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Courage Without Grace

Courage Without Grace

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Courage Without Grace

Länge:
299 Seiten
4 Stunden
Freigegeben:
Mar 30, 2021
ISBN:
9781393471417
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Josie Wales doesn't need her palm reading skills to know her lover is seeing someone else. It's time to end it, but she's been with Tom for seven years. And there's something—someone—she needs to tell him about. That secret keeps pulling her back, but this time she's determined to break it off.

 

To find the courage to end the relationship, Josie seeks advice from new acquaintances. But she somehow manages to make an even bigger mess of her life.  When Jack, Tom's twin and her childhood friend, comes to DC to reconnect, he helps Josie get her feet back on the ground.

 

Just as Josie is beginning to resolve the chaos in her life, a tragic secret from her past comes back to haunt her. Before she can move forward and have a second chance at love, she must face her grief and loss.    

 

With characters that leap off the page, Courage Without Grace is a poignant novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Freigegeben:
Mar 30, 2021
ISBN:
9781393471417
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Jeannie Zokan grew up in Colombia, South America where she read almost every book in the American school she attended. Her love of books led her to study Library Science at Baylor University then to attend The George Washington University in DC. When the chance came to head south, she took her motorcycle to Florida’s Gulf Coast to write stories for the local newspaper. She now lives ten minutes from the beach with her husband, two teenage daughters, and three pets, all of whom keep her inspired and just a little frantic. She enjoys aerial yoga, tennis, and holding NICU babies as a volunteer. But there’s always writing. Writing to relive, writing to understand, writing to remember, writing to renew.


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Buchvorschau

Courage Without Grace - Jeannie Zokan

PROLOGUE

Deep in the untamed tangle of Colombia’s mountainous jungles, Jack leaned against a moss-covered tree and waited. Watching the overgrown trail, he used his six-foot frame to shield his parents, who crouched behind him. The thunderous crack of a nearby gunshot rang out, and his mother stifled a shriek. The three stared at each other as a gut-wrenching cry rose over the trees. The grinding, guttural growl rose to a scream and ended with another deafening gun blast.

An uneasy silence filled the foggy forest, until footsteps crashed toward them. Jack tensed, prepared for anything. When he recognized Tom, Jack grabbed his twin and pulled him into the safety of the gloom. Tom collapsed by his side.

Jack’s heart pounded out of his chest when a man yelled in Spanish to spread out and search the area. The sounds of machetes clearing a path drew perilously close to their hiding place. Tom sobbed into his hands, and Jack begged him to stop. He reached out to his parents, both frail from near-starvation, as they bowed their heads.

The voices subsided slowly, and the hacking machetes grew faint. The group waited in the ominous silence for an eternity, until monkeys and birds finally began to call overhead again.

Without a word, Jack turned to their silent witness and waved a solemn goodbye, then he held out his hand for his mother. Behind him, Tom guided his father, and the four of them ran down the mountain. They fought through jungles, forded murky rivers, and slid down steep hillsides. They ran like their lives depended on it. They trusted no one, and they never looked back. They didn’t dare believe they would survive.

CHAPTER ONE

Istood at the doorway of his apartment building, trembling. I didn’t want to do this. I couldn’t do it. I backed away from the entrance, into the wintry chill of February in Washington, DC. A halo formed around the golden light of the lamppost beside the seven-story building. Why can’t I just walk away?

The halo shifted on the snow, startling me into remembering what I had to do. I returned to the door and pressed the buzzer to his apartment. No answer. I pressed again. Maybe he isn’t home. Maybe he’s out with the other woman.

I had almost turned away when Tom opened the glass door to the building. We’d been together two days before, but the sight of him still made me catch my breath. My childhood sweetheart looked more handsome than ever. It didn’t matter, though. I had to end it with him, once and for all. My housemate, Laurie, was right—I needed to get on with my life. Besides, I wanted to be done with her lectures.

Hey, Josie, he said, reaching out to pull me toward him. Didn’t expect to see you tonight.

Tom, listen. Out of habit, I stepped into his arms. We have to—

He stopped me with a kiss that had me following him to the elevator and up to his apartment on the sixth floor, where we pulled off boots, jackets, and jeans.

Tom’s black Lab, Pelé, circled three times and flopped on his pillow with a sigh.

Later, wrapped together in blankets on the bed, I played with Tom’s hair and outlined the scar over his eyebrow, cursing myself. If I kept falling into bed with him every time I saw him, this impossible relationship could never end.

He sat up and pulled on his gray boxers. You hungry? He took three steps to the kitchenette and opened the refrigerator.

No. I sat up. I want to talk.

Colombia’s off limits, he said, taking ham and cheese from the fridge for a late-night snack.

Okay, but how about us? Can we talk about us?

He set a loaf of bread on the counter and turned to face me with a grin. Anything for you, Jos.

Damn him. He was an addiction for me: his soft light-brown hair, his infectious smile, his strong chest. And how does he have a tan this time of year? I shook my head, making myself calculate the time I had spent trying to keep us together. Two years and counting. If I was going to take my life back, 1983 had to be the year.

Look, this isn’t working. I can’t stand not knowing what you’re thinking. It drives me crazy. And then there’s what’s-her-name. I just can’t put up with it anymore, Tom. We have to break up.

Fine. There’s the door. Have a nice life. He turned back to the refrigerator, pulled out a beer, and lifted it to me in a toast. He knew I wouldn’t go.

What happened to you? I asked, digging my jeans and T-shirt from the heap by his bed. You weren’t always like this.

What happened to any of us when we came back here?

I knew what he meant. Growing up in Colombia, we had been treated like royalty simply because we came from the United States. Here, we were nobodies. That reality could be hard to take.

Pelé whined, and I patted his head. At least we can have Dr Peppers and Big Macs whenever we want.

Tom shook his head and took a swig of his beer.

Why don’t you go live in Colombia if it’s that hard here? I asked.

He leaned against the counter, his arms crossed over his chest, his blue eyes cold. If you’re going to leave, just go.

My heart lurched at his heartless words. I dressed slowly, layer by awful layer, while this stranger stood drinking his beer, watching me silently. At the door, I turned to him.

Goodbye, Tom, I said, and closed it behind me.

Twenty-three steps away, I stood staring at the round buttons on the elevator panel—one up arrow, one down. Part of me pulled away and calmly assessed the situation. This voice of reason always seemed to speak to me in a crisis, and now it babbled about what Laurie would say, how close to midnight it was, and whether I should walk home or take the Metro. For a moment, I felt free, as if those twenty-three steps truly could break the bond between Tom and me.

I reached to push the down button, and Tom’s familiar scent lifted from my coat, assaulting me with a lifetime of memories. My longing for him and for what we had shared shut down the guardian in my brain. Laurie, midnight, and my sanity be damned. Before I could change my mind again, I raced down the hall and knocked on his door. He didn’t say a word. He pulled me in, and within moments, we were in his bed again. I didn’t ask any more questions.

THE NEXT MORNING, I awoke to find Tom standing at the bay window, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, watching the sun rise over the apartment buildings to the east. The view was what I loved most about his little apartment. The city heaved to life every morning and flickered to sleep every night under an ever-changing sky of cool spring blue, summer haze, golden fall, and steel gray as hard as winter itself. The four seasons were magic to me. Colombia had only two: rainy and dry.

Come back here, I told Tom, patting the bed.

Pelé jumped up beside me and licked my face.

Tom joined us while I rubbed the dog’s silky ears. I have to take this mangy mutt out, he said, scratching Pelé’s belly.

Let’s go for a run. Bet I can beat you. I knew those words would remind Tom of one of the last days we’d spent together in Colombia when we took a morning run around the seminary. I had made the same bet—and lost.

Still trying? Well, when I beat you, you’re buying breakfast. And I’m hungry for a real meal this time, not fast food.

I rolled off the bed and opened the bottom drawer of his dresser, where I stashed sweatpants and T-shirts, fully aware that my drawer was a sure sign I wasn’t ready to leave Tom. We laughed at Pelé’s excitement at the sight of his leash and followed him outside. We stretched on the steps of the building, and I jogged in place to keep warm.

Hey, Tom. Hey, Josie. We turned to see Gabe, Tom’s next-door neighbor, at the front door.

What are you up to? I asked him as he petted Pelé. Want to run with us?

No thanks, girl, and you shouldn’t either. You’re too skinny as it is.

I’m fine, I said, shaking my head.

Pelé tugged at the leash and set a brisk pace. We called goodbye to Gabe as we chased the dog through the empty Saturday morning streets of Kalorama Heights. The snow was melting as the weak but watchful sun peeked out from the thin winter clouds. My breathing and my stride soon synced with Tom’s, and my mind unlocked, softening as it only could when its main purpose was to keep me moving.

My thoughts turned to Colombia, as they often did. My parents, still missionaries in Cali, lived in the same house across the street from the Baptist seminary, along with my half-sister Petie. They came to the States every year, and my brother, Aaron, and I visited them when we could, not necessarily at the same time. My uneasy truce with Aaron, who lived in Philadelphia, kept me civil with him, but reserved.

When Pelé stopped to sniff a tree, it gave me a chance to focus on the houses and apartment buildings along the road. I didn’t want to think about my family. I just wanted to share the morning with Tom, work my muscles, inhale the icy air, and pretend everything was okay.

Pretending had worked just fine for Tom and me, until I’d moved into Laurie and Frank’s remodeled attic, a two-bedroom suite, a few months before. After meeting Tom, Laurie had declared I deserved better. I couldn’t deny the truth.

Tom won the race with a last-minute burst of speed, and after quick showers in the apartment, I treated him to breakfast at a café near DuPont Circle. The waitress led us to a booth by the window and took our order on the spot.

When she walked away, I ventured, It’s supposed to be cloudy again today.

Cold, but not too bad, Tom answered.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to snow, I said.

What do you mean?

It’s always different. Sometimes it’s soft and pretty when it falls. Sometimes it’s more like rain. I don’t know.

It’s always cold, Tom stated.

True. But it’s not always wet.

We looked outside at the gray day until french toast, bacon, eggs, and coffee arrived.

When we finished eating our food, I leaned back and risked everything. Who am I kidding? I have nothing to lose. I just wanted the satisfaction of knowing what had gone wrong before ending it.

So how about now? I asked. Can we talk about Colombia now?

Tom’s jaw tightened, and he shook his head. You’re not going to give up on this, are you?

Of course not, I answered. I want to know. I have to know.

He frowned at me then sighed. I suppose I owe you something since you’re buying breakfast. And since... He pushed his empty plate to the center of the table. It’s time I told you.

He stared at his coffee cup while I remained perfectly still. The voice in my head quietly wondered why today was the day, but I shushed it, finally ready to hear what Tom had to say.

You know how I was about to head to class when I got the phone call about my folks, he started then stopped. What exactly do you remember?

We were in college in Houston, I said, thinking back. It’s been almost three years now, so 1980. You and Jack were seniors, and I was a sophomore when the president of the Foreign Mission Board called you.

Tom shook his head. I still remember how weird that was. This man, in charge of Baptist missionaries all over the world, asked me how I liked school, what I thought of Texas, if I liked the weather. But I cut him off. ‘Tell it to me straight,’ I said, ‘like a shot of whiskey.’

You knew it was bad news, I whispered.

What else could it be? When we found out our parents were kidnapped, we told our professors we would be dropping out of college to find them. Of course none of them wanted us to go. ‘There’s a ninety percent chance you’ll die somewhere in Colombia,’ they said. But we didn’t care.

You bought one-way tickets to Bogotá, I added, thinking back to the familiar memory. And when I said goodbye to you at the airport, I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again.

Yeah. Tom looked away, his eyes unreadable.

I straightened up, fearing I’d lost him. Sorry, go on.

Well, when we got to Bogotá, we stayed with Uncle Gregory and Aunt Mary, Tom said, referring to fellow missionaries I knew. Being on the mission field had created such strong bonds among us, we considered each other family.

They thought we were crazy to search for Mom and Dad. But they didn’t try to stop us. They probably figured they would’ve done the same if they were in our shoes. Tom leaned back in the booth. At first, we went to the Colombian police, but they didn’t know anything. We wasted some time following their useless leads until we went to Mom and Dad’s apartment and looked around. Jack happened to notice their calendar. Mom had penciled in the names of some towns around Bogotá every Sunday of the month. Jack and I figured our parents were visiting the places, so we decided to see if anyone in those small towns knew about the kidnapping. We headed out with backpacks full of food and clothes. Damn. We even took Bibles.

I nodded. Tom had been a devout Baptist before his parents were kidnapped. He’d even majored in religion in our small Baptist college, with plans to be a professor of theology. But that part of him hadn’t returned. It must’ve stayed behind with those Bibles.

We didn’t have any luck at the first three towns, Tom continued. But then this kid, Pablo, started following us. We had gotten off track and asked him how to get to Santa Regina, the next town on our list. Pablo told us that’s where he lived. As he led us there, we found out he knew our folks were being held at a rebel camp.

The kid took you to your parents?

Not right away. It would’ve been too dangerous to just walk right up to the camp and demand our folks. He had us stay with his family while we figured out a plan.

Tom paused, gazing around the restaurant. Pablo led Jack and me to places in Colombia we’d never imagined. We saw this huge plain where the mountains in the distance looked like they’d been dropped like a huge green tablecloth onto the earth. And that first night when the sun set behind that mountain range... Tom shook his head. There are just no words for the beauty. In all my life, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s funny how all that magnificence managed to sink in even though I was worried sick at the same time.

I think I get it. I folded my hands. You know, it’s the beauty I miss the most. And for the rest of my life, when I smell café con leche, I’ll remember the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Amazing.

Tom rested a foot on my side of the booth. I didn’t know you went there.

The highest coastal mountain range in the world, I added, thinking back to my family’s visit to Colombia’s northern shoreline and to the mountain that rose from sea level to eighteen thousand feet. I was too young to appreciate it at the time. All I cared about was getting back to the beach.

I wish my family had traveled that far north when we lived there, Tom said, gazing into his empty cup.

You might still.

Tom frowned and changed the subject. You know, my parents weren’t the first to be kidnapped, and they won’t be the last.

Yeah, I whispered. The threat to Americans in Colombia had become a constant danger in the eighties. My parents never talked about it, but I knew it weighed heavily on their minds.

We sat in silence, and I drew shapes on the table with the moisture from my glass of water until Tom said, Not long ago, Mom and Dad told me that even though they couldn’t find anything good about what happened, they got to see a lot more of Colombia, and from a pretty incredible perspective. Don’t get me wrong, they’d never want to go through it again, Tom said. The guerrillas marched my parents all over the mountains around Bogotá and to the edge of the llanos to the east. Forced to walk miles and miles, they were starving when we found them. But they saw some amazing things. Their kidnappers were savages who killed people along the way, but my folks only talk about the jaguar cub up in a tree and the snakes that slithered off the path and all those monkeys. You know how my mom’s into birds?

Sure. I remember.

She said no one she knows can top the number of species she saw on that trip.

They call it ‘that trip’? Like they had a choice in taking it? I shouldn’t have been surprised. Tom’s parents maintained consistently positive attitudes, taking the lemonade-making adage to an extreme.

Tom looked away, his lips a thin line, and I worried again that I’d blown it. I stirred my cold coffee before reminding him where he’d left off. So you were telling me about this guy, Pablo, who took you to your parents.

He was just a kid. Tom shook his head. Couldn’t have been older than fourteen, and small for his age. Told us he’d grown up seeing relatives and neighbors murdered in his rural town. You know about ‘La Violencia,’ Colombia’s civil war?

Yeah, I answered, thinking back to history lessons in school. But didn’t that end in the fifties?

Supposedly. But the war for power between the different military groups goes on in the countryside. And you know who pays the price? The people. The peasants. Pablo didn’t want to be part of the fighting, but he saw what happened, and people trusted him. Or at least they didn’t see him as a threat, being a kid and all. The rebel group that kidnapped my parents recruited him, gave him a big gun. He spied on his own group and tipped off his neighbors and family members to keep them safe. He even made a little money when the good guys needed information.

Who were the good guys?

Tom shrugged. Whoever promised to protect the peasants. But back to Mom and Dad, when the kidnappers first brought my parents into their camp, Pablo recognized them from the times they had visited Santa Regina to lead Bible studies. He took care of them, made sure they had what they needed. And when he found us, he wanted to help set my parents free.

Wow, so this Pablo kid was the hero.

Yeah, Tom answered, looking at his watch. So, early one morning, we went to rescue my parents. We snuck them out and flew home. That’s what happened. Listen, I’ve gotta go. I’m supposed to be at work in ten minutes.

Oh, okay. But...

Tom had lost his religion and his career plans on that trip to find his parents, but a red 1970 Pontiac GTO convertible filled the void. As a car mechanic, his hours changed all the time, depending on how many cars came into the shop. I didn’t doubt he had to go to work, but something didn’t feel right about his abrupt conclusion.

Why did you go back a second time? I asked. Will you tell me about that?

You’ve heard what I have to say, Jos. Can you leave it alone?

Just let me know when you want to tell me the rest of the story, I shot back.

He stood, grabbed his coat, and left without saying another word.

I checked my watch, threw cash on the table, and hurried out. I was going to be late, and trouble with one boyfriend wouldn’t make it easy to start over with a new one.

CHAPTER TWO

Chad, dressed in jeans and a heavy leather coat, waited for me in the parking lot of the Pentagon. Hey, gorgeous, he said as I ran up to him from the Metro exit.

Hey, I answered, breathless but smiling. Chad was Tom’s opposite in every way. Tom stood a foot taller, while Chad had a brawnier build. Chad kept his dark hair short and had deep-brown eyes, but Tom had blue eyes and light-brown hair, which almost reached his shoulders. Everything was new and different with Chad. Although it felt strange to spend time with someone other than Tom, I needed the change.

Chad patted the seat of his black Kawasaki motorcycle. Today’s the day you learn to ride. Ready for that?

Absolutely, I said, making sure to sound more confident than I felt. I straddled the motorcycle and fumbled with the strap on the helmet as

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