Monday, February 3, 2014

A Dozen Apologies Chapter Eleven

Mara's final few apologies. Have you ever had to apologize to several people? How did it make you feel as you neared the end of your apologies? That's where Mara's at right now. Do you think her self-esteem is at an all-time low? Or have the heroes helped her heal as she's gone through each one?

Voting begins Wednesday at noon! Have you picked a hero yet? The winning hero will be revealed in the final chapter of A Dozen Apologies, releasing February 14! 

Read Chapter One.
Read Chapter Two.
Read Chapter Three.
Read Chapter Four.
Read Chapter Five.
Read Chapter Six.
Read Chapter Seven.
Read Chapter Eight.

Read Chapter Nine.
Read Chapter Ten. 

A Dozen Apologies
Chapter Eleven - November
Brent Teague

    “Gobble, gobble!”
     Mara pasted on a grin and waved at the cackling guy who was clearly not aware he was the hundredth person to make that joke. She turned toward the counter where customers at the diner placed their orders. Cashiering at a diner had never seemed like a particularly elegant profession, but the humiliation of being stuffed in this Thanksgiving turkey costume made taking orders look as dignified as being the Queen of England.
     She closed her eyes at the sound of the man’s voice behind her. Wonderful. Someone recognized her. She swallowed the remains of her pride and turned to see … Brent?
     She blinked. Was she dreaming? She wasn’t supposed to see him yet. The apology wasn’t ready.
He looked into her eyes and smiled—a slow, widening grin that sparkled against the light chocolate tones of his face and warmed her to her toes.
     The Brent Teague she knew was a skinny computer geek with a long neck and small head, dark eyes hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses, and lips too full for his boyish face. But there was no mistaking the warm understanding in those eyes and the brightness of that smile, despite their new attachment to a mature, swoon-worthy picture of masculinity.
     “Mara Adkins.”
     She looked away from his direct gaze and cleared her throat. He could still see right through her. She lifted her chin, prepared to force her showy grin.
     Her gaze collided with his dark eyes. Always such compassion, even now. She couldn’t be fake when it felt like he was looking at her heart.
     “Brent Teague.” She relaxed. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
     “It’s mutual.” His gaze moved to the top of her head. “Especially like this.” His eyes sparkled with humor.
     Heat surged up from her toes and rushed to her cheeks. Why couldn’t the beak of the turkey costume hide her face instead of stopping on her forehead? Brent would have to be the one to see her like this. After all these years, it was hardly the impression she wanted to make. She searched for something to say. “I’m surprised you even recognize me. It’s been so long.”
     “Oh, I could never forget you.”
     Something about the way he said the words made her risk a peek at his eyes again, but he glanced away.
Did he still care for her? After everything she had done to him? She remembered how he used to look at her—with lovesick cow eyes in a baby face, she and Jenny used to say when they laughed at him for his obvious infatuation. She shoved the unpleasant memory away, her guilt squashed under embarrassment from being recognized in this ridiculous costume. It was his chance to laugh now. Maybe that made them even.
     “So what brings you to Spartanburg?” She put her hands on the brown fleece material at her hips, hoping that looked chic.
     “I live here.”
     “You’re kidding.” She thought she couldn’t find him to apologize, but he was here all the time?
     “Afraid not. I moved back to pastor a new church.”
     “You’re a pastor? I thought you were studying to be an engineer in college.”
     His closed lips formed a tight smile. “Computer Technologies, actually, but, yeah, I changed direction after …” he glanced away, “stuff happened.”
     He obviously didn’t want to talk about it, so Mara moved on. “What church do you pastor?”
     “New Covenant. We’re just getting started, so it’s small.” He met her gaze squarely. “We’d love to see you there sometime.”
     “I don’t think so,” she answered, a little too quickly.
     “Before you decide, I should tell you it’s not a segregated church. My plan is to make it more integrated than other churches tend to be. We need to learn how to worship together and ignore differences in color and culture.”
     She blinked at the mini sermon. “Oh, no. That’s not at all what I meant.” Her face flushed again. Did he think she was prejudiced, too? “I just have a great church I’m happy at right now.” Hopefully, he wouldn’t ask what the predominant race was at her place of worship.
     “Sorry.” He flashed an abashed grin as he smoothed a hand over the black stubs of shaved hair on top of his head. “You can tell what I’m passionate about these days.”
     He was apologizing to her?
     “There have always been a bunch of great churches here, though,” he added.
     Always? Her mind went to what he said before. “Wait, did you say you moved back here?”
     He nodded, apparently not going to give her any help.
     “I thought you were from …” She looked away at the huge sign that advertised the turkey sandwich special. She had no clue where he was from.
     “You don’t remember me, do you?”
     She jerked her gaze to his. “Of course I do. You helped me with biology in college before I dropped it. We went out once before—” She stopped herself just in time. Was she really going to say, “Before I dropped you”? She was evidently more flustered than she thought.
     His smile was nowhere in sight as he watched her. “I mean before that. We went to the same high school.”
     “Gobble, gobble!” some woman shouted from behind him, but Mara barely registered the noise. She was too busy trying not to look like a turkey with her jowls dropped to the floor. “I—you can’t be serious.”
     “All four years.”
     Impossible. She would have remembered him. “How could I not have known that?” She could kick herself with her yellow turkey foot. Was she asking for punishment?
     “There was a lot you didn’t know about me.”
     Even as guilt surged in her throat, she inexplicably felt the urge to defend herself. She could not let him see her that way. “I wouldn’t have forgotten that.”
     He shrugged. “You probably didn’t. I don’t think you knew I existed in high school.”
     Or in college. He didn’t have to voice the thought. She could see it in his eyes. They held the same pain as when she had invited him to kiss her at the party with everyone watching. Then she’d spun away with hysterical laughter. He loved her then. Did he hate her now?
     She opened her mouth to speak but then shut it. All this time and practice, and she still couldn’t come up with an apology that was good enough. If she had thought of one before, it wouldn’t work now. Treating him like dirt in college was bad enough. Learning she had ignored him in high school, too, was like adding the final cement to sink her in an ocean of guilt.
     “Hey, turkey.” Ralph barked at Mara from behind the counter. “You’re paid to gobble, not blab.”
     Mara tried to cover her embarrassment by rolling her eyes as she looked away from the diner’s manager.
     Brent stuck out his hand. “I should let you get back to work.”
     She put her hand in his, suddenly too hot in her fleece getup as his hand cocooned hers in a warm, comforting grip.
     “It was great running into you again.”
     She didn’t want to look away from the deep sincerity in his eyes.
     But he let go and turned to leave.
     “Wait.” The word burst out before she had time to think.
     He looked back.
     She couldn’t let him leave. She had to apologize, but not like this. Not in a turkey costume at a diner. “Would you like to come to my house for Thanksgiving dinner? We’re planning a big spread this year.”
     “Thanks, but I’m afraid I have other plans.”
     Of course he would. It was only two days before the holiday.
     He watched her a moment. “Why don’t you join me? You can come before or after your dinner. I’ll be there all day.”
     “The children’s home.”
     The children’s home? That was sweet, but not really her thing. She was looking forward to spending all day with her parents—their first Thanksgiving since they had all come to Christ. But she did still have to apologize. “Okay. I’ll try to make it.”
     “Good. Hope to see you there.” He gave her a small smile and headed out of the diner.
     She had the feeling her mind would make sure she’d be seeing him everywhere until Thanksgiving. She better come up with the best apology ever, or her racing heart was going to be sorely disappointed.


     Mara took a deep breath Thanksgiving morning as she walked through the door of the clean and modern facility used as the children’s home. At least she was ready to face Brent this time. She had worked all night on a suitable apology and practiced it all the way to the shelter.
     “You a volunteer?”
     Mara turned to see a girl of no more than sixteen emerge from a doorway, tugging at the hem of the T-shirt that stretched across her pregnant belly.
     “I’m here to see Brent Teague.”
     “You and everybody else, lady.” The girl smirked, but there was a friendly glint in her gaze as she eyed up Mara. “Come on.” The girl waved a hand. “I’ll show you where he at.”
     The girl led Mara down a hallway toward the sound of children’s laughter.
     They reached a doorway and Mara followed her guide inside. Mara gulped at the sight before her. Brent stood in the middle of the room holding a tiny girl on his hip as he reached down to help a boy with a paper turkey. Now there was some serious husband material. How did he manage to look more handsome with red marker on his forehead and the little girl stretching the neck of his sweater with her pulling?
     “Mm, hmm.” The pregnant teenager watched Mara’s reaction. “You gonna be a volunteer before you leave here, lady.” The girl turned and shook her head as she left the room with a grin.
     There was a tug on Mara’s coat.
     A boy about four years old stared up at her. “You pretty.”
     And his voice was loud. The room hushed at the announcement as all the children and the two other adult volunteers looked her way. Mara caught Brent’s gaze as he spotted her.
     He smiled. “That’s Damion. He has great taste.” Brent winked.
     She thought her heart might stop.
     Damion tugged on her coat again. The boy held up a mess of cutout papers that she surmised were to be formed into a turkey.
     “Thank you.” She took the papers he offered.
     He crossed his arms like a grown man and waited.
     “Oh, you want me to help you with it?”
     He nodded and grabbed her hand, tugging her to a short craft table. He guided her into a kiddie chair, and she was soon helping six similarly aged children assemble their paper turkeys.
     The expectant teen was right—what started out as a visit to see Brent quickly turned into a volunteer moment. Funny thing, Mara didn’t mind. She hadn’t felt such a sense of joy and belonging since the moment she accepted Christ. The little children reminded Mara of herself as a kid. No, she hadn’t suffered abuse or needed to be removed from her home, but she knew well the insecurity of having parents who were bitter enemies and the fear of her young heart as she listened to their constant fighting.
     Even Jacqueline, the teen Mara met at the door who later joined them with the kids, served as a reflection of Mara’s own shallow life, wasted on the pursuit of beauty and boys. Flushed with passion as she shared her story with Jacqueline, Mara caught Brent watching her over the heads of some kids. Was he listening? Was he happy to know she was a Christian now? She couldn’t read his expression.
     Jacqueline asked a question, and Mara had to look away from Brent to answer. She didn’t know how much time passed until two women came and called the kids together to march out of the room for their Thanksgiving meal. Mara returned Jacqueline’s wave as the teen followed the younger children.
     “Call me.” Mara pointed to the paper Jacqueline carried that held Mara’s phone number.
     Jacqueline nodded and smiled.
     Mara turned.
     Brent watched her again.
     She walked over to the table and started gathering up the scraps of paper and crayons. Why was she suddenly so nervous?
     “Thanks for coming.” Brent walked to the other side of the table and began to help clean up.
     “It was fun. And I still have time to get home for our Thanksgiving dinner.” Now why did she have to say that? As if he didn’t already think of her as selfish. God sure had a lot of work left to do on her. “So why do you come here?” She hoped Brent would allow the change of subject.
     “I want to help kids who are like I was. Struggling with the same stuff. I’m hoping I can show them the love of Christ that I never knew as a kid.”
     “Oh.” What else could she say? More guilt just got piled on her head. She hadn’t even known he had a rough childhood.
     Her gaze fell to his hand on the table, and she couldn’t help but notice his bare ring finger.
     Their hands touched as they reached for the same crayon. She jerked back, trying to ignore the sensation that tingled in her fingers.
     “Sorry.” He straightened.
     She closed her eyes and prayed, Lord, give me strength. “No,” she met his gaze, “I’m the one who has to apologize to you.” She couldn’t remember a word of her memorized apology, but she had the feeling God wanted it that way. “I know I hurt you. A lot. In college and in high school. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even remember that part of it, but I know I probably made fun of you or stood by as others did.”
     She set down the crayons she had gathered and clasped her shaking hands together, her gaze dropping to the table. “I don’t know if you heard me talking to Jacqueline, but I’m a Christian now, and I know what I did was very wrong. I’m sure I can never make it up to you.” She made herself look into his eyes. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me somehow.”
     “I don’t need to forgive you.”
     Her heart plummeted to her shoes. She shouldn’t have hoped. She deserved nothing less than his hatred.
     “I waited all this time, hoping I would see you again. But I don’t want to forgive you.”
     She swallowed.
     “I want to thank you.”
     She felt like someone just shot her dead in her turkey costume. Staring at the sincerity in his eyes did little to help her confusion.
     “I spent all of high school and the first two years of college caring only about one thing.” He held up his finger then tilted it toward her. “You.”
     She fidgeted.
     “I was blessed that I thought you might notice me if I was smart and got good grades, or I probably would’ve flunked out of high school.” He crossed his arms and looked away for a moment. “When you suddenly paid attention to me sophomore year in college, I thought that was it.”
     She bit her lip.
     “I thought I was finally going to be happy.”
     “Brent,” her voice was thick with the emotion that clogged her throat, “I’m so—”
     He held up a hand. “But God knew I needed something else, so he let you dump me, humiliate me, and hurt me more than I ever thought I could take.”
     Blinking back tears, she watched him struggle with his own emotion, moisture glistening in his dark eyes.
     “He knew I would never see Him until I could stop looking at you.”
     Mara sniffed as a drop spilled down her cheek.
     He reached across the table and gently wiped the tear away with his thumb. “You broke my heart, Mara.” He looked into her eyes, into her soul, “So God could put it together again.”
     She nodded, not knowing whether to laugh or keep crying. She let out a noise that was something like a combination of the two.
     Brent gave her a small smile. “It’s okay now. I’m okay, and so are you. He meant it for good.”
     “Yes,” she smiled through her tears, “He did.”
     “It’s been good seeing you, Mara.” He pulled away. “I better go in and help with the meal for the kids. I know you have to get to your dinner.”
     “Oh, yes. I forgot.” She pretended to check her watch as she tried to hide her confusion. His sudden rush to get away from her was not a good sign.
     He held out his hand again, a strangely formal ending for what they had just shared.
     She put her hand in his and searched his face. Did he feel what she felt?
     He looked away before she could tell. “If you ever want to visit a different church, you know where I’m at.” He turned and left the room before she could think of a response.
     He wasn’t mad. He didn’t hate her. He was grateful for what she had done. It was the best reaction one could hope for on a journey of repentance. But did he still love her? She shouldn’t care, but her sinking heart told her that she did.

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. Fay snagged interviews with all the heroes too. 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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