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The Key to Charlotte
|Charlotte Harris can't speak due to a quirk in her autistic brain, but that doesn't stop her from communicating with others. Unfortunately, it prevents her from achieving two of her dreams--to praise God through singing and to carry on a simple conversation with her own voice. Zakaria Rush is the new Director of Children's Ministries at Charlotte's church, and he can't keep his thoughts off the partially mute blonde with a love for guitar music. Her innocence and love of the simple things in life intrigue him and make him long to give her what she wants more than anything: her voice. Can Zakaria help Charlotte find the key to unlocking her ability to speak, or will his attempt to help her only lock away their chance for love?|
In Stock: 100
Author: ( E.A. West )
Charlotte Harris ran the dust cloth down the wooden railing, leaving behind the scent of lemons as she descended the stairs. After she put away the rag, she had to vacuum the sanctuaryâher least favorite task. The whine of the machine inevitably caused her brain to whirl in a storm of chaos, making it impossible to think. When she first got the job of cleaning the church, sheâd spent hours forcing herself to endure the painful, thought-scattering hum of her motherâs vacuum until she could tolerate it well enough to get the job done.
She shook her head with a wry smile. Autism certainly created unique issues. Despite that, she was determined to succeed. This job cleaning the church twice a week was the first job sheâd ever had. It was a major step toward independence and she would do whatever it took to do it right.
Charlotte switched off the vacuum and breathed a sigh of relief. The silence in the small church was pure bliss. She pulled the plug from the wall and coiled the cord around the top of the vacuum, then returned it to the janitorial closet in the basement. Turning around, she pulled out her cell phone and checked for reminders.
Take the rag bucket home.
Yes, she needed to wash the rags and kitchen towels. She returned the phone to her pocket and grabbed the bucket handle. As she headed upstairs, she heard the sound of a guitar coming from the sanctuary. Was someone playing a CD? It sounded like live music, but sheâd never heard anyone in the church play a guitar.
Drawn by the soothing strains of the strings, she turned right at the top of the stairs.
No one ever came in the church while she was cleaning. The entire congregation knew her scheduleâTuesday and Saturday afternoonsâand they always made sure to come at a different time. Charlotte had never been sure if it was because they didnât want to get in her way or if her parents had talked to them about the importance of routine for her. When she was little, sheâd gotten upset by people showing up unannounced, but now that she was twenty-three, she liked to think she could handle surprises a little better.
She peered through the open doorway and saw a man sitting on the edge of the platform by the plain wooden altar playing a battered acoustic guitar.
Her breath caught in her throat and her heart raced as she studied him. Not only was he a talented musician, he was gorgeous, more gorgeous than anyone sheâd ever seen in this small Indiana town. His black hair was a little shaggy but stylish; his straight nose, high cheekbones, and tan complexion made her think of Native Americans and Italians; his lean build clothed in faded blue jeans, an olive green T-shirt, and worn-in sneakers made him look laid back. Peace filled his face as he strummed his guitar. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, making Charlotte wonder if the sound of a guitar brought him as much joy as it did her.
Suddenly, he stopped playing and looked up at her. She tightened her grasp on the bucket handle.
He studied her with the most beautiful, warm brown eyes sheâd ever seen. His smile caused her heart to flutter. âHi there. Are you Charlotte?â
He didnât seem to mind that she shifted her weight back and forth. Just as well. If she didnât rock to release it, the nervous energy building under his gaze would make her cry.
âPastor Ed told me I might run into you if I came this afternoon. Iâm Zakaria Rush, the new director of childrenâs ministries.â He laid his guitar across his knees and chuckled, a deep, rich sound that warmed Charlotte clear through. âItâs a fancy title for a guy who didnât want to grow up and found a way to turn it into a career.â
She wasnât sure what he meant. Sometimes it felt as though her brain was riddled with roadblocks and she had difficulty comprehendingâŠwait. He worked here? Had anyone warned him that she didnât talk? She knew the basics of speech, but putting all the sounds together to form words and sentences was beyond her. Sheâd learned sign language, but very few people knew more than a couple of basic signs. Thatâs why her cell phone had a text-to-speech application.
She set the bucket on the floor and reached for her cell phone. As she pulled it out, Zakaria spoke again.
âYou want to join me? Iâm teaching the first and second grade Sunday school class tomorrow since their regular teacher is away this weekend, and Iâm trying to decide which songs to use. Maybe you can help me figure out what the kids will respond to the best.â
The thought of listening to his guitar longer propelled her into the sanctuary, and she sat on the floor in front of him. She loved songs that praised God. She was sure He heard her sing them in her heart and mind.
âAwesome.â Zakaria gave her a warm smile and picked up his guitar. âSo, what was your favorite church song when you were a kid?â
She typed in the song title and selected the speak button. A second later, the familiar synthesized female voice said, ââRise and Shine.ââ
âOh, I always loved that one, too. I still do.â He played a couple of chords for the upbeat song, then flashed her a grin. âThatâs a pretty cool way to talk, by the way. Must be very useful.â
She nodded, stunned that he was treating her so normally. Was it possible he saw past her inability to talk to the woman inside? Or maybe he was just used to mutes and instinctively knew her lack of speech wasnât connected to a lack of intelligenceâsomething not everyone seemed to know.
He played a few more chords, his gaze still on her as though waiting for something, and then he paused. âPastor Ed told me you use your phone to communicate, but he wasnât real clear about whether you choose not to talk or if you canât talk. Do you mind if I ask which it is?â
Her brain froze, and she took a moment to decipher his question. She typed for a few seconds. âIâm mute because of autism. I canât get the words out.â
Zakaria nodded. âGotcha. But I can tell youâve got all the words in your brain. I bet youâre a good writer, since thatâs how you communicate.â
She smiled, thinking of all the messages she sent from her phone. âIâm a good texter, anyway.â
He laughed and started strumming his guitar again. âI believe it. Now, Iâll do the singing and you can let me know what you think. Just donât laugh if I sound terrible, OK?â
How could anyone as talented with a guitar as he was be a terrible singer? Of course, given her own contradictory ways, anything was possible. She set down her phone and then braced her hands on the floor behind her, leaning back to listen. Sheâd know in a moment if he could sing or not.
As he sang about Noahâs âarkyâ in his rich baritone voice, she longed to join in. His voice flowed over her, wrapping her in the warmth of musically praising God.
Sheâd always found guitar music soothing. Unfortunately, her parents hadnât been able to find a guitar teacher who was willing to work with a mute autistic. Watching Zakaria now, she wondered if he would be willing to teach her.
He finished âRise and Shineâ and laid his guitar beside him. âWell, youâre not in tears, which is a good sign. What did you think?â
She straightened and grabbed her phone. âYouâre good. The kids will love listening to you.â
âI hope theyâll love singing with me, too.â He grinned and winked. âYouâre the only one Iâll let get away with staying silent.â
She laughed. His easy manner had a way of making her feel good about herself. For some reason, it served as a reminder that it was OK for her to be different. She was how God made her.
Zakaria lifted his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side. âAh, so you do have a voice. Are you sure you canât talk?â
She nodded; sheâd been through enough speech therapy as a child to know. âI guess you could say Iâm partially mute. The sound is there, but my brain canât organize it right.â
âSounds kind of like dyslexia. The ability is there; it just doesnât work the same way it does for most people.â He crossed his arms on his knees and leaned forward. âYou know, I struggled with school because of dyslexia until I finally found the key to help me learn. What worked for me was organizing things in different colored folders and using colored plastic sheets over anything I had to read. I still use colored paper for a lot of things because itâs easier for me to understand what the words say.â
âI wish it were that easy for me.â
âMaybe it is, but you havenât found the key to unlocking your ability to speak.â He straightened and smiled. âOr maybe God has plans for you other than speaking with your voice. Heâs good about giving us the abilities we need to do whatever He has planned for us.â
Sheâd considered that a time or two, but still hadnât figured out what God could want her to do that involved her being unable to talk. The best sheâd come up with was that He wanted her to listen more than to speak, but she knew people who were great at listening and they could talk as well as anyone.
âIs it hard to learn to play a guitar?â
Zakaria shrugged and picked up the instrument again. âIt wasnât for me. Of course, I had a friend once who struggled to learn to play. He finally gave up and took piano lessons. He had no trouble learning that and is a great pianist, now.â He rose and moved to sit on her left side. âYou want to try playing my guitar? I can help you learn a couple of chords, if you want.â
Charlotte nodded, accepting the guitar. The smooth wood under her fingers felt more right than any other instrument sheâd ever touched. The metallic scent of the strings was a little weird, but she didnât find it unpleasant.
Zakaria took her left hand and placed it near the top of the guitarâs neck. His touch sent a shiver through her.
Was it OK to be attracted to someone sheâd just met?
âOK, these little metal lines are the frets. When playing a chord, your fingers go between the frets; otherwise, it sounds muted and odd.â He arranged her fingertips on the strings, then sat back and smiled. âPress down hard on the strings with your left hand, and then use your right hand to strum.â
She did as instructed, pleased when a real chord sounded. She strummed again, the way sheâd seen Zakaria do it, and glanced at him with a smile.
âAwesome. Youâve just played the C chord. Now, if youâll move your fingers hereââhe rearranged the placement of her fingers on the stringsââyouâll play the chord of F.â
She pressed down and played the chord. As the sound drifted through the sanctuary, her brain connected the F to the C chord and she realized what Zakaria was doing. She lifted her right hand from the guitar and retrieved her phone. âAre you teaching me to play âRise and Shineâ?â
He chuckled and nodded, his eyes twinkling. âYou caught me. You said it was your favorite. I thought you might like to learn how to play it.â
The music had always lifted her heart, but sheâd never been able to share the song with anyone other than God. If she could learn to play it on the guitar, maybe she could help others feel the same joy by hearing it. And if Zakaria wanted to sing while she played, it would make the whole experience even better.
He taught her the G chord, then he took her through chords in the order they appeared in the song.
Hope filled Charlotte. She could share the music inside her with others. Excitement filled her when she played and Zakaria sang along. It no longer mattered so much that she couldnât sing it. She could play it.
Had Zakaria felt the same connection with the music and the instrument, as though they were a part of him?
The last notes drifted into the silence of the sanctuary, and Charlotte realized the daylight illuminating the room was fading.
Zakaria checked his watch as her cell phone chimed. âWow. Weâve been sitting here for almost two hours. Did it seem that long to you?â he asked.
She shook her head as she opened the text.
âCharlotte, youâre running late today. Let me know if youâre all right.â She smacked her palm against her forehead; she should have known her mom would worry.
Charlotte typed a quick message to her mother assuring her sheâd be home soon. Once it sent, she opened the text-to-speech application. âWhen I clean the church, Iâm usually home an hour or more before this. My mom was checking on me.â
âIâm sorry. It didnât occur to me that you might have someone expecting you.â He looked up at the simple wooden cross hanging on the wall behind the pulpit, and then returned his gaze to her. âDo you need a ride home?â
The thought of spending a little longer with him was appealing, even if it didnât involve music. âNo ride necessary. I live half a block from here. But you can come with me if you want.â
He smiled and took the guitar from her. âIn that case, we can drop this off in my office, and then Iâll walk you home.â
He rose and reached down.She took his hand without hesitation, and then realized she wouldnât have done that with anyone else. Why did it feel so natural now? The touch of his fingers felt right. Could God be trying to tell her something? Was she reading too much into it all?
E.A. West is a lifelong lover of books and storytelling. In high school, she discovered the wonders of sharing her stories with others through writing. She picked up her pen in a creative writing class and hasnât laid it down yet. Her love of writing encompasses not only the romance genre but also a variety fiction and non-fiction styles.
Born and raised in Indiana, she still resides there today with her family and a small zoo of pets that includes cats, dogs, and African water frogs. When sheâs not writing or reading, youâre likely to find her working on her current crochet project or discussing current events.
What a unique storyline! E.A. West takes on an autistic heroine and develops the character with amazing insight and grace. Due to "a quirk in her
autistic brain," Charlotte can't speak, or use her voice to sing, as she so longs to do. Then along comes ZakariaâŠ He's the new minister of
children's music at her church, and he and his guitar could be the key to unlocking Charlotte's silent world. This is an incredibly sweet romance,
profound and absolutely unforgettableâa bite-sized read that packs a super-sized emotional wallop. Don't miss it!
firstname.lastname@example.org (Wednesday, 30 November 2011)
This book, hands down, is one of the best I have read all year. It swept through my heart with so much power I found myself hating to see the story
end.rnrn rnIn the pages of The Key to Charlotte, author EA West has deftly explored the top of autism, and how people who suffer from autism--in this
case the lovely and musically inclined Charlotte Harris--are created in the image of God. They are more than worthy and capable of love, independence
and the fulfillment of God's plan for their lives. rnrnCharlotte works at a small church in Indiana. She's cleaning the facility when music comes to
her unexpectedly from the sanctuary. Zakaria Rush, the new Director of Children's Ministries, is playing his guitar. Instantly, and instinctively,
Zakaria treats Charlotte with respect and an easy sense of caring--caring that blooms quickly to an even deeper affection.rnrnThat affection is what
leads Zakaria to take her gently under his wing, and lead her to her heart's desire--music and a sharing of her life, and the gifts God has given her.
What could be more beautiful?rnrnAt no point is this love story mawkish or overdone. Therein lies its absolute beauty. With the same kind of artistry
as Karen Kingsbury displayed in her novel Unlocked, EA West uses heart, God, and a straightforward approach to make Charlotte come alive and be
completely relatable in how she sees the world and reacts to it. We understand her, and therefore, we love her and cheer for her. And all I can say
about Zakaria is that in him, EA has created a hero worthy of Charlotte.rnrnDon't walk, run to pick it up!
Donna B Snow (Friday, 28 October 2011)
What a wonderful story! With just a glimpse into the heart and mind of someone who has to deal with the world a little differently, I felt like Ms.
West shared a piece of God's love through her story. The pure emotion shared by Charlotte and Zak was like a cleansing rain on a hot summer day. She
helped me see the world through the eyes of a truly innocent heart. What a glorious vision that is!rnrnWell done, Ms. West! I loved it!