A Place to Come Home To

by Melody Carlson

Maggie Carpenter, hardworking and successful news reporter for the Los Angeles Times, laughs when she first spots the quaint job posting on the Internet. But when the violence of gang activity hits her neighborhood and her teenage son begins to withdraw, Maggie reconsiders.

When Maggie and Spencer arrive in Pine Mountain, Oregon, they realize with dismay that the idyllic escape they’d hope for has fallen into disrepair. As she rallies the townsfolk in an attempt to save the community, she makes friends and discovers enemies. Why is the postmaster so unfriendly? What dark secret in the woods threatens the efforts of the Main Street merchants to restore the town? And will Maggie have the courage to open her heart to either the mysterious, wood-working preacher of the outgoing, sophisticated photographer?

Chapter 1

Maggie scanned the words on her computer screen again—it sounded too good to be true. And usually that meant it wasn’t. Her journalist’s sense of skepticism kicked in as she called out to Skip in the cubicle next to her. “Listen to this one, Skippy. Dream job in a dream location. Wanted: experienced and motivated newspaper writer/editor to manage small-town paper in Central Oregon. Benefits include but not limited to: tall pine trees, snowcapped mountains, peace and quiet…”

“Where do I sign up?” asked Skip.

She laughed. “And while you’re at it, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.”

Skip leaned over the divider and pointed his pencil at her accusingly. “Haven’t you ever been a dreamer, Maggie? I’ll bet there’s an old-fashioned idealist hiding beneath that cynical reporter’s crusty exterior.”

She just shook her head and sighed. “Idealists don’t survive in L.A., Skippy. At least not for long.”

He grew thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe you’re right. I’m still a newcomer here.” Maggie watched as disappointment washed over his face and suddenly felt guilty for spoiling his youthful illusions. Maybe she was a little jaded.

“Sorry, Skip. I probably felt like that once too, but I suppose my brass ring has gotten a little tarnished-looking over the years.”

He smiled and nodded towards her computer. “Any luck in your Net-search for a fledgling reporter who’s willing to become a slave for peanuts, or are you just surfing for the fun of it?”

“Nothing much yet.” She glanced at her watch. “Actually, I better call it quits. I promised Spencer that I’d start coming home before dinnertime this week.”

“What a concept. Which reminds me, I’m running late too. See ya tomorrow.”

Maggie returned her attention to her computer screen, but before exiting the ad section she stole one last look to see exactly where this “dream job” was located. Pine Mountain, Oregon. How interesting. She read the address again just to be sure. Pine Mountain… now that induced some wonderful childhood memories.

Her family had spent several summer vacations on Silver Lake, just outside of the small town of Pine Mountain. Her dad’s partner had lent them his cabin up there, a rustic affair made from hand-hewn pine logs and complete with a stone fireplace that smelled like real wood smoke. She’d almost forgotten that short but happy era. Even now it seemed like a time and place out of some juvenile book she’d read long ago.

Places like that couldn’t really exist. But even if it was only imaginary, wouldn’t it be great to go there, if simply for a moment. How she would savor the clean fragrance of sun-warmed pine needles and the peaceful sound of water lapping gently against the dock on a hot summer’s day—things she had taken for granted during their summer vacations. Suddenly she recalled how she and her brother would traipse through the little tourist town of Pine Mountain in search of an ice cream cone—two enormous scoops of the wildest flavors dripping down the side of the cone in the summer’s sun. But the friendly shopkeepers hardly seemed to notice the sticky faces or grimy camp clothes and dusty tennis shoes. How unlike the immaculate designer shops in L.A. where everyone and everything looked squeaky clean and perfect—at least on the exterior. Did places like Pine Mountain really still exist?

She blinked at the clock, remembering her promise to her son, and shut off her computer. Determined to start this week out right, she had to hurry if she wanted to fix a real dinner tonight. She’d even gone to the store during her lunch hour for fresh pasta and a few other ingredients she hadn’t seen in her cupboards for months. Perhaps a feeble effort on her part, but when she’d learned from a teacher friend that Spencer was hanging with some kids who were not his old sports pals, she’d grown concerned. And according to the same teacher, these were the kind of kids rumored to have gang connections.

Naturally, Spencer denied all this, insisting that just because some of his friends dressed differently the paranoid teachers assumed they were “gang-bangers.” Not wishing to engage in another useless argument, Maggie had held her tongue, hoping that he knew what he was talking about. And after all, he had always been sensible and dependable, always more mature than his peers. But at the same time she was haunted by the memory of how Phil had always said that kids who imitated gangs— “wannabes”—could be just as dangerous as the real thing. Maybe even more so. Oh, if only Phil were still alive. He’d surely know how to deal with this.

Maggie fought down a wave of sadness as she rode the elevator down to the parking garage. This wasn’t how it was supposed to have gone. She had never intended to marry a cop. Everything sensible and rational inside of her had warned her against it. But those clear blue eyes, that disarming smile and hearty laugh, had all joined forces to defeat her on their very first date! Now Phil was gone, and it was her job, a thirty-eight-year-old newspaper reporter, to raise Spencer alone. And fourteen was a bad age. Other parents had warned her, but she had boasted that her son was different—reliable, responsible, trustworthy. Now she wasn’t so sure.

She hardly remembered the commute home. Not because she’d driven it thousands of times, but because her mind was seeking refuge in the Oregon mountains. Once again she was a carefree child, splashing in the cold lake, teasing her little brother with a frog, looking at stars so close she thought she could reach up and touch them with her fingertips. She sighed as she exited the freeway. Skip was wrong, she hadn’t always been a skeptical, no-nonsense reporter. Once upon a time, she’d been young, she’d entertained all kinds of dreams and ideals—

And then she saw them—flashing lights, police cars, ambulances, at least a dozen of them—all in front of her house! She parked her car without shutting off the engine, then leaped out and pressed through the crowd of gathering spectators and curious neighbors. Quickly she forced her way to where a number of uniformed officers were standing.

“Stay back, ma’am,” warned a young cop she didn’t recognize.

“Hey, Maggie,” called Gordon Bender, an old friend of Phil’s from the force. “Let her through, Kent.”

She ran to Gordon, unable to form an intelligible sentence, searching his eyes for some sort of sign that everything was okay. “Is he… is it… Spencer?”

Gordon threw an arm around her shoulders. “Now don’t worry, Maggie. Spencer is just fine—pretty shook up though. He’s over talking to Lieutenant Harrell right now.”

“Then what in the world is going on?” She felt tears of relief build in her eyes, but she was determined to remain calm. Putting on her reporter’s reserved detachment, she would just get the facts.

“A drive-by shooting.” Gordon exhaled slowly before he continued. “It’s a kid… Brian Jackson.”

“Oh, no…” Her hand flew to her mouth. “How is he?”

Gordon shook his head sadly. “He’s dead, Maggie.”

“No!” She could no longer hold back the tears. “Oh, no! I can’t believe it! Not here, not in this neighborhood! This is a quiet subdivision… Phil always said it was safe…”

Gordon frowned. “No neighborhood is safe.”

“Oh, poor Sandy and Tom… are they home yet?” Maggie looked over to her next-door neighbors’ neatly landscaped yard. Tom kept the greenest lawn on the block. Now it was cordoned off with garish yellow plastic tape.

“The parents are on their way. They know about the shooting, but they don’t know he’s dead.”

Suddenly Maggie’s knees began to weaken. She didn’t know how much more of this she could process. She felt sick for the Jacksons, but it also felt as if her own world was spinning more and more out of control. “I’ve got to talk to Spence…”

Gordon grabbed her arm. “Wait until they’re done questioning him, Maggie. Let’s get you inside. You need to sit down and pull yourself together.”

As if in a dazed dream, she allowed him to lead her into her own house. This couldn’t be happening. Not here in Oak Valley, where neighbors actually knew each other by first names and weren’t afraid to walk their dogs after dark. She sank into the couch and closed her eyes, pressing her knuckles against them as if to press out what was going on all around her. She heard Gordon moving about in the kitchen, opening a cabinet, running water in the sink…

Why, God? she prayed in silent desperation. Why do you allow these things to happen? Her pleading wasn’t an accusation. She’d moved beyond the accusation stage long ago. God had been her lifeline since Phil’s death, and she couldn’t afford to shove him away now. And so she prayed wordlessly for Sandy and Tom and for Brian’s older sister, Lisa, who was away at her first year of college. Maggie’s spirit cried out for her neighbors and the sorrow that would soon overwhelm them. She knew that kind of sorrow. It could kill you if you let it.

Her chest tightened as she remembered Brian’s impish smile as he shot baskets against Spencer in their shared driveway just a few days ago. The two kids were always comparing heights, but on that day Brian had been a hair taller and all long and lanky just like Spencer—and then she began to sob uncontrollably.

“Mom, are you okay?” asked Spencer in a voice that didn’t sound anything like her son.

She looked up. His freckles stood out on his unusually pale face and his eyes seemed blank, like the shades pulled down over a window. He stood over her, his large, bony hands hanging loosely at his sides. Suddenly he seemed so tall and gangly. When had he grown so tall? She stood up and reached out for him, and for the first time since Phil’s death, they hugged and cried together.

“I’m so sorry about Brian, honey,” she said when they finally pulled apart. “I just can’t believe it.”

He wiped his wet cheeks with his hands. “Me neither.”

“Do you know how it happened? Was Brian involved with any gang…?”

“No, Mom!” Spencer’s blue eyes flashed. “Crud, you sound just like the cops! Brian didn’t have anything to do with any gang! It was just some stupid, moronic mistake. Don’t you people get it?” Then he stomped up the stairs as she watched speechlessly. She told herself that his anger wasn’t really meant for her, he was just upset about Brian’s death and she was the closest target. But it hurt just the same.

Somehow she made it through the evening. She cooked the fresh pasta, but didn’t remember tasting it. Spencer had taken his plate into the family room where he sat silently in front of the TV as local news of the shooting flashed before their eyes in a three-minute blurb. Then he went to his room. She rattled around the kitchen, feeling like a stranger in her own home, nervously glancing out of the windows every few minutes, fearful that the shooters might return. Later as she sat alone in the darkened living room, she heard a car pull up. She jumped up and peered out the window to see the Jacksons’ BMW pull into their driveway. Maggie dashed out the kitchen side door and across her driveway to meet Sandy as the haggard-looking woman pulled herself from the car.

The two of them hugged tightly for several long minutes, both crying freely. Then she offered to help in any way she could. Finally Sandy spoke. “I know that you, of all people, understand how I feel, Maggie. You know what it’s like to lose someone too… but all I can think is that it’s all so blasted unfair!”

“I know,” said Maggie soothingly, her hand still on Sandy’s shoulder. “I still struggle with that too. And it still doesn’t make sense. But somehow I’ve learned to lean on God through all this. And quite honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

Sandy blew her nose. “Well, right now, I’m really, really mad at God!”

“It’s okay, Sandy. I was angry too. Sometimes I still am. Just don’t quit talking to him. Go ahead and tell God that you’re mad—vent your feelings. Believe me, he can take it. God has big shoulders to cry on.” They hugged again, and then Maggie helped them load some things into their car. They were going to a hotel—it was too painful to be in their home.

It was nearly midnight when she fell into bed exhausted, but sleep was far, far away. Her mind was pummeled with troubling questions. What if another drive-by occurred? Could Spencer possibly be involved with a gang? It seemed unlikely, but how could she be certain? And what about drugs? What would Phil do? And how was a single mom supposed to keep an eye on her kid when her job took her from home? On and on she went—one answerless question chasing the heels of the next.

Finally, she forced her mind to refocus. She had to trust God—anything else would drive her over the edge. She breathed deeply, willing herself to think of something, anything, to release her mind from her troubles. Whatever is good, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…  And for the second time that day a vision of Silver Lake drifted before her like a cool wisp of fresh air, peaceful, serene, bright blue sky, crystal clear water… ah, she was almost asleep…

Suddenly, she sat up in bed. That was her answer—the newspaper job in Pine Mountain! She ran downstairs and turned on her computer, waiting impatiently for the machine to boot up, and then logged on and pulled up her browser. She searched for the ad, hoping desperately that someone else hadn’t already snatched the dream job away. But at last she found it—the ad was still there! She smiled as she read the benefits package again. Someone in Pine Mountain had a sense of humor.

She didn’t get to bed until after three, but when her head hit the pillow her earlier sense of panic had abated. And for the first time since losing Phil, it felt like her life was actually on track. She decided to trust God to open or close this new door. And even if the door should open, she knew there might be some unseen challenges—she was no fool. But if it was the right thing, it would all work out. Like a child, she’d just taken her first step of faith. But it was God who would have to lead her on this journey.

Chapter 2

Maggie spent Memorial Day weekend stuffing everything she could fit into the back of her Volvo wagon. The garage sale had been a huge success and the movers would pick up all the large furniture and boxes next week. It was no use expecting Spencer to help out at this stage. She just hoped he didn’t cut out before he was safely buckled into the front seat of the car. And he’d probably leave a trail of black heel marks all the way up I-5 from the way he was dragging his feet right now.

Her coworkers had said they envied her—just taking off like that and escaping the rat race. Skip had heartily patted her on the back, saying he always knew she had it in her. But she saw flickers of doubt in the eyes of some, as if they wondered but were afraid to ask how she’d survive the isolation of the Oregon mountains, and wouldn’t she miss the action and energy of the city? Those things worried her a little too. But so far, everything had worked out so perfectly that she felt certain it was God who was sending her and Spencer to Pine Mountain.

Clyde Barnes, the owner of the Pine Cone, Pine Mountain’s weekly newspaper, had called her with a job offer just one day after she’d faxed her resume. He said he was getting too old to run the paper and wanted more time to go fishing in the numerous mountain lakes that surrounded the area. Then he’d connected her to his real estate agent friend, who had promptly emailed her information about several houses currently on the market. Maggie had instantly fallen in love with the quaint-looking farmhouse complete with seven bedrooms. The description said it was a perfect location for a bed and breakfast with full mountain views, several outbuildings, and a nearby stream. And the price was a steal— by far the best deal of the group. The idea of running a bed and breakfast had always intrigued her and now seemed like a potential way to supplement her income. The salary at the Pine Cone was modest to start with, although Mr. Barnes had promised that if circulation increased her salary would follow. But money wasn’t crucial just yet. She still had Phil’s stipend and insurance settlement, and the equity from her house covered the price of the farmhouse. Afraid that some other prospective buyer might snap up the real estate bargain, Maggie had purchased the farmhouse property sight-unseen. When her cash-offer was accepted, she was so excited that she called her mother in San Jose to share the good news.

“I sure hope you know what you’re doing, honey,” she said in that you could be making a big mistake voice.

“Don’t worry, Mom, it’s going to be great. I have a real sense of peace about it.”

“Well, you better enjoy that peace while you’ve got it.”

Maggie forced a laugh. “Why don’t you come out and visit us for a couple weeks this summer. Then you can see the place for yourself.”

“I just might do that. How’s Spencer taking the move?”

She thought for a moment. “As well as can be expected…”

“You mean he’s furious.”

“Well, I don’t know about furious, but he’s acting like a typical fourteen year old who doesn’t want to leave his friends behind—you know the spiel.”

“How’s he handling Brian’s murder?”

“He’s pretty closed-up about it. He keeps acting like nothing’s wrong, like nothing even happened. Right now, I’d say our communication is at an all-time low.”

“Did you get him into counseling like I suggested?”

“I tried, but he told me I was overreacting and then he skipped out on his appointments. Finally I just gave up.”

“That’s too bad. I think he needs to talk to someone.”

“Well, maybe you can work him over when you come visit,” teased Maggie. “No sense in letting that counseling degree go to waste.”

“You know I never practice on family or friends.”

She laughed. “So you say…”

“Besides…” Her mother’s voice grew flat. “I’m retired now.”

“How’s it going—being retired and all? Lifestyles of the relaxed and leisurely?”

Her mother groaned. “I’m bored out of my mind, Maggie. I never should have done it. You know I’ve never gone in for things like golf or shuffleboard, and I’m hopeless at bridge. I’m halfway tempted to hang out my shingle again.”

“Maybe you just need to give it more time, Mom. Learn how to have fun.”

Her mother sniffed. “That means a lot coming from you, Ms. Workaholic.”

Maggie bit her tongue. This was an open invitation for an argument. Raised by two workaholic parents, how could she possibly have grown into anything else? “Well, I’m changing my ways. And I think this move will help.”

“Well, for your sake, I hope so. Tell Spencer to hang in there. I’ve got a book I’ll send you about teens and grief. And you two make sure you stop by here on your way up to Oregon so I can do the grandmother thing.”

And now the day was finally here. Maggie backed the loaded car from the driveway, glancing at her son as she checked for traffic. His arms were folded tightly across his chest and his face was dark and stony, but at least he was in the car. Of course, she had hoped it would be different than this. She had imagined the two of them taking final looks around the place and sharing old memories—like when Phil had built the tree house, or put up the basketball hoop. Maybe even take a few snapshots. But now she was afraid to push her luck with him. Better just to get out of there as quickly as possible.

 Her eyes avoided the vacated Jackson house next-door. Unable to live in their home after losing Brian, they had moved to a gated community in Pasadena. Many other neighbors were talking about leaving as well. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she drove down Poppy Street for the last time. Would all their happy memories be wiped out by a few recent events? It hadn’t always been like this. She remembered when Phil had found the newly built split-level house. It had been shortly after their third anniversary, just a few months before Spencer was born. Phil had wanted a real yard for the baby to play in. But it had taken every penny of their savings, plus a gift from his parents, just to scrape together the down payment. It had been their home for nearly fifteen years, fairly happy years too, and the only home Spencer had ever known.

“I know this isn’t easy,” she began as they entered the crowded freeway.

“‘Isn’t easy?’” he exploded. “That’s quite the understatement, Mom! It stinks. It sucks. It’s totally unfair.”

She blinked. “I’m sure it seems that way to you…”

“Seems that way? I’d say it is that way. I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Who cares what I think anyway? I’m just a stupid kid.” He turned his face toward the passenger door, his back squared against her like a brick wall.

“I do care what you think, Spence. And you’re not a ‘stupid kid.’” But it was too late. His headphones were in place and he was putting a disc into his portable CD player.

He cranked it so loud that she could almost make out the words—that is if the words had been intelligible. She shook her head and sighed. Funny how her parents used to complain about her music, and yet it was nothing compared to the trash kids listened to nowadays. She smiled grimly at her curmudgeon-like attitude when it came to today’s music. Spencer had accused her of being raised by Ozzie and Harriet, which wasn’t too far from the truth. But several months ago, she had surrendered in the battle over his music, hoping, in turn, to gain some ground in the battle for his heart. She drove on in silence, fighting against the hopeless feeling that, despite leaving L.A., she was still losing her son. Maybe not to a bullet like in her worst fears, but she was losing him just the same. For all she knew, this move could prove to be the final straw.

By late afternoon they made it to San Jose where they would visit her mother. As always, Maggie felt a sense of comfort to be in her childhood home again. She fought against the guilt that Spencer would never enjoy that same comfort. His childhood home was gone now and there was no turning back. But, she also told herself, their situation was different. His father was gone. There was nothing she could do about that. Besides, who knew how many times she would get to visit here, perhaps this would be the last. The old house and large yard were a lot for her mother to keep up, and the old neighborhood was deteriorating noticeably. But her mother’s kitchen was still cheery and bright, with homemade marinara sauce simmering on the stove and fresh linguini hanging nearby to dry, evidence of her mother’s late-in-life attempt to resuscitate her old Italian roots.

Normally Spencer enjoyed his grandmother’s attention and witty humor, but as if to punish his mother he refused to engage in any conversation, choosing instead to sulk in front of the TV all night. After a late dinner and leisurely walk through the old neighborhood, Maggie had excused herself to bed, partly to escape her moody son but also because she wanted to get an early start in the morning. She wanted to reach Oregon as soon as possible, hoping, for no rational reason, that the miles would somehow wear down Spencer’s resistance.

As she got ready for bed in her old room, she was unprepared for the assault of memories tucked here and there. The faded yellow daisies on the wallpaper made her remember the long week in third grade when she’d been stuck in bed with a severe case of measles and had to wear dark glasses to protect her eyes from the light. And the familiar crack in her ceiling still reminded her of the sharp-nosed profile of her junior-high English teacher, old Miss Maisley, the first one who had ever told her she could write. Even as she looked out the window to admire the nearly full moon, she was reminded of the time she and Rebecca Bishop had climbed out this very window to meet with several friends out on the street—it had been Rebecca’s idea and a bold move for Maggie. She chuckled at the memory and then sighed. She’d been exactly the same age as Spencer then. When had she grown old?

She pulled down the shade and turned abruptly from the window. Standing before the gilt-framed mirror, she tried to assess the toll the last two decades had taken. Her brows were pinched together in a perennial scowl that accentuated wrinkles that weren’t actually there yet, but she suspected would follow if she continued to frown like that. She took a deep breath and willed herself to relax. That alone made her look a little younger. Then she turned on the table lamp and searched her dark, shoulder-length hair for any signs of gray, but found none. Her father had gone prematurely gray, but thankfully she took after her mother’s side. She stood up straight and evaluated her overall image. She weighed only slightly more than she did in high-school, yet she looked decidedly frumpy.

Maybe it was the clothes or perhaps the hair. Since Phil’s death she had focused her attention on work and Spencer, letting her appearance go. Well, it wasn’t too late to make some changes. Stand up straight, she told herself, shoulders back. Better. She smiled. Maybe she should smile more. Then she picked up a framed photo from high-school days. It was a candid shot of herself with her best friend Rebecca. They had entertained such big dreams back then. Suddenly she remembered the email from Rebecca yesterday. She hadn’t had a chance to respond before leaving, but now she pulled her laptop out and climbed into bed. She quickly began to write.

RB,

I see that you’re back from New York. I wish we could have gotten together before I left, but maybe you’ll come up for a visit. Between you and me, I’m scared to death right now. I’ve never done anything like this. You’ve always been the brave one, traveling around the world, taking on new challenges…

And I’ve always played it safe. But where did it get me? So, now I’m taking a big step—a risk. I know it probably seems like nothing to you, but for me it’s huge! And even though I’m frightened, I’m also excited. The truth is, right now I feel more alive than I’ve felt since losing Phil. Maybe I am doing the right thing. I’ll let you know how it goes. Say a prayer for Spence. He is not making this easy.

mc

The next morning her mother stood in the driveway, her faded blue bathrobe blending with the pre-dawn light. “Drive carefully, Maggie,” she said. “It’s a holiday weekend, you know.” Then she grabbed her grandson’s jaw and gave it a friendly little shake. “And, you, keep your chin up, Spencer. You never know what’s around the next corner.”

“I’ll try, Grandma,” he said unexpectedly.

Maggie tried not to register her pleased surprise as she turned and winked at her mother, mouthing the word thanks! as Spencer climbed into the car.

“Don’t forget your promise to come visit this summer,” she said as she closed the door and started the engine.

Spencer slept all morning. For companionship, Maggie kept the radio playing softly, searching for new stations as old ones grew fuzzy with static as she drove out of range. It was some comfort having him along, but still she felt very alone. But then she remembered her earlier assurance that God had opened this door—that he was leading her. Everything would be okay once they got to Pine Mountain.

By afternoon, she was tired and road weary. But as she made the ascent into the Cascades her spirits revived as tall, majestic evergreens appeared along the highway, standing tall like giant green sentries set out to greet travelers. And when she finally spotted the white, snowcapped peaks set pristinely against the cloudless, incredibly blue sky, she felt strangely energized. She glanced over at Spencer. He had exchanged earphones for a science-fiction book, and now he sat hunched over with his eyes fixed on the page before him.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she ventured at a particularly breathtaking vista of mountains.

Spencer barely looked up from his paperback and grunted. “I s’pose.”

Well, that was something. When they reached the top of the pass she noticed the ski area directly ahead. There were what appeared to be several new buildings and even more lifts than she remembered seeing as a kid.

“You know,” she began carefully, “Pine Mountain is only about fifteen minutes from that ski resort, Spencer. Hadn’t you mentioned something about wanting to learn how to snowboard?”

His eyes flickered just slightly as he lifted his gaze to the rounded mountain before them. “Maybe. But that doesn’t look like much of a ski resort.” He snickered. “Maybe it’s the last resort.”

Maggie forced a laugh, hoping to humor him. This was the most conversation they’d had in days and she wanted to keep it coming. “It looks like there’s at least a half-dozen chairlifts on this side. That would be enough to keep me busy. Of course, I’m not much of a skier. Wouldn’t it be fun to go up there next winter?”

Spencer exhaled his displeasure loudly. “You really think we’ll still be here by then?” Without waiting for her response, he turned his back to her and opened his book again.

She glanced back at the mountain and sighed. Doubts were creeping in again. What if Spencer didn’t adjust to small town life? What if his rebellion only grew worse? She couldn’t bear to lose him. She longed to reach over and ruffle his strawberry blond hair and tell him everything would be okay. But she couldn’t bear another disparaging scowl from him. She focused her eyes on the road. They’d soon be in Pine Mountain—their new home. Things would surely get better then.

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