“M. Liz Boyle tackles the topic of showering difficult people with grace and forgiveness, making this a must-read for Christian teens. Adventure seekers who loved Avalanche and Chased will fall head-over-heels for the adventure that heats up in Ablaze!” – author Allyson Kennedy
This summer the Stanley sisters and the Miles boys are excited to hike together again, and now they have the unique opportunity to help two of their ranger friends with an outdoor program in the beautiful Montana mountains.
Marlee has always considered herself a willing follower. Give her a direction and she’s happy to help. Her older sister Ellie is a natural leader, and Marlee is content in her role as assistant.
Marlee and her sisters have been assigned to help with Ranger Rose’s team, and they are savoring the adventure.
But in a heartbeat while the group is divided by a few hundred feet, fire breaks out between Ranger Rose and Marlee’s group. In this enthralling finale to the Off the Itinerary series, Marlee must face her fears with courage that only God can provide.
Targeted Age Group:: 11-21
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After sending my teenage characters through an avalanche and a flash flood, a wildfire seemed like the next disaster they should experience. Main character Marlee learns so much in this novel that it's a great parallel to a refiner's fire.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Marlee and her sisters are loosely based on a blend of two families I grew up with who both had all girls. Since Marlee is the middle child, she often is the mediator, although in Ablaze you'll find that she is the one needing encouragement more than giving it.
Marlee's family's friends Sawyer and Marshall have traits of a blend of guys I've known over the years. The interactions in a teenaged group are so fun to write, and watching the characters interact with a variety of other characters shows readers a well-rounded depiction.
I yawned and shifted my parents’ SUV into Park. I cast an annoyed glance at the clock and muttered, “1:18.”
I waited about a minute, and then my long-time friend Braelynn Gunderson opened the passenger door, wordlessly sat down, and buckled the seatbelt with no ‘Thank you,’ or ‘I knew I could count on you, Marlee.’ Okay, so Braelynn and I had been really close ever since we were five and her mom unjammed the zipper on my snowsuit at the playground by our house for me. Braelynn asked to play with me, and we hit it off that day. Over the years we spent tons of time together – until six months ago.
We never exactly had a falling-out, but we had definitely drifted apart. My schedule got busier with training for the summer’s backpacking trip and hanging out with my younger sister Lydie. Braelynn found new kids to hang out with – mainly her boyfriend, Owen. I did not vote for Owen and Braelynn to get together. Lydie and I agree that he has shifty eyes and is conceited. Plus, anybody can see that he does not bring out the best in Braelynn. Since Owen takes up all Braelynn’s time these days, I feel like she doesn’t need my friendship anymore.
I was very surprised when she called me – at 1:00 am. It took me a few minutes to wake up and another few minutes to sneak outside and pray that my parents would sleep through the sound of the SUV’s engine starting. I don’t think Lydie heard me tiptoe down the stairs, and since my parents hadn’t called me yet, I doubted they had heard me leave either. This could be easy. I just needed to drop off Braelynn, go home and park my parents’ car, sneak back in, and return to the comfort of my bed. And try to forget about Braelynn – try to forget that my oldest friend ditched me for a drinking party and a boyfriend who engages in way too much PDA. Super gross.
Even though the situation irritated me like wet socks, I guess in a way I was glad she called me. Even if she wouldn’t say it, maybe it meant she knew she could count on me. I peeked at her as we turned onto the next street. She looked like she’d been crying. If it hadn’t been 1:21 a.m. I would have felt bad for her. I quietly asked if she was okay. She gave a half-shrug.
“So,” I wanted to break the weird silence. Over the years silence had been uncommon when Braelynn and I were together. “It’s good to see you again.” I tried not to sound cheesy.
Braelynn let out an angry huff and said, “My mom said to tell you hi.”
“Really?” I asked, aware of the hopeful surprise in my voice. I’ve always liked Mr. and Mrs. Gunderson. Once they let me tag along all the way to California for a week-long camp. Even though it was a lot of sitting in the minivan, I had good memories, mostly of making up goofy songs with Braelynn. The camp had been a blast, and we had shared it all together. That was six years ago, and now that I hadn’t seen her parents in months, I longed for the good old days. “That was sweet of her!”
Braelynn cut in, “Well it was like a month ago that she told me to tell you hi.”
“Oh.” I tried to hide the deflation in my voice, “Well maybe next month you can tell her I said hi back.”
Braelynn made another huff and said, “I don’t need a lecture right now, Marlee.” Ha, that was NOT a lecture, but whatever.
“Just drop me off at the corner of my street. And please don’t tell anyone about this.”
“Oh, I get it,” I said, anger rising, “We’re not friends anymore, but you can call me to sneak around and give you a ride when your jerk boyfriend gets drunk? Feel free to leave a tip in the cupholder. You’re welcome.”
“Marlee,” Braelynn hissed through gritted teeth, “I know you’re disappointed that I’ve made some mistakes lately. Just get me home, give me time to sort it out, and please don’t tell anyone about this. I’m not exactly proud of the way tonight went.”
I saw a pair of headlights approaching us in the other lane and vaguely wondered who else was out at 1:26 a.m. I wished I was still asleep. I knew my voice was snarky, but I couldn’t help it. “Not much to tell. You know you can count on me to keep this rendezvous a secret.” I was so mad that I meant it. I shouldn’t have answered her call. I wouldn't be sneaking around like an undercover taxi driver, and she could figure out her own mess.
“Marlee, STOP!” Braelynn shrieked. Wow, let’s not overreact. I wasn’t half as rude as you.
A car’s horn blared. My mind only saw fragments of what happened next. A blur of deer hide flew at us. Headlights careened through the dark. Tires squealed. My ears filled with crashing sounds. Airbags exploded. The deer crushed the hood of the SUV and shattered the windshield mere inches from our noses. The other car melded into ours. My head slammed into the headrest, and my hands flew up to shield my face. My breath was shallow and shaky, and I whispered, “Braelynn?”
The other driver climbed through the passenger door of his crumpled car and ran over to Braelynn and me. “Are you okay?” he shouted. “I’ll call 9-1-1!”
So much for keeping this a secret.
Mrs. Gunderson came to our house the next morning and hugged me. I was exhausted and overwhelmed with guilt that I only had a headache, but Braelynn was sitting in the hospital with a concussion and a broken arm. “You’ve been a good friend to Braelynn. I’m so sorry she pulled you into her mess. You’re a natural leader, and I’ve prayed so much that she would do her part to rekindle your friendship. She needs you. She acts mad, but please go visit her at the hospital.” Then she broke down in tears. Was it my turn to hug her?
Braelynn’s parents were disappointed in her and proud of me. Talk about an awkward predicament! My parents weren’t even too upset at me for sneaking out since I actually had a good reason. I think they were just glad that I was safe, and Braelynn’s injuries weren’t any worse. They wouldn’t say it in front of the Gundersons, but I knew they were relieved that I hadn’t been at the party. Even if I was cool enough to be invited, I wouldn’t have gone. It’s not a path I want to go down.
I didn’t want to face Braelynn, but since Mrs. Gunderson was so gracious, I visited her in the hospital later that day. I tried to be nice, but it spiraled into a Let’s Blame Marlee Campaign. In Braelynn’s eyes the car accident was totally my fault. Right, like I planned it all with the deer. Like I would've been driving then and there if not for her. Besides, accidents happen. But according to Braelynn, her parents found out that she was at a drinking party because I crashed that night. I decided that my headache was more from her meanness than from the accident itself.
I didn’t get a ‘thanks for saving me from my creepy boyfriend and his drunk friends,’ just “Marlee! Were you drinking too?! I needed you, and all you accomplished was getting us in an accident! So I made a mistake and went to that party. I was fixing my mess until you crashed. Then my parents got a call from the hospital, and the blabby newspaper people showed up, and now everyone knows I was at a drinking party. No way am I calling you again. Maybe you fit in with your hiking friends, but you do not fit in with me or my friends. You’re nothing but a big embarrassment. Some leader you turned out to be.” Ouch. Did she know Mrs. Gunderson called me a natural leader? Did Braelynn purposely say that to hurt me worse? Might as well give that dagger another twist in my heart.
She acted as if she thought her parents were so dense that they would not have figured it out on their own. Anyone who knew Braelynn at all could see she'd changed a ton over the past few months – and not for the better.
She yelled at me that I needed to leave her alone. A nurse hurried in, and I walked out, biting back tears. I knew a good friend would pray for her, but I was so exasperated and hurt as I left her hospital room that I just sighed, rode my bike home, and went to bed early. Actually I was so upset that out of habit I went to Lydie’s room. Lydie and I had shared the room for years, and even though I moved into Ellie’s room, Lydie’s still feels like mine. I curled up on her bed and took comfort in the familiar view from her window. I always liked listening to the silver maple’s leaves in the breeze with the window open. It felt like home and helped me calm down, and eventually I fell asleep.
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