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Young adult fiction supposed to be inspiring.
Melody awoke with a fright as she reached over to touch the envelope. With a sigh of relief she collapsed back onto the bed. It had been like this for the past four months, sleeping fitfully, if at all, and more often than not in a strange bed in a foreign city. How long could she continue like this? The answer was still elusive but today she might find an answer. With that thought of encouragement she allowed her mind to wander to the recent events that seemed like a bad dream but were in fact very real.
It began with circumstances that seemed almost innocent to those who were not paying attention. Melody remembered going to the local used bookstore and finding a book of interest, a work of fiction by a woman who was fast becoming her favorite author. Little did she know then that buying that classic book (to read on the long plane rides) would change her life and lead her on an international adventure, the first of many. It was not the book itself causing trouble but what Melody found tucked inside the book as if someone had inserted it for safekeeping, a family heirloom probably never meant to be sold, especially to a stranger. As she started the hunt for the owner of that envelope she found herself being chased by someone who did not want those contents exposed at any cost.
Melody was not the type of person anyone would guess would be involved in this type of thing. To most everyone who knew Melody she was typecast as predictable and stable. She had just graduated from university with a degree in history and applied for and been accepted as a foreign English teacher with a company working in China. Even working in China sounded so foreign to most of her classmates who would have figured her for becoming a high school English teacher in the suburbs, getting married by the age of 24 and having four kids before her 30th birthday. With her beautiful long golden curls and blue eyes she had had her share of boys interested in her but that was just it, they were boys, therefore held no interest for her. Before starting work she had been traveling around Asia, a graduation gift from her grandparents. They encouraged her to pursue her dream of traveling the world before settling down.
Her parents were heavily involved in their church and she had been going as long as she could remember. She was a member of the church choir having sung a solo at last year's Christmas concert where she also served as Mary in the pageant. Her sister was still in high school dating the local football hero. Melody had never really dated but that was because she was very picky in choosing who to go out with and had not found anyone of interest yet.
Things were about to change for her. She could just feel it. Today she was finally meeting the man in the picture she had been carrying around since finding it just before graduation, a mere four and a half months ago. Of course he was all grown up now and not a baby anymore but it was him nonetheless. She was sure of it. They had arranged to meet at the coffee shop of the Forbidden City in Beijing. She had told him she would be easily recognizable as an average height blonde with a red scarf. She dressed with excitement making sure every detail about her appearance was perfect. She knew the outfit that went best with her curly blonde hair and the red scarf, the outfit that made her crystal blue eyes that much more stunning. A little mascara and lipstick and she knew she could catch any man's eye. Nothing could go wrong today if she wanted to return the envelope and hear the whole story behind it.
She took the bus and then the subway to that most famous of tourist spots and realized that although she had been in Beijing two weeks this was her first trip to the center of the city alone. The English teacher training was almost over and tonight she would find out where she had been assigned and who she would be working with. After navigating the city transportation successfully she bought her ticket at the ticket counter and entered the museum. Thankfully it was a nice day and not too hot for early September, nor too crowded. The summer crowds were gone and the October holiday crowds had not yet arrived. She made her way to the coffee shop and waited.
She had intentionally arrived early so that she could see him trying to look for her. Instead she found one of her fellow trainees,Tom, sitting at the bar stools. He waved her over to him and invited her to sit with him. Together they chatted while they sipped their coffee. A little taller than normal with straight brown hair almost into his eyes Melody had already decided that he was a nice enough guy and not too shabby. Some women might even call him handsome. Today he was wearing a pair of jeans with a blue t-shirt he must have bought on their field trip to the Great Wall as it bragged about his climbing ability. They had just met two weeks ago and so Melody enjoyed the chance to get to know him better. After all, they might end up in the same city as co-workers she reasoned. She knew he was a fellow believer because their company only employed people who passed the strict questionnaire about their beliefs. They were to be employed as English teachers but were really in China as missionaries.
Although he was too young to be the man she was looking for, Melody instinctively knew that she could trust Tom. So, before she knew what was coming out of her mouth she found herself telling him her story about how she had found an envelope by accident and was trying to hunt down the owner. She showed him the picture of the baby and was completely unprepared for his shocking response. “Where did you say you found this? That's my father!” “Are you sure? Where did you say you grew up?” “Yes. I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and recently my grandfather told me what he knew of the story of his son's birth. He didn't want me living on the other side of the world without knowing the story. It was quite shocking to learn that my father was not his biological son. In fact, I am still processing that news in my mind. The writing here with the name of the church matches what he told me.” “Really? I grew up in New Haven as well. Wow, that certainly changes things. I was supposed to meet a man here who also claims to be the baby in the picture.”
After a little more discussion they decided that it was not the best idea for her to meet the man because they didn't know his motives for his claims about the picture. Melody immediately took off her scarf and hid it in her bag. Now they looked like a typical American couple having coffee together and they prayed together that whoever the man was he would not recognize her and start to ask questions. A few minutes later they did see a man arrive who was looking around for someone. The man was about their age and this just confirmed their suspicions that he was not to be trusted. When he didn't find her he ordered his coffee and sat at a table for two. Tom and Melody knew that was their signal to leave out the other door so they didn't have to pass by the stranger.
Once outside among the tourists of Tiananmen Square and the cacophony of sights and sounds that are uniquely Chinese they found a place to sit down to start processing the information. “What just happened?” was on both of their minds. Why did Melody have a picture of Tom's father as a baby in an envelope, a short apology, and the name of the church he was left at written on a single piece of now fading paper? Who had originally hid the envelope for safekeeping? Who was the man in the coffee shop waiting to meet Melody? She had found him through asking around at the church mentioned and had made contact with someone who apparently knew the family and had given her a number to a company in Beijing. Since Melody knew that she would be in Beijing soon she called him and left a message saying she had something he might be interested in and where to meet her and when. The man obviously knew that she had the photo and now that Melody knew he wasn't who she had been looking for the question remained as to why he wanted the contents of the envelope. What was he going to do with them? Who else knew about the envelope and its contents?
All the questions without answers made them both hungry so they made their way back to the conference center where 24 hour snacks and coffee were waiting. It was also a lot quieter and more comfortable for talking and trying to piece together the puzzle emerging in their stories that were being intertwined together, maybe for a reason? While Melody served herself a pastry and made a cup of tea for the both of them Tom found a table in an out of the way corner where they would not be disturbed. As she sat down Melody began telling him what she knew and how she had come to find the envelope with its mysterious contents. She mentioned that the moment she found them tucked inside a classic book she knew that someone had put it there for a reason and it needed to be found by the rightful owner. She also explained to Tom the mysteries of the past four months of her stay in Asia and how she constantly felt like she was being watched. Could that have been the stranger in the coffee shop? Why would he be following her when he knew how to contact her? She was grateful that she had never given him a photo but had relied upon him recognizing her wearing her favorite red scarf. The scarf she had been given by her mother on her 18th birthday and carried with her everywhere. With his broad shoulders and tall and skinny physique she knew that she could easily spot him in a crowd anywhere and that would be to her advantage if she ever came across him again.
Tom stirred his tea while listening intently to Melody's story and when he was sure she was finished he started with his own part. His father had been abandoned after his biological mother left him (without saying goodbye) with Tom's adopted grandmother when he was a newborn. The baby's adoptive mother had been engaged to his adoptive father at the time and serving as a secretary for a church with her intended the pastor of a neighboring church. He never knew his real parents nor the reason he was abandoned. Eventually he had other brothers that were Tom's uncles. Tom's parents died in an accident when Tom was about seven so his grandparents had raised him since then. They had always encouraged his love and fascination for China and his commitment to being a missionary. He had studied history and the Mandarin language at Yale University. Now, he was living his dream of living in China and he was really looking forward to finding out which city he was going to and meeting his students for the first time.
Meeting Melody and hearing her story convinced him that his biological grandmother had been the one to hide the envelope for safekeeping. But, who was she and how had Melody ended up with his father's baby photo? How had he grown up in the same neighborhood as Melody and never known her before now? The respective churches they attended were only blocks apart and they had even attended the same high school!
The hours passed quickly with their chatter. People were starting to gather for the evening meal and yet with all the commotion going on around them it could have been just the two of them in the room for all they cared. Tom's roommate finally intervened introducing himself to Melody and convinced them to stop talking long enough to get in line for something to eat. They sat at a table and continued to talk only this time about their lives and included others in the conversation. Soon it was time for the conclusion to their two week visit in Beijing.
The moment of truth arrived when the new teachers had completed their training and finally knew both where they were to live and teach for at least two years and the names of their teaching partners. Everyone was nervous as they took a look around the room hoping and praying to work with those they had befriended during the training. Alas, most of them were not paired with those they wanted. There were ten schools/cities with contracts for teachers and about four teachers per school/city. Tom and Melody were paired together along with Paul and Cindy, a freshly retired newlywed couple both previously widowed, from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. After the announcement was made they broke up into their small groups. Melody and Tom's group was going to a university in Qingdao, Shandong Province, an overnight train ride from Beijing and famous for Tsingtao Beer and the Tsingtao Beer festival every August.
Upon finding out the news both Tom and Melody sighed a huge sigh of relief at the same time. The afternoon at the Forbidden City was at the forefront of their minds and they both knew it was a positive move to not be working in Beijing where the chances of running into the stranger were greater. They were also both secretly overjoyed that they would be working together. Now that she had found the rightful owner Melody could cut off her contact with the stranger and they could move on with their lives and together talk about and get to the bottom of the unfolding mystery before them.
As Tim sat waiting with his coffee for the woman who left a strange message he let his mind wander back to the time he first read “The News”. The news that he was not to inherit as large of a fortune from his grandmother as he expected. He was the only known living relative and so he was counting on his inheritance to be a generous amount, after her donations to charity of course. He never could have imagined the story that emerged as he read her last letter to him.
On that fateful day of her funeral his grandmother's lawyers had asked him to stop by their office for a few minutes. He complied thinking they were going to tell him when to expect to know his fortune. Instead they gave him a handwritten letter written by his grandmother before she was to old and frail to write for herself. She had been saving it for him to read after her death.
That letter began with confirmation that his trust fund would continue, managed by her lawyers, and a few million were to be added for him to spend as he wished. This was followed by an apology before divulging the family secret of a long lost relative, an uncle he never knew he had. She had deliberately kept that information from Tim so that he could begin the search after her death. She did not want to tell her son the news herself but was entrusting her grandson to do the work. In other words, Tim's grandmother had left the largest part of her fortune to a stranger who happened to be her first born son, an illegitimate one at that! He apparently had no idea what was coming to him.
No one living knew the circumstances surrounding the boy's birth except a select few. His grandmother had kept it that way because she didn't want to live in shame and ruin her chances of finding a good man with a fortune to marry. Not even his grandfather (may he rest in peace) knew the story. Tim was spellbound as he read her letter in its entirety right there in the office. All his appointments for the day were forgotten as he continued reading.
The unknown story started with the fact that she had been raped as a teenager and had no option but to bear the child. Even when her family disowned her she still chose life for the child and when an invitation was extended to stay with a family from a local church she readily accepted. Almost immediately after her son's birth she wrapped him in a blanket, and in tears left the hospital for good without him and without saying goodbye. She knew that the woman would be a better mother to raise the child and he would have a loving home with her and her betrothed. She felt like that was the best she could do for the newborn child. This was her secret and she just had to share it with someone before her death or she knew she could not die in peace. Writing that letter gave her the sense of relief she needed. .
She told Tim that she had preserved a picture of the newborn and a letter with the name of the church in an envelope. She informed him of where he could find that envelope, and another letter with the name of the woman, so that he could somehow find the man after all these years to apologize and notify him of his rightful inheritance. It was in her attic hidden in a specific book on the bookcase holding her collection of classic and rare books, some of them first printings. Tim was brought to tears as he realized that he had just that morning sold her entire collection of books to a used bookstore outside the city! They were worth a fortune in themselves but now one specific book was worth more than all of the others combined and he just lost it. Even returning to the bookstore for the book resulted in nothing. It had already been sold, as classic books like that didn't last long on the shelf.
He spent weeks in a daze as he settled her other affairs and then returned to Beijing to continue his work in international trade. In the eyes of the world he was a successful businessman creating and trading holiday tablecloths to decorate American tables during the holidays. No one (not even his girlfriend) knew that he was a gambler and had recently lost everything in a gamble he thought he was sure to win. That was the reason he had sold the books because he could not wait for the long time it would take to process his inheritance. Now he was stuck with nothing but barely enough money to cover his debts and a few million in inheritance wouldn't last long with his lavish lifestyle.
As he pondered his predicament he received the telephone message that piqued his curiosity and he knew that he just had to meet the blonde woman with the red scarf. How did she know how to contact him? Who else knew about the child born under difficult circumstances? Was he even still alive? What did she have to offer him? Could she have found the envelope to return to him? It was a long shot but he was lost and desperate in his search for his uncle without the name of the church or the woman. He waited for an hour after the scheduled time before he finally left the coffee shop feeling like a loser having been stood up by a stranger. The worst part was knowing that he wouldn't receive the answers he wanted today, maybe never.
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