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Everything I Long For

by Melody Carlson

Maggie Carpenter and her son, Spencer, are finally beginning to feel settled in their new community. Then one day Spencer discovers a runaway girl. Leah has been looking for her biological father and has come to a dead-end in Pine Mountain. In the middle of a medical crisis in Maggie’s family, staggering news about Leah’s father comes to light. Is reconciliation possible? Will Leah find the sanctuary she is looking for? And what does the future hold for Spencer and Maggie?

Chapter 1

Laying down the weekly paper, she reached across her cluttered desk to answer the phone. “Maggie Carpenter,” she said automatically as she circled an overlooked typo with bright red ink.

“Mom?” Spencer’s voice sounded urgent.

Her pen stopped. “What is it, Spence?”

“I found a girl!”

“What do you mean you ‘found a girl’?” She smiled to herself then added, “Does Sierra know about this new development?”

“Mom, be serious. I found this girl out in the woods.”

“Was she lost?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well, does she live around here then?”

“I don’t think so.”

Maggie’s voice grew firm. “Spencer, could you deal me a few facts here?”

“Well, I took Bart to the woods like I always do, and I found this girl wrapped up in an old army blanket, lying underneath a tree. At first I thought she was dead or something ‘cause it seemed pretty weird to be lying out there all by herself. When I realized she was just asleep, I thought she might have something to do with those drug guys, but then I saw she was all alone and all she had was a backpack with her…”

“Where is she now?”

“In the kitchen.”

“You brought her home?”

“Yeah. I couldn’t leave her out there like that.”

Maggie frowned. “How old is she? Do you know her name?”

“She won’t talk to me. But I think she’s about my age. Maybe older. Grandma’s trying to get her to eat something. She’s awfully skinny.”

“Will you please put your grandmother on the phone, Spence?”

Maggie drummed her fingers on her desk as she waited. Who could this strange girl be, and what should she do about her? Notify the authorities?

“Hello, Maggie,” said her mother cheerfully. “I told Spence he should call and let you know that he brought home a girl.”

“You make it sound as if he’d simply brought home another stray dog.”

Audrey chuckled. “Well, it’s sort of like that.”

Maggie groaned. “Hopefully he doesn’t want to keep her too. I wonder if I should call the sheriff.”

“Maybe not just yet.” Her mother lowered her voice. “She looks pretty down and out. I feel real sorry for her.”

“I think I’ll come home and see for myself exactly what’s going on there.” She hung up and began loading her briefcase.

“I’ve got to go home early today,” she called to Abigail.

Abigail looked up from her filing. “Anything wrong?”

“No. It just seems Spencer has brought home another stray.”

“He sure loves animals, doesn’t he?”

Maggie smiled, not ready to divulge the nature of this particular stray. “Yes, he has always had a big heart. He’s a lot like his dad in that way.”

Abigail wagged a finger at her. “Not just his dad, Maggie.”

When she got home, the three of them were sitting silently around the table. Maggie did a quick study of the strange girl sitting in her kitchen. Being a reporter had helped her become fairly adept at processing a lot of details simultaneously. The girl was probably in her late teens, which would make her older than Spencer. She was petite and very thin with long brunette hair and large brown eyes that were smudged underneath with dark circles. Sad eyes, as if they had seen too much too soon. She glanced at the girl’s bare arms to search for needle tracks but thankfully found them clean. The girl was somewhat attractive in a waif-like way, but her face was extremely pale—especially for this time of summer when most kids sported a tan. And her ragged clothing was in dire need of a good wash. Maggie sat down next to her, resting her arms on the pine kitchen table, the one Jed Whitewater’s hands had carefully crafted and finished.

“I’m Maggie,” she began gently, looking straight into the girl’s blank face. The girl said nothing, just sat there with her arms hanging limply at her sides, so still it almost seemed she wasn’t breathing. Maggie glanced over at Spencer and her mother as they looked on with interest. Then she cleared her throat. “It appears that you may be in some kind of trouble,” she spoke more firmly this time, hoping to capture the girl’s attention. “We’d like to help you, but if you can’t tell us what’s going on we’ll be forced to call the sheriff and have him handle this.”

The girl’s eyelashes flickered ever so slightly and Maggie grew hopeful.

“Now, are you able to speak?” she asked.

The girl nodded by barely dipping her chin, then sighed.

“Would you like for us to help you?”

“No one can help me,” said the girl in a raspy voice just above a whisper.

Maggie blinked in surprise, and Audrey reached over to take the girl’s hand as she spoke. “We can only help you if you let us, honey.”

Silent tears began to trickle down the girl’s smooth cheeks, and Maggie felt her heart go out to this poor, stray girl that her son had found sleeping in the woods. “Has she eaten anything?” she asked, glancing at her mother. She sadly shook her head.

Maggie picked up a spoon from the bowl of chicken soup still on the table and held it before the girl. “First you must eat something, and then you’ll have some rest. After that we’ll talk. Okay?”

The girl nodded again, then took the spoon. After a couple of hesitant bites she began to eat more hungrily. Audrey nudged Spencer with her elbow. “You see,” she explained with a wink, “it’s never wise to discuss important matters on an empty stomach.”

Before long, the girl had finished most of the soup and a full glass of milk, and then Maggie led her to an upstairs bedroom. Maggie quickly rummaged through her own dresser until she found a clean oversized T-shirt for the girl to rest in. After posting Spencer downstairs, Maggie took the girl’s dirty clothing along with a ratty-looking backpack to the laundry.

“Are you really going to wash those awful rags?” asked Audrey. “I think I’d just burn them.”

“And how would that make her feel?”

“I suppose you’re right.” Audrey perused through the backpack. “There are a few more bits of clothing in here, but they look almost as bad as what she had on. Better throw them in too. This girl is traveling awfully light. There’s a little loose change, a watch, and a necklace in the bottom, but that’s about all she has.”

“She seems to be down on her luck,” said Maggie as she poured in a generous amount of soap and turned on the washer.

“Sad, isn’t it?”

Maggie nodded. “It wasn’t unusual to see homeless kids and runaways down in the L.A. area, but I thought I’d gotten away from all that up here.”

“No escape, is there?”

“I guess not.” She sighed sadly. “What’ll we do with her, Mom?”

“That’s mostly up to her. But first off we need to find out exactly what her situation is—whether she’s a runaway or a throwaway.”

“Neither scenario sounds very good to me.” Maggie pulled a load of towels from the dryer and began to fold them. “You know, Mom, I nearly ran away a time or two.”

Audrey picked up a towel and gave it a shake. “I’m not surprised, dear. There were times when I wondered why we all didn’t just run away.”

Maggie stopped folding and stared at her incredulously. It was the first time her mother had ever openly acknowledged that a problem had existed within their family’s home. “And all this time, I thought it was just me.”

Her mother shook her head and smoothed the towel. “No, it wasn’t just you, honey. I know it must’ve seemed as if your father’s anger was directed solely at you, but we all got a fair share of it from time to time. And after you left home for college, your father focused his acrimonious attentions onto Barry.”

“Poor Barry. He never told me.”

“He probably thought it was simply his turn to take what you’d been getting all those previous years.” Audrey shook her head sadly.

“And besides, we never really talked about it.”

“It. Like some dreadful disease that we had to keep secret lest the neighbors find out.”

“Exactly.” Maggie placed another towel on the quickly growing stack. “If we could pretend that it wasn’t there, then we could continue to live our normal little lives hoping that no one was the wiser.”

“Except that you kids rarely brought your friends home.”

“Too risky. We never knew for sure when Dad would go into one of his tirades and begin yelling about one thing or another…”

“Like leaving your bike in the yard…”

Maggie nodded grimly. “Or forgetting to turn off a light in the living room…”

“Or not having dinner ready on time…” Audrey’s voice caught and Maggie noticed that her eyes had grown misty.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” she said, placing a hand on her mother’s arm. “I didn’t mean to dig up old wounds like this.”

“It’s okay, honey.” Audrey blotted her tears with a hand towel. “You know, I’ve always wanted to talk with you about this, but it was just so hard to bring it up.”

“I know. And after Dad died, I figured that was the end of the whole thing anyway. I thought if we didn’t talk about it, it would slowly go away of its own accord. But I guess it never completely left any of us.”

Audrey looked at her compassionately. “Yes, even though your father’s dead, our memories are still very much alive. And sometimes memories can be cruel. How many, many times I’ve wanted to tell you how sorry I was for what you kids went through during those years. Sometimes I look back in retrospect and wonder why I didn’t just leave him, but you kids were so little and I felt trapped financially. If only I’d known about counseling back then. I didn’t realize how things could’ve gone so differently. And I know your dad was frustrated, parenting just like his father before him, doing the very things he’d vowed not to do. And despite his problem with anger, your father always was a good provider. I guess I just kept hoping that things would get better as you kids got older. I mean, everyone loses their patience with little kids from time to time. And then you remember how he was always so sorry and contrite after one of his ridiculous outbursts.”

“I remember. But I think it would’ve been easier and less confusing if he’d just been mean all the time.” She paused and closed her eyes for a moment, then said, “You know, sometimes I truly felt like Dad loved me, but at other times I was equally certain that he hated me.”

“What do you think now, Maggie?” Audrey studied her daughter’s face.

“I actually believe that he loved me—that he loved all of us. But I also think he had a very real problem with anger.”

Audrey nodded. “That’s what I believe too. After he died and I went back to college to get my counseling degree, it occurred to me that I should’ve done something back at the very beginning, gotten help when I first began to see a pattern emerging. Just 20-20 hindsight, I suppose. Even now I don’t know if I can ever completely forgive myself for not doing something.”

“But you didn’t know any of that counseling stuff back when we were kids, Mom. You did the best you could. And look, Barry and I turned out just fine—at least I hope we did.”

Her mother smiled. “Of course you did! Although I do wish Barry would find a nice girl and settle down. But you know how proud I am of both of you.”

“And you know, Mom, I do believe that God can use these hard things in our lives. Somehow he manages to bring good out of evil.”

Audrey pressed her lips together. “I’d like to believe that too. But the truth is, most of the time I just don’t allow myself to think about that part of my life very much. It’s too painful.”

“But what if our pain can help us to understand someone else’s troubles? Doesn’t it almost seem worth the price?”

Her mother looked thoughtful. “You mean like our little stray upstairs?”

“Yes. When I looked into her eyes, I saw her sadness and it reminded me of my own teen years. I felt a real empathy for her. And although I suspect her story is probably a lot worse than mine—most of them are nowadays—at least maybe I can relate to her just a little because of what I went through.”

“I hope so, dear. The poor girl certainly seems to be in need. The question is, will she allow anyone to help her?”

“All we can do is try.” Maggie placed the last towel on top. “And pray.”

Audrey’s brows lifted. “You seem to put a lot of stock into prayer these days. Is that something new or just something I was never fully aware of before?”

Maggie thought for a moment. She had never shared much about her faith with her mother, and she wasn’t even sure where to begin now. “I suppose I first started depending on prayer after losing Phil, then even more so after moving up here to Pine Mountain. And the amazing thing is how God actually answers my prayers.”

“You know I believe in God, Maggie.” Her mother frowned slightly. “But I guess I never figured that he actually takes time to listen to our prayers. I suppose I think that praying is more for us than anything.”

“Sort of like therapy?”

“Yes. I always encouraged my patients to address a higher power if that was important to them. But I must confess I considered it to be purely therapeutic.”

“Maybe,” said Maggie as she picked up the laundry basket. “But the difference to me is that besides simply the benefit of feeling better, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I find when I pray that I see real things happen. And that’s what I call the God factor.”

Her mother grinned skeptically. “‘The God factor’? Sounds like the title of some sci-fi novel. What exactly do you mean?”

Maggie laughed. “It’s sort of hard to describe, but I’ve seen real life circumstances change and suddenly improve for no explainable reason, and I credit that to God’s intervention. When it happens you can’t miss it.”

Chapter 2

“You’ve done an amazing job with these flower beds, Mom,” said Maggie as she stepped out onto the deck, balancing a large platter as she closed the glass door behind her. “The colors are just gorgeous.” She opened the barbecue and placed a large whole salmon on the hot grill, watching with satisfaction as it began to sizzle.

“A lot of these plants were already here; they just needed a little fertilizer, some tilling, and a lot of encouragement.” Audrey smoothed a bright madras plaid cloth over the picnic table. “I’m glad we’re eating outside. Abigail mentioned just last week how we all had better enjoy every sunny day from here on out because fall’s right around the corner.”

“I know, but I still find it hard to believe. It seems impossible that it’s already the end of August. Although I must admit, I’m looking forward to seeing some real seasons.”

“Do you think you’ll really like all that snow and ice in the wintertime?” Audrey shuddered as if the mere thought of it made her cold.

“I hope so. I don’t have much choice, do I?”

“Well, if things don’t work out, you and Spence can always come live with me in San Jose.”

“Thanks, but who knows, Mom, you may decide you like it year-round here after all. You might even want to sell your house in San Jose and relocate here permanently.”

Her mother neatly arranged the last place setting. “I suppose stranger things have happened. But I just can’t imagine me enjoying a cold, icy winter very much, especially at my age when arthritis is probably right around the corner.”

Maggie glanced over her mother’s shoulder to see Spencer motioning to her from the dining room doorway. “I bet our stray girl is awake,” she whispered. “I’ll go check. Can you keep an eye on the salmon?”

She found the girl standing in the upstairs hallway with a dazed expression, almost as if she couldn’t quite remember where she was. “Hello there,” said Maggie tentatively. “You’ve had a nice, long sleep. You must have been exhausted.” She pointed to the bathroom. “I put some clothes and bath things in there for you. Go ahead and get cleaned up and then come downstairs. We’re eating outside this evening.”

“Thanks,” the girl muttered without lifting her eyes to meet Maggie’s.

“Dinner will be ready pretty soon. The salmon’s already cooking.”

Maggie met Spencer at the foot of the stairs. “Try and make her feel comfortable, Spence. Maybe see if you can find out her name.”

In the kitchen she began making a salad, but her mind was on the girl. Even though she felt it was the right thing to help her, she wondered if it was crazy to take a stranger in like this. Who knew what problems the girl might have? What if she was wanted for some sort of crime?

“Hey there!”

Maggie jumped in surprise, causing her knife to clatter to the floor. She quickly turned to see Buckie Porterfield coming through the doorway with a large, flat package in his hands.

“Sorry, Maggie. Didn’t mean to startle you.”

She picked up the knife and rinsed it in the sink. “That’s okay.” She glanced at the clock. “But what are you doing here, Buckie? Just in time for dinner too.”

He grinned sheepishly. “I guess I hadn’t noticed the time. But I come bearing gifts.” He laid the package on the table and removed the brown paper to reveal a beautifully framed photo.

“My barn!” she exclaimed, eagerly wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. “And there’s Spencer and Bart. Oh, Buckie, it’s wonderful! Do I really get to keep it?”

He grinned. “You bet. Remember when I took it?”

“Was it that day when you first came here to take photos for the magazine?”

“Yep. I still remember you storming out, all irritated because I was snooping around…”

“I suppose I was a little grumpy that morning.” She held up the photo to admire. “I know just where I’ll hang this. Thank you, Buckie. And now, it would only be right for me to properly invite you for dinner.”

He rubbed his hands together. “I saw the salmon on the barbecue when I said hello to Audrey. It smelled mighty good.”

“And we have another guest too.” She lowered her voice. “Spencer found a girl in the woods, probably a runaway. We’re trying to help her.”

His brows raised. “I’d be careful if I were you. Kids like that usually come with a lot of problems. Could be drugs—or even worse. And you never know, she might just be casing your house so she can steal…”

“Shh,” she hissed. “I hear someone.”

“And to finish our tour, here we are back in the kitchen,” Spencer announced formally as he led the girl into the room. He looked over and saw Buckie, then turned to the girl. “Leah, I’d like you to meet Buckie Porterfield.” He nodded to Buckie. “This is Leah.”

Maggie smiled at her son’s unusually good manners, then noticed the transformation of the girl—Leah. Her hair, still wet from her shower, was neatly parted and combed; her ragged jeans were now clean with a fresh white T-shirt tucked in—one that Maggie had donated from her own closet. “I hope you’re hungry, Leah. I fixed enough to feed an army.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing I stopped by,” said Buckie as he popped a radish into his mouth. “Is that corn on the cob in that pot?”

“Yes, and it’s time for everyone to help out.” She assigned tasks, even asking Leah to fill a pitcher with ice water. Soon everything was ready and they were all seated at the picnic table outside.

“Spencer, will you say grace?” asked Maggie.

Spencer glanced at Leah, then bowed his head and said their regular blessing. He added, “And help us so we can help Leah, and make her feel at home here. Amen.”

Food began to be passed around and small talk was made, but Leah remained silent, just watching and listening with wide dark eyes. Maggie hoped the girl was feeling a little more comfortable, and thankfully noted that she was eating.

“So, Leah,” began Buckie, “where are you from?”

The table grew quiet. Leah laid down her fork and looked at him, then exhaled slowly as if calculating how best to answer. Finally she said, “Lots of places, I guess.”

“Lucky for you,” said Maggie quickly. “I’d only lived in California before we moved up here. But I’m sure enjoying the change.” She glanced at Spencer. “And Spencer had only lived in the Los Angeles area.”

“Yeah. And when I heard we were moving out to the boonies of Oregon I didn’t want to come.”

Audrey laughed. “But you sure came around. So, Spence, have you missed your old home very much?”

His brow creased. “Yeah, at first. I guess I missed my friends most of all. But I do still sort of miss our old house and neighborhood too sometimes.”

“Are you sorry we came then?” asked Maggie, unsure of what his answer would be or if it was even smart to ask.

He shrugged. “Nope. I like it here. I mean it’s sort of boring sometimes, but in some ways there’s more stuff to do—outdoor stuff. And I’ve made some good friends.”

“And school will be starting before long,” added Audrey optimistically. “That’ll keep you busy.”

“And then there will be snowboarding,” said Buckie with enthusiasm.

“Yeah!” agreed Spencer. “That’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

The conversation began to flow more easily again, and thankfully Buckie didn’t try to extract any more information from Leah.

“How’s business in your gallery, Buckie?” asked Maggie as she refilled his water glass.

“It’s great. In fact, I think I’ll have to hire some help soon. Especially now that I have a photo shoot in Alaska coming up before the cold weather sets in. At first, I thought I’d just keep the gallery open while I’m in town, but business is going so well with our fair-weather tourists that I hate to close up shop and lose any customers.”

“It shouldn’t be hard to find someone to help out,” said Maggie. “You should ask Rosa, she’ll probably know of someone looking for work.”

“Or Elizabeth,” suggested Audrey. “She just hired another girl for the Window Seat.” She smiled at Leah. “That’s a bookstore and coffee shop, dear. You’d probably like it. The young folks seem to spend a lot of time there.”

“Don’t you like it, Grandma?” asked Spencer.

She set down her glass. “Well, it’s a nice business and all, but you know I always did enjoy going to the public library. That’s something this town could use.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Buckie. “Why don’t you start one?”

Audrey laughed. “Oh, I wouldn’t know the first thing about starting a library.”

“You could learn, Grandma. Aren’t you the one who’s always telling me that nothing’s impossible?”

She grew thoughtful for a moment. “I suppose I could do some research and find out what it takes…” She glanced at Maggie. “Say, you got all that grant money for the town and the road repairs, do you suppose there’s any more funding available for something like this?”

“Could be, Mom. Why don’t you have Spencer show you how to access the Internet and do some research online?”

“I might just do that.”

While Spencer and Leah cleared the table, Maggie dished up ice cream topped with fresh raspberries in the kitchen.

“Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Carpenter,” said Leah quietly as she watched her spoon red, juicy berries onto the ice cream.

She turned to the girl, slightly surprised by her formal manner. “You’re very welcome, Leah. But you can call me Maggie.”

Leah nodded solemnly. “Shall I take these out now?”

“Sure, let’s each grab a couple dishes. Like Mom always says, ‘many hands make light work.’”

After dessert, Spencer showed Leah around the outside property and then they threw a tennis ball for Bart to chase. Meanwhile, Maggie, Buckie, and Audrey relaxed with coffee in the long evening shadows on the front porch. A gentle breeze whispered through the leaves of the nearby aspens, and the few wispy clouds took on a peachy-pink hue in a pleasing contrast to the dusky periwinkle sky. In the west, the sharp outline of the mountains was softened by a curtain of hazy smoke—the remnant of a small forest fire twenty miles south and now under control. A perfect August evening.

“How completely bucolic.” Maggie leaned back into the wicker rocker, allowing the peace of the evening to wash over her like a warm, gentle shower.

“That’s such a strange-sounding word to describe this lovely setting,” said Buckie. “Somehow, the word bucolic always makes me think of a sick cow.”

“A sick cow?” Maggie frowned over at Buckie.

Audrey chuckled. “You mean like bovine colic?”

“That must be it!” said Buckie.

“You’re both crazy,” said Maggie, then she sighed with satisfaction. “But look at that sky. Isn’t it absolutely blissful out here?”

Buckie frowned. “Well you know what they say, ignorance can be blissful too.”

Maggie stopped rocking and glanced sharply at him. “Are you just being difficult, or do you have a specific point here?”

He nodded towards the two teenagers now tossing a stick for Bart. “Like I said earlier, you’d better be careful about taking in strangers like that.”

She bristled. “What would you suggest I do, call the sheriff?”


“But if Leah ran away, she might have some very good reasons.”

“Or she might be running from the law,” suggested Buckie.

Audrey leaned forward to join in the conversation. “She doesn’t exactly strike me as a dangerous criminal, Buckie.”

“You never really know,” he replied. “Until it’s too late, that is.”

Maggie leaned back into her rocker and closed her eyes. “Well, I’m not worried. Besides, if I called the sheriff she might just run away again.”

“Then it would be her problem, not yours.”

Maggie threw up her hands and looked to her mother for support. “Do you think I should call the sheriff, Mom? After all, you’re the counselor—you should have all the answers, right?”

Audrey sighed. “If only it were so simple. But I happen to agree with you, Maggie. I don’t see how calling the sheriff can help. I think we need to get to know Leah and see if there’s anything we can do to help her. She’s obviously in some kind of trouble…”

“See,” said Buckie, pointing to Maggie. “That’s what I’m trying to say…”

“I said she’s in some kind of trouble,” interrupted Audrey sharply, “but not necessarily of her own making. It’s quite possible that she has been a victim of some sort.”

“Oh…” At least that seemed to quiet him. And perhaps it gave him something to think about too.

Maggie leaned back into her chair again. “I know you’re just thinking of our welfare, Buckie. But we’re not complete fools. If we see some sort of warning signs, we’ll certainly be careful. But for now, we just need to earn her trust.” She looked out across the steadily darkening horizon in time to see the shadow of a nighthawk streaking down from the sky to the nearby grass field, probably snatching up some unfortunate mouse that had ventured out too early for his evening meal.

Later that evening, just before bedtime, Maggie looked through her closet to find a few more items of clothing to add to Leah’s meager and raggedy wardrobe. Then she knocked gently on the spare bedroom door.

“Come in.”

Maggie opened the door tentatively. “Here are some things I don’t need, Leah,” she held the small stack before her. “They might be a little big on you, but that seems to be the style nowadays anyway.”

“Why are you being so nice to me?”

Maggie blinked in surprise at the blunt question, then sat down in the rocking chair across from the narrow single bed. She studied Leah for a moment, the large eyes set into the small pale face reminded her of the wide-eyed moppet prints that her mother used to have hanging on their bathroom wall. Once again, Leah wore the oversized T-shirt as a nightgown, and she sat cross-legged on the bed with a book in her lap. “Because we like you, Leah,” Maggie finally answered in a quiet voice.

“How can you like me?” Leah frowned down at the unopened paperback. “You don’t even know me.”

Maggie thought for a moment, then pointed to the book resting in Leah’s lap. “I know they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but what made you pick that particular book up?”

The girl shrugged. “It just seemed interesting.”

Maggie smiled. “It is. And it happens to be one of my favorites. Madeleine L’Engle is a brilliant author. I think you’ll like her too.”

Leah studied Maggie, then finally spoke. “Are you saying that, like this book, you’ve somehow judged me by my cover?”

“You seem to be a very perceptive young woman,” said Maggie. “And I suppose you’re partially right. But I’d like to say it’s more than just your cover, because the truth is, when we first met you your cover was a little misleading.”

Leah nodded sadly. “I must’ve looked pretty bad.”

“But even so, we could see something beneath that. And whatever it is, we happen to like it. And we want to help you—if you want our help, that is.”

“At first, I didn’t want anyone’s help. I just wanted to be left alone under that tree to…” She bit her lip and then exhaled slowly. “But now I guess I’m not so sure what I want anymore.”

“Well, you don’t have to make up your mind tonight. Get a good night’s rest, and we’ll talk again in the morning.”

Leah frowned, averting her eyes from Maggie’s gaze. Then Maggie noticed Leah’s backpack, neatly packed and leaning next to the bed as if she were planning to make a quick escape.

“I guess I’m assuming that you’ll still be here in the morning, Leah.”

The girl didn’t answer.

Maggie stood now, setting the small pile of clothes on the chair. “What you do with your life is up to you. If we can be of any help, we’re more than willing, but we won’t keep you here against your will.” She sighed. “If you choose to keep running it seems that your life will only get more difficult.”

Leah still didn’t look up, and Maggie moved towards the door.

“Thanks, Maggie,” she said quietly.

“You’re very welcome. And just for the record, I really do hope you’ll stay. I like you, Leah, and I’d like to get to know you better. We may have more in common than you realize. Good night.”

She closed the door and walked to her own room. Was this the last she’d see of the girl? Should she have said something more? Been more forceful with her? More convincing? Or, like Buckie suggested, should she have simply called the sheriff? No clear answers came. And so, once again, she prayed for wisdom, and then finally just placed Leah in God’s hands. There seemed nothing more to do.