Slap-slap-slap-slap. The steady pattering of J.T.’s rubber soles hitting pavement brought his heart back into rhythm as the heavy-metal tune, Death of Me, played through his ear buds, drowning out the accusations in his head. Could he ever atone for his misdeeds of the past?
Better question: Should he care?
He’d been summoned and was expected to appear before Dr. Long at precisely 10:00 a.m. This was no ordinary meeting. J.T. could feel it in the uncharacteristic wobble of Dr. Long’s voice, the clipped sentences meant to dissuade questions, and the setting in which the meeting would be held—the man’s personal office inside his home.
Would J.T. ever be allowed back into the inner sanctum as Dr. Long had often hinted? Or kept on the fringes as he’d been the last ten years?
J.T. twisted his wrist and noted the numbers on his Timex through the crystal scratched from years of hard physical training. Better step it up a notch if he wanted to pray by sunrise then complete the rest of his morning ritual before receiving his marching orders. He’d stop by his brother’s house on the way. That should remind him why he’d eschewed the world his family had cultivated and sought things with eternal implications.
Running his forearm across his brow to stanch the flow of sweat rolling into his eyes, he stepped into his cabin settled at the far end of his neighbor’s sustainable farm acreage. He stretched his chest and worked to steady the rhythm of his breaths.
Water. After filling a glass from the tap, he gulped till he sensed the liquid quench cells through to his skin then set it on the counter with a clatter.
Turning toward the living area of his single-floor abode, he spied his holy book from the prominent place, above all other books, on the shelves, among tomes of philosophy, comparative religious studies, and a few classic novels. Just the weight of it between his palms, as he pulled it from on high, calmed the intensity of his racing pulse.
“God is good.” The words came as if by rote. That thought made his lips curve into a knowing smile, Dr. Long’s face coming to mind.
J.T. gingerly opened the pages to the words he wanted to meditate on today. He read them aloud once, then again, until they settled into his soul, closed the holy book and said them again, before replacing it back in its lofty home.
After lowering his knees to the small rug laid across the hardwood floor, he leaned his forehead to meet it. The words he’d just found ran from his lips over and over and over, each repetition emboldening him to do the work of his Creator.
Now, he was armed to face off with his former boss, the FBI supervisor of the newly formed squad designed to root out recruitment and training of lone wolf terrorists.
The sound of the fountain beneath the skylight at the atrium of the Terra Grande Mall drew Destiny Long to her usual seat beside it as she began another day before her boutique opened. Something about the emptiness of the shopping center at this time, which contrasted the hustle and bustle of the rest of the day, felt even more peaceful than if she had stayed in her apartment to read her Bible and journal.
The whoosh of the water cascading down steps in the fountain didn’t hurt either.
Like living water. Cleansing.
She clicked her mechanical pencil to lengthen the lead, and scrawled across the empty page, getting lost in the words. Seeking to know more about the Creator Who made her, meditating on His love and opening herself to His discerning voice.
A tap on her shoulder made her jump, sending the book to the floor.
“Did I scare you?” Damien Malik’s full lips tipped and his dark eyes sparked.
Destiny gathered the book from the floor and set it beside her. “Never, Damien. You are as gentle as a lamb.”
“Ah, another allusion to your Savior.” His words held a hint of an accent from his parents’ native Pakistan. Though he was Americanized in many ways, his manner of speech reminded Destiny of his cultural fealty. “I guess I should feel complimented, and yet I believe few men openly pursuing a woman care to be thought of as a lamb.” He eased onto the bench beside her.
She placed a palm on his forearm but did not say a word. Though she greatly admired the man’s deep commitment to God, his Muslim theology left no chance for true salvation through grace. She could only muster a small smile.
His expression told her he knew her thoughts. He patted her hand on his arm. “One day you will see I am right. And we will be together. We will share the same faith.” He pointed to the vaulted skylight above the atrium at the center of the mall. “Allah knows this.”
Destiny hoped he was correct in one thing, at least—that they would one day share a Christian faith. After that, who knew?
Damien stood and offered his hand to her. She gathered her books and rose from the bench on her own.
He chuckled. “Ah, yes. American women can do everything without the help of a man.”
“You know I don’t feel that way.”
His gaze dropped to the tile floor. Maybe he understood she just didn’t want to lead him on. “Can I at least buy you a coffee?”
After stuffing her books into her messenger bag, she peeked into his soulful eyes. “Since I bought you one yesterday, I’d say that’s fair.”
His sigh was one of deep, manly exasperation. He headed toward the coffee stand that opened fifteen minutes before the other shops in order to satisfy all the employees’ morning jolt needs. “I will take what I can get.”
“Hey, boss.” Shyann breezed over to the coffee line, wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants, her brunette ponytail swaying as she jogged up.
Destiny peeked at her watch. She knew it wasn’t anywhere near time for her employee to show up for work. Shyann was the late shift. And was usually late. At least she used to be. Over the past few months, Shyann had made a greater effort to be on time. Maybe she’d sensed Destiny’s hints about her lackluster job performance. Or maybe it had something to do with her new beau.
“What are you doing here so early?” Destiny questioned.
Shyann shot Damien a look. “Heading to Fit World for a workout.” She grimaced. “And to use their computers. Mine’s on the fritz again.” She sighed. “Thanks, again, Damien.”
He nodded. “No problem, Shyann.”
“Well, toodles.” Shyann wiggled her fingers over her head as she trotted toward Damien’s fitness center where his cousin Aazim was opening the gate.
Destiny inched up as the line moved forward. “That’s really nice of you to let her use your computers all the time.”
He shrugged. “That’s what they’re there for. To help people.”
“I thought you bought those for the summer program you have for the kids on scholarship with the fitness classes.”
His wordless nod spoke of the humility he always demonstrated when she asked about his program to help youth. She knew it formed out of his own missionary designs to teach young people about the peaceful theology of his Ahmadi Muslim faith.
Too bad he wasn’t a Christian. Not only would she have no barriers dating him, but they could share the ministry of bringing people to Jesus. Then she wouldn’t have to endure her father’s constant warnings about their relationship.
Or whatever it was.
“The computers are there to help any members who might need them. Shyann is a member.”
“What does she do on them that she can’t do on her cell phone?”
Damien’s olive colored dimple quirked. “I believe she is writing a novel.”
Destiny’s jaw dropped before she could stop it. “I had no idea.”
“Apparently she has finally found some direction in her life.”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the guy she’s been chatting with from the dating service.”
His eyebrows rose. “Don’t tell me she has hooked up online?”
Destiny nodded, Shyann’s not-so-great boyfriend history weighing on her. Like the professional magician who seemed to make the large bills in the cash register disappear. “Yeah. I worried about it too. But this one seems different. Ever since she started chatting with him, she’s been coming to work on time—sometimes early, even—she’s gotten into shape, and she’s signed up to take a summer school course at Maryland State. It may just be a good thing.”
Finally, they both stood at the counter and ordered their own versions of coffee then parted to begin their days.
Passing the other stores as employees lifted the gates and arranged the merchandise, Destiny stared in the direction of her own to see at what point it was visible to passersby. Just as she crossed the edge of the second store before hers, she saw the sign—Re-Genesis. Though part of her wanted to groan at its relative invisibility, another allowed her to smile at the name and all that it meant to her. Her dream to have a store with the goal of re-purposing objects others might throw away, but it also sought to show what Jesus did for souls—re-purpose lives. Explaining that to customers was the highlight of her day.
After keying into the lock and lifting the gate, she scanned the layout of beautiful merchandise unveiled for the world to see. Well, at least customers close enough. Handbags and backpacks made from old jeans and the like. Quilts designed from scraps of fabric—each telling a story. Jewelry made by village people in developing countries in a display that outlined the work of the missionaries there. She also had floor-to-ceiling shelves of Christian paperbacks, fiction and non-fiction, that she’d rescued—as she liked to call it—from being destroyed by bookstores that were told by the publishing houses to rip the covers off and send them back when they didn’t sell in their allotted time. That way the publisher would reimburse them for the books without incurring the added expenditure of shipping. She’d been aghast when a friend who’d managed a bookstore told her this was a typical practice of the day, and she set out to do something about it. They were like her orphans.
Destiny ran her hand along the spine of a favorite novel from the used books section and her muscles relaxed. All was right in her little shop. She smiled at the thought. Especially since she’d bought the cash cow—the Print Book Dispenser machine.
Turning toward the behemoth printer that spit out books-on-demand, she congratulated herself in acquiring the one thing that would compel customers to search for her store. They didn’t just come to buy a book that it might print. They came to see it actually assembled before their eyes. After the PBD ran through all its machinations—printing, collating, cutting, binding—she’d place it in their hands like a fresh, warm brownie, straight from the oven.
The novelty had yet to wear off.
It didn’t hurt that she had cultivated connections with some stellar independent Christian authors whose titles were now available for her to print on site. Destiny’s customers had access not only to the number of books that lined her shelves. They had a seemingly unlimited library of titles, from years past and newly released, that they could take hold of within ten minutes from the start of the machine.
She charged a little more for the experience.
A customer meandered into the store and headed for the Romantic Suspense section. She lingered in front of a novel about Middle Eastern terrorists setting up cells in America.
Destiny sighed as her thoughts ran back to her dad. Though he’d been supportive of Destiny all her life, his job in U.S. intelligence made him extra protective to the point he’d insert softened interrogation techniques into conversations with her friends growing up. He saw evil around every corner. And now his suspicions seemed directed at her friend, Damien. What had the poor man done to incur her father’s distrust?
Had years of profiling terrorists led Dad to be apprehensive toward all Muslims? Could he ever get past that? And what if Damien actually did convert to Christianity one day? Would Dad believe it was real? She hoped so because she could imagine … maybe … Well, no use thinking on that now. Falling for men not of her faith had already left a scar that itched regularly.
She wouldn’t do that again.
Then a thought niggled at the back of her mind. She didn’t want to acknowledge it, but it wouldn’t go away. It rolled, and spun and even blinked as if to get her attention from behind a tinted window. Yes, her father’s job made him extra cautious. But his wisdom and experience also left him with an uncanny ability to find truth in the most concealed circumstances.
Damien was devout to a religion that had violent sects. He had many acquaintances from countries known to have terrorist training camps. And his fitness center was always filled with mostly young men of Middle Eastern descent.
Finally, she had to admit to the question that buzzed within the folds of her brain.
What if her father’s concerns about Damien were valid?
THE LONG VIEW
The extended edition