Chapter 24 – Paul
Wednesday, April 3rd
Paul saw the car almost hit David, and a fierce anger ran through him at the man who had attacked David.
“Stopped too soon, damn it,” the man scowled, and a stench of stale beer billowed from him.
Paul punched him in the stomach.
He doubled over in pain and then vomited on the concrete. “You bastard.”
“If he had been hurt, you’d be unconscious now.”
A small boy ran up to Paul and began hitting him. “Leave my Daddy alone.”
Paul grabbed his hands. “Please, stop.”
“Now you’re going to beat up on kids.” The drunk glared up at him, still holding his stomach.
“No. I’m not going to hurt your son the way you tried to hurt my friend’s son.” Paul released the boy’s hands.
The boy ran and kneeled beside his father.
“What kind of example are you setting for this boy, grabbing young kids and hurting them? If I ever hear of it again I will make sure you spend some time in jail.”
“Me hurting young kids? Ask that bastard what he did to my son last summer? He nearly kicked his teeth out. And that bitch never did a thing. Let him get away with it. Come on, Billy. Let’s go someplace else. I’m not too hungry anymore.” He picked himself up and staggered to an old Buick.
As they drove away, Paul noted the car’s plates, and then walked across the road toward the hospital being far more careful than David had been. He couldn’t imagine David kicking a small boy in the teeth, and wondered if that man had mistook him for someone else. Beth was probably pretty upset. He picked up his pace, stopping briefly in the lobby to use the phone and report the drunk driver. Then he made his way upstairs and stepped quietly inside the door of Beth’s room.
Beth had the bed inclined so that she was almost sitting. David clung to her, half lying next to her. She stroked his hair and kissed his forehead. She glanced up, but only acknowledged him with her eyes. “What happened?” she asked softly.
Before Paul could respond, David did. “It was Bill and Billy,” he said shakily.
Elizabeth’s face changed to reflect the anger Paul had felt, but she never stopped holding and comforting David. “What happened?” she asked again.
“He… he grabbed me. He hurt my arms. I thought he would break them. But… but Paul, he came… he… he protected me like you asked him to. I… I don’t know what he did, but I got away and… and came to you. Mommy, I’m scared. I couldn’t get away. What if he comes back? He knows where we live, doesn’t he?”
“Honey, if he was going to come to our house he would have done it a long time ago. I am disturbed that he would do this after such a long time. I assume he was drunk.”
“I… yes. I smelled it.”
“And he had Billy. Renae’s an idiot. Billy’s in far more danger, hanging out with his drunken father than he’d ever be around you.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
“I know you didn’t.” Beth kissed his forehead again.
Paul came further into the room and sat in the chair next to the bed. “Beth, can you tell me what I just got myself into the middle of?” he asked quietly.
David jumped and twisted to look at him. His shaking increased.
“It’s all right, David. It’s Paul. He protected you, remember.” Beth pulled David close to her, and he settled back down. Slowly his shaking subsided. “I’m going to tell him about the picnic, okay?”
“But he’ll hate me, then. He’ll want to hurt me like Bill when he knows what I did.”
“No, David. I won’t hate you,” Paul reassured him. “I care about you more than any other boy I know. I just want to know what happened.”
“My family, my twin sisters and their families, my mom and stepfather all go to the park in the summer for a picnic. Jared has been jealous since David came, and he and his two cousins crept up on David and pulled him underwater. David panicked and kicked Billy. Bill overreacted and hit David. David broke Bill’s nose. We’ve been banned, so to speak, from the family.”
“So Bill is who?”
“My sister’s husband.”
Paul was surprised. “The blond child in the photo on your dresser.”
“What… what happened to him?” Should he even ask? It must have happened recently.
“He’s with his father.”
“The same man who hurt David?”
“Wes? I don’t think Wes has even seen David.”
“Beth, I don’t confuse easily, but then I think you must be a master. Is Wes your ex-husband?”
“Then how come he’s never seen David who is obviously older than Jared unless that’s a very old picture.”
A look of dawning comprehension passed across Beth’s face. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Paul. I never meant to mislead you. God gave me David as a son only last year. He’s so special. I… I don’t really expect you to understand though.”
Paul saw the pain in her eyes. “Actually, Beth, I finally think I’m starting to understand a little. And I agree, David is very special. I’ve been with him three days now, and I’ve… I’ve grown to love him.”
Tears ran down her face.
David sat up and looked at him. “You love me? Elizabeth is the only one who ever loved me.”
Paul’s heart constricted. This obviously neglected and abused boy had only known love for one year. Now his prayer made even more sense. “I love you, too, now, David. Remember even after I leave here you have my address and my phone number. You can write or call whenever you want. Maybe you can visit me in Virginia sometime. You can even bring Beth along.” Beth smiled at that.
A nurse came in. “Visiting hours are over. I have to take your vitals now. No one is to be on the bed with you.”
“Come on, David. We should be able to take your mom home tomorrow.”
David hugged Beth tightly in spite of the nurse’s protests and then kissed her on the forehead. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, David, my son. And Paul? Thank you.”
“We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
It had felt strange to tell anyone that he loved them. The only one Paul had felt strongly for in years was his father, and they didn’t speak of their love. It was understood. But he really did love David. It had started the night they had prayed together in the hospital and grown as they spent time together. Now all of his strange comments made sense.
David was silent as they drove home together.
Paul glanced over at him. “How are your arms?”
David turned from the window. “It doesn’t hurt much anymore.”
“Good. I think his stomach will bother him all night.”
“You hit him because he hurt me?”
They rode a little longer in silence before David spoke again. “No one’s ever done that for me. Elizabeth tried to protect me, but Bill hurt her.”
Then Paul definitely didn’t regret that punch. But then he caught himself. Revenge is the Lord’s. He had to remember it. He was a Christian. He couldn’t do what comes natural or seemed right in his own eyes. What is right in this situation, Lord? Well, it’s definitely right not to stand by and let evil happen without trying to stop it. But after David was free, what then?
“Elizabeth loves me. She’ll stand up to anyone to protect me, but I know if someone really wanted to hurt me, she couldn’t stop them. I thought… I thought I was getting stronger, but I couldn’t get away. I’ll never really be safe. If I could just get away. I don’t want to hurt anyone, really. I just don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want Elizabeth to be hurt either.”
“I can teach you how to get out of that hold he had you in,” Paul said, pulling into the driveway. He couldn’t help comparing how different David was from another fourteen year old boy he had talked to about violence. Greg did not seem like the kind of kid who would be content with just getting away or protecting his mother.
“Would you really?”
Paul spent the rest of the evening explaining several techniques to get an opponent to release his hold. He demonstrated a little on an imaginary enemy. If David was anyone else he would have shown him the holds and the defense in slow motion low impact moves on him. But he remembered how panicked David had been when he had just tried to remove his shoes the other night and decided that demonstrating a hold on him would be unnecessary discomfort or worse for him.
After David went to bed Paul decided to call his father. He got the answering machine and left Beth’s phone number. He wasn’t even living there anymore so he might not get the message for a couple days. He worked on Beth’s work until after midnight.
Thursday, April 4th
Beth called at nine the next morning to tell them that they would let her come home around eleven thirty after the doctor made his rounds. Paul and David finished up a couple things on the computer and brought them along when they went to pick her up. Paul took them out to eat afterward.
Beth looked over the printouts. She approved one and recommended a small change on the other. “I’ve got to get out to my clients, but I don’t even think I want to walk back to the car.”
“Why don’t you call and explain things. Maybe they can drop by the house with the new things.”
“I’ve got to get pictures for a couple.”
“Tell us what to do. David can take the pictures.”
“Maybe.” She briefly closed her eyes and seemed to sink into the booth where she sat next to David.
“We better get you home. You’re still not up to this.” They walked out of the restaurant. Beth weaved a little. He should not have brought her out. She was still too weak. He picked her up and carried her the rest of the way to the car. He could see he shocked her. He’d surprised himself, actually.
After she adjusted she asked, “Is this the deluxe limo service?”
Paul smiled. “Just for you.” He set her gently in the car. After a stop at the pharmacy they were home. Paul carried her into the house and settled her into her room. She felt right in his arms, and as he walked back to the office, the ache hit him again — not a sexual ache, but the ache of years of loneliness. He thought he was beyond that.
He joined David in the office. David knew about loneliness, and he’d had no father to turn to like he did. They worked on Beth’s newsletters — together. The phone rang several times with Beth’s clients and between the two of them they were able to arrange things without bothering her.
After while Beth came into the office. “It’s boring back there. Mind if I watch you do my work?”
“No problem. Then you can tell me what to do before I make mistakes.”
“Too bad this chair isn’t a recliner.”
Paul looked at David. With a slight nod, Paul grabbed one end of the chair. David grinned and took the other side. They switched the chair with the recliner in the living room.
“I could get used to this, guys,” Beth said, lying back and pulling the blanket David had brought her up to her armpits. “Two handsome men waiting on my every word.”
“She’s trying to flatter us, David. I wonder if she wants the piano moved next.”
“Yeah, why don’t you put it over in front of the doorway.”
Paul laughed. “I need a little more flattery first. Actually I thought David and I would leave for the printer and visit a couple of clients in about an hour.”
“For a man on vacation you sure do a lot of work.”
“My vacation boss is something of a workaholic and a slave driver.”
The phone rang again. Beth reached out and pushed the button. “Hello, Weaver’s.”
“Hello. Saul Israel here. My son, Zach, left this number.”
“I’m here, Dad.”
“How’s the book going?”
“The book?” Paul laughed. “I’m sorry, Dad. I haven’t had a chance to show it to her yet.”
Beth gave him a questioning look.
“Yes, Beth, I had a reason for coming besides rushing you to the hospital. Dad, our potential editor has been in the hospital my whole visit and has just come home today.”
“You don’t sound too depressed so I take it full recovery is expected.”
“Yes. It was her appendix.”
“Maybe I should publish it, Paul,” she said.
He looked for a hint of displeasure, but didn’t find it. “It would be easier, and we have the equipment to do it.”
Beth laughed. “Ouch. I shouldn’t do that,” she said, clutching her side.
“Well, it sounds like you are enjoying your vacation, Zach.”
“Does your son normally enjoy himself by rushing people to the hospital and taking care of their son and business when he goes on vacation?”
“First I’ve heard of it, but then Zach’s pretty versatile. How old is your son?”
“Fourteen. He’ll be fifteen Sunday.”
“Will you, David?” Paul said, turning to him. “Great, I’ll still be here.”
“Sounds like things went a little better for you than me this week.”
Paul sobered. That was exactly what he’d been afraid of. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“But you expected it. I heard what happened. I’m sorry. Do you think you’ll have time to stop in for the day on your way back to Virginia? You could stay at my apartment. I think I’ll keep it a while to store some of my stuff.”
“Yeah, I can probably be there next Friday night and Saturday.”
“Thanks. Oh, got a pen? Here’s my new address and phone number.”
Paul wrote them down as he said them.
“Do you think you could get me a quote on my book by then?”
“I’ll try, if I can get a few details from your son between now and then.”
“I promise. I’ll go get it and give it to her now, and she can look at whenever she feels up to it.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you next week, Zach.”
After the connection was closed, Paul leaned forward and put his face in his hands.
“What’s wrong, Paul?” Elizabeth asked softly.
“My dad. He married a woman younger than me Saturday. I hoped I was wrong when I told him he was making a mistake, but you heard him.”
“You said in your letter that he’s not a Christian yet.”
Paul smiled. “I like your ‘yet’.”
“We can pray for him now if you’d like.”
“Thank you.” Paul told her about Sheila, Holly, and Greg and what had happened at the wedding. Then they prayed, first Paul, then Elizabeth. Paul waited, and then David spoke a few words. Paul closed.
Paul got up when they finished and went to her room where his luggage was still located. He had prayed with others in a church group setting, but this was somehow much more intimate. Beth constantly surprised him, and so did David.
He knew why his father had married. If Sheila and her children were half as comfortable to be with as Beth and David, he understood completely. Maybe he wouldn’t feel so emotional by the end of the week. This definitely was not like him. Think with your mind, not your feelings or your hormones, he chastised himself. That’s what had gotten him into trouble the first time, and that is what had snagged his father now.
He pulled out the bag with the pictures and his computer. He took them back to Beth and explained what his father had in mind. “The text is on my computer in WordPerfect.” He wrote down the path and file name for her. “We should leave, David, if we’re going to get all this running done before the businesses close.”
When they got back, Beth was in the same chair. She had a stack of papers in her lap and a red pen in her hand, but she was sleeping. Paul smiled and put a finger to his lips to caution David to silence, although he realized as he did it that it was unnecessary.
They went into the kitchen instead and started dinner. When it was almost ready, Beth came out to join them. “You two are really spoiling me by doing all these things for me.” She sat at the table to watch.
“But it’s fun, isn’t it, David?”
David flashed a little smile that lit up his serious face. “Yes.” He went to Beth, leaned down, and kissed her forehead.
They cleaned up after dinner and went back into the office. Paul settled in front of the computer, and Beth took the recliner again. David sat at the piano. Before he could begin playing, a knock on the door.
“I’ll get it,” Beth said, getting up before he could protest. Paul heard her greet them. “Hello, Jay, Becky. Come on in.”
“You look much better than you did Tuesday,” Jay said, revealing that he’d visited her at the hospital. Paul should have expected that.
“Feeling a little better.”
“We just stopped in for a minute because I wanted to make sure David was going to be there for his tests tomorrow. He has the tests over the current units and the placement test. It will probably take him most of the day.”
“Tomorrow? But I don’t think he’s opened his books all week. Can’t we wait until next Friday?” David watched the curtain and listened.
“No. If you want that report filled out it’ll have to be tomorrow. If it was just the unit tests, and he could move right on I’d say I could squeeze it in next week. But I’ve got too much going on next week for this placement test.”
An adolescent girl, which Paul assumed was the Becky that was greeted, came through the curtain. “There you are, David.”
David looked at Paul with an expression that he could only interpret as “Help!”
Becky came to stand quite close to David. He got up and grabbed an old beat up guitar from the corner, going to sit on the other side of Paul. Becky followed him. No wonder he hadn’t wanted to go to Jay’s. David kept his head bowed over the guitar, as he began playing a song that he recognized from an early Dylan Trent album.
Jay came through the curtain. He stopped when he saw Paul. “You’re still here?”
“Yes. Thought I’d hang around for another week or so.”
“Here?” Jay pointed downward to indicate this spot or house.
“He’s helping me with the business. I’m still not up to all the work,” Beth said wearily.
Paul could see that she needed to sit down. He stood up, caught her eye, and with a nod of his head indicated that she should sit down.
She complied. After she sat she spoke again. “I don’t know if David’s ready, and I know I can’t sit there all day with him tomorrow.”
“I know it’s hard when you’re not feeling well. I can just pick him up in the morning and drop him home tomorrow evening.”
David stopped playing and looked at Beth.
“No, Jay,” she said, turning from David. “That won’t work.”
“Why not? Beth he needs to take those fifth grade tests and go on. He’ll never learn what he needs to if you don’t get these tests in. And I’m not going to fill out those reports without the placement test.”
“You’re in fifth grade?” Becky asked in surprise, backing away and looking at David like he was some strange, unique specimen.
David stood, setting the guitar next to the table so quickly it tipped and slid to the floor. “You’re right. I’ll never learn.” He walked out of the room.
“Thanks a lot, Jay.”
“I’m sorry. That slipped out. Becky won’t repeat it to the other kids, will you?”
Becky shook her head, her eyes round.
“Jay please. I’m not up to this.” She got up and followed David out of the room.
Jay watched her leave and then glanced back at Paul. He followed Beth out of the room. Paul followed him. “Beth!” Jay called. He looked in the kitchen then turned to Paul. “Where’d she go?”
Paul shrugged. “Perhaps she went to lie down in her room. She wasn’t looking too good, and she’s still getting a fever in the evenings. You aren’t going to follow her to her room, are you?”
Jay looked down the hall and then back at Paul. He took a deep breath. “You better not, either.”
Paul gave him a “who me?” look. “I’m just the hired help.” Maybe drafted was more accurate than hired.
“Come on, Becky. Let’s go home. Tell her I’m sorry, but David has to take those tests tomorrow.”
Paul agreed and watched them leave. Then he started down the hall. He paused when he heard voices in David’s room.
“But now Paul knows,” came David’s anguished voice. “He knows I’m stupid. He… he won’t like me anymore.”
“Oh, David, Sweetheart. You’re not stupid, and Paul knows it. Besides I doubt Paul’s love for you is that conditional. If he’s like me, he’ll love you no matter what grade you’re in, what happened before you came, and what might happen in the future.”
Paul tapped on the door. “May I join you?” He turned the knob and opened the door enough to see Beth sitting on the bed holding David the same way she had the night before. Paul took the chair from the desk and brought it close to them. David stared at him warily. It meant so much to him what Paul thought of him — whether he loved him or not. But then if Paul was only the second person in his entire life to tell him that he loved him then maybe it made sense. Beth’s love had been proven over the past year. Paul’s was still untested.
“You know, David, Beth is right. It’s not easy for me to say I love someone, but when I do, I really mean it. It’s not a fleeting whim that changes with circumstance. It’s real and lasting. I didn’t plan it, David, but I do love you. That means that I care about you and about what happens to you. It means that if something had happened to Beth or if anything ever happens to Beth you have a home with me.”
David held Beth tighter. “But you won’t want to work with me anymore. You won’t want to listen to me.”
“The way I react to you is not based on what anyone else says. It’s based on how we relate to each other. I may not always take your opinion, and you may not always agree with mine, but that doesn’t mean I won’t like your next suggestion. I don’t even want to pretend to understand what is going on with your schooling because you’re one of the smartest fourteen year olds that I know.”
David pushed away from Beth angrily. “You’re lying to me.”
Beth seemed shocked. “David, he is not.”
“Mom, you’ve taught me everything. You know I’m not smart, and he’s smart enough to know it, too.”
“David, you have one of the best memories I’ve ever seen. When you’re not nervous or scared you remember everything. Your education is unique. I agree that you might not know some things that other kids your age know, but you know a lot of things they don’t. I’m pretty sure you know more theology than most adults. You also have a pretty good grasp of the publishing program on the computer even though we’ve only been doing that for three months. David, you have a gift in music that no one can duplicate if they don’t have it also. My beloved son, remember how far you’ve come in the last year. You have learned so much. You couldn’t have done it if you were stupid.”
David shook his head and fell against her, hugging her tightly. Beth winced in pain, but she said nothing to let David know he had hurt her. David was crying silently against her, and Beth caressed his head. She loved him so much. She even said she’d been banned from her family because of him. What had she been through alone to teach him what he considers to be everything? Just how far had he come in the last year?
“Why is there another place to go if I have you? I don’t want you to die. And if you’re going to be okay, can he be serious about caring? If it’s just a job, I don’t like being told it’s love. Love is what you give. And the only reason I know anything is because of you. I’m not smart. You are.”
“David, Honey, I love you. Maybe God sent Paul to love you because there are things that he can help you with that I can’t. Remember last month we were talking about self-defense, and I told you I didn’t know the answer. Maybe Paul does. And there are other things that he might be able to help you with that I can’t.”
Paul had never thought about God sending him anywhere, but the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Why else would he be in this room, loving a boy who lived over 600 miles away from him and wanting to help him.
“Paul does know about self-defense,” David said quietly. “You’re always right, Mom.”
“Not always, but it’s nice that someone thinks so.”
David shifted, and Paul saw Beth wince again. “David, I think it’s time to put your mother to bed. She’s still pretty sick.”
David sat up and looked at her. “He’s right, Mom. You don’t look very good.”
“Thank you. That’s something I always like to hear from a man.” But she said it in a low, tired voice. Paul picked her up again and carried her to her room. “You know, Paul, I could adjust to this carrying stuff. It’s rather disconcerting at first, but I think I can handle it now.”
He could get used to it, too. But he didn’t tell her that. Instead Paul set her gently into the bed and smiled. “I hope you don’t expect me to do this every time I come.” He felt her forehead. It was hot. He checked his watch. “It’s past time for your medicine.” He brought it to her and then quickly gathered his things together and started to carry them out.
“You’re not leaving, are you?”
“I can’t stay in here.”
“No. I guess not. But… Well, you… but I don’t want you to feel obligated to look after me anymore, but you….”
“Beth, I will be here for another week, and unless you tell me not to, I do plan to look after you and David and your business. By the end of next week hopefully you will feel well enough to keep up on everything.”
That was a good question, and he really didn’t know the answer. “It’s what I’d do for any friend who needed help.” He left the room before she could respond.
“I’m sorry, Paul,” David said, as he walked past his room.
Paul stopped and looked inside. “For what?”
“For not trusting you. You’re going away because of me, aren’t you? But I know Mom still needs you.”
Paul came into David’s room and set down his suitcase and garment bag. “I’m not planning to leave. I may get a hotel, but I’ll be here during the day.”
“Why don’t you stay here?”
“The bed I was using is taken now.” He meant it to be amusing and was surprised by David’s next statement.
“You can use mine.”
“But… where will you sleep?”
David pointed to the corner of the floor by the closet door.
“David, I won’t take your bed and make you sleep on the floor.”
“But I’m used to it, and Mom is still sick. What if something happens, and I don’t know what to do? Please, Paul, I don’t know how to take care of her. I’m really not smart enough.” Tears came into David’s eyes, and Paul had no will power to refuse him.
“How about this? I’ll leave my luggage in your room and sleep on the couch. But if your Mom is in any way uncomfortable with this, I get a hotel room.”
David agreed. “Thank you.”
Go to Chapter 25
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.