Chapter 22 – Paul
Sunday, March 31st
Paul drove into Canada and got a hotel room for the night. The next morning he found a church to attend and then continued on to Michigan. It was late afternoon when he pulled up in front of the house that was supposed to be Beth’s. Paul knocked and waited. He knocked again and was almost ready to leave to find a hotel for the night when the door opened.
David stood inside. His face was streaked with damp lines, and his voice cracked when he spoke. “Paul?”
“Hello, David. What’s wrong?” Paul came through the door as David backed away to let him. “Where’s Beth?” He closed the door behind him.
“In here.” David crossed the living room and headed down a hall. Paul followed him to the end and into a bedroom on the left.
Beth lay in bed with her eyes shut. Her hair tangled around her head, and her lips were dry.
David sat on the edge of the bed. “Mom?”
She opened her eyes. “David,” she said in a hoarse voice. “I don’t think we’ll make it to church tomorrow.” Her eyes closed again.
She’d lost track of time. “How long has she been like this, David?”
Beth opened her eyes again. “Paul?”
“Hello, Beth. You look pretty sick.”
“I look like puke.”
“Descriptive, but not the word I would have used.”
She laughed slightly. “Oh, my stomach.” She moved her hand under the covers to touch her right side. She winced again and moved her hand away, closing her eyes.
“Beth. We have to get you to the hospital.”
She opened her eyes again. “David. I can’t.”
“You must. Should I carry you out the way you are, or do you want to try to put some clothes on first?”
Beth tried to sit up but groaned and fell back.
Paul pulled the covers away from the end of the bed, wrapping them around her as he picked her up.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking you to the hospital.” Paul carried her to his car. He placed her in the back seat and then noticed that David was hovering nearby. “Go get your coat and her purse or her insurance card if it’s someplace else.”
David ran back to the house. Paul got into the car and waited. David returned with the requested items, but he wasn’t wearing his coat.
Paul had to tell him to get into the passenger seat. “Where is the hospital?”
David seemed confused and looked back at Beth half-lying in the back seat with her eyes closed.
“David, think. This is important. Which way do I go?”
The muscles in David’s jaw tightened, and he looked ahead. “To Main Street. Turn left.”
At the hospital Paul carried her inside, and they took her back to a diagnostic room immediately. Then Paul looked through her purse to find her identification. After the preliminary paperwork he took the blanket Beth had been wrapped in and her purse out to the car.
When he returned, the doctor stopped him. “Are you her husband?”
“We need to take her into surgery. I suspect a ruptured appendix. You may see her for a few minutes while we get things ready.”
Paul and David went into the diagnostic room. Beth lay on a table with an IV in her left arm. “Mommy?” David said with a cry as he went to her.
Beth opened her eyes and tried to smile at him. “David, my beloved son.”
“Please don’t die. I… There’s nowhere….”
“Ssssh,” Beth said softly. “God is in control. Remember that, David.” She raised her right hand and touched his face gently.
David leaned against her hand. “I need you. I love you.”
“I love you, too, my son.” She closed her eyes and her hand dropped away from him.
Beth opened her eyes again but focused on Paul instead. “Paul?”
“Yes?” He came to stand next to her.
“Please stay with my son. Don’t let anything happen to him.”
“Yes, Beth. I’ll stay with David. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. After resting Beth turned to David. “Paul will stay with you. You can trust him. He will protect you.”
“I want you.”
“I love you, David.”
The doctor came in and asked them to go to the waiting room. David didn’t leave until Beth said, “You must go. Listen to Paul. He knows what to do.”
“Come on, David,” Paul said from the doorway.
David took one last look at Beth, straightened his back, and followed Paul. His eyes were wet. When they reached the waiting room David sat in a corner seat, brought his knees up to his chin, and wrapped his arms around them. Paul sat next to him. David drew back before settling into his former position.
He seemed so young today. Paul wondered why he still called her mommy when most boys his age would have shortened it a long time ago. Beth told him that Paul would protect him. Paul studied the boy next to him. Had his father hurt him that badly? How had he hurt Beth? David was afraid she was going to die. Paul remembered what that was like, Lord. Please don’t let him have to go through that, also. “David, would you like to pray with me?”
David looked at him warily before nodding.
Paul reached out to take his hands, but David seemed to shrink into the seat. It confirmed Paul’s suspicion that David had been hurt, and without Beth he didn’t trust anyone, or at least not Paul. He withdrew his hands and started to pray in a low voice.
“Our Lord, You know that Beth is sick right now. She needs You to help her through this illness. Please be with the doctors and guide them so that through them she might be healed. Your will be done, my Lord. And my Father, please comfort and strengthen David so that he knows You are in control, and… so he can help Beth during her recovery, and… for whatever You might want him to face.” Paul paused, trying to think of what else should be said at this time. He did not believe in muttering a lot of overused clichés, and he also tried to avoid telling God what to do, being constantly aware of Who he was talking with.
Paul was surprised when David started praying, crying out in a low voice. “Oh, Jesus, my Lord. I know You can heal her like You did me, but You haven’t wanted to. I know it’s wrong to question why. I know You work all things together for the good of those who love You. I love You. I know You must be working everything…” David sobbed quietly. “You know how… how much I need her. You know she’s… the only one… who loves me. You know I… I have nowhere else to go. Nowhere, Jesus. I know I’m selfish. I know she’d be happier with You than me. But please. I’ll miss her so much.”
Paul began again when David paused. “My Father, please hear his cry. Have mercy on him. I know what it’s like to know your mother is very sick. And he has no father like I did to be there with him. Let me help him through this. Please, Lord. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Paul kept his eyes closed. He did not remember hearing such an anguished prayer before. And he did know what David was going through to some extent. The words ‘nowhere else to go’ and ‘she’s the only one that loves me’ played through his mind. He looked up at David.
David watched him with those large brown eyes of his. His arms were still wrapped around his legs. “Thank you,” David said quietly. “Do you think… she’ll die?”
“No. A lot of people have their appendix out. I’ve not heard of anyone dying because of it in the United States.” Four people came into the waiting room and began talking about someone who was having surgery because of a car accident. Paul stood. “Do you want to walk? I think we have to move the car anyway.”
David unwrapped himself and stood. He followed Paul to the car, and they moved it from the emergency room parking lot. Paul took paper and a pen from his computer case and wrote his address and phone number on it. He handed it to David. “I don’t have to be back on base for almost two weeks. I’ll stay here with you, and your mom should be home long before I go back to Virginia. I know you already have my address, but here’s my number, too. If you ever need anything I want you to call me. If anything ever happens to Beth, call me. If I’m not home leave a message. Keep trying. I do care. Sometimes I have to go overseas for several weeks, but when I get the message I’ll call back. I’ll help you.”
David took the paper Paul held out and put it in his wallet. They walked back to the waiting room.
After while the doctor came in and told them that it was as he suspected. The appendix had ruptured. They waited another forty-five minutes before they could see her, but she was too groggy from the anesthesia and pain medicine to talk.
“We’ll let you get some sleep and come back tomorrow, Beth,” Paul said.
“Use my room. David, change the sheets, okay?”
Paul was amused that her first full sentence was about changing the bedding.
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you,” Beth said, with her eyes still closed.
“Come on David. She needs sleep.”
David followed him out of the room.
At home David immediately went to change the sheets in his mother’s room. Paul brought in his suitcase and helped him finish. “Are you going to take off your coat?”
David picked up the old bedding and left the room.
Paul looked around. The room held bookcases and a sewing machine in addition to the normal bedroom furniture. A double picture sat on the dresser. He went to it. David was on one side and a younger blond boy on the other.
Paul went out to look for David. The light was on under the first door in the hall and then it went out. He must have gone to bed already. Paul decided to do the same.
He lay in her bed, a single bed. Not that a double would have fit well with everything else, but he was glad it was a single bed. It made a statement about her life that pleased him. He wondered what his father would say if he called and told him he was sleeping in a woman’s bed tonight. But then so was his father, and the woman was with him. He didn’t understand why the thought disturbed him. He tried to control his thoughts and ended up praying again.
Monday, April 1st
Paul awoke in the middle of the night, hungry. He got up and started toward the kitchen. David’s door was open, and his light on. Paul leaned in. Soft rock praise music played quietly, and David sat at a desk, reading. He glanced up and stiffened. He seemed almost afraid.
“What are you doing?” Paul came a little further into the room and saw that a photo album was opened to pictures of Beth on the back part of the desk.
“I couldn’t sleep either, but I think it’s because I’m hungry. I am going to see if there’s anything in the refrigerator. Care to join me?”
David shrugged, but followed him.
The refrigerator was almost bare. Of course, Beth probably hadn’t been to the store since she’d fallen ill. He’d have to go tomorrow. “There isn’t really anything to eat here, is there?”
David went to the freezer and pulled out a package of hamburger, putting it in the microwave to thaw. Then he reached under the cupboard for a boxed hamburger mix.
Paul watched him prepare the meal. “You’ve done this before.”
David shrugged as he sat down and lowered his head. Paul watched him a minute before he realized David was waiting for him to say grace. He complied, and they started eating.
“I noticed you have weights. Do you work out much?”
“I go to the gym three or four times a week. They have a lot of equipment there.”
David didn’t respond. He picked at his food, only eating a little before he pushed it away. He looked at Paul. “Was your mother very sick?”
“Yes. I was your age when the doctor said she had cancer.”
“Did she die?”
“Less than a year later.”
“Was she… a good mother?”
“She was very good. In some ways Beth reminds me of her. She had hair almost as long as Beth’s, and it was brown, almost like Beth’s but not as much rust. Mom was a Christian, like Beth. She taught me about Christ even though Dad protested like crazy. But she was as stubborn as he was, and since he loved her and didn’t feel as strongly about religion as she did, he gave in. She gave in to him on most everything else though, and they were very happy together.
“When she died I thought God didn’t care. I became an agnostic, one who said ‘Yeah, God might exist, but what difference does it make.’ And I didn’t really know or care if Jesus existed or not since my father always said that he didn’t. I lived that way for almost twenty years before a friend took me to listen to a conference on the Reasonableness of Christianity.
“David, don’t let that happen to you. No matter what bad things might happen God is in control, like your mom says. He does care. When Mom died I should have asked God why he was so good to allow me to have her for as long as I did. Why does he let any good thing happen to us miserable creatures who refuse to acknowledge Him? But I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand even what you do, that she is much happier with our Lord. It took me twenty years, David, to figure that out.” Paul didn’t know why he said so much except that he had been thinking about his mother a lot lately, and David seemed interested.
“I hope God doesn’t want Elizabeth to be with Him for a long time.”
Elizabeth? “She’ll probably look a lot better when we go up to see her in the morning. Maybe we should try to get some sleep.”
David rinsed out the dishes, put them in the dishwasher, and turned it on. Then he went to his room. He certainly didn’t have any trouble taking care of himself. It was strange that he called her Elizabeth. Stranger than mommy.
In the morning Paul made sure he was up early enough to cook for David. He found a pancake mix and syrup and had a good stack ready when David came in. They ate in silence, and then David took the Bible and a devotional magazine from the counter.
“You use the same magazine I do. Let me get mine from the bedroom.” Reading out loud was not something Paul did often, but he followed David’s lead.
When they were getting ready to leave, the phone rang. David looked at Paul and then went behind a curtain. He heard David say a tentative hello. He pushed the curtain aside and found what could only be where Beth worked, her office. He had assumed that the computer was in the room across the hall from where he had slept, but he hadn’t opened the door to find out. “Is this Elizabeth Weaver’s?” A speaker phone?
“May I speak with her?”
“She’s… not here.”
“Is this David?”
“This is Lynn at the Credit Union. I just wondered why Beth didn’t bring our newsletters by Friday. Do you think we’ll get them today? I’ve got to get these statements out.”
David flipped through a file. “I… I think it’s at the printers. I’ll… I’ll try to get them to you.”
“Thanks, David. I’ll see you and Beth later.”
David turned to Paul. It seemed he asked with his eyes before he actually said the words. “Please, can you take me?”
“Sure, David. We can do that first if you want.”
“I… It needs to be done.” David picked up the folder he was looking through, and they went to the car.
Paul followed David’s directions to the printers. Inside, David went up to the counter, and an older man met him. David handed him the folder he had brought. The man looked through it. “Where’s your mom, David?”
“At… the hospital.”
“She is? I was afraid something was wrong when you two didn’t come in Friday. What happened?”
“Oh. Then she’ll be okay, but sore for a while. Which hospital?”
David hesitated and looked back at Paul. Paul stepped forward and told him. The man wrote the number on the folder with a pencil.
“We need the orders from Friday,” David said, before the man could ask any more questions.
“Sure, I’ll get them.”
After they left the printer they went to the Credit Union. The woman there looked past David as he set the box down on the counter. “Where’s Beth?”
“McLaren. Room 203. Appendix.” Paul smiled at David’s attempt to limit conversation.
“You’re kidding.” She looked toward Paul. “Are you with David?”
Paul agreed with a slight nod.
“Where’s Elizabeth been hiding you? She never tells us anything over here. Maybe I’ll go see her after I get out today.”
When they left, David said, “She’s not a Christian.”
Paul smiled. They stopped at two more places before they headed for the hospital. Paul let David go into the room ahead of him.
David went to the side of the bed. “Mom?”
Beth opened her eyes and smiled. “Hello, David. I missed you.” She lifted her hand and grabbed his.
“You’re better. Oh thank you, Jesus.” David leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“I’m getting there. I feel much better than yesterday, but my stomach feels like someone cut it open and took something out.”
“Perhaps because they did,” Paul said.
Beth smiled at him. “Perhaps. Paul, I really must apologize to you. I wasn’t thinking straight last night. I really appreciate your help.”
“It’s okay, Beth. I know you didn’t plan this. I’m just glad I was able to help. And David and I are getting along well.”
Beth looked at David, and he nodded. She smiled again. “I’m glad.” She focused on Paul. “They say I’ll have to be in here until Wednesday or Thursday. Is that… Should I…?”
“I can stay with David, Beth.”
“Thank you. I don’t even know how you happened to be here, but I know you didn’t plan to spend your time hanging out with a sick woman and her son.”
“Don’t worry, Beth. I did come to see you both.”
“Mom, we took the stuff you had finished in and delivered the other stuff. I got a couple disks, but I don’t think I can do it. I’m sorry. I’m not sure what needs to be done.” David seemed upset and nervous.
“Don’t worry about it, Sweetheart. I’ll do it when I get home.”
“But, if the clients get upset they’ll go away, and you won’t get your money….”
“David, honey, stop. I told you about that so you would know how business works, not so that you would worry. If I lose any clients over this then I don’t really need them. I can’t do anything about it, so we can’t worry about it.” David still seemed worried, but he didn’t say anything else. Beth rubbed his arm. “Trust me, Honey,” she said softly. “We’ll be okay.”
“I love you, Mom. I just wish I could help you.”
“I know. I love you, too.” Beth closed her eyes. “I can’t believe I’m so tired. It must be the pain medicine.”
“You still hurt?”
“I’ll hurt for a while, David, until everything heals, and the infection goes away.”
A man came in with a bouquet of flowers. “Elizabeth Weaver?” Beth acknowledged him with a weak lifting of her hand, and he set the flowers on the window sill for her. They were from Fred at the printing company.
Almost immediately after that a nurse came in, going to the side of the bed where David stood. He jumped and backed as far into the corner as he could.
The nurse ignored him. “I need to get some blood from you.” She tied the tourniquet around Beth’s arm and started to feel for a vein. Then she pulled out the needle.
“No!” He started for the nurse.
“David!” Beth commanded. “It’s all right.”
The nurse eyed David warily, before completing the procedure. After she left David looked into Beth’s eyes for a long time.
“David, they need to test my blood to see how to best help me get better.”
“I don’t want anyone to hurt you.”
“I’ll be okay. I’m just really tired right now.”
“Why don’t we go get some lunch, David?” Paul asked. Beth smiled at him gratefully.
They went to a restaurant and sat at a booth. David didn’t speak while they waited for their food. When it arrived he tasted it and then pushed it around with his fork. “Why did Fred give her flowers?”
“I assume you’d know that more than me,” Paul said. “How well does he know Beth? Are they good friends?”
David shrugged. “We just see him when we pick up or deliver stuff. Usually Fridays and Tuesdays.”
“Then it’s probably because she’s a client of his, and it’s a business courtesy. If you work with someone for years it lets them know you care.”
“Should I give her flowers? Did you give your mom flowers when she was sick?”
“Yes. I guess I did a few times. Dad and I tried to bring her little things to cheer up her room.”
“I’ll never learn all this. I’ll never be a good son.” David threw his fork down and stood. “I need to buy her something.”
“Sit down and finish your lunch first.”
David stared at him as if debating. Then he complied.
“Now what makes you think you’re not a good son?”
David continued staring at him and didn’t respond. He didn’t touch his food either.
“David, I’m sorry I didn’t think of presents earlier. But we were thinking about the work, remember.”
David looked down at his food. He pushed the plate away.
“You won’t help her by getting sick from not eating.”
David shook his head and then shrugged. Tears came into his eyes. Paul felt helpless. What else could he do to reassure David that she’ll be fine?
The waitress came with the bill, interrupting his thoughts.
David pulled out his wallet and tried to hand Paul a five.
“No, David. I’ll pay for it. Save your money.”
“You’re paying for me?” He seemed shocked.
“Yeah, sure. What’s wrong?”
“You buy me food. You fed me this morning and studied the Bible with me. You even prayed with me. Only Elizabeth has ever done those things with me.”
“David, I don’t understand. I know your father must have been a pretty rotten man, but I feel like there’s something I’m missing here.”
“I don’t have a father.”
“Did he die?”
“I never had one.”
“Then who hurt you?”
David stiffened. Then he shook his head. “Elizabeth didn’t tell you. She wouldn’t. She loves me.”
“Beth hasn’t told me anything. And why do you call her Elizabeth?”
He looked confused. “It’s her name.”
“I realize that. My mom’s name was Ruth Ann, but I always called her Mom.”
David got up and walked toward the door of the restaurant. Paul watched him leave. Lord, I don’t know what to do. It looks like my theory is shot. Now what? If Beth tells me he’ll feel betrayed. Give me patience.
David waited at the car. When Paul pulled from his parking spot, he asked, “Do you want to get her something a little more lasting than flowers? Something she can take home?”
“Yes, and flowers.”
Paul decided not to argue, but turned into the parking lot of the first gift shop he saw. He let David look and picked out a card to give her himself. He thought about getting her flowers, but decided against it. Women sometimes read too much into flowers.
David brought him a hummingbird stained-glass suncatcher. “Would you give this to your mother?”
“Yes. I think she would have liked it.”
David went to buy it. Paul bought the card after him. They went to the florist next, and he helped David choose a bouquet to take.
Back at the hospital Beth thanked them for the gifts and card, and they visited until she was tired again.
“Would it be better if we came back tomorrow, Beth?” Paul asked.
Beth looked at David before answering, squeezing his hand. “I am tired,” she said.
After they left Paul took them to the grocery store. “You’re buying more food?” David asked. “Why?”
“I get hungry once in a while. Don’t you?”
“Not very much anymore.”
“Well, help me pick out all the stuff you need at your house. Beth will need to eat when she comes home from the hospital, and she won’t be up to shopping.” It seemed the best way to get him to understand was to appeal to her.
At home they had just gotten the groceries put away when there was a knock on the door. David took a deep breath and turned to answer it. Paul followed.
A man was framed in the doorway. “David, I just stopped by to see how you and Elizabeth were doing. You didn’t come on the field trip Friday, and you weren’t at church. Where is Elizabeth anyway?” He came further into the room and saw Paul. He stopped. “Excuse me. I don’t think we’ve met. Jay Mittleson.”
“Elizabeth never mentioned you.”
Paul inclined his head in a slight shrug. “She never mentioned you either.”
Jay didn’t seem to like that. “Where is she?”
“McLaren Hospital. Room 203. Appendix,” he said, using David’s shorthand from earlier.
“She’s in the hospital? How come nobody told me?”
“I don’t know why she didn’t call you,” Paul said. “Perhaps you should ask her.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m staying with David.”
“Well, David, you can stay at my place until Beth comes home. There’s no need to inconvenience you further, Paul.”
David backed away, glancing at Paul and then back at Jay.
“Beth has entrusted his care to me. He’ll stay here.”
“I don’t know who you are or where you’re from, but I doubt that you know Beth very well at all. David, get some clothes together. You’ll come home with me.”
“He’s staying here,” Paul said firmly. “Unless Beth tells me differently.”
Jay went into the office. Paul followed and watched him dial a number. “McLaren,” came the receptionist’s voice over the speaker phone. Paul was surprised the man knew the number from memory, but maybe he worked there.
“She was going to sleep when we left,” Paul told him.
Jay looked up, concerned. But then they both heard Beth’s tired voice saying, “Hello?”
“Beth, this is Jay. How are you doing?”
“I’m okay. Just a little tired.”
Paul smiled at her understatement.
“Just a little tired? Beth, I just found out you had major surgery, and no one told me. Why didn’t you call?”
“Maybe because I just had major surgery. I haven’t felt much like visiting.”
“But Beth, you should know I’d want to know, and I’d want to help out.”
“I appreciate it, Jay. But things are pretty well under control, unless you know how to format a couple newsletters.”
“What about David?”
“What about him?”
“You’ve got a stranger staying with him. I want to take him home with me until you’re better. He needs to be around people he knows. I’ll take him with me to school in the morning, and he won’t have to miss anything.”
“David knows Paul. I think he’ll be more comfortable at home.”
“Who is he, Beth? How long have you known him?”
“Jay, please. I’m not up to twenty questions. He’s a friend.”
“What about David’s schooling? You know he needs all he can get.”
“Look, Jay. I can’t do anything about it.”
“But you can. You can let me take him.”
Beth paused and then said evenly, “Why are you arguing with me about this? Even if Paul wasn’t there, I know David would prefer to stay home.”
“I’m just concerned about you and David. And I’m sorry. You must still be on a lot of medication, or you would realize that leaving David alone wouldn’t be wise at all.”
“Jay, please. I know him a lot better than you do. Just drop it, and let me get back to sleep.”
“Go to sleep then, Beth. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Jay cut the connection and then slowly turned to face Paul. “You’re right. He stays here. I’m sorry. But tell me, really, how well do you know Beth?”
“I’m not planning to marry her if that’s what you’re asking. Or even date her. We’re just friends, like she said.”
Jay nodded. “This wasn’t personal, you know. I’m just concerned about her.”
“I understand.” He understood that Jay wanted to marry Elizabeth, and he didn’t know why it mattered to him, except that’s he’d probably lose this friendship before it even got very far along. But that’s how his father was trapped, wasn’t it?
Jay grabbed the note pad and pen from beside the phone. He wrote on it and tore off the sheet, handing it to Paul. “This is my home and work phone number. If anything comes up, Beth gets worse, you can’t stay, let me know.”
Paul took the paper and nodded.
Jay walked through the curtain and left.
Paul sat down in the chair at the desk and stared at the blank monitor. He heard the piano and turned to watch David play. He was good. Another of his hidden talents. What did Jay mean when he said David needed all the schooling he could get? Was it because he was a genius? Was it because of whatever abuse happened in the past? It was obvious something happened. Why did Jay emphasized that? What was that David had said? I’ll never learn all this; I’ll never be a good son. Was he under too much pressure to learn, or was Paul just reading too much into everything.
Go to Chapter 23
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.