Nat drove to his apartment. He couldn't determine if he'd made a mistake, or the right decision in getting to know Nicole. He especially wondered how he had let emotions prompt him into making a commitment he had no idea how to fulfill. But he hadn't been able to disappoint her. Inside his apartment, he sat in his favorite reading chair, but did not pick up the book on the table beside him. His thoughts would not settle.
It was still early -- not quite eight o'clock. He wondered what Paul was doing. Probably family things. He hesitated, and then reached for the phone. It rang as he touched it, startling him. "Hello?"
"Hi, Nat," said his sister, Libby, her voice subdued. He rarely heard the lilt in it that he had when she was younger.
"Libby. I'm so sorry."
After a period of silence, he asked, "Do you want to talk?"
"Not really. Are you coming? Mom said you would."
"Do you need me, Libby?"
The line was silent for a long while. "No," she finally said. "I'm okay."
He was convicted. She did want to see him, and she was hurting. "I'll try to get vacation as soon as I can. It won't be for a few weeks, though." He paused, but she didn't say anything. "How's Ryan?"
Nat wanted to protest, but he couldn't. It would only make her feel worse. "Are you feeling too bad to get out with friends?"
She hesitated again -- so unlike the Libby he knew growing up. It had always been a joke between them that she would speak before thinking. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed early."
Early was right. The different time zone made Kansas time only seven o'clock. He wasn't sure how to address her pain. "I'll come as soon as I can."
"Sure. I'm tired. Bye."
"Love you, Lib. Bye." He hung up the phone. His mother had been right. Libby needed someone, and it sounded like Ryan was dealing with the problem like so many men, by immersing himself in work. But that left Libby to deal with her emotions alone. He wondered why she couldn't talk to Mom or Dad, but then maybe Libby felt Mom couldn't possibly understand, never having had a miscarriage, and always having children or grandchildren around.
Perhaps Libby didn't feel comfortable with her sisters-in-law, either, since they were ten and eight years older. And their older sister lived in Texas. Libby and Arlene had not gotten along at home though, because Libby was ten years younger than Arlene, being more of a pest to her. Nat was the closest in age and the one she had always come to with problems until he left for college. He'd have to make the effort to go.
He'd worked through his vacations for the last two years because of the workload. Paul had encouraged him to go, but Nat realized now, he had allowed work to keep him from dealing with the problems back home, just as Ryan was doing. He'd have to confront his father about his lack of support for their current pastor when he talked to him. He'd have to make time to hear about Libby's pain. He'd have to figure out how to stand firm about staying in Flint when his mother looked him in the eye and used all her persuasive powers on him, the same ones that had kept him in line as a child. And, perhaps worst of all, he'd have to endure, while his family, including his brothers, all tried to play matchmaker with every available young lady in the area.
He'd have to go, and Paul was the only one who could take his place while he was gone. He again reached for the phone and called him. "Hey, Paul, I know you're probably busy."
"Not really. We're just relaxing at home for a change. What's up? Want to come over?"
Nat grinned. "How'd you guess?"
"I'm a prophet, didn't you know? And I have a 'word' for you."
Nat laughed at Paul's parody. "Oh, and what's that?"
"Come on over."
"That was three words."
Paul laughed. "I'll see you later then."
A half hour later Nat rang the doorbell of Paul's home. Elizabeth met him at the door, taking his coat. Ruth ran out of the sun room. "Dabid?" She stopped and stared at Nat. "Pas' Nat. Where Dabid?"
Nat squatted before Ruth so that he was eye level with the two year old. "I don't know. I missed you, though, last time I was here. You must have been in bed. Where's your daddy?" he asked, even though he saw Paul in the music room watching them.
Ruth squealed and ran to Paul, climbing into his lap. Nat sat in the armchair near Paul. "I thought David was here last weekend."
"He was. Ruth just misses him. It's hard for her to understand we have three more weeks until he'll be home again."
"Then the tour is over?"
"No. One more three week trip out west this time, then maybe he can stay home for a while. Ruth's not the only one missing him. But what's on your mind? Or have you just come to get beaten at Hearts again?"
Nat laughed. "We can play a few hands. Maybe I'll beat Elizabeth if I can't beat you."
"Oh, a challenge," Elizabeth said, setting his ginger ale on the desk. "I wouldn't count on it, or should I say, you'll need to be counting your points. Ruth, it's time to get your toys picked up, so we can get ready for bed." Ruth protested only a little and followed Elizabeth out of the room.
Nat watched them leave. He didn't mind Elizabeth listening in, but sometimes he wanted privacy. He faced Paul. "I did something really stupid tonight. I told Nicole I had a sponsor, and Rachel could start school Tuesday."
Paul's face barely registered his surprise. "You lied?"
"She was so disappointed, Paul. What am I going to do?"
"Confess you lied."
"I can't do that. This means a lot to her. I can't let her down. Please, help me think of someone."
"You. You promised. You fill the promise. Didn't you even consider that?"
"Yeah. But I hoped... well, I'm saving for a house for when I get married, and...."
"Which we know will happen any day now."
"How much longer do you think I'll have to wait, Paul?" Nat shook his head. "Forget it. This is probably the way it's working out. I have to go home, and my mom will probably introduce me to someone wonderful." He doubted it, but maybe this was the answer to his prayer. Yes, it had to be. He'd have to take his family's suggestions seriously. "That's it, Paul."
"Really? You're taking a vacation to find a wife?"
Nat sobered. "Not exactly. My little sister had another miscarriage. Mom says she needs me, and when I talked to Libby, all she asked was if I'd come. She wouldn't talk about anything over the phone."
"Another miscarriage? Beth's problem?"
"Not exactly. She loses them earlier, but I wish someone like Elizabeth could talk to her. But Libby doesn't know her, and probably wouldn't be comfortable."
Elizabeth sat down at one of the desks, facing him. "Who's Libby?"
"My sister in Kansas. Tell me if you can, what do you think she's thinking?"
"About? I missed the beginning here."
"She keeps having miscarriages. The first trimester."
Elizabeth took a deep breath. "It's hard. Especially when you really want children. How's her husband treating her? Is he blaming her? It really makes a difference how your husband reacts."
"I wouldn't think Ryan would. I went to school with him. He's a pretty decent guy."
"Yeah, so's Wes," Elizabeth said with a touch of bitterness. She immediately changed her tone. "I'm sorry." Paul touched her arm, and Elizabeth clutched his hand. "Just make sure. It's hard on a marriage. Tell him he has to let her know he loves her no matter what."
"I'm sure he does."
"But does he say it? Or do his actions convey more than the words that he doesn't?"
Nat wondered if perhaps the topic was too sensitive for Elizabeth to see all men were not like her ex-husband. Ryan was a Christian. He wouldn't blame Libby for something she had no control over. But Christian husbands and wives stuck in misunderstandings and battles came into his office every day. Still Ryan wouldn't, would he? Not when Libby hurt so badly.
"Will you be able to fill in for me for a few weeks, Paul? I'd hoped to hold off the vacation until you were officially hired, but maybe this will speed up their decision."
Paul glanced at Elizabeth. "Yes. Your sister needs you." Paul stood. "Let's go to the dining room for that card game." Paul led the way to the other side of the house.
Paul dealt first, and Elizabeth won that game. "You shouldn't challenge her, Nat," Paul said. "She'll win every game now."
"Another challenge. Good." Elizabeth cut the cards one more time before she began to deal. "Paul tells me that Nicole Bryant may need a friend. I'll talk to her Sunday, and maybe she can come over some time next week."
Paul won the next game in spite of the challenge. But Elizabeth beat him in the final game. Nat stood. "Time for me to take off. I'm thinking about buying that game for my computer and practicing up. Next time, Paul."
"How about next Friday?" Paul turned to Elizabeth.
"Sure, Nat," she agreed. "Come around six for dinner."
He'd rather be with no one else. "It sounds good. Thanks."
Monday morning Nat went to Jay's office before he could be trapped in his study. He had to wait a few minutes for Jay to finish talking to a parent of one of the school's students, but finally they were alone. "Get a sponsor for Rachel yet?" Nat asked hopefully.
Jay laughed. "No. Did you?"
Nat hesitated only a second. He'd said the words, he had to follow through. "No, but I'll do it until someone else comes along. I told her she could start tomorrow. They'll be in later to fill out the paperwork."
Jay leaned forward in his seat against his desk. "Are you sure about this, Nat? You know I'd love to help a lot of people also, but it's impossible to help everyone who needs it. If this gets out, others might expect you to help them."
"Don't tell anyone then. Can't it be anonymous?"
"We have to have a billing address on file. The files are confidential, and the girls are careful, but sometimes things slip out. This isn't good for you, Nat. Rumors of favoritism and...."
Nat stopped him by lifting his hand slightly. "I'm tired of rumors, Jay. Others choose who they'll support. Don't I get the same opportunity to choose my own charities."
Jay conceded. "I'll back you up if there's any flack. Rachel needs to be here." He leaned back and opened the bottom drawer of his desk, pulling out some forms. He glanced through them. "Nicole will have to fill out the top." He passed them to Nat. "Fill out the billing information."
Nat glanced at the form and handed it back. "After Nicole does. I told her the sponsor wished to remain anonymous."
"Wise choice, Nat." He took the papers back. "I'll bring these to you tomorrow for your signature and the first installment on the tuition."
Nat stood. "Then everything is set? Nicole will bring Rachel after class today to look around."
Jay indicated it was, and Nat left for the day-care center across the street to make similar arrangements.
At his desk Nat returned a number of calls before he could tell Lynette that he wanted to speak with all the Elders. He asked if she could set up a Thursday evening meeting or next Saturday morning -- whichever most of them would be able to attend.
A little after three Nicole and Rachel arrived. She wore older clothes, and her hair was up as she usually wore it. But he remembered Friday. It was a shame such a pretty woman was forced to hide herself to support herself and her child.