As promised, here’s a sneak peek for fans. The sequel to Queen Abigail the Wise will be called Vanessa the Wonder-worker, and it focuses on — big surprise — Vanessa! Some of my young fans told me that she was one of their favorite characters, and she’s certainly a lot of fun to write about.
The sequel should be available in time for Lent this year (which starts on February 26). I’ve got quite a bit of work still to do in order to make that happen, but meanwhile, I wanted to pass on a sample. So here are the first two chapters (minus illustrations, for now. That’s some of the work I’ve still got to do!). And by the way, I also have this as a Word file or a PDF, so if there’s a format you’d rather have, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The action begins just a little over a year after Queen Abigail ended. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin …
“I suppose we should start now.”
This timid statement came from Maggie-May Peasle. At the advanced age of 11, she already possessed the nearly magical Peasle speaking voice — so quiet, but so effective. Whether it was presiding over the parish council or saying grace at the very crowded dinner table, the agreeable tones of Peasles brought order to chaos.
In this case, however, the low-level chatter continued. With five girls and a three-year-old boy all crowded into one room of the social hall, a certain level of babble and noise was natural. All the same, Maggie’s delicate features registered disapproval. Spring had been slow to come to western Missouri, and the littlest conference room was a little chilly, even in late April. Besides, Maggie thought fretfully, I don’t have a lot of time. Maggie took a breath and tried again.
“This meeting of the Every Tuesday Club will now come to order.”
To Maggie’s relief, the conversation subsided. But Xenia Murphy, sitting next to her, glanced up through black, droopy bangs.
“Are you starting?”
Maggie-May raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. It seemed like a silly question, but Xenia wasn’t very silly as a rule. So Maggie just answered with a perfectly pronounced “Yes.”
Xenia shook her head sadly. As the Club’s technical expert, Xenia felt often as if she had to explain things that should be obvious. “You didn’t do it right. You have to tell me when you’re going to start so I can start recording on my phone.”
“And say the whole name of the Club.”
This last remark came from Photini Jenkins, sitting across from Xenia. She had lifted her feet up under her and tucked her straight, blonde hair behind her ears as she spoke. When her remark drew a noticeable silence, she glanced up to find Maggie looking at her critically.
“Well, I mean if you have to start over anyway …” She peered over at the Club’s other two members for support, but Vanessa Taybeck merely returned her look without lifting the chin that was cupped lazily in one hand. And Abigail Alverson, whose opinion carried a lot of weight in Club matters, had a blank expression that meant that her thoughts were elsewhere.
“Fine,” said Maggie. “Xenia?” Maggie waited until Xenia made eye contact. “I’m starting now.” Xenia jerked her head in something that might have been a nod and tapped buttons on her phone.
Maggie took the green plastic bottle that served as a gavel away from her little brother Jacob and waved it grandly.
“This meeting of the Every Tuesday Girls’ Club of St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church is now in session. Abigail Alverson, president.” Maggie inclined her head in a formal nod to Abigail, who seemed to notice for the first time that anyone was talking. “The honorable Maggie-May Peasle is chairing this meeting. And with all five members in attendance, I declare this meeting to have — ” Maggie brought the green bottle down smartly on the conference table. “— started!”
Vanessa shifted restlessly in her chair and plumped her chin onto her other palm. She had been looking forward to meeting with the other girls, but now that she was here, she couldn’t seem to relax.
These chairs aren’t very comfortable, she thought irritably. I don’t know why we can’t use the big conference room with the office chairs. And there are boxes of stuff all over the place in here — it looks trashy.
She frowned at the offending bins and boxes. The Church’s biggest feast of the year — Pascha, which her non-Orthodox friends knew better as Easter — had come and gone, followed by the week of festivities known as Bright Week.
That had ended last Sunday, and there were decorations that needed to be stored away for the year. Someone had apparently decided to park it all in the littlest conference room for now, and Vanessa’s keen sense of style was appalled by the sight of stacked plastic and cardboard boxes shoved into the corner.
If it were still my turn to chair the meeting, I would have started by having us move this stuff out of the way.
The Every Tuesday Girls Club had been going on for just over a year, and they had decided to take turns leading the meetings. It still felt a little strange not to have Abigail lead them, since she had started the Club in the first place. But it had actually been her idea to have a rotation, and it had worked out pretty well, on the whole.
In fact, most things about the Every Tuesday Girls Club went along well. Vanessa glanced over fondly as shy Photini led them in prayer to open the meeting. It had been her unofficial job since the Club had started, probably because the Jenkins family took church matters very seriously and she seemed like the obvious choice.
Saying the words now, Photini’s nervous demeanor faded away, and an expression of simple purity was plainly visible on her pale face. At one time, Vanessa hadn’t been sure she would have much in common with someone as saintly as Photini, or with quirky Xenia, or pretty Maggie, and certainly not with inventive and impish Abigail. But over the past year or so, they had all grown quite close.
Vanessa listened with half an ear to the meeting’s proceedings as she glanced at each of the girls in turn. No, there wasn’t that much to connect her to the group, really, other than them all going to the same church and being close to the same age. She was painfully aware sometimes that her manners could be abrupt, and that she could come off kind of quick-tempered or smart-alecky. At home or at school, she needed to be that way to keep from getting teased or pushed around, but in church, she could tell that sometimes it put people off.
The five members of Every Tuesday Girls Club weren’t very much alike. But somehow when they all came together, their differences didn’t matter as much.
Vanessa had tried to explain it in her family, but her older brother James just treated it like some kind of joke — he tended to treat almost everything as a joke. Her parents couldn’t seem to understand why it mattered. Her younger brother Noah listened to her patiently, but even he seemed confused.
“So you guys meet together, and you don’t just do girl stuff?” Noah asked, mystified. “You don’t just braid each others’ hair and draw ponies and things?”
“When have you ever seen me draw a pony? Besides, I told you,” she answered in annoyance. “Abigail started it because she thought that we could actually help people with their problems. That’s what the Club is there for.”
“To help people,” he replied skeptically. “And does that work?”
That had been hard for her to answer. She started to say, “Don’t you remember last year when you —” but she had stopped.
The fact was, the Club had helped. Last year, their family had gotten into some real trouble, and the other girls had come to the rescue. But it had seemed best not to make a big deal out of it, and Noah had never known that the Club was involved. The matter had been serious enough that the priest at St. Michael — kindly Fr. Andrew — had given counseling to her family, and it seemed like the worst of it was finally behind them.
Until now …
The thought seemed to pop into her head out of nowhere. Vanesssa brushed her thick hair back abruptly. I am not thinking about this right now. I’m just not. I need to stop daydreaming and get a grip. She forced herself to re-enter the meeting’s conversation, just in time to hear Maggie open up the topic of “old business.”
“And old business is anything that we have been working on, right?” Maggie asked Xenia.
“That’s right,” Xenia answered importantly. When it had been her turn to lead the meetings, Xenia had done research into how meetings were supposed to be run, and she had made some changes. “So we go through old business first and catch up on where we are, and then we talk about new business.”
“Well,” mused Maggie. “So we know that we have been switching off who does the babysitting. And pulling weeds. Oh, and Miss Hemmings needs us to work at Broadmere House.” Broadmere House was a restaurant that the church owned, and the girls took shifts washing dishes and doing odd jobs during busy times.
“That’s all old business. Um, what else?”
“I still don’t know why we can’t just talk like we used to,” Photini murmured.
Xenia stared at her. “Because it wasn’t efficient.”
“But it was fun.”
“Maybe for people that wanted to ramble on without —”
“Ohh-kay,” Maggie rapped the green bottle to stop Xenia from finishing her thought. “So let’s be getting on with that old business then, shall we? What assignments have we been working on?”
Vanessa hid a smile. She had to admire the way that Maggie dealt with things.
Maggie was obviously starting to get a little annoyed, but instead of getting mad about it, she stayed focused and handled it with authority and humor.
I should do that, thought Vanessa. I lose my cool too much and just let everything get to me. I should be like Maggie. She makes everything look so easy. I wonder how she does it. She’s got five brothers and sisters, and yet, they always seem to just enjoy being with each other. But then, she doesn’t have brothers like mine. I’ll bet even Maggie couldn’t do anything about —
Vanessa angled her head a little, straining to hear any noise that might come from down the hall. It’s happening right now. Right down the hall in Father Andrew’s office. If only I could hear something.
Jacob playfully brought the plastic bottle down on the table and Vanessa jumped as if someone had fired a shot.
“Holy cow, Jacob!” she shouted.
Little Jacob was nearly unflappable, but he turned a pinched face up to Maggie, and she hastened to give him a reassuring squeeze to let him know he wasn’t in trouble.
“I’m sorry,” Vanessa blurted, horrified. Barking at Jacob like that was about the only way to make Maggie really mad. “I’m really sorry. Jacob, you were fine. I just got startled. I was … I had been thinking about …” Vanessa realized she really didn’t want to finish the sentence. But Maggie-May didn’t feel like letting her off the hook.
“Well?” she said coolly. “What were you thinking about? You haven’t been paying attention to the meeting. So what’s the problem?”
“Um …” Vanessa floundered. Her eyes happened to fall on Jacob, who was watching her cautiously, and she grabbed at the only idea she could think of.
“I was thinking about my brother Noah.”
She couldn’t help noticing that Photini and Xenia exchanged a look. Abigail nodded in an imitation of sympathy, but Maggie’s expression didn’t soften.
“Oh,” she said simply.
Feeling a little desperate, Vanessa continued, “You know, because he’s away now and … I miss him.”
Xenia frowned in a pinched way that Maggie mistook for confusion. “You remember,” Maggie explained to her. “Vanessa told us that Noah got invited to go to his best friend’s ranch in Joplin. And even though the school year isn’t quite over, her parents thought it would be a good experience, and so —”
“I know,” interrupted Xenia. “Her parents worked it out and he really wanted to go, and so he’s on a farm in the middle of Missouri, and she’s worried he’ll fall off a horse or get bitten by a snake or something.”
Vanessa felt annoyed. “Well, you don’t have to say it like that.”
Photini never liked arguments to start, so she broke in nervously, “I’m sure she didn’t mean anything, Vanessa. It’s just that we’ve been over this. You’ve talked about it kind of a lot.”
“That’s right,” Xenia grunted disagreeably. “So you can stop worrying. About him, anyway. Now, your other brother—”
Vanessa turned on Xenia, a sharp response already on the tip of her tongue. But Maggie brought the plastic bottle gavel down on the conference table before she could open her mouth.
“Boy!” exclaimed Maggie brightly. “I’d love to keep talking about all this, but we’ve got to finish up because I have to leave early tonight. Darn!”
Xenia blinked at her. “I just meant that her brother James —”
“Xenia!” Maggie snapped. “Remember how important you said it was for us to stay on topic? So do you have any Club business to talk about?”
Xenia looked at Maggie as if she were slightly insane. “No. Oh wait, yes.”
Maggie tried not to groan. “Yes?”
“Yes,” nodded Xenia. “There’s Jeffie Sanders’ rat.”
“Jeffie Sanders’ what?” Maggie and Photini said at the same time.
“Jeffie brought his pet rat to the hall Sunday night and it got loose,” Xenia said in a dull monotone. “Mrs. Sanders asked me if we could try to find it and I said yes.”
Maggie’s mouth had dropped open, but she closed it. “Xenia, why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“Because it was new business,” Xenia explained, rolling her eyes. “And I couldn’t talk about it until we finished the old business.”
“Well, yes, but —”
“Wait, wait!” Photini broke in, squirming in disgust. “Are you telling me that there is a rat? Here?”
Xenia eyed her unsympathetically. “It’s a pet rat. Her name is Matilda. It’s not like she bites or has the Bubonic Plague or anything. She’s totally tame.”
“And totally gross,” Photini shot back, pulling her feet up higher onto the chair legs.
“I don’t mind about it being a rat,” Maggie remarked, with a glance at Photini, “But that means it has been here already for two days. If it hasn’t found anything to eat —” Photini shuddered, but Maggie ignored her. “If it’s gone without food that long then we really need to find it as soon as we can. Like, tonight.”
“Right,” Xenia agreed.
“But, I can’t stay tonight. Remember, I said?”
“So I guess you guys will — “
“Nope,” Xenia interrupted. “I can’t. I have allergies. I might puff up or —”
Photini immediately broke in, her voice cracking with anxiety. “If Maggie and Xenia aren’t going to look for him, then I’m not either. Let him starve.”
“Her,” Xenia corrected.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Vanessa exclaimed, pushing back her chair. “I’ll go rat-hunting. I know the meeting’s not done, but I didn’t really have anything to add anyway.”
“So I noticed,” Maggie mumbled.
Vanessa avoided her glance. “So where do I look? Well, … the kitchen, obviously.” Photini shuddered again.
“And the reading room,” Xenia said. “That’s where Jeffie was when he lost her. But she could’ve gone to a lot of places since then.”
“Hmm,” Vanessa mused. “Sounds like I’ll need some help. How about it, Abigail? Want to help me find a rat?”
Abigail looked from one face to another. “Sure. Why not?” Vanessa couldn’t help noticing how unhappy she sounded. Come to think of it, Abigail had been kind of distant all evening. Maybe getting out of the conference room would help her, too.
“Right then,” Vanessa chimed, pushing up from her chair. “Maggie, I know you need to go, but maybe you other guys can just hang out? And leave your cell phones on so we can report back.”
She held the door open for Abigail and smiled back at them. “And tell Mrs. Sanders not to worry. With two Club members on the job, we’re sure to find him.”
“Her,” Xenia called out as the door swung shut.
The social hall usually wasn’t heated on weekdays, and Vanessa and Abigail wandered side by side through corridors that felt chilly and deserted. The hall at St. Michael the Archangel was a complex jumble of rooms to navigate through. It was more space than the church needed — the building had originally been an Elks Lodge that hosted big meetings and events. Vanessa didn’t know very much about the Order of Elks, other than it was the kind of men’s society that used to be around more in her grandfather’s time. When Noah was little, he had thought that there were real elks that used to get together in the building, and it had been hard to convince him otherwise. The memory made her smile, but thinking of him still made her a little wistful, and Vanessa forced herself to return to the present.
She tried a few witty remarks about their mission, but Abigail’s answers were brief and distracted, and the conversation lagged by the time they pushed open the door to the kitchen.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Vanessa called out in a determined effort at comedy. “Well, what do you think, Abigail? Know any good ratcalls?”
Abigail’s light brows drew together in mild confusion. “Any good what?”
“You know, there’s that word ‘catcalls.’ So maybe these would be ratcalls. Because … it’s a rat.”
Abigail acknowledged her little joke with a faint chuckle, and Vanessa dropped down into the nearest chair.
“Okay, I give up. I know I’m not the funniest person on the planet, but I would have thought you would see the humor in us having to go rooting around in the kitchen for Jeffie Sanders’ rat. So what is going on with you?”
“What do you mean?” Abigail asked with a blank expression.
“What do I mean? You’ve hardly said two words all night. It’s not like you.”
“Oh. I didn’t know anyone noticed. I mean … well, Maggie and I have talked about it.”
“Yeah?” Vanessa remarked, pushing a chair out for Abigail. “So now you and I can talk about it, too.”
Abigail looked around the room and out the door, obviously unsure whether she wanted to open up or not. But in the end, she gave a shrug and plopped herself down. “It’s really no big deal. I’m probably just being stupid.”
“What? Tell me.”
“It’s the Club.”
“What about it?”
“Well,” said Abigail, picking through a bowl of fruit on the table. “Just look at what we work on. Look at the stuff we do.”
Vanessa glanced around them. “You mean like looking for Jeffie’s rat?”
Abigail had to smile. “Well, not that so much. But you know … babysitting? Yard work?”
Vanessa had a feeling she knew what Abigail was getting at. She had felt a shift in what the five girls did for the Every Tuesday Girls Club, and it had sort of bothered her. But she was also aware that those little jobs always needed doing.
Shrugging, she said, “Yard work and babysitting don’t seem like bad things for us to do.”
“Not bad, exactly,” Abigail replied, lifting a bunch of grapes from the bowl. “And don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to act snooty, like we’re too good to sweep and rake and take care of little kids. But these days, that’s all we do. And that makes me sad.”
Vanessa nodded, breaking off a sprig of grapes. “Me too. Back when we started the Club, it really felt special. We worked on our biggest problem, and we pretty much solved them. And you guys were total lifesavers for my family and for me. I’ll never forget that. Wasn’t that worth it?”
“It was,” Abigail agreed. “Of course it was. And it’s even partly thanks to us that the church opened the restaurant. Did you know that?
Vanessa stopped in mid-chew. “No, I didn’t.”
“Yep. Father Andrew told me. It has to do with those cookies we made last Christmas.”
Vanessa shook her head in amazement. “That’s so cool. But that means we’re still doing big things, right? So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that we have fallen off the radar or something. After we first introduced ourselves to the parish council in December, they were giving us real stuff to do for a while — things that mattered. But then everyone got busy and now they just think of us like a girls’ club.”
Vanessa looked at her affectionately. Abigail was such a dreamer. Talking about the Club now, Abigail’s hazel eyes lit up like they had on that Tuesday night more than a year ago when she had come into the littlest conference room full of big plans. Vanessa couldn’t help envying Abigail’s ability to get excited about things.
Still, she could be a little unrealistic at times. Vanessa wondered if it might be a better idea to kid her out of this. “You mean, we’re not a girls’ club?” Vanessa said lightly.
Abigail smiled. “We are. Of course we are. But I think there’s something special about what happens when the five of us get together.”
“So, we have superpowers?”
“Not superpowers,” Abigail answered, chewing on a grape pensively. “But something. And I feel like God has more for us to do.”
Vanessa regarded her thoughtfully. “Did your still, small voice tell you that?” The girls all knew that Abigail sometimes got ideas and direction in life from things that came to her when she prayed or when she was quiet. She called it her ‘still, small voice,’ based on something from the Bible that happened to the prophet Elijah.
Abigail looked at her, uncertain if she was still being teased. “I probably talk about that too much,” she admitted.
“No, you don’t. I believe you. How could I not? I’ve seen how things tend to work out for the best when you listen to that voice. I wish I had something like that, but I just don’t. I don’t even know if I really understand how it works. Like, is it talking to you right now? Can you use it to find this silly rat so we can go back to the nice, warm conference room?”
Abigail gave her a quick, searching look. “No, it didn’t tell me anything like that,” she said. “But it did tell me that something is going on with you.”
“With me?” Vanessa exclaimed. She hadn’t been ready for the abrupt subject change. And she really wasn’t sure she wanted to go into her problems right now. She tried a light laugh. “Your voice told you that? Well, it’s overreacting. I know I’ve been a little tense about Noah, but it’s fine now, really.”
Abigail frowned, looking pointedly at the table.
Vanessa studied her for a silent moment and then sighed. “Okay, there is something else, and it has me worried. But I don’t want to be here all night. If I tell you, can we just not talk about it a whole bunch?”
“Yes,” Abigail replied with touching sincerity.
“Okay. Look, I didn’t want to bother you guys about it, because I figure you all must be totally sick of hearing me talk about my messed-up family.” Abigail started to protest, but Vanessa cut her off. “It’s about James.”
“Again?” Abigail said. And then she felt bad and wished she hadn’t said it. Vanessa’s step-brother James had gotten into a lot of trouble as a teenager. But he had graduated that year and gone off to Blue River Community College. Abigail hadn’t heard anything more about him, so she thought everything was fine. Apparently, it wasn’t.
Vanessa shook her head. “See? That’s what I mean. I feel like I’m always bothering you guys with our problems. But yes, James has just started to change lately, and it’s really getting my mom and dad ticked off.”
“What’s the matter? Did he lose his job?”
“No, he’s still working for the college, and he seems really into it. He’s even getting good grades. But he has this whole attitude — I mean, even worse than he used to have. He uses really bad language when he comes over, and he has gotten all arrogant and negative. What’s worse, he says terrible things about religion and Christianity — he and my dad have gotten into some bad arguments.”
Vanesssa sighed, picking listlessly through the fruit bowl. “I don’t understand it. James used to be really interested in the Orthodox Church and its history, and in studying the Bible. I know he didn’t act like it, but all of that used to mean something to him. And now, he talks like he never wants to come to church again. I don’t know what happened — James and I don’t talk much. But anyway …” She couldn’t help glancing out the door toward the other side of the hall. “Mom and Dad asked James to come to a meeting with Father Andrew — they really told him more than asked him — and it’s probably going on right now.”
Abigail digested the information in silence.
“So that’s what’s going on with me,” Vanessa muttered. “But can we not make a whole big thing out of it?”
“I won’t,” Abigail assured her. “I said I wouldn’t. No wonder you’re worried, though. I would be, too. I hope Father Andrew can help.”
“I’ll bet he can,” Vanessa agreed, with an enthusiasm she didn’t feel. “He’s really good at stuff like this. So can we just get on with other things now? We didn’t come here just to talk, after all. I’m glad you told me what was bugging you, and thanks for listening about my stuff, but we better split up now. Do you want to keep looking here in the kitchen?”
Abigail recalled their mission and glanced into the corners of the kitchen. “Oh, um … yeah, I guess so,” she said timidly. “Where will you be?”
“I’ll make my way to the reading room, I guess. Do you think I can borrow this?” she asked, picking a flashlight off the top of the water cooler.
“Sure,” Abigail answered.
“Good, because I might need it,” said Vanessa, clicking the flashlight on and off. “I really don’t know if we’ll have much luck, though. Hey, too bad we don’t really have any superpowers, right? They would come in handy right now.”
Abigail laughed appreciatively, and Vanessa was glad to note that chatting together had helped lighten the mood. “Thanks again for listening to me, Abigail,” she said, plugging headphones into her phone and fitting the earbuds into her ears. “It really does help to have someone to talk to about it, even if it never comes up again. You’re a good friend.”
Abigail watched her with a puzzled expression, even after she had left the kitchen and the door had silently closed behind her.
“I’m glad I’m a good friend,” Abigail told the empty kitchen. “But it will come up again. I know it will.”