Chapter 38 – Paul
Saturday, December 28th
The next morning Daniel arrived in Paul’s room ten minutes after visiting hours started. “Happy Birthday, Dad.”
“I hope it will be,” Paul replied, thinking of the question he planned to ask Beth that night.
Daniel sat in the chair closest to the bed and made himself comfortable.
“I do appreciate you staying here like you have. I know it must be pretty boring for you.”
“It’s had its highlights. I’ve gotten to know your father since we’ve been sharing a room. It doesn’t sound like he gets along very well with his wife at all. He fights with her on the phone every night. She wants him to come home, and he says she should visit you. They’re a riot. I don’t think she likes you too well.”
“No, she doesn’t. But I don’t really want to talk about Sheila. I’d rather talk about you. What do you plan to do this afternoon?”
“I don’t know. I figured David and I could just hang out. Go to a mall or something. I keep trying to get to know him, but he’s pretty quiet. What can you tell me about him?”
“David talks for himself.” Paul thought about warning Daniel not to harass David, but didn’t know if a warning would make him more inclined to do the things he didn’t want done. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of the two of them alone together.
“I’m just kind of curious where he grew up, what his parents were like, why he hangs on Beth. You know, those kind of things.”
“Daniel… Forget it. Just don’t keep him out so late that we start worrying about you two.”
“I’ve noticed Beth is a little over protective. I was only a year older than David when I left home for college. I doubt he could live on his own.”
“Don’t underestimate him. He’s already started his career, remember.”
Daniel shrugged. “You really like him, don’t you?”
“That’s obvious. What about you?”
“Yeah. He’s different, but he’s a musical genius. I’d really like to take him to some music store and watch him impress the employees.”
Paul shook his head. They talked for a while about things that Paul felt they could have talked about any time with ten other people listening. He still wasn’t getting beyond the surface. Five minutes before his time was up, Daniel got up to leave.
There was almost an hour between visits, and Paul rested. He opened his eyes a little later to see David watching him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up. I just was anxious to see you.”
Paul smiled and glanced at the clock. David was over ten minutes early, and Paul wasn’t sure how long he had been standing there watching him. “I was anxious to see you, too. I’m glad you’re early. Come sit here.” He indicated the chair Daniel had used.
David sat down and placed his computer case on the floor next to him.
“I haven’t had a chance to tell you how much it helped me when you mentioned all the things I can do now that I’m not going to be in the military. For a while it was hard for me to think of anything except what I couldn’t do.”
“What will you do?”
“Move to Michigan to be near you. Go to school. Write, and hopefully Beth will continue editing for me. I’m not sure about anything else yet. I’ll just do it like you said, pray for direction, go a little ways, and pray some more.” Paul reached for David’s hand, and David held onto it. “Thank you, David, for reminding me that God is still in control, and even if we don’t know where we’re going, He does.”
An attendant brought Paul’s lunch and left. Paul offered some to David.
“No. I’ll eat later. I’m not hungry.”
“You don’t eat much, do you?”
“A lot more than I used to. Before I could eat whenever there was food, but now I can’t. Sometimes my stomach isn’t right.”
“Has Beth taken you to the doctor?”
“No. I’m not sick.” David paused only a second. “I wish sometimes that I was Daniel, and I was your real son.”
“You are my real son, David. You are the son of my heart. Daniel will never replace you or mean more to me. Be careful with Daniel. Sometimes he says things that are not kind. Let me know if he hurts you in any way. I won’t tolerate it.”
“You think he will hurt me?”
“No. I hope not. I just don’t know him well enough to trust him completely. Maybe I just worry because he reminds me of his mother and stepfather. I hope he’s sincere about wanting to be your brother and friend. I love you, David.”
“I love you, too, Dad. We’ve been praying for Daniel, and Elizabeth says that the more we’re around him the more we can tell him about Jesus. He seems nice enough to me, but I don’t trust very many people, and I always can run away from him.”
“Do you have money? Enough to get you back here or at least enough for you to call here so Beth or Grandpa can get you?”
“Good.” Paul finished his lunch. They talked some more. After the attendant took the tray away, Paul knew he couldn’t wait any longer. “David, I’m going to ask Beth to marry me tonight.”
“Really? We can be a real family?”
“I want that. I want it very much. But I don’t want her to marry me because she feels sorry for me or because she thinks it’s best for you. Do you understand what I mean? I don’t want her to marry me because I’m your father. I want her to marry me only because she really loves me.”
“I understand. You don’t want her to care because it’s her job. Sometimes I’m afraid that’s why you care for me, and I don’t like it when people pretend duty is love.”
“I really love you, so you don’t have to worry about that. But I am afraid that Beth will only say yes to me because she loves you.”
“She loves you, Paul. I know she does. She wouldn’t marry anyone just for me.”
“I hope you’re right. But you see, it’s not just my leg. You know that when people are married they sleep together.”
“They have sex.”
Paul was surprised at his bluntness. “Yes. And… please close that door for a minute.” David complied. Then Paul unsnapped the hospital pajama top he was wearing and pushed it off his shoulders. It fell against the IV still attached to his left arm. “She will have to be next to this, David. It’s a lot to ask of her.”
David studied his puckered and scarred chest, and then looked into his eyes. “This has stopped you from asking?”
“Yes. It happened in the fire that killed Joel.”
“Elizabeth won’t mind that. I know.” David stood, pulled out the waist of his shirt, and then pulled his shirt and T-shirt over his head in one motion, revealing a myriad of scars, mutilations, and burns. Paul’s stomach churned. Each one of those scars had been purposely inflicted.
“I… David, I never knew it had been so bad for you,” Paul said quietly. She was right. How had he survived? “How did Beth react?”
“She hugged me and cried. It was summer, and we were both wearing swimsuits. She did not treat me any differently after she knew.”
Paul pulled his top back on, and David followed his example. “We’re a lot alike, you and I.” Paul reached out to take David’s hand again. “If Beth says yes, we can tell Daniel tomorrow.”
“Will you pray with me about marrying Beth and about it being the right thing for her? I don’t want to hurt her if God has something better in mind for her than a scarred, crippled, out-of-work soldier.”
David sat on the edge of the bed. He studied Paul, and Paul knew he had decided against saying whatever had gone through his mind. He took his hands, and they prayed.
They had just finished when Daniel came in. “Are you ready, David?”
David looked at the clock. “I have ten more minutes. I’ll meet you in the waiting room.”
Daniel hesitated and then left.
David stood and crouched to open the computer case. He pulled out a folded piece of paper and a small box wrapped in Christmas paper. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get you anything for your birthday. I got this for you for Christmas, but I haven’t had a chance to give it to you.” He handed the box and the paper to Paul. “This is just a little card I tried to make last night, but I don’t have any digitized pictures with me, and we only have the portable printer which doesn’t have color.”
“Thank you, David. I didn’t expect anything. Just you being here was enough for me. And I didn’t get a chance to buy anything for Christmas before I was sent out.”
“You bought me the guitar.”
Paul looked at the card. It said “Happy Birthday, Daddy” on the front. He opened it. “I prayed and thanked God that he let you be my Daddy, and I thanked Him that you are a very good Daddy. I also thanked Him because he allowed you to stay with us and have more birthdays. I love you, Daddy.”
Paul set the card down on the bed next to him. “Come here.”
David approached him slowly.
When he was very close Paul leaned forward and hugged him. David returned the hug. “I love you, David. I’m glad I’m here with you also. There was a time I thought you’d be better off without me, but not anymore.”
When Paul released him, David sat on the edge of the bed again. Paul picked up the small box and opened it. Inside was a gold tie pin with a topaz stone. “Thank you, David. I’ll wear it next time I’m allowed to get dressed for church.” He admired it, then closed the box and handed it to David. “Please keep it until I get out. I don’t want it stolen or lost.”
David put it back into the computer case. He looked at the clock, and it was five minutes after. “Daniel is waiting for me,” he said, but didn’t get up from the bed. He looked at Paul and then took his hand. “I will be praying while you talk to Elizabeth. I love you.” Then he picked up the computer case and left.
Thank you, my Lord, for giving him to me as a son. If it be your will please restrain Daniel if he has any thoughts to harm David with his words. Please let Beth only say yes if it is your will for us to be a family, and if it is please let her not be bothered by my appearance. Paul lowered the bed and slept.
“I’m sorry I’m late.” Saul rushed in and glanced back at the clock. “Good, I only missed five minutes.”
Paul raised his bed so that he was sitting.
“Beth and I drove over to your apartment this morning to take care of your bills and make sure everything was okay. We just got back.” He sat in the chair next to the bed.
“Thanks. Everything fine?”
“Yes. When are you going to ask that woman to marry you?”
“Don’t dad me. This is the second time I’ve almost lost you, Zach. After the first time you spent almost twenty years living a solitary life. You didn’t let yourself care deeply about anyone except me until David and Beth came along. In the last year you’ve really started living again, and I don’t want you to use this as an excuse to spend twenty more years alone.”
“Dad….” Paul wanted to argue with his father over his critical assessment of his life, but then decided it was a waste of time. “I think you’re taking arguing lessons from Sheila.”
“I’m sorry. I just don’t want you to lose this opportunity to have what I had with Ruth Ann. I see your mother in Beth. The details are different but her heart is the same.”
“I’m going to ask her tonight. But if we don’t announce it tomorrow, then I don’t want you to ever say another word about it because it means she said no, and she shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about her decision not to be the wife of Frankenstein’s monster.”
“When are you going to stop believing the words of a liar and adulteress?”
“Just promise me you won’t say anything to Beth tonight, and you’ll never mention it at all if she says no.”
“So you’ve never told me about those serious wife problems you mentioned the other night.”
Saul ran his hands through his hair. “I’m more than ready to divorce her. If it weren’t for Holly… but she needs me. When Holly moves out though, there won’t be much of a reason to stay. Did you ever send that letter?”
“Yes, while I was still in Michigan.”
“Well, she never got your letter. If you write again send it in care of me at my office. I hoped it wasn’t true, but Holly suspected that Sheila may be screening her mail.”
“I’ll write again then. Maybe I can send a letter back with you.”
“I have to be back to work on the second, and I should go back before to spend time with them. I thought I’d go home in two days. They’re going to release you soon, aren’t they?”
“Maybe next week. So tell me about Greg.”
“Greg is still a mess. The hunting trip helped some, but he’s still hanging out with those same friends and smoking pot. Sheila still won’t let me use trips to the range to shoot with me as an incentive. It’s crazy because it’s the one thing he’s interested in.” He pounded the arm of the chair.
“And get this. I found out I’m not Sheila’s second husband. I’m her third. And Holly had a different father from either of them. I guess her first husband, Greg’s father, was controlling and abusive so she’s over reacted and became the controller after she broke free from him. Husband number two didn’t stick around long, and I understand why.” Saul sighed. “I don’t know, Zach. It just wears you down day after day. I hate calling home at night, but I know I have to.”
“She must hate it that you’re here with me.”
“I don’t care. You mean more to me that she ever will.”
Paul hesitated, wondering how much he should say. “Dad, that may be part of the problem. I don’t have much personal experience, but I’ve heard a few sermons on marriage. A wife needs to feel like she’s the most important person in your life. She should be. I know she makes it really hard for you to love her or even want to be around her, but….”
“I’m not going to let her control me.”
“I’m not suggesting you do. But if you’re at all interested in any advice there must be something you can do to make her feel a little special.”
“What about me, Zach? She never tries to do anything for me. And besides I’m still around. I do call. I do come home every night.”
“Do you just want me to listen? I thought you said I was your favorite counselor. Counselors counsel.”
Saul shrugged. “Say what you’re gonna say.”
“You can’t control her. You only control yourself. Do what you know you’re supposed to do.”
“But you’re not loving her as Christ loved the church.”
“Zach, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t love her like you did Mom.”
“Of course not. I’ll never love anyone like that again.”
“That’s part of the problem, Dad. I tried to warn you about that in April, but you didn’t think it made a difference.”
“So you’re saying this whole mess is my fault. If I were a better husband things would be great.”
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m only pointing out one thing that I see that you may have some control over.”
“I can’t change the way I feel about her, especially when she questions and argues about every little thing I say.”
“Love isn’t just feelings. I know there were times you were angry at Mom, but you still loved her. She was still the most important person in your life. Treat Sheila like that. I’m not saying it will make a difference, but maybe that’s why she’s so jealous of me.”
“Zach… I don’t know. I’ll think about it, but I don’t know if I can pretend she means more to me than you, especially when….”
“When what, Dad?”
“I don’t know. I can’t explain it. You’re my son, my only child. You’re my best friend. You’re all I have left of your mother. You’re the only real family I have left at all, and I almost lost you again.”
Paul didn’t know what to say. He knew that he and his father were very close because of all that had happened from the time his mother first became sick until now. And he had needed that close friendship. But he hadn’t realized that his father seemed to need it just as much.
“Dad, we will always be best friends, but don’t let it interfere with your marriage. If Beth says yes I won’t let anything or anyone come between us, including you. Not that I think you’ll try to, but you know what I mean, don’t you? I’ve tried to step back and not hurt your marriage. There’s been times I’ve missed you, but I understand that marriage comes first.”
“Truthfully, Zach. If Beth and David weren’t around, I’d divorce Sheila and have you move back home where I could take care of you.”
“I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I’m not going to play the invalid. I wouldn’t marry Beth if I thought she was just going to be my gopher and nurse.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Dad, unless she commits adultery you have no grounds for divorce.”
“The State of New York is not that picky.”
“Yeah, well, God doesn’t have to live with her.”
Paul was stunned. “I guess I forgot for a while that you weren’t a Christian. I’ll keep praying for you though. And I know David and Beth are, also.”
The nurse brought his food in, and Saul turned to the clock. “Oh no. I promised Beth I take her for dinner. Now we won’t have time. I better go and at least eat with her in the cafeteria.” Saul was at the door when he turned around. “And Zach?”
“I know Jesus is the Messiah. I’m just not sure what comes next.” Then he turned and left.
“Wait!” Paul called, but Saul must not have heard him because he didn’t return. They’d talked for two hours about divorce and adultery, and they could have been talking about his following Christ. It would have covered everything. Paul didn’t know whether to be depressed about his missed opportunity or excited that his dad had practically admitted that he wanted to become a Christian.
Paul was tired. After he ate, he lay down and fell asleep.
Paul started to dream about his wedding. He was young. His face was his own and not a partial copy of his plastic surgeon’s, and he stood firmly on both of his feet. He looked at his beautiful bride and saw Beth’s face. He took her in his arms and kissed her. The kiss became passionate, and the scene shifted obligingly to the honeymoon.
Paul shifted uncomfortably in his sleep and turned on his right side, jarring his abdominal incisions. The pain woke him. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at the object of his desire. She sat in the chair next to the bed and had a book open in her hands, but she looked at him. He glanced at the clock to see how long she had been there. Almost an hour of his precious time was gone.
“Beth, you should have woke me up.” He pushed the button to raise the head of the bed so he could sit more comfortably. “There’s so much I need to talk to you about.”
“You needed your sleep. Don’t worry. I’ve seen your nurse for tonight, and she assured me that she isn’t too fussy about times as long we don’t disturb the other patients. We can probably talk until you fall asleep again.”
“In that case, I’ll stay up all night.”
Beth smiled and stuffed her book into her purse on the floor beside her. “I’d like that, but I don’t want David to worry too much. I should leave before midnight, but that still gives us twice as much time as anyone else. I think your father planned it that way.”
“I’m sure he did.” Paul paused. He didn’t know how to begin to say what he needed to, so he decided to just plunge in. “I know you were hurt before when I didn’t tell you everything that was important in my past. I want to tell you the whole story of Joel’s death.”
Beth seemed surprised, but nodded.
“I hadn’t been twenty-one long, and I was new out of the academy. When a couple of my commanding officers invited me out for a few drinks, I went. I had three, maybe four beers. I don’t remember. When I came home, the house we rented was in flames. Dan was with Clarissa, standing near a fire truck, but Joel was still inside. I don’t know why they didn’t try to get him out before. I ran inside. He was upstairs in his crib. I don’t know if he was alive or not when I grabbed him. I don’t know if the beer affected my reflexes and judgment or not. I didn’t make it out of the house.
“When I woke up in the hospital I couldn’t talk or even eat. My face was burnt, my chin, my nose.” He ran his hand over the section of his face that had been replaced. “Everything that you noticed was different in the picture. But Beth, I was burned over most of the left side of my body.” At this point he stopped and repeated what he had done with David.
As Paul unsnapped the pajama top Beth’s eyes widened. “Paul?”
“I need to show you this; then you’ll never have to look at it again.” Paul pulled the shirt down. “There’s more on my back.”
Her gaze ran across his chest and then back to his eyes. He saw no revulsion, but instead a question.
“I showed David, also.”
“What did he say?”
“He showed me his scars. I had no idea he’d been abused like that. When you said you didn’t know how he survived, I never realized exactly what a miracle it was that he did and that he’s the boy he is. He told me though that these scars wouldn’t bother you.”
“No. Only that I know it was very painful for you. It’s not like looking at David and knowing someone deliberately inflicted each one of those marks on him for their own twisted pleasure. That bothers me. That gives me nightmares sometimes. Listening to his nightmares gives me nightmares.”
“He tells you his nightmares?”
“Only a couple, but it was enough.”
“But you would listen to him again if he needed to tell you, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes. I’m all he has… no, that’s not true anymore. But we are all he has to help him learn to live with his past and grow beyond it. God has given us a very special responsibility to love and train this precious child in His ways. You’re the only one who has really understood that.”
“Yes, Beth. I agree completely. I am going to say some stuff tonight that you might not like. If you don’t just tell me, and we never have to speak about it again. No matter how you respond to me tonight, I promise that I will not change the way I care for David, or let it change things between us. I will still move to Michigan to be near you and David so that I can be David’s father and your close friend.”
Paul watched her until she nodded. “Come here,” he said, motioning her to sit on the edge of the bed.
She hesitated and then complied.
Why did she hesitate? Was it too hard on her to be this close to him? He closed his eyes and sent a small prayer for guidance. Then he opened his eyes and studied her. She watched his face intently. Paul took her hand, gently so that she could pull away if she wanted, and he placed her palm over the left side of his chest.
Beth let him hold her hand there. “Paul? I don’t understand.”
“Tell me, Beth. Do you think you could let yourself lie next to a scarred, crippled man every night, or is that too repulsive to consider? Do not think about David. I will not change the way I treat him at all, no matter what you say. He will always be the son of my heart, and you will always be my close friend no matter what you say.”
“Paul, am I imagining things, or are you asking me to marry you in some strange roundabout way?”
“If you would have me, Beth. But don’t say yes out of pity or for David or any other reason except that I meet every one of the requirements on your list.”
Beth smiled then. “Well, you do wear your hair a bit funny now days, but I can get used to that.”
Was that a yes? Did she really want him? “Do I meet your requirements?”
“Actually there is one that I’m not sure if you meet. Tell me, do you love me to distraction? Do you love me so much that you’ll always forgive me when I screw up and be unsubmissive? Do you love me at all?”
“Beth, I love you so much sometimes I can’t sleep. I love you so much I’ll remain your close friend and never make you touch me again if I can’t marry you. I love you so much I’ll never let anything except you separate us.”
Beth moved her hand under his, and he let go of her so she could stop touching him. But she didn’t stop. Instead she slid her hand up around his neck, coming closer and putting a slight pressure on his neck until their faces were only a few inches apart.
He resisted no more and kissed her. It was short, and she sat back quickly, watching him.
“I’m sorry, Paul. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while.”
“You’re sorry? Beth, please, you’re torturing me. Will you marry me or not?”
“I’m sorry, Paul. I don’t mean to do that to you. Of course, I’ll marry you. What sane woman wouldn’t?”
When she had said she was sorry again his heart dropped. But at her final words it picked itself up and soared. “Beth, you tease. Don’t scare me like that.” Paul took her hand in his.
“Tell me, Paul, are these scars the only reason you’ve been hiding your feelings?”
“And here I was making up stories about why you didn’t want to marry me so I could feel better about myself.”
Paul laughed. “No I don’t have ten million painful sexually transmitted diseases. And you shouldn’t speculate about whether a man is impotent or not when he’s lying in the hospital not even sure of half his injuries.”
“I’m sorry,” Beth said, laughing. “But it serves you right for saying you’ll never marry me as if I had the diseases.”
“I am sorry, Beth. I love you so much, and I didn’t want to lose your friendship and respect. I was afraid to tell you. But you know something I figured out while I was lying there? It’s like you said, it’s all pride. I was the obnoxiously prideful one and didn’t even realize it. I probably still am, but I’ll try hard not to be.”
“Does that mean you’re going to quit acting so macho about money?”
“I don’t know about that. The way I see it, now that you’ll be my wife, it’s my job to support you. So I have to buy the house and the car and everything else. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
“Not really, but we should pick up our search for a house then. When are we getting married?”
“I’d like it to be as soon as possible, but I would like to have that prosthesis before the wedding. That may take a few months though, because I have to wait until this is completely healed before I can get it. I figure the end of March or April.”
“That’s a long time.”
“Don’t you need some time to plan and make arrangements?”
“How big a wedding do you want? I just want to marry you.”
Paul smiled. “I love you, Beth. You think about what you want, and I’ll go along with it. Just let me stand next to you without crutches.”
“If you insist, O prideful one.”
“That’s not….” Paul shook his head. “Okay, you’re right, again. It’s pride. But wean a man slowly from his favorite vice.”
“They say it’s better to go cold turkey.”
“Speaking of cold turkeys.” He pulled his top back on and snapped it.
“I wondered how long you were going to display those muscles for me.”
“Beth… if we were married now, I’d kiss you, again.”
“Yes. But, I must restrain, because I’ve been waiting a long time for you, like twenty years, and I don’t want to mess up before we get married.”
“I’m glad you have a strong will since you’re making us wait so long. Let’s talk about that house, because I’ll probably have to be looking while you’re relaxing in various hospitals.”
“Get a room large enough for all three of us to work in. Get extra bedrooms for guest rooms and a good basement or room that can be used for the weights and stuff like that.”
“How about a library room?”
“Sure. Throw in anything you want.”
“This house is going to be expensive. I figured I’d sell one of my houses to help with the down payment. It will probably be the one on Cass since I’d get the most for it after the mortgage was paid off.”
“Sell a house? What are you talking about?”
“I own three apartment houses.”
“You mean you’re not renting? You own that house?”
“I thought you knew that.”
“No. I thought you were a struggling entrepreneur who had all her money invested in her business equipment.”
Beth laughed. “I told you I was nowhere near bankruptcy. But would you listen? No. I thought I made up stories. My only debt right now is my mortgages.”
“Beth….” Paul shook his head again, smiling. “What am I going to do with you? Keep the rental property. It’ll give me something to do besides sit in front of a computer. When you need the money just let me know, and you’ll have it.”
They talked of their plans for another hour before Beth decided it was time to go back to David. “I told him I was going to ask you. Let him know your answer, but let’s wait to tell Dad and Daniel tomorrow, together.”
“Okay, my love.” Beth still sat on the bed facing him, holding his hand. “Would it strain your self-control too much to kiss me good night?”
“Oh, I think I might manage it this time,” Paul said, knowing that he was still in no condition to carry out his errant desires. Paul kissed her and wondered at the wisdom of his decision to wait another three or four months. “Beth, my love.”
“I love you, Zachariah Paul Israel. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He watched her walk from the room.
“Oh, my Lord, my King, You’ve given me everything. You gave it to me over six months ago, but I was too prideful to see. Like David said, I couldn’t believe You would do this for me. I wasn’t listening to You, was I? I needed to be knocked up along side the head and… well, I really didn’t want to lose that foot, Lord, but, well, I know You’re in control, and I know You’re leading me some place I never would have gone. Please show me where to go. Please guide me, and help me to remember to ask for guidance instead of assuming Your will like I did. Thank You for Beth and for David, my son. I know You sent them to help me to walk the way You want. Help me to listen to the counselors You’ve given me. And help me to lead my new family in Your ways. Help me to be the husband and father that You desire me to be. Thank You, my Lord, for all You’ve done. In Jesus name, Amen.”
End of All Things Work Together
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