What a fun, summer read!
Michelle Stimpson has written a wonderful story of redemption.
I really enjoyed following Tori along as she ‘finds’ herself amidst all the chaos and craziness going on in her life.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Dafina; 1 Original edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Michelle Stimpson for sending me a review copy.***
Michelle Stimpson is an author, a speaker, and an educator who received her Bachelor of Science degree from Jarvis Christian College in 1994. She earned a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2002. She has had the pleasure of teaching elementary, middle, and high school as well as training adults.
In addition to her work in the field of education, Michelle ministers through writing and public speaking. Her works include the highly acclaimed Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (National Bestseller), and Last Temptation. She has published several short stories for high school students through her educational publishing company, Right Track Academic Support Services, at www.wegottaread.com.
Michelle serves in the Discerning Hearts women’s ministry at her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. She also ministers to women through her online newsletter: www.womengrowinginchrist.com.
Michelle tours annually with the Anointed Authors on Tour. She regularly speaks at special events and writing workshops sponsored churches, schools, book clubs and other great organizations.
Michelle lives near Dallas with her husband, their two teenage children, and one crazy dog.
Visit the author’s website.
Tori Henderson is on the fast track in her marketing career in Houston, but her romantic life is slow as molasses and her relationship with Christ is nonexistent. When her beloved Aunt Dottie falls ill, Tori travels back to tiny Bayford to care for her. But when Tori arrives, she’s faced with more than she bargained for, including Dottie’s struggling local store, a host of bad memories, and a troubled little step-cousin, DeAndre. Worse, the nearest Starbucks is twenty miles away…
Just as Tori is feeling overwhelmed, she re-connects with her old crush, the pastor’s son, Jacob, who is every bit as handsome as to remembers. As the church rallies for Aunt Dottie’s recovery, Tori realizes that she came to Bayford to give, but she just might receive more than she dreamed was ever possible for her.
List Price: $14.00
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Dafina; 1 Original edition (June 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I crossed my fingers in hopes they would name me Top Quarterly Producer for my department. I mean, every single one of my clients had experienced website traffic and sales above the projected estimates, and I had even received two letters from pleased customers. “Tori’s expertise made all the difference in our product launch,” one had commented. “We’ll be using NetMarketing Results for a long time to come!” Planning and implementing online marketing campaigns came with its own sense of fulfillment. After all, depending on who you asked, the Web pushes America’s economy even more than a good old-fashioned mall.
But even as we stood around the conference room waiting for the announcement, I felt queasy. What if they didn’t name me? One look around the room sparked another dose of apprehension.
Lexa Fielder was recently hired, yet she’d already managed to land a pretty impressive list of new customers for the company, though it was rumored she did quite a bit of work on her back.
Brian Wallace was one of the older marketing representatives, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Every once in a while, he pulled off a last-minute record-breaking month for one of his clients and caught management’s eyes.
There were only four eyes I wanted to catch, and all of them belonged to Preston Haverty. Okay, he really only had two eyes, but he did wear a set of insistently thick glasses that took on life of their own at the center of his slight facial features. Every time I saw him, I felt like I was in a scene from The Emperor’s Clothes. Like, why won’t somebody tell Preston that those glasses are ridiculous and we do have technology to free us from such spectacles? Probably the same reason no one talks to Donald Trump about that comb-over.
Anyway, Preston was good people, glasses and all. I appreciated his “hands off” management style – he didn’t really care where or how we worked, so long as we got the job done. I only hoped that I’d done a good enough job to add to my collection of blue and green plaques given to outstanding employees. Lexa and Brian aside, I appreciated being appreciated. And God knows I’d put in enough woman-hours to earn this recognition.
“And February’s project manager of the month is…”—Preston announced as everyone in the room beat a drum roll on either the 16-foot table or some spot on the surrounding walls—“Tori Henderson!”
My cheekbones rose so high I could barely see in front of me. Is that what it’s like to be Miss America? Everybody applauding, confetti flying, the runners-up on the sideline clapping wildly to distract themselves from their jealousy and impending mental meltdowns after the show?
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that serious, but I sure felt like a pageant queen. My fellow co-workers, probably twenty-five people or so, cheered me on as I walked toward the front end of the table to receive my plaque. “Good job, Tori!” “You go, girl!” Their affirmations swelled inside me, feeding my self-esteem. If only my mother could see me now. Then maybe she’d forget about 1996.
I shook Mr. Haverty’s hand and posed for the obligatory picture. In that moment, I wished I’d worn a lighter-colored suit. Black always made me look like a beanpole. Gave no testament of all my hours at the gym and the donuts I’d passed on to keep the red line on my scale below one hundred and twenty-five.
I wasn’t going to pass on the sweets today, though. Jacquelyn, the lead secretary, retrieved a towering pink-and-white buttercream frosting cake and brought it forward now to celebrate my achievement.
Preston offered, “Tori, you get the first piece.”
“Get some meat on those bones, girl,” from Clara, the Webmaster.
But the mention of meat and the sight of the cake suddenly made me nauseous. To appease the group, I took the first piece. Then Jacquelyn got busy cutting and distributing pieces as everyone stood around milking the moment before having to return to work.
I sat in one of the comfy leather chairs and took and ate a bite of my celebratory sweetness. Almost instantly, my stomach disagreed with my actions. My hand flew to my abdomen, lightly stroking the panel of my suit. People were so busy devouring the cake they didn’t notice me catching my breath. Whew!
I pushed the plate away from me, as though the pink mass had the power to jump onto my fork and into my mouth. This was clearly not the cake for me. I thought for a moment about how long it had been since I ate something so densely packed with sugar. Maybe this was like red meat—once you stop consuming it, one backslidden bite tears you up inside.
No, that’s not it. I’d eaten a candy bar the previous week, before my monthly visitor arrived. Renegade cramps? I rubbed my palm against the aggravated area again. No. The pain was too high in my torso for female problems. This had to be some kind of bug. Whatever it was, it didn’t like strawberry cake so, I quietly tossed my piece in the trash on the way back to my desk.
An hour later, I felt like I could throw up so I sat perfectly still at my desk because…well…any movement of my torso sparked a pain in my side that might trigger this upchuck. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go through the process of throwing up. I would never tell anyone this, but I find vomiting an altogether traumatic experience. Such a nasty feeling in one’s throat. And the aftertaste, and the gagging sounds. Not to mention getting a close-up look at the toilet seat. It’s just not humanlike and should be avoided at all costs, in my opinion.
Thank God I made it all the way to my apartment before I finally had to look at the inside of a porcelain throne, only this time I hadn’t even eaten anything. Bile spewed out of me, but the pain in my side was probably up to 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Now that I’d done the unthinkable and temporarily lost all self-respect, perhaps my body would relent. I could only hope the worst of whatever this was had passed (albeit out of the wrong end).
I managed to thoroughly brush my teeth and gargle a great number of times, assuring myself it was safe to swallow my own spit again. The image staring back at me in the mirror was normally me after a good workout—kinky twists dampened slightly at the base by my sweat, light brown face glowing in the accomplishment of burning hundreds of calories. Today, however, my sagging eyelids told the story of a woman who’d…vomited. I tried smiling, elevating my cheekbones even higher. No use. Maybe my mother was right when she’d told me, “You’re not that pretty, Tori, but you can keep yourself skinny and, when you turn fifteen, I’ll let you wear makeup. Fourteen if you’re really ugly by then.”
I closed my eyes and pressed fingers onto my temples, reminding myself that people told me I was cute all the time. One time, I went to this women’s empowerment event my client was hosting and I won a T-shirt that read I’M BEAUTIFUL with some Bible verse on it about being beautifully and wonderfully made. I wore that shirt to Wal-Mart and a total stranger walked up to me and said, “I agree.” So why did the only voice ringing now belong to my ever-beautiful, timeless Margie Carolyn James who bragged of still being carded at age 40?
My side still ached enough for me to call off the evening’s kickboxing class. Good thing Kevin was out of town working. He probably would have called me a wimp and dared me to run at least two miles. And I probably would have at least attempted to make him eat his words, despite the pain now radiating through my stomach.
After downing a dose of Advil, I trudged to my bedroom, changed into a night shirt and gently lay across the bed. I didn’t have the energy to answer my landline when it rang. I could only listen for the message.
“Hey, I’m gonna layover tonight. My flight comes in at seven, I leave out again tomorrow morning at eight. See ya.”
I was hoping that by the time he got home, I would have awakened from a refreshing nap, totally healed and ready to finish up some of the work I’d had to bring home with me in light the unproductive afternoon I endured. Yet when Kevin returned, he found me hunched over the toilet seat again.
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? Uuuuck!” The wretching produced another plop of bile into the commode.
“Are you okay?”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m pregnant,” I quipped, though the hint of mockery escaped my tone thanks to the reverberating bowl.
“Oh my God, Tori, you’re kidding, right? You know how I feel about kids,” he yelled. “How could you—”
“Stop freaking out. I’m joking.”
He balled up his fist and exhaled into the hole. “Don’t give me a heart attack.”
“I ate some cake today at work and got sick.”
He backed out into the hallway. “Let me know if you need me.”
I rested an elbow on the toilet seat and looked up at Kevin. Six foot one looks even taller from my bathroom floor perspective. His deep sandy skin contrasted perfectly with his ivory teeth and hazel eyes which, according to him, had won over many women back in the day. I wasn’t one of those eye-color crazy girls, but I was definitely a sucker for track star legs, and Kevin had those for miles and miles. Watching him unveil those limbs when he undressed was definitely the greatest benefit of moving into his condo eighteen months earlier. Well, the legs and the free rent. And the sex, when my mind cooperated.
Kevin was the modern, metrosexual type when it came to clothes, but he had some pretty old-fashioned ideas about finances. Who was I to argue with him? He paid the major bills. I handled groceries, the housekeeper, dry cleaning, and all things communication-related since I needed high-speed everything for my job. I often wondered if he was just being chivalrous or if he never obligated me to a substantial bill because he still thought of the condo as his place.
At first glance, our living quarters resembled a bachelor pad. Simple furniture, mix-and-match bath towels. Not one picture of us on display, though I had plenty on my computer and stored on my camera waiting to be downloaded someday.
Either way, I’m no fool. Thanks to our financial arrangement, I had a growing stash of rainy-day money I’d earmarked to start my own business after an early retirement.
My stash was chump change compared to Kevin’s anyway. I’d seen a few of his paystubs lying around the condo from his work in telecommunications sales. Made my college degree seem like a huge scam to keep the masses from getting rich, maybe.
Thoughts of my master plan to retire well and get rich later compelled me to hoist myself from the floor to a semi-standing position and shuffle back to bed. Sick or well, I needed to get some work done.
Kevin did check on me, but only be default as he changed into his running clothes.
There went those strong, milk chocolate legs again.
“I’m going for a jog at the track. Might head over to Cameron’s after to watch the game.”
I gave my best big-brown-doe-eyes routine. “But you’re leaving again first thing in the morning. Can’t we spend time together?”
He held up a cross with his fingers. “I don’t want to catch whatever this is you’ve got. You looked pretty distraught in that bathroom there a minute ago.”
“Thanks so much, Kevin.”
“Any time, any time,” he smirked. “I do feel bad for you, if that helps.”
“You need me to get you anything while I’m out?”
“A new stomach.”
“No can do, babe. How about Pepto-Bismol or Sprite? That’s what my mom used to give me when I was sick,” he recommended.
I scrunched my face. “Didn’t your mom also make you swallow Vicks VapoRub?”
“Yeah,” he supported the madness, “makes you cough the cold up. Worked every time. If you’re getting a virus, you might want to give it a shot.”
My stomach lurched at the thought. “No. I don’t want anything else coming up out of me tonight. Just…call and check on me.”
He detoured to my side before walking out of the room. A gentle kiss to my forehead was his first affectionate gesture since he’d walked into the place, despite more than a week’s passing since we’d seen each other last. I suppose it would have been hard for him to kiss me since I was engulfed in the commode earlier. Still, I wanted him to rub my back or something. What I really wanted was for him to stay home and…I don’t know, watch me suffer. Hover like they do when women are giving birth in those old movies. Put a damp towel on my forehead and encourage me, “You can do it! You can do it, Tori!”
Who was I kidding? Kevin would hire a birthing coach before he’d subject himself to my labor. Not that I’d ever find myself in a position to give birth so long as Kevin stubbornly refused to father a child. I held hope, however, that things would change after a few of his friends settled down. Sometimes guys are the only ones who can convince other guys to grow up. It’s a sick reality.
I decided to put the suffering out of my head for a moment. The Advil had taken the edge off the pain, so I carefully reached onto the floor and pulled my laptop bag onto the bed. The sweet challenge of work carried me into a trance that dulled the pain for a while.
I tapped on the mouse to wake my computer and then resumed toggling between the open programs on my computer desktop, making sure my client’s newsletter matched the updated blog content precisely. Next to update their social media networks with useful information about the company’s new products.
With reviewing several press releases still on my agenda, I really didn’t want to stop working. But the pain in my midsection returned with new vigor, biting into my concentration. I powered down my computer for the night and made my way back to the restroom for another bout with bile and a double-dose of Advil.
If the pain wasn’t any better by tomorrow, I’d have to miss a little work so I could visit the doctor.
Kevin rolled in a little after eleven to assess me again. He slipped a hand beneath the comforter and rubbed my backside. “You all right now?”
“No,” I groaned.
He nibbled on my ear, a sure indication of his intentions. “Mind if I make you feel better?”
“That won’t help.”
“Marvin Gaye says sexual healing is the best thing for you.”
“Marvin Gaye never felt this bad. Besides, I might have germs.”
Kevin tried again, lapping my neck with his tongue. “I don’t care. I miss you.”
Now he doesn’t care about the germs.
His hand moved around to my stomach, warranting a stern reaction. “Kevin, I cannot do this tonight. Move your hand.”
He jumped up from the bed. “Fine. Fine. I understand. I’ll be on the couch.”