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Book Jacket

0736914145
Trade Paperback
315 pages
Jan 2005
Harvest House Publishers

A Window to the World

by Susan Meissner

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

PART ONE

Winter 1988


1

Twenty-one silent first-graders perched on elfish, aquamarine chairs waited without wiggling as their teacher, Mrs. Fredericks, welcomed the new girl into the classroom. Mrs. Fredericks had her arm across the girl’s shoulders and was engaged in a hushed conversation with the girl’s mother. It was the first day back from Christmas vacation, and there were still wreaths made of green handprints stuck on the wall behind the trio of teacher, pupil, and parent. Outside slightly open windows, an expected January sun was bathing the San Diego neighborhood in rapidly increasing warmth. By noon it would be sixty-five degrees without a cloud in the sky.

“We’re so glad to welcome you to our class,” Mrs. Fredericks was saying as twenty-one sets of eyes took it all in, their teacher’s familiar one-armed embrace, the dulcet tone of her voice, the long, golden braids that fell from the girl’s head, and her calm, blue eyes that surveyed the room with no trace of apprehension.

It was the girl’s relaxed demeanor that kept the children awed and silent. She seemed completely at ease.

Only moments before, wide-eyed Mrs. Fredericks had admonished the class to “show our new student how quiet you can be,” like being quiet would utterly amaze the newest member of their class. But the girl did not seem to be amazed at all by the silent stares.

For Megan Diamond, last chair, table three, keeping quiet wasn’t difficult. “She’s our quiet one,” her mother would say when someone spoke to her and she rewarded them with just a nod. It was not like Megan to speak out of turn in class. It was not like Megan to speak at all unless spoken to first. It was one of the things she liked least about herself. And she hated being called shy. It was a short, marshmallow-soft word, and she felt the word for shyness should instead have a hard edge to it, like “wasp” or “scab” or “spinach.”

Megan stared at the new girl like all the others in her class did but without so much as a bridled whisper on the tip of her tongue. She instinctively figured she could stare at the new girl as long as she pleased, completely unnoticed, because that’s how she lived her life—quietly, anonymously, invisibly. At seven, she was not consciously aware of how she was acting. She didn’t really notice that her parents—and now her teacher—were somewhat concerned with Megan’s quiet manner and apparent inability to initiate a friendship. She didn’t know that she had been described as “compliant, but withdrawn” by her kindergarten teacher, or that Mrs. Fredericks daily looked for little ways to engage Megan in social interaction with her classmates.

Megan only knew that most things she did in class went unnoticed. And so she stared.

Megan noted the deep, golden hue of the girl’s braids, the tiny pearl earrings in her pierced ears, her jeans edged with red trim, the daisies on her white knit top and the smooth, unfreckled cheeks on her perfect face. Subconsciously, Megan reached up to her own cheeks and flicked a few hated freckles away, aware and yet unaware that they stayed just the same.

But then something amazing happened. The new girl locked her eyes on Megan’s, and for the first time in a very long time, Megan did not feel invisible. She felt exposed. It was a scary feeling and yet nice at the same time. The girl had noticed her. She had been discovered. Then the girl lifted up the corners of her mouth and offered a grin that was nearly imperceptible. But Megan saw it. The new girl was smiling at her.

Megan let the corners of her mouth rise in response.

It was a shared moment that was too quickly swept away into the next. The girl’s mother squeezed her daughter’s shoulder, backed out, and left. Mrs. Fredericks closed the classroom door and gently ushered the girl farther into the classroom.

“Class, this is Jennifer Lovett,” said Mrs. Fredericks. “She likes to be called Jen. Can you tell her hello?”

A chorus of commanded greetings filled the room. As Megan said the name Jen for the first time, she felt strangely drawn to this new word, its lyrical quality, and its beautiful owner. She watched Jen take a seat across from her at another table. As Jen slipped into an available chair at table two, she cast a glance back at Megan, as if to reassure Megan that, yes, she had indeed noticed her. Mrs. Fredericks then instructed the class to stand one at a time and tell Jen their first and last names, starting with table one. When it was Megan’s turn and she stood and whispered her own name, the boys at her table snickered, and one of the girls said, “Say it again. She can’t hear you!”

“I heard her,” Jen said, surprising everyone. “Her name is Megan Diamond.”


* * *

Megan had a hard time concentrating on making acceptable Ws that morning, and later she kept dropping the colored beads she was using to make a patterned sequence on a string. She kept looking at the new girl, wondering why in the world she had smiled at her. Was she teasing her in some way? Was she strange? Was she just being nice? Finally it was story time, and Mrs. Fredericks instructed the students to each take a seat on one of the carpet squares in the reading circle.

Megan moved to the circle and sat on one of the gray squares because no one liked those and she wouldn’t have to worry about defending it. Two squirrelly boys plopped down on either side of her, oblivious to her. Megan drew up her legs closer to her body, not daring to look at either boy but wishing with all her heart they would move. Jen was suddenly standing by the boy on Megan’s right.

“I’m sitting next to Megan,” she said to the boy, plainly and confidently.

The boy, who hardly realized he had sat down next to a girl, cast a glance at Megan and quickly scooted away. Jen dropped to her knees on the open purple square next to her.

“Look!” Jen said, pointing to her ankles as she folded her legs. “We have the same socks!”

Megan, nearly transfixed by the preceding moment, silently looked down at her own feet. It was true. She and Jen had the same white socks dotted with rosebuds and edged in lace. Megan could hardly believe Jen had noticed when even she hadn’t.

“I got mine at Penneys,” Jen said quietly, as if divulging a wonderful secret.

“So did I,” Megan replied, barely above a whisper.

“Do you have a cat?” Jen continued, like it was obviously the next question to be asked. Megan could tell Jen wanted it to be so, that Megan did indeed have a cat. She couldn’t contain the smile that spread across her face.

“We have a tabby cat. His name is Pippin. He’s orange.” The three sentences fell from Megan’s lips like an invitation to wonder.

“You are so lucky,” Jen said in reply. “We can’t have a cat ’cause my brother Charlie has nallergies.”

Megan had wanted very badly to ask Jen what nallergies were, but their conversation ended then because Mrs. Fredericks took her place at the top of the circle and held a finger to her lips.

But Megan couldn’t concentrate on the story Mrs. Fredericks read. Or anything else they did that day in class. Jen’s words kept replaying themselves in her mind, over and over.

You are so lucky. You are so lucky.


* * *

Trina Diamond was not used to her older daughter rattling on about school, friends, or anything else, so she found it rather odd when Megan came home from school full of news about the first day back from Christmas vacation. Trina listened attentively but with a fair amount of astonishment. This was not like her daughter.

Megan had always been quiet, reserved, and somewhat untrusting. It was an attribute Trina had decided was not a bad thing, especially when it came to her daughter’s safety. Megan hardly spoke to adults she knew and never spoke to strangers, whereas her other daughter, three-year-old Michelle, was a nonstop chatterbox. Megan’s shyness caused Trina some concern, but it wasn’t something she agonized over. Megan was only seven. Trina was sure a time would surely come when Megan would come out of her shell. And if she didn’t, well, that was okay. There was nothing wrong or shameful about being shy.

Trina had held out hope—and still did—that school would draw out her quiet daughter, but when it finally seemed to have happened, she felt uneasiness, not relief.

From the moment Megan slipped into Trina’s car when school let out to when she sat down in the kitchen a few minutes later for a snack, Megan talked. First grade had been fun that day. There was a new girl named Jen. She and Jen were now friends. They had made an ant farm. Jen had sat next to her at reading. They had played together at recess. Jen pushed her on the swings. She pushed Jen. They drew cats at art time. Look, here’s Pippin. This one is Jen’s. They can’t have a cat. Can Jen come over?

Megan, sitting on a kitchen stool and carefully placing raisins on a peanut-buttered length of celery, waited for an answer.

“And who is this girl?” Trina asked, surprised at her apprehension.

“She’s the new girl,” Megan repeated.

“Well, yes, I mean, where does she live? Where did she move from?”

“She came from Lost Angeles,” Megan said, obviously proud to know so much. “She lives across the canyon. That way.” Megan waved in a westerly direction, toward the ravine of sagebrush, tumbleweeds, and pepper trees that separated their housing development from the one that sat on the rim of the canyon’s other side. Less than half a mile of open air separated the two housing tracts though the length of the canyon from rim to rim spanned nearly twice that. It was untamed, undeveloped, and rumored to be home to rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. Megan and her sister were forbidden to play in it.

“So can she?” Megan said, crunching down on the celery stalk.

Trina inwardly berated herself for feeling so overly cautious. This was exactly what she and Gordy had been hoping for. In their moments alone when she and Gordy prayed for their kids, they never failed to ask for good playmates for their quiet first-born. As she was reminding herself of this, Trina suddenly understood why she had reservations: She didn’t know anything about Jen or her family. Megan had so few friends. None, really. It mattered a great deal what kind of friend this Jen would be.

Trina hated thinking that only girls raised in Christian homes like theirs would be suitable friends for Megan. It didn’t seem like a very magnanimous attitude to have toward the little girls in Megan’s class, especially this one, whom Trina had not even met. But she couldn’t help thinking that Megan’s shyness made her vulnerable in a way that confident kids were not. Megan would surely be the loyal, obedient follower in any friendship. The wrong kind of playmate would be worse than no playmate at all. In that moment Trina decided she would proceed with caution. She carefully worded her next question, giving no indication of what she was really thinking.

“Well, we can call her mom up some day and invite them both over so her mom can meet us too, okay?”

“I have her number,” Megan said, licking peanut butter off her index finger. “She gave it to me. And I gave her mine.”

Trina didn’t like the speed with which this was going. She needed time to think. She wanted to talk it over with Gordy. Michelle started to whine from her bedroom down the hall where she had been sent to take a nap.

“Maybe we should let them settle in before we call,” Trina said, getting to her feet and almost thankful for Michelle’s interruption.

“What’s ‘settle in’?” Megan asked.

“Well, honey, they just moved here from Los Angeles, and they probably have a lot of unpacking to do. We can call in a few days, okay?”

Trina started to walk away before Megan could answer. The phone rang.

“I’ll get it!” Megan said, scrambling off her stool and reaching for the phone. Trina couldn’t remember the last time Megan volunteered to answer the phone. Michelle whined louder. Trina set off to attend to her. As she walked down the hall she heard Megan say hello and then, “Hi, Jen!”

Trina kept walking toward the sound of Michelle’s complaints, but her thoughts were far from her younger child’s refusal to take a nap.

“Michelle, what is all this about?” Trina said as she reached the room and pushed the door open.

“I’m not tired!” the three-year-old whined. Michelle was lying backwards on her bed with her bare feet massaging the wall above her headboard. Picture books lay scattered about the floor and around her head and torso.

Trina sighed. She could hear Megan saying, “I’ll go ask her!” and she knew there would be no nap for Michelle. There would be no waiting to talk this over with Gordy, either. Megan came flying down the hallway.

“Jen and her mom can come over now and meet us!” Megan said. “Can they come? Can they come, Mommy?”

“I am not tired!” Michelle said again.

“Can they come, Mommy?” Megan said.

“All right,” Trina said, and both girls yelled, “Yay!” each assuming she had received the desired response to her request.

Michelle slid off her bed as Megan ran back down the hall.

“Michelle, if you’re going to skip your nap today then you’ll need to show me you’re a big girl who doesn’t need one,” Trina said, picking up her younger daughter’s socks, which Michelle had rolled up into little cloth biscuits and thrown at her dresser. “Put your socks back on. We’re going to have company.”

“I am a big girl,” Michelle said taking the socks and plopping down on the floor with them.

Trina made her way back to the front of the house, taking stock of the condition of her home as she walked. Toys in the hallway. Toothpaste droppings in the bathroom sink. Mail in an unorganized pile on the kitchen table. Folded laundry on the back of the couch. Cat hair all over the ottoman.

There was no time to make much of an improvement, so Trina decided to go back to the kitchen and make a pot of coffee and at least clean up the mess from Megan’s snack.

Megan had run outside to await their guests’ arrival, and it seemed barely a few moments had passed when she pulled open the door and announced they were there.

Trina ran a few fingers through her shoulder-length permed hair, using the face of the microwave as a mirror. Moderately satisfied, she followed Megan’s excited voice and stepped into the entry to welcome the guests.

“Mom, this is Jen!” Megan said, grabbing her hand and hastening her way into the entry.

Jen was a little shorter than Megan, with long golden braids that fell halfway down her back. She was tanned and perky. Her jewel blue eyes were shining, and she was quite the picture of confidence.

“Hi,” Jen said, waving a hand with tiny painted fingernails. Behind her stood her mother, with the same golden hair, the same bronzed skin, and the same self-assurance. She wore the same shade of nail polish as her daughter. On her left ankle was a tiny tattoo of a pansy. She wore a short denim skirt and an electric red, short-sleeved pullover.

Trina imagined herself looking quite ordinary by comparison with her monochrome brown hair, light brown pants, and lighter brown cotton shirt. Brown everywhere. Like cardboard.

“Come see my room!” Megan said, grabbing Jen’s hand and pulling her down the hall. They brushed past Michelle who stood aside to let the older girls pass.

Trina watched the girls go and then turned toward Jen’s mother.

“I’m Trina Diamond,” she said, extending her hand and offering what she hoped came off as a genuine smile.

“Elise Lovett,” Jen’s mother said, taking Trina’s hand and grasping it warmly. Elise had perfect shimmering teeth.

The two women exchanged a few more familiarities, and then Trina asked Elise Lovett if she would care for a cup of coffee.

“You are so kind to offer,” Elise said. “But I don’t drink coffee. Actually I don’t drink anything with caffeine. And if it’s all right with you, I was hoping I could leave Jen here to play awhile. I need to get back to the house, I’m afraid.”

“Of course,” Trina said, slightly taken aback. “You must have a lot of unpacking to do.”

“Unpacking?” Elise said at first, like the word was foreign. “Oh, we’ve been in the house for three weeks already. I’m just expecting a kiln to be delivered today so I need to get back, if that’s all right.”

“Certainly.” Trina said, and then added, “A kiln? You must be into pottery.”

Elise laughed. It was easy and effortless. “You could say that.”

“For fun or for business?” Trina asked as they started walking toward the front door.

“Oh, I don’t do anything unless it’s fun!” she said with that same easy laugh. “But lucky for me I can sell what I make.”

“I’d like to see what you make sometime,” Trina said, genuinely interested.

“Certainly…anytime,” Elise said as she opened the front door and they stepped outside. “I’ll come back for Jen in a couple of hours. Is that all right?”

Trina suddenly had an idea.

“Why don’t you and your husband come for supper later?” she said. “You’ve had a busy day, and I’d love to properly welcome you to the neighborhood.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Elise said, looking off toward the canyon. “It seems like such an imposition.”

“Not at all,” Trina said. “It would be a great way for our families to get to know each other better. I have a feeling our daughters are going to want to spend a lot of time together.”

“I think you’re right about that,” Elise said, grinning. “Please say you’ll come,” Trina said.

“Well, I’ll have to run it by Nate—my husband. And we have a son, too. Charlie.”

“He’s welcome too, of course.”

“Well, let’s say we’re coming unless I call, okay?” Elise said, as she turned to walk away. “Any particular time?”

“How about six-thirty?” Trina asked.

“That works for me!” Elise said with a wave of her hand.

Trina watched Elise get into a vintage turquoise VW Beetle convertible with a white vinyl top. Every inch of chrome on the little car shined like glass.

“Nice car,” Trina called out to her.

“My oldest and dearest friend!” Elise said as she got inside and started the motor.

Elise backed out of the driveway and took off down the street at a speed Trina usually complained about when performed by other drivers.

She stood there for a few moments as the Beetle sprinted out of sight, wondering if something wonderful had just begun or something that she would never be able to trust. When the street was quiet again, she turned and stepped back inside her house.

 


Excerpted from A Window to the World by Susan Meissner. Copyright © 2005 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.