Thursday’s Child

by Melody Carlson

Emma has always been “the practical one” in the family. But that is about to change as she embarks on the adventure of her life.

Emma Davis wants a new life now that she no longer needs to care for her grandmother. A spur-of-the-moment visit to a travel agency sets her on a journey far from her Iowa home.

Emma takes a cruise to the far islands of the Pacific, but it isn’t until she arrives in Papua, New Guinea, that she begins to realize her true calling. Emma regains her sense of purpose by caring for three motherless children and befriending their father, Josh Daniels.

Josh’s troubled pass and the loss of his wife have left him vulnerable, but can the love Emma has discovered in her own heart, awaken his heart to all Emma has to offer?

Previously Titled: Awakening Heart

Chapter 1

Emma poured her second cup of coffee and turned the page of the Des Moines Morning Herald. Saturday was the only day she took time to read the news, and then only briefly. Headlines depressed her—always someone else’s heartache or shame plastered across the front page in unfeeling black and white. Even when she washed the newsprint from her fingers, the stories remained indelibly pressed in her mind.

“Emma Jane,” complained Grandma from the tiny front room. “What’s that yappy dog barking about next door? She’s been at it all morning.” The worn Naugahyde recliner squeaked as Grandma shifted her bulky frame, her groans in accompaniment to the chair. Emma sighed. These familiar sounds were more aggravating than usual today. She folded her paper, and walked into the living room. Living room—what a contradiction in terms.

“What’s the matter with that animal?” Grandma scowled as if the annoyance were all Emma’s fault.

Emma avoided the penetrating gaze, instead moving her eyes to her grandmother’s swollen feet. They seemed to ooze right out of her threadbare corduroy slippers.

“I don’t know, Grandma,” answered Emma, suppressing the urge to throw something. “Maybe Miss Finley hasn’t let her out yet. You know how Bitsy gets herself all worked up.” Emma sipped her now lukewarm coffee, hoping her answer would pacify the old woman.

“Don’t I know it! And here I sit, day in, day out, subjected to that dreadful noise. Why anyone in their right mind keeps a snippy little mutt like that is beyond me!” Grandma’s voice grew loud and grating. Emma wondered if poor Miss Finley could hear her ranting through the thin wall that separated their apartments.

Emma never looked forward to weekends the way most people did. Not that she particularly liked her job that much, but Saturdays with Grandma always stretched her endurance to the limit. It was on weekends that she longed for her own home—to do nothing, to sing out loud, or even to walk around in her underwear, if she wanted to.

“Run over and see what’s up, Emma,” ordered Grandma. “Maybe you can shut that stupid dog up!”

To argue would be pointless, and to pretend she hadn’t heard would only increase the volume of the demand. Besides, Emma hadn’t visited with Miss Finley since Christmas. Surely even her questionable company would be preferable to Grandma’s right now.

Bitsy barked madly as Emma rang the bell. Miss Finley’s door, like theirs, needed painting again. She rang once more, then walked over to the front window. Year-round, Miss Finley kept faded plastic flowers poked into the window box. Sometimes, especially in the cold of winter, Emma longed to rip out those vulgar-looking blooms and toss them into the trash bin. Now she leaned over and peeked inside. She spotted Bitsy leaping about, yipping and jumping like an overwound mechanical toy.

Then Emma noticed a pair of fluffy pink slippers and a flowery bathrobe on the living room floor. She peered more closely. It was Miss Finley! Her pale face was motionless, and her mouth gaped open. Emma beat on the window until she feared the glass might shatter, and Bitsy flew into an even wilder frenzy. But Miss Finley didn’t budge.

Emma raced back to Grandma’s and grabbed the phone. Her hands were shaking, and her fingers fumbled with the number—was it 119 or 911?

“What in the world is going on, Emma?”

Over Grandma’s raspy squawk, Emma was finally able to dial the correct digits for the emergency dispatch operator and told the calm woman on the other end to send help. As instructed, Emma called the apartment manager and asked for a key.

Before long, the sounds of sirens screamed down the avenue, and an emergency vehicle pulled into the parking lot. Emma leaned over the balcony, waving her arms to signal the paramedics. Uniformed technicians bounded up the stairs just as the manager unlocked Miss Finley’s door. Bitsy’s startled yelps added to the chaos, and Emma scooped up the poor little dog and tossed her into her grandmother’s apartment, ignoring Grandma’s protests as she closed the door firmly behind her.

The paramedics were crouched around Miss Finley, equipment in hand, poking, prodding, examining. One by one, they all stood.

“We’re too late,” said the tallest one in a matter-of-fact tone. “She’s been dead two, maybe three hours max. Looks like cardiac arrest.” They packed up their gear, then turned to the apartment manager. “We’ll notify the coroner, but this is Saturday, you know. It might take a while for him to get here. You might want to make other arrangements.”

The balding manager threw up his hands, “I dunno nothing about this kinda thing. Never had a tenant die on me before. I didn’t hardly know her. Can’t you just take her?”

“Nope, it’s against regs. Might be quicker to have the funeral home come out, but you have to sign an agreement.”

“Not me,” protested the manager.

“Well, you better call someone then.”

The manager frowned. “I thought you guys knew what to do…”

Emma wanted to scream. How dare they stand around arguing about what to do with poor Miss Finley as if she weren’t a real person—or had been until very recently. For the second time that morning, Emma felt capable of violence—she really thought she might punch Mr. Potts in the face.

She stared at Miss Finley’s lime green sponge-curlers, still tightly wound in the mousy gray hair, and Emma felt her knees begin to wobble, and she clutched the door frame for support. “You can’t just leave her lying there,” she said weakly.

The three paramedics turned and studied her, as if they hadn’t noticed her before. “You know this lady? You a relative?” asked one of the uniformed men.

“I’m her neighbor—and friend, Emma Davis.”

“Well, maybe you can take care of this, then.” He pulled a dog-eared business card from his pocket. “Here you go. My uncle runs this joint. He’s a decent guy. I can call him for you on the cellular phone, if you like.”

She stared at the flowery lettering—Eternal Rest Mortuary Services. She nodded mutely, signed a paper, and they were gone.

Emma stood alone on the balcony, unwilling to go back inside and submit to Grandma’s inquisition. Yet she felt even more uneasy about being alone in Miss Finley’s apartment. Emma knew Grandma would probably say Miss Finley was in heaven now and that was only her shell on the floor. After all, Miss Finley was a religious woman. Still, somehow Emma couldn’t picture Miss Finley with wings and a harp, perched on a cloud. To her, Miss Finley appeared just plain dead.

Emma stared blankly out on the gray morning and shivered in the cold. Everything seemed surreal. One moment a person is alive, and the next, she is gone.

Finally, a long, slate-colored hearse slid to a stop in the apartment complex parking lot. A stoop-shouldered man in a dark suit emerged and quickly approached, followed by a lanky, younger guy. He murmured something that sounded sympathetic, then handed her a form. She signed without reading the fine print, eager for them to take Miss Finley away.

After the hearse left, Emma stood on the balcony wondering what to do next.

Seeing the door to Miss Finley’s apartment still ajar, she stepped inside. She should probably notify someone about Miss Finley’s death. As she looked for an address book, she noticed a little red light glowed in the kitchenette, signaling that the electric teapot was still on. She unplugged it and poured the steaming contents down the sink. It left an ugly brown streak across the scrubbed white porcelain. She turned on the tap and watched as the water ran, finally erasing the last traces of Miss Finley’s morning tea.

Emma had known Miss Finley for almost twenty-five years—ever since Emma and her sister, Fran, had come to live with Grandma. Could it have been that long? She remembered the first time Miss Finley had invited Emma for tea. That had been on a Saturday, too. Six-year-old Emma had been sitting outside on the cold cement steps, leaning into the wrought-iron handrail, and wishing she could disappear—the same way her parents had disappeared from her life after their terrible accident.

That day, Miss Finley had been on her way upstairs with a grocery bag in her arms. Emma remembered how pretty the woman had looked in her floral print sundress. Of course, Miss Finley had been much younger back then. Actually, about the age Emma was now. How very odd.

“Hello, love,” Miss Finley had said brightly. She called everyone “love.” It had something to do with her being British. “Care to come in for a spot of tea? I just bought some yummy-looking biscuits—or, rather, cookies, as you Yanks call them.”

Being six and fond of cookies, Emma had accepted. Miss Finley’s apartment had intrigued her with its vibrant colors and modern furnishings. Now the colors seemed garish, and the furniture, with its peeling vinyl edges, tasteless and tired.

A small pink address book lay next to the phone. Emma thumbed through its nearly empty pages until she found a Finley—in Liverpool, England.

“Hello? Is this a relative of Maggie Finley?”

“Maggie? Why yes… I’m Maggie’s aunt.”

“I’m Emma Davis, Maggie Finley’s neighbor… and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you… but—well, unfortunately, your niece was found dead this morning. A heart attack, I think…”

There was a long silence. “Oh my—poor little Maggie.” The aunt was sobbing now.

She gave Emma the number of an uncle in Los Angeles who could help out, and Emma gave him a call. He offered to cover the expenses if Emma could handle the arrangements. She agreed.

“Just what is going on around here?” demanded Grandma when Emma returned to their apartment. Bitsy quivered in a corner with a pathetic look in her eyes, as if she’d lost her only friend in the world. Emma supposed it was true. “And why in heaven’s name did you dump Miss Finley’s dog in here?” The old woman’s tone softened. “Is Maggie okay, Emma? I heard sirens. I just know something’s wrong.”

“Yes, Grandma, something’s very wrong. Miss Finley is dead. Probably had a heart attack early this morning.”

“Dear me! So that’s why the dog was barking her head off. I just knew something was amiss as soon as I got up this morning. I always sense these things, you know. And when this dog wouldn’t stop barking—”

Emma interrupted the monologue. “Grandma, I’ve got lots to do. I agreed to handle the funeral details for Miss Finley.”

#

By noon, Emma had completed much of the arrangements by phone. Oddly enough, the procedure seemed almost familiar—selecting flowers, music, the casket.

Then, at the funeral director’s request, she returned to Miss Finley’s apartment to search for some appropriate burial clothing. She tried to imagine what the woman might choose. What does one wear to one’s own funeral? After thumbing through the sparse but orderly selection of office wear, she discovered a garment bag stashed way in the back. Zipped inside was a lovely cream-colored, street-length dress. It looked to be about twenty years old, trimmed in lace, with a yellowed price tag still hanging from the sleeve. It hadn’t come cheap, not even way back in those days—which was odd, since Miss Finley was a fanatical bargain shopper. It had to have been a wedding gown, although Emma had never heard her neighbor mention any romantic interest. She wondered what had happened, why the wedding had never taken place. Surely Miss Finley would want to wear her dress this once—even if it was for a funeral rather than a wedding.

After delivering the garment, Emma walked sadly back to the apartment, contemplating Miss Finley’s unfulfilled and insignificant little life. Who was her mystery lover? What had gone wrong? Maybe he’d died in Vietnam. A wartime romance.

Or maybe it was more like Emma’s own story. Even after almost seven years, it still hurt. But then perhaps today was as good a day as any to mourn lost love. So for the first time in years, she allowed his face to force its way back into her consciousness.

She’d been sure that he’d loved her, and almost as sure that she loved him. But he knew about her fears, and still he insisted she come to France that summer. He knew she was afraid to fly, afraid to visit strange countries, afraid of so many things. Yet he would not take no for an answer. He went to Paris without her.

And that was the end of it. She shook her head as the apartment building came into sight. The memory wasn’t painful anymore. It was almost a disappointment—she’d expected to cry.

Chapter 2

Emma pushed open the heavy, carved door of the funeral parlor. Walls, chairs, carpet—all were a nauseating shade of mauve. Why in the world would anyone purposely choose such a depressing color for a mortuary?

She recognized the man who’d helped her earlier with the arrangements. Today he wore a shiny black suit, complete with coordinating mauve tie. He smiled, in a funereal sort of way, and shook her hand. His grasp was smooth and almost slippery, and Emma suppressed the desire to run into the bathroom and wash her hands. Instead, she shoved them into her pockets and took a seat in the second row of padded chairs.

She had decided Saturday that the main chapel would be too large, but now, as Emma looked about this empty room, she wondered if a service would be necessary at all. She’d notified Miss Finley’s employer. Surely, some of her fellow workers would show. Perhaps even the uncle who’d footed the bill.

She wished she hadn’t come. She hadn’t been to a funeral since her parents—

“This must be it, Gladys,” whispered a voice from behind Emma.

“Poor Margaret,” said the other. “I never even knew she had a weak heart.”

“Actually, I didn’t know her that well. But I assumed by her accent she’d come from England, though I never asked.”

“It sure was nice of the boss to give the morning off to those who wanted to attend her service. Maybe if it’s not too long, we can stop by Lucky’s for pie afterward.”

The funeral director stepped up to the podium and cleared his throat. Maggie’s pastor was attending a seminar this week, and the funeral director had offered to do the eulogy. She heard his voice, but the words were lost as she stared blankly at the roses in front of the pale blue casket. Soon the roses blurred, and instead of one casket, there were two. Two blue caskets in a stuffy, crowded room. Fran sat on one side of her, Grandma on the other. Mournful organ music filled the air, accompanied by much sniffling and nose blowing. The three of them were smothered afterward by people who looked down from their lofty height. They seemed all hands. Emma didn’t want them to touch her. She didn’t even know them—

Suddenly, a hand patted her shoulder, and she started. “Are you all right, miss?” asked the funeral director. The room was empty.

“I’m fine—thank you.” She felt as if she couldn’t breathe. The air in the parlor tasted old and stale and tainted with death, and she bolted for the door.

As soon as she was outside the door, she sucked in the cool air. Even the acrid smell of diesel fumes was an improvement.

The bus stop was right across the street, but Emma decided to walk. She never drove. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but this, too, was due to fear. Fear that her car, like her parents’, would sail off some unknown cliff and plunge her to certain death. She knew it was ridiculous, but she was resigned to the fact that this cloying fear was a part of her. And so each year she purchased a bus pass. It pretty much took her wherever she wanted to go, which usually wasn’t far. She never went far from home.

Thursday’s child has far to go. The cadence of the old rhyme reverberated through her mind, mocking her. She remembered the first time her mother had read that rhyme in the big picture book, pointing out that Emma had been born on a Thursday. But as Emma studied the sweet pictures of childish faces, she secretly wished she’d been born on Sunday, instead. Sunday’s child seemed to make out the best of all of them. In fact, once, when she was older, she’d actually double-checked her baby book to make certain of her birthday. Of course, it was true. Yet here she was—at thirty-one—and she’d never gone anywhere. She should have been Wednesday’s child—“Full of woe.” She’d had her share of that.

“Silly old rhyme,” she muttered as she hurried across the street.

A horn blasted, and tires skidded to a stop. She looked up in shock to see a shiny red hood just inches from her elbow. Inside, a group of teenagers laughed loudly, teasing their careless driver.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” yelled the pock-faced youth from behind the wheel.

“Aw, lighten up,” said the stringy blonde next to him. “Can’t you see it’s just an old lady?”

The girl’s words hit hard. Old lady? Emma scurried to the safety of the sidewalk and caught a glimpse of herself in Franklin’s Department Store window as the car screeched off again. Her shoulders were slumped, and her long, lifeless hair was pulled back in a barrette on the nape of her neck in her usual style. Her face was pale and devoid of makeup, and her heavy tweed overcoat seemed to swallow her. She did look like an elderly woman; if she’d been pushing a rusty shopping cart, she might have even passed for a bag lady.

Beyond her sad image she noticed the rigid mannequins with flowing hair flaunted the latest spring fashions. They hinted of fun and sun, and a life someone else lived—not her. She turned away and continued down the street.

Emma paused in front of the travel agency. Each evening after work, she waited for the bus here in front of this little office. Inside, a pretty woman sometimes waved at Emma. Today, she waved again. Emma smiled and returned the anonymous greeting. She didn’t even know the woman’s name, yet she was part of Emma’s daily routine.

In the window hung the same travel poster that had been there forever. The sun had faded the once-warm colors to tones of blues and purples, but the tropical oasis still looked tempting—with a magenta-colored girl in a bikini stretched out on the sun-drenched beach. A faint longing stirred within Emma—the longing to break free, to escape.

In the past she had secretly harbored that idea, playing it out step by step in her mind. It was like an invisible security blanket—something she could cling to. Like a promise of what could be. Over the years, she had saved a fair amount of money—“for a rainy day,” though she used to think of it as her “run-away” money. Now she rarely thought of it at all.

She crossed the next street and entered Lou’s Coffee Shop. It was one place she almost felt comfortable, and the friendly waitress, Marie, was almost like family. The aroma of fresh coffee and pastry wafted through the air in a familiar welcome.

“Hi, Emma,” called Marie, from behind the counter, tucking a pencil behind one ear. “You’re a little early today. What’s the occasion?”

“Oh, I went to a funeral this morning and wasn’t going in to work until noon. Coffee and a cinnamon roll, please.”

Marie set the pastry before Emma and frowned. “I’m sorry, honey. Was it someone close?” she asked as she poured the coffee.

“Not really. A neighbor.”

“Funerals are so depressing.” Marie let out a big sigh. “When I die, I just want to be cremated. And then my folks can throw a big party or something.” Marie laughed her big, hearty laugh and Emma smiled. The woman had a way of making people feel better. “Did I tell you, my daughter out in California just had a baby girl? I’m a grandma now—can you believe it?”

“You’re kidding, Marie. You don’t look old enough to be a grandma.”

Marie patted her tinted curls and stood a little straighter. “Why, thanks, Emma. Well, I got an early start. Not like you kids nowadays. Seems everyone waits until they’re thirty-something before they even think about marriage, let alone babies. How ’bout you, Emma? You ever think about settling down, raising a family?”

Emma looked down at her coffee and tried to come up with a glib answer, but none came.

“Sorry ’bout that, honey. It’s none of my business, but you know me—just an old busybody. Really, Emma, you’re not getting any younger, and you’re still nice-looking, if you’d just fix yourself up a little.” Marie turned and preened in the foggy mirror behind the counter.

Emma forced a laugh. “You may be right. Some kids almost ran me down this morning, but the worst of it was when they called me an old lady!”

Marie chuckled. “Well, you’re no old lady, Emma. But sometimes you act like one. You need to live a little—have some fun. Maybe a vacation or something—”

“Oh, I have my grandma. I couldn’t leave her—”

“Well, let the old ball ’n chain hire a gal to come in and stay with her. You need to quit making excuses, Emma. Life’s too short.”

Emma glanced up at the clock behind the counter. It wasn’t time to go to work yet, but this conversation was hitting a nerve. “Thanks, Marie.” She wiped her mouth and laid a tip on the counter. “I’ll think about your suggestion.”

Emma strolled along the sidewalk, hoping everyone else would be out to lunch by now.

A man in paint-splotched coveralls was carefully repainting the lettering of the sign by the front entrance: “Smith and Grant, Certified Public Accountants.” She remembered when that sign had gone up—almost a dozen years ago. She’d been so thrilled to be hired by this impressive new accounting firm. Rick Grant had struck her as a fine young man. Now she could barely tolerate him.

She went upstairs and hung up her coat. The office was empty except for Bea, the front receptionist, and she nodded at Emma, then turned back to her crossword puzzle magazine.

Emma had picked up the pile of papers on her desk and started on the first account. Some papers were missing, and Rick would be at lunch now, so she could retrieve them without having to speak to him. She slipped into his dark office and pulled open the lower drawer of a file cabinet.

Just as she closed the drawer something squeaked, and Emma turned to see Rick Grant swiveling around in the chair behind his desk. His eyes reminded her of a pig—small and bright and stuck in his face like raisins in a pork roast.

“Well, well, Emma,” he began in that condescending tone she detested. “Heard you were at a funeral this morning—so sorry. Anything I can do to help?” He walked toward her, and she rose to her full height, holding the file in front of her like a shield.

“I was just getting the Yates file, sir.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the open door. “Sorry to disturb you. I thought you were at lunch.”

He smiled and leaned against the doorjamb, loosely folding his arms against his chest. “We haven’t really talked in quite a while. I almost get the impression you’ve been avoiding me. Now, you wouldn’t be avoiding me, would you, Emma?” He reached over and touched her arm. Even in the dim light, the large gold band on his finger glinted, even though everyone knew his wedding ring meant nothing to him.

She pulled away. “Excuse me, Mr. Grant. I have work to do.” She moved toward the door, but he blocked her way. She looked over her shoulder, hoping for a witness, but Bea’s desk was empty now. Emma tried to mask her frustration, knowing her face was like an open book. She told herself that she could handle this. After all, she was a grown woman. She squared her shoulders and moved purposely toward the door.

“Come on, Emma, don’t be such a stick. Don’t you ever want to have any fun?” He reached for her. But when she jerked away, the contents of the file flew out of her hands and lay in a jumbled pile all over the floor. She looked down at the papers, face burning in humiliation. More than anything she wanted to stand up to him, to tell him off, once and for all. Instead, she stumbled past him, angry tears burning in her eyes. The sound of his mocking laughter echoed through the deserted hallway. Why did she let him treat her like this?

She didn’t return until the lunch hour ended. Everyone was at work—business as usual. The Yates file lay on her desk in a conspicuous heap. She worked in quiet humiliation. Did they all know what a fool Rick had made of her today? She tried not to look at the clock as the afternoon crawled along.

Just before five her phone rang. “Hi, sis, how ya doing?” asked Fran brightly, in her I-need-a-favor voice.

“I’m okay, Fran. I thought you were coming to Miss Finley’s funeral today—”

“Oh, was that today? Well, it figures, since I’m in a fine mess right now. I totally forgot that Roger’s boss wants us to go to his cabin this weekend for a management retreat. I really need someone to watch the kids. I already talked to Grandma, and she said you guys could come over. But I wanted to make sure it was okay with you first. You’re not busy, are you, Emma?”

“No,” said Emma, dismissing her earlier reservation. “I’m not busy—as usual. When are you leaving?”

“Friday afternoon. But I’ll ask my neighbor to come over until you get off work.”

Emma agreed and hung up. A weekend with a husband by a lake sounded like heaven to her. No matter how much Fran complained about Roger or the kids, her sister’s life was a dream.

At last Emma turned off the computer and went outside to wait for her bus. She stared at the taunting travel poster. How she hated the magenta girl! The little clock on the door sign said the office was open until six. Emma glanced at her watch. Half past five. She looked at the poster again, and for the first time in conscious memory, she did something completely unplanned and totally impulsive. She didn’t stop to think, to weigh, to measure, to rationalize, to reason, or to deliberate. Instead, she stepped away from the bus stop, pushed open the door, and walked in.

The pretty woman who had waved to Emma was seated behind the desk, studying the computer screen. Up close, she actually looked older than Emma. Perhaps it was the way she dressed and her hairstyle that suggested youth.

Hearing the door open, the woman looked up. “Hello. May I help you?”

“Well, yes, I—uh—I don’t have an appointment, but I wanted to inquire…”

“Linda,” called someone from the back room, “I need you for a minute.”

The woman named Linda gestured toward a chair. “Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll be right back.”

Emma considered slipping out, but she didn’t want to offend this nice woman. Instead, she walked over and examined a large globe. She slowly turned it and watched as patches of green and gold and blue whirled past—so many places she’d never seen. She compared her bleak life to the magenta girl in the poster—even a faded cardboard character had more fun than Emma Davis! And in that same instant, she knew. Maybe it was Miss Finley’s funeral, or that jerk, Rick Grant. Or maybe the globe was just making her dizzy. But somehow she knew she had to go—somewhere. Anywhere. She had to do something before she ended up like Miss Finley.

She spun the globe hard, and for a moment she watched the continents merge in a colorful kaleidoscope. She closed her eyes and stopped the spinning motion with one finger. It was a little game she and Fran had played at the public library. Usually, though, Emma’s finger landed in the middle of the ocean, and she’d “drowned” and lost her turn.

She was afraid to look, thinking her finger was in the ocean somewhere. But when she did, she found her fingertip planted in the South Pacific. She peeled it off to reveal a good-sized island. She leaned over and peered at the globe. Such small writing. “Papua New Guinea,” she said out loud. She’d never even heard of the place.

“Sorry about the wait,” said the agent. “My name is Linda.”

“I’m Emma Davis,” she said, hoping to sound confident. “I’d like to find out about going to Papua New Guinea.”

The next few minutes passed in a blur. Emma was handed a brochure picturing a beautiful tropical bird on the cover. Inside were photos of sandy beaches, towering palm trees, exotic flowers. She was sold. The paper work was begun for a cruise departing San Francisco in just ten days. Only an inside cabin was available on such short notice. No windows. Fortunately, Emma wasn’t claustrophobic.

“And exactly where in New Guinea will you be heading?”

Emma studied the little map on the back of the brochure. “Lae,” she announced with false confidence, reading the name of the centrally located coastal town.

Linda made some entries on her computer and then requested a fairly large deposit. Emma wrote out the check without blinking.

“You’ll have to fill out these passport and visa papers tonight.” Linda handed her a stack of forms. “I’ll fax them tomorrow. And you’ll need to get a passport photo taken first thing in the morning. Then all that’s left is packing and tying up loose ends. That should keep you busy enough. Stop by tomorrow and I’ll give you the details and an exact total cost for the trip.”

Linda put out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you finally, Emma. If there’s anything else I can do to make your trip more pleasant, just let me know.”

Emma thanked her and left. She felt partly numbed, partly frightened. But best of all, she felt alive. She pulled out her bus pass, wondering how in the world she could pull this trip off.

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