Jules walked up to the desk with a heavy heart.
"How can I help you?"
"Your cheery smile is a good start. I'm here to see Mrs. Maldonado."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Maldonado has just drifted off to sleep and we think it's better for her to rest. If you want to wait we can let you know when she wakes up."
"Thank you, I'll be in the waiting room."
Jules sat down in an arm chair and put her head in her hands. She had had a restless night, pacing between her phone and the bed. Martin hadn't answered any of her calls, and she had about given up hope of ever reaching him. Tears slipped through her fingers. Why was life so hard?
"Hey, is this seat taken?"
She looked up. The guy motioned to the arm chair next to hers, and looked slightly apologetic.
He sat down and proceeded to drum his fingers on the arm of his chair. Jules absently traced the pattern on the carpet with the tip of her black Converse. The guy spoke up with another question.
"Who are you waiting for?"
"Oh, sorry. I'm probably bothering you."
She smiled quietly at him.
"No, you're not. I'm waiting on my fianc-on my friend. She had a heart attack yesterday and is sleeping right now. How about you?"
"That's tough. I hope she recovers quickly and smoothly. I'm waiting for my grandpa. He just went into surgery for his eyes. He's had bad vision for several years, but he finally decided to go through the procedure the doctor suggested. He should have done it months back..."
"Oh, I hope that goes well for him. Are you guys pretty close?"
The young man chuckled.
"Yup. I've been living with him for the past several years. I work from home and take care of him. He's the sweetest guy you'll ever meet! Likes nothing better than a good book and a mug of coffee."
Jules' face lit up.
"Aww that sounds like my dad."
The young man smiled.
"I love people like that. They make this world a better place."
"Yes sir, yes they do."
Jules spoke softly. The young man looked at her curiously.
"My dad passed away two years ago."
"I'm so sorry. I never knew my parents, but my grandfather has been like a dad to me. I can't imagine how much it would hurt to lose him."
"Thank you. My dad was technically my grandfather, and he adopted me when I was seven. I never met my dad, and barely knew my mom."
They sat in silent sympathy for a few moments. The young man broke the silence first.
"Again, I'm so sorry."
"And I'm sorry for you, too. The difficulties in life can be so confusing sometimes."
Jules sighed, and the young man hesitated briefly before speaking.
"I agree. But it's in those confusing times that the sovereignty of God becomes more real to me than ever before. I've learned that (for me) it's the best growing time."
She answered quietly.
"Yes, sir, that's so true. It's the same for me."
A nurse walked into the room.
Jules looked up.
"Mrs. Maldonado is awake and eager to see you."
Jules reflected the nurse's pretty smile.
She turned to the young man and held out her hand.
"Thank you for chatting with me. I was just starting to wallow in self-pity when you reminded me that this world doesn't revolve around me, myself, and I. I'll be praying for your grandfather."
"Thank you," He took her offered hand and shook it. "I really appreciate it. I'm Miles. Miles Stanley."
"Jules Arnette. It's nice to meet you."
He smiled, and Jules waved as she turned to make her way to the elevator.
"Death is found in life, and life found in death. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, oh, abide with me. Swift to its close life ebbs out its little day, earths joys grow dim, its glories pass away. Change and decay in all around I see; oh Thou who changes not, abide with me...Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes. Shine through the gloom, and point me to the stars. Heavens morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; in life and death oh Lord, abide with me.
As the last notes of the sacred hymn faded out, and the last roses were dropped upon the lids of the two coffins, the last goodbyes were said, and Jules whispered a prayer of thankfulness for the lady who had been a mother to her. She also thanked God for what she had learned through her experience with Martin.
Back at home, she crashed on the couch. Her phone vibrated.
"'Praying for you.' Hmm, wonder who this is? I don't recognize the number. I'll just thank whoever it is."
"Whew! Tomorrow's the big day. Got the drinks...extra price tags...change...I think I'm ready."
Jules stretched her feet out on the ottoman and yawned.
"What a crazy week. I think my fingers are cramping from all of that paperwork I've done this week."
She winced as she unfurled her fingers from around her coffee mug.
"Homemade just isn't the same...and Starbucks is only four blocks away. I'll walk. Besides, I could definitely use the exercise."
She grabbed a sweater and hat for protection against the autumnal breezes and locked the door behind her. Kicking absently at the first few crinkly leaves of fall while she was walking served as a good distraction from her thoughts. It had been exactly four months since Martin had broken up with her. She watched her Converse crush a leaf and then looked up just in time to see a face above a stack of books.
"Oh man, I'm so sorry!"
Miles held out a hand to help her up off of the concrete.
"That was my bad; I wasn't watching where I was going."
Jules grinned sheepishly and tried to hide her embarrassment.
"Here, let me help you with those books. How can you see over those?"
He grinned and they both stooped to pick up the thick books.
"Oh," Jules gasped. "I love this one!"
"The Coral Islands?"
"Yes! Oh my, it's sooooo good."
"I haven't read it yet, and I don't think Grandpa has, either. Oh, I think I can carry these myself."
"And open the door, too? I have nothing better to do with my time."
She smiled, and he let her keep one third of the stack.
"It's only one more block. I should have brought a book bag..."
"Oh, I'm sure people find it humorous when they see you walking down the sidewalk with books stacked sky-high. And no wonder all of the good books are always checked out when I visit the library!"
"This is me. I can take those now. Thank you!"
"No problem. That's what neighbors are for, anyways."
"Yes, I live three houses down. Anyways, enjoy your books."
She turned to head out the door when a wrinkled voice interrupted her.
"Who's with you, Miles?"
"Oh, Pops, it's one of the neighbors. She stopped to help me with the books so I could get the door."
"Hogging visitors to yourself, are you?"
"Jules, meet my grandpa, Angus Stanley. Pops, this is Jules Arnette."
Jules held out her hand.
"It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise, young lady. I'm sorry for your recent loss."
His eyes held gentle sympathy. She knew he could understand.
Her voice was soft.
"You must be lonely now...how about you come over for pizza and a movie tomorrow? It's our tradition for Fridays, and we'd love to have you."
It was Miles' turn to look sheepish.
"Oh...I don't know. I'm having a garage sale tomorrow..."
"And you won't have time to cook dinner! Then that's settled. How does 7:30 sound?"
"Perfect, Mr. Stanley. Thank you."
"Of course, of course. We don't have company often enough, and a fresh face is always welcome. Especially a pretty one like yours."
Jules blushed and smiled.
"Thank you Sir. Well, I'd better be going. It was lovely meeting you."
"Likewise. See you tomorrow! 7:30 sharp."
Jules smiled and stepped outside. As soon as the door was shut behind her she laughed softly. Her laugh grew heartier with every step.
She turned around, wiping tears of laughter off her cheeks.
"Umm...I just wanted to say, I'm sorry if Grandpa made you uncomfortable back there."
Her laughter rang out again.
"That-that was so perfect. He's just like my dad!"
Miles laughed in relief.
"I'm glad. I hope we can help you forget your loneliness."
"Thank you, Miles."
There was a knock at the door. Miles looked through the peephole.
"Jules is here, Pops!"
"Well don't just stand there, let her in!"
"I wonder if she left something here last night..."
He opened the door. Jules smiled at them both.
"You're probably wondering what I'm doing here...I think I left that piece of paper here last night."
"Piece of paper?"
Miles looked quizzical.
"Yes, the one that you wrote your church's address on. I was thinking I may go ahead and visit tomorrow, if y'all don't mind..."
"Oh, no; not at all! That would be awesome. I'll write it down for you again."
Angus walked over while Miles went to the kitchen for a notepad. Jules smiled at him.
"I think you'll like our church. It's quiet, and it's not like other churches, but they preach the truth there."
"That's the most important quality to look for in a church. Is your church, well, is it reformed?"
Angus swallowed down a laugh before answering. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Miles standing in the doorway of the kitchen. His look of agonizing impatience was very comical to behold.
"Yes, yes it is. We hold to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith."
Miles coughed and walked back into the kitchen. It was as if he couldn't stand waiting to hear her reply.
"Oh...that's wonderful! I've been looking for a good church to visit."
Miles breathed a sigh of relief. He walked back into the family room.
"Here's the address. I guess we'll see you in the morning!"
Miles opened the door for her. Jules stepped out and breathed in the cool fall air. It was so refreshing. Miles shut the door behind her and turned to Angus.
"Pops! I've been wanting to know that for two months and she brought it up herself. Amazing."
"Pastor Grey is preaching on marriage tomorrow...we shall see what she thinks about that."
"Yes, we shall see."
"Thanks so much, Ann. That was great."
"Aww, any time. Will you be here again tomorrow?"
"Yup! Here, I'll give you my phone number so that we can meet up in the morning. I'll probably get here around 6:30, but I'll have to leave not long after that. My goal is to head out around 9:00."
"Okay. How about I buy you breakfast at the cafe here?"
"Oh, I guess I'll let you do that for me."
"Awesome! What hotel are you at?"
"The La Quinta 10 minutes from here."
"Okay cool. I'm at a cabin at the camp site near here."
"Awesome. See ya in the morning!"
Jules climbed into her car and discreetly slipped her pistol back into her hidden holster.
"I feel so much better with this on. Dear Lord, please keep me safe on my way back to the hotel."
Jules was in deep thought about safety; thinking over the events of the day. She couldn't shake off the nervous feeling that someone was watching her. She'd felt it all day. Her thoughts were interrupted by a mile marker.
"Oh, rats. I missed my turn a little ways back."
She turned around at a gas station. A few miles down the road she saw bright orange construction signs reflecting in her headlights.
"Detour?! This is not my night."
She swerved to avoid a furry mammal, and then hit her breaks.
"Another detour...I am soooo lost."
Suddenly her engine spluttered, and then stopped.
"Oh. My. Goodness. Lost, in the MIDDLE of nowhere, and out of gas. Thank God I brought my gas container."
Jules walked around to the trunk of her car to retrieve her gas jug. She saw headlights reflect on her bracelet and glanced behind her. Her heart sunk. It was Tony, from back at the National Park.
"Oh no, that guy just pulled up. What do I do?"
She frantically pulled out her phone and made a call.
"Miles!!! This creep has been following me ALL DAY and I just ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere!"
"Jules, take a breath. What's going on?"
"I have a jug of gas in the trunk but this guy JUST pulled up!! Pray for me!!!"
Now Miles was frantic. He was thought Jules could surely hear his heart pounding over the phone, but there was no time to worry about that. His voice thickened.
"Don't get out of the car, Jules!!"
"I AM out!!!!"
His face blanched, and he held his phone with a death grip. Jules wished he could be there to protect her.
"Oh dear God, please protect Jules, and keep her safe..."
She dropped her phone into her trunk and turned to confront the guy. Miles continued to pray. Tony walked up to her, and stopped a little too close for comfort. His eyes leered down at her, and she thought of the snake in the garden of Eden.
"Something wrong, pretty lady?"
"Nothing I can't handle, thanks."
Her reply was curt. She meant it as a warning, but he didn't take it as such.
"I could take you where you need to go."
He moved even closer. He was so close that she could feel his breath on her face.
"No, thank you. I got it under control."
He stepped right up to her and reached his hands out. His fingertips barely brushed her elbow when he suddenly reeled backwards while putting a hand on his nose. Before he could look up, Jules had her 9mm handgun pointed at his face.
"Don't move. I'm calling the police."
It was very late, but she decided to call anyway. She breathed in deeply before putting the phone up to her ear.
"Jules! Are you okay?"
"Yes, thank God. I'm thinking from now on I won't road-trip by myself. I was so scared, Miles!"
"I'm just glad you're okay. What happened? I've been so worried."
"Well, he started to grab my arms, so I punched him in the face as hard as I could. I don't understand how I could punch him that hard...I never work out or anything. Anyways. I had my handgun on me so I pulled it out and told him that I was calling the police. Thank God, they were there in just over ten minutes. Apparently I got lost on a back road to a community with a police station."
"But you're sure you're okay? It freaked me out when I heard someone get hit right before the line went dead."
Jules smiled shakily, and breathed in again.
"Yes, I'm sure I'm okay. Just a little shaken up. I had to answer some questions at the police station and then they want me back when they give Tony his hearing in three weeks."
"The creep. The guy who probably would have ruined me."
Miles was quiet. Jules didn't know what to say.
"You said you're shaken up; what do you mean by that? If you don't mind my asking..."
"Not at all. I'm just...I guess, thinking about what could have happened to me. It could have been so bad! What if I didn't have my gun on me? What if he had grabbed me before I could punch him?"
Jules broke down crying.
"Sh sh shhhh, it's okay. You're okay. Jules, it's good to think about things to put them in perspective, but don't stress over what-could-have-beens. Thank God that things happened the way they did. Thank God you're okay."
Jules heard a new tone in his voice. Miles hoped she couldn't tell that he had teared up.
"Thank you, Miles. I feel silly for crying."
"Don't feel silly. It's a good stress reliever."
"You are a good stress reliever."
"Well, I don't know about that. ...Hey, you should get some rest."
"You're right. I'm sorry for calling you so late."
"Don't be sorry. I was pretty worried about you, so I'm glad you called."
"Okay. Goodnight, Miles."
The floor of the stage lit up as she walked across it, and her strapped heels seemed to echo the thump in her heart. She glanced over at the backs of the judges' chairs before sitting down at the baby grand. She placed her hands on the keys, and hesitated a second while calming her stage fright. The crowd held its breath in anticipation. She played the chords of her heart, as it was, and sang out as if she saw only One person in the audience.
"Make my life a prayer to You, I wanna do what you want me to. No empty words, and no white lies; no token prayers, no compromise. I wanna shine the Light You gave through Your Son You sent to save us from ourselves in our despair. It comforts me to know You're really there. I wanna thank You now for being patient with me! Oh, it's so hard to see when my eyes are on me. I guess I have to trust, and just believe what You say, oh You're coming again. Coming to take me away."
The chords got louder and her voice verily soared over the audience with the purity of her words. The people watched, spellbound.
"I wanna die, and let You give Your life to me so I might live, and share the hope You gave to me; the love that set me free. I wanna tell the world out there You're not some fable, or fairytale that I've made up inside my head: You're God, the Son, You've risen from the dead."
Her voice broke with a thankful tear as she finished her song.
"I wanna die, and let You give Your life to me, so I might live; and share the hope You gave to me. I wanna share the love that set me free."
She looked up as the last chords faded out, and saw all four judges sitting in silent awe with their lights on. Had she really made them all turn for her? She looked up and saw the audience all clapping, and a few of them were actually wiping tears from their eyes. After what seemed like decades, one of the judges spoke up.
"Wow. That was, that was breathtaking. I could almost feel this spiritual presence in the room. What's your name?"
"Jamie. Jamie Carl."
"Hi Jamie. How old are you?"
"Can you tell us a bit about yourself?"
"I was a drug baby, saved by the grace of God. I worked as a waitress for five years before I decided to try out here."
"That's very interesting. What made you decide to try out on The Voice?"
"My gift in life is my voice, and I figured that the best way to thank God for it is to give it back to Him by singing about Him. If that makes sense."
Jamie smiled, and the judges exchanged looks. This was the most unique woman they had ever seen on the show.
...for feedback. :) :P please, critique harshly. Is there too much conversation? Are the conversations boring? Are my descriptions cheesy? Don't be afraid to be brutally honest with me. Also...it could be an entire year before I post whole chapters. We'll see.