Paul then stood up
in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:
"Men of Athens! I
see that in every way
you are very religious.
For as I walked around
and looked carefully
at your objects of
worship, I even found
an altar with this
inscription: TO AN
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock
and the door will be opened to you.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
First scene of Tangled Truths by Gloria Clover:
Marine Captain Neil Harrington surveyed the playground as though it were a battlefield. Perhaps it was. Perhaps he was fighting for more than a look at Helena's children. Perhaps in the overall scheme of things he was fighting still for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But not Helena's. He was too late to save her.
He watched the first grade students bounce across the dry, September grass. Shouting to one another, they broke into smaller groups to play.
Which were Helena's?
Since her kids were fraternal twins, Neil figured they would resemble one another enough that he would quickly identify them in the forty to fifty kids swarming the yard. At least that was the reason he'd remained at the school through the lunch hour—after he had been denied direct access. Seeing the kids during recess had seemed a logical Plan B.
And that was all he wanted—to see them, he now insisted internally even as he'd insisted thirty minutes earlier to the school principal. He wasn't interested in kidnapping and didn't even need to talk to them. He simply wanted to see Helena's children, make sure they were being well cared for. Anyone with a brain behind his eyes could see Neil wasn't parental material. What would an unmarried Marine do with two six-year-olds?
Yet the principal had taken one look at him and started spewing rules and regulations. Though he "sympathized" with Neil's "situation," the principal had informed him in no uncertain terms that he was out of line. He should have approached the children through their guardian.
Guardian, huh? Neil rejected the thought in disgust. He didn't want to get into anything legal. He'd hoped to be in and out without anyone being the wiser. Now he expected local authorities would soon pull behind his rental car.
The one-story school building took him back to his own childhood, to a simpler time when it was an oddity for a child to have a single parent. He wondered how many of these jean-clad figures, whose heads would barely reach his belt, had two parents. Some wore T-shirts or sweatshirts with logos; others wore brightly colored jackets. He supposed the ones with jackets had mothers—mothers who had known the temperature wouldn't rise above seventy degrees, that it would be cool in the shade of the old maple trees surrounding the school's perimeter.
Maybe he was unintentionally insulting modern dads. He wouldn't know; he knew nothing about being a dad.
And he didn't want to, he reminded himself sharply. He just wanted to see the kids. When he had set out for Indiana, it hadn't seemed unreasonable.
Now, he wondered. The hostile first grade teacher continued to glare in his direction—as she had been, since her class arrived outside. She would be no help.
He continued to scan the yard. Why couldn't he recognize them? It had been almost five years, and he hadn't paid attention then. He'd been angry, hurt, too caught up in himself to have time for anyone else.
I'm sorry, Helena.
Though he still had anger and pain, he also, for the first time in twelve years, had a block of time on his hands. Maybe he shouldn't have been flippant, seeing a battleground in every ink spot during that fifteen minute session in the psychiatric ward. He hadn't suspected the young intern had the power to demand his leave. Truthfully, he had seen a lot of battles, a lot of blood, a lot of death. It didn't mean he was cracking up.
When a picture of a hollow-cheeked boy tried to materialize in his mind, Neil pushed away from the tree. If he had only a few moments before the authorities arrived, he'd better make the most of them. He imagined Helena's children would have hair like dark mahogany.
"Excuse me!" The first grade drill sergeant charged toward him.
Neil had known she wouldn't be helpful, but he forced a polite smile. "Ma'am."
She didn't return his smile. "What's your business here?"
Neil dropped to an "at-ease" stance and expanded his chest. The drill sergeant reverted to a rosy-cheeked first grade teacher who stepped away, glancing over her shoulder as though for backup.
Neil knew he was being observed from two other sectors: the principal's office and a corner window. "Ma'am." He offered a polite tone and another full smile. "I'm looking for Helena Harring—" He cut himself off. She'd always be a Harrington to him. He found it difficult to imagine the young, carefree girl married. He continued, pushing the hated name past his lips, "Helena Saxton-Smith's children. I'm not here to harm them, or take them from the premises. I'm a Marine, ma'am." Sometimes that instilled trust. Neil figured it wouldn't hurt to try. "On leave, for only a few days." The exaggeration was justified if it aroused pity for his cause. "I simply wanted to see my kids." Again, a slight stretching of the truth—but they could have been his kids . . . if he'd wanted.
The woman's face softened slightly, and he realized he was dealing with an innocent who didn't believe that those horrendous tales on the evening news could actually happen in her town. Neil felt a hardening toward her. Of course they happened. All across the world. No one was immune. Least of all children.
The teacher swallowed and stepped back another pace. By her frightened face, Neil realized he'd just blown his chance.
"I've never heard of Helena Saxton-Smith. Perhaps you have the wrong elementary school."
"No." Neil heard the squeal of tires as someone took the turn onto Maple Street too quickly. He didn't glance back to see how many patrol cars had been sent. He stared down the teacher. There was only one elementary school for this area of East Park.
Of course, he hadn't known for certain that they were still in East Park. The address from Saxton-Smith's deserted letters had been a dead end. A young couple who had moved into the apartment four years earlier had no idea where the previous tenants had moved. But Neil hadn't given up. He knew they were here, in this playground, taught by this teacher, watched over by the principal peeping from the school window.
He vowed quickly, urgently, "I won't talk to them. Please point them out to me."
The teacher shook her head. A car door slammed shut behind him.
Sighing, Neil swung around to face the approaching officer. Maybe he could appeal to his paternal instincts.
Or maternal instincts. Or, perhaps, Neil admitted of the panicked figure approaching him, it would do no good to appeal to her for anything.
She made a beeline for him.
Neil snapped to attention, wishing she were the local authority, anyone but who he now suspected her to be.
The long cotton skirt twisted about her legs as she strode across the crackling grass. She wore a pull-over tunic and a long jacket of some mixed-colored print which effectively hid any feminine curves she might possess. But her dark brown hair was pulled back from her face, a face that thrived on no accessories. High forehead, accented cheekbones, hollow cheeks, narrow nose, full lower lip, and a pointed chin that raised sharply as she stopped before him. Skin as flawless as a child's.
"Mr. Harrington," she said, her voice husky as she tried to catch her breath and speak at the same time. "Those children are mine. You can't have them."