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Haley Hawthorne is a successful Art Director at a high-powered greeting card company in Manhattan. Designer clothes and expensive material luxuries are what she uses to try and fill the emptiness inside -- but it wasn't always that way for her.
Orphaned at a young age, Haley was raised in rural Dunbar Falls by her Uncle Nelson amid pasture lands and a clear sense of the things that matter most in life, including her joyful relationship with God.
One day Aaron Carrier, her old friend from Dunbar Falls pays her a surprise visit to her office at Sterling Greeting Cards with devastating news about Uncle Nelson. When she returns home to Dunbar Falls, Haley is faced with a professional decision upon inheriting Uncle Nelson’s air-conditioning company. More than that, she faces a crossroads in her heart. It is a crisis of faith, of loyalty and of love.
What does God want her to do? Will she be able to return home to Dunbar Falls and all that it has meant for her? And will Aaron Carrier be more than a friend?
"This is a sweet read. It is a wonderful story that gives you a chance
to reflect your own choices in life, similar to Ms. Andrews’s
"Ms. Hawthorne, could you look at these proofs?"
"Do you have a minute to go over this copy together, Ms. Hawthorne?"
“A call for you from Grace on line three, Ms. Hawthorne!”
Haley Hawthorne tossed her long red curls over her shoulder as she swept through the Creative Area of Sterling Greeting Cards. She carried a designer bag in one hand and a steaming latté in the other.
As Senior Art Director for the largest greeting card company in the world, these early morning entrances refreshed her enough to get through the day ahead. They were her redemption. But I can remember a time when I didn't feel like that, and it wasn’t so very long ago.
A hush fell over the flock of artists and interns following behind her as she passed. With a frown she accepted a stack of messages from the leathery, outstretched hands of her receptionist Bernice, a fixture at Sterling’s for over forty years.
“I’m already carrying too much, Bernice,” she murmured.
“There, there.” With a motherly pat, Bernice tucked the papers under Haley’s arm. “Toting a heavy load can weigh you down, Haley. Maybe it’s time to think about what you really need to carry and what you can let go.” She gave Haley a look.
“Maybe you're right, Bernice.” As if I haven't already tried! That’s what was keeping her awake most nights. The old Haley used to travel light and breezy, her heart and soul as free as a bird. But lately she felt heavy in her heart and she couldn’t put her finger on why. How had things changed so much?
Ignoring the chirp of her cell phone, Haley walked down the corridor to her office, glancing at the framed collections of award-winning cards on the walls and the shelves crowded with shining trophies she'd won over the years. When would she get a chance to start her own company?
The fact that all her talent was padding someone else's profit column wasn’t the only thing bothering her these days. There was something else that had been nagging at her for some time now, an emptiness she couldn’t fill with work...or with her boyfriend, Derek, either. All she knew was that she had to get through each day.
Her young assistant, Suzie, unlatched the chrome double doors to her office for her and Haley flashed the smile that had been opening doors for her all her life.
She called over her shoulder, “I’ll get to all of you in a minute." The entourage scattered, leaving her and Suzie in the peaceful calm of her office.
And then she saw him.
"Aaron Carrier! I can’t believe it! What are you doing here?”
She put down her bag and her coffee and reached her hands out to him after smoothing her lemon yellow designer suit.
She gave him a warm hug, then turned to her assistant."I've known this guy since we were kids. He and his two brothers were like triplets, they were so alike. I'll never forget when he insisted we start calling him Carrier, to be different from his brothers Adam and Austin. Boy, were they mad…"
With his broad, six-foot frame blocking the Manhattan skyline in the window behind him, Haley noticed how his glinting azure eyes and thick hair had grown more imposing in the ten years that had passed since she had last seen him.
He jammed his fists deep into the pockets of his jeans. “Hey. We have to talk, Haley. It’s about Nelson.”
Her heartbeat quickened. “You’ve come all the way here from Dunbar Falls to tell me something about Uncle Nelson?” She glanced at Suzie, then back at him. “It must be bad news.”
“I’ll have Bernice hold all of your calls.” Suzie hustled off in a cloud of expensive perfume, latching the door behind her with a solid ‘click’.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Carrier. Is it bad?”
“Yeah. The worst.”
Carrier nodded. “Last night.” His piercing blue eyes, steely as two sapphires, searched her face. But they didn't stop there; they burned into her soul.
“Oh,” she sank into a chair. Closing her eyes, she did something she hadn’t done in ages; she said a prayer. Bless him, Lord, and keep him in Your eternal care.
Only she wasn’t sure how much of it was for Uncle Nelson and how much of it was for her. After a moment she opened her eyes, focusing on the carpet. “How did he-?”
“In his sleep.”
“So it was peaceful.”
“You actually care?”
Startled by his tone, she looked up at him, only to find him regarding her as if he smelled a vat of rancid egg salad.
“Of course I care!”
He continued accusingly: “You haven’t seen him or been back home to Dunbar Falls in ten years.”
Her heartbeat quickened again. “Well, um,...That’s not quite exactly true. I’ve been back. I’ve seen him.”
She nodded as Carrier approached her so closely that she could smell his cologne. Could it be that same fantastic stuff he had been wearing that night on Johnnycake Hill? The memories flashed back into her mind, and so did her embarrassment.
“When were you back?” He looked at her in disbelief.
“Not too long ago.”
“Just that once?”
She shrugged. “Not really. More like, once in a while.”
“I don’t understand.” He looked closely at her. “Why don’t you want to tell me?” His tone eased. “We go way back.”
“You don’t just throw away your old childhood friends.”
“That’s not what I’m doing. Did. Things just change and people move on, that’s all. I don’t remember getting any messages from you. It goes both ways.”
“You left without saying goodbye. I knew you couldn’t wait to get out of Dunbar Falls! I respected that.”
She stood up.” I thought you came here to talk about Uncle Nelson.”
He wagged an index finger through the air towards her. “You’re trying to change the subject, Haley.”
“Carrier! Uncle Nelson died last night! That is what you came here for, isn’t it? To tell me?” Taking a deep breath, she smoothed her curls. Give me strength, Lord! “When is the service?”
“Actually, Watson’s needs to speak with you about that.”
“I’ll call them right away.” Noticing that his hand was on the doorknob, Haley suddenly felt that if she let him walk out now, she’d lose a part of herself and a part of her past forever. Help me, please, Lord! What do I say?
She quickly slipped herself between him and the door. “Listen, Uncle Nelson raised me. He understood that it was natural for me to leave. Being part-owner with his friend William Tyler, he gave me this entrée here at Sterling Cards. Nelson's air conditioning company was a great business, but it's black and white, Carrier, not creative."
She waved her hand around the office. “Look at what I’ve created here! This kind of vision is what I put into my greeting cards. There's texture, there's color. It's evocative and emotional. I couldn’t do this with condensing units at Hawthorne Mechanicals, as much as I loved Uncle Nelson. And I couldn’t do it in the vacuum that is Dunbar Falls. Nelson understood that."
"You don't have to defend your decision, or explain anything to me, Haley."
"I know. I'm not."
"But I know the real you. And you were running away, Haley.”
“I was headed for college,” she murmured.
“And what about Brandon Winterbottom?”
She felt the color flood her cheeks as she recalled the gang of kids laughing at her after the prom. “Ancient history. I was over him that night when he dumped me."
"It was a pretty public dumping. And after the prom."
"Thanks for reminding me! He dumped me in front of everyone. If it weren't for you, I would have walked home. So thanks again, Carrier." She changed her tone, trying to lighten things up between them and added: "Hey, I lived."
He nodded. “And Nelson knew the way you felt about things?”
Haley’s thoughts went back to her uncle’s cozy study; their prayer times and their endless talks by the hearth with a comforting blaze crackling in the fireplace. Haley always thought of her Uncle Nelson, at seventy-five, as a spry and vigorous man who would just go on forever. What will I ever do without him?
“He never mentioned your visits or anything to me.”
“I asked him not to.”
Her voice was barely above a whisper. “I was too embarrassed." All the familiar humiliation came flooding back.
“But there was nothing to be embarrassed about, Haley.”
“Maybe that’s not how I saw it,” she said. "The whole town was laughing at me that night."
He shook her head. “I couldn’t believe it. You never even said good-bye to me. We were friends.”
“I’m sorry about that. I just had to go.”
"You wanted to go."
"Whatever." Her cell phone chirped again. She was grateful for the interruption. This talk with Carrier was getting way too close to her core. Glancing at the sender, she saw it was another call from Derek and muted the ringer. She couldn’t deal with him right now. Not when she was dealing with her past. “Sorry about that, too.”
“Typical big city stuff, huh?” Carrier raised an eyebrow.
“Right. Pretty empty, though, all of it. With the news you just brought me, Carrier, my big city stuff and the card industry really don’t seem that important right now.”
Reaching for her designer case, she moved from the doors. She could feel Carrier's eyes blazing through her like a high-tech core-boring machine. Right through her impeccable facade and deep into her less than perfect heart, just like she knew he would.
Yet, for all the confusion he created in her, the heaviness she had been feeling had lifted since he had been there, too. What did that mean?
“There’s no reason to run from me now, Haley. A lot of time has passed. Things have changed for both of us.”
Her lips were parted to reply, but the look in his eyes stopped her short. His forlorn expression tugged at a very special part of her, the part that designed greeting cards so loaded with feeling that they flew off the store shelves as quickly as she could pump them out. She hadn’t felt this in a long, long time.
His expression was filling a gap in her, for he was filling her with exactly the kind of emotion that was so totally absent from her own life. How had that emptiness happened?
She shook her head. It was too much for now. Her thoughts turned back to the present, with Carrier. He was hurting from this loss, too.
She moistened her lips. “You’re right, Carrier, things have changed for both of us. This is a lot for me to digest now. I wasn’t planning on seeing you, it’s a shock. Just give me some time, that’s all. I know you’ll miss him, too.”
Something in his eyes went cold. It seemed to take forever before he answered her.
“Nelson was a phenomenal man, a pioneer in business and a trailblazing entrepreneur. But in the end, he was just another Hawthorne who never said good-bye to me,” he finally said.
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