Daylin Sullivan has a passion for two things: books and food. Both help her escape from a past riddled by abandonment; she spent her childhood passed from one foster family to the next. Life has mirrored a game of musical chairs until one New Year’s Eve she stumbles upon a Dash for the Dream brochure in the local diner. The team is a faith-based group that runs marathons to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis research.
Patrick Litton is raising his six-year-old daughter Aubree alone. As the leader of Dash for the Dream the widower works tirelessly to secure funding in search of better treatment for all those afflicted with CF—including Aubree. Patrick has no time for romance…until he meets Daylin at the Dash for the Dream kick-off party.
Daylin and Patrick don't expect to fall in love, but both learn that when it comes to romance, training for a marathon is the easiest part of their journey.
A chill nipped at Daylin Sullivan’s cheeks as the diner’s door swept open, welcoming the frigid night air. She lifted her gaze from the cup of muddy brew nestled between her palms to see a young couple wedge their way through the narrow entrance, the man’s arm wrapped loosely around his girlfriend’s shoulders. They might have been freshmen or possibly sophomores in college. It was hard to tell with their bulky, snow-dusted jackets and tousled hair spilling from beneath wool toboggans. The girl’s eyes shone with a sparkle of innocence and her laughter tinkled merrily as they wound their way to a booth tucked back in the corner.
Young love…happy and carefree love. It was just the kind that made a couple forget every trouble in the world and believe their lives would never be touched with even the slightest shadow of heartache. It was the kind of love Daylin longed for and was convinced she’d never have.
Her dating scorecard—if it could even be called that—told the story. Teen years were pockmarked by a flurry of dates with guys she now realized she’d tried too hard to please. Her twenties brought another round of clumsy two-steps with men from the wrong side of the tracks. She knew she was an open and shut case for psychologists, easily dissected as someone seeking a place to belong, finding none that truly mattered, and with a history that could fill an entire series of books cover-to-cover. The product of a father she’d never known and a mother whose longest stint furloughed from the prison system amounted to eight months—not even long enough to birth a baby—Daylin had spent the better part of her childhood passed from one foster family to the next like the odd-man-out contestant in a game of musical chairs.
As thirty approached she’d sworn off men, instead choosing to cling to the books and sweet confections that had always been there for her—best friends in a sea of heartache. And then she had the misfortune of intersecting paths with Todd Barker. Over the course of several weeks, she’d fallen once again back into the habit of trusting too quickly with her friendship and then her heart.
Four months into the relationship, she’d arrived at his law office with the giddy intention of surprising him with a picnic lunch. Instead of the intimately tender picnic she’d imagined, surprise soufflé had been served up to her on a silver platter when she slipped through the office doorway to find him lip-locked with another woman.
As she drained lukewarm coffee from her mug with a sigh, Daylin tried not to reflect too much on the reasons Todd had so easily discarded her for a newer, slimmer, and more fashion-savvy model. No point beating that puzzle to death. She set the cup back on the table and thought about ordering a second slice of apple pie. What would it hurt—just one more slice of the warm cinnamon-apple confection with a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream or perhaps a swirl of whipped cream—or both?
She patted her overstuffed belly, acknowledging that she wasn’t even hungry…at least not for food. Yet something gnawed at her, a yearning deep in the pit of her stomach that the food failed to fill, no matter how much she devoured.
“More coffee?” The fifty-something server flounced to the booth as she chomped a wad of gum tucked between her back teeth. Dark hair swept into a messy, stunted tail showcased wisps of gray tangled through the disheveled crown. A plastic, rectangular neon-blue nametag pinned to her uniform just below the right shoulder read simply, “Vera.” The waitress tucked a pencil into the front pocket of her wrinkled apron. “Or maybe I can getcha another slice of pie a la mode? As you know, it’s a specialty here.”
Can she read my mind? Does she know I’d down two pieces of the sweet confection if she served them up right now, wash down the sweet flavor with a swig of coffee, and then request yet another slice?
And I’d regret the indulgence as soon as I passed by a mirror.
“No, thanks.” Daylin shifted uneasily in the seat and nudged aside the book she’d dog-eared midway through chapter nine, where the plot began to stutter and sag. “Just coffee. One more cup ought to do it.” She’d stay another few minutes and then head home. She couldn’t bear the thought of ringing in the New Year alone in the confines of her quiet apartment. At least she was among people here at the diner, even if she wasn’t actually with them. For the record, she wasn’t with Todd, either. Good riddance. Daylin’s cheeks flamed with the embarrassment of it all. Just when she’d begun to think there was potential for a long-term commitment in that arena, he’d cut her loose from the line with his betrayal. Daylin remembered the awful day like an embarrassing snapshot—the way Todd had lifted his head when he heard the click of the office door, saw it was her, and, without missing a beat, tossed out a single, callous sentence—“Sorry, but hanging out with you just isn’t working for me.”
Hanging out? So that’s what he thought they’d been doing. Good grief, were they still in high school?
Her guy radar was seriously messed up, and Daylin couldn’t figure out how to recalibrate it. Not that it had ever been on the right track. Dating was like trying to craft an award-winning apple pie without fruit. With each passing day, things just seemed to be on the fast track to falling apart.
Well, what was done was done. There was no use crying over things that couldn’t be changed. She might as well buy a passel of cats and a vacant house down a lonely, dead-end street and resign herself to becoming that lady.
Daylin groaned to herself. She was losing it, fast and furious. A few more nights like this and she just might end up as the proverbial cat lady. Maybe she would have that piece of apple pie after all. What would it hurt? It’s not like one more piece would add a whole dress size to her wardrobe. And the warm, sweet flavor would bring welcome comfort…at least for a few passing minutes.
She lifted a hand to signal Vera as music spilling from speakers segued to an oddly familiar version of “Auld Lang Syne.” Great—that was just what she needed…a melancholy song. She wondered who crooned the subtly heart-wrenching lyrics and snapped her fingers as she wrestled for the answer, racking her brain but unable to come up with the artist’s name. The tune was a particularly sad version, and she hoped it didn’t allude to some kind of omen concerning the year ahead.
Get a grip. This year brings a clean slate, a fresh approach. You only get so many chances so pull it together.
Daylin shook her head as she quickly lowered her hand to the tabletop once more, deciding against the pie. She’d already had a piece along with a double cheeseburger, french fries, and three refills of soda. Sugar overload caused her pulse to skip and her head to thrum like a snare drum. No matter how tempting, she was sure to regret adding anything else to the mix.
She sighed and nodded fiercely against the temptation to give in to the darkness that threatened to envelop her.
No more…no more.
Summoning every ounce of willpower she could muster, she pushed her empty dessert plate from the edge of the table and shifted in the seat to gaze out toward the snow-crusted boulevard. She’d approach the New Year head-on rather than let it storm over her like the plow trucks that rumbled the street, battling a storm that threatened to dump another round of the white stuff along the road.
Engines rattled and hummed as one truck came to life, then another, and readied for battle. Oversized treads crunched the snow, leaving a pattern of crisscrossed marks as they wound their way into the night. As the sound faded and the trucks diminished to toy-car size in the distance, Daylin felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She sat back against the cushioned seat and watched Vera flit from table to table filling coffee cups and collecting soiled plates. No more wallowing in the mire of self-pity. Daylin vowed to plaster on a smile and sing a happy tune if it killed her. Lots of people had it rougher than she did.
Buck up, little camper, and hike up your big girl panties. It’s time to pull your act together.
That’s what her foster-care caseworker had once said as Daylin approached the telling age of eighteen. About to be dumped from the system and into society to fend for herself—as if that wasn’t what she’d done for the better part of her life—Daylin had realized with a paralyzing sense of dread just how alone she was.
She glanced at the clock over the serving counter as Vera scurried from table to table, a slight limp to her gait but her kind smile ever-present. Six minutes to midnight—three-hundred and sixty seconds to another brand-spanking New Year. Daylin grabbed her purse and rose from the seat as Vera headed her way, toting a bulbous glass carafe. Steam swirled from the metal-rimmed opening and for the slightest moment, Daylin once again nearly caved into the thought of pairing a fresh mug with the pie that beckoned. She paused, considered slipping back into the booth and trading the smile that curved her lips for a mouthful of the sweet confection.
She squeezed her eyes shut tight and drew a deep breath as the sounds of the diner faded in and out for few moments. The clink of silverware…the strum of a holiday melody…laughter from the couple in the back corner.
Her recent overindulgence in sweets brought a measure of comfort…a downy cocoon to curl in, until Daylin had caught a glimpse of herself in a department store mirror just last week. There was no denying the changes to her body—and to her attitude. Defeated and battle-weary from years of struggling for acceptance, even the simplest tasks took every ounce of strength. It had become so much easier to lose herself in a book and a bowl of ice cream than to face the fact that she felt broken to pieces on the inside and on the surface.
“Honey, are you OK?” Vera’s voice drew Daylin back to the present.
She turned to find the woman staring at her with kind, fudge-brown eyes, her forehead creased with concern.
“No, thank you. I’m…fine.” As if to prove it, Daylin inhaled deeply. Her belly expanded with the effort and the button of her slacks suddenly popped, shooting the evidence of her overindulgence toward a row of windows facing the boulevard. The plastic pinged against polished glass and then ricocheted across the tile floor. Mortified, Daylin’s hand flew to her fleshy waist as she watched the navy plastic disc skitter beneath a booth seat across the aisle.
“I’ll grab a broom,” Vera offered, without missing a beat. “We’ll get it.”
“Don’t bother.” Daylin shimmied into her wool coat as her cheeks flamed. She snatched her book from the scratched Formica table. “I’d like my check, please.” She turned from the windows and scurried toward the register at a double-time clip.
“Are you sure?” Vera’s eyebrows disappeared beneath a scraggly spill of bangs while her gaze followed the trail of the lost button. “Won’t take but a minute to retrieve that button. You might be needin’ it. That’s nothin’ a needle and a bit of thread can’t fix.”
“No, thank you.” Daylin adjusted her sweater to cover the hem of her slacks. It would take more than a needle and thread to fix her ample girth—and the sense of loneliness that fell over her like a veil. “Just the check.”
“Coffee’s fresh. I just brewed it myself. Extra strong, too, and no calories—if that’s what’s worryin’ you.” Vera tucked a pencil over one ear. “Not that there’s anything wrong with a little meat on the bones. Women today…they all want to look like pillows without the stuffing. It’s blame disconcerting, if you ask me.”
“I…no more to drink, thanks.” Daylin nodded firmly to add clarity to the statement. That was just what she needed, a rush of caffeine thrown in with the sugar she’d consumed at this late hour to keep her tossing and turning straight into the New Year. “Just the check.”
Question 1: Heartache and Hope is based on 1 Chronicles 28:9, "Serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you." What does this message mean to you?
Question 2: Describe Jaxon Briscoe in the opening scene of the story. Contrast this with the closing scene. What does this tell you about a person's ability to change with God's help and guidance?
Question 3: Describe Jaxon's sister, Kara. What are some of the factors that helped to shape her personality.
Question 4: Describe Jaxon's relationship with Grayson. How important is Jaxon's influence on Grayson, both before and after his conversion?
Question 5: Describe Jaxon's reaction the first time her hears Adrienne pray. What about Grayson's reaction?
Question 6: Jaxon balks at the idea of volunteering at Adrienne's day school while Grayson attends, yet this molds the future of all three. Explain the impact.
Question 7: Jaxon thinks creatively while disciplining Grayson. What do you think of his efforts? Explain.
Question 8: Describe the burden Adrienne carries. How does her past impact her ability to trust?
Question 9: If a picture is worth a thousand words, what were Adrienne's thoughts as she saw the photo of her daughter, grown?
Question 10: What do you think the future holds for Jaxon and Adrienne? For Grayson and Juliette?