About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Birdie Etchison
Truly YoursCopyright © 1999 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Courtney Adams was late. She hurried into the choir room and grabbed her robe.
"Hey, what's up?" her best friend, Tina, asked, turning to give her a hug. "Thought you were sick or something."
"Listen, we need to get together sometime. Maybe after church?"
Tina smiled. "Sure. If I can talk Mike into waiting."
Courtney frowned. Of course. She was constantly forgetting that Tina was married now. They'd been close friends for so many years, sharing everything that happened in their lives. All that had changed drastically after Tina married a year ago.
The organist was playing the introit, and the choir sang as they came into the sanctuary. Courtney pulled the robe down over her skirt, adjusted the collar, and straightened her long, dark hair with her hand. She hoped she looked okay.
Harmonizing with the sopranos, she quickly got into place and walked on down the aisle. She caught a smile from her mother and a wink from another friend. Tina's husband beamed at his wife. As often happened, Courtney got a lump in her throat when she saw her best friend with her husband. They had such a wonderful relationship, and she couldn't help thinking and hoping and wondering if someday she might find that perfect someone, too.
As the music ended, the choir assembled on the chairs off to the side of the pulpit. Courtney scanned the audience. She had a bird's-eye view and could spot a visitor in a second. Her gaze came to light on a young man with immense shoulders and a smile on his face. He sat in the second pew. Her breath caught. Funny, but he had looked up just as she saw him, and they stared at each other for a long moment. She looked away as Pastor Sam asked for a show of hands of visitors. Each Sunday morning he passed out bookmarks to visitors—crosses made by the Women's Guild.
A hand shot up, and Courtney looked at the stranger again. "And where are you from?" Pastor Sam asked.
"Right here in Portland," came the answer. Courtney's heart skipped a beat. Silly, she admonished herself. You know how you really feel about dating, so stop looking. Stop thinking that it might be possible for you to find someone, to be happy. It will never be possible, not until you find your birth mother.
The other newcomers were lost to Courtney, though she usually paid careful attention. She felt a finger poking her ribs, and she realized they were standing to sing the first anthem, "O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing!"
She could have sung that in her sleep. She'd always been in a choir, starting out with the junior choir. She couldn't remember a time when she hadn't attended a church, a time when she hadn't trusted and believed in the Lord. She had accepted Him as her personal Savior at a young age—her mother, that is, her adoptive mother, Alice, had recorded it in her Seven-Year Baby Book. Nobody could have asked for a more wonderful parent. And her father, God rest his soul, had been there for her, attending her games, taking her to swim lessons, always her best and loudest cheering section. She had been devastated when he died of a sudden heart attack two years ago. And Alice had been bereft, but they'd turned to the church, as always, and been uplifted.
Courtney wasn't sure when it first hit her, but one day she railed at God about not being able to find her real mother. She'd made every effort, sending letters, getting help from the library and the Internet, but so far had come to a dead end. Why wouldn't God let her find her mother? Would it be like Tina said, that she might find her and discover she didn't want to be found?
Courtney found out that was sometimes the case when she talked to a counselor about it. "Some birth mothers have not told their families about their pregnancy or about giving their child up. A grown person suddenly appearing on their doorstep can put a strain on a marriage and the relationship with their other children."
"But I have a right to know," Courtney had replied. "I need information about my medical background." Tears formed in her eyes as she remembered the year she was fifteen and had to drop out of high school. Her symptoms had been so weird. She had been exhausted every hour of every day. She could hardly eat, had no appetite, and though she wasn't in pain, she was listless. Her throat was raw and her side was tingly.
"Mono," the doctor had said at first. The tests came back negative. Then the numbness started; there were more tests, and an MRI ruled out multiple sclerosis or a brain tumor, but no diagnosis had ever been made.
"We'll fight this," Alice had said. "You're strong. Healthy. I know God can heal you."
And she had gotten better. Not immediately; she suffered through six months of being weak and nauseated. Then the symptoms left as fast as they had appeared.
"But what if it happens again?" had been Courtney's question. "I need to know what my birth mother had, if this is something that was passed on to me."
Alice had been helpful and understanding when Courtney said she wanted to find her birth mother. "I think I would feel that way also, dear. But," and her mother had enfolded her in her arms, "I think Tina is right. Your real mother may not want to be found."
"And if that's so," Courtney had said as she flounced across the kitchen, "then I'll accept that. I won't bug her. Believe me; I know when I am not wanted."
"Your father and I have loved you from that first moment you were placed in our arms."
* * *
"Are you daydreaming, asleep, or what?" Tina was yanking on her robe. It was prayer time.
"I was just thinking."
"That's obvious," Tina whispered behind the back of her hand.
Courtney glanced up to find the stranger gazing at her again. She trembled.
Who is that gorgeous hunk? Tina wrote on the margin of her bulletin.
"How should I know?" Courtney said.
"And what's he doing here?"
"Maybe he's my brother."
Someone kicked the back of her chair. Courtney looked straight ahead, stifling a giggle. Sitting next to Tina meant sharing notes and thoughts. They'd done that when they were younger, but now they were supposedly mature twenty-three-year-old women, a bit old for passing notes.
She looked up and the man smiled, then winked at her. She felt the color flood her cheeks. She tore her eyes away, hoping nobody had noticed. She knew, however, that her mother would have; she was that perceptive, and there would be questions once they got home.
When the service was over, and after she removed her choir robe, Courtney took longer than usual to fix her hair. She brushed it high on each side and secured it with gold clasps. Tina was always bugging her about cutting her hair, but so far she liked it just fine this way. She could French-braid it, wear a George Washington ponytail, or wear a high one like she had when she was in grade school. If she felt extra young, she wore two ponytails.
"Are you coming or what?" Tina stood in the doorway, her short hair in place and an impatient look on her round face. "Sometimes you are slower than slow."
Grabbing her handbag, she joined Tina on the way down the back stairs to the fellowship hall. "I had to fix my hair again," she finally said.
Tina stopped and looked down at her friend. "You wouldn't have that problem if you'd just get it cut."
Courtney felt her insides bristle. "Did I say it was a problem? You said it; I didn't." The last thing Courtney wanted was to feel out of sorts today. Her mind kept going to the stranger and how he had smiled and nodded at the sermon, how his gaze kept meeting hers, how he'd actually winked. No, today felt good. Today she could put aside some of her concerns. Missing her father. Wondering, again, how to locate her birth mother. Why was it so difficult for her when others had found lost ones in a day, sometimes even hours?
Tina had said something. Courtney knew it by the exasperated look on her face, and she'd missed it because she'd been daydreaming.
"I repeat," Tina began again, "your mind isn't receiving messages this morning."
Courtney turned and hugged her friend. Tina had always been plump, but now with her advancing pregnancy, she had become a round butterball. "I'm so excited with the baby coming and all. Guess I got to thinking about how you must feel about now."
There were others on the steps going down, so the two girls paused and Tina glanced up. "I can't get used to the kicks. I think I have a soccer player in there."
As they entered the already-filled hall, the smell of coffee made Courtney's stomach growl. All she'd had that morning was a quick cup and a day-old doughnut from the bread box.
"Hey." Tina pulled her close, nodding at one corner. "Isn't that the new guy over there? You can't miss him; he's so tall."
Courtney's heart zigged, then zagged. Yes, it was him. She felt like she was back in her freshman year when she'd had her first real boyfriend and they'd attended all the football games. Rick. Funny. She hadn't thought of him for years until now. Perhaps it was the height.
"Knowing you, you'll be over introducing yourself—" Tina was interrupted when Mike appeared, took her hand, and pulled her toward the refreshment table.
"I'll talk to you later," Courtney said to her friend's retreating back. Of course, if Mike had his way, he'd have her out the door in nothing flat. The baseball playoffs were coming up, and Mike was a baseball fan.
"Hey, Court, did you sign up for next Saturday's soup kitchen?" Karen was at her elbow, clipboard with dangling pencil in hand. "I think I need just two more."
"Sure, Karen. Put me down. You can forge my name."
Courtney continued along. One thing for sure, the church needed a larger fellowship hall. She wondered if there wouldn't be talk about an expansion in the near future. Relocating was out of the question, as members of the administrative board had already vetoed that idea. But they had the parking lot, and the owners of the next two lots had offered to sell in the event the church voted on adding a recreation hall.
She found herself in the stranger's corner. Finally. Courtney had always been good with words—could talk her way out of a traffic ticket, had talked her English teacher into giving her an A-instead of a B+ on a test. That ability had put her on the high school debate team, and Parkrose had taken first place at state competition the first time ever. But suddenly she felt awkward as her eyes met the stranger's. How could she be tongue-tied now? He was the first to speak as he held out his hand and took hers. She immediately felt the warmth, the strength in his handshake.
"Hello. I'm Steven, Steven Spencer. And you are?"
She felt color rise to her cheeks. "Courtney. Adams."
He still held her hand, and she found herself liking it very much.
"Do you want some coffee?" He smiled, revealing two dimples. "I decided to wait until the line dwindled down."
"I'd love some, but you are the guest. I should be the one offering to get yours—" She was babbling and she never, ever babbled—not even when she was a baby.
"Nonsense. We'll both go get it. You lead the way."
Courtney wove through the crowd, nodding at this one, pausing to hug another. Steven almost ran into her once but stopped in time.
Finally they both had coffee—black—and a chocolate brownie each. "I was led to this church this morning," Steven said. "Just thought I'd tell you that."
She felt mesmerized by his intense look. "Led? And just how do you mean?" She had a picture of someone putting a collar around his neck and leading him down the street to the church with the loud bell. So many churches had stopped ringing the bells ten minutes before the service. She was glad Parkrose Community had not.
"A voice told me to come here."
He was joking. She knew it. Courtney was often gullible, but not this time. "And you want me to believe this." She took a deep sip of her coffee, burning her tongue.
His dark eyes flashed with humor. "No. I am serious. Honest. A voice told me it was time I found a church to attend on Sundays. The voice just happens to belong to my grandmother."
"Oh." Well, that explained it.
"The only problem being Grams has been gone for nine years now."
Courtney nearly choked on the brownie. He reached over and touched her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"I don't believe in voices," Courtney said. "Only God's voice."
He grinned now. How many expressions could one face have? "Oh, I believe in God's voice, but sometimes He has people to send important messages. Do you not believe this?"
Courtney found it difficult at the moment to know what she believed. She glanced away and noticed the fellowship hall was clearing out. People usually mingled for just a few minutes before heading for home. Obviously Mike and Tina had left already.
"I suppose you need to go." He was talking again, not waiting for her answer, but she wanted to give him one.
"I believe God delivers His message to many people, and I must admit I've heard voices leading me, helping me make a decision." She smiled and felt herself relax.
"Say, would you like to get lunch somewhere?" He looked expectant. "And if not now, perhaps another time?"
The coffee was gone, and she turned to set the cup down. "I have a standing date for lunch after church with my aunt Agnes in Gresham, but thanks."
Karen came over with the clipboard. "I can't get anyone else to sign up. Know somebody else, Court? Someone I may not know of?"
Karen was as tall as Courtney was short. She held the clipboard out to Courtney to read, but her eyes were on Steven. "Hi." She smiled. "Karen Martin."
"Steven Spencer. And what's this for?"
"Our soup kitchen Saturday morning. We take turns serving. The young adults have it this coming week. The men's group serves one week, the guild another, and the youth group one."
"This Saturday?" Steven smiled. "Sure, I'll do it."
Before Courtney could suggest a name, Steven had grabbed the clipboard and penciled his name in. "Ten o'clock? No problem."
"You didn't have to do that, but it was nice of you," Courtney said after Karen left.
"It's time to get involved in the community—"
"Is that something else the voice said to you?"
He laughed. "No. Actually, it was my own voice saying it the minute Karen said she needed one more person."
"It's fun. You'll like the people. So many walks of life." She was rambling again, and she didn't want to ramble in front of a stranger. Yet Steven didn't seem like a stranger. In some ways she felt she had known him for a long time. Funny how some people affected you that way.
"Listen, I'd better let you get on with your visit. Gres-ham's a few miles out there. I'll see you on Saturday, if not before." He handed her a card and removed another from the inside of his suit coat pocket. "I need your phone number."
She took the card. "Steven R. Spencer, Computer Analyst." The office was located in the downtown area. Her heart skipped another beat. In fact, he was located just four blocks from the law office on Fifth and Market where she worked as a legal assistant.
"I have a card also." She dug into the side pocket of her purse. Bob, her boss, had had the cards made for her, insisting that everyone must have a business card these days.
"I'll call you."
She nodded and watched him until he disappeared back up the stairs. She hoped he might turn around and look, but he didn't.
Courtney helped clear the table and made her way into the kitchen, where her mother was washing cups.
"Are you almost ready, Mom? You know Aunt Agnes. She'll be waiting and wondering why we took so long."
Alice Adams smiled and placed the last cup in the drainer. "I'll get out of this apron and be with you in a jiffy. Oh, by the way, wasn't that the new young visitor I saw you talking to?"
Courtney's cheeks flushed for what seemed like the fifth time that day. "Steven? Yeah, he's new, but you already know that."
"You certainly were attentive, or was it the other way around?"
"Oh, Mom. You know how I am." But this was different. She hadn't felt this way ever. Her mother would like nothing better than to see Courtney married. How she'd love looking forward to a grandchild. But Courtney couldn't let herself dream about marriage, a child. Not yet. There were things she had to know about herself first. Stones to uncover. Medical facts to be discovered. She loved her adoptive mother with all her heart, and she'd been even closer to her adopted father, but she had to know who she was. It was that simple. Janelle Landers was the name of her birth mother. And Janelle Landers must be found.
With sweaters slung over their arms, Courtney and her mom went up the steps and out into the golden sunshine of the Sunday afternoon.CHAPTER 2
Steven walked the three blocks to his beat-up Ford. It needed a paint job, but it still ran and got good gas mileage. The kid he had working for him—just hired—had a new souped-up Trans Am, but Steven didn't want the payments that came with a new car. He was happy with his old heap. He paused, struggling with the driver's door. It stuck, and he always had to use extra force. As he crawled in behind the wheel, he looked around for the first time in a long while. The interior was tacky. It never bothered him before, but now he imagined picking up Miss Courtney Adams and asking her to get into the rust bucket. Suddenly the Trans Am was looking good. Perhaps he could rent it from Jeff for a night.
The sun was more than beautiful today; it was gorgeous. As Steven drove west toward Portland downtown proper, his mind was filled with the hymns sung that morning, the preacher's message that seemed to speak right to him, and the smile from an angel who sang in the choir. An angel named Courtney. "Wow, Grams, when you hit me with something, you really hit me," he said aloud. "I hadn't realized how far I'd strayed from church or from meaningful things in my life."
Excerpted from Finding Courtney by Birdie Etchison. Copyright © 1999 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Truly Yours.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.