Author: K.C. Hardy
Publisher: Casbury Lane Press
Genre: Christian Inspirational Fiction
Days before boarding the plane to Italy for her daughter’s wedding, Julie Whitaker receives an unexpected phone call from her past. The memory of Mark Jennings, a handsome and charming Top Gun pilot, had haunted her for decades. Their fairy tale wedding was everything she’d ever dreamed of, but it quickly turned into her worst nightmare.
Starting a new a life without Mark proved to be much harder than Julie had imagined. But in her darkest hour, God revealed Himself in a miraculous way, giving her the strength she needed not only to battle depression, but to face a diagnosis of breast cancer that threatened to cut her life short.
Now, amidst the splendor of the Italian Alps, on the eve of her daughter’s wedding, Julie’s thoughts are catapulted back to Mark and the reason for his call. After thirty years, will Julie have a chance to see him once again? And would she even want to?
Based on true events, One-Way Ticket Home will take you on an unforgettable journey of love, loss, hope and forgiveness. With grace, candor and an indomitable wit, K.C. Hardy reminds us that it is often in our darkest hours, that the strength of the human spirit shines the brightest.
For More Information
- One-Way Ticket Home is available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
San Antonio, Texas
June 6, 2008
It happened just as Julie Whitaker turned off the last set of lights in the office. The ever-present amber glow from the receptionist’s desk lamp cast long shadows that gave the normally bustling workplace an eerie, ghost-like feel. Always the last to leave, she stayed long after coworkers had darted off to cart their kids to soccer practice or squeeze in last-minute runs to the grocery store. Having successfully raised two independent daughters, Julie no longer had such obligations. There were no children to pick up from school, drive to soccer, piano, or basketball. There was no husband who expected her to have dinner hot and ready when he walked through the door. She answered to no one…that is, except Clark O’Brien, her boss, mentor, and friend for the past ten years.
And Julie liked it that way—the freedom…the independence...the idea of being able to jet off on exotic vacations whenever she pleased. An idea that always enticed her but which she never had acted upon. Ironically, there still was no time for such luxurious pursuits. There were interviews and database checks at the court house. Deadlines and court dates always loomed. Which was exactly why the grating, high-pitched ring of the phone was even more irritating than usual.
It could only be coming from one place—her desk. She could ignore it, activate the alarm, turn the key in the deadbolt, walk the twelve steps to her car, and be done with work for the next fourteen days. Or…she could answer it. Julie knew who was on the other end of the line. Just before shutting down her computer, she’d shot off a last-minute email to Clark. The message was short, and should have come as no surprise.
The Sanchez case has been completed and sent to the D.A.’s office. I’m shutting down my computer after I finish typing this and will see you in two weeks. The offer still stands for you and Jodi to join our family in Italy if you would like. Let me know, and I’ll overnight the tickets to you.
Why couldn’t she just ignore the ringing like any other rational person on the eve of their first vacation in over two years? Why?
Dedication. The trait that had helped guarantee her job during the recent string of layoffs was now irritating her. She zigzagged across the room, dodging cubicles that impeded a straight shot to her office. Defiantly determined not to be here a single minute longer, she didn’t bother switching on the light in her office, much less sit down. Breathless, she answered the phone before voicemail picked up.
“This better be good, Clark, because my vacation actually started three hours ago!”
“Then what the heck are you still doing at work, Whitaker?”
She almost dropped the phone and had to smother the gasp of shock that made her knees buckle. It wasn’t Clark. There was no mistaking that deep husky voice that sent her heart pounding and her head reeling from the instantaneous churning of emotions. It was a voice she hadn’t heard in over twenty years.
“Jules, you there?”
Running her tongue over her lips to both lubricate and pry them apart, she answered his question with a question of her own.
“Mark. What a surprise! How’d you get my number?”
Working as a private investigator, Julie knew how easy it was to locate anyone, anywhere. And if she was being perfectly honest with herself, she’d secretly longed for this call. Yearned for this somewhere inside the most private chambers of her heart. The lack of closure had left a gaping wound that hemorrhaged for years deep within her soul. A casualty that resulted from the swift, premature severing of their relationship. Forcing emotions and memories to be buried so deep, only Roberta Flack’s sultry voice, late-night showings of Top Gun, or the familiar, nostalgic, musky scent of his signature cologne could unearth them. Still, a part of her wondered: why now? Why after all this time?
“How are you doing?” Julie mustered in the most nonchalant voice possible.
“No complaints. And you?” Typical Mark Jennings. He could’ve been in a Tomcat,
taking fire from all directions, and if someone would have asked how he was doing, he would’ve responded “piece of cake.” It was part of what made him so good at his job.
“I’m doing great.”
He cleared his voice. “So you’re into the Sherlock Holmes thing now, huh?”
“Yep…gotta keep an eye on everyone like you out there,” she teased.
“I bet you make one heck of a private eye.”
“You’re darn right I do,” she laughed. “What about you? You still flying with the Navy?”
“Still flying. But now I’m with American. Been with them nine years. In fact, that’s why I’m calling. I bid the San Antonio run at the end of the month and was wonderin’ if you’d like to meet up for dinner? For old times’ sake?”
Typical Mark, cutting right to the chase. She knew what she should say, what she had rehearsed saying over the years, if this opportunity ever came along again. The phone call from him twenty years ago unraveled the cocoon she so carefully and meticulously constructed. The sound of his voice sent years of therapy, healing, and pieces of her splintered heart swirling erratically into oblivion.
Twenty years ago she had every reason to say no. Back then there was too much to lose. But now things were different. And yet, for some unknown reason, Julie found herself hesitating.
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Mark…” She couldn’t believe her own words even as they left her lips. Every part of her yearned to see him. To get lost in his hypnotic eyes and run her hands through his unruly, thick, sandy hair. She yearned to trace her fingers across his full lips and down his toned arms.
He was quiet for a moment. “What have you got to lose?” he asked, breaking the silence as if reading her thoughts.
Everything, she wanted to say. This time there was no longer a marriage, a husband, or children—lives that could be ruined. All the reasons for not meeting him before no longer applied. And yet she wavered, for the one life that could still be ruined was her own.
“I’ll think about it, Mark.”
“That’ll work I guess.”
Suddenly, she was anxious to cut the conversation short before she was reduced to the vulnerable woman who still lurked inside. Even decades later, Julie feared succumbing to the seductive charm of the man who somehow always managed to make her weak in the knees. “Mark, can I get back to you? I’m not trying to cut this short, but I was actually about to
“For vacation. I gathered that,” he laughed but with zero mirth. She sensed a tinge of annoyance creep into his voice.
“I thought you were my boss.”
“Wow! You must be really comfortable with your boss!”
“I am.” Julie knew Mark well enough to know exactly what he was insinuating, that her relationship with Clark must extend beyond business. It couldn’t be further from the truth, but she decided to let him squirm a little in the realm of the unknown.
“Well, think you could have an answer for me when you get back?”
“Sure…I’ll let you know in two weeks.”
“I’m going to Italy for my younger daughter’s wedding.”
“Your three year-old’s getting married?” he teased.
“My twenty-six year-old is getting married.”
He let out a long whistle. “Time certainly flies, doesn’t it?” His voice took on a somber tone.
“Does it ever!” Julie sighed, nostalgic. It was a sentiment she had felt a lot lately—
one that had sent her to Sam’s on more than one occasion to stock up on economy packages of Kleenex.
“I really hope we can meet up…”
She didn’t say she hoped so too. “I’ll call you when I get back. And thanks for calling. It’s great hearing from you.”
“Be safe over there.”
Julie sank deeper into the chair after putting down the receiver. The blinking green light on the laptop bounced off the beige walls in the dark room, sporadically illuminating the framed pictures of her girls. Baby pictures. Pictures of them riding their first bikes. Pictures of their proms. Identical pictures taken at their graduation from the University of Texas with the tower lit up behind them amidst a sea of fireworks. There were so many accomplishments, milestones, other loves, and other losses. She had lived a life largely without looking back. Mostly free of regrets.
That is, except for one….