Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Dozen Apologies Chapter Four

For those just joining us: We're publishing our Valentine novella one chapter at a time, here on the blog. Through February 5, we'll post one chapter per day (weekdays). On February 5, we're going to ask readers to vote for their favorite hero - the man you feel is best suited for our heroine Mara. Voting will take place February 5-8, then, the winning hero will be revealed in the final chapter of A Dozen Apologies, releasing on Kindle February 14th. So follow along, take notes, and get ready to play matchmaker! 

Read Chapter One.
Read Chapter Two.
Read Chapter Three.

Chapter Four - April
James Green

“Crackers! Crackers! Meemee, can we have some?”
Four grubby little hands grabbed a treat each, making a mess of Mara’s artful circle of crackers with dollops of crab salad on them. She watched the two little boys stuff the samples into their mouths and raised her hands to hover over the tray, just in case they reached for more.
“You boys keep your hands to yourselves.” A heavyset lady dressed in a pink and orange flowered tent dress came down the store aisle pushing a cart that held one giant box of cereal. She stopped in front of Mara’s table and frowned at the boys who had swung their hands behind their backs. “Did you thank the nice lady for the snack?”
The boys looked down at their feet and mumbled something.
“What did you say?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry they bothered you. They’re rambunctious, but they’re good boys.” Her smile showed gaps where several teeth were missing.
Mara put on her customer service smile. “It’s okay. The samples are for everyone to try. Would you like one? This crab is delicious and so easy to prepare.” She picked up the tub she had scooped it out of.
“Oh, no, thank you, honey. I can’t eat shellfish. Come on, boys.”
Mara watched her waddle down the aisle, leaning heavily on the cart, pink and orange flowers swinging across her large behind. Who designed that monstrosity, and why would anyone buy it?
The boys were back the next day, reaching for the mini quiches she had heated in a little microwave. And the next day, and the next. Each time the woman in the pink and orange dress trailed after them, leaning on her nearly empty cart. Mara tried to anticipate them and only have a couple of her samples on the tray when they arrived. Didn’t that woman have anything to do besides shop in a big box store, and why weren’t the boys in school?
One afternoon, a text from Jenny made her forget all about them and her pointless job giving away samples no one except little boys really wanted.
Garret found James Green. He’s in Aynor.
Close enough for an overnight at Myrtle Beach, if she could find a good off-season rate.


Mara turned off the highway into the dirt lot and parked in front of the big wooden sign that read Green’s Nursery. After almost four hours in the car, she needed to stretch her legs. Another half hour would get her to the hotel, but she wanted to get beyond her apology so she could enjoy her mini-vacation at the beach. In front of her, tables were covered with flowers in a tasteful display: patches of purple next to cheerful yellow, feathery blues waving above white stars. Beyond them were rows of potted trees, and a small building stood beside them. An older couple wandered between the rows, but she didn’t see anyone else. Determined, she took a step toward the building and the spike heel of her boot sank into the soft soil, getting mud on the fine leather. She looked around for a path or, at least, drier ground.
“Can I help you?”
Mara looked up to see that James hadn’t changed much. His too-long blond hair still curled under the bottom of the USC cap that was faded enough to be the one he had worn every day in college. With hands in his pockets he ambled toward her. His slow smile disappeared, and he actually frowned when he stopped in front of her.
“Can I help you find something, ma’am?”
Oh great, he’s not even going to acknowledge me. “Do you have any chrysanthemums?” she blurted out.
He actually took a step back at her words, and she looked away so she wouldn’t see him turn red the way he always had when she embarrassed him. Oops. Not the way to start an apology.
“No, ma’am. Chrysanthemums are a fall flower. Would you like to see our red roses?”
He obviously hadn’t forgotten her very public rant about a girl wanting roses, not unromantic chrysanthemums. Well, that was why she was here. She held her head up and looked right in his gorgeous blue eyes.
“No, thank you. Roses have too many thorns.”
His face wasn’t red, but he looked angry. “Why are you here?”
“I came to see you, James. I …”
“Hey, Jamie.” A girl with blonde curls and a baby on her hip came out from between a row of trees. “The crape myrtles don’t have prices on them. Some customers are looking at them.”
He turned without looking at Mara and wove his way through the tables of flowers to where the girl was standing. Mara followed him, ignoring the mud sucking at her boots.
“I’ll take care of it,” he told the girl and headed for the gap between the trees. “You stay here.”
Mara wasn’t sure if he meant her or the girl, but she stayed where she was.
“Hi, I’m Emily. This is Molly.” The girl pointed her chin at the baby and held out her free hand with what seemed like a genuine smile. She was shorter than Mara and was wearing faded jeans and a t-shirt. Her short blonde curls moved when she jiggled the little bald baby. “Are you a friend of Jamie’s?”
Mara gave her hand a quick squeeze. “I knew him in college.” She looked in the direction he had gone, wondering if he’d come back.
“Oh. You must be Mara.”
Mara turned back in surprise to the girl. Emily’s eyes had gotten bigger, but she kept the smile.
“I guess you’ve heard of me. Whatever he’s told you about me is probably true. Or maybe worse. I came to apologize.”
“Wow, that’s great. Did you drive all the way down from Spartanburg just for that?”
Mara nodded, wondering how this woman would know where she lived.
“That’s awesome. And you’re just going to go right back?”
“Well, no. Since I’m here, I’m going to the beach for the night.” She didn’t know why she was telling Emily all this, except that it was nice to talk to someone friendly. “I’m staying at the Breakers. Did you know you can get a room for really cheap during the off season?”
James returned. The baby took her thumb out of her mouth and gave him a smile that looked just like Emily’s. He smiled back and rubbed his hand across her bald head.
“I’ve taken care of it. I’ll be in for lunch in just a minute.”
“It was nice to meet you, Mara.” Emily winked at her and walked toward a doublewide that stood beyond the little building.
James watched her go and then turned to Mara. He didn’t say anything. Time to get it over with.
She studied him.  “You’ve been busy.”
He stared at her without expression. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Emily is my cousin. She and Molly are staying with me while her husband is deployed in Afghanistan. Why are you here?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve said all the wrong things since I got here, but I need you to believe me. I came to say I’m sorry for the way I treated you in college. I was selfish and thoughtless, and I know I hurt you. But now I know how awful I was, and I hope you’ll forgive me.”
She looked down at her muddy feet and then glanced up at him through her long eyelashes. He hadn’t been able to resist them before. Maybe they would help now. But he wasn’t even looking at her. He still had no expression as he stared over her head. She waited, but he didn’t say anything.
“I’ve been learning about God’s forgiveness. I know He’s forgiven me, but He’s made it plain to me that I needed to approach you and ask you to do the same. You’ve no idea how awful I feel.”
He finally moved. “It’s still all about you, isn’t it? You need to be forgiven. Maybe you should go ask God what He really wants.”
He turned and walked away without looking back. Mara stared after him, but he didn’t look back as he headed for the doublewide. She finally walked back to her car and sat staring at the steering wheel for a while. She had really botched that apology. Mara turned the key and headed back to the highway. She was tempted just to go home, but maybe an evening walk on the beach was what she really needed. She drove to the hotel.
During the drive, she replayed the afternoon in her head. What did he mean about it being about her? She really was sorry for hurting him. But she pushed the memories away when she got to the hotel and went for a swim in the indoor pool and then had a salad in the cafĂ©. Afterward she pulled on a sweater and went for a walk on the beach. James’s words came back to her, and she found herself talking aloud to God about it.
“I said I was sorry. Why couldn’t he just forgive me? You forgave me. Is he better than You? I don’t understand.”
Walking beside the water, Mara stopped talking and listened to the waves breaking on the sand. She turned to watch them and the motion soothed her.     After some time, she realized the water was hard to see, although the sky was still bright. She turned and headed back to the hotel where she bought a coffee at Starbucks and went up to her room. She had just turned on the TV when the room phone rang.
“Mara? This is Emily. I hope it’s okay that I called you. You told me where you were staying, so I called and they gave me your room number. I just wanted to tell you I think the way Jamie treated you was terrible. You came to apologize, and he was so mean to you. I wasn’t eavesdropping. He told me what happened. He feels bad about it, too. So, anyway, I talked him into coming out to the beach with me and Molly tomorrow so we could see you again. Can you meet us on the boardwalk?”
When Emily finally quieted, Mara took a breath as if that would help the girl on the phone. She wasn’t sure what to say, but maybe God was giving her a second chance to apologize the right way.
“Thank you for calling, Emily. I have to head home tomorrow, but I could see you for a little while. Are you sure James wants to see me?”
“Yes. He said so. Can you meet us in front of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove at eleven?”
“Okay. See you then.”
Mara threw herself on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. What did this mean? What was God doing? Anyway, she had better really think about what she was going to say to him this time. No more bringing up the nasty things she’d done in the past.
In the morning, before packing her small bag, Mara stared at herself in the mirror. She skipped her usual makeup routine and just put on lipstick and a little moisturizer. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and nodded and smiled. It didn’t look like she’d just gotten out of bed, but didn’t say look at me. Today she was going to do it right. But when she walked down the boardwalk, her smile went away. Emily was standing near the beach railing by herself. Had James changed his mind?
“I’m so glad you came.” Emily ran over and gave her a hug. “James is down on the beach with Molly.” She looked down at Mara’s jeweled flip flops. “You should probably take your shoes off.”
She kicked off her own flip flops and ran down the steps to the sand. Mara stopped to look for James. He was on a blanket with his back to her, tickling the baby. When they reached him, though, he stood up and handed Molly to Emily. He looked at Mara without smiling, but he pushed the brim of his USC cap up with his finger and said hello.
Mara pushed a smile into place. “Hi, James.”
Emily plopped down on the blanket. “You two go for a walk. I’ll start getting our lunch out.”
James smiled then. “Do you want to walk with me?”
“Sure.” Mara dropped her flip flops on the blanket and followed him down to the hard sand at the water’s edge. They walked for a while without speaking. She was afraid to say the wrong thing, so she didn’t say anything. Eventually, James stopped and looked out over the water. Mara stood beside him, watching the breaking waves.
“I’ve been wrestling with God,” he finally said. “Jesus said we must forgive as we’ve been forgiven. I didn’t want to forgive you.” He turned to Mara and waited until she looked at him. “Now I have to ask you to forgive me.”
“Oh, no. You didn’t do anything wrong. I was horrible back in college, and I’m still new at saying I’m sorry, so I was horrible yesterday. I’m the one who needs forgiveness.” Tears filled her eyes, and she blinked to clear them.
To her surprise, James laughed. She had forgotten how much she had liked his laugh. “Aren’t we silly, trying to be the one whose sorrier? Let’s just forgive each other and be friends.”
Really? Friends? Mara smiled and nodded. He turned back toward where they had left Emily. “Let’s go have some lunch. Emily made chicken sandwiches and brownies.” He took off down the beach, but Mara followed more slowly, looking out over the water. Thank You, Lord.
By the time she reached the blanket, he was sitting with the baby in his lap. Emily had taken sandwiches out of a cooler and handed one to Mara, who sat down between them. Emily chatted while they ate, but Mara didn’t really listen. She watched James feed pieces of a brownie to Molly until Emily noticed.
He winked at Mara. “It’s fun to spoil someone else’s kid. Emily has to do the hard part.” He picked her up and passed her over to her mother, wrinkling his nose. “Like changing diapers.”
When Emily laid her on the blanket and rummaged through a bag, Mara stood up to give her more room.
“I think that’s my cue. I need to head back upstate.”
“Don’t go on my account.” Emily waved a diaper at Mara. “This’ll only take a minute.”
“No, really. But it’s been fun. Thanks for lunch.”
“I hope we see you again soon.” Emily nodded, her hands now busy holding Molly, who was trying to roll away. James jumped up and handed Mara her flip flops. He walked with her across the sand to the boardwalk steps.
“Thank you,” Mara said, surprised how reluctant she was to leave.
“Thank you. I’m glad you came.”
She glanced back once and saw James still standing by the steps.


Mara only had one more week of giving away samples. Then it would be Easter, and the job would end. Reading over her list for the week, she smiled at the bunny shaped cookies for Friday. The boys will love those. Then she frowned, picturing them reaching with both hands and hearing the lady scolding them. She wondered what their story was. Then she got an idea.
They came every day that week, but on Friday, she prepared a surprise.
“Look, Meemee. Cookies.”
“Would you like some?” Mara picked up the plate and lowered it in front of them.
They didn’t wait for permission to help themselves or to be reminded to thank her. Full mouths mumbled, “Thank you, ma’am.” Mara smiled and reached under her table. She waited until the orange and pink dress stopped in front of her and then took out the two little baskets she had filled with crayons, bubbles, and little cars.
“Do you mind?” She watched the gap-toothed smile broaden and then looked down at the boys. “Happy Easter.”
“What do you say to the nice lady?” Meemee looked back at Mara. “They weren’t gonna get nothing this year. Bless you.”
Mara smiled and handed her an envelope. “If you don’t have a church to attend on Sunday, I’d love to see you at mine. The address is in there with my phone number. My name’s Mara.”
In spite of the smile, Mara saw a tear on the lady’s cheek. “No one’s been this nice to me in a long time. Thank you, Mara. Boys, tell Miss Mara thank you.”
Mara watched her push the cart away down the aisle, the familiar orange and pink flowers swinging across her hips and the boys racing ahead with their baskets. She smiled at the memory of James tickling Molly. He had taught her more than just how to make a proper apology.

Voting opens at Noon (EST) on Feb 5.

Because we want YOU to choose the best hero for Mara, we're going to try to keep the author/creator of each chapter a secret until after the voting is over. If you know one of the authors, and pick out her chapter, please help us keep the secret. We want the hero chosen based on his personality and his chemistry with Mara, and not make it a contest between authors.

We're depending on you to help us spread the word! 

Our authors are also offering some inside glimpses into the writing process, some interviews with authors, heroes, and even the publisher. And that Marji - she somehow got hold of Mara's journal, so you'll be able to read some of her thoughts as she goes through this experience. Check out all the links below to stay on top of the latest.

Thanks for joining us in Mara's adventure - we hope you have a great time!

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