Jake thought he was meant to marry Brooklyn, but now she's pregnant, and he had nothing to do with it.
As Brooklyn wrestles with questions about what her pregnancy means and how it will affect her relationship with Jake, she can't bring herself to tell him the truth.
To make matters worse, if the man who owns the bookstore across from Jake's coffee shop, has anything to do with it, the baby will ruin them both.
Can Jake and Brooklyn overcome the obstacles thrown in their path, and finally find the truth in God's love and in each other?
For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. ~Isaiah 30:18
Snow floated onto Main Street, each flake large enough to catch the breeze like a parachute. A miniature army, launching a surprise invasion on March first. If it kept up, Jake would have to clear the sidewalk. As it was, customers had tracked in enough to leave a puddle trail across the hardwood floor.
He hefted the tray of dishes he’d gathered from Hillside Coffee’s tables and headed for the back. The bells on the side entrance jingled, announcing at least one more North Adams resident needing a coffee to warm his or her hands.
Carrie, the manager Jake had scheduled for the morning, stepped toward the register.
As he slid the tray onto the workspace next to the sink, the silverware rattled against the stack of mugs. The scent of detergent rose, but the machine was silent now. The kid on dish duty, Ronny, was nowhere to be seen. As usual.
Carrie stuck her head around the corner. “Brooklyn’s here to see you.”
His stomach flopped. Amazing he’d known Brooklyn since fifth grade, yet she had that effect on him. He’d track down Ronny later.
Brooklyn Merrill stood at the end of the sales counter as if she had been about to come back to find him. She held a hat in one hand while she used the other to smooth her blonde hair. Since her business trip two months ago, she’d worn her long locks up without exception. Every time he saw her, he had to fight off the thought of kissing that spot between her spine and her ear, where her hair was soft and new. Someday, he’d coax her into giving love a chance. For sanity’s sake, he had to.
He cleared his throat. “Took the day off?”
Brooklyn’s mouth pulled into a tight grimace. For two months, sadness had infused her expression whenever she didn’t seem to think he’d notice, but this was the first time she’d failed to tuck it away when he was obviously watching.
This could be the answer to his prayer that she would open up again. He led her a few steps away to a space by the display shelves. “You want to talk?”
A collection of tears glittered in her eyes. “I haven’t been as good as I’ve been acting.”
He would wrap her in the hug of her life, but their friendship rarely crossed the border of touch. He tried a gentle smile instead. “That’s a problem. Because you haven’t been acting very good.”
A laugh caught in her throat.
He put his hand on her shoulder and guided her to the rear corner of the first floor, where she could sit with her back to everyone.
Even wrapped in privacy, she stared toward the wall and picked at her fingernails. “I planned what to say to you.” Her voice quieted. “But I don’t think I can do it.”
His relief morphed into dread. What could be this bad? Father, don’t let me mess this up. “Just tell me the script. What’d you plan to say?”
“I need a ride to a doctor’s appointment.” She spoke in a flat tone.
He wanted to play along and say his lines, too, but all this over an illness? If she’d been sick since her mood froze over in January and couldn’t drive herself, it was serious. His dad’s problems had started this way—an appointment followed by a cancer diagnosis, months of treatment and supposed remission, and, finally, a funeral.
Brooklyn searched his eyes, tense sadness weighing down her features.
He kept his gaze trained on her beautiful, worried face. Maybe this appointment was something simple. He had to believe it, or he couldn’t ask. “What kind of appointment?”
Brooklyn swallowed, neck ridged. “I’m three weeks late.”
“To the appointment?”
“My body. My body is three weeks late.”
“Your body…” Then it hit him. She thinks she’s pregnant. How had he not understood sooner?
“I took a test, but maybe it was wrong.”
She’d changed on that business trip. An image thundered to mind, and he willed it away. But the question remained. “You and Caleb?”
“It’s not like you think, Jake.”
She taught Sunday school. She had worn a promise ring for years, but her finger was bare now. Caleb went on the New Wilshire trip knowing how Jake felt about Brooklyn, knowing he’d ended his last relationship to pursue her. Would Caleb have slept with her anyway?
“I can explain. There’s not enough time right now, but I will explain.”
He clenched his fist under the table. “I’m sure you could summarize.” After all those years of pushing him away with the claim she’d never marry, never fall in love, she’d let someone else in. If it was just Jake she hadn’t wanted all this time, she could’ve saved him years of trouble by being honest. “It’s none of my business.” He started away.
He turned back.
“I can’t face this alone anymore.” Her grip on the table turned her fingertips white.
The day Dad had died, when Jake reached home from the hospital, he’d found her waiting in the driveway. He and his mom had been together the whole time, but as soon as he held Brooklyn in his arms, he felt a million times less alone. Later, when losing Dad prompted him to question God, it had been Brooklyn who stood by him, her unshakable faith drawing him back to faith of his own. She may have brought this on herself, but he owed her company in her darkest hour. “Fine. When’s the appointment?”
“I sat in the parking lot for half an hour before I worked up the nerve to come in.”
He crossed his arms.
He checked his watch. “Fifteen minutes?”
She nodded, sighed, and stood. “I was going to talk to you sooner.”
He trusted his managers, and he could leave with little to no warning. As he led the way to the door, he braced for snowflakes. Since he lived in the apartment above the shop and had no plans to go out, he’d worn short sleeves, and there wasn’t time to run up for something warmer.
As they walked to the car, his peripheral vision caught the line of Brooklyn’s dipped chin and the slant of her downcast eyes. He was failing her. He put an arm around her shoulders but felt no warmth when she leaned into him.
The seat Jake chose in the waiting area faced the door the nurse had led Brooklyn through.
She and Caleb were in the same place in life as Jake—hitting a stride in their careers, getting established. What would they do with a baby? Do they really deserve this, God?
One or the other would have to move if they were to be a family. If she relocated to Madison, where Caleb lived, Jake would lose touch with her. If Caleb came to North Adams, Jake would have a front row seat as the love of his life and his best friend played house.
He leaned forward in his seat. Please, God, let there be some other explanation. He was no expert. Maybe three weeks wasn’t that significant. Please, God, give her another chance. And show me what to do. I thought she was the one. No one else’s smile could light him up like hers, and no one else’s problems made him wish he could change the world like hers. If only he could change it now. He stared at the speckled carpet, wishing for answers, but no Bible verses, no advice from his parents, and certainly no voice from God spoke to him.
Twenty minutes passed.
He sat up.
Robyn Washburn took a seat. “What brings you here? Not sick, I hope.” She was the wife of one of his church’s elders. Everyone might have sin and secrets, but he didn’t know any of Robyn’s. How would her expression change if she knew why he was here?
“A friend needed a ride.”
Caleb and Brooklyn had never shown signs of falling for each other. However, they’d stayed in the same hotel. No wonder the coward had feigned ignorance when Jake asked what could’ve changed Brooklyn on the New Wilshire trip.
Jake stretched his fingers. “How’s the new car treating you?”
“Henry can’t get over how I always get better mileage than he does. I keep telling him he needs to ease off the gas, but he just persists and then complains.” She chuckled. “If he would slow down, it might save him a speeding ticket or three.”
“You could get him a motorized scooter. They’re slower and have great mileage.”
“Oh, can you imagine?” She laughed again. Whatever her reason for visiting a doctor, it had to be routine.
The door opened, and Brooklyn ducked through. The only mascara left on her face was a faint smudge below one of her eyes. That could only mean one thing: she was pregnant.
She took an uncertain step toward him. He wrapped her in his arms, but even so, she’d never been further out of his reach.
“I can’t do this,” she said against his shoulder.
“You can.” He leaned his head to look at her face. Her closed eyes seeped tears. “We’ll do it together.”
Liar. He couldn’t help her with a baby. That job belonged to Caleb. Yet, he had the sense that the promise answered his prayer. It was God’s direction for how he should proceed. How do You figure I can help her?
Question 1: 1. Early on, Harold tells Jake to stop selling books. Do you think Jake was right to refuse? Why or why not?
Answer 1: Jake had a right to sell books in his shop, and if he’d removed them, Harold likely would’ve found another fight to pick. However, Jake comes to the conclusion later that he should’ve looked for a peaceful way to resolve the conflict with Harold, and removing the books might’ve been a way to accomplish that. In cases where there isn’t a clear right and wrong, a personal relationship with Jesus is paramount. It’s when Jake relies more on his desire to even the score than on God that he makes missteps that truly cost him.
Question 2: 2. Brooklyn didn't tell her closest friends or her family what had happened to her for months. What are the reasons you found it easy or hard to relate to this decision?
Answer 2: Some find it hard to believe a character whose friends are as loyal as Brooklyn’s would remain silent. They wish she would speak up to clear her name, to further pursue her assailant through the justice system, to get help coping, or to preserve her relationship with Jake. Yet this element of the story is based on the truth that some women choose silence for a number of factors, such as guilt, shame, a longing to forget or move on, and/or a fear that no one will believe them. For this reason, it’s important to respond to those who do reveal they’ve been assaulted with assurances of belief in what the victim is saying and in the victim’s innocence.
Question 3: 3. What do you think it means to be above reproach? Were Jake and Brooklyn’s interpretations of this goal healthy or harmful?
Answer 3: Jake’s desire to be above reproach often leads him in a positive direction. Christians are called to live godly lives. Though a human can’t ever live a perfect life, Christ enables his followers to become more and more like himself. Falling short should lead a believer to repentance and restoration. For someone in a position of leadership like Jake, living as an example is important and Biblical. The danger in putting too much stress on being above reproach is some things that people—even religious people—might reproach a believer for aren’t sin. Similarly, people might excuse sin. This is why, though Christians are called to live holy lives, the Bible is clear that the goal must be to please God, not man. Brooklyn cites a desire to be above reproach when she suggests she and Jake shouldn’t spend time in each other’s apartments alone together. One of her concerns is how their relationship appears to others. Concern about people’s opinions rather than the reality their relationship could lead to a kind of harmful legalism. But Brooklyn is more concerned about how to best live a pure, God-honoring life, and that allows the Holy Spirit to lead her. During their conversation about whether or not to go inside, Jake’s main concern is Brooklyn. He believes they won’t be criticized for being alone together and doesn’t pause to ask what God wants them to do in their specific situation. Jake later recognizes this as a mistake. He tells Devin he should’ve been more sensitive, not to what would’ve appeared to be above reproach, but to the Spirit.
Question 4: 4. Jake and his mom discuss Matthew 10:16, in which Jesus instructs his followers to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Which character best succeeded at this?
Answer 4: Though different characters exhibited this in different ways throughout the novel, in the end Jake wisely recognizes the truth about the conflict with Harold, and his response leaves him as harmless or innocent as possible.
Question 5: 5. Do you feel that the church responded correctly when news of Brooklyn's pregnancy broke? Why or why not?
Answer 5: Pastor Simeon gave Jake and Brooklyn the options of a sabbatical or making the assault public knowledge. They could’ve instead asked for the couple’s resignations or dealt with the situation the way Jake requested, which was to ask the congregation to give them the benefit of the doubt. Pastor Simeon’s final decision allowed healing. Because Jake, especially, was in a leadership position, the appearance of sin needed to be addressed so the church community could understand and heal. Giving Brooklyn control of how the news spread restored a little of the control she lost during the assault. The pastor also made plans to reinstate Jake and followed up on those plans despite Jake switching to a new church. But instead of simply giving back the old position, Pastor Simeon took time to mentor and restore him. In this way, the church’s response allowed for an ideal outcome.
Question 6: 6. Brooklyn is a perfectionist. In what ways does this affect her relationship with Jake? How does it affect her friendships with other women?
Answer 6: Brooklyn didn’t allow her relationship with Jake to progress to a romance for years before the start of the novel because she compared her troubled childhood home life with what she considered to be Jake’s ideal upbringing and concluded that the imperfections had damaged her. Once rape became part of her story, she fell even further short of her own vision for what the perfect woman should be like. Her belief that she wasn’t good enough was so strong she had an easier time believing God wanted her to be alone than that the Lord would bless her with a healthy relationship with a good man. Believing she didn’t deserve him, she spent years pulling back from a romance with Jake or moving forward only very hesitantly. Her perfectionism also makes it hard for her to develop healthy relationships with other women. As a perfectionist, she struggles with admitting her struggles and shortcomings. She looks down on herself for them, and fears other women will do the same until Elizabeth and Haley coax her into opening up.
Question 7: 7. When Caleb learns of the rape, he asks Jake, “If God is good, how did this happen to her?” What would you reply?
Answer 7: Some would argue that evil in the world is proof that God either doesn’t exist or isn’t good. The Bible and the characters in the novel have a different perspective. Jake’s answer is that God doesn’t owe humanity explanations, which lines up with the account of Job in the Bible as well as with Isaiah 45:9-10 and Romans 9:20-21. Along the same line of thought, the women of Closely Knit decide together that it’s often impossible to tell why trials occur, but that our responsibility is to remain faithful to Jesus through it. Though they don’t quote it, this lines up with 1 Peter 4:19. In the face of this question, however, Brooklyn struggles with believing that she must’ve done something wrong to deserve the evil done to her. She eventually comes to believe that the assault wasn’t a punishment but rather part of a bigger plan for good, along the lines of what Jesus says in John 9:3.
Question 8: 8. Early on, Jake half-jokingly tells Devin that they’ll always have each other. In what ways is he right? Though Jake is Devin’s mentor, in what ways does Devin help Jake?
Answer 8: Jake is there for Devin as a trusted advisor during the first and last parts of the book. But when Jake resigns his leadership position, he tries to distance himself from Devin. Because Devin doesn’t allow this to happen, he becomes a key part of Jake’s restoration. He seeks out Jake to confront him and later to simply reconnect with him. When Jake returns to their church, Devin is the first to take the seat next to him. When Jake retakes his role as mentor, it’s with respect for the man Devin is becoming and for Devin’s convictions about Lauren. His offer to Devin at the grand opening shows just how much Jake has come to trust him.
Question 9: 9. Jake and Brooklyn both seek to stop the damaging effects of others' actions. Their differing solutions cause a rift as Jake pursues justice while Brooklyn chooses forgiveness. How are justice and forgiveness at odds with each other? Are the two simultaneously possible?
Answer 9 As Jake’s mom (and the Bible) says, God loves justice. Brooklyn correctly points out that Christians are called to forgive. Forgiveness and justice then should not be at odds with each other, but they often appear to be when humans pursue justice through their own means. This is where Jake went wrong. Instead of justice, he sought revenge. When Brooklyn reported the crime against her through the proper channels and focused on forgiveness rather than harboring harmful feelings against her rapist, she showed how the two could be simultaneously possible. She encourages Jake to do the same by reporting Harold’s crimes and leaving the outcome to God.
Question 10: 10. Though the story is not about a virgin birth, certain elements of the novel were inspired by the account of Mary and Joseph. What similarities and differences did you notice?
Answer 10: The key difference between the account of Mary and Joseph and Jake and Brooklyn’s story is a point that Caleb and Jake discuss early in the story: Brooklyn’s baby is not a virgin birth, and her child is in no way divine. Jesus is divine, and his birth was a miraculous virgin birth. The sense of betrayal Jake feels when he finds out about Brooklyn’s pregnancy but his unwillingness to react with harshness was based on Joseph’s reaction to Mary. He also shares with Joseph a willingness to take on the role of father in the life of a baby that isn’t his own flesh and blood despite the possible scandal. The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man, and Jake certainly does seek a kind of justice throughout the novel, but it isn’t until the end that he becomes a just man. Brooklyn struggles to process the crime that was committed against her and its consequences, but she comes to a place of acceptance and forgiveness relatively quickly, a kind of faith inspired by Mary, who immediately accepted God’s plan for her despite the personal risk. The novel contains many other parallels with the record we have of Mary and Joseph’s lives, but these inspirations for the main conflict and characters are central.
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