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Chapter two

“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?”

“I remember.”

“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 problems, 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 midchew. “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 stepbrother 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.”

Vanessa 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.”