Friendship Heirlooms Series:
Return to the quaint little town of Peaceful, Wisconsin, from Karen Wiesner's award-winning Family Heirlooms Series, where you first met and fell in love with these colorful, lovable friends. Now you can read the stories of those secondary characters in an all-new spin-off series. Nuggets of faith can be passed down as heirlooms from friend to friend, heart to heart, soul-mate to soul-mate.
Book Three Friendship Heirloom: Hope
Jasmine Pepowski-Horace looked around her small, spotless home with the kind of profound pride that only another woman with a domestic nature could understand. Sure, it'd taken her most of the day to get to the point of feeling satisfied with the state of things, but she'd unfortunately had more time than she'd wanted today. Her husband of nearly nine months had been "called away" to the church on a spiritual emergency. Before she'd given her life to the Lord and fallen in love with Pastor Wesley Horace, she couldn't have imagined such a condition existed.
Wesley had so few days off. He worked fifty to sixty hours a week, Tuesday through Sunday. His only day off was Monday, and they'd learned that the only way he'd actually get the break he needed and deserved was for him to turn off his cell phone and leave the parish. Today they'd made the mistake of hoping to escape their congregation's notice. After all, it was the day before Valentine's Day. Surely the flock would realize they were still newlyweds and needed time alone together.
Big mistake, Jazz thought with an aggrieved sigh. Even with the garage doors firmly closed, their cars inside and all the drapes in the living room drawn, someone had seen a light inside and come knocking that morning. Wearily, Wesley had taken the chronically needy parishioner out of the house and over to the church not far away.
They lived in a beautifully picturesque, small town in Wisconsin aptly called Peaceful. The place was big enough to have everything they needed but small enough not to have any of the crime or "citified" overpopulation.
Wesley had been gone most of the day. Jazz knew he wouldn't be in a good mood when he got back. While he'd been closed-mouthed about his work prior to their wedding, he'd confided in her after about those who seemed to have a spiritual crisis at least once a week. Though it was clear to anyone with insider knowledge that these people enjoyed the attention their religious temper tantrums garnered, there was no way of avoiding them.
She patted a couch cushion, wondering why Wesley didn't delegate more authority to the Elder Board. Surely one of them could handle some of the issues he'd always been the one to field--especially on his day off. She'd talk to him again, but she knew he'd only say that it was part of his job. The Elder Board members weren't paid--he was. Spiritual counseling came with the territory. Jazz had never voiced her thoughts. Once she became the pastor's wife, giving up the waitressing job she'd held for many years, she'd willingly taken on the role of a female spiritual counselor...another unpaid position within the church. She didn't mind. She adored taking care of her husband, being available to their congregation, and she looked forward to the time when she'd be nurturing a family of her own. She also loved the women in the church. Nevertheless, not one of them would dare call her on Wesley's day off--no matter how dire the situation. All would wait until Tuesday.
Jazz straightened, her gaze on the clock. She had just enough time to freshen up before she started dinner. As she headed toward the stairs, she ran her fingers lightly over the cherry satin finish of the George Steck upright piano. She hadn't played for some time. Life was so busy. At the moment all she had time to notice was that she needed to dust her treasure. Before she could grab her microfiber duster, the phone rang. Her heart leaped at the thought that Wesley was calling to tell her he was on his way home and she should shut off all the lights in favor of candles. More romantic anyway, and this time we're not answering the door or the phone regardless how insistent!
"Jazz?" the older, familiar voice of a woman greeted her when she picked up the receiver.
"Joyce?" Joyce Krosinski and her husband lived across the hall from her father's La Crosse apartment where Jazz had grown up. Since she'd moved away from home, the couple went over at least once a day to check on her father. "Is everything all right?"
"The usual, sweetie pie. Your stubborn father is having chest pains. He took the nitroglycerin a while ago, but it hasn't helped. He refuses to let me or Angus call an ambulance. I can see he's in pain so I know it's not 'nothing' as he claims. Will you tell him he's being silly?"
Her father had forever downplayed his angina, and they'd all grown frustrated with his bull-headedness. True, most of the time his "attacks" magically went away or proved to be nothing more than gas or diarrhea. Nevertheless, Jazz believed it was better to be safe than sorry. "You have my permission to call an ambulance," she said loud and clear, something she'd said not for the first time.
By the distant sound of Joyce's voice, she suspected the older woman was holding the phone out to her father when she said, "Do you hear that, Henry? Your daughter isn't even here and she knows better than to fool around with chest pains. Now, you talk to her while Angus stays with you and I call the ambulance from our apartment."
Jazz realized with alarm that it'd barely been two weeks since the last time her father had experienced chest pains. He'd been fine and smug when they'd gone away without him needing to go to hospital. Was his health really declining or was Wesley right in doubting her father had a single thing wrong with him? "Daddy?" she said.
"Old coots are overreacting, flower child." Her father sounded out of breath and strained. "I'm perfectly fine. Doing too much. You know me. I'll be fine in a minute."
She did know him. "Daddy, you're getting this checked out. I let you talk me out of calling the ambulance last time because you said you'd go to the doctor's the next day. You didn't, did you? This time you're going."
"I can drive."
"Yes, you can but you won't drive yourself to the hospital when you need to go. Joyce and Angus would have had to call their daughter to drive you last time, since you refused to let them call an ambulance. Now I'm coming over there. I'll meet you at the hospital."
"Oh, doodlebug, you don't need to put yourself out for me. You've got better things to do..."
The more he talked, the worse he sounded. Worry brought the sting of tears to Jazz's eyes. "Daddy, stop fighting. Now, I'll be there soon. I love you."
"Love you, too, baby."
She hung up and glanced down with a grimace at what she called her cleaning caftan. She didn't have time to change. La Crosse was almost an hour away. She ran to the kitchen for her bag and keys, slipping into ballet flats and her coat at the same time. She would have to call Wesley on the way...
But when she yanked open the connecting door between the kitchen and the garage, she found Wesley on the steps there. They both jumped back in shock. She'd been too upset to hear him pull in, the way she usually did. Distracted, she nevertheless noticed her favorite multicolored daisy bouquet in his hand. He would be expecting dinner soon, and she had no time to make even a sandwich.
Despite her agitated state, she couldn't help loving the sight of him. Though he wasn't quite the rumpled, unshaven bachelor-pastor he'd been when she met him, he still had the look of someone who didn't spend more than a few seconds a day considering his appearance. She loved the way his reddish-brown hair stuck up in all directions. She even loved how he always seemed to be somewhere far away, his mind dwelling heavily on his own thoughts. Looks, however, were deceiving in his case. She'd never known a man more focused, disciplined and wise in the ways of the Lord, far beyond his thirty-five years.
Seeing she was ready to go out, his smile of greeting turned to a frown.
Helplessly, Jazz dropped her purse and went into his arms, her eyes meeting his dark velvet ones with ultra-thick eyelashes. She'd been waiting for this moment since he'd been taken from her arms that morning. He drew her against him, no space between their bodies, putting her longing right back where it'd been when the day had been theirs alone. Even in the physical sense, the two of them were so perfect for each other. He was just a little taller than her and his arms felt like home to her every single time.
His soft, familiar mouth covered hers and she instantly surrendered every ounce of her love to him. She could do nothing else with this man. The first time their eyes had met, she'd fallen head over heels for him. From that moment, she'd been unable to hold back from giving herself to him. Even when he'd called off their wedding and they'd been apart for what felt like an eternity, she'd loved him. She couldn't imagine that would change. She'd spent a lifetime far from anything truly good. Though she was still young at twenty-eight, sometimes she wondered why she'd wanted the wrong things for so long. Now all she desired was to follow Christ, love her husband and have children with him, and be the selfless giver her friends and extended church family needed her to be. Her life had changed radically in the last nine months.
He cradled one side of her face in his hand, his lips sweet and purposeful on hers. When he drew back a fraction, her murmured, "I'm sorry. Marv was in worse shape than usual. I couldn't pray or talk him into a different frame of mind, no matter how I tried. If his wife hadn't come to get him, I'd still be there."
Jazz sighed, dreading that their reunion had to be cut short. She knew exactly what the look in her husband's eyes, the kneading pressure of his hand as it rode the curve of her shoulder and slipped between her arm and waist, meant. She couldn't help wishing he'd gotten home an hour earlier. They could have made love before she started dinner, before she had to go to La Crosse.
He kissed her again, obviously intending to linger because he didn't back off a centimeter. "Now, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?" His voice was smoky and soft, making the urgency of her departure worse for her. But, typical Wesley, she understood he was deliberately trying to forget that she'd been on her way out before he showed up.
She tightened her arms around his neck. "Oh, Wesley, I'm sorry but I have to go."
"Go?" he asked. His bottom lip pouted even as his brow furrowed. His stubborn little boy expression was so familiar to her, she knew she'd have to be firm. He wasn't blind--he could see she wore her shoes and coat. He simply didn't want to accept anything but his own agenda.
She pressed her forehead against his, breathing in the sexy aftershave he splashed on every morning after his shower. "Joyce Krosinski called. My father is having chest pains again and the nitroglycerin hasn't helped. She called an ambulance. I have to go."
Though she didn't look at him, she felt his body go rigid the way it had that day she'd never forget and would never recover from even though they were back together now. Neither of them had spoken of what had almost destroyed them since then. But sometimes, whenever the issue of her father came up and she felt his body tense, she remembered. She wondered if that situation would come back to haunt them someday, when they were least expecting it.
Though he held her tighter, sympathy permeated his tone. "How is he? Is it that bad?"
Love flooded into her like a tidal wave that threatened to knock her off her feet. For Wesley, it wasn't second or even third nature for him to put someone else's needs above his own, yet he did for her and usually at the most unexpected times. He was disappointed that their day off together had been spoiled. So was she.
She hugged him harder. This had become one of her favorites times of the day. When Wesley got home from work, they would stand in each other's arms and kiss endlessly, rejoicing in being together once more. Always, Wesley was the one to end it because he was too hungry for dinner to continue. Sometimes she thought she could spend a lifetime here, just like this, with the man she loved.
Not today. "I don't know anything. I'll have to call you. But now I have to go."
Though it felt like she was ripping herself from the place she belonged, she pulled back and grabbed her crocheted tote purse. She'd have to explain later. If she lingered, he could so easily keep her from doing what she needed to.
Protesting words stuck in Wesley's throat when Jasmine backed her car out of the garage and the door slowly lowered behind her. He realized when he glanced at the flowers he'd gone out of his way to bring home that he couldn't remember what it was he'd intended to say. Feeling foolish, he backed into the kitchen and closed the connecting door.
Turning to look around the empty room, he sighed. Everything felt wrong. For the past nine months, he'd been coming home to a pleasurable new warmth in the parish he'd lived in alone for the past six years, to the delicious scent of Jasmine's cooking, to a kind of bliss that made him forget what his bachelor days were like. The memory of the taste of his wife's mouth only moments ago brought another sigh. His entire world had come down to his life with the woman he'd learned the hard way he couldn't live without. Somehow even his commitment to Christ had strengthened in knowing her.
This isn't what I expected when Marv camped out on my doorstep so he could barge in at the slightest sign of life inside the house. I thought I might put him off, especially if I could get him to the church, where there was a chance of talking sense into him and getting back home within fifteen minutes of leaving. All that's gotten me through this past week was having this whole day to make love to my gorgeous wife.
Wes grimaced and set the flowers on the table. They would die before she could appreciate them. He went in search of one of his wife's strange, funky vases.
Once he had the colorful orange and yellow blooms in water on the kitchen table, he looked around once more with an even deeper grimace. His gaze returned to the vase. He reached forward to adjust all the fronds and foo-foo but succeeded only in making the bouquet look more lopsided. Jasmine would have adjusted the flowers so they lit up the room. How did she do that?
Wes couldn't shake the sense of being out of his element in his own house. Luckily, his stomach growled like a starved lion. But then he realized he wasn't about to get satisfaction on that count anytime soon. He'd spent the drive home expecting to arrive just in time to partake of one of the elaborate meals Jasmine cooked with such ease.
After a lifetime of subsisting on (and--considering what a terrible cook he was--being grateful for) the simple casseroles his mother and sister, along with the women of the church, delivered to him regularly, he never wanted to go back. Jasmine spoiled him in every way. She wasn't all that happy about the single women from the church persisting in trying to feed him--and more, she claimed--but she handled it as easily as she had everything else in their marriage. With sweetness, charm and grace. Jasmine Pepowski was born to be a pastor's wife... But that wasn't exactly true. He often forgot that because she was so perfect in the role. Her childhood and formative years had been anything but ideal. Anything other than Christian, like his own.
Despite having grown up in such an ideal area, free from the horrors of most larger towns, she'd done everything she could to escape and rebel. She'd wanted to escape and see the world. Wes had never wanted to live anywhere else.
Upon opening the fridge and not seeing anything easy he could slap together, Wes grunted. A sandwich would be such a disappointment after the meal he'd been expecting. He couldn't help but wish she'd gotten dinner ready before her annoying father called her away. Insinuating himself, refusing to let his little girl go, unwilling to accept that she's mine now.
It wasn't so much that Wes didn't care about the old man's medical condition--more that he didn't believe there even was one. The guy often pretended he was sick just to get his daughter rushing to his side. Wes had tried endlessly to be sensitive for his wife's sake, but when she'd said, "My father is having chest pains again and the nitroglycerin hasn't helped", Wes' mind had emphasized the "again" to epic proportions. From the first time Wes met the old man, he'd known he'd be an issue between them. Henry made up ailments just to get Jasmine to take care of him. If he's actually got heart problems, I'll be a monkey's uncle.
His annoyance turned into seething. First Marv, now Jasmine's needy old man.
From what Wes had been able to piece together of his wife's childhood, her mother had died when she was little. Her father had never been married to the woman and apparently had been completely lost without her. That much Wes could believe. The man didn't know how to care for himself let alone the rebel without a cause Jasmine had been.
More than once, Henry had said he wasn't much of a father to her. An understatement in Wes' point of view. Her father had stood back like a blinking, disinterested cow, letting his offspring run wild and rule her own life as if someone that young was capable of such a thing. Not a wise method of parenting at all.
By the time Jasmine was in her teens, she'd been disappearing for days...longer sometimes. Not once had her old man called the authorities or made an attempt to find or contact her. He'd never spoken a word about her absence when she started coming back around either. Had he been terrified during the times she was gone? Had he blindly hoped she could take care of herself, however irresponsibly? He'd given her as much money as she requested every single time she asked. If he'd known the truth of what she was up to, he might have done more than offer so-called love from afar.
I blame her old man. For everything. All the horrible things Jasmine has told me she did during that time. If he'd been a better father, she wouldn't have done any of them. So how can she be held accountable? And if I let him, he'll wreck everything for me, too. I won't let him. My life is too perfect to ever allow that. But how do I convince Jasmine he's an old fraud?
Wes walked into the living, saw and smelled how clean it was, and picked up the mail stacked neatly on the roll-top desk in the corner. He couldn't get himself to look at the top letter let alone the rest of the stack. For about thirty seconds he sat on the couch then leapt back up again. What had he done before he and Jasmine married?
He had vague memories of playing golf--basically with anyone he could persuade or con into it. Unfortunately, he had no friends at all who enjoyed the game, and his dad's arthritis had made it impossible for him to play for many years now. As an alternative, Wes had gotten into an electronic golf game that led him into all kinds of fantasy and quest-type video games he'd become obsessed with playing. More than once, he'd been late or missed entire meetings because he'd been too far gone during his lunch break to notice the time. When he got home from his long hours at the church, he'd heated up whatever meal someone had dropped off, then he'd gone into his office to spend the rest of the evening caught up in one adventure or another. Frequently, the time had extended into the wee hours of morning and he'd only gotten a few hours of sleep before having to show up blurry-eyed for a job that required him to be focused and awake.
He'd almost forgotten how much he'd enjoyed that--perhaps more than the real game of golf or the hours he used to spend each evening studying and reading the precious books he'd grown up loving. Until Jasmine, he'd been content to live out his life as a man of God and a bachelor who was a closet gamer. Women in general had put him off because his experience with them had been almost entirely filled with the pushy single females in his congregation, all vying for his attention. They'd chased him like rabid wolves, turning him off entirely. He'd been embarrassed about their uninhibited, competitive behavior. Easier to withdraw and deny himself than reciprocate. Easier to ignore that he'd been lonely and needed a woman's touch.
Jasmine had changed everything with her brilliant inner light and gigantic, beautiful heart. He'd never met anyone like her before. She was soft and sweet, quiet and utterly loveable. Everything about her was refreshing. Even in her silence, he could see the unconditional acceptance and concern she gave to everyone around her.
She'd started coming to his church with her best friend Ashley, and Wes had done what he'd never done before. He'd noticed her, couldn't stop thinking about her or the things they'd talked about in the few minutes after his sermon on Sundays. He'd lived for that time until he finally got up the nerve to ask her if she wanted to grab lunch. They'd spent an effortless nine hours together that day, and he'd been hooked. Her haunting, heather gray eyes had followed him into his dreams. Later, when they'd started dating to the point where all their free time was spent together, he'd fantasized about touching the adorable corkscrew curls that fell to her shoulders in a riot. He'd imagined kissing her wide, heart-shaped pink mouth, and, long before it was probably appropriate, he'd wondered what her body was like under those shapeless, flower-printed caftans she wore that hid any hint of a figure. Only when he held her did he get any indication of the perfection he'd find on their wedding night. Now nothing else mattered but serving Christ and coming home to his angel.
That is, when her old man isn't trying to steal her away from me. Wes knew he was being selfish and even childish. But he was still recovering from the hellish time he and Jasmine spent apart when he'd stupidly broken off their engagement. The few times he'd come home since their wedding and his wife hadn't been here had reminded him of what he'd gone through then. But we're together now, and I'll do everything in my power not to think about any of that, let alone talk about it. Maybe the bad memories will go away if we don't poke or prod them.
For as long as he could remember, Wes had belonged to Christ. He realized himself that he didn't know the first thing about what real life apart from the Lord was like. He'd been sheltered from it with his faith. Better than anyone else, he understood that his blind spot had a direct bearing on him being an effective spiritual counselor. Always, he reacted with judgmental self-righteousness first. Always, he had to remind himself that sin in the eyes of the Lord wasn't big or small, the way he tended to label it.
He wasn't pure. He wasn't perfect. His sins of ego and pride were just as damaging to himself and those around him as the 'big' sins he had trouble forgiving. He prayed constantly to be an effective counselor--someone who was a sinner in need of God's grace in the same way the person he counseled was. Yet he stumbled in that regard often. Because of my inability to forgive and realize I'm not above everyone else in the world, I almost lost the best thing that ever happened to me. I can't make that mistake again. I love Jasmine too much, so much that sometimes--not often--I believe I may even be a good man for her.
Knowing he and Jasmine weren't completely healed after his stupidity, that things were still tender between them, he reminded himself he needed to be sensitive and caring--if not for her father, then for the sake of the love he cherished.
As he paced the living room, waiting for Jasmine's call to tell him her old man had pulled a "false alarm Henry" and just had gas, Wes forced himself to pray for the unselfish sympathy he didn't feel capable of experiencing or exhibiting at the moment. In the process, he found himself riddled with shame.
Lord, I'm not worthy of this good woman you've given me. Why am I always centered on myself? My discomfort, the inconvenience of coming home to no dinner and none of the uninhibited loving I was looking forward to. What a creep I am. How can I put Jasmine first now? Her feelings, her comfort? How can I be the support she needs--regardless of whether or not her old man is trying to pull a fast one yet again?