Chapter 4 – Elizabeth
Monday, March 6, 1995
The Ligonier conference in Florida had been wonderful. Elizabeth couldn’t wait to get to Dylan and Kathy’s and tell them all about it. She had wanted to arrive yesterday, but she’d had a flat tire in Georgia. When she had called Dylan and Kathy about the change in plans, Dylan told her they probably wouldn’t be home when she arrived, but she should go right in. Now she would only be able to stay one night because she had an appointment on Wednesday.
As Elizabeth exited the freeway and started down the two lane highway, the sky became darker, and streaks of lightening flashed in rolling storm clouds. She barely glanced toward Ben’s store as she passed it, hoping to make it to Dylan’s before the downpour started. The last few times she had come to visit Dylan and Kathy, they’d ended up going out with Ben, a tall and broad widower, leaving all the children in the care of Kathy’s oldest daughter, Kim. And Kathy would have another child soon. Elizabeth vowed not to let her jealousy show and ruin the comfortable friendship they had.
She pulled into Dylan’s driveway and parked near the garage. Someone sat on the front steps playing a guitar, either a woman or a long haired man. She grabbed her purse, her computer, and her camera case to carry into the house. The wind whipped against her, and Elizabeth decided to leave her suitcase in the car. Dylan would bring it in for her later. Keith, Kathy’s oldest, would have if he wasn’t in college. It was probably a good thing Kathy was pregnant to take her mind off how much she missed Keith. Elizabeth saw him more than she did now that he was at the University of Michigan.
The person on the porch stood and watched her. A boy somewhere between 15 and 17. His odor reached her even as he backed away at her approach. She guessed he hadn’t bathed in weeks. He continued back until he reached the far end of the porch and then looked as if he might go over the railing to escape. He was so thin, she guessed he hadn’t eaten in weeks, either.
“Hello.” Elizabeth climbed the steps and tried her best to sound cheerful. “I’m Elizabeth Weaver.”
The boy looked over the railing behind him and then up the driveway toward the road. “Dylan?”
“If he didn’t answer the door, they’re not home yet. They were going to go to his sister’s house today. Did he know you were coming?”
The boy shook his head and then looked straight at her. “He knows me.”
The wind gusted, sending rain spattering over them. “Why don’t we go inside and wait. It’s too cold out here.” Elizabeth unlocked and opened the door, motioning the boy to enter.
The odor was stronger in the stillness of the house, and she had to work at not changing her expression or raising her hand to her nose. Instead she took a longer look at him. His dirty, matted, tangled hair hung down over his shoulders and probably to the center of his back. He was dark, maybe part African American, but it was hard to tell with all the dirt. He wore two shirts. Neither one fit properly, and both were dirty and worn. His pants bagged around his hips and legs, held up by a tightly fastened rope belt. They were just as dirty as the shirt and sported several rips, but she didn’t think they were for fashion. His shoes were worse. She didn’t know how the soles stayed to the uppers, they were so torn. Newspaper that he had wrapped around his feet as makeshift socks shown through the holes. Oh Lord, she prayed. This poor kid. Show me how I can help him.
Elizabeth set her purse and cases down in a corner and hung her coat on the stand next to the door. “I’m hungry. Let’s see what they’ve got in here to eat.” She walked into the kitchen.
The boy put his guitar and bag down by the front door and followed, staying at least ten feet behind from her. He watched as Elizabeth opened the refrigerator and found some leftover chicken. She hoped Kathy was not planning to use it for dinner. “Do you like chicken?”
He didn’t respond, but kept watching her. “I can look for something else.” Elizabeth set the chicken on the table and turned back to the refrigerator. “We could make sandwiches.” She pulled out some cold cuts. Turning around she saw that he had already taken a bite out of a chicken leg.
He quickly dropped it.
“What’s wrong? Don’t you like it?”
“You like it?” She wanted to clarify what he was nodding yes to.
He nodded again.
“Okay, I’ll put this back.” Elizabeth returned to the refrigerator. “You want a Coke?” She pulled out two. Then she went to the cupboard where she knew Kathy kept the munchies and found some pretzels, pouring them into a dish. It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but he didn’t look picky. In fact he looked scared. She set the pretzels down. When she reached over to place a Coke on his side of table, he backed away.
“Come. Sit down,” she invited, taking a seat. When the boy finally sat, Elizabeth bowed her head and said grace.
“Are you Dylan’s wife?”
“No.” Elizabeth smiled. “I’m just a friend of the family. Remember I’m Elizabeth Weaver. What’s your name?”
The boy looked down and then back at her. Then he looked at the chicken. The silence stretched on as she waited for his answer. Obviously he didn’t want to tell her.
“Oh shoot. I forgot plates and silverware.”
The boy jumped out of his chair and backed against the wall.
“What’s wrong? Is there a bug or something?” She tried to look around his side of the table, but the closer she came to him the more he backed away. Suddenly she realized what was wrong. He was afraid of her! What had happened to this kid that he was afraid of someone like her? My Lord, please help me. I don’t want him to be afraid of me. He’s not even as old as I first thought, is he? Let me help this little boy, Lord.
She went to the cupboards to grab the required eating utensils, hoping that would ease his fear. She set a plate, fork, and napkin near each of their spots and sat back down. After a moment he sat, also.
Elizabeth began eating, hoping he would follow her example. He just watched her eat. It wasn’t working. She hadn’t been that hungry to begin with, and his smell didn’t help. She wished it was polite to send him to the shower and dig through Keith’s old clothes for him. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“Please eat something. If this isn’t good, I can find something else. Or we can heat the meat in the microwave.”
His eyes never strayed from her as he slowly reached for the piece of chicken he had bitten into before. Once he knew he could have it, he ate so quickly Elizabeth thought he might choke, but he didn’t.
She waited until he was finished before she tried to talk to him again. As she cleared off the table, she asked, “Are you from around here?”
He shook his head.
“Where are you from?”
He looked the same way he had when she asked about his name. Well, if he had run away from a place that made him scared maybe he was afraid she’d try to send him back. Or maybe he learned to be scared since he ran away, but then it would seem he would want to go back home. Only You know, Lord. Help me to act wisely, compassionately, and… and loving, as You would.
There was a knock at the front door, and Elizabeth went to answer it. Ben stood on the porch shaking water from his jacket. “Oh, Ben. Hi. Dylan’s not home right now.”
“That’s okay. I came to see you.” He stepped inside and hung his jacket on the coat stand. “I saw you go by the store earlier. Why didn’t you stop?”
“I didn’t want to get caught in the rain like you did.”
“Ah. Better me than you, huh?” He laughed.
“Something like that.” She wondered what the boy was doing. If he was afraid of her, Ben must terrify him.
“I’m glad you’re alone. I wanted to tell you something. Let’s sit down.” He motioned her to the couch and then he sat at an angle facing her.
He cut off her confession and started talking. “I’ve prayed about this a lot.”
“Sara and Mark really like you, and they want you to be their mother. We can get married next month, and by the time school is out for the summer, you will be all settled in.”
Elizabeth was stunned. Marriage! She barely knew him!
“Elizabeth?” he asked, when she didn’t speak or move. “Oh, I almost forgot.” He stood and reached into his pocket. Then he sat and held out a small diamond. “Here’s your ring. It was Alice’s.”
Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief. He was incredible. He really thought she was just going to obey and be his little woman. And he was holding out his dead wife’s ring like there was no reason in the world why she wouldn’t want to marry him. Like she had no decision to make. She’d had enough of that with Wes. No way would she ever ….
“Elizabeth, it’s a good thing I came,” he said, looking past her toward the hall to the kitchen. His voice was no longer warm and friendly but tight and icy. “There’s a vagrant in the house.” He stood quickly, advancing toward the hall. “Get out of here you filthy scum. How’d you get in here anyway?”
“Stop it. Ben, stop it.” She rushed after him. “Leave him alone.”
Ben faced her. “Elizabeth, please. He doesn’t belong here. I’ve already had to chase him out of my store yesterday.”
“He’s Dylan’s friend. He has as much right to be here as you do.”
“Is that what he told you? You are rather naive. He came into the store asking where Dylan lived. He doesn’t know him. He’s just some no account drifter who thinks he can get a free ride playing guitar for Dylan. I’ve already warned Dylan.”
“Stop it. That’s not how it is. He’s my friend, too, and I won’t listen to you talking about him that way. You better just leave.” She couldn’t let him say those mean things about that kid like he wasn’t even there, like he wasn’t even human.
“Your friend? I won’t have my wife hanging around with scum like that.”
“I’m not your wife. And you don’t know anything about me if you really think that I could be.”
Ben stared at her, his jaw clenched.
Elizabeth’s mind raced. What was he thinking? Was he violent when angry? Would he leave quietly? Would he try to hurt the boy? Lord, please protect the boy.
“You’re right,” he said in an even voice. “I don’t know anything about you. We don’t have anything further to discuss.” Ben turned and walked quickly to the door, grabbing his coat as he passed the rack. The door slammed.
Elizabeth’s knees became weak, and she wanted to sink to the floor. She closed her eyes to regain control of her emotions and focus. She had to find the boy. She searched the kitchen and at first she didn’t see him. As she was about to conclude he had gone out the back door or down the basement steps, she found him sitting on the floor behind the chair under the desk part of the counter. His arms were wrapped around his legs, and his chin rested on his knees.
When Elizabeth approached him, he started to tremble. She sat on the floor near the chair and began talking, hoping he would realize she wasn’t going to hurt him. “It’s okay. He’s gone. I won’t let anyone hurt you. You don’t have a home, do you? It gets lonely, doesn’t it? What happened to your family?”
He still seemed frightened, so she kept talking, avoiding the questions because they agitated him. “I don’t have any family either. My husband left about four years ago and took my son. That’s about the time I met Dylan and Kathy. They’ve helped a lot, but it gets lonely. Wish I could help you. Maybe you’ll let me. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”
He was still now, simply watching and listening.
“Do you want to go sit in the living room with me?”
Her question seemed to confuse him, but then he pushed away the chair from his self-made prison. Elizabeth stood, careful not to lean in his direction in case he might misinterpret her actions. She walked toward the living room in the hopes that he would follow. He did. She sat on the love seat across from the front door, and he chose the chair that sat on the front wall of the living room, the furthest seat from her.
Just then the door opened and in came Kathy with her oldest daughter, Kim. Elizabeth stood to greet them.
Kathy hugged her. “I’m sorry I’m going to be rude, but I have one of those headaches, and I can’t take anything for it. Maybe if I go upstairs and lie down a while, I’ll be able to visit later.”
“That’s okay. I hope it goes away soon for your sake,” Elizabeth said.
Dylan came in. “Kim, I thought you were taking your mother upstairs.”
“Give us half a second, Dylan,” Kim said, stressing her step-father’s name. She led Kathy to the staircase across the living room from the door.
Dylan gave Elizabeth the hug he always did at greetings and partings.
Rachel and Matthew had followed their father inside. “But Daddy, Uncle Ruben and Aunt Em have dogs in their house,” Rachel said, continuing the argument that Elizabeth had heard her start almost a week before.
“I said no, Rachel. Dogs do not belong in this house. What’s that smell? You didn’t leave that puppy in here did you?”
“It’s him, Daddy,” Matthew said, pointing at the boy who now stood.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we had company,” Dylan said, looking at the boy and then noticing his bag and guitar sitting next to the door. “May I help you?” he asked with a slight tone of impatience.
The boy hesitated.
Dylan shifted and glanced to his children and then back at the boy.
“I… I’ve come to live with you,” the boy blurted out.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Dylan said curtly.
Just then a puppy ran down the stairs. Kim yelled down to them. “Dad, Rachel had that dog shut up in her room, and it made a big mess. It’s really bad.”
“Rachel Damaris get that dog out of the house now and then go upstairs and clean that room completely.”
The boy grabbed his bag and guitar and was out of the house before Elizabeth could protest.
Dylan barely glanced after him. Then he focused on Rachel. “Did you hear me? Move.”
“Why don’t I take the puppy back to the barn?” Elizabeth volunteered. “That way she can go straight to her room.”
Dylan turned his attention from Rachel to Elizabeth. “Okay, but when you get back we’ve got to have a talk.”
“Sure.” Elizabeth grabbed the puppy around its waist and headed out the door. Outside she didn’t see the boy anywhere. The puppy squirmed and almost fell out of her grasp. She adjusted her hold and walked to the barn. Will he come back, Lord? Dylan was kind of harassed right now, but he’ll help him once he understands. Please Lord, he needs a good home, doesn’t he, or he wouldn’t have asked Dylan to live here.
The barn door was ajar. She squeezed inside and set the puppy down. Then she heard him, crying and praying.
“Oh Jesus. He doesn’t want me. He doesn’t… Oh God, there’s nowhere….”
Elizabeth found him in an empty stall, sitting in a corner like he had been sitting under the desk, with his knees drawn up, rocking slightly.
He didn’t speak again, just cried and rocked.
He knows You, Lord? And he’s all alone and hurt? He’s just a child. My children all die or are taken, but yet this child You’ve allowed to be hurt and alone. Why, Lord? I lose all my babies, and this poor boy needs a home… needs someone to love him. He needs… Me?
The boy looked up at her with moist, brown eyes which widened briefly in surprise. Then he stared.
She knew she had to speak. “Do you want to come home with me? You can be my son.” Almost a full minute Elizabeth waited for his answer.
Thank you, Lord. “Let’s go back to the house then.”
The boy shook his head. “Dylan doesn’t want me.” His voice cracked, and she thought he might cry again.
“Why don’t I go talk to him? If he comes out here and asks you to come in himself, you’ll come, right?”
“Okay. I’ll be back in a little bit, my son.”
Elizabeth quickly slipped out of the barn. The rain had stopped, and the wet ground sparkled in the setting sun. She rushed back to the house.
Inside Dylan and Kim tried to piece together a dinner in the kitchen.
He turned from the pantry. “Where have you been?”
Elizabeth hesitated. “What’s wrong?”
He motioned her to follow him to the study. He didn’t say a word. When they were in the room he faced her and leaned back against the baby grand piano, crossing his arms in front of him.
“Are you upset with me?”
“Yes, I am.”
Elizabeth sat down heavily in the chair next to her. “Why?”
“When we gave you a key it wasn’t to invite strangers into the house.”
“But he knows you. It was cold. He’s just….”
“He’s a drifting musician, hoping I’ll give him a job, and he didn’t even have the decency to clean himself up before he came to my home. And if he told you that I knew him, he lied.”
“Dylan, it was cold. He’s just a boy.”
His impassive face didn’t change. He’d never been upset with her before.
“Next time think before you invite strangers in.”
“Daddy, Rachel isn’t cleaning her room,” Matthew said, running to his father.
Dylan herded his son from the room, and then his footfalls could be heard on the steps to the second floor.
Silently Elizabeth left the room. She put on her coat and shouldered the straps of her bags. Then she laid Dylan’s house key on the kitchen table. She wondered if she should say good-bye, but her throat was too tight.
Outside Elizabeth managed to control her emotions before she reached the barn. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
The boy obediently followed her to the car. She placed his bag and guitar in the back seat, and he got in the passenger seat.
She looked toward the house, but no one came out to stop her. She didn’t want their friendship to end like this, but he wouldn’t listen. How could she explain if he wasn’t listening? He had never before reminded her of her ex-husband. She gave the house one long last look before she climbed into the car and started the engine. Then she drove away with her new son.
Go to Chapter 5
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.