Chapter 32 – Paul
Thursday, September 26th
It had been good to have a real shower and a real bed last night after sleeping outside on the ground for over a month. And tonight Paul would be in his own bed. General Allende was in a meeting on another base, and he wondered how long he’d have to wait before he was debriefed and could go home. Paul had filled out all the required reports, so he reached for the phone. Using his calling card he pushed in Beth and David’s number. He got the answering machine, but didn’t leave a message. He signed on to the computer to read his mail. He glanced quickly at everything that wasn’t from Beth and David and then concentrated on their letters. He was tempted to start responding to each one, but he decided to read them all first.
Paul knew he never should have held her back in June. He didn’t know how many times — it seemed almost every night — he had started thinking about her and what he would tell her if she were with him. Some nights his thoughts had trouble staying on imaginary conversations. He was okay when he had been busy or had to concentrate on what he was doing, but there was always a lot of waiting time on these missions.
When complete silence wasn’t required, his men would talk mostly about their families or what might be going on back home. They had all met David in June, so Paul told them about the song that Dylan was going to record. It launched a detailed discussion of theology that had lasted most of the mission. He couldn’t wait to tell David that his song had already made a difference in people’s lives, and it wasn’t even recorded yet.
Paul read the letters and was pleased that both Beth and David had kept to their every other day schedule of writing him, even though he hadn’t been able to respond. That they had cared enough to do that for him made him long for them even more. Then he noticed there wasn’t a letter from David after he read one of Elizabeth’s. He glanced through the list of E-mail messages. There weren’t any messages at all from David since the sixth of September, and it was now the twenty-sixth. David’s last letter had been fairly lengthy for him, and he had talked about some of his new school work. Nothing indicated that he’d stop writing. At least it appeared that Beth had kept on writing.
He quickly called up her next letter to see what happened to David, but there was nothing about David in it. He read through a couple other letters. The only new thing was her comment about how much she wished he’d come home. Then in a letter dated the fourteenth she admitted there was a problem.
“Paul, please contact me as soon as you get home. I have to tell you something, and I don’t think I can really explain it well in a letter. Even over the phone will be hard. I wish you were here. I can tell David is really depressed, but I can’t do anything about it. He needs you to tell him you still love him, if you do. Paul, I miss you so much. I wish you were here. I know you’ll want to hear about this, or at least I think you will, unless you already know it. You will probably want to take some time to look into it. I am praying that you will come home soon and safely. I’ll close, because if I keep writing I’ll start repeating myself. – Yours, Beth.”
When Paul first started reading the letter he thought she was going to tell him that she was marrying someone, but the second half didn’t fit the theory. David was depressed. What was it? What happened? Why wouldn’t she just tell him? He quickly read through the last five letters, but they contained no more information. Just more wishes for his return and a general concern about David.
Paul hadn’t been finished with his letters long when General Allende came and debriefed him. Paul asked for immediate leave after the meeting to take care of a problem which had come up in the family while he was gone, and it was granted.
At his apartment Paul started to dial Beth’s number but decided he’d just drive up there since she said the problem would be hard to explain over the phone. He noticed his checkbook on the desk and glanced through it. His father had been down last weekend to pay his bills as he usually did when Paul was called away. At least he could still count on him for that in spite of Sheila.
Paul was almost to Ohio before he realized he’d reach Flushing at five in the morning. He stopped and got a hotel but didn’t sleep near as well as when he had been lying on the ground swatting away insects. Beth sure could torture a man in more ways than one. What was wrong? What happened to David?
Friday, September 27th
Paul arrived at her apartment a little after nine. Beth opened the door. “Paul, oh Paul. You’re here.” She surprised him by vaulting into his arms. He held her only a moment because she backed away quickly, taking his hand and leading him inside. “David, it’s Paul. David! We’ve missed you so much.” She gave his hand a squeeze and continued to hold it.
David stepped out of the kitchen. He still held the pencil he had been using. His silent gaze was almost the opposite of Beth’s excited greeting.
“David,” Paul said, going to him. Beth released his hand, but Paul wished she hadn’t. “I’ve missed you. Are you okay?” He tried to look for any sign of injury, but all he could see was a pain in his eyes.
“I’m okay. Elizabeth hasn’t told you yet.”
“Told me what?”
“She will tell you.” His voice was strangely flat, and it bothered Paul even more than his words.
Paul glanced at Beth. “Please, someone tell me what is going on.”
“Come into the office, Paul,” Beth said without the excitement she had moments before. When she reached the computer she picked up a white envelope. “I don’t know if you know about this. If you do, forgive me for bringing it up.” Her hand shook a little as she handed him the envelope. “Keith took these in Ann Arbor.”
Paul opened the envelope and took out the pictures. The young man in the picture had the Israel hair but a blonder variation. Every facial feature said that he was related, but Paul had never seen him before. He looked up at Beth.
“He’ll be nineteen November eleventh. He… His name is Daniel Leon Sutherland, the third. His mother is Clarissa.”
Paul stared at her in disbelief. He shook his head and then looked back at the picture. He flipped through the others which showed Daniel doing things like reading, talking, lounging against a dark blue Porsche, and sitting in the cafeteria. The first picture had been the best, and he went back to it.
He sat down absently in Beth’s chair. “I have a son. I actually have a son. I don’t believe it.” He turned to Beth. “Where is he? Can I see him?”
“He’s a student at U of M in Ann Arbor.”
“Does he know about me?”
“No. I asked Keith not to mention your name or the Israel name at all. I didn’t want him to maybe get a bad impression of you from his mother since it appears he has no idea that he’s not Dan’s son.”
“You are a wise woman, Beth. Thank you.” Paul reached for the phone and dialed his father’s number at work. “Dad….”
“Zach! You’re home.”
“Yeah, I’m back. I need a favor. Do you have a copy of my divorce papers in your file at home?”
“I think so. Never took it out.”
“Good. Can you go and fax it to me? I need it now.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“Because that damn woman lied to me. She was pregnant. I just found out I have a son, and she had the gall to name him Dan Sutherland.”
“You’re kidding, Zach. Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve just been given some pretty convincing evidence.”
“Wow.” Saul’s voice was subdued. “Have you met him?”
“Not yet, but I want to have the proof with me that he was conceived before she filed for divorce.”
“I want to come. Where are you?”
“In Michigan. He’s in Ann Arbor at U of M.”
“I can be there in less than seven hours. Can you wait for me?”
“Yes, Dad. Thanks.”
“Where will I meet you?”
Paul turned to Beth, “Where can I meet my Dad in Ann Arbor?”
“Probably Keith’s. Why don’t we see if we can get him, and then you can call your Dad back?”
Paul relayed the message and then hung up. Beth called Keith, and Keith agreed to try to set up a meeting with Daniel for seven that evening. “Don’t tell him who I am. I’ll do that when I see him.”
“Still a secret, I see. Anything for a friend, Paul. See you tonight.”
Paul called his father back and let Beth give him directions to Keith’s apartment. Then he hung up and sat back down. Beth sat in the stuffed chair that was now where the recliner had been. “Have you met him?”
“Maybe if I go down now and hang around I’ll catch a glimpse of him before he knows who I am.”
Beth looked at him silently, and he realized that she wasn’t pleased about something.
“What is it, Beth?”
“Haven’t you forgotten about something?”
“What?” He searched his mind, but could come up with nothing. “What do I need to do before I go?”
“Nothing, if there is nothing here that’s important to you. But if you decide there isn’t, then… then don’t come back.” Her voice shook with emotion, but he couldn’t tell which emotion.
“Don’t come back? Beth, what are you saying? What about David? A half hour ago you seemed overjoyed to see me, and now you’re sending me away. I don’t know what I just did to offend you, but I don’t think it’s fair to David to just send me away on a whim. I came to see him, you know.” His voice had an edge Paul couldn’t control. First Daniel and then this. What had he said or done wrong? What did she find out that suddenly she hated him? Beth… Please Lord, I’m losing her.
“Well, at least you’ve remembered David.”
“I’ve always remembered David. Every night I was away I thought about him and prayed for him.” Paul looked around the room, but David wasn’t there.
“Tell me, Paul. What role will David play in your life now?”
“The same as he has been. He’s my son.”
“Well, then maybe you can tell me what you think he felt when you kept saying, ‘I have a son. I actually have a son,’ as if this was something you did not have before.”
“I didn’t mean….” She was right. He was so insecure before that he would take it the wrong way. And that must be why he quit writing. He found out about Daniel and thought Paul wouldn’t love him anymore.
Paul went to David’s room. David lay curled up on the bed, facing the wall. Paul sat on the edge of the bed and placed his hand on David’s shoulder.
David jerked away from him. “Don’t touch me.”
Paul pulled his hand away, but he wanted to grab David and hold him tightly. David was shaking, but Paul could do nothing to comfort him, except speak. “David, I’ve missed you. There’s so much to tell you about. They don’t let me talk about where I was, but I can tell you some things that happened.”
“Go tell Daniel.” David was crying, silently, he realized.
“I don’t want to tell Daniel. I want to tell you. I… I love you, David.”
“Stop it!” David sat up. “I don’t want to hear that anymore. Just go!”
“Go! Leave me alone! I don’t need you to care for me just because you said you would. You don’t owe me anything. There’s no reason to pretend any longer.”
“I’m not pretending.”
“Get out of here!” David jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. The front door slammed a second later.
Paul closed his eyes. I’ve lost him. Lord, it can’t be over, can it? I love him. I know it looks like you’ve given me a new son, but David is the first born son of my heart. Was I wrong about him? Was I wrong about what I thought You wanted?
“What are you going to do?”
Paul looked up, and Beth was standing in the bedroom doorway, watching him. “What can I do? You heard him. He doesn’t want me around anymore.”
“Do you really believe he’d be so upset if that was true?”
“I don’t know what to believe. My whole life has been turned upside down so much this year, I can’t begin to keep up. Between Dad and his crazy marriage and David,” and you, “and now this thing with Daniel, I’ve had a score of emotions I haven’t had to figure out in almost twenty years. I told you, Beth. I’m not any good with this kind of thing.”
“You really have two choices here, Paul. You can walk away from him and never come back, or if you truly love him as your son, and not as a second best son, either, you can fight to win back his trust.”
“He won’t even talk to me, Beth.”
“Use whatever excuse you want to walk away. You don’t have to tell it to me. But if you love him, quit looking at excuses and look for ways to prove it to him.”
Paul studied her. What was she thinking behind that stiff wall she had put up? He wished he could hold her tightly until she begged him to love her. “What do you think I should do?”
“Only you know how you really feel about David.” Beth pushed away from the door then and sat down on the bed, facing him. “Do you remember when we were talking about me being strong-willed?”
Beth smiled then, and he felt he had a little piece of her back. “You told me that David needed my strong will. You said it was very important to him that I would fight to keep him no matter what happened or who tried to separate us.”
“Well, David needs a father who is just as stubborn. He needs someone who will fight no matter what obstacles there are, including him, to make sure that he is loved, protected, and cherished. After he sees all the fights which have been fought on his behalf, he may begin to believe he is actually loved, and he is worth loving. But it’s a long battle, Paul, not a short skirmish, and battles have casualties and wounds. But tell me, when a soldier is in the middle of a battlefield, and he feels a bullet rip through his arm, does he lie down and give up the fight, or does he keep going?”
“I kept fighting. I would have been killed otherwise.”
Beth looked surprised. “I tried to say it in a way you would understand. I didn’t realize I had gotten so personal. The point is, only you know whether you have the desire, will, and love for David to go through all it’s going to take to really be his father. If you don’t and you try it anyway, David will be hurt a lot worse than you are.”
“I love him. I don’t understand how it happened so quickly or so strongly. When I heard him pray, I… I can’t explain it. I just wanted to protect him. I wanted to help him. I wanted to give him everything it sounded like he’d been lacking most of his life. And the more I got to know him, the more I loved him.”
“That sounds like the same way it happened to me. Sometimes I wonder if this love isn’t a special gift because it seems so much stronger than any love I’ve felt before.”
“Yes, you understand completely. But Beth, I do have a responsibility to Daniel, also. You don’t think I should just ignore this opportunity to meet him just to show David that he’ll never take his place?”
“No. You do have to see Daniel. He is your son, the same as Jared is mine. The only difference is that Daniel is older, and he never knew you.”
“You know, Beth. I’m really going to need your help. You’ve been through all this already.”
Beth smiled. “Not all through. Daniel is a man. You can’t treat him like a child, so maybe you do have experience there, don’t you? For the record, though, you have decided to fight for David?”
“I have decided to fight for David.” According to her analogy he had no choice but to die if he didn’t keep fighting. And that’s what it would be like if he walked away from them.
“I’m glad, Paul. I would have missed you if you had decided differently. I’ll try to help as much as I can, but I know he’s at the point where actions are going to speak far more than words.” She looked toward the bedroom doorway. “I wish he’d come back. He didn’t even wear his jacket.”
“You don’t think he’s waiting for me to leave, do you?”
Beth closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes, maybe, he is. I don’t know. Lately he’s become so much more… strong willed. He’s speaking out more. If he thinks something isn’t right he’ll say it. It’s as if he feels he has to protect me. I can’t get upset about anything, or he’ll step in on my behalf. He blew up at Dylan for asking me too many questions.”
“What about to you, Beth? Does he ever get mad at you?”
“No. Never. He may not agree completely, but it’s never in anger, and he always yields when I ask him to. Dylan says that his attachment to me is unnatural. I’m glad he didn’t say that when David was listening.”
“Why did he say that?”
“Because he always looks to me. He’d rather be with me than anyone else. He doesn’t like to be away from me, and I’m the only one whose touch he not only does not abhor but seems to need. Most fifteen year old boys do not cling to their mother. They are fighting for their independence. They would maybe spend one or two weeks’ worth of allowance on a present, not two or three months.”
“Wait a minute. The emerald was real?”
“Yes. I’ll show you.” Beth led him into her room and opened her jewelry box. “This was for my birthday, and these were for Christmas.”
Paul studied them and handed them back.
“I wish he wouldn’t spend so much on me, but I don’t know how to change it. And they’re beautiful pieces. Some of the best I’ve ever owned. And then you’re doing it now, too. I’m getting pretty spoiled.”
“How much allowance were you giving him?”
“Only fifteen a week. Of course now he gets forty.”
“You said I could add it to what I gave him.”
“But you gave him fifteen!”
“Paul, why are we always fighting about money?”
He looked at her intently. “You tell me, Beth. Why was it so important to raise what you give by five just so I wasn’t giving him more? No wonder he’s so attached to you. No matter what anyone else does for him, you have to do it better.”
“That is not the reason I raised the allowance. I’ve never tried to compete for his affection. There’s never even been anyone to compete with. And I know he needs a father. I would never try to take his affection away from you. Look, Paul, I even got into a fight with Sheila about hunting, so he wouldn’t get the wrong impression. And I’m preparing myself to be cold and bored for four days just so he’ll spend time with you. I’ve never said to him that I’ll be cold and bored, because I know that he takes every opinion as a fact. I’d rather he just went with you, and you two did your men things and came back and told me. I’ve tried to tell him that. I’ve tried to tell him this would be great for you and him to get to know each other better, and all he’ll say is, ‘I’m not going to leave you alone.’ I don’t know what else to say to him.” She paused. “What am I yelling about this for?”
“Because I accused you of something that apparently isn’t true. I’m sorry. But it is true that you’ll do anything for him, and you’ve just proven it. But I know you’re only doing what you think is best for him.” Paul took her hands in his. “I’ll try to make your trip as pleasant as possible.”
“But that’s what I’m afraid of. I’m a little wimpy when it comes to cold and wet, and I don’t want to ruin what is normally a great time for you guys.”
“Don’t worry about that, Beth.” Paul stared into her eyes. He forced himself to think of what they had been discussing to help avoid the temptation to kiss her. “But you still haven’t explained why you are so sensitive about money that you had to raise his allowance.”
Beth let go of his hands and straightened the jewelry box before closing it. Finally she turned to him. “I am his parent. I can and will take care of him. No one will ever be able to say that I cannot support my own son. No one will be able to say I can’t provide a home for him. It will not happen again.”
“Is that what they said when they took Jared?” Paul placed his hand on her shoulder, hoping to offer comfort.
“Yes. But I had only been working part-time before Wes kicked me out. He never let me claim all my consulting income, so my tax returns were pretty pathetic. And all I had was a one bedroom apartment Rob was letting me stay at.” Beth paused and looked into his eyes. “Paul, I really do trust you, but don’t ask me to put myself in any kind of dependent financial situation. If David ever needs something I can’t provide, I’ll let you know. Really.”
“I understand now, but I might as well ask this because I’ve been thinking about it. Can I buy him a car next year for his birthday?”
“You can buy him any present you want. I was going to give him the Cavalier and buy myself another car, but I guess I can always sell the Cavalier. Probably won’t get more than a thousand for it though. It’s got quite a few miles on it, but it still runs good.” She shrugged.
“I could always buy you a car for Christmas. It would be a present.”
“No! I am quite capable of providing my own car. It’s bad enough you’re buying me expensive jewelry. But at least it’s something I don’t have to have.”
“You mean I can only buy you things you don’t need?”
“I almost wish you wouldn’t buy me anything. Although I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the opals. They’re beautiful. But now what am I going to get you?”
“I don’t want you to get me anything.”
“See. That’s how I feel.”
“Beth, wait. Maybe there is something you can do for me. You could let me spend the holidays with you and David. That would be worth more to me than anything else. I really don’t want to spend them with Sheila.”
“I’d love to have you here then.” Beth looked up at him again. “You know, I have a few friends that might get a little upset if they found out we were hanging out in my bedroom all morning.”
Paul laughed. Part of him wished that he could give them something to get upset about, but he didn’t want to hurt her, just marry her. “Do you think they’d be quite so upset if we went into the office?”
“No. But I have so much work to do.” They walked out of the room together. “I forgot to tell you that Dylan invited us to come down for the recording of the song, so David can see how it’s done. That will be Monday and maybe Tuesday he said. So we’re supposed to leave Sunday after church for Tennessee. If you can stay that long do you think you’d like to come, too, or would you rather stay here and visit with Daniel? I’ll understand, especially since your dad is coming here.” Elizabeth sat down in front of the computer and started opening files as she spoke.
“This is something special for David, isn’t it? I’d like to be there with him if you don’t think Dylan would mind. I’ve got two weeks. I can always arrange to spend next weekend with Daniel if he decides he wants to know me.”
“We can call Dyl and find out.” Beth started pressing out the number on the phone. “Oh, I should warn you. Kathy’s a matchmaker. She’s always trying to fix me up with someone, so don’t let her comments scare you away.”
“I don’t scare too easily, Beth.”
She gave him a quick smile. “That’s great. Maybe I can relax a little. I’m al… Hi Kathy. This is Beth.”
“I hope you’re not calling to cancel.”
“No, but I do have a little problem. Do you think Dylan would mind if Paul came with us? He just came, and we hate to leave him behind.” She smiled at him as she said it.
“Paul! Really? You know I’ve been wanting to meet him.”
“Have you?” Paul smiled at Kathy’s enthusiasm.
“Is that Paul or does David have a cold?”
“It’s Paul. I told you he just came.”
“Well, come on down, Paul. We want to meet the man who’s become David’s father. Let’s see. I was going to put David in Keith’s room and you in the new guest room, Beth, but I can reverse it because the new room has a couch and a day bed. Paul and David can sleep in the same room. Will that be okay?”
“That would be great with me,” Paul said. “Although I could just as easily get a hotel. I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s no trouble, and the nearest decent hotel is almost in Nashville.”
“Well, you let us know if Dylan has a problem, Kathy.”
“He won’t be home until late, maybe early morning. But if he wants to make any changes I’ll have him call you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, we’ll see you Sunday night. Bye.” Beth turned to Paul. “I’ve really got to get a few more things finished before tomorrow at noon, so I can drop them off with Fred before I leave.”
“Is there anything I can help you with?” She hesitated, and Paul pushed his case. “It’d be almost like old times.”
She smiled. “I might let you work on the laptop for a little while.” Beth set him up, and they worked for a half hour or so.
Paul watched Beth get up and go to the kitchen. He continued working, and a short time later she came in to him. “David’s in the car, Paul. Here are my keys in case he’s locked the door. I’ve made a lunch, and I thought maybe if you took it out there and ate with him, you’d be able to talk a little.”
“He said he’d talk to me?”
“I didn’t… I wanted to go to him, but I thought maybe you should.”
“Thank you, Beth.”
Paul took the keys and the bag of food and went out to the car. He could hear the stereo as he unlocked the passenger door. David leaned against the door as Paul got in, and Paul knew he could jump out and run away from him at any time.
“Beth made us lunch.” He opened the bag and took out a couple sandwiches, a bag of chips and a couple colas. “We’ve got a regular picnic here.” He handed David his food and then said grace for them.
They started eating with the only sound coming from the Steven Curtis Chapman CD in the stereo. David didn’t seem as angry or upset as he had been earlier. Paul debated what to say and realized he needed to be completely honest.
Paul reached out to turn down the music. “I want to apologize. Beth told me some of the things I said sounded like I didn’t want you. The truth is that when I first heard about Daniel it was like I had been thrown back in time and all the emotions of Joel’s death and the divorce came to me at once. I wasn’t thinking about the present at all. I’m sorry. But David I really do consider you my son. You’re….”
“Please don’t call me your son. I don’t need a father. I don’t even need your love.” He spoke in a calm voice, but Paul heard a small edge of pain.
“David, I thought we were friends. I thought we liked to spend time together and talk about things.”
David didn’t answer right away. He took a drink of pop and then set it back on the dashboard. “If you insist, we can be friends. But don’t pretend any greater love for me than you have for Elizabeth. Even Jay said it’s stupid to want me and not her. It should be the other way around.”
Thanks, Jay, for your opinion. If David knew how much Paul loved Beth, then he’d know Paul was not showing him a greater love. But he couldn’t tell him, because then he’d be forced to tell her why she would never want to marry him. And then…. “David, I won’t change the way I care about you. But if it makes you more comfortable I’ll try to refrain from telling you very often. But I want to spend some time with you.”
“We’re leaving Sunday.”
“I know. I’m going with you.”
“No, Paul! You don’t need to meet Dylan.”
“Stay here with Daniel.”
“I want to be with you.”
“No. Please. I’ll spend any other time you want with you. I’ll go hunting — anything. Just don’t talk to Dylan.”
“David, I won’t try to turn him against you. You can trust me. Kathy’s even going to have us sleep in the same room. I’ll be with you almost the whole time, and you’ll know what I’m saying. I promise, I won’t say anything to hurt you.”
David didn’t speak. He just stared at him nervously with his expressive brown eyes as if he was trying to say something, but didn’t think he should. Finally he turned to stare out the windshield. His hands gripped the steering wheel in front of him.
“Do you like to drive?”
“I’ll let you drive my car part of the way.”
“I’m helping Elizabeth drive this one.”
“I thought we’d take mine since it’s newer.”
David thought about it and then shrugged. “Promise me you won’t talk to Dylan alone.”
“Well as long as it’s all right for me to tell him I promised you so he’ll know why I’m rude.”
“Then I promise I’ll make sure either you or Beth are with me if we have a conversation.”
David nodded and ran his hands over the steering wheel. Then he turned to him, “I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier. Sometimes it’s hard to think. I get angry when people… I just get angry, and I have to pray a lot before I can think. What did you want to tell me before?”
Paul told David about his talks with his men that started with David’s song and how one of them would start going with Paul to church when they both came back from leave. Then they went on to other topics, and David even confided to Paul about some of the anger he still had toward Jared even though he had been praying like Elizabeth wanted him to.
It was almost five when Beth came, told them that dinner was almost ready, and teased them about killing her battery. “You better make sure I get a jump before you leave, and then David and I will go for a drive tonight.”
David turned the key and sure enough the engine gave a half-hearted turn and died. “I broke your car? I… Mom? I….”
“Don’t worry about it, David. You just ran down the battery. We can fix it. Maybe we should ask Rob, or maybe you know cars, Paul, to teach you more about how they work.”
“I know about maintenance, but I’m not a mechanic. I can teach you what I know. But let’s go in now so we can eat. I’ve got to leave in about half an hour, but I’ll be back tomorrow.” After dinner Paul showed David how to jump the battery, and then he left for Ann Arbor.
Go to Chapter 33
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.