Chapter 21 – Paul
Sunday, February 24th and following
Paul had stayed too late with Derek and Kris and didn’t get back to his Virginia apartment until early morning. He showered, changed into his uniform, and headed toward base. As the officer on duty he had mostly administrative tasks to attend to that day. It was quiet, and he found himself thinking more about Beth and David instead of the job at hand. He hadn’t opened the box yet and almost wished she hadn’t given it to him. Beth had seemed to be someone he could talk to — someone that he could have a friendship with. If she wanted more than that though, he’d have to give it up.
An aching loneliness swept through him like he hadn’t felt in years. He wasn’t that old that a little missed sleep should be affecting him this way. Why did she give him that present? Maybe once he opened it, it would make sense. She said there was a letter.
Paul thought he had figured out her story. Her defensiveness and her comment on abused children convinced him that her ex-husband must have been abusive to her and David. That would explain why she didn’t want to go into details either. The closeness that he had witnessed between Beth and David could also be explained by that.
David was a remarkable boy. Paul had thought he would be older than fourteen by his comments on the net. He had thought, like the others, that David was her husband until he saw him. And David was not like the young teen-age boys that came onto the base with their fathers. He did not need to be told to behave. He did not need to be told to pay attention. In fact he listened intently to everything. He even read the boring articles that he had been posting.
Paul wondered if he should write anymore. Not too many people were even interested. But they helped him study, and once they were written it was either post them, delete them, or back them to a floppy that would collect dust somewhere.
Paul wasn’t able to get home until the following evening. He took the box off his desk and went to the couch. Opening it, he took out four booklets. Something she probably thought he should or might like to read. The title of the top one was “Insights in Romans”. He glanced at the other titles. She probably thought he needed these. That would explain her nervousness. Maybe she thought something he’d said was not accurate. Who wrote these anyway? He found the author’s name, but it couldn’t be. Paul opened the top book and started reading the text. It was his articles. But… the letter. He looked back in the box and saw it sitting on the bottom.
“Paul, David and I have been saving your articles. They are very good. We decided to put them in book format. I hope you don’t mind. I edited some of the text — not much, and David did the cover photography. I’ve only run off your set and ours. If you don’t approve or if they are already published somewhere or for any reason you don’t want us to have the books let us know. I will do whatever you wish with the files. We just did it because we liked the material.
“I know you will probably have more in the Romans series, and if you like this format we can divide it into two booklets when you are done. Or I can easily reformat this text (if you like my edits — don’t be afraid to say you don’t) into manuscript form, and you can send it to a commercial publisher.
“Well, I’m writing this before I meet you. I’ll see you soon then. Beth.”
He couldn’t believe it. This was incredible. Paul read through the books and noticed where she had made the text clearer or added an explanation. When he read them all, he signed on to the net. First he skimmed through his mail. There was a message from Len.
“Paul, It was good meeting you. I didn’t have a chance to tell you, although I remember the subject did come up once, that I like your articles. Since you received a bit of negative feedback, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve adapted some of them for my sermons. Thanks for making my job easier. I hope you keep writing and posting no matter what the others may say. Have you ever thought of retiring from the military and becoming a minister? — Len.”
“Len. Thanks for writing. I needed to hear that, and I’m glad that my articles helped you and your parishioners. The writing is just my own studies. I never think about retiring from the military. It’s my career, and what I’m good at. It was good to meet you and Brittany. Perhaps next time things won’t be so rushed. — Paul”
He answered a few other letters. There was nothing from Beth. He was relieved. Perhaps she wasn’t pursuing him, and things were just as she said in the letter. They could be friends after all. And this is a great way to start a friendship without her getting the wrong impression either. Now he had an excuse to write.
“Beth, The books are great. I never thought that my writing could be so good. You are an incredible editor. And how did you print them? You must have access to some pretty nice equipment at work. I haven’t decided what to do with these books besides admire them, but when I do I’ll let you know. Don’t lose the files. I imagine it took a bit of work to get them to look like this. If you’d like I can mail a copy of each article directly to you. — Paul.”
“David, I really liked the books. Your photography is excellent. I appreciate your work on them. Please put me on the list of people who want a copy of the pictures you took at the conference. I’d also like a picture of you. Here’s my address. — Paul”
It was three days later when he finally received mail back from them.
“Paul, The pictures should be back tomorrow, and I will mail them out to you. I am glad you like the books. We will keep making them for you. — David”
“Paul, I am so relieved that you like my meddling with your work and don’t want me to destroy the files. I work at home, and the books were just printed on a color laser printer. The pages you have are what I usually take to the printer for my clients. (Before staples and folding, and without double side of the page printing.) The printer could have made the covers on card stock with a glossy finish. But of course you don’t want to do that for just two copies.
“It would be good if you did e-mail the articles to me. That way I won’t have to worry that I missed them if I don’t get on for a while. I almost didn’t sign on tonight because I have so much work to catch up on since I took a vacation. It may be a month before I can start editing again. David tells me that another article was posted since the last time I was on. I better go get it. — Beth.”
Saturday, March 2nd
Saturday morning Paul studied further in Romans and wrote what he learned from the various books he had gathered around him. Around noon a knock on the door interrupted his reading. “Dad, come on in.”
Saul Israel stepped in. He had a full head of hair that was still mostly brown with black, darker brown, and burnished red strands like Paul’s except that now there a few gray strands coming in, also. He carried a leather notebook. “How was Florida?” He set the notebook on the table and sat down.
Paul sat across from him. “The conference went well. Want to hear what I learned,” he asked with a slight grin.
Saul smiled. “Not really.” He unlatched his notebook and opened it. “I’m writing a family history.” He pushed the loose leaf binder toward Paul.
Paul looked down at the lines of small cramped writing on the ruled white paper. “The History of Israel,” he read. He glanced up at his father and then continued reading how Joseph Jacobowitz came to America in 1814 and settled in western New York State. In response to hearing that his father had become a Christian back in Austria, Joseph changed his family name to Israel as a strong reminder of his Jewish roots. “Is this some kind of statement to me about my conversion?”
Saul laughed. “No. I’ve accepted it. Your mother was a Christian, and there wasn’t a better woman.” He sobered a bit. “But I guess part of the reason I decided to write it is because of you. You’re the last one. You’ve refused to remarry and have another son.”
“Dad, we’ve been over this.”
“I know, Zach. I know.” In an apparent subject change, he said, “Do you want to know what I discovered about us Israel men?”
“Well, none of us have died of natural causes. And the oldest of us was ninety-four when he was trampled by a horse. He was apparently riding too spirited a mare for his age, according to his grandson’s journal. Almost every one of us has kept a journal, too, and I have them all. Some of them are pretty hard to read, especially old Joe’s. He was quite a character.” Saul chuckled again. “I also found out that every one of us has had only one wife no matter how young that wife was when she died. You are the first one to be divorced.”
“An honor I would have gladly foregone.”
“And Zach?” Saul waited until Paul looked him directly in the eyes. “I’m going to be the first one to remarry.”
“What?” Paul sat back stunned.
“This is nothing against your mother. I will always love her. But she’s been gone twenty-five years, and Zach, I suddenly realized that I was a fool sitting there watching other families and longing for her back. Of course, Sheila almost married someone else before I realized that I could still love your mother and not be lonely.”
“But Dad, is that fair to this Sheila? Is that her name?”
Saul shrugged. “She’s divorced, so it’s not her first marriage either. And it’s not like she doesn’t know how much I loved Ruth Ann. I talked about her all the time when I first met Sheila. I try not to as much anymore as a courtesy to her, but she’s never complained. But Zach, tell me, you don’t still love Clarissa after the way she treated you, do you?”
Paul was about to say no automatically, but then decided to really think about it. He finally shook his head. “No. I don’t think I feel anything for her anymore.” He shrugged. “It’s been nineteen years this month since the fire.”
“Then what is it, Zach? Are you afraid of being hurt again? You know I wonder if that’s part of why they never remarried. Because they didn’t want to lose someone they cared for so deeply again? Do you think that may be it?”
Paul got up and went to the refrigerator. “Do you want a Coke?”
Paul brought him one, and then opened his own and took a long drink. “So when are you getting married?”
Saul allowed the subject to be changed. “Four weeks, today. Can you be my best man?”
“Probably. I’ll check Monday and let you know if I can make it. It’s in New York, right?”
“Yes. And I thought you could wear your uniform and all your ribbons.”
“They are part of the dress uniform.” Paul smiled. “Showing off your son again, or is there some woman you want me to meet?”
“Both. But don’t let it stop you from coming. Sheila’s sister is the maid of honor and a widow.”
“Sheila’s sister? You obviously aren’t too serious about fixing me up. How old is she?”
“Sherry is thirty-five.” Saul said with a straight face that meant he was hiding something.
“Dad… how old is Sheila?”
“She’s a year younger than I am!”
“The point is….”
“I know what your point is, but I’m hardly robbing the cradle with a woman who’s almost forty. I’ve made up my mind so you might as well accept it.”
Paul studied his father a moment and realized that it was pointless to protest further. He guessed stubbornness was an Israel trait, also. “For what my opinion is worth to you, Dad, I think you’re making a mistake.”
“Your opinion means a lot to me, but you don’t know Sheila.”
“You are right, I don’t. Yet another reason why you shouldn’t marry so quickly.”
“Will you still come?”
“Yes. I’ll have to meet her sometime.”
“And your new stepbrother and sister.”
“This gets better all the time, Dad,” Paul said with a slight trace of sarcasm. “How old are they?”
“Holly is sixteen, and Greg is fourteen. I’ve told them about you, and they’re anxious to meet you.”
“I can’t wait either,” Paul said flatly.
Saul laughed. “It’s not like it’s going to change your life unless you want it to. Now me, I’ve got to learn how to be a parent all over again. Of course now that I’ve got the hardest one done, these two should be easy.” He reached for the notebook. “Do you think you could type this into your computer for me?”
“No one else knows how to type?”
“I thought you’d be more interested in the material than a hired typist, especially the last section, but if you’re not….”
“I’ll do it, but what are you going to do with it next?”
“I’ve got a lot of pictures, and I’m sure there must be a printer somewhere who can turn it into a book. I know it’s nothing that would interest anyone but us and maybe a few stray cousins that I’m going to try to look up.”
Paul got up and took the books that Elizabeth had made from his desk. He tossed them down in front of Saul. “A friend of mine made these at home.”
Saul looked over the cover of the first one. “Insights in Romans by Paul Israel.” He glanced at Paul and then flipped through the pages. “I didn’t know you were writing. And I didn’t know you were using your mother’s name for you.”
“Beth apparently does this for a living. If you’d like I can see how much she’d charge to do yours. She’s a pretty good editor, also.”
“How much was this?”
“She didn’t charge me. This is like a prototype. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it yet.”
“I’d like to read them.”
“Yeah. You’re reading my stuff. I’d like to see what you’re doing.”
“I should warn you; they’re Bible studies.”
“Oh? Well maybe I’ll gain a little insight into why you gave in so easily back there when we were talking about Sheila’s age.”
Paul smiled. “Take them, then.” He hated to give up his only copy, but if his father was willing to read about Jesus Christ then he would be the last person to stand in his way. “I’ll probably need to show Beth all the pictures and text to get an accurate quote.”
“I’ll have them for you when you come up for the wedding.” His father stayed that night and went with him to church the next morning.
After Saul left Sunday afternoon Paul started to write to Beth to tell her about Saul’s book but then decided that he’d just take everything to her the first chance he could take leave. He had almost as many days on the books as they allowed, so he knew that unless they needed him for something important he could probably get the time off soon.
That night Paul relived the fire again. He had come home late because he had stopped at the Officers Club to have a couple drinks. When he arrived the house was in flames. He saw Clarissa with Dan Sutherland’s arm around her. “Where’s Joel?” Paul had shouted over the roar of the flames, fire trucks, and hoses. Clarissa was crying, and she pointed to the house. He ran inside. The heat and flames overwhelmed him. Somehow he managed to get up the stairs to the nursery. He pulled Joel’s limp body from the crib and started down the steps. The flames grabbed him. He knew he was on fire, but he couldn’t stop now. He couldn’t breathe. He dropped to the floor, trying to avoid the smoke.
Paul had awakened in the hospital. He was burned all over the left side of his body, his back and chest, his arm and leg. The lower half of his face was damaged so badly he couldn’t eat. And Joel was dead. Clarissa had come twice. Once to blame and berate him for not coming home earlier. Joel would still be alive if he hadn’t stopped for a drink, she said. The second time she came she told him that she was divorcing him. She could never stay with a mutilated monster like him. Months later after plastic surgery to both his face and his left arm, he was finally able to return to work. He heard later that Clarissa had married his former best friend, Dan Sutherland.
Paul didn’t sleep the rest of the night and went on to base early to work out in the gym. He finished up and showered in time to make it to his post.
David’s pictures arrived Tuesday, and Paul wrote to thank him. He sent Beth the article he wrote Saturday morning and told her that his father had taken his books to read. By the end of the week another set had arrived in the mail, and he had not even requested them. He noticed the byline had been changed. It now read “by Col. Zachariah Paul Israel.”
Saturday, March 30th
On the last Saturday in March Paul went to New York, arriving an hour before his father’s wedding. He met his new stepmother. She was taller than his mother had been, and her hair was short, permed and black instead of long, brown and flowing. Her white skin almost matched her gown. Paul wondered why she was wearing white, but guessed he was more of a traditionalist than his father now. Her sister, Sherry, wore a red gown and had the same black hair and too white skin. The effect was striking. Holly and Greg were in the wedding, also. They had the black hair of their mother. Greg had an average built. He was short, but it looked like that would change within the next year. Holly was a pretty girl who was only slightly overweight. Paul didn’t have a chance to speak to them before the ceremony.
Even without relatives and with the short notice, the pews were filled. His father had many friends. At the reception Sherry attached herself to him, and Paul had trouble talking to anyone else. At least she was a decent dancer, and he took her out on the floor several times. He danced with Holly, also. She was nervous but near the end of the song she finally started talking.
“Do you really want to be my brother?” she asked, and then looked down into his chest as the dance continued.
Paul was surprised that it mattered. “Do you want me to be?”
“I think,” she started out slowly and then rushed to finish, “that it would be really neat to have someone like you to be able to talk to. Your dad says you’re a real hero. You’ve rescued people and know all kinds of things.”
“Dads brag a lot.”
“You have a lot of these colored bars. Are these how many people you’ve saved?”
“Those are ribbons, and you get them for a lot of things, not just saving people’s lives.” The music ended. Paul let go of her left hand and led her off the floor. Right before she left him Holly turned to him and asked, “Can I write to you?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll even try to write back once in a while.”
She gave him a dazzling smile before she went to join a group of girls who looked her age.
Sherry came to claim him. She clutched his arm and started a chattering conversation about someone he didn’t know. He wished he could politely shake her off his arm. He managed to dodge her after the next song by excusing himself to the rest room. He went outside afterward.
It was a nice day for the last weekend in March, and the sun was about to disappear behind the mountain. He walked to the front of the hall. It was downtown and in the town he had grown up in. He walked around looking at the changed buildings.
When Paul got back Greg was standing near the door of the reception hall, apparently waiting for him. “Do you want to talk to me, or do you wish I didn’t exist?”
“I can talk to you.” And Dad had thought he was a hard child to raise. He was going to have fun. “Do you want to go back inside or go for a walk?”
Greg studied Paul suspiciously. “I guess we can walk. Are you going to marry Aunt Sherry?”
“Are you going to marry my sister?”
Paul almost choked. “No. I believe she’s my sister now, too. Unless you have a problem with sharing.”
They walked in silence for half a block. “Do you kill people?”
Paul wasn’t prepared for that one either. “Not unless they try to kill me.”
“But you have.”
Paul didn’t like to be reminded about that part of his job. He had always volunteered for the dangerous missions because he didn’t have a family, and when you went on missions like that sometimes it was kill or be killed. But there was only one time that he knew he had actually ended someone’s life, and he had been very careful not to do it again even though it was thought necessary by most. “I can almost always stop someone without killing them.”
“I can shoot accurately so I don’t have to hit a vital organ. I know how hard and where to hit someone to disable but not kill.”
“If they’re bad guys why don’t you want to kill them?”
“Because they’re human beings made in God’s image. Each person is special.”
“So if someone goes out and kills twenty people you don’t think they should get the chair.”
“I didn’t say that. If a person goes out and kills twenty people it’s quite obvious that he has to be stopped.”
“So you’d kill him.”
“If I was the law in the place where he was doing the killing. I can’t just go anywhere and decide on my own who deserves to die. That is the job of the state — the government if you will. I’m in the Army. If our country goes to war with someone it’s my job to destroy the enemy until they surrender. It’s not my job to enforce the laws of New York State, and if I take my gun and start trying to, I’ll be breaking the law, and they can and will throw me in prison.”
“You have a gun?”
“In my trunk.”
“Can I see it?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m parked over near the hall. Let’s head back.” They turned around and walked back the way they came. “Why are you so interested in killing?”
“I don’t know. Never met anyone who did it before.”
“I don’t do it. It’s not something anyone should be proud of.”
“I thought you were supposed to be proud of being in the Army.”
“I am. I’m part of the group of people who protect this country. If you had ever seen a war zone, you’d be glad we were there to make sure you didn’t live in one.”
They reached Paul’s car, and he opened the trunk. He never kept the pistol loaded, so he reached under the carpeting, pulled it out, and handed it to Greg. Greg studied it and then held it out as if to take aim at a man walking by. Paul grabbed it away from him. “Never point a gun at anyone unless you intend to shoot them.”
“It’s not loaded, is it? Isn’t there supposed to be a clip of bullets here?”
“It doesn’t matter. You don’t do it, ever. That’s how people get hurt.”
“Sorrrry! Can I see it again? I won’t point at anyone, I promise.” Greg reached for the gun again.
“What are you two doing out here?” Sheila came around from the front of the car. One hand held the skirt of her dress so the hem wouldn’t rub against the oil spots of the parking lot. “Is that a gun? Zachariah Israel, you are never to bring that or any other gun around my family again?”
Paul put the gun back into the trunk and closed it. “Does that include hunting rifles?”
“Any kind of gun,” Sheila said firmly. “No one needs to go hunting anyway.”
“Just how long have you and my father known each other?”
“Long enough. I know you don’t approve of me, but I’m your mother now so you better get used to it.”
Paul shook his head and held up his hands. “No. You may have married my father, but you have no rights as my mother. I accept that you are his wife and will treat you accordingly, but you are never to speak disrespectfully to me. No one does.”
“I’m a civilian, and I’ll not say ‘yes sir’ to you. I went in the Army when I was eighteen, and it was the worst three years of my life. I don’t want my children to have to go through that, so you stay away from my son with your guns and war stories. Holly, too.”
“I see.” Paul studied her. A fight would just make things harder for his father than he could see they already were. “I will say good-bye to my father.” He turned and headed back into the hall. He heard Sheila ask Greg what he had said, before the door closed behind him. Well, so much for his father’s happy marriage. He would really have fun when she discovered what an avid hunter he was.
Saul was talking to a group, and Paul touched his elbow to get his attention. “I must leave. Do you have the pictures?”
“They’re in my apartment on the kitchen counter.” Saul stepped away from the group so they could talk privately. “Are you sure you have to go already? It’s still very early.”
“I think I better. And Dad, I’ll be praying for you and Sheila and the kids.” Impulsively he hugged his father for the first time in years.
“Thanks for coming, Zach. I appreciate your support.”
Paul nodded, feeling anything but supportive. Then he left.
At the apartment boxes were stacked around the room, and Paul realized that his father wouldn’t be living there much longer. He didn’t even have his new address yet. Paul found the bag with the pictures on the counter between the kitchen and living room. As he headed toward the door, he noticed his books on the end table next to the couch. One was opened with the type face down to hold his place. At least he was reading it.
Go to Chapter 22
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.