When I signed my first novel contract with NavPress, they asked for two books. Wishing on Dandelions follows Maranatha Winningham into high school where she now has to grapple with romance while still being haunted by a past of sexual abuse. My hope and intention has always been to write a third Maranatha book, to follow her into adulthood, but alas, a publisher hasn’t obliged it yet. The book is no longer in print, but you can purchase an autographed copy here if you’re interested.
Here is the second chapter of book two. This takes place in East Texas, a fact that will become quite clear as you read.
“Cool it, Natha. It’s me!”
Maranatha spun around to see Charlie, Zady’s son. She slapped him on the side of his brown face. “Don’t you ever do that again.”
Charlie rubbed his cheek and smiled. “Great left hook you have there. Is that how you greet all your boyfriends?”
“Only the ones who sneak up on me and scare me half to death.” She let out her breath—finally—and smiled.
He stepped closer. Errant raindrops fell between them like a beaded curtain. “It’s good to see you smile.”
Something in her stomach roiled, mimicking the clouds rumbling above her. She longed to bridge the gap between them, to permeate the rain curtain with the joy of new love, but she couldn’t. Someone watching from the outside might think she hesitated because Charlie wore a different color on his skin, but she’d learned a long time ago that a house’s exterior paint meant nothing, it was the house’s insides that was important. She knew Charlie’s interior was good, but she wondered if he hid behind pretend goodness, that something more lurked there behind the nice-looking wallpaper. She stepped back.
“When will you let me kiss you, Natha?” She could see that Charlie wore an expression of grief and hope as Maranatha played this painful tug-of-war with his heart.
“When I’m good and ready,” she said. Part of her wanted to fling her pale arms around his neck and touch her lips to his; the other part wanted to sprint as far as she could in the other direction.
“There’s not much daylight left in summer.” As he said it, thunder rumbled the earth and heat lightning illuminated the crepe myrtle behind him.
“There’s not much daylight left in today,” she said, changing the subject from time to weather. The rain bucketed from the clouds now, hissing, then drenching the pavement a few yards away. “Best get going,” she shouted through the rain.
“I got my pick-up beyond here. Want a ride?”
“Why should I ride with a creep who lurks and grabs me?” She smiled as she said it, but she could detect a slight wavering to his smile—a tinge of hurt.
“Suit yourself.” He turned toward the road, head down.
Maranatha reached through the rain and grabbed his elbow. “No, I’m sorry. Of course I’ll ride with you.”
As she said it, wind blew through her, nearly lifting her off her feet. In a moment, the rain ceased, revealing a sky no longer purple, but sickly green. A siren moaned in the distance. The doves did not sing. After the wind’s violent gust, stillness settled where earth met sky, a stillness that felt like punishment delayed.
“Too late.” Charlie grabbed her arm. “Over the gate. Hurry.”
“Why can’t we take the truck?”
“Not enough time. It’s having troubles starting.” He pulled her toward the gate.
They climbed over the wrought iron, both dropping on the other side. The dandelions stood perfectly still, their translucent heads reflecting the sky’s angry green.
“Is there shelter here?” Charlie ran toward the house as he said it. “Real shelter?”
“A cellar in the woods,” she gasped. Her legs sprinted through the dandelions, their fuzz clinging to her legs. “Beyond the house.”
The earth and sky roared anger. Maranatha stopped and looked up. The green sky snarled, churning clouds around and around, like they were headed down a toilet bowl. Only there was no bowl for the sky to flush. No hole deep enough to contain its fury. She could see the funnel now, landing right near the farmer’s house she’d passed. Fascination and terror rooted her to the ground. Love and tornados had the same hold on her—of utter panic and irresistible lure. Charlie seemed far away now, almost to the pillars of the house. He didn’t see her. Lightning zigzagged the sky above her in rick-racked abandon. It struck a pine tree with a furious flash. She smelled the distant odor of campfire, but she stood still.
Charlie’s voice was far away now, indistinct, like a radio station un-tuned. The tornado spied her, changed directions and raced toward her. There was solace in knowing that it was coming for her. At least she could see it. At least it didn’t sneak up on her and throw its windy hands around her eyes. This enemy, she could see.
Charlie shouted in her ear, his breath coming in heaves. “What’re you doing? Come on!” He seized her hand and pulled her away from the place she had stood, the place marked X, where the tornado was seeking its treasure. She ran until her lungs hurt from heaving air in and out.
“Where is it?” Charlie was looking wild-eyed at the ground, searching.
“Where is what?”
“The shelter. Where is it?”
“Near the birdhouse. Back there.” She pointed toward the woods. In front of the stand of pines stood an un-scorched yellow birdhouse, high on a pole. She led Charlie toward it as the sky chased them, rolling, rumbling, yelling at their heels. The house behind them exploded. Charred debris flew in wild trajectories. A burnt two-by-four catapulted past Maranatha’s head. “Here!” she yelled above the relentless wail of the funnel cloud. She pointed to a door hinged on a cement platform anchored to the earth.
Charlie pulled the rusted handle. It broke in his hands. He crouched lower, bloodying his fingers around the outline of the door while the wind blew in horizontal terror. Maranatha wedged her thinner fingers into the jam and pried, heaving the door one inch above the ground. Her body lightened. She wondered what it felt like to fly. Charlie pushed his hands beneath the door and flung it heavenward. The hole beneath the ground was as black as the sky. The house’s ash swirled around them and stung their eyes. Maranatha still had one hand on the door’s frame as her body lifted. Charlie snatched her free arm, pulling her down toward laddered stairs. “You first,” he yelled.
As he pulled the door almost shut, something hit him square in the temple, toppling him over Maranatha. He thudded to the cellar’s earth below.
She scrambled down the ladder as the door ripped from its rusty hinges.
“Charlie, are you all right?” She yelled the words, but even she couldn’t hear them. Bits and pieces of burnt house fell through the cellar opening where Charlie lay below it, motionless. She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing herself to adjust to the darkness of the earthen hole. When she opened them, she saw the depth of the room. Grasping him under his arms, she pulled Charlie away from the gaping mouth above to a more sheltered corner. “Charlie! Wake up!”
He didn’t stir.
“Help,” she said, but the tornado devoured her words.
Wet warmed her hands where she’d touched Charlie’s head. The heat congealed the blood, made her fingers sticky. The thought of it caused her stomach to erupt, burning her esophagus. I hate blood.
The open doorway rained dust and wood and foliage just as the clouds spat rain minutes before. Like the rainstorm Maranatha had learned to mimic when a storyteller came to her grade-school assembly, first the debris slapped hands, then it thudded on the thighs, followed by the snapping of fingers and then a gentle swishing of the hands. Dust sprinkled down as light filtered the particles.
It illuminated her bloody hands.
“Help.” This time she could hear herself speak, but her voice sounded swallowed. “Charlie. Wake up.” She shook him lightly at the shoulders. Nothing. She bent close to his lips, the lips she longed to graze, but was afraid to kiss, and felt his breath against her cheek. Alive.
“You stay right there. I’ll be back.” She touched his cheek with her sticky hand before climbing the ladder. Popping her head above the surface of the ground like a curious prairie dog, she planted her red hands on the red earth. The pillars that had stood tall, that defied the attack of fire, were gone, leveled instead by wind. The cement slab looked as if it were ready for carpenters to start framing, like God had taken a broom and swept it near clean. The dandelion field beyond had lost its white hair and all of its wishes. Green slender bodies without heads swayed in the cooler breeze. The always-locked gate stood skewed on one hinge and the squirrel that once looked toward the sky, gazed earthward, like he was praying.
Maranatha ran toward the broken gate. The storm’s grit tasted like charred sand in her open mouth. Her hair twirled around her head, but this time she didn’t welcome its wildness. She shook her face free of it as she loped through the gate’s skewed threshold. At the road, she prayed. Asked God for help. Asked God for someone to please drive by.
He answered in the form of Georgeanne Peach. Maranatha waved down the red Thunderbird, only to watch her drive beyond, stop, and circle back around.
Georgeanne parked in front of the gate, pulled her rearview mirror to herself, checked her reflection, and then got out. “What’s all this about, Mara-naytha?”
She shrugged off the mispronunciation and puzzled at Georgeanne’s nonchalance. “The tornado—it passed right over us.”
“Us? You and Zane? Where’s Zane?”
“I don’t know where Uncle Zane is. He’s probably—”
“Dead? Is he dead?” Her perfectly mascara-ed eyes registered panic.
“No, he’s not here. Hurry. Charlie’s hurt. We need to get him to the hospital.” Maranatha started toward the slab, shoving her blood-caked hands in her pockets.
Georgeanne followed, but very slowly, her heeled feet picking their way through the dandelions. Maranatha turned back and pled with her eyes.
Georgeanne planted her hands on her hips. “Charlie? Isn’t he that black boy? Why, what in the world were you two doing, Mara-naytha?”
“Running from a tornado. Now hurry!”
Georgeanne stopped. “Tell you what. I’ll go get you some help. I’ll call you an ambulance, OK? Why don’t you come with?” Her voice was slow, painfully slow, drawn out like Ed McMahon’s Here’s Johnny, only there was no Johnny to her slowness, no real ending to her sentence. She was the kind of talker that left you wondering if she was ever through. She always ended her voice high and drawn out, like there was something else to say.
“And leave Charlie?”
“Of course. He’ll be fine. He’s a strong boy, isn’t he?” She examined her nails and picked at a hangnail.
Maranatha stared at the blondish woman. “I’m staying here. With Charlie. Get an ambulance now.”
“Sure thing,” the perfect red lips said. “But I can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Warn me about what?”
“Other folks won’t like it, darling. Not one bit.” She shook her head, her hair staying in one place like an over hair-sprayed wig. “Finding you with a colored boy out in the middle of nowhere.” She shook her head, nose in the air. “You know how my friends will talk and talk. It’ll make a terrible muddle for your Uncle Zane, too. Chocolate and vanilla, they never mix, baby.” Her perfectly spoken words had the cadence of molasses, painfully slow and forever stained.
With that, she meandered to her car and left, leaving Maranatha alone in the decapitated dandelion field with hot anger.
Though the sun followed her, she shivered as she jogged back to the cellar.