Part Twenty-Three: Firm Believer
Mr. Turnquist and Uncle Al disappeared, only to stagger home a short time later under stacks of pizza boxes. A rare treat, since the stuff didn’t meet Mrs. Turnquist’s high standards for nutritional content. Landon cheered, and Flopsy twirled through the kitchen in a dance of delight.
As the evening progressed, Aleff monopolized the conversation, recounting tales that often qualified as tall. But Marcus was grateful. By taking the brunt of everyone’s attention, Aleff provided an opening, and Marcus strolled through it by following Brenna into the kitchen.
“What’s up?” he asked.
His sister turned from the cupboard with a handful of paper napkins. “Just needed more of these.”
“Not that.” Marcus jammed his hands into his pockets. “You’re different.”
She blinked. “You can tell?”
“I’m your brother. Of course I’d notice.”
Brenna pulled him into a fierce hug. “Ugh, I’ve missed you! And yes, things have changed. For the better. This summer was amazing!”
“Where do I even begin?” Brenna searched his face, then tentatively asked, “Were any of your other foster families … religious?”
“If you’re talking about Christians, then yeah. Uncle Al believes, and so do my older brothers. Same goes for me.” Marcus quietly admitted, “One of the hardest parts of moving here was being surrounded by people who’d never heard of Jesus.”
“I’d heard of him. Hard not to with a neighbor like Russ. But I never really paid any attention since Mom and Dad always brushed him off.”
“Why’d you decide to listen?”
Brenna blushed and shyly answered, “Sheldon.”
Early the next morning, Marcus waited for Ransom’s internal alarm to go off. Mr. Pavlos had given the boys one last night, so Landon had built a makeshift tent of sheets and blankets in their room. The three of them had stayed up long past a reasonable bedtime, sharing summer stories until the boy fell asleep between them.
Ransom stirred long before sunup, still very much attuned to brightening skies and predawn birdsong. Marcus rolled onto his side and lifted a hand in a silent good morning.
Blinking and stretching, Ransom sat up. “Wanna go raid the bakery case at the convenience store?”
“I could eat.” Marcus shook Landon’s shoulder and asked, “Up for a hike?”
His little brother flashed a grin and scrambled to dress.
The three of them tiptoed past the living room, where Uncle Al and Daichi were sacked out, and Marcus took the time to leave a note for their mom. Letting themselves out the kitchen door, they strolled past the motorcycles at the end of the driveway and on through their hushed neighborhood. Everything was strange after the long absence, yet bursts of familiarity struck Marcus, like the barking dog five houses down, the uneven spots where the sidewalk did its best to trip the unwary, and the whoosh and ping of the automatic door at their destination.
A man leaned against the counter, chatting with the manager, so Ransom veered toward the beverage cases. But Marcus did a double-take at the kid by the man’s side. Unruly honey-blond hair was a decent tip-off, as were the kid’s blue eyes. But his pink-winged escort’s wave removed any doubt. Ethan means Zeke. And Zeke means Pomeroys. And that could mean … what? Was this providence at work? Would Ransom finally meet the man who baked all their cupcakes?
“Got one for you.” Ransom slapped a quart of milk against Marcus’s palm.
With parting words and an easy wave, Jayce Pomeroy strode past, Zeke close on his heels. And Ransom didn’t even notice. Marcus’s heart clenched over the missed opportunity. Should he have done something? Said something?
“Ransom!” exclaimed the manager. “Haven’t seen you all summer. I was just telling Jayce that his biggest fan was on summer break.”
“You just missed him.” The man pointed to where a big fifteen-passenger van could still be seen, turning out onto the road. “He’s the owner of Loafing Around.”
“No way. Really?”
The bakery case was freshly stocked with apple turnovers and more apple turnovers, and Landon asked, “Can I have three?”
“Yeah.” But Ransom was still looking back. In a low voice, he said, “That was the guy.”
Marcus said, “Yep.”
“I didn’t pay any attention.” Ransom frowned. “Did you see what he looked like?”
“Would you recognize him?”
“Yep.” Marcus pointed out, “We still have some time before school starts.”
Ransom grabbed a waxy white bag and reached for tongs. “Yeah. I want to check out that bakery.”
The closer Uncle Al came to saying goodbye, the more Marcus dragged his feet. Yeah, farewells were as fleeting as they were inevitable, but he wasn’t ready for summer to end. Not like this.
“Why so downcast?” asked Daichi.
Marcus slouched against the side of the house. “I thought something would happen over the summer.”
He followed his big brother’s gaze to where Brenna stood chatting with Aleff. “Yep, and I’m glad. But I’m also … not.”
Daichi’s silence was the attentive sort.
Marcus sighed. “Guess I got my hopes up.”
“And that hope has ended with a single summer?”
“I know what you’re saying, but I….” Burying his head under his arms, Marcus quietly confessed, “There’s a part of me that’s frantic.”
“You want him to trust God.”
Marcus groaned. “So much.”
“Then lead the way.” Daichi gently mussed Marcus’s hair. “Trust God.”
They left. Ransom left. And without the familiar rhythm of their journey, Marcus hardly knew what to do with himself. All the things he’d loved about their summer together had come to an end. Anticlimax left him restless.
Marcus wandered upstairs but stopped short in the hallway. Jedrick sat on the floor, legs bent, arms folded, an immovable guard before the apple blossom door. His mentor beckoned him closer, and Marcus presented himself, shuffling his feet under Jedrick’s scrutiny.
“You have grown.”
“Seems that way. But I can’t tell if it’s just me or if Uncle Al meddled.”
Jedrick poked at his toes. “How long has it been since you wore armor?”
“A while.” Marcus thought back. “Not since you visited us in the mountains.”
He unfurled … and winced.
“Off with the boots. I can adjust the buckles. But you are overdue for a trip to the forges.” Jedrick quietly ordered, “Fly away with me.”
“I’ve gotta be back early. Ransom wants to run his route.”
His captain smiled. “A single night can last for days with the help of an obliging Caretaker.”
And so, having only just returned from one journey, Marcus was stolen away for another by the cherub who’d claimed kinship, then responsibility. Jedrick kept his orders simple—follow me, stay close, fear not—and in obedience, Marcus found rest.
The sun was barely up when Ransom asked, “Good to go?”
Ransom was back on his newspaper route, and Marcus tagged along more often than not. Sometimes they ran, but today’s plans called for bicycles. He followed his friend to the bike trail that skirted the highway north into West Edinton. But the purpose of their trek was thwarted even before they rolled to a stop in front of the bakery on Main Street.
“You’re kidding,” groaned Ransom.
“Closed.” Marcus walked his bike to Loafing Around’s front door in order to read the sign taped to the glass of the front door. “Looks like they close up during the fair.”
Ransom slumped over his handle bars. “How long’s that?”
Posters for the Milton County Fair lined the front window. “Another whole week.”
“Practically to the end of summer.”
Marcus nodded. “We can always come back any Saturday.”
“I don’t want to wait,” said Ransom. “Ever been to the fair?”
“Know where it is?”
Of course he did; he’d flown over it often enough. The Ferris wheel was as distinctive a landmark as Shimron’s tower. Marcus pointed unerringly to the northeast.
“Biking distance?” Ransom checked.
“How much do you suppose it costs?”
“Depends on how much you plan to eat.” Marcus pointed to the poster, which listed admission prices. “But this gets us in.”
Ransom asked, “Wanna go?”
“There’s no time like the present!”
Next Month: Angel Unaware, Part 24: “Heartbreaker”
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