Excerpt of Her Brother's Keeper

II Corinthians 5:7, 17
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 


Rebecca Tate leaned against the edge of the phone booth outside Serenity’s only grocery store and dialed the last of the four numbers on her list. Thankfully, the name scrawled on the back of the old photograph had been very unusual. If it had been something like Jones, instead of Keringhoven, she would have been overwhelmed with choices. 

Ringing began. Becky’s throat tightened. She’d told herself it was silly to get so excited, yet she couldn’t help anticipating success with every call.

From the time she’d been old enough to ask questions, she’d wondered about her origins, about the family she’d never known. Aunt Effie had done a wonderful job of raising her. But that didn’t stop her curiosity. All Becky wanted was the truth. Effie had told her so many wild, fanciful stories about her parents, especially lately, she couldn’t tell what to believe.

She was subconsciously counting the third ring when a gruff male voice interrupted with “Hello?”

His irate tone put Becky off so much she completely  forgot the polite introductory speech she’d used when she’d made her earlier calls. Instead, she launched right into her story.  “Mr. Keringhoven? You don’t know me, but maybe you can help.  I found an old photograph. It’s of a family, standing by a Christmas tree. The woman looks like me and I thought...”

“What are you calling me for?” 

“Be...because there was a last name on the back of the picture. Your name. And my birthday is right before Christmas, so I thought maybe...” 

The man cursed. “Who are you?” 

If he’d sounded even slightly amiable she’d have told him. It was the rancor sizzling through the line that kept her from speaking frankly.   

“It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” 


Becky slammed the receiver down to silence his expletives. She was trembling. If that awful person was any example of what her real family was like, she was glad Aunt Effie had been the one to take her in after she was orphaned. 

The list of phone numbers she’d gleaned from a search on the Internet fluttered to the ground. Becky snatched up the paper and crumpled it into a tight ball before tossing it into the trash can next to the soda pop machine. She was done looking for relatives, distant or otherwise. If Effie wasn’t going to tell her the whole truth about her parents, then she’d be satisfied with what little she did know.   

Besides, if the Good Lord had wanted her to make contact with her extended family, as she’d thought when she’d first stumbled across the old photograph, she’d have succeeded. Clearly, such a reunion wasn’t in God’s plans.  The sooner she accepted that, the better off everyone would be. 

Chapter One 

“She’s what? Oh, dear. Hold on.”   

Becky covered the telephone receiver with her free hand and swiveled the desk chair to face her boss. “It’s Aunt Effie, again. She’s dragging a ladder out of the garage and the neighbors are worried.” 

Brother Fleming arched his bushy gray eyebrows and rolled his eyes. “Knowing Effie, I can certainly understand why.” 

“So can I. I’m sorry. I know you wanted me here to meet your friend this afternoon but I’d better run home. I’ll get Effie calmed down and hurry back as soon as I can, I promise.” 

The portly preacher nodded. “Don’t worry about it.  Brother Malloy will understand. There’ll be plenty of time for you two to get acquainted before I actually retire.” 

Grabbing her purse, Becky gave him a parting smile. “I’m going to miss you, you old softy. Who else would put up with a secretary who’s always taking time off in the middle of the day?” 

“Logan Malloy will,” Fleming said. “I’ve already told him a little about your home situation. He’s a good man. He’ll support you --- at least for the short time he’s going to be here helping us out.” 

She’d reached the office door. “You really don’t think he’ll want to stay permanently? I don’t see why he wouldn’t.” 

Fred Fleming shrugged. “Brother Logan is more suited to city life. After Chicago, Serenity’s bound to be too dull for him.”  

“Dull? This place? Not with Aunt Effie around.” She patted her ample shoulder bag. “If you need me for anything, call me on my cell phone. I’ve got it right here.” 

“Better leave me the number then.” 

“It’s on the rolodex on your desk. Remember?” No wonder she was so good at coping with her forgetful aunt, Becky mused. In the last couple of years she’d gotten plenty of practice by looking after her absentminded boss. 

He nodded sagely. “Of course, of course. Well, get going young lady. Don’t worry. I’ll find it.” 

Becky wasn’t so sure. She delayed just long enough to flip through the file and tag her number with a sticky note, then hurried to the door and flung it open.   

It didn’t swing smoothly. There was a thud and a hesitation, followed by “Ow!”   

She would have lost her balance if she hadn’t had a hold on the doorknob. She saw a man’s fingers curl around the outer edge of the solid oak door. Moments later, half his face peered past it, revealing one deep brown eye.   

She gasped. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”    

The man stepped fully into the doorway and blocked her path. He was covering his nose with his hand but even so, she could tell this was one good-looking accident victim. 

She tried to dodge past him and failed. “Please excuse me. I’m really in a hurry.” 

“Obviously. I’d hate to think it’s always this dangerous to visit Fred.” 

Behind her, Becky heard her boss’s exclamation of joy.  “Logan! Welcome. Come in, come in. You’re early, my boy.” 

Boy?  Where? Becky’s gaze traveled swiftly across the man’s broad chest, checked out the shoulders of his sport coat, and sped back to his face. So, this was the Logan Malloy she’d heard so much about. Well, well. The singles classes at Serenity Chapel were sure going to fill up when the women in town got an eyeful of him. 

“I’m Rebecca Tate,” she said, grabbing Logan’s hand and shaking it very briefly. “Pleased to meet you. I really do have to hurry. Family emergency. Fred will explain everything. Excuse me?”   

Wondering how the doorway had shrunk since the last time she’d passed through, she sidled by him and hurried down the hallway. 

Logan chuckled as he watched her disappear around a corner, then sobered and turned to Fred. “Was that the one?  She has the right reddish hair and blue eyes.” 

“Yes, that’s her,” the older man said. “She and her aunt are the only ones I know who fit the profile you gave me.”   

“Does she know what we suspect?” 

Brother Fleming crossed the room and quietly closed the door before he answered, “No. And I want you to promise me you’ll keep it that way until you’re absolutely positive. I wouldn’t have gotten involved if I didn’t care what happens to her.” 

“I told you I’d do my best.” 

“Do better than your best,” Fred said. “She’s a very special person. I don’t want to see her hurt.” 

Logan’s voice was firm. “Neither do I.”    


Until recently, Becky had thought her job as church secretary was perfect. She loved working for gray-haired, disorganized, gentle Brother Fleming. Except for her aunt’s failing mental health, her biggest worry in life had been correcting spelling errors in the pastor’s monthly newsletter, or making sure his necktie wasn’t decorated with remnants of his latest meal. There were times when the sweet old guy drove her crazy but she loved him like a father.  Unfortunately, Fred had decided to retire and had invited an interim pastor to stand in for him until the church pulpit committee could find a permanent replacement.   

Though she’d only seen Logan Malloy for a brief moment after smacking him in the nose with the door, there was something about him that gave her pause. He was far younger than Brother Fred. And much better looking. But it was more than that; a jittery feeling she couldn’t quite explain.  One thing she was certain of; any woman in town under the age of ninety-nine was going to be beating down the church doors to meet the new temporary preacher. 

She pulled up and parked in front of the old stone house she shared with Effie. It was small but adequate for the two of them, and the yard gave her aunt plenty of opportunity to garden. Effie’s spring peonies were in full bloom, their heavy blossoms weighing down the branches till they almost touched the ground. One good Arkansas storm and those petals would fall like floral confetti. 

Mercy Cosgrove was waiting at the curb, wringing her thin, withered hands, while another elderly neighbor, Thelma McEntire, sported a halo of blue plastic hair curlers and clutched a poodle against her ample, flowered blouse. 

Mercy hurried around the car, pink house slippers scuffing the pavement. “Oh, Becky. I’m so glad you came. I didn’t know what to do. I was gonna call the fire department till I remembered how mad Effie got the last time.”   

“Everything’ll be fine. I’ll handle it. Where is she?”   

The old woman pointed a bony finger. “On the roof. See? She shinnied up that there ladder like a dumb kid. No sense at all. And at her age, too.” 

“Oh, my. Now I have seen everything.”   

Heart pounding, Becky shaded her eyes, paused near the base of the ladder and tried to appear calm. “Hello, up there.”

“Oh, praise God.” Effie hollered like she thought she was in the front row at a tent revival. “You made it! Hallelujah!”   

“That’s right. I’m here. You can come down now.” 

“Nope. Can’t. Not done yet. You get your little self up here with me, missy. I need your help.” 


Becky didn’t think it would help to remind Effie how frightened she’d always been of heights. While the other kids were scaling rock piles and climbing trees, she’d stood by and watched, accepting their ridicule rather than admit her fear. 

“Why don’t you just come down here so we can talk?” Becky asked. 

“Not till I get this baby barn swallow settled back in his nest with his brothers and sisters. He fell all the way down the chimney. You should of heard the racket he was makin’.” 

Glad she hadn’t worn a skirt to work that morning, Becky rubbed her sweaty palms on her slacks before grabbing the sides of the ladder. She lifted one foot, put it on the bottom rung, and froze --- except for the uncontrollable trembling that shook her to the core.   

She swallowed hard. Scared or not, she had to climb. It was sending that conclusion from her mind to her quivering muscles that was causing the delay. Finally, she forced herself to move by concentrating on the imminent danger Effie was in. 

Don’t look down. Don’t look down. One step at a time, she told herself. You can do it. Oh, Lord, help me!   

Knuckles white, face flushed, head swimming, Becky finally climbed high enough to peek over the eaves. Her gray-haired aunt was perched casually on the sloping side of the shingle roof, knees drawn up, gnarled fingers cupped around the small, dark body of the swallow fledgling. She looked as relaxed as someone sitting in an easy chair. 

“Please come down,” Becky begged. “We can call that wild bird rehabilitation guy and let him handle this. I know I’ve got his number.” 

“I couldn’t find it. Looked all over a’fore I climbed up here. Nice view, though. You can see all the way to the church. How’s Brother Fred doing?” 

“He’s fine, Effie. He sends his regards. But he needs me back at work and I can’t go until you’re safe.” 

“I’m safer up here than lots of the places I’ve been in my life.” She gave a throaty chuckle. “Just can’t get the rain cap off the chimney so’s I can see the nest good. I can hear this little guy’s family, though. They’ve gotta be right close to the edge here.”  

“Then they’ll still be there later,” Becky reasoned. “Why don’t you bring the baby over here and show me?” 

“Well...” Effie started to stand. 

“That’s right. Upsy-daisy. I’m right here for you.” Becky had no clue how she was going to get her aunt turned around and backed safely down the ladder, but at least they were making progress.        

Effie reached the edge of the overhang and stopped with the toes of her worn sneakers practically touching Becky’s nose. She scowled at the yard below. “I see the busybodies are all gathered. What’re they starin’ at, anyway? Lots of people climb ladders. Happens all the time.” 

“Not to me, it doesn’t,” Becky said with a huff of self-disgust. “Would you please come down, Aunt Effie, before I faint dead away?” 

“Land sakes, I forgot about your problem with heights. Don’t you fret. You just go wait with my cheering section. I’ll be down directly.” 

“I’m not leaving you up here all alone.” 

“I ain’t alone. I got a new pet. Remember?” 

“The baby bird doesn’t count. He couldn’t even take care of himself.” 

“Oh, all right. We’ll do it your way. But only ‘cause I love you.” 

“I love you, too. That’s why I’m up here.” 

Becky had taken a step down, making room for Effie’s descent, when the old woman pointed. “Who’s that?” 


“Over there. In our driveway. Gettin’ out of that fancy red car. He ain’t from Serenity.”  

A leafy maple blocked Becky’s view. “I don’t have a clue. I can’t see the drive from here. What difference does it make? Come on.”  

Instead of complying, Effie screeched, “No!” and scrambled up the roof all the way to the crest.  

Becky was dumbfounded. She’d seen her aunt get upset over minor things before but she’d never seen such full-blown panic.   

Forgetting her own fear, Becky was back up the ladder and had crawled out onto the roof before she had time to be scared. Staying on her knees, she followed the old woman all the way to the highest point and straddled the peak for balance.   

Terror and confusion filled Effie’s eyes. “Duck down behind the chimney. We don’t want him to see us.” 

“Why not?” Becky’s breathlessness was more from being up so high than from exertion. 

“Don’t know who he might be.”   

“What difference does it make? The yard is full of our friends. They’ll look after us. You know that.”  

“Still, we’d best hide awhile.” 


“To be sure they ain’t found us,” the old woman said. She lowered her voice to rasp, “Don’t you trust nobody, you hear? Nobody.” 

Becky sighed. It was happening again. Poor Effie had been troubled with hallucinations for months. The episodes were not only becoming more frequent but her illusions were apparently gaining strength. This was the most vivid, specific one Becky had witnessed. 

“I think we’d be safer if we were both on the ground,” she reasoned. “Then we could jump in my car and drive away if we wanted to.” 

“Wouldn’t do no good. They’re everywhere. I saw one of ‘em in the bathroom again this mornin’. She was old and gray. Real mean lookin’. She made fun of me, too. Did everything I did.” 

Becky had heard that complaint before. Effie sometimes didn’t recognize her own reflection. Becky hated to give up the last mirror in the house, but brushing her hair and putting on lipstick in the car on her way to work was a small price to pay for a loved one’s peace of mind. As soon as she got the chance, she’d remove the door from the medicine cabinet and hide it away. 

“I’ll see she doesn’t bother you again.” 

“You’re a good girl.” Effie patted her hand, then looked surprised. “Rebecca? What’re you doing up here? Where’s Flo?” 

It wasn’t the first time Becky had heard that name.  When Effie was confused she often mentioned a Flo, or Florence.   

“It’s just me, Aunt Effie.” 

“Praise the Lord. I thought he’d got you.” 

“I’m fine. So are you. Nobody’s going to get anybody.”   

Logan chose that moment to stick his head up over the edge of the roof and give a cheery, “Hello.” 

Gasping, Effie toppled over backwards. She might have slid down the opposite side of the roof if Becky hadn’t grabbed her. 

“Whoa,” Logan said, “I didn’t mean to scare you.” 

“You could have fooled me.” Becky pulled her frail aunt into a tight embrace and glowered at him. “What are you doing here?” 

“I came to see if I could help. Fred told me where you lived and gave me the directions. I didn’t think it would cause a problem.”     

Effie peeked at him. “Fred sent you?” 

“Yes,” Becky explained. “Aunt Effie, meet Brother Logan Malloy. He’s the new preacher I told you about. He’s going to be helping Brother Fred until the church can vote on a replacement.”     

“Nobody’ll ever replace Fred,” Effie said. 

“Not in our hearts. But right now, I’ll settle for letting Brother Logan help us down, won’t you?” 

The old woman’s eyes widened. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere with a stranger.” 

“He’s not a stranger. He’s an old friend of Fred’s. Please? For my sake?” There were unshed tears in Becky’s blue eyes. 

“Well...okay,” Effie said reluctantly. “But if he tries anything funny, I’ll teach him not to fool with decent folks.” 

“He’s just going to guide you onto the ladder and then steady you while you climb down. Isn’t that right, Brother Malloy?” 

“That’s right, Miss Rebecca,” he drawled, obviously trying to imitate local speech inflections and failing miserably. 

Becky giggled in spite of her precarious perch. “That is the worst southern accent I’ve ever heard.”  

“Sorry,” Logan said, “I thought it might help. Okay.  I’m set. The folks on the ground are steadying the ladder so it won’t slip. Let’s go.”  

Becky was glad Effie had decided to cooperate because there was no way she could have physically forced her to. She figured she’d be doing well to convince herself it was safe to crawl back across the shingles, not to mention stand up and walk to the ladder.  

Thankfully, heights didn’t bother Effie. She got to her feet and, tucking the baby bird in her apron pocket, proceeded as calmly as if she were on solid ground. 

Dread of making the same trip brought a fluttering to Becky’s chest, a lump to her throat. She’d been balanced astride the roof ridge like a rider on an immense horse.  Before Logan returned, she intended to be waiting near the ladder rather than let him see her fear. All she had to do was swing one leg over and scoot that direction. All she had to do was...move.   

Hmm. Apparently, that was going to be harder to do than she’d thought. Just contemplating it made her shaking grow worse – if that were possible. 

Totally disgusted with herself, Becky sighed. She was frozen to the spot like a deer mesmerized by the headlights of an oncoming car. Concern for Effie may have been enough to get her up on the roof, but she was going to need more than her own willpower to make the climb down.  

She closed her eyes, intending to ask her Heavenly Father for help. Instead, she thought of the stale joke about the man sitting on his roof, praying for divine rescue from a flood. Waiting for a miracle, the man had turned away every boat that came to save him, so he eventually drowned. When he got to Heaven and questioned God about not sending help, he learned that the boats he’d rejected had been the answer to his prayers.  

Becky smiled wryly. Okay. She got the picture. She was stuck on a roof, too. And Logan was her boat. 

She guessed it wouldn’t hurt to humor him and let him help her, just this once.