Not in the heart, p.1
Not in the Heart, page 1
Praise for Chris Fabry
“A mesmerizing tale . . . [Almost Heaven] will surprise readers in the best possible way; plot twists unfold and unexpected character transformations occur throughout this tender story.”
“Fabry has a true gift for prose, and [Almost Heaven] is amazing. You’ll most definitely want to move this to the top of your ‘to buy’ list.”
Romantic Times, 4½-star Top Pick review
“Fabry is a talented writer with a lilting flow to his words.”
“[June Bug] is a stunning success, and readers will find themselves responding with enthusiastic inner applause.”
“An involving novel with enough plot twists and dramatic tension to keep readers turning the pages.”
“Engrossing and entertaining . . . [an] unforgettable tale.”
“A captivating story. . . .”
“Precise details of places and experiences immediately set you in the story, and the complex, likable characters give June Bug the enduring quality of a classic.”
“I haven’t read anything so riveting and unforgettable since Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Fabry has penned a remarkable love story, one that’s filled with sacrifice, hope, and forgiveness!”
“Few authors can weave such unique stories with such perfect language. . . . Fabry is an artist with words. All I can say is: Read his novels.”
“Once the story starts cooking, [Dogwood] is difficult to put down, what with Fabry’s surprising plot resolution and themes of forgiveness, sacrificial love, and suffering.”
“Ultimately a story of love and forgiveness, [Dogwood] should appeal to a wide audience.”
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“A book about deep secrets, the effort it takes to heal catastrophic hurts, and a thriller with an excellent plot climax.”
“Solidly literary fiction with deep, flawed characters and beautiful prose, Dogwood also contains a mystery within the story that adds tension and a deepening plot.”
“Dogwood will captivate you from cover to cover.”
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Not in the Heart
Copyright © 2012 by Chris Fabry. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of man copyright © by Andrew Lever/Shutterstock. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of boy in hospital copyright © by Ron Nickel/Photolibrary. All rights reserved.
Author photograph copyright © 2011 by Parmelee Webworks. All rights reserved.
Designed by Jacqueline L. Nuñez
Edited by Sarah Mason
Published in association with Creative Trust Literary Group, 5141 Virginia Way, Suite 320, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027, www.creativetrust.com.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fabry, Chris, date.
Not in the heart / Chris Fabry.
ISBN 978-1-4143-4861-2 (sc)
1. Fatherhood—Fiction. 2. Heart—Transplantation—Fiction. I. Title.
For the addicted and those who love them.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
30 DAYS BEFORE EXECUTION
The trouble with my wife began when she needed Jesus and I needed a cat. Life can be that way. That’s part of the reason I was on Sanibel Island in the cottage I had always dreamed of owning and she was in Tallahassee tending to the sick son of our youth. But it’s more complicated. There was more troubling me than religion or people who think problems can be solved with a leap of faith.
Said cottage was a tiny house that seems to be the rage among those who believe we are warming the planet with each exhale. I didn’t buy it because of that, but I recycle my Coors Light cans. My little contribution to the cause. Lately it’s been a hefty contribution. There was one bedroom in the back and a little bathroom, a walk-through kitchen, and a living area that I used as an office. Murrow usually sat in the window looking out at the beach with as much interest as I have in paying both of my mortgages. It’s not that I don’t want to pay. I can’t.
I was on the bed, surfing news sites, fueling the ache about my lack of direction and lack of a job. The satellite TV company disconnected me a few months ago, so I got my news online from the unprotected network of a neighbor who can’t encrypt his wireless router.
I could see the downsizing coming in every area of the conglomerate media company. I knew it would hit the newsroom, but I always thought when the music stopped, I would have a chair. What I got was severance, a pat on the back, and a shelf full of awards I stuffed into a suitcase that sat in the attic of a cottage I couldn’t afford.
I closed my laptop and told Murrow I’d be back, as if she cared, and walked barefoot out the front door and down the long, wooden stairway to the beach. I bought this cottage for these long, head-clearing walks. The sound of the waves crashing against doubts and fears. The smell of the ocean and its salty cycle of life and death.
A mom and a dad dressed in white strolled along the beach with two kids who squealed every time the water came close.
The phone rang as I passed a dead seagull. Not a good omen.
“Tru, it’s me.”
The woman of my dreams. The woman of my nightmares. Everything good and bad about my life. The “I do” that “I didn’t.”
“Ellen. What’s up?”
“How are you?” She said it with a measure of compassion, as if she weren’t holding back years of boiling anger. As if she didn’t have something else she wanted to ask me and wasn’t just setting the stage for the coup de grâce.
“I’m good. Just taking a walk on the beach.”
Wish you weren’t here. Wish you weren’t still in my head. Wish you hadn’t called. Wish the last twenty years were something I could bury in the sand. What were you thinking marrying a guy like me? My life is a sand castle and my days are wind and water.
“Hear anything back yet? Any offers?”
“There’s nothing plural about my job prospects. Not even singular. I did hear from the Fox station in Des Moines yesterday. They went with somebody with longer hair and bigger lungs.”
She spoke with a wry smile. “It’s only a matter of time; you know that.”
“Right. It’s always been a matter of time, hasn’t it?”
She let the irony hang there between us, and I could picture her in her wedding dress and without it. Then the first time we met in the university newsroom, big glasses and frilly blouse. Hair that smelled like the ocean and felt like silk. A sharp wit, infectious laugh, and the tenacity of a bloodhound on every story she covered. I thought we were always going to be on the same page, but somehow I kept chasing headlines and she moved to the Life section.
“I have something that might interest you,” she said.
“How old is she?” I’m not always a smart aleck with the people I love. When I’m asleep, they tell me I don’t say much of anything.
“It’s not a she. It’s a he with a pretty good story. A great story. A life changer.”
“Not into guys.”
She sighed and plowed ahead. “Have you heard of Terrelle Conley?”
That was like asking a history major if she’d ever heard of Alexis de Tocqueville. “I know he’s facing the needle.”
“Right. Next month.”
“Wonder what his last meal will be. How do they choose that anyway? Shrimp and steak or lobster bisque? Macaroni and cheese? How can you enjoy a meal knowing you only have hours left? Or what movie to watch? What would you choose?”
“I know his wife, Oleta. She wants somebody to write the story from his perspective. The whole family does.”
I laughed. “In thirty days or less.”
“They’ve scraped up some money. Not much, but it could probably help.”
“How much is ‘probably’?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I was thinking you could call Gina and find out if—”
“I’m not with Gina or the agency anymore. She dropped me. Said it was a hard decision on their part. I guess they took a vote.”
“Just another bump in the literary highway. I don’t think writing is my thing, anyway.” I said it halfheartedly, coaxing some kind of compliment.
“You’re a great writer,” she obliged. “You haven’t had as many opportunities lately, but . . .”
“I haven’t had any politicians who want to be president or sports stars who’ve been accused of steroids approach me in a few years. That’s what you mean,” I said. “Where did you meet Olatha?”
“Oleta. I met her at church.”
Groan. How did I know that was coming?
I paused at a sand castle that had been constructed with several five-gallon buckets. Towels and chairs had been abandoned for the moment. Water filled the moat, and I heard laughter from a bungalow perched like a lighthouse above. A couple in love.
“You must have some idea of how much.”
“A few thousand. We didn’t talk about that. The important thing . . . it’s not just an opportunity for you. It’s for Aiden.”
“Now you’re really getting cryptic. You want to back up?”
“Terrelle’s wife is in a study group with me. She’s known about Aiden’s condition for years. Always asks for updates. Terrelle came up with the idea—he wants to be a donor. A second chance for Aiden.”
I should have been doing cartwheels. Our eighteen-year-old son could get a new lease on life? Instead, I was skeptical, like any good journalist. “Ellen, there’s no chance. Do you know how long something like that would take?”
“It’s been in process for a while.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You haven’t exactly been available.”
“The prison system, the authorities, they’ll never let this—”
“The governor is taking it seriously. I’ve heard he’s working with the legislature. It’s not a done deal, but there’s a chance.”
The governor. The hair rose on the back of my neck.
“Ellen, there’s some law firm in Tallahassee salivating at all the appeals and counterappeals that are going to happen. This is less than a long shot.”
“Yeah, but right now it’s looking like a pretty good long shot.” There was emotion in her voice and for the first time I noticed noise in the background.
“Where are you?”
She swallowed hard and I imagined her wiping away a tear. My wife has had plenty of practice.
“At the hospital again,” she said. “ICU.”
I cursed under my breath and away from the phone. Not just because of all the hospital bills I knew were coming my way, but also because this was my son. I’ll be honest—the bills were the first thing I thought of, but picturing him hooked up to tubes and needles again crushed me.
“How is he?”
“Not good. They’re monitoring him. Same story.”
“How long have you been there?”
“Since late last night. He was having trouble breathing. Lots of pain. He asks about you.”
Guilt. She had to get that in there, didn’t she?
“Tell him to hang in there, okay?”
“Come see him. It would mean so much.”
“Yeah. I will.” I said it fast, though I knew I’d have to launder all the cat hair from my clothes because Aiden’s deathly allergic to cats just like I’m allergic to the inside of the death chamber.
Someone spoke over the intercom near her and the sound took me back to those first days when I wasn’t as scared of hospitals. Back then I could watch a movie or a TV show with a medical setting. Now I can’t even watch the TV promos. My chest gets tight and the smell of alcohol and Betadine and the shape of needles invades, mingling with the cries of a young child in pain and another memory of a man on a gurney.
We discovered Aiden’s heart malady by accident. Ellen was into natural food, natural medicine, whole-grain seaweed sandwiches and eggs that came from free-range chickens who had bedtime stories read to them each night before they settled into their nests. Natural childbirth with a midwife. All that stuff. She was convinced antibiotics were the forbidden fruit, so she didn’t run to the HMO every time our kids were sick. But something told her to take Abby in for some chest congestion she couldn’t get rid of. Aiden was with her, and on a lark the doctor placed the stethoscope on his chest.
Ellen cried when she tried to explain the look on the woman’s face. They’d missed it when he was born.
That sent us on a crash course of congenital heart defects and a series of surgeries and treatments that would change our lives. Ellen hates hospitals as much as I do, but you do what you must for your kids.
“Terrelle has the same blood type,” Ellen said. “He’s about the same size as Aiden, maybe a little smaller, which is good.”
“Ellen, you know this is not going to happen, right? There are so many hoops and holes. They don’t let doctors execute people.”
“There are guidelines, but they don’t have a problem harvesting orga
“Anybody who’s pro-life will howl. I thought you were pro-life.”
“I am, but this is something Terrelle wants.”
“Doesn’t matter. They harvest organs from prisoners in China, but we’re not in China.” Though you wouldn’t know it by shopping at Walmart.
“I know all that. But I also know my son is going to die. And Terrelle and his wife want something good to come out of their tragedy. They asked if you would write his story. I got to thinking that maybe . . .”
She broke a little and hearing her cry felt like some lonely prayer drifting away and hitting the empty shores of heaven. Not that I believe there is one, but you know, metaphorically speaking.
“You were thinking what?” I said.
“Maybe all of this is not really for Aiden. Maybe all we’ve been through in the last eighteen years is for somebody else. If they deny Terrelle’s request and Aiden doesn’t make it, maybe writing this story will make a difference for someone down the road.”
Her altruism was more than I could handle. “Look, I don’t care about all the people with sick kids. I don’t care about prisoners who want to make up for their crimes. I don’t care about protesters or the politicians who’ve found a wedge issue. I just want my son to live. Is that asking too much?”
The emotion surprised me and I noticed the family in white had changed direction but now quickly herded their children away from me.
It was Ellen’s turn to sound collected. “Do you have time to work on something like that in the next thirty days? It would at least pay a few bills.”
“If they’re trying to get a stay of execution, they need to go straight to the press. Forget a book deal, forget a magazine exposé—it’s already too late. Get somebody at one of the local stations to pick it up and run with it—”
“Tru, they don’t want a stay. He wants to give his heart to Aiden. And somebody has to get the story down before it’s over. No matter how it goes, this will make a great story.”
I was already mulling titles in my head. A Heart from Death Row. Change of Heart. Pitter-Pat. Life in Vein. Aorta Made a Better Choice.
She continued, “They know your history. What you’ve seen. How you’re against the death penalty and why. For all your faults, Tru, you’re the best reporter I’ve ever known. You get to the heart of the story like nobody else. I think you should consider it.”
by Chris Fabry have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes