<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> The rich smell of cooked turkey warmed the house, and for a moment Bailey Flanigan stopped at the base of the kitchen stairs and closed her eyes. Just long enough to take it all in — Thanksgiving at the house where she grew up, her boyfriend Brandon Paul in the next room with her brothers, and the sound of the NFL Lions and Cowboys playing football on TV. Everyone she loved gathered around her. Once in a while God presented a slice of time where Bailey's whole world felt perfect. Or almost perfect. Bailey felt the smile on her lips, the peace and joy in her heart. <p> This cool, cloudless Thanksgiving afternoon was one of those times. <p> She leaned against the wall and tried to imagine a year from now. Would Brandon still be in her life? Would she still be part of the Broadway cast of <i>Hairspray</i> in New York City? Or would God lead her through still more changes? <p> "Bailey?" Her mom's voice brought her back to the moment. <p> "Sorry." She opened her eyes and stifled a laugh. "Just memorizing this, the way it feels right now." She glanced at the stove. The potatoes were off the flame, sitting in a pot of hot water near the sink. "I'll work on these." <p> Her mom was putting the finishing touches on a deep dish apple pie — the Flanigan family Thanksgiving favorite. She leaned close and peered toward the TV room. "Looks like it's going well." <p> Bailey smiled and followed her mother's gaze. Brandon was sitting next to Ricky, the two of them laughing about something. "I didn't tell you what happened this morning," Bailey whispered, making sure only her mom could hear her, "what Brandon said." <p> "About having Thanksgiving with us?" <p> "Yes. Actually, first he said you and Dad have made him feel so welcome." She bit her lip, as the memory from earlier returned. "But he also said he was a little nervous. You know, about whether he would connect with Dad and the boys." <p> Her mom's surprise showed in her eyes. "Why would he worry about that?" <p> "Because ..." Bailey allowed a quick look into the family room, "he knew they'd watch a lot of football today. And I guess because football's not really Brandon's thing." <p> "Hmmm." Understanding slowly softened her mother's expression. "And of course, last year Cody was here." <p> "Cody, who loves football as much as Dad and the boys." Bailey pictured Cody in the family room, playing pool with her dad and she felt her heart sink a little. Was that only a year ago? Wherever Cody was this Thanksgiving, he hadn't contacted her or even wished her family a happy holiday. She dismissed the thought. "Anyway, yeah. Brandon was a little worried. Like he might not fit in." She gave her mom a crooked smile. "He hasn't been here in a while." <p> For a long moment her mom didn't say anything. Then she turned her back on the scene in the family room and studied Bailey. "Have you heard from him? From Cody?" <p> "No." Bailey's tone made it clear she didn't want to talk about Cody Coleman, not now. "If I hear from him, you'll be the first to know. Like always." <p> Her mom angled her head. "No need to get upset." Clearly she had picked up on Bailey's irritation. "I just wondered. It seems crazy that none of us have heard from him." <p> Bailey exhaled and tried to see past her frustration. "He walked away when everything was perfect." She brought her tone back to normal. "I'm sorry for sounding mad, it's just ... I don't know, I guess his silence today shouldn't surprise us." <p> A brush of sorrow filled in the fine lines around her mother's eyes. "You're right." She looked over her shoulder to the family room again and back at Bailey. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "I'd say Brandon doesn't need to worry." <p> At that moment someone must've scored, because Ricky shot to his feet and Justin raised his fist in the air and shouted, "That's it, baby ... tie game." <p> Brandon high-fived Bailey's other brothers — BJ and Shawn — and the enthusiasm of the moment left the guys too focused to notice the girls watching them from the kitchen. Bailey smiled. "Yes. He'll be fine." She watched him for a moment. "Besides ... around this family it's impossible not to love football." <p> The game must've gone to a commercial or maybe Brandon felt her thinking about him, because he looked at her and smiled. Then he stood and came to her. As he did, their eyes held. <p> "That boy's crazy about you," her mom whispered as she turned her attention back to the apple pie. "No question about that." <p> "Like a dying man in the desert." Bailey still kept her voice low. <p> "Yes." Her mother didn't sound as convinced. "It sure seems that way." <p> Brandon reached the kitchen. "Halftime." He rolled up the sleeves of his white buttoned-down shirt. "Tell me what to do." <p> Bailey let her eyes linger on his. <i>Take me for a walk, Brandon</i>, she wanted to say. <i>Tell me again that I don't need to be afraid</i>. Not of falling in love with him or of longing for Cody at some distant point in time. With everything in her she wanted Brandon to hold her hand and tell her that she was right to finally and fully let her feelings for Cody Coleman fade. Because no one would ever love her like Brandon did. <p> But it wasn't the time. <p> And anyway, his words could hardly tell her more than his eyes had just said. "Here." Bailey handed him a stick of butter. "Unwrap this and I'll mash." <p> "Got it." He took the spot beside her, slid the paper off the butter and found a paring knife, which he used to cut butter slices into the potatoes. As he worked, their elbows brushed against each other and Bailey could feel the chemistry between them. Like electricity on a stormy summer night. <p> <i>God, am I getting ahead of myself?</i> She pressed the masher into the potatoes and tried to gather her feelings. If she let herself fall this hard now, there would be no turning back. They weren't in high school, weren't flirting through freshman year of college or planning a weekend dance date. This was grownup stuff. And the love they shared, the feelings between them were the kind that sometimes lasted forever. <p> "There." Bailey's mom sprinkled brown sugar crumbs across the top of the pie. "That should do it." <p> Ricky bounded into the kitchen and leaned on the bar opposite the work area. "Another perfect Thanksgiving dessert." He raised his eyebrows a few times in Bailey's direction. "How does she do it?" <p> The distraction lightened Bailey's thoughts and she grinned at her youngest brother. "Simple. Mom's the best." <p> Her mom opened the oven and set the pie carefully inside where two others were already cooking. She glanced at Bailey. "I don't know about the best. There was the time I set the turkey on fire." <p> "Yeah, before I was born." Laughter rang in Ricky's voice, but he was serious at the same time. "You're a lot better cook since then." He gave a firm nod of his blond head. "Like Bailey said ... you're the best." <p> "Definitely." Brandon breathed in through his nose. "The house smells like heaven." He turned so he could see their mom. "I've looked forward to this day since September." <p> "Hey ..." Bailey felt her eyes begin to dance. She put one hand on her hip and faced him. "September? I hadn't even invited you yet." <p> "I know." He winked at her and caught her playfully by the waist with his right hand. "I was still looking forward to it." <p> Somehow the way he said the words, combined with the feel of his hand on her waist and the light in his eyes, made her forget everything except him. Had Cody ever really made her feel like this? She pulled slightly away, her tone both teasing and stern. "Mashed potatoes, remember?" <p> "Of course." Brandon laughed, clearly enjoying the exchange. "I'll get the milk." He hesitated. "We need milk, right?" <p> "Yes." She laughed. "Good idea." <p> Bailey watched him head for the fridge, glad he didn't need to linger too close to her. Yes, they had grown very comfortable over the last few months. But they were still — and always would be — careful to keep boundaries in their physical relationship. <p> Her mom returned with Ricky to the living room to hear the halftime report, and Bailey and Brandon finished mashing the potatoes. She stirred in salt and pepper, took a small spoonful, and held it out to him. "Here ... taste." <p> He took the bite. "Mmm. Perfect." They were alone in the kitchen and he kept his eyes on hers. "Like everything about this day." <p> She felt her heart and soul join hands in a dance that was becoming familiar when Brandon was around. She leaned on the counter and studied him, his tanned face and light brown eyes. "Is this, you know, like Thanksgivings at your house?" The question was a risky one, and Bailey was glad she hadn't asked in front of her family. In case his answer wasn't as wonderful as hers. <p> No walls flew up around Brandon's heart. Bailey could see that much in his eyes. He nodded slowly, his gaze on the mashed potatoes as he seemed to consider her question. "We celebrated, of course. But not like this. With my parents ... a sort of tension came with every holiday. Even at Thanksgiving." His smile warmed his expression. "I'm pretty sure this will be my best ever Turkey Day." <p> "Thanks ... for telling me." She tucked her hand in his. "I'm glad you're here." <p> He slid his fingers between hers. "Me too." He grinned. "Let's go watch some football." <p> She laughed out loud at the change from earlier that morning. "Football fan, are you?" <p> "Absolutely! You should see this guy throw." <p> They both laughed and sat together for the second half until the Cowboys had secured the victory. During that time she received a text message from her college roommate Andi Ellison. "Look," she showed Brandon. "This makes me so happy. I haven't heard from her in a month." <p> "Tell her I said hi." He leaned into Bailey's shoulder and kept his eyes on the game. <p> Bailey studied the message from her friend. The text wished her a Happy Thanksgiving and suggested they Skype sometime. <p> <i>Definitely, Bailey texted back. I might be in LA soon, and when I am we have to get together. So much to catch up on. By the way, Brandon says hi. He's sitting beside me, having dinner with my family here in Bloomington.</i> <p> Andi's response took no time. <i>That's so sweet ... I'm happy for you, Bailey. Let's talk this week and we'll make plans.</i> <p> The conversation ended, and after the game, the family headed to the kitchen. Shawn and Justin brought the Jell-O salads in from the garage refrigerator, and Ricky and BJ set the warm dinner rolls in a linen-draped bowl their mom had prepared. <p> Finally her dad took the turkey from the oven, and he carved it while Connor scooped the stuffing into a waiting bowl. Brandon and Bailey helped set the table and fill the glasses with iced lemon water — another family Thanksgiving favorite. <p> With everyone working, steaming hot serving dishes covered the table in no time. They took their places and their dad smiled at them. "Let's join hands and thank God." <p> Bailey enjoyed the warmth of her family with every breath. After her time in New York City, being home again felt wonderful. Here with her parents and brothers and Brandon, she knew without a doubt she was loved. She held hands with Ricky on one side and Brandon on the other and closed her eyes as her dad began. <p> "Lord, we come to You this Thanksgiving Day overwhelmed with gratitude. We are grateful beyond words for Your gift of salvation, and for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We thank You for bringing our family together this special day and for the presence of Brandon with us this afternoon. Father, the years fly quickly. Kids grow up and leave, and that is right and good and part of Your plan. But we are especially thankful today that family we love can come home again. Bless those who are less fortunate. And thank You for this food and the hands that prepared it. In the powerful name of Jesus, amen." <p> A chorus of amens followed while Bailey and the others opened their eyes. She loved the way her father prayed, the way he had prayed since she was a little girl. With strength and faith and always with a grateful heart. Her dad was one of the best coaches in the NFL, a man whose great physical strength matched up easily with his character. When sports announcers talked about Jim Flanigan, they saw him in that light. But those who really knew him talked about his tender heart. Bailey loved that most about him. Her heart held onto the moment, because time had taught her this much: They would only have so many Thanksgiving days together. <p> The boys dished food onto their plates at such speed that Bailey laughed out loud. "Wow." She tossed a helpless look at her mom. "Glad you made a lot." <p> Brandon shrugged and joined in the rush to fill his plate. "No one has to tell me twice." <p> But twenty minutes later the meal gave way to more conversation and less eating, and her dad led them in what was an annual tradition. "It's that time," he grinned at the faces around the table and set his napkin down. "Everyone gets to share what they're thankful for." <p> "Yes!" Justin pushed his chair back slightly. "I'm ready." He raised his hand. "Pick me, Dad. I'll go first." <p> "I don't wanna go last this time." Ricky looked at Brandon. "We have a rule — no repeats. It's always hardest to go last." <p> Bailey remembered feeling that way, like all the good answers were taken by the time it was her turn to share what she was thankful for. But leaving home had changed that. Today she had a thousand easy answers for why she was grateful. All around her the boys began talking at once, reminding each other the rules: no easy answers and no answers the same as last year. She set her fork down and leaned close to Brandon. "This gets complicated." <p> "I'm getting that." He was still eating, but he gave her a quick look. "I feel like I should take notes." <p> "It's okay." She loved the way he made her laugh. "I'll help you." <p> "Listen up." Her dad's cheerful voice cut through the commotion. "Let's go over the boundaries. We know we're all thankful for God's love and for Jesus dying for us and for our family and our home. An answer has to be specific and creative. If not, The Committee can veto it." <p> "Really?" Brandon raised his eyebrows. <p> "I told you." Bailey stifled a laugh. "Crazy rules." <p> "I don't know." Brandon pretended to be suddenly nervous. "You people are serious." <p> "Yes." Bailey's mom grinned. "Would you expect anything less than a competition from a coach?" <p> Bailey watched the exchange. Brandon shouldn't have worried about fitting in. He came across fun and affable and kind, and his new faith was deeper than before. He couldn't quite yet take Cody's place among her brothers, but he definitely fit in. <p> Her dad chose Justin to go first, and Bailey watched her brother sit up a little straighter. "Okay." He grinned, taking his time and enjoying having the floor for a moment. "I'm thankful Connor decided to play football for Clear Creek. I love having my older brother as quarterback." Justin sat back in his chair, satisfied. "How was that?" <p> Around the table Bailey and her family held up their fingers showing a score for Justin's answer. Everyone had both hands up: perfect tens — even from Brandon, who was picking up on the rules as they went along. "Great answer, son." Their dad looked at Connor. "It's been good for all of us, watching Connor play. Next year, who knows? Maybe he'll try out for <i>American Idol</i> and make it to Hollywood." <p> Connor had planned to try out last summer, but football hadn't allowed him enough time. This was his last year of high school, so their dad was right. Connor was headed for Liberty University to study music, but there was no telling what God had planned for him. <p> Ricky went next. "I'm thankful Mom still takes time to write notes for my lunch box." He gave her a lopsided smile. "I know I'm getting old, but I still love opening my bag and seeing your note inside." <p> "Notes?" Brandon's tone softened. "What do they say?" <p> "She writes them on Scripture cards." Ricky clearly appreciated their mom's practice. "Verses like, 'I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,' from Philippians. And then on the back she says stuff like, 'I'm proud of you,' or 'Keep trying because God is working in your life.' Things like that." <p> "She did those for all of us until we reached high school." Connor smiled at their mom. "Now we eat hot lunch." <p> "But she still leaves us notes." Shawn looked at Brandon. "On our pillows." <p> "Or in our gear bag before football." BJ's expression showed that he, too, was thankful for the way their mom made them feel special. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Longing</b> by <b>Karen Kingsbury</b> Copyright © 2011 by Karen Kingsbury. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.