Sneak Peek at Blessed Gifts
Benjamin Brown wasn't proud of his mistakes, but he did intend to try to step up and do what was right, even if the baby's mother wanted nothing to do with him. When the delivery goes bad, Ben is left holding his son with no idea of how to take care of a baby's basic needs.
Lively Lilly has a plan.
Ben's mother, Lilly, takes him to his sister's farm in Thistle Texas. There is nothing for miles around except fields of lavender, gardens of produce, and an ornery old goose.
However, his sisters Faye and Melanie promised to help Ben get back on his feet. Unfortunately, he fears that he's slowly sinking in the mud.
Olivia Canales wants out.
She has outgrown her family home and nagging/interfering mother. She wants her own place, but jobs in town are few and far between. Besides, she loves working on her best friend's Lavender Farm and Faye has promised her full-time work once they get everything going and open up to visitors.
When Faye's brother shows up with a baby he has no idea how to take care of, Olivia's heart goes out to his dilemma. The deceased mother's parents show up and give Ben an out his problem: They will raise the baby, but only if he gives up all his rights.
Ben doesn't want to lose his son but desperately needs help so he can finish his last semester of college.
Olivia agrees only to end up going in deeper than she ever anticipated.
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Benjamin Brown buried his face in his hands and stared down at the polished pale blue linoleum beneath his feet. The hard vinyl sofa grew harder by the minute. How many minutes had passed so far, anyway? The nurses had promised to let him know how Kaci was doing.
Her face had gone sickly pale, brown eyes wide and frightened as she’d shouted at the doctors to save the baby.
Ben covered his ears, but the shouting still rang inside his head. He’d begged the doctors to save her. She was still young. She had plenty of time to have more babies.
The phone of the waiting room rang and the attendant answered, her voice too quiet for Ben to make out. The doctors wouldn’t call with news, would they? He sat back, his head hitting the wall as he rubbed his hands over his face. The callous on his index finger scratched at his nose. Not rough, hard-working hands, but designer hands. Creative hands. Drawing hands that sketched houses and buildings.
His gaze traveled upward, wondering what God was up to now, except he had no heart to ask. Nor was he sure how to pray. Both mother and baby needed to live, but Dr. Calloway offered no promises either way.
Would the doctor listen to Ben’s request?
It wasn’t like he had much say in any of this. Except his name was would be on the birth certificate. Kaci had made sure of that. She’d not wanted to marry him. He’d asked, but not because Mom insisted. He’d honestly wanted to take responsibility for his actions.
Kaci had laughed in his face and told him she didn’t need two children.
Ben genuinely hoped they could work out their differences and give the baby a solid family. Kaci had no faith in family. She’d always depended upon herself and said she didn’t need anyone else.
The swoosh of the door opening drew Ben’s attention to the waiting room entrance. Aside from one other family huddled in the opposite corner, he was the only other person waiting for news.
A slender woman with white hair that had been tinted a bright red on the ends entered tugging several balloons behind her. Red for Valentines coming in February? Lilly Brown loved standing out.
Her heels clomped over the linoleum floor as she headed in his direction. She wore navy pants and a gray silk shirt covered in shiny snowflakes.
Ben groaned at the sight and slumped lower in his seat. He wasn’t sure if he should act like he didn’t know her, or go ahead and get up and greet her with a hug. There would be less of a scene if he got up.
“Is my grand-doll here yet?” Lilly Brown asked, dumping several bags on the coffee table and tying the balloons to the arm of the nearest chair. “I brought some goodies for Mama, too. I remember she loved Dr. Pepper, so there’s a couple of bottles in there along with a couple of those celebrity magazines girls her age like. Oh, and I found a lovely scarf at the market last month. Along with a bag of bath bombs that smell like bubble gum.” She gave a toothy grin, rubbing her hands together. “And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten our new daddy, either. Architectural Digest for you and—”
“Mom.” Ben couldn’t stand this.
“I found the cutest matching Daddy and son shirts….” She started to dig into one of the bags.
“Mom. There’s a problem.”
Lilly froze and looked up, her penciled brows furrowed. “What do you mean, Sugar?” Slowly she sank down onto the couch beside him. “What’s going on. I was wondering why you were out here but figured you wigged out over staying for the delivery. I know how you can get at the sight of blood—”
“They kicked me out. I had planned to stay with her.” He scooted up. “I’m not sure what’s going on. They took her….” His voice faltered as fear filled his chest like burning coals. “The baby. It was in distress. And Kaci—” he shook his head. “Her heart. I’m not….”
“Oh, Benny.” Lilly wrapped Ben in her arms and he didn’t fight it this time.
Despite how hard he tried to not let his fear show, to be the man Dad always demanded he be, Ben wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist and buried his face in the crook of her neck. “Pray, will you? I’ve been trying, but—”
Lilly held him tighter and began sending up a prayer for a swift and safe delivery. She asked God to be with the doctors and asked that he send his angels to intervene in this situation and protect the mother and child.
The burning in his chest subsided and soon he was able to take in a decent breath again. Lilly held his hand quietly, neither of them speaking until the attendant came to tell them the doctor was waiting outside to speak to them.
As if they were joined at the hip, mother and son rose together and walked out into the hall.
The moment Ben saw Dr. Calloway’s face, he knew the news wasn’t good. The nurse stood beside him, surgical mask hanging around her thick neck and coat stained with…Ben didn’t want to think what that stain meant.
“Ben, is this your…?” Dr. Calloway began.
Ben finished, “My mother. Sir, how’s Kaci? And the—”
The nurse’s brows furrowed as she blinked, her hands clasped in front of her chest.
“The baby is doing fine,” Calloway answered. “You have a son, Ben. A healthy, six-pound five-ounce son. He’s being examined by the pediatrician right now. You’ll be able to see him shortly.”
A healthy boy, just as Kaci expected. She’d insisted that his first name be Tobias. Toby for short. Ben was to give him a middle name and he’d picked James, after his own father. Ben wasn’t sure if Tobias was someone special to Kaci, or simply a name she liked. Who knew with her?
Lilly’s fingers dug into Ben’s upper arm. “And the little Mama? How is she?”
Dr. Calloway ducked his head. “I’m so sorry, Ben. She insisted that we focus on saving the infant. I did what I could, but I’m afraid her heart gave out on her.”
The nurse grabbed his hands. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Brown. Is there anyone I should call? You are the only one she listed on the emergency contact on her forms.”
Anything they said from that moment on was lost on Ben. He was sure the floor had opened up beneath his feet, sending him plummeting into a deep pool of cold, dark water. Everything around him went gray. Their voices muffled. He was sure Mom was weeping against his shoulder. Had she fallen in with him?
Hands grabbed his arms and pulled him to a bench where he was forced to sit. Then, Ben remembered to draw in a breath. One. Let it out. Ignore the burning. Draw in another. He blinked until the hospital hallway came into focus again. Two. Let the air out.
Lilly’s arms were wrapped around his shoulders. That noise was definitely her cries. She held her phone in her trembling hand. “I-I can’t find Faye’s number.” The nurse took the phone and asked the name of who Lilly wished to call. She pushed the buttons to make the call and handed the phone back.
“Chase, baby, where’s Faye Lynn?” Lilly listened, dabbing her eyes with the edge of her scarf. “Bring her up to the hospital, will you? The baby is fine, but… Kaci didn’t make it, honey. Please?” She let out a breath. “Knew I could count on you, Sugar. Yes, let Melly know, too. Thank you, baby. See you soon.” Her thumb brushed over the end call button. “They’re on the way. We’ll get you through this, Benny. You’re not alone, baby.”
Ben swallowed down the fire building in his throat and gave a nod. He needed to get a grip. Needed to…what was he supposed to do now? Should he ask to see Kaci? Would he be able to…? She’d not wanted anything to do with her family. They were to be kept out of this, she’d insisted as he’d driven her to the hospital.
“Keep them out of this, Ben, I mean it,” Kaci had demanded as he’d driven her to the hospital. He’d asked if she wanted him to call anyone. “I’ll take responsibility for my own choices. I’ll handle this.” She’d hugged her large belly as if the baby were already in her arms. “Don’t you dare try to call them. You understand?”
No, he hadn’t but who was he to argue with a woman in labor? She would take care of herself, she’d insisted.
But…the baby. Who would take care of the baby?
* * * *
Olivia Canales wiped the flour from her hands on the bottom of her apron. Boss lady scowled at her, then grinned. Faye Michaels never stayed mad for long, but she did prefer that aprons stay clean at all times.
“Sorry,” Olivia muttered, grabbing the nearest towel and trying to wipe away the stains marring the violet cloth. “When we’re actually open, I’ll make a better effort to remember to use a towel.”
Faye sighed with a shake of her head. “I’ve told you that it’ll be easier if you keep a towel tucked inside your apron pocket. Then it’s always there for you. Make the habit now, before we open. How are those waffles coming?”
Olivia opened the lid and found the crust a golden brown. The scent of blueberries wafted up in the steam. “Great. I think this recipe is the winner.” She lifted the waffle onto the plate with her fork. “Look how fluffy this one is.”
Faye cut off a corner and tasted it, closing her eyes. “Oh yes. I can taste the vanilla and a hint of orange. Good call on adding a bit of zest to the batter.” Shaking her utensil at the waffle, she said, “Let’s make Chase a serving of these and see what he says. He should be down shortly. I’ll get his bacon going.”
Olivia started on the second batch. They’d figured out a way to infuse the syrup with lavender, something she wasn’t particularly fond of, but she figured visitors would go crazy over the lavender teas and other treats they were cooking up. Faye was a wonder at using fresh ingredients. Most of the foods they would be serving when the Lavender Farm Cafe opened would come right out of their own gardens.
Olivia couldn’t wait to see the pretty little country cafe open. They were going to give it a trial run during the Spring Festival that was still two months away. Then during the summer months, Faye hoped to open the farm to daily visitors.
Olivia couldn’t wait to see their dreams became a reality. She desperately needed a steady job and the town of Thistle had little to offer. Without a trustworthy car, she feared looking too far away from home for work.
From upstairs, a phone chirped. The floorboards above creaked as Chase hurried to reach it. Olivia smiled. The old house had a lot of charm but was very noisy at times.
“Faye Lynn!” Chase shouted as he rushed down the stairs, missing the last couple of steps and sliding down hard onto the landing. He seldom raised his voice above a whisper. Olivia turned toward him, concerned. Something was definitely wrong from the wide-eyed look he gave his wife. “We need to get over to Austin. Loony Lilly said Ben needs us.”
Faye’s greasy hands went to her face. “Oh, please tell me nothing happened to the baby.” Tears were already filling her eyes. Olivia hurried to her side, sliding her arm around her friend’s narrow shoulders.
“No. But…” He cringed as if his news hurt him to speak out loud. “Kaci didn’t make it. Something about her heart. Lilly wants us—”
Faye’s eyes widened as she let out a startled gasp. “I’ll— we—” she stammered, looking around as if unsure what to do. She was still in her pj’s.
Olivia turned Faye so they were face to face. “You get upstairs and get dressed and cleaned up. It’s an hour drive, at least. I’ll finish breakfast and fix it up so you two can take it with you.”
Chase was tapping icons on his phone. “I’ll call the crew and let them know I can’t be there today. I’ll have to put Jerry in charge and hope for the best.”
Ushering a startled Faye toward the stairs, Olivia assured her that she’d take care of everything they had planned for that day. “You just get yourself dressed, Chicky. I’ve got this.”
Faye kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Oli. You’re such a gem.”
“That’s right and don’t you forget it,” Olivia teased, giving Faye a gentle shove up the stairs. She faced Chase. “Need me to do anything for you? I can call my little brother Gabe if you need him to fill in for you. He’s always looking for side jobs.”
Chase gave a nod. “Brilliant. See if he can get over here and drive my truck out to the site.” He breathed out a long breath and scratched at his temple as if trying to figure out if he was forgetting anything. “Poor Ben. Lilly was beside herself. Said he was in complete shock. They were about to go see the baby.” His brows furrowed. “I can’t imagine… I doubt he knows the first thing about taking care of an infant.”
Olivia returned to the waffles after turning the bacon strips. “Hopefully his girlfriend’s family can help him out.”
Chase sat on the bar-stool at the island where she worked. “From what I understand, Ben said Kaci didn’t have any family that she spoke to. If that’s the case, I…well, we’ll just have to do what we can to help him out.” Chase added a firm nod to his statement.
Olivia tucked the bacon inside the folded waffle and then wrapped them in parchment paper. She poured a bit of their lavender syrup into a small dish and set it in front of Chase.
“Thank you, Olivia. Is this the newest trial batch?”
She chuckled. “Yes, I think we’ve got a winner this time. What do you think?”
He pointed to the bottle of plain maple syrup. “I’ll like it better with that kind of syrup. What did she do to this bottle?”
Olivia explained Faye’s attempts to infuse various foods with the lavender growing in the far pasture.
He shook his head with a lopsided grin. “That’s my lavender girl.”
By time Faye returned downstairs, Chase had finished his breakfast. She insisted that she wasn’t hungry as she gathered her purse and a bag she often took with her to doctors appointments. Most likely, her latest crochet project. That girl’s hands were always busy doing something.
Once they left, Olivia put in a call to her brother, Gabe, who said he was on his way. “You got anything good for breakfast? This fruity cereal bites! I need real food.”
Gabe Canales could put a herd of cattle to shame when it came to eating. “Yes, stop by the house and I’ll have something for you. But hurry up. I’m sure the crew is already heading out to the first job.”
Her little brother was a good guy. He’d graduated high school last year, and like the rest of them, struggled to find decent work that didn’t take them a hundred miles away. Most of her family found work on the nearby ranches and farms, at least. Her oldest brother had moved his family to San Antonio. At least they were only an hour away and did their best to attend the monthly family dinners Ma cooked up for everyone.
Ma hated that Olivia had been working for the Michaels family as a cook. She said it was degrading, but Olivia loved her work. Faye was a dear friend, and so inventive and smart about how to bring out the flavor in her foods. There was so much she’d learned in the past couple of months since they’d started working together.
Still, Ma often nagged her about getting a real job.
“Olivia Marie,” she’d say, “you have to learn how to take care of yourself instead of waiting for Mr. Wrong to show up and sweep you into a miserable marriage. Have you learned nothing from your poor ol’ Mother? You can only count on yourself, mi hija. Find yourself a steady career, honest work, so you can stand on your own two feet. Then if a man does come along, you’ll be sure to let him know you’ll not be anyone’s doormat. You’ll command respect if you do that, trust me.”
Olivia sighed. She had no training and no college degree to help her find a decent paying job. And she didn’t wish to leave Thistle. This was her home.
If only she had a degree, then perhaps she could be a teacher, like Miss Melanie. Faye was still working on her botany degree but was much too busy with the farm to make time for attending classes. She was perfectly fine with the work she was doing.
No, Ma wasn’t right, she was bitter. After two bad marriages, who could blame her? Olivia had a list of qualities she wanted in a man and was willing to wait for the Lord to bring the right one to her. He was out there somewhere. Until she found him, she’d do whatever work she was able to find and be happy with that.
And the Lavender farm was going to be a hit. She had no doubts that it would be a popular tourist spot in this area.
After cleaning the kitchen, Olivia made her way out to the garden to check for any ripe vegetables. Chase was usually up before dawn to feed his animals, then he’d sit beneath the magnolia tree to watch the sunrise. Most mornings, Faye would join him. That’s usually where Olivia found them on the days she was scheduled to help out at the farm.
She loved being here. Peace covered this place like a wispy fog on a cool morning. Sometimes, when she’d had enough of her families’ bickering, Ma’s nagging her to get going with her life, and her sister’s babies screaming through their little, cluttered house, she’d find a refuge here with Faye and her quiet Chase.
Olivia often walked the paths between the lavender plants that had tripled in size since she’d been hired for the cafe. Faye was often out there with her basket, searching each plant for the perfect buds and tugging weeds from the ground. The sweet fragrance hung in the air and Olivia would often lay on the ground, letting the midday sun burn into her bronze skin.
Today, there was work to do. Faye had planned to organize the gift store. She had saved up boxes of soaps and sachets she’d made with her oils and herbs that grew all over the yard. Sometimes Olivia wondered if this was close to what the Garden of Eden was like. Minus the two forbidden trees.
By two o’clock, Olivia had done everything on Faye’s list. She’d almost resolved herself into going home and helping Ma make tamales to sell at the Farmer’s market that weekend. Maybe she’d take the peppers and tomatoes she’d gathered that day and make some of her famous salsa. That would bring in a few extra dollars, too.
She’d just reached the house when Faye called with an update.
“Oh hey, Faye, I was just about to head home. I’m taking some tomatoes and peppers to make salsa. Didn’t figure you’d mind since you have enough for your sauce.”
“No, take whatever you need. I love your salsas. But listen, if you’re not in a hurry to get home, I was wondering if you’d do me a favor?”
“Sure. What?” Anything that kept her busy for another couple of hours, was fine with her.
“We’re staying the night here, so will you take care of the animals for us tonight?”
“Sure, sure, I can do that. Anything else?” Olivia set the basket on the kitchen island, intending to wash them off later. Maybe she’d volunteer to stay the night here so she could feed the animals in the morning, too. Faye often let her stay in the guest room when they were working late on some of her projects. If Ma wouldn’t throw such a fit, Olivia would have asked Faye about renting out the spare room.
Ma would have gone ballistic over that idea.
“Yeah, one more big favor. Can you check the guest room? Maybe make up the bed and… well, promise you won’t tell anyone about this?”
In the back her mind, she could hear Ma ranting, “They’ll treat you like a maid and nothing more, mi hija. Mark my words, I know how people are.”
Olivia rolled her eyes, pushing aside the negative thoughts. “Tell about what?”
Faye’s pause went on for so long, she began to wonder if they’d been disconnected. Finally, Faye said in a voice so low, Olivia had to press her own phone tightly to her ear. “There’s a bassinet in my closet upstairs. Still in the box. Would you take that down to the guest room? Ben’s going to need somewhere to put Toby.”
So that was the baby’s name. “Why is that a big secret? You’ve been trying—”
“Because,” she whispered, “I…just wanted it. And a few other things. My reasons aren’t important right now.”
True. Olivia figured this wasn’t the time to pry. “How is your brother? He must really be….” She’d met Benjamin Brown once when he came to some family event that Faye had invited her to join. He was a quiet guy but came off a little too arrogant for her tastes.
Still, her heart went out for his plight.
“Poor Benny is completely dumbfounded, but he has no choice except to take Toby home. Nobody knows how to contact Kaci’s family, though the hospital staff is looking into it. Someone needs to be informed about her passing. Mama has taken charge and wants us to bring Benny home and try to help him adjust. She’ll be returning with us in her RV and plans to stick around a while.” She paused to draw in a breath. “Needless to say, life is about to get crazy. Again.”
“Hey, don’t you worry, Faye. I’ll help out as much as I can, girl. I’ll keep things going while you worry about your brother. Okay?”
“I love you, Oli. If you want to stay at the house, you make yourself comfortable. We’ll be heading back tomorrow after lunch. Everything should be taken care of by then.”
Olivia promised to have some stew made for when everyone arrived. After that, she’d probably make herself scarce while the family figured out how to adjust to their new guest. Ma would tell her to bow out now and not get more involved than she already was. But Olivia adored her friend. Faye and Chase were good people.
Ma needed to get past her bitter feelings toward the world in general. Not everyone was heartless and selfish like she believed.
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Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.
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