Grant Anderson’s world is upended by a harmless game of dress-up when his niece finds a box of old clothes and stumbles across a necklace Grant stole more than a decade ago.
Grant has conquered a past shadowed by rebellion, and he paid his dues a long time ago. Caught and sentenced in juvenile court, he spent a full year making restitution to everyone involved—everyone except Maggie Andrews. Finding the necklace means he can finally return it and then close the door on his checkered past.
Maggie’s beloved grandmother has just passed away. Orphaned as a child, Maggie is left with no family to speak of and only a small box of heirlooms to connect her to her heritage. Maggie cherishes the link to her family, but her inheritance is incomplete. A necklace that was passed down through generations was stolen years ago. The treasured piece is gone forever…until Grant Anderson steps back into her life and offers her more than long-lost jewelry.
Can Maggie let go of the bitterness she harbors? Can Grant convince her that everyone deserves a second chance?
When circumstances change, both learn the true meaning of greed and charity. Only through God’s healing grace can either find peace with their past as well as their future.
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
~1 Timothy 6:6-10
“Uncle Grant, look what I found.” Gemma’s springy red curls bounced while a row of tiny, white baby teeth nipped at her lower lip as she struggled to tug an oversized cardboard box through the doorway of the living room. At five-and-a-half, she had yet to make a donation to the “Tooth Fairy.” But Grant figured one was coming, judging from the way her pink tongue wiggled two loose top front teeth. Gemma’s breath came out in short, spiked gasps as she wrestled with the carton. “It’s a treasure box.”
“Let’s see.” Grant strode over to lend his niece a hand, lifting the box and setting it atop a tan and charcoal braided area rug in the center of the polished wood floor. “Where on earth did you find this battered mess?”
“In the closet of that room upstairs—the one where all those files are scattered like the leaves on the ground outside.” Gemma scratched the bridge of her freckle-dusted nose as she plopped onto the floor beside the carton to catch her breath. “You know…the one you call your thinking room.”
“My thinking room…right.” Grant knew exactly what she meant. The small space tucked into a corner at the far end of on the second floor of his home had become a catch-all over the last several years. It was filled with boxes of expandable file folders and reams of notes from when he was just starting out in the real estate field…long before he became CEO and acquisitions director for his own company, Anderson Investments.
Ahh, memories…Grant had once spent a great deal of time ensconced within the warm, ecru walls of the well-lit space, enjoying a slice of blue sky that stretched to kiss the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains through a single window over the desk. He’d enjoyed a sense of quiet peace there as he made plans for his future…plans for building both a business and a generous nest-egg.
Success had come more swiftly than even he had hoped, and now he rarely ventured into the small room, choosing instead to manage the bulk of his work at his nearby professionally-decorated Knoxville office. Or, if the situation warranted during the busiest of times—which came often these days—he’d simply spread out his plethora of files along the kitchen table while he ate hastily prepared sandwiches and burned the midnight oil.
“I wanna see what’s inside.” Gemma lifted her chin to slant a gaze Grant’s way as Oscar, his lanky but loveable chocolate lab mix, padded into the room. Oscar paused briefly to sniff and paw lightly at the carton, and then, unaffected by the mystery it contained, loped over to Gemma to curl on the floor at her side. Gemma gave him a generous pat. “That’s OK, isn’t it?”
“Sure, pumpkin.” Grant knelt on the floor at Gemma’s other side, heedless of the dress slacks and suit jacket he’d yet to change out of since picking Gemma up from school that afternoon. Fridays were often the day he kept watch over Gemma for his older sister, Cara, since an extra night shift at the hospital where she worked as an ER nurse went a long way in paying her bills. But Cara had snagged a double-shift today—Thursday—instead, so she’d called last-minute for him to pinch hit. The plan was that Grant would keep Gemma overnight and take her to kindergarten class in the morning. It was no problem—Gemma’s school was within walking distance of Grant’s office. And he enjoyed Gemma’s chatter as she skipped along the sidewalk, her tiny hand tucked into his, to share the adventures of her day.
Now, intrigued by what waited inside the box, Grant tugged at its yellowed, brittle packing tape. The carton looked vaguely familiar, yet he couldn’t quite put his finger on what had been packed inside so long ago. Nothing was written on the outside…not a single letter. He didn’t remember storing a box in that particular closet since he’d moved here half-a-dozen years ago, but he’d been so caught up in work that it had been a while since he’d taken the time to rummage through the stuff.
A slight odor of cologne—Grant recognized the scent as Old Spice—drifted as the tape loosened. Memories nipped like the prick of a sliver beneath tender skin…he’d worn out the inexpensive aftershave while in high school and during his first few years of college at the University of Tennessee. He’d been so angry then…so lost. The era remained a time in his life best forgotten.
Suddenly, Grant’s gut rolled over and he fought the urge to re-tape the carton and set it back into a dark corner of the upstairs closet. Something very wrong lurked here. Something best left in the—
“It is treasure!” Gemma squealed with delight as she wiggled her way past Grant’s legs to peek inside the carton. None of his hesitation was reflected in her voice. “Wow, look at all the clothes and this pair of cowboy boots, too.” The scuffed shoes clattered along the polished wood floor as Gemma plopped down on her bottom and tugged them over her stocking feet. “I’ve got an idea…Let’s play dress-up, Uncle Grant.”
“Wait…” Grant peered over Gemma’s shoulder. He placed one palm firmly over the loosened box flap to hold it tight. “Hang on. Let me take a look.”
But Gemma’s sheer excitement overruled Grant’s warning as she wiggled past his grip to tear back the other flaps. Fabric flew as it was tossed onto the floor and recognition dawned as concert T-shirts from Grant’s high school days scattered like fallen soldiers across the wood. Gemma lifted a sleeve between pinched fingers and drank in the graphics. Her lips suddenly dipped to a bewildered frown as her pert little nose wrinkled.
“Why do the people on these shirts look so spooky and why do some have paint all over their faces?” She dropped that shirt onto the floor and reached for another. “Eew…all that black stuff on their eyes…they look like the scary monsters that visit my dreams and wake me up at night sometimes.”
“Let me have that.” Grant tore the T-shirt from Gemma’s grasp and, after glancing at the image, quickly gathered the others into a bundle in his arms, as well. The words on the fabric roiled in his gut. Had he really once worn these hate-mongering logos and graphics that glorified death and destruction like evil billboard displays—each and every one of them? Shame heated his face as he crammed the ball of fabric back into the box. “These aren’t suitable for dress up. They need to go in the trash.”
“Are they yours, Uncle Grant? Did you used to wear them?”
“They were…once.” Grant tried to forget…to drive the memories from his mind, but they washed over him with the force of a raging thunderstorm. “And yes, I did wear them a long time ago.”
“But why?” Gemma’s mouth twisted into a pout. Clearly, she had no comprehension. “They’re so scary.”
“Yes, they’re ugly. I’m ashamed to say I wore them when I was in high school, but they should have been tossed years ago.” Grant gathered the box in his arms and headed toward the kitchen, where a trash bin was hidden beneath the cooking island. “I don’t know why I kept them.”
“Maybe you still like them.” The heels of the boots clunked over tile as Gemma followed him. “Maybe—”
“I don’t.” He shook his head firmly, crushing the box to make it fit into the bin. Sometimes Gemma bewildered him with the way she sounded like an analytical adult trapped in a miniature body. “I really didn’t back then, either. I was very confused and misguided so I just thought…”
What had he been thinking? Like smoke rising from a bonfire, memories swelled in him, bringing feelings of resentment that he thought were long dead. Now that they’d resurfaced, would he bow to them once again? Grant’s blood chilled at the horrifying thought and his head swayed in silent answer.
An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. Proverbs 29:22 washed over him. No, he would not cave to the resentment and tumble into the dark crevasse that had once served as a cold, stark dwelling for his heart.
Gemma headed to the doorway where the rest of the discarded clothes sat in a pile on the floor. She scooped up a mound of fabric. “What about these?”
Grant studied the pair of faded jeans, now several sizes too small for him, that Gemma held up. The knees were nothing more than torn shreds of denim and suddenly a vision flashed clear and bright as if it had happened just yesterday—him scraping tender skin against wood as he launched himself through the second-story window of a framed, white house to land below in a blood-red knockout rose bush in full bloom. Thorns gnawed into his flesh, raking welts along the tender skin. Grant gasped; his left forearm still carried a crisscrossed quilt of scars. He rolled back his shirt sleeve and ran his fingers along the raised flesh, feeling the fiery sting of pain once again.
“They need to go, too.” Grant forced away the memory as he readjusted his sleeve and pressed his forearm to his side to hide the evidence of the wound. He motioned to Gemma. “Bring them over.”
“But, Uncle Grant, when we outgrow our clothes, Mama donates them to the resale shop so someone else can use them.” She crooked a finger at him. “Don’tcha wanna do that instead of throwing these away?”
“No.” Grant shook his head. No room for argument here. “Nobody will want to wear them.”
“Are you sure?” Undeterred by his no-nonsense tone, Gemma captured her lower lip and gnawed for a moment. She wiggled her tongue into the space her loose teeth created before letting it go. “But you wore them.”
“Yes, I wore them a long time ago when I was young and foolish.” He’d rather burn the shirts and the jeans than take the chance they’d fall into the hands of a kid who’d think wearing them was cool. But that wasn’t an option right now, so stuffing them into the trashcan would have to do—the way he’d stuffed the memories of his terrible transgressions deep down inside so long ago.
“You’ve never been foolish, Uncle Grant. You’re the smartest grown-up I know. Well…maybe except for my teacher, Miss Andrews. She knows an awful lot—like the names of the planets and how to find China on a map.”
“Is that so?”
“Uh huh. So it’s a tie…you, Miss Andrews, and Mama.” Gemma patted Oscar’s head as the dog ambled over to give the opened trash bin a sniff. He peeled off a sharp bark. “See, Oscar thinks so, too.”
Ahh. From the mouths of babes…and animal shelter mutts...
“Well, Oscar’s smarts only go so far. He drinks water from the toilet bowl sometimes, you know.”
“Oooh…yuck.” Gemma wrinkled her nose as she took a giant step back from the overgrown canine. “That’s…dis—dis—”
“Disgusting, I know.” Grant waggled his fingers at her. “Just bring me those jeans and I’ll get this all thrown away before it…well, before it has a chance to make a wrong impression on anyone.”
“Well, OK…” Gemma gathered the jeans in her tiny hands and started over. One leg of fabric flopped behind, dragging along the wood. As she handed the denim to Grant, something dropped from the pocket to the floor. As it bounced over wood, it caught the light—a tinkling shimmer of silver—before finally coming to rest at Grant’s feet.
“Oooh…pretty. Look, it’s got a picture inside.” Gemma reached for the necklace. “It’s a—”
“No! Don’t touch that.” A line of sweat scalded the nape of Grant’s neck as memories from the past rose up once again in a firestorm of unwelcomed emotions. His pulse stammered and his breath caught on a single, painful gasp before launching into an all-out assault to his system. For a moment, he felt sure the rapid pace would cause his heart to explode like an active grenade.
“Why?” Gemma ignored his warning as she took a step forward. “I don’t understand, Uncle Grant. It’s so pretty.”
“Stay back. Wait!” Grant’s voice bit the air.
“O…OK.” Gemma paused. She glanced up at him with huge, fawn-like eyes as her lower lip quivered. “But, Uncle Grant…”
“I’m sorry.” Grant gathered her in as a sniffle broke through and she slumped over like a deflated balloon.
She sniffled again as a single tear spilled over to trail down her left cheek.
“I didn’t mean to be short-tempered with you.” He inhaled the scents of peanut butter and chocolate milk as he wrapped his arms around her and held tight.
“It’s OK.” Gemma pressed a small, cool palm to his cheek, stroking gently as she wiggled from his grasp. “Are you sick, Uncle Grant? You feel hot and your cheeks look gray, like Mama’s do when she gets one of those real bad headaches.”
“They’re called migraines.” Yes, his head thrummed at the pulsing echo that assaulted both of his weary temples. He could barely form a single word; his tongue felt like an oversized, dry sponge. He opened his mouth and waited for the right words to come. “Just…give me a minute…”
“Oh, wow, it’s so pretty.” Gemma seemed to forget his warning as her hand left his cheek and she raced across the room to snatch the piece of jewelry from the floor. Each thump of the boots proved a sledgehammer to Grant’s drumming skull. “It’s a heart…and it opens, Uncle Grant.”
Yes, he remembered now…full disclosure. Inside they’d find a pair of women’s faces—older women with eyes as bright as gemstones and bowed lips that seemed to know all his secrets. The images were burned into his memory.
Gemma was undeterred by his silence as she chattered on. “What do you call this kind of necklace?”
“It’s a…” Grant sat mesmerized by the shimmer of silver as he sifted through the wad of cotton lodged in his throat to summon an answer. “It’s a locket.”
“Right, a locket,” Gemma parroted as she slipped a sliver of fingernail into the slight crevice at the center of the oversized heart. The size of a half-dollar, the polished silver would prove impossible to miss while worn—or while tucked neatly into a jewelry box. The embellished heart opened and Gemma gaped at what she found there. “Who are these ladies inside?”
“I’m not sure.” Grant studied the images though he remembered every detail without so much as a second glance. How could he have forgotten the way he’d hurriedly crammed the silver into his pocket, thinking it was worth money beyond his wildest dreams, as he scrambled from the room that long-ago August afternoon, the house alarm screeching in protest? It all came rushing back now…every glimmer of that moment in time, as if each composed a series of images in a slow-motion movie reel.
“Then how’d it get in your pocket?” Gemma brushed a corkscrew curl from her pretty blue eyes. A smudge of grape jelly from her after-school snack clung to one cheek. “Did you put it there?”
“I did…a long time ago.”
“Why? Do the ladies know?”
“You ask a lot of questions.” Difficult questions, for sure. Grant failed to form a cohesive answer—at least one a five-year-old might understand—so he settled for, “It’s a long story, and I don’t want to talk about it now.”
“Mama says talking things out usually makes them better. Like when I have a bad dream, and I can’t fall back to sleep.”
“This isn’t a dream, Gemma.” Grant shook his head firmly. “So, no, I don’t want to talk about it here…like this.”
“Well, what’re you gonna do with the locket now?” Gemma watched as the nugget of silver swung by the chain in her fingertips, sparkling beneath the overhead lights. “Maybe you should call these ladies. Maybe they want their locket back.”
“It’s a little late for that.” Or…was it?
“So, you’re just gonna keep it? I don’t think Mama would like that. She would say—”
“I know what your mother would say, Gemma. Remember, she’s my sister. She’s been telling me things for…well, forever.”
“Uh huh.” Gemma tilted her head to the side as Oscar settled on his haunches beside her. “Do you want me to put it back in the pocket, then?”
“No. Hand it to me.”
Gemma dropped the cool silver into Grant’s palm, and the pair of faces, frozen in glossy black-and-white photo paper, gaped up at him. For a moment, Grant found himself transported back in time. Sirens wailed and a voice shouted. His knees, skinned and bloodied from their battle with the second-story window ledge, throbbed in time to the searing scratches along his forearms as he fought his way out of the thorny rose bush and took off running. The day was hot, the sunlight a torch of fire against the back of his damp black T-shirt. Sweat dripped into his eyes, turning a shimmer of neatly-manicured grass to muddled waves. Something—someone—body-slammed him and he tripped, stumbled. The breath rushed out of him as he sledgehammered the concrete sidewalk. A weight fell on him—someone much larger and stronger—and his arms were wrenched back and pinned behind him at an impossible angle. The pain came in a hot slash as something in his shoulder tore. The day went black as his knees weakened in a wave of agony. The voice, gruff and angry, veiled over him in a condescending threat as he fought for air, for breath…for life. Darkness closed in as he began to suffocate—
“Are you OK?” Gemma’s tug on the hem of Grant’s suit jacket coaxed him back. “You look real sick, Uncle Grant. Are you gonna throw up? Sometimes Mama does when her head hurts real bad.”
“I’m OK.” But Grant shuddered and rubbed his shoulder as the memory faded. It had taken months for the tear in his shoulder to heal, and even now, on cold, damp days, he still experienced a slight throbbing. He sucked in a single, deep breath as his vision cleared. Sunlight streamed through the living room windows, but its warmth failed to chase away the chill that had seeped into his bones. “I’ll be fine.”
But he wasn’t…at the moment, he was anything but fine.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. The promise from 1 John 1:9 washed over Grant to reassure him. He’d confessed to his Heavenly Father several years ago, the horrible events of that afternoon—as well as the days and nights leading up to it—and had found a sense of peace. But that peace had come before he realized he still had the locket.
Question 1: Secrets Unveiled is based on a passage from 1 Timothy, specifically 1 Timothy 6:6-10. How do you think this passage speaks to the theme of the story?
Question 2: How does Gemma's simple game of dress up alter the course of Grant's future?
Question 3: Grant fails to tell Maggie at first chance that he has her locket. What do you think about his actions? Explain.
Question 4: Grant desires a second chance to free him from mistakes of the past. Do you believe all transgressions deserve a second chance at grace? Explain.
Question 5: Maggie shuts Grant out when he finally confesses that he has her locket. Do you think she is justified in her actions? Why or why not?
Question 6: Grant is a different person as an adult than he proved to be in his youth. Do you believe people can drastically change for the better? Explain.
Question 7: Describe Maggie's late grandmother. How did her belief in Grant, as well as her quiet encouragement, change the course of his life?
Question 8: What do you think the future holds for Grant and Maggie? Explain.