Excerpt from The Invitation

    Julia Carson stared out the window of the bus. She smiled at the children waiting for her. What a relief from

    "Stop here, Murray," she told the driver of the Book Bus.

    Murray stopped the vehicle in front of the Minneapolis Magnet summer school. Two dozen children ages six
    through sixteen waved at their ex-governor.

    "Is it always like this?" Murray asked. He was new on the job.

    "Word is definitely getting around." Julia waved at the children through the window. "Some of these kids have never
    owned a book, so getting a free one every time I come makes it feel like Christmas--for all of us."

    "Ho, ho, ho," Murray said.

    Julia put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, I'll take one happy kid over a dozen grumpy politicians any day."

    Murray opened the door, and Julia stepped out amid cheers and hugs. She found the open adulation satisfying
    but also embarrassing. All this gratitude for a few books. For something that was a basic need in every child's
    development. She vowed as long as she and Edward had money to fund the Book Bus, it would continue.

    "Mrs. Carson, Mrs. Carson, I read my last book two times already," said a little boy whose over-sized T-shirt
    skimmed his knees.

    She put a hand on top of his head. "I'm proud of you, David. Are you ready for another one?" He nodded,
    looking up at her with dark eyes. She leaned close and whispered. "Do you want to go first?"

    He smiled like he'd won the lottery.

    "Me too!" said ten-year-old Telisha. "I finished Little House in the Big Woods all by myself."

    Julia tugged her hair affectionately. "Then you shall be second."

    David and Telisha's good fortune spurred the children to talk at once as they vied for Julia's approval. She was
    relieved when the director of the summer school clapped her hands, quieting them.

    "Get in line, kids. You know the rules. Six at a time. No dawdling when it's your turn. Mrs. Carson will help if you
    have questions."

    The children got in line with a minimum of commotion. There was another cheer as Murray exited the bus
    carrying a cooler, Dixie cups, and a box of cookies.

    Julia eased her way past the children and entered the bus. She stood in the door. "David, Telisha, come on in.
    And then you, Sarah? Is that your name, hon? You and Gaylord and Grant and we'll end the first group with the
    handsome young man with the gorgeous smile . . . yes, that's you, honey. Come, children."

    The children scrambled in, shoulders bumping shoulders as they jockeyed for position near their favorite
    bookshelf. Julia loved this part. She delighted in helping each child pick out a special book he or she could take
    home forever. Books had been such an important part of her childhood. One of her most precious memories was
    her family's evening ritual: after the dinner dishes were cleared, her father had read to them around the walnut
    dining table with the tatted lace tablecloth. It was there Julia was introduced to Charles Darnay, D'Artagnan and
    Anna Karenina.

    If only she could do the same for all the children who searched the limited shelves of the Book Bus. With a hot
    meal warming their stomachs, she'd gather them close and safe and read aloud to them. She'd marvel as their
    faces glowed to the ageless stories.

    Julia's attention was brought back to the crowded bus by the sound of a book falling to the floor. "Don't grab,
    Sarah. There are plenty of books for all of you." She retrieved the book. "Christy," Julia said, reading the title as
    she handed it to the girl. "A very good choice." Sarah beamed and held the book to her chest as she headed for
    the door.

    Julia watched the little girl step out of the way so a middle-aged woman could enter the bus. Probably someone's
    mother or grandmother, she thought. The woman's clothes were rumpled and a wisp of black hair pointed left
    when it should have pointed right. Her eyes studied the titles of young-adult books. She seemed to be looking
    for something.

    "May I help you, ma'am?" Julia asked.

    When the woman turned to look at her, Julia felt an odd jolt pass through her. She had the kindest eyes . . .
    they were the eyes of an old friend, yet Julia was certain they'd never met.

    "Do you know anything about Haven?"

    The woman's question pulled Julia out of her thoughts. "Haven? I don't think I've heard of it. I'm afraid we don't have
    adult books." She looked around at the children, trying to match one of them with the woman. Then she thought of
    something, "Haven? Do you mean The Raven? The poem by Edgar Allen Poe?"

    The woman smiled. "No, Julia. I mean Haven." She held out a white envelope.

    Julia took it, then looked at the woman. "What's this?"

    "You've been chosen, Julia. You have things to do." With that she moved toward the door.

    Julia frowned, confused. "Things to do? What are you talking about?"

    As the woman stepped down onto the pavement, she turned back and pointed to the envelope, then gave Julia
    a wink.

    "Mrs. Carson? Mrs. Carson?" A child tugged at Julia's skirt. "David took The Dawn Treader and I wanted that one.
    Do you have another copy?"

    Julia watched the woman walk away from the Book Bus.

    "Mrs. Carson? Do you?"

    Julia let her attention return to the immediate needs of the little girl. "I'll bring a copy for you next time, Telisha.
    I'll even put your name on it. Why don't you pick another book for today."

    Telisha nodded and wove her way down the aisle to find another book.

    She slid a finger under the flap, breaking the seal. She pulled out a white card. On the front was a botanical
    drawing of a broad-leafed plant bearing a cluster of small flowers.

    "Mrs. Carson, can you help me find a book about space ships?"

    Julia held up a hand, her eyes scanning the contents of the card. "Just a minute, honey, I'll be right with . . . "
    She trailed off.

                                              Julia Eugenia Carson is invited to Haven, Nebraska
                                                                  Please arrive August 1
                                                   "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed,
                                                              you can say to this mountain,
                                                   'Move from here to there' and it will move.
                                                         Nothing will be impossible for you."

    "Haven?" Julia mumbled.

    "What'd you say, Mrs. Carson?" asked the boy.

    Julia shook her head, trying to clear it. She walked to the door of the bus and called to Murray and the school
    director. "Do either of you know who that woman was? The grandmotherly type who came in the bus?"

    They looked at each other over the heads of the last few children in line. "I don't remember seeing anyone,

    "Me neither," Murray said. "But we were busy with the juice."

    "Mrs. Carson, the space ships?" asked the boy again.

    Julia shrugged. She didn't have time to worry about the odd woman. Or the invitation. She stuffed the card
    into the pocket of her skirt and turned to help the boy...(continued)

                                                                  Copyright 2016 Nancy Moser
             Mustard Seed Press