren’t going to make us write again, are you?” Emilio Alcantara groaned aloud, voicing, Brynn suspected, the thoughts of half the class.

“Yes, I am,” she said, unwilling to let her students’ lack of enthusiasm dampen her spirits.

Yolanda leaned so far out of her desk toward Denzil Johnson that she nearly toppled onto the floor.

“Yolanda,” Brynn said, “is there a problem?”

“I don’t have any paper. I wanted to borrow a piece from Denzil.”

“Get your own paper, woman,” the black youth protested. “What do I look like, a friggin’ Wal-Mart?”

“I loaned you paper last week.” Yolanda’s dark eyes snapped with outrage.

“That’s because you were lucky enough to have me sit next to you. I never said nothin’ about paying you back.”

Yolanda’s mouth thinned, and it looked as if she were about to explode when Suzie Chang saved the day.

“I have an extra sheet she can use,” the Chinese girl volunteered shyly, tearing off a clean page from her tablet and passing it across the aisle to Yolanda. The Hispanic girl grabbed it and glared at Denzil as if to say it would be a cold day in hell before he got anything from her again.

“Thank you, Suzie,” Brynn said, eager to return to the writing assignment.

“What are you going to have us write about this time?” Emilio asked. “Not something stupid, I hope.”

Teaching the value clarification portion of the class had proved to be the most difficult for Brynn. She wanted to make this as interesting and as much fun as she could, but she often found herself on a completely different wavelength from her students.

The incident with Emilio in the hallway was a prime example. The teenager had actually expected her to lie on his behalf. Emilio didn’t understand why she’d told the truth about the knife. He’d missed three days of school and consequently blamed her. He saw nothing wrong with his own behavior but seemed to feel that she’d been the one to betray his trust.

BOOK: Touched By Angels
2.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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