Hi, everyone! So I have something for those of you who read my debut novel, Memoirs of a Girl Who Loves God. I’ve been working on the sequel since last year and it’s about 2/3 of the way done. I know, I know. I’m slow. In my defense, I’ve written nearly three novelettes in between then and now including, That’s How She Rolls which is available in the anthology titled, Where the Light May Lead. If you haven’t downloaded it yet . . . what are you waiting for? It’s free for now, but won’t stay that way forever.
Currently, I’m working on a short story that should be finished this week. Well, the first draft anyway, then I promise I’ll get this sequel book wrapped up. I don’t have a title for book two yet. In fact, I don’t even have the cover. A photo-shoot is on the horizon. In this book, Krystal is all grown up and the first chapter will tell you a lot about who she’s become. When I wrote the first book, I never expected to write a book two, but life is full of surprises. So here is chapter one of the unintended sequel. Enjoy!
Krystal swung her old car into the only empty spot in front of her favorite convenience store. Like every morning, T & G’s was slammed. Customers, bundled-up like Eskimos, pressed their chins down into the warmth of their scarves and coats as they hurried to and from their vehicles. Their breath formed white puffs in the frigid air, like baby dragons that hadn’t quite mastered the flame.
Having a heated garage was a privilege Krystal didn’t take for granted. This morning’s ice-cold wind had yet to touch her cheeks. Unfortunately, the teleportation device she needed to beam her from her car to the inside of the store had yet to be invented. If she wanted coffee, exiting the vehicle was a must.
Nothing, including the worst winter she could ever remember, would come between her and her morning cuppa-joe, as her friend, Walt, used to call it.
I need to buy a coffee pot!
Cold weather must be numbing her brain. Immediately she dismissed the thought. She loved this place and her morning routine. All the employees knew her name and she theirs. Tom & Gerry’s had been around forever.
As she opened her car door, she noticed a man going through one of the garbage cans at the front entrance. Shivering against the winter air, she watched him. The cold reminded her of the gloves she’d stuffed in her pockets and she pulled them on. Krystal took a breath only to realize her nasal passages had already frozen over.
The man used one hand to sift through the trash while his other hand clutched a handful of the dirty jeans he wore. Clearly, the jeans had been fashioned with a much larger person in mind. Without a belt, he couldn’t let them go or they’d be around his ankles before she could blink. His soiled t-shirt, obviously shrunken from a tumble in an overly hot dryer at some point, was much wider than it was long and barely covered the waist of the jeans he gripped. However, his ill-fitting clothing wasn’t the worst of it. The poor guy wasn’t wearing a coat!
He’s got to be freezing to death!
The man pulled a large foam cup marked with the red T & G logo of the convenience store from the belly of the can. He checked the bottom of it before peering inside. Apparently, he approved because he then used his pinky finger to open the door to the convenience store and limped inside. He seemed to be favoring his left leg and rolled his right foot to the outside as he walked.
Krystal waited a couple of beats and then pulled her debit card from her wallet and slid it underneath her coat and into the back pocket of her jeans. After dropping her wallet back in her messenger bag, she tucked it under her front seat, grunting at the tight fit.
Krystal peered through the driver’s side window.
At least it’s out of sight.
Hiding her bag was a precaution she always took if there was a chance she’d be giving a stranger a ride. She completely trusted God, but that didn’t mean bad things would never happen. Safety was always a factor and she only gave someone a ride if she was certain it was ok.
Pressing the button on her key fob to lock the car, she dashed inside.
“Morning, Krystal. Didn’t think you were ever going to peel yourself outta that car. I’m surprised you haven’t flown south already,” Sue called out. “This winter is the coldest we’ve seen in a long time.”
Krystal smiled absently in Sue’s direction as she scanned the store, purposely ignoring the aroma of coffee that greeted her.
Where’d he go?
The man seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Had he slipped out while she was tucking her bag away?
There’s no way.
She ran a hand through her hair and stood squinty eyed, in thought.
“Whatcha looking for, dear?” Sue asked as she waved over the next person in line.
“Oh, nothing I guess.” Krystal said as she fingered the loose bundle of braid that was her hair. Playing with her hair while thinking had become a habit over the years. Undone it would nearly hang to her waist.
Sue cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Doesn’t seem like nothing.”
Krystal shrugged. She loved Sue but the older lady’s persistence became annoying at times.
Fortunately, a customer buying thirty dollars in lottery tickets had Sue’s full attention now.
Disappointed, Krystal assumed she must have read the situation wrong. Normally, as long as she stayed tuned in, God guided Krystal whenever there was an opportunity to help someone… at least whenever she was supposed to help someone. While her gift of discernment had kept her out of harm’s way on many occasions, it also told her when to act. She’d been certain this was a time to act.
At the coffee station, her first choice of flavors was in the midst of brewing, so she settled for her second choice labeled ‘Happy Almonds.’ Patty the manager had an offbeat sense of humor and used her label gun to give anything she could a new name. For instance, if it was caffeinated, it might read ‘Will have you hoppin.’ Today, decaf read ‘Just not the same.’
“Where’s Patty?” Krystal called out to Sue.
“Had to run to the bank.”
Krystal made an ‘O’ with her mouth and nodded.
Too distracted to look for more of Patty’s new labels this morning, Krystal could only focus long enough to make sure she poured the coffee in her cup and not on the counter.
Unable to stop thinking about the poor guy who was no doubt a human Popsicle by now, she decided she’d pay for her coffee and drive around to see if she could find him. Having a plan gave her the oomph she needed to get moving. If she couldn’t find him, she’d be able to let it go and accept she’d read this one wrong.
For some reason, that never made any sense to her, the lids and coffee condiments were on the opposite side of the island from the coffee pots and cups. As usual, she forgot to grab them before pouring, so after pouring, she always ran the risk of some random person bumping into her and causing it to splash everywhere. It hadn’t happened yet, but it could.
Once again, she made it to the other side unscathed. While reaching for a cup sleeve, she read the label that said, ‘Use this and don’t sue us.’ She almost laughed but she spotted the man coming from the back of the store.
He’d been in the restroom.
Duh. Why didn’t she think of that?
His face, still rosy from the cold, had a sad expression. Even from a distance she could see his lips were chapped.
He stopped at the drink station by the tea brewers. At the top of the tea brewers sat a spout with a bright red handle and the word HOT printed in bold white letters. The man leaned against the counter in such a way that would free his other hand so that he could get hot water without losing his pants.
Krystal opened her mouth to offer assistance when an agitated clerk walked over. His name was Ray. Krystal didn’t know him very well yet; he’d only started working there a few weeks ago
Even so, he’d seemed nice enough, until now.
“Hold on,” Ray said. “You hold the cup and I’ll hold the switch. Keep a hold of your pants.”
Krystal didn’t like Ray’s tone but the man obeyed without a word.
Hot water leaked through a small hole in the cup the man must’ve missed upon inspection. It splashed on his arm causing him to release the cup, which landed on the floor, spewing the rest of its contents in the air. Jumping back, the man yelped and Ray cussed.
“That’s why you shouldn’t get them out of the trash!” Ray gestured toward the cup as he stomped over to pick it up.
Krystal cleared her throat. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
The man turned around to face Krystal momentarily before looking at the ground. His cheeks changed from splotchy pink to stop-sign red. Krystal saw he was younger than she’d initially thought, maybe around thirty. His receding hairline gave a different impression at a glance.
He shifted under her gaze. Krystal realized she was staring and obviously making him uncomfortable. She held her cup up to reiterate her offer.
Finally, he said, “Yes, please.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” he answered quickly.
“Well, make yourself a big cup of coffee and then we’ll get some other things together, okay?”
“Thank you.” His voice cracked and Krystal wondered how long it’d been since he’d spoken aloud. Hours? Days? Weeks?
As he limped toward the coffee island, still holding onto his pants, Krystal noticed his shoes were in as poor shape as the rest of his attire. Surprised he hadn’t walked right out of them leaving a pile of leather and threads, her heart wrenched. She sent up a quick prayer for him.
Lord, bless him and guide me.
Dumbfounded, Ray the clerk, still stood on the sidelines. When Krystal directed a small smile his way, his shoulders sagged. He appeared so crestfallen she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
She turned to head to the back of the store. When Ray spoke she turned back around.
“That was really nice of you.”
“It’s no big deal, really.”
Ray hadn’t been very nice today, but she could see what was happening here and there was no reason to make Ray feel any worse. He did a fine job of feeling bad all by himself.
Krystal traipsed to the back of the store. Already certain she’d be late, she figured there was no need to rush. Perusing the choices of water, she selected two twenty-ounce bottles. She wanted to get bigger ones but didn’t want the bag to be too heavy. The man needed to carry his bag and manage to keep his pants up at the same time. On the way to the front she spotted medicated lip balm and grabbed two packages.
“Do you need a ride?” She asked, walking up behind the man. He startled when she spoke. “Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump.”
He pivoted enough to face her as he carefully placed a lid on his coffee one-handedly.
“No.” He shook his head as he spoke. “I have to meet someone in a couple of hours. It’s near here.”
“Are you staying somewhere?”
“Well,” his eyes went to the floor and she noticed the tips of his ears reddened, “The man I am meeting is going to help me check into a place. It’s a… It’s a halfway house.”
“That’s good,” she said and patted his shoulder. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all need help sometimes.”
Happy he would eventually have a roof over his head, she wondered how he would stay warm until then. Thinking it over, she knew she didn’t have anything in her car that would help keep him warm for the next couple of hours. Maybe he would take her coat even though it was a regal purple color. It was long and warm. Plus it would cover so much of him that he wouldn’t be indecent if his pants did fall.
She wouldn’t tell him it was her favorite coat. As skinny as he was, she knew it would fit him. No risk of it being too small.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Nice to meet you, Jesse. I’m Krystal.”
He gave a slight nod and sat his cup down so that he could shake her hand without letting go of his jeans. Krystal noticed his hands were clean.
“I appreciate this.” He turned away and she saw his internal struggle as clear as if it played on a TV screen. Accepting help was hard for him.
What’s his story?
“Look, Jesse.” Krystal began unbuttoning her coat. “I know it’s girly, but I want you to take my coat.”
Obviously mortified at the thought, Jesse’s eyes widened to the size of plums as he waved his one free hand in rejection of the offer.
“I can’t take your coat.”
Krystal wanted to laugh, but didn’t. Clearly, he wouldn’t be caught dead in her long, lady-like, purple coat. Sighing, she shifted her weight to her other leg and prepared to reason with him, delicately, of course. But dead is what he’d be if he was exposed to this weather much longer.
Maybe I should take him to work with me…
“Take mine then,” Ray said from behind them. He was holding his own winter coat. Krystal’s smile spread and her heart warmed. “Take this too,” Ray held a belt in his other hand, his own now gone from his waist.
Jesse’s shock caused Krystal’s eyes to glisten. Watching the exchange nearly caused her heart to burst out of her chest. She’d understood God correctly.
Jesse was definitely more excited about the belt than the coat. Krystal simply couldn’t comprehend how, but Jesse’s eyes went from dull to bright at the sight of the belt.
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said breathlessly as he looped the belt around his waist and hooked it in the last loop with room to spare. Relief spread over him like frosting. Solace from not having to hold his pants up any longer was tangible. The lines in his forehead relaxed and his eyes softened.
“Thank you, Ray.” Krystal said reaching out and wrapping her fingers around his forearm for just the briefest moment. Ray blushed.
“It’s nothing.” Ray said.
Oh, but it’s everything.
Ray shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at Jesse. “I’m sorry for my attitude earlier. I didn’t mean to take out my problems on you.”
“It’s ok,” Jesse said, as he stretched out his hand. The two men shook hands. “I appreciate this. All of it.” Jesse looked at Krystal and back at Ray.
The change in both men’s dispositions was nothing short of miraculous.
Jesse blossomed instantly after securing the belt around his waist. A smidge of his integrity had been restored. Krystal wondered what other changes she would be able to see if more of it was given back.
They gathered up some beef jerky and heated a burrito. She snagged a cold sandwich from the case and a bag of chips off the shelf. They took it all to the counter along with the water and their coffees so she could pay. At the same time, she borrowed a pen from Sue and asked for a piece of paper. A misty-eyed Sue hit a button on her register and receipt paper slowly stuttered out, groaning in complaint. Before she left, Krystal handed Jesse the paper with her cell phone number on it.
“I’d like to help you get some clothes that fit if it’s okay. Once you’re settled, give me a call and we can make some arrangements.”
“I’m told the people who run the house will assist me with that,” Ray said not able to look her in the eyes for more than a moment at a time.
“Well, keep my number… just in case. Call me if you need anything. Okay?”
“Alright.” He lifted his head, meeting her eyes. The sadness and weariness were visible again. Again, she wondered what Jesse’s story was.
Krystal sat in her car for a moment and watched Jesse cross the parking lot to the sidewalk and head west. Was this whole experience more for Jesse or for Ray? Probably both, she decided. God is a phenomenal multi-tasker.
Though she had a prestigious client waiting, Krystal didn’t rush. She didn’t think he would mind her tardiness since he didn’t know she was coming.
C.L. Wells is a JANE-OF-ALL-TRADES, with a passion for writing and animals. She lives in Kansas with her family, which includes a fat doggie who is not named Toto and a cat who moonlights as an escape artist. Feel free to ask her about the ‘escape artist.’ She plans to write about it someday. She would love hearing from you.
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