"Homegrown Dandelions" (Dandelion Series Book 1)
A Contemporary Romance
By Judith Bronte

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Plot Summary

Love can thrive in unlikely places...

After a tragic day years ago, Beth Carter was left to pick up the pieces and move on with her life. But she hasn't. She's shut herself to the world, and has vowed never to love again.

Matt Taylor is looking for work, but nothing more. His life is complicated enough with three burdens and a difficult past that won't go away. When Matt arrives at Beth's Garden Nursery to ask for a job, he meets its beautiful owner, and over time, finds something he hadn't expected. Surrounded by plants with fancy names, all Matt has to offer is a scarred heart-- that, and homegrown dandelions.
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A Chinese translation of "Homegrown Dandelions" is in progress here.

Chapter One

Hard Times

"Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy."
~ Psalm 33:18 ~

The needle on the fuel gauge hovered above empty, adding to Matt Taylor's already mounting troubles. The old pickup truck needed gas, and with prices the way they were, it would be expensive. Fingers nervously tapping the steering wheel, Matt did some math. He'd never been very good at numbers, but even a twenty-four-year-old high school dropout like himself could do the arithmetic. With all the unpaid bills stacking up at home, he knew he was nearing the empty mark, himself.

Matt prayed he would have enough gas to reach his destination. He only had five dollars left in his wallet, and desperately needed a job. A firm believer in Providence, Matt had poured over the help wanted section of the newspaper that morning, praying for guidance. An ad for a salesman at the local car dealership had caught his attention. It touted "no experience necessary" -- three very important words to Matt. Even better, Matt knew the owner of the dealership, and believed God had pointed him to this job.

Parking his vehicle outside the showroom, Matt removed his Stetson to whisper a prayer. The truck door screeched open as he climbed out. New Mexico felt good at this time of year -- not too hot and not too cold. Matt enjoyed the fresh air, letting the breeze swirl around him as he strode inside.

Light jazz played faintly in the background, as Matt scanned the showroom for a familiar face. A bald man took notice of Matt, and waved a friendly greeting from across the room. Matt returned his wave. He hoped the man would remember him from church.

Dressed in dark slacks and a white business shirt, Jerry Westhaven put down the clipboard he had been holding, and came to Matt with an outstretched hand and a broad smile. "Matt Taylor, I never expected to see you here! Don't tell me you're finally replacing that old pickup truck!"

"No, sir, I'm here about the job," Matt said, feeling a little self-conscious about the black T-shirt and worn jeans he had put on that morning. With a sinking heart, Matt noticed the other salesman dressed as sharply as Jerry.

"Job?" Jerry looked puzzled, and then a flash of understanding crossed his face. "Matt, I'm sorry, but that job was filled only an hour ago!"

His spirits fell, and Matt hoped he didn't appear as disappointed as he felt. "Oh, sorry for bothering you." As he awkwardly turned to leave, he saw Jerry open his wallet and take out two twenty dollar bills.

"Here," Jerry said, offering the money a little clumsily, "I'd like you have this."

Longingly staring at the bills, Matt realized what Jerry offered -- a handout -- charity to someone less fortunate than himself. "I'm not here to beg for anything," Matt said, feeling the heat of shame creep up his neck.

"I know you're not," Jerry said, thrusting the money into Matt's hip pocket. "I just have a feeling you might need this more than I do at the moment."

Matt knew he had no right to turn down the money, especially when he needed it so badly. Even so, it stung to accept charity, though it came from someone as friendly as Jerry Westhaven.

"Come to think of it," Jerry said thoughtfully, "I heard the garden nursery across the street might be looking for help. You could check there for work."

"Across the street?" Matt tried to be hopeful, but knew a job there wouldn't be very likely. He knew nothing of plants, and even less about what it took to keep them alive. Nodding, Matt gratefully shook Jerry's hand. "Thanks, I'll look into it."

Before Jerry had a chance to ask how things were going at home, Matt made a polite excuse and left the dealership. From the way Jerry had greeted him, Matt knew the man easily remembered him from church. And if he'd remembered, then questions would be asked. They always were, ever since their pastor had spoken to the congregation about his problems. All that fuss had been before he'd lost his job. In his present condition, as much as Matt knew people meant well, he knew they could also bring trouble.

And Matt had already had enough trouble, to last him a lifetime.

In the privacy of her office, Beth Carter sat at the metal desk on one side of the room, her eyes focused on the picture frame beside her pencil sharpener. For the past several days a growing sadness had overcome her, and it hadn't been until today, when she had glanced at the calendar, that she realized why. The anniversary. It would be soon. It always came with the approach of spring, making her usual sadness unbearable.

Beth longed for the month to be over, and the grief to lessen again. She lifted the picture frame with dirt-stained hands, her thumb gliding across the photo as old memories flooded her soul.

A woman stuck her head in the office, interrupting Beth's thoughts. "What is it, Sylvia?" Beth asked, returning the frame to its place on the desk. "Aren't you supposed to be preparing gift pots?"

Sylvia nodded, her black curls bobbing as she moved. Biting her lip, she came inside the office, carefully shutting the door behind her as though she had a great secret to tell.

Beth sighed patiently, although her patience ran thin as Sylvia came round to peek through the blinds over the desk. She and Sylvia shared the same age, though Sylvia always acted ten years younger, and not someone about to turn thirty.

"There he is," Sylvia sat down on the edge of Beth's desk for a better vantage, and motioned for Beth to look out the office window with her. "See him? He says he's looking for work."

Standing in the loading yard, Beth saw a man in a black T-shirt and a gray cowboy hat that had seen better days. He shifted his weight from one booted foot to the other, his back to the window.

"Isn't he stunning?" Sylvia fanned her cheek, as though sitting beside an open flame. "I know we don't have any openings right now, but couldn't we think of some way to keep him?"

"I'm not taking on workers I don't need," Beth said decidedly. She returned to her desk, only to find Sylvia sitting on the open files she had been organizing.

"I'd almost be willing to take a pay cut, if I could come to work every day and see him here," Sylvia said, her voice trailing off wistfully. She got up from the desk, the hesitation in her posture unsettling Beth. "I told him I'd find an empty employment form."

"You didn't tell him we're not hiring?" Beth looked at her incredulously. Sylvia had left the man waiting out there, so she could come in and gawk at him through the window.

Sylvia shrugged lightly. "It couldn't do any harm to keep his form on hand. If we ever do have a job -- "

"Forget the gift pots," Beth said, pushing away from the desk. "I'll handle this guy, myself. I want you to move the potted roses, so there's room for the new shipment coming in tomorrow morning."

Tossing her pretty head, Sylvia left the office with a pouting frown.

Ignoring Sylvia, Beth grabbed the sunhat she kept hanging behind the office door. If she had half the good looks of her friend, Beth thought she'd not waste them, by covering herself with heavy makeup and perfume the way Sylvia did. Beth entered the store adjoining the office, laughing to herself as she realized what she had been thinking. She could never hope to have Sylvia's beauty, her own having already blossomed and fallen away like an untimely flower.

Matt couldn't help but feel someone observing him from the blinds, and had moved to the vine covered lattice around the entrance of Beth's Garden Nursery to keep from its view.

Waiting for the woman to return, Matt dug at the dry ground with the toe of his boot. He tried not to let himself become too hopeful, for the woman had only promised to get him an empty form so he could apply for a job. Nothing more. He sensed she might've felt sorry for him, although with women he never could be sure what they were thinking.

A cool breeze drifted from inside the store, inviting anyone in the entryway to come in and look around. Resisting the invitation, Matt remained where he was. He casually looked inside, however, noting the fresh smell of earth and the pleasant fragrance of some nearby potted plants. The walls were lined with gardening tools and organic pesticides, while several aisles filled the center of the store with merchandise and very few customers.

As Matt waited, and did his best not to seem impatient, a slender woman in baggy overalls and a broad brimmed hat came toward him. The brim concealed her face, but when she lifted her chin, Matt saw a woman in her late twenties with expressive green eyes and surprisingly white skin for someone who looked at home beneath the sun. Eyes trimmed with long lashes, and a faint sprinkle of freckles on her cheeks, the woman's only fault lay in her smile. She didn't have one.

Matt wished she would, if only to make him feel better about getting a job. He glanced at her name-tag, realizing her name sat above the store.

The woman gave him an appraising look, her demeanor very close to something like annoyance. "I'm told you're looking for work," she said, slanting a miffed look at the woman Matt had talked to several minutes earlier, as she carried a potted rose outside. "I'm sorry you've wasted so much time waiting, but there aren't any jobs here."

Matt swallowed his disappointment, quietly scolding himself for hoping as much as he had. "Someone said you might be looking for help, so I thought I'd give it a try." As much as Matt despised begging, he knew his money wouldn't last much longer. After seeing the nursery, he felt this would be a better fit for him than Jerry's car dealership -- with dress slacks and white shirts he didn't have. At least here, his jeans didn't look out of place. "I know you're not hiring," Matt said, summoning courage he didn't know he had, "but I'm a good worker and I know how to work hard." He caught the hard look in her green eyes and realized they had turned cold. "I really need a job, ma'am. I'll do almost anything."

The woman's lips pursed in a fine line, and Matt suddenly felt as though he were twelve years old again, seated in the principal's office for having done something wrong. Matt regretted the request the moment he made it. He hadn't begged Jerry, and he shouldn't have begged this woman.

"I told you," she said evenly, as though he hadn't understood her the first time, "there's no work here."

"Thank you for your time, ma'am," Matt touched the brim of his Stetson, and walked away.

He berated himself for having begged, his pride stinging him all the more because the woman, although older than himself, had been attractive. The way those cold green eyes had sliced through him, Matt felt like a reprimanded child instead of a man. A curse threatened to form in his mouth, and he bit it back with determination. He had promised God never to utter another profanity in his life, and that coldhearted woman wasn't a good excuse to go back on his promise.

By the time Matt reached his old pickup truck, the sting of his hurt pride had subsided. The woman hadn't done anything wrong, other than to turn him away with as little feeling as one would ignore a stray dog. Matt never ignored strays, but he guessed she did -- and probably fairly often. Climbing into his truck, Matt felt a twinge of pity for the woman with the soft auburn hair that hung in a long braid at her back. With all her authority, she somehow seemed weak.

Glancing at the fuel gauge, Matt laughed grimly. Who was he to call her weak, when he was the one running on fumes? From the name-tag the woman had worn, he had identified her as the owner of the nursery. Matt groaned. Why did it seem as though all the mean people in the world had plenty, while the kind and sympathetic had nothing? Biting back his envy, Matt reminded himself that God had not forgotten him. He took out his money, staring at the forty dollars Jerry had thrust into his pocket.

Matt tossed his hat onto the dashboard. "Thank you, God," he said with eyes closed in prayer, "thank you for remembering us. Please strengthen my faith so I don't let You down."

Stuffing the bills back into his pocket, Matt started the engine. He would only buy enough gas to last a few days, and use the remainder of the money for tonight.

Trowel in hand, Beth turned the dark potting soil, trying very hard to absorb herself in her work. She stood at the potting bench behind the store, preparing soil for the small gift pots she would place near the cash register. Behind her back though, Beth could overhear the hushed whispers of Sylvia and Amy, busily talking about "the good-looking man in the cowboy hat." Beth had to admit some truth in their assessment, for his intensely dark eyes had gazed directly at her, and it hadn't been an unpleasant experience. But Beth had also seen the humiliation in his youthful face as he tipped his hat before walking away, and that hadn't been as pleasant.

Beth tried to ignore the guilty pang in her chest, and wondered why he had made such an impression on her. It might've had something to do with the muted helplessness in his posture when she had told him there was no work; in that split moment, Beth had almost thought the man would cry. It had been an absurd thought, for she had seen enough of his kind in town to know better. His T-shirt had revealed a garish tattoo on his biceps, only confirming Beth's opinion of this guy who came to her, asking for work. She could sum it up in two words: trailer trash. A polite "ma'am" couldn't hide that fact from Beth. He probably didn't even know the meaning of the word "work," let alone how to hold down an actual job. So why did she feel so guilty? It wasn't as though she had a job open for him. Beth stabbed her trowel into the potting soil. Why couldn't he stay on the other side of the tracks, and leave her nursery alone?

Today, when she closed shop before going home, Beth intended to make sure all the locks and doors were secure. She didn't want to return in the morning, only to find her business had been vandalized by that man. The thought eased Beth's guilty pangs, and she felt better for turning him away from a job she never had.

With a weary groan, Beth checked her watch, realizing she had stayed a full half-hour after closing time. Sylvia and Amy had already left, and after having talked herself into the certainty of the man's return, Beth felt uneasy being at the nursery by herself. By the time she finished her paperwork, her office window had begun to dim with the approach of sunset.

Beth hurried from the building, locking the door behind her. As she fumbled for her car keys, she heard footsteps behind her back. She quickly turned, only to find it was Jerry, from the dealership across the street.

"Sorry to frighten you like that," Jerry smiled good-naturedly. "I see you've put in another long day. It's not healthy, spending every waking hour at work. You got to spend more time with family and friends, or they won't recognize you anymore!"

Beth smiled politely. "You're one to talk, Jerry. You're just now going home, yourself?"

"You've got me there," he said with a laugh. Then he hesitated, as though wondering if this were a good time to ask a question. "A young friend of mine came in today, looking for work. The job had already been taken by someone else, but I told him I thought you might be hiring. I don't suppose he stopped by? You might know him -- he goes to our church."

Beth groaned inwardly. He went to church? Her church? The man she feared would vandalize her store? Beth wasn't too pleased with Jerry, for Jerry had sent him here, creating today's embarrassment.

"His name's Matt Taylor," Jerry continued. "He comes from a rough family, but he's a good kid with some pretty big responsibilities -- "

"Yes, he came to see about a job," Beth interrupted, "but I didn't have one to give, so I sent him away. Really, Jerry, I wish you hadn't directed him to my nursery. Church friend or not, if I want hired help, I'll advertise for it in the paper."

"You sent him away?" Jerry looked disappointed. "Did he tell you anything? Did he happen to mention how things were going for him at home? I think he's too embarrassed to ask, but I have a feeling he needs help."

"That's not my problem," Beth sighed impatiently. She went to the same church as Jerry and his family, and only knew Jerry's wife in passing. Beth rarely attended services, and as such, hadn't recognized Matt Taylor when she saw him. She had only heard Matt's name in passing, when their pastor once asked for prayers for certain members of the congregation. Beth couldn't remember what the request had been about, but her feet were tired, her stomach empty, and her patience gone. "Jerry, I can't hire everyone I feel sorry for! I'm not hiring, and that's that. Good night." Beth got inside her car, slamming the door shut before Jerry could say anything more.

Pulling from the parking lot, Beth drove off with Jerry's words still echoing in her mind. Something of what he had said sounded vaguely familiar, and Beth didn't know why. What had been the pastor's prayer request? She remembered it had something to do with someone named Matt Taylor, but couldn't recall anything else. For some reason, it nagged at her, refusing to let go.

As Beth came to a stop at the intersection, and waited for the light to turn green, she saw a father with two small children in the vehicle next to hers. Children. Suddenly, Beth remembered what the pastor's prayer request had been about. With a groan, she covered her mouth, wishing she hadn't remembered, after all.

Having spent the rest of the day looking for work, Matt pulled up in front of his home, without success. In these hard times, there weren't many jobs available, and what few he'd found, had required experience. Matt had experience, but not the kind that paid bills and put food on the table. His experience lay in where to find drugs, and the overwhelming rush of serenity that flooded the body, the moment they hit the bloodstream. On days like this, Matt could feel the old hunger, pulling him back to his former life like a moth to the flame. And like the moth, that flame would consume him. He needed to remember that.

Staring through the dusty windshield at the dandelions in his front yard, Matt sat behind the wheel, deep in thought. God had rescued him once before, and Matt prayed He would do it again.

Just then, the screen door on the house opened, and a teenager stepped outside. The boy stared long and hard at the pickup truck, his eyes focused on Matt.

Matt drew in a deep breath, recognizing the frightened, angry look in his brother's eyes. He wished Ethan would share his hope in God's mercy.

Matt opened the truck door, wincing as it squeaked loud enough to get a neighbor's attention.

"We need to get that thing fixed," Ethan said, making his way to the driver's side of the pickup. He shoved his hands into his pockets -- a habit he always had when worried. "Did you get the job?"

"No," Matt said, seeing the immediate hopelessness that set into Ethan's face, "it was already taken before I got there. The food pantry at the church was empty, but someone gave me some money," Matt lifted a grocery bag from the passenger's side, handing it to Ethan with an encouraging smile, "so I got enough groceries for dinner. If we're careful, we might make the food last until the end of tomorrow."

"No job?" The panicked look in Ethan's face was unmistakable. "What are we going to do, Matty? How are we going to pay the bills?"

"The same way we've always manage to pay them in the past," Matt said sturdily, "God will provide." Matt shut the pickup truck door, not forgetting to lock it before he walked away. This neighborhood wasn't the best, and even locked vehicles were often vandalized.

"You always say that," Ethan said angrily, "and things never get any better!"

"We're still together, aren't we?" Matt quickly countered. "God hasn't forgotten us, Ethan. He's gotten us this far, and He won't abandon us now." Noise from the house caused Matt to lower his voice. "Don't tell the others about the job. There's no need frightening them."

"What if we can't pay the rent?" Ethan asked, as the two headed down the dirt path to the front door. "What are we going to do?"

"Keep your voice down," Matt said evenly, stopping Ethan before they went inside. "I don't want the others to know how bad off we are."

Ethan smiled bleakly. "When we're evicted, I won't have to tell them anything. They'll know." Before he could stop him, Ethan opened the front door with, "He didn't get it!"

Matt squeezed his eyes shut. Sometimes, he could throttle that brother of his. Ethan was seventeen, and old enough to know better.

Stepping inside, Matt locked the front door, pocketing the house keys. He dreaded going into the kitchen where he knew the others were probably waiting. Slowly, Matt made his way through the front room, and into the kitchen. At the table doing her homework, his sister, Cassie, looked up at him with scared blue eyes. Her hand hovered above the paper, her pencil slightly trembling.

"You didn't get that job you were praying for, Matty?" Cassie asked in a tremulous voice.

Putting on a brave face for his twelve-year-old sister, Matt smiled. "No, somebody else got it. I'll keep looking, tomorrow."

"If there is a tomorrow," Ethan said with a sarcastic laugh.

Shooting his brother a warning look, Matt smiled again for Cassie. "Don't worry, Cass, God will take care of us."

"I wish you'd stop with that God nonsense," Ethan said, opening the grocery bag to see what Matt had bought. "Ever since you found God, you've been forcing us to find Him, too. I wish you'd cut it out."

"You'd better watch your mouth, Ethan." Matt glared at him, wishing he could haul his teenage brother into the backyard and beat some sense into him. Matt knew he couldn't, for aside from his doubts whether God would approve, Matt knew the social worker certainly wouldn't. "We have different opinions about God, so let's leave it at that."

"Just because you're seven years older than me, you think you can boss me around," Ethan said in a low grumble.

"Just about," Matt grinned. "The judge made me your legal guardian, remember? Now stop grumbling, and get out the dinner plates."

At the mention of dinner, a little boy ran into the kitchen, his face all smiles as he chanted, "Dinner! Dinner!"

"Were you a good boy, today?" Matt asked, lifting four-year-old Ryan into his arms. Of all his siblings, the only one Matt had successfully witnessed to, had been his youngest brother. Even though Matt didn't know how much the little guy understood, it made Matt feel less alone to have another Christian in the family.

"I've been good," Ryan nodded quickly. He looked at the food Ethan had set out on the countertop. "Dinner?" Ryan asked hopefully.

"Yes, dinner," Matt said, tickling Ryan's belly and getting screaming laughter as a reward. "I'll need a few minutes to get it ready, though. I'll let you know when it's time to eat." Matt patted Ryan's backside, trying to get the child out from underfoot as he moved about the kitchen.

Cassie remained at the table, her blonde head bowed over her homework. Matt knew she still thought of his not finding work yet, and once again, Matt felt himself craving meth. If only he could get high just one more time, he could survive the next few days, and perhaps make it through an entire month without having to think again about drugs. Matt knew the lie well, and fought to resist the temptation.

Dinner on the table, Matt called Ryan to his chair and everyone but Ethan bowed their heads to pray. Cassie did it out of respect for Matt, though Matt knew she didn't believe as he did.

When they started eating, Matt looked about at the glum faces around the table. Only Ryan smiled, happy to have a hot dog and some canned corn on his plate.

Matt quickly finished his dinner, and then went into the boys' bedroom to get something. Guitar in hand, he headed straight to the radio on the kitchen countertop. After finding a favorite country music station, Matt sat down at the table to tune his instrument. Out of the corners of his eyes, he noticed everyone smiling -- even Ethan. Matt listened to the familiar song on the radio, waiting a few measures to relearn the melody. Then, with an easy strum, Matt joined the music, his guitar offering backup to the country music singer on the radio.

First Ryan, and then Cassie, joined their voices to the song, until the kitchen filled with music. Ethan kept quiet, though the tune seemed to lighten his mood. Matt usually enjoyed singing, but this evening he remained silent, his heart not in the music. He played his guitar, letting his hands keep busy so his mind couldn't think about anything else but the song on the radio.

After the dinner dishes had been washed and dried, everyone prepared for bed. Not ready for sleep, Ryan jumped on the living room sofa until Matt picked him up and carried him off to their bedroom.

"Cookies," Ryan kept saying, "I want cookies!"

"Would you shut up?" Ethan groaned, tossing a pillow at Ryan as Matt tried to change the rambunctious boy into pajamas. "Ever since I picked him up from Mrs. Lott's house today, that all he talks about -- the sugar cookies she made him!"

Matt grinned, happy to hear the old lady and Ryan were getting along together so well. Mrs. Lott lived next door, and babysat Ryan every day. She had been a Godsend to Matt, for while he was away at work, and Ethan and Cassie were at school, Matt could count on Mrs. Lott to keep an eye on Ryan and make sure he didn't get into trouble.

Their mobile home had two bedrooms and two baths -- one for the boys, and one for Cassie. Being the eldest, Matt's one luxury was that he had a bed of his own; Ethan had to share the king-sized mattress with Ryan.

The kids finally quiet and in bed, Matt went to the boys' bathroom to clean up the mess they had made. As he stood before the sink brushing his teeth, Matt observed his reflection in the mirror. He recalled the way Beth Carter had looked at him, and wondered what about his appearance had given her such a bad impression. His brown hair and brown eyes seemed ordinary enough, though Matt had never cared very much for his face. He looked too much like his dad, and his dad never gave him any pleasant memories. Matt shared the same father as Ethan, but since Ethan took more after their mom's side of the family, Matt usually didn't think of his dad unless he chanced to see himself in the mirror.

Frowning, Matt clicked off the bathroom light and stepped into the boys' bedroom. In the half darkness, he edged his way between the two mattresses, trying not to awaken his brothers.

As Matt sat down on his bed to pull off his boots, he heard the sheets rustle behind him. Matt groaned. "Ryan, get back to your own -- "

"It's me, Cassie," said a soft voice. "Please, Matty, let me stay for just this one night?"

"Cass," Matt sighed heavily, "you remember what the social worker said. You're too old to sleep in my bed, anymore."

In the darkness, Matt heard his sister quietly cry.

"I'm sorry, Cass, but you've got to go. You don't want to make me feel guilty, do you? Come on, get up."

"But," Cassie wept, "I don't want to sleep by myself. Please, Matty! I won't tell anyone."

Matt shook his head. "Out."

Sorrowfully, Cassie slid off the bed with her pillow, but lingered in the room, not wanting to leave.

"Why don't you take Ryan with you?" Matt suggested in a whisper.

Cassie whimpered. "I already tried, but he won't come. Please, Matty? I don't want to be by myself."

Someone on the large bed stirred, and Matt got up to take Cassie back to her small bedroom off the living room. She clung to his hand, reminding Matt just how fragile his twelve-year-old sister had become over the years.

"Cass," he said, sitting her down on the bed, "at least you have your own room -- the rest of us have to share. Try to look at it as one of the benefits of being the only girl in the family." A small comfort, he knew, but Matt struggled to find something good for Cassie to think about, for their financial worries had made her even more fearful to be by herself than usual. Making sure her nightlight was on, Matt tucked Cassie in while she continued to beg to come with him.

"I'll just be through the living room and the kitchen, right in the boys' bedroom," Matt said gently. "Try to be brave, Cass. Do you want me to find one of your old dolls?"

"No," she sniffed, "they don't help."

Pushing aside his own weariness, Matt sat down on the floor beside Cassie's bed. "I'll stay for a few minutes so you can get to sleep. After that, you're on your own."

"Oh, thank you, Matty!" Cassie leaned over to give her brother a tearful hug.

Matt yawned. "Yeah, yeah, just hurry up and go to sleep. I need my rest."

Content with his presence, Cassie plumped her pillow and then closed her eyes. "Good night, Matty."

"Good night, Cass." Leaning his head against the mattress, Matt let his eyes rest a moment. When she fell sleep, he would leave.

The next morning, Matt awoke to find he had passed the entire night on Cassie's bedroom floor. She gave him another hug, no doubt thinking he had stayed because of her, and Matt let her think what she wanted. He felt too stiff to contradict.

Everyone ate a breakfast of leftover canned corn, giving Matt another opportunity to remind God they needed the Department of Public and Social Services (DPSS) to straighten out their paperwork. Matt had given them the report concerning his monthly income, but they had lost it, and now claimed he had never handed it in. While Matt struggled to get the mess straightened out, he no longer had food stamps or government aid to help make ends meet. No one at the table complained, though Ethan's worried frown made Matt's stomach tighten. They had made it through some tough times, but things hadn't looked this bad in quite a while.

As Ethan and Cassie hurried out to the school bus, Matt carried Ryan to Mrs. Lott's house. As soon as Matt set Ryan down, the boy ran to her television to watch cartoons. One of the perks coming to Mrs. Lott's house was her satellite dish. Matt made sure Ryan had it turned to something he approved of, and then paused to talk a few moments with his neighbor.

"I can't thank you enough for babysitting Ryan," Matt said, accepting a sugar cookie from the plate Mrs. Lott offered. "You're saving me a fortune in childcare."

Mrs. Lott smiled knowingly. "I'm saving you a fortune you don't have. There's no need to keep thanking me, Matt. I enjoy having the company. How's the job search coming?"

"Still looking," Matt smiled, accepting one last cookie before leaving. "Thanks again, Mrs. Lott."

The screen door banged shut as Matt left his neighbor's house. The few people Matt had trusted enough to tell of his situation, always asked if he had found work yet. Matt feared he would be unable to keep it from social services much longer. The last report he'd given them, had been while he still had a job. In an odd way, their losing the paperwork had been a blessing in disguise, for although Matt needed the aid, he also knew they might break up his family, if they discovered he was presently without a monthly income.

Rent would be due next week, and as Matt crossed the front yard to his pickup truck, he sent another prayer to Heaven, reminding God of their need.

At that very moment, Matt noticed the mailbox. The flag was up. He hadn't remembered leaving anything for the mailman, and went to investigate. Inside the mailbox, Matt found a plain envelope without a postmark -- just his name printed on the front. When Matt opened it, he found an employment application with Beth's Garden Nursery logo printed at the top. Along with the form, he discovered a small, handwritten note that read:

"If you're still interested, fill out the application and bring it in. I can't promise you anything."

The note hadn't been signed, and Matt prayed the owner had put the envelope into his mailbox, and not an employee trying to help him behind her back.

Taking the application inside, Matt sat down at the kitchen table to fill it out. As he scribbled in his name, Matt noticed his hand trembled with hope. He had to steady himself, or else his writing would look more lopsided than usual.

As soon as he filled out the form, Matt would take it down to the nursery. He only prayed, that by some miraculous circumstance, Beth Carter had given him this chance. If she hadn't, Matt had little hope of this application materializing into a job.

"Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed."
~ Psalm 37:3 ~

end of chapter
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