Chapter 25 – Elizabeth
Thursday, April 4th
Elizabeth awoke to darkness. She turned to look toward the hall, but her bedroom door was closed. The clock read 11:35 in glowing red numbers. David was probably already in bed. She missed their nighttime routine. She thought about what had happened recently. Was Paul real? Or had everything been a fevered dream? She reached under her blouse and lightly touched the healing incision. Well, she had been in the hospital. Paul must have been here.
Finally there was someone who really seemed to understand David and love him. And David seemed to get along with him except for that unexpected outburst. It was so hard for him to accept that people loved him, and that he was actually not stupid. It was so hard for him to believe people were serious when they acknowledge his worth and talents.
Elizabeth had called her mother Monday and made sure that she first told her that she had appendicitis before she said she was in the hospital. She and Robin had come up twice. Once Monday and then Wednesday. Elizabeth was glad it was at a time when David and Paul were not there. They were considerate not to talk about David, except to say that Renae didn’t come because she had vowed never to speak to Elizabeth again until David was gone. Where did not matter, just as long as he wasn’t with her.
Elizabeth hadn’t meant to deceive Paul when he had asked about the file cabinet. She knew she had made it sound as if it had been accidently locked. She didn’t know how to explain, without sounding paranoid or giving away David’s secrets, that she intentionally locked it to keep Jared out. David’s files were in there, and she hated to think what would happen if Jared managed to read half the things that were in them.
Jay had stopped up on Tuesday and brought flowers. He only spoke of where David was to stay once, and when she again said he was to stay home, he moved on to another subject and was quite the charming visitor.
It seemed the hospital was a hot spot for visitors. After Jay found out Monday night he had called the church. Pastor Nat and several others had made their way up Tuesday and Wednesday. One person or group would leave and another would come up before she could go to sleep. Or at least it seemed that way sometimes.
Elizabeth finally decided to get up and change into her flannel nightgown. In the bathroom she noticed a razor and man’s toiletry bag. Paul had forgotten his things. She decided to take them into the office so she wouldn’t forget to give them to him. She wished he would have stayed. It wasn’t like they were dating or that she was in any condition to sin. He’d done so much for her. He shouldn’t have to spend money on a hotel to help her. If he wouldn’t stay here, she decided she’d pay for his room. She’d find out where he was staying and tell them to put it on her credit card instead.
There was a light lit in the office, and the living room was in dim shadows. Elizabeth was about to go into the office when she noticed the blanket and pillow laid out on the couch. He was staying! She put his things in the hall bathroom and then went back to the office. She pushed aside the curtain. Paul sat at the computer, and he worked on a picture.
She came up behind him. “I see you’re keeping the hours I used to.”
“Beth, I’m glad you’re here. Should I crop this like this?” Paul moved the mouse so that a dotted line box framed a section of the picture. “Or should I do it like this.” He framed the picture in a different way.
Elizabeth took the mouse from him. “I’d do it like this,” she said, showing him a third way. “But none of those ways were wrong. It’s just a matter of taste.”
“I like your way better. I guess that’s why you’re the boss. Have a seat.” Paul quickly saved his work and turned in the chair to face her. “You look good in flannel.”
“Oh, Paul, don’t make me laugh. It still hurts.” Elizabeth sat in the recliner and covered herself with the blanket that was still there.
Paul watched her. “David asked me to stay. I think he’s afraid you might get worse, and he won’t know what to do again. Will this be a problem for you?”
“No. In a way, I’m relieved. I’m really not ready for Jared tomorrow.”
“Jared? Did I just volunteer for something else?”
“Paul, you’ve been so good to me. Even if you left right now, you’ve done far more than anyone should expect. I really appreciate it. I don’t even know how to thank you.”
“You could tell me a little bit more about David, you, and Jared, whom I assume I’m going to meet tomorrow.”
“I get Jared every other weekend from seven p.m. Friday to seven p.m. on Sunday. This will be his weekend. I don’t have a lot of influence on him at the best of times, and when he thinks he can push things, he does.”
“Why doesn’t he live with you? Is it because of David?”
“Oh no. This happened five years ago. I came home from helping a friend, the locks were changed, my stuff was on the porch, and Wes had taken off with Jared.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. That’s what happened.”
“Did he have a reason for this?”
“A reason? I found out after the divorce was final that at the time he was already engaged to Alisa, and she was pregnant.”
“And you lost the custody battle?”
“I had a bad lawyer, and Rob, that’s Wes’ dad, admits now that he used his influence to help Wes keep Jared.”
“That’s almost like saying he bribed the judge. If you could prove it you could get a lot of people into big trouble.”
“I can’t prove it, and I don’t want to get Rob into trouble. He’s really helped me out a lot over the years against Wes and his wife’s wishes. And he’s a Christian now.”
“You sound a bit more forgiving than I think I could have been. How long were you and Wes married?”
“Ten years. We met when we were both in college. I might as well admit, I got pregnant, so we got married. I… I lost that baby. Jared’s the only child I’ve been able to have. But now I have David.”
“Tell me about David, Beth.”
Where was the line between David’s privacy, her need to talk to someone, and Paul’s right to know? She studied him before replying. “There are some things he will have to tell you himself. He told me them in confidence or has asked me, either in words or by his actions to keep them quiet. As he gets to know you, he may start confiding in you. I love him, and I don’t want to hurt him by telling you things that I really wish I could tell someone.”
“I understand. I don’t want you to do anything to hurt your relationship. But can you tell me anything? How did you meet?”
Elizabeth smiled. “I first met David the Monday after the Orlando conference last year.”
“Get that photo album down there.” She pointed to the bottom shelf of one of the bookcases. “No, the smaller blue one. Yes.” He brought it to her. “I stopped at a friend’s house in Tennessee. They weren’t home, but this kid with an old guitar sat on their porch. He was waiting for Dylan, but when Dylan came, he hadn’t had a very good day, and he ended up scaring him away. I went out to the barn later and heard him praying. Paul you should have heard him. He had nowhere to go and no one to love him, and he was crying to Jesus. I prayed with him and somehow knew I had to take him home with me.”
Elizabeth opened the photo album to the first page. She looked at the frightened boy lovingly. David had changed so much in the last year. In the photo he had long, matted, curling hair instead of neatly styled hair. His clothes were dirty and ripped. Newspaper shown through the holes in his shoes. And the fear and pain in his eyes was greater than the panic he’d shown when he burst into her hospital room Wednesday night. “This is him that day,” she said, finally handing the photo album to Paul.
Paul studied the photograph for a long while. “It looks like he had been on the street a while.”
“Yes, he had. But it was safer there than where he came from. But I’m pushing it. I just want you to know that look did not come from being on the street.”
“But he knew about Jesus then? He was a Christian?”
“Yes. That’s the amazing thing. Dylan had given a concert a few years back at a little mission in his neighborhood. David heard the gospel message, and it changed him inside. I never could have done it if it hadn’t been for that. Mom, Dylan, Rob, and everyone would have been right to worry about me if it wasn’t for that.
“Dylan went back and got the legal work done for me and found out a few things — some I can tell you, some I better let David. You know about the school situation so I’ll tell you that. It seems they had placed him in a mentally-challenged classroom at school, and he wasn’t taught anything. His fear of people kept him from learning. When he came to me he couldn’t read and could only add and subtract a little.”
“He reads quite well, now.” Paul said.
“Yes, he learns so quickly when he’s not afraid or nervous.”
“But his fear? Where did that come from, or is that what you can’t tell me?”
Elizabeth hesitated. “His mother. But I will let David tell you, if he ever desires, the extent of that abuse. I really don’t know how he survived, but then I’m pushing it again.”
“Didn’t anyone turn her in? Didn’t the school?”
“Dylan and I asked ourselves that many times. How could they not see? But apparently she always played the concerned parent to the world. So David just had all kinds of dysfunctional labels attached to him. I… Oh Paul, I just can’t think about that woman without getting so angry.” She leaned back in the chair and clenched her jaw tightly.
Paul waited for her to continue.
Elizabeth closed her eyes a moment to refocus. “The first couple weeks he was with me I never knew what would send him into a terror attack. He’d huddle into a corner or under the bed and tremble, afraid I or someone else would hurt him.” She looked at Paul, her emotions affecting her eyes. “He’s still very nervous around people he doesn’t know well. As long as I’m near him and no one touches him, he can do pretty well. He hardly speaks when anyone else is around. I’m surprised he talks so much around you, but then I guess he’s been through a few traumatic times with you now, between this sickness and Bill’s idiocy.
“And he obviously feels safe with you here or he never would have asked you to stay. That in itself is a major breakthrough. You may notice that he doesn’t say much with Jared around even though he’s known him every other weekend for a year. He tends to hide in the office or in his room.
“Jared isn’t exactly a kind child. He’s been spoiled and part of it is my fault. I wanted him to love me, and I didn’t discipline him very much for the first few years after the divorce because I didn’t see him that much, and… anyway, it was a mistake. And Wes spoils him because he wants to look better in Jared’s eyes.” Elizabeth paused. “Have you changed your mind about staying, yet?”
Paul smiled. “No, Beth. I’ll help you through the weekend. Besides I want to be here for David’s birthday. I need to find a time to buy him something though.”
And she had to somehow get out and get that keyboard out of layaway. “Maybe you can go while I take him to complete his test tomorrow.”
“We talked about that, Beth. I’ll take David.”
“He’s comfortable with that? It’s just that when he’s nervous he can’t think about the test very well. I have to sit where he can see me and where I can play interceptor to keep other people from getting too close to him. When Jay suggested taking him, his eyes begged me not to make him go. This placement test is important. He has them every quarter so we can adjust his studies.”
“He asked me to take him right before he went to bed. But thanks for letting me know what I’m supposed to do there. It sounds a little boring.”
“I usually take my laptop and work.”
“Can I take your machine then?”
“Yes. Make sure you take things to do that you don’t need the scanner for, or get all your scanning done tonight.”
“You know, Paul, I think it’s your turn to tell me a little about yourself. I’ve been talking for way over an hour.”
“I guess you’re right, Beth. You’ve told me a lot tonight. It is my turn. But I’m not very good at this. I haven’t talked about my marriage very much.”
Elizabeth felt a twinge of apprehension. He wasn’t married now, was he? She just nodded.
“Let’s see. I was born December 28th. I’m forty. By the way, you never told me how old you were or your early history.”
“Is this an avoidance technique?”
He smiled. “Probably. But I’m still interested.”
“Okay. I’m thirty five, and my birthday is June 27th. I have twin sisters, Robin and Renae, three years younger than me. My dad left when I was seven, and last I heard he is living happily with his second family in Pennsylvania somewhere. I can’t think of anything else important.”
“When did your mom remarry?”
“Year after I got married.”
“Okay. I guess it’s my turn. Unless I can think of something else to avoid it with.”
“You are a slave driver.”
Elizabeth looked away from him. She was being pushy. Hadn’t he done enough for her?
“I grew up in western New York State in a little town about thirty miles from Rochester. That’s where my dad still lives. I was an only child. My mom died when I was fifteen. You know, David asked about my mom, and I told him that. I hope he doesn’t think… I’m avoiding again.”
She nodded for him to continue.
“I was accepted into West Point at seventeen. At eighteen I probably did one of the stupidest things in my life. I got married. Not that marriage is a stupid thing. I know it’s sacred and holy now and not to be entered into without a lot of thought and prayer, but that’s what I did. I wasn’t a Christian then. Oh, you didn’t tell me that. When did you start following Christ?”
“I know, but you can tell me, or I’ll forget to ask later.”
“It was shortly after I married Wes and lost the baby that I started talking to a friend at work, who has since married and moved to Arizona. She invited me to church, and the rest is history, kind of, but we’re not into details here.”
He nodded. “Okay, where was I?”
“You got married at eighteen.”
“Yes. Clarissa. She became pregnant right away, and we had a son.” He reached back and took out his wallet. Opening it, he removed a picture and handed it to Elizabeth.
The photo was bent and worn on the edges as if he had carried it for many years. It was of a blond boy about a year or year and a half old. “He looks like you in the eyes. What is his name?” She handed the picture back to him.
“His name was Joel Zachariah.”
Elizabeth heard his voice catch. Oh no. “I’m sorry, Paul.”
Paul nodded to acknowledge her. “He was a little over a year old. I came home late, and the house was on fire. I was… I was too late. Clarissa left right after that. I heard that she married a guy I had considered my best friend, Dan Sutherland.” Paul replaced his wallet. “Anyway I’ve been in the military since I was seventeen, like I said, and that’s really it. Beth, I think I should tell you, not that you’re interested, but I don’t plan to ever get married again.” He studied her intently. “I don’t really expect you to understand.”
“Actually, I do. I haven’t exactly ruled out marriage myself, but well, Kathy says I’m way too picky. But… I don’t know.” She shook her head and then looked into his eyes.
“What about Jay?”
“Jay?” How did he get in this conversation?
“Aren’t you and he dating?”
Elizabeth laughed in disbelief. “No. I don’t think so. He’s never even asked me out.”
“Well, then I think he will.”
Elizabeth sobered quickly. “I hope not. I mean, I know he treated Cheryl real well, but… it’s just… I don’t know.”
“Widowed last June. They’ve been at Cornerstone almost as long as I have, so I’ve kind of known him a long time. Not well, until I needed his help with David’s schooling.”
“So what will you tell him when he asks?”
“I doubt he’ll ask. But if he does I guess I’ll just have to say no. We haven’t exactly been seeing eye to eye on some things. I mean, you heard him. He’s known David almost from the beginning, and he still doesn’t have a clue what he said wrong tonight. Of course maybe I’m overly sensitive, especially where David is concerned.”
Paul rubbed his mustache with one finger. “I think I am, too. David is special, and I agree he wouldn’t really be comfortable with Jay and Becky, although I wasn’t going to say anything if you really cared for him.”
“Don’t be afraid to tell me things, Paul. Just be prepared that I might not listen. I am more than a little aware that I have a major submission problem. That’s one reason I’ll probably never marry. If I don’t think I can follow the man in the most important areas, then I don’t even want to date him. What’s the use? For instance, if he tries to tell me not to do something I think that God wants me to then… Well, I know God also wants me to be submissive, but… I don’t know. I usually don’t think of that until afterward. But I have to do what’s right, don’t I? Dylan says I’m too strong willed.”
“I bet that will of yours has helped you with David. He says you’ll stand up to everyone for him. That means a lot to him.”
“He really does talk to you, doesn’t he? I’ve been praying that there would be a man he could talk to. There are some things he’ll have to work through that he’ll need a man’s help with. I was hoping he and Dylan would get along, but Dylan didn’t exactly show his best side when he first met David, and every time they start to get along, Dylan has to bring up some touchy subject.”
“You’ve mentioned Dylan a lot. He wouldn’t happen to be someone you’re dating.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Do you know how many people have asked me if we’re dating or married? Kathy must feel like the invisible woman. He’s been happily married to Kathy since before I met him. It’s just that I met Dylan about the time of my divorce, and he’s kind of taken it on to look out for me. For a while every time I went down there they were introducing me to new, eligible men. Our first real fight, though, was over David. He was worried that I’d be hurt. But David has never hurt me. He never would. No one really understands him, or they wouldn’t think that.”
“No. David would never hurt you, and he’d be crushed if he thought he did, even accidently. But you know that. That’s why you didn’t say anything earlier when he threw himself into your arms and hurt your incision.”
“Be careful, Paul,” she said quietly. “I don’t know if he’s awake.”
Paul glanced toward the curtain and then back to her. “He’s not,” he said, as if he had seen through the curtain. “Talking about sleep though….”
“Yes. I should let you get some since you have to get David to the school by nine, and you don’t get to sleep all day like I can.” Elizabeth got up and started toward the curtain. She turned back to him. “I put your razor and stuff into the hall bathroom in case you’re looking for it.”
Elizabeth took her medicine and went back to bed.
Friday, April 5th
The next morning she awoke when David brought her breakfast on a tray. “Thank you, David.” Elizabeth struggled to a sitting position, trying hard not to use her sore stomach muscles.
“Paul made it, but he thought I should bring it.”
“Well, I’ll have to thank him later then.”
“We’re leaving now, Mom. Will you be all right?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. Paul will watch out for things while you take your test, and I will work on getting better.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, David, my beloved son.”
After they left, Elizabeth forced herself to get dressed. This would be the only time she could get David’s present. She knew that her release papers from the hospital suggested that she shouldn’t drive for two weeks. But how strenuous would driving be?
She quickly drove to the music store and paid off her layaway. David seemed quite attached to the old acoustic guitar he had, so she had hesitated to buy him a new one. Dylan had suggested a keyboard which he would be able to record and combine different sounds since Elizabeth had told him that David sometimes just played whatever came into his head, and it sounded good to her.
By the time Elizabeth was on her way home from the music store she realized she had been a little hasty in disregarding the doctor’s orders. It took all her will to concentrate on the road. At home she decided she better focus on getting herself in the house.
Elizabeth took her medicine and fell into bed for a couple hours. When she got up, she went into the kitchen and found that Paul had left her a sandwich in the refrigerator. That man thought of everything.
She went into the office and picked up the pages of Saul Israel’s book which she had started reading and red penning the day before. It was a longer manuscript than the books she had worked on in the past, but she found that she was enjoying it as much for the insight into Paul’s past as for the humorous accounts in the journal entries of his ancestors. Saul had done quite a good job of narration interspersed with journal quotes.
Several times Elizabeth stopped and looked through the pictures to find the person she was reading about. All the Israel men had a strong resemblance. It didn’t look like any of them took after their mothers at all except in hair color, but they had the same streaking.
Saul also had pictures of the women and almost everyone else mentioned. She hadn’t sorted out all the pictures yet, but was doing so as she read along. She sorted out the women between sisters and wives. Even the sisters resembled their father. It was a good thing the features transferred well. The wives were a mixed bag. Some were ordinary, and some were very pretty.
Elizabeth found a picture of an extra-ordinarily beautiful blonde that was taken in color and didn’t seem that old. Paul’s mom? She turned the picture over to read Saul’s comment. “Clarissa Voss. Zach Israel’s wife.” She quickly turned it back over to study the woman. Wow. She could see why he fell for her. If that was the kind of woman he went for, then it was pretty obvious why he made it clear to her that he would never remarry. She definitely was not in that league. She wasn’t sure why it disappointed her after they had already discussed it the night before.
Elizabeth flipped through the pictures and found another color photograph of a woman. This one was pretty, but definitely not like Clarissa. She had long brown hair and blue eyes, and an Israel man had his arm around her. She turned it over. “Me, Saul, with my beloved wife, Ruth Ann” This was Paul’s mom and dad. They looked very happy together. Of course most people did for the camera. She had the urge to skip in her reading to the part about Saul and Zach, but she forced herself to keep reading where she was.
A few minutes later Elizabeth looked through the pictures again. She found a picture of Joel and the one of another young Israel man. She flipped it over. “Zachariah Paul Israel, senior picture.” She looked at the front again. Something wasn’t right. The hair was right. The eyes were right, but something about the lower face seemed different. Of course he was older now and had a mustache. She set it aside. She found another one from when he’d first joined the military. She smiled at the crew cut. Still his mouth looked different. She saw his wedding picture, and then she found a current picture of him in full uniform. Now this was Paul. He wore that uniform well.
She gave into the temptation to flip to the end of the book, but was disappointed. Saul had just summarized Zach’s life in a few paragraphs which mostly focused on his military accomplishments. There were no journal quotes, no insight into his character, and nothing else about Joel or Clarissa other than what Paul had said last night. The style was even different. Of course, Paul said he typed it. Perhaps he’d changed that.
Elizabeth heard the back door open. Soon they were in the living room. David told her in detail about the test. She smiled at Paul as she listened.
“Did you miss us, Mom? You found the sandwich, didn’t you? You didn’t need us, did you?”
“I was fine. Yes, the sandwich was good. I appreciated it. And, of course, I missed you. I got a lot of reading done though.” She turned to Paul. “Your father is quite a good writer. These pictures are interesting, too.” She wondered if she should mention it. “I found some pictures of you.”
“Did you? I didn’t have a chance to look through them. Nothing embarrassing I hope.” Elizabeth handed him the stack of pictures that had to do with his life.
Paul took them. He looked at the top one of him in uniform. He set it down on the table. “I suppose he considers this a necessary part of history,” he said, tossing the wedding picture on top of the other one. He didn’t say anything about the other two. “I’d like to get a copy of this one,” he said of Joel’s picture. “Mom and Dad. I’d like this one, too. Of course they’ll all be in the book, won’t they?” The last one he looked at only a moment and tossed it down with the rest. “Isn’t this picture redundant since you have the wedding picture?”
“Ask your Dad.” Elizabeth noticed David looking at the pictures lying on the table. “I’m sure Paul doesn’t mind if you look at them, David.”
David looked at Paul, and he nodded before David picked them up. He turned each one and read the description, then he studied them. “You’re married?”
“Your little boy? Where is he?”
“He died, David, not long after that picture was taken.”
“Do you miss him?”
“It was a long time ago, but yes I do.”
David accepted that and went on to the other pictures. He frowned and went back over them, studying them. “You look different. Your chin and nose.”
“Figured you’d notice that. I was injured once and had to have reconstructive plastic surgery.”
“Did it hurt?”
Paul gave a small laugh. “Certainly one of the most painful physical experiences I’ve ever had.”
“It’s not in the book, Paul.” You didn’t say anything last night, and that doesn’t seem like a minor detail.
“I know. I removed it.”
“Does he know you edited his book?”
“I told him. He accepted my reasons. It’s not an experience I care to remember. Come on, David. Let’s start dinner.” Paul turned and walked out of the room.
“Mom? Are you all right?” David said, coming to her.
“Yes, David. I guess I’m just a little overly sensitive. Don’t worry. I… Why don’t you go help Paul? I… I’ve got to put these pictures away.”
“I love you.” He kissed her forehead, and then left.
Elizabeth gathered the pictures together. Why did she feel so dragged out and depressed. It wasn’t like Paul had to tell her anything. He must have thought she was Ms. Motor Mouth with all the things she told him last night. She put the pictures back in the bag and set them on the table. Looking up, she saw that Paul was watching her.
He came and squatted next to her chair so that he was almost face to face with her. “I’m sorry, Beth. I didn’t mean to be so curt. I know I hurt your feelings.”
“No. I’m okay.”
“Beth, I have friends, but I haven’t had any close friends in a very long time. I’ve never talked about these things with anyone but my father. I’m hoping we’ll be very good friends, especially since… since I almost feel like David has somehow become my son, also. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to talk to you or him about the things I’ve kept inside.”
A wariness crept over her when Paul mentioned that David would be his son. “Don’t take my son from me, Paul. Please don’t take my son away.” Oh no. That sounded so paranoid. Why had she said it? She turned away from him.
Paul’s closed hand gently touched her chin and guided her face back toward him. He looked into her eyes. “Beth, I know what it’s like to lose a child. I would never do that to you. I’m not Wes. David is not Jared. It would be cruel to separate you and David for both of you. Please trust me, Beth. I would never do it. I do wish David lived closer to me. You, too. But I can and will make the effort to come to you and him.”
“I’m sorry, Paul. I don’t know why I’m so emotional right now.”
“You probably need some more rest. By the looks of that marked up manuscript you’ve been working all day.”
“Not all day.”
“Why don’t you rest in your room while we finish dinner?”
“You’re not going to carry me again, are you?” she asked, trying to smile.
Paul returned her smile. He stood and quickly picked her up. “I’m not?” he asked.
Elizabeth leaned her head against his shoulder. She felt completely safe. She knew he would never drop her. She shouldn’t be enjoying this. She should protest. She should be… sleeping. She was so tired. He laid her gently into her bed, arranged her covers, and left.
A short time later David brought her dinner. He sat down on the edge of the bed, watching her eat. “Mom?”
“I’ll never leave you for Paul. Paul isn’t my father.”
“Honey, it’s all right for you to think of Paul as a father if you want.”
“I don’t want you to be hurt.”
“Oh, David, you don’t understand. I want what’s best for you. God originally planned that each child should have a mother and a father, and it’s sin that makes it so that we don’t. God gave you me to be your mom. Maybe he’s given you Paul to be your dad.”
“But I don’t want to go live with him.”
“And I don’t want you to go. Paul said he’ll come to visit you. And you can write letters, E-mail or regular mail, and you can call him on the phone. David, don’t be afraid to love Paul.” She was the one who had to be careful about that.
“I… I like him. He’s good to me. He’s almost as good as you.” He paused as if he had said too much. “No one’s as good as you, Mom. I love you so much.”
Elizabeth could tell that he wanted to be held but the dinner tray made him stay where he was. She took his hand and squeezed it. “I love you so much, also, David. No one can change that. Not even Paul.”
David held her hand, and Elizabeth waited, knowing something else was bothering him. “Mom, will Paul love Jared, too.”
She wished she understood what was going on behind that question. “I don’t know, David.”
“He probably will.” David stood and walked from the room. “Paul?” she heard him say from the hall.
“I wondered if you were going to come eat your dinner.” She heard Paul’s retreating voice and wondered how much he heard.
Elizabeth made sure that she was up and waiting in the living room at seven. She had opened the curtains to the office and tied them back so she could watch Paul work as she rested on the couch. When she heard them on the porch she went to the door. “Hello, Jared.”
“Hi, Mother.” He whipped past her to take his suitcase to his room.
“How are you doing, Elizabeth? You didn’t catch that flu David was coming down with last time I was here?” Rob asked.
Elizabeth started to laugh and then grabbed her side. “I got it all right and more. Come in and sit down if you have time.”
Rob sat in the chair. “Wasn’t this in the office?” He glanced through the curtain. “You have company?”
Paul came from the office. “Paul Israel,” he said, holding out his hand.
Rob took it and introduced himself. “Well, I won’t stay long. I just wondered if David wanted to go with me to fix up one of my apartments tomorrow.”
“Grandpa!” Jared said, coming back into the living room. “You don’t want David. You’re my grandpa, not his. I’ll help you.”
“You’re spending tomorrow with your mother.”
“I want to help you instead. It’s boring here.”
“I’m sorry, Jared. David already knows what to do, and this will give you some time alone with your mom.”
Elizabeth put a hand up to her forehead. She was so hot. She leaned against the side of the couch. She caught Paul watching her and took her hand from her head, putting it down by her side.
“Actually, I think Beth might need the rest tomorrow afternoon,” Paul said. “She must have forgotten to call you from the hospital, but she just came home yesterday.”
Paul! Of course she didn’t know how she’d be able to keep up with that kid all day.
Rob looked at Elizabeth in surprise. “What happened?”
“It was just my appendix.”
“It ruptured; she’s still fighting a fever.” Paul sat next to her.
Rob looked from Paul to Elizabeth. “You should have called.”
“I tried, but you were out. I didn’t want to leave a message.”
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth. Was David alone here?”
“No. Paul was with him. You remember. He’s the one who wrote those articles that I kept getting off the computer for you, and we met him in Florida.”
Rob looked back at Paul. “I’m sorry. I knew the name was familiar, but I kept thinking that I must have heard it somewhere else. I’ve learned a lot from your articles. Elizabeth is always introducing me to new books and new theologians, but this is the first time it’s been in person.”
“I’ve never considered myself a theologian. I’m not even much of a writer. I’ve been thinking about asking Beth to edit all my articles before they’re posted. But as far as David and Jared go, maybe I could bring the boys over tomorrow afternoon, and we could help you out for three or four hours to let Beth rest.”
Rob looked back at Elizabeth. “Is that all right with you, Elizabeth? I don’t want to take away any of your time with Jared.”
“That sounds good. Paul’s right. I’m still not feeling too well.”
“How’s one, then?” Rob asked Paul.
“That’s fine. Does David know where the place is?”
“Yes. Where is he? I’ll tell him which one it is.”
“You’ve been out with David before?” Jared asked in alarm. “But Grandpa you can’t love him. He doesn’t even belong. Daddy says….”
“That’s enough Jared. I already know what your father says, and I don’t need to hear it again. If you want to come with us, you’ll have to behave and follow orders.”
“But I don’t want David to come.”
“I said enough.”
Jared closed his mouth and went to sit next to Elizabeth.
Paul knocked on David’s door. “Can you come out here a minute, David?”
David came out and glanced around the room. Rob told him which apartment they would be at tomorrow. “You need to show Paul how to get there.”
David nodded and then went back into his room. Rob watched him go and shook his head. Then he focused on Jared. “Your mom has been very sick. I want you to help her out and behave. If I hear you’ve been misbehaving, you will be punished. I’ll see you later, Jared, Elizabeth, and Paul.” He left.
“Who are you?” Jared asked. “Are you Mother’s boyfriend?”
“I’m her friend.”
Jared studied him. “My dad owns a construction company. He builds lots of things.”
“He doesn’t own it quite yet, Jared. Your grandfather hasn’t retired.”
Jared ignored her. “What do you do?” he asked Paul.
“I’m in the Army.”
“Really?” Jared looked at Elizabeth for confirmation. She nodded. “Have you been in any wars?”
“The Gulf war. And I’ve been in the middle of a few civil wars and military police actions.”
“Wow. Do you drive a tank?”
“No. My job is a little more covert; I’m not as visible. I usually go in before the tanks with a small group of men.”
Elizabeth listened to them talk and found out a lot about Paul’s work from a seven and a half year old’s perspective. David stayed in his room, and occasionally Paul would glance toward his door and then look at Elizabeth with a silent question. She wanted to respond, but knew she couldn’t in front of Jared. When David did this she had long ago decided that she couldn’t be two places at once, and she also had a responsibility to Jared. She always made sure David ate and that Jared went to bed at nine so she would have time to talk to David before he went to sleep, usually an hour later. She almost wished Paul would ignore Jared and go to David, but then that wouldn’t be fair to Jared. Besides it wasn’t like this is something new. She had warned Paul that David did this.
At a little to nine Elizabeth said, “It’s almost time for bed, Jared. You two better finish up your conversation, and then I’ll tuck you into bed.” When she finished with Jared she went to David’s room.
Paul was already there, sitting on the edge of the bed. David sat in the middle of the bed with his arms around his knees, staring straight ahead. “Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong, David?”
“Nothing is wrong,” David said in a flat voice.
Paul placed his hand on David’s shoulder.
David twisted away. “Don’t touch me.” He looked angrily at Paul. Then fear took over, and he started trembling. “I’m sorry.”
Elizabeth started toward him, but stopped when Paul spoke. “No. I’m sorry, David. I didn’t realize it would bother you.”
David saw her. He quickly stood up on the bed and jumped past Paul off the bed, going into her arms. “Mommy.”
Paul looked at Elizabeth in surprise.
Elizabeth held David. “I’m tired, David, but I miss our night time reading.”
David released her so he could look at her face. “So do I.” He looked back at Paul nervously.
“David, you know Paul is not going to hurt you, just because you told him not to touch you.”
David looked at Paul.
“I’m not going to hurt you, David,” Paul said evenly.
“Why don’t you get ready for bed, beloved son, and we can read before I turn in.”
David nodded and took his pajamas into the bathroom to change.
“I don’t understand it, Beth,” Paul said when David left. “What happened?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t know, but believe me I know how you feel.” She watched the bathroom door across the hall as she spoke. “When he first came, one day he’d be crying in my arms, and the next he would be hiding under the bed in fear. It’s hard for him to trust. Any little thing could make him doubt your love. Sometimes I think it could be some hidden memory that surfaces. But I can almost guarantee that the more he knows you, the easier it will be, and the less he will run from you.”
“Then I must be very patient.”
“Yes. And I think I must sit down. I usually sit where you’re at when we read.”
Paul quickly stood. David came out of the bathroom and climbed into bed. Paul watched as Elizabeth covered him. Then they opened a Bible and took turns reading. Elizabeth and David prayed. Then she kissed his forehead. “I love you, David Timothy. Good night.” She got up and went out of the room, turning off the light, and softly closing the door.
Paul stood in the hall with her. “You remind me of my mother, Beth.” He studied her in the dim light from the living room. “How are you feeling?”
“Pretty tired. Oh Paul. I need a favor.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, another one.” She went past him to the living room and then whispered, “I’ve got David’s present in my car. I was hoping you could bring it in for me tonight or tomorrow night. I just couldn’t do it this morning.”
“You didn’t go out this morning?”
“I know it was stupid. I didn’t realize how weak I was. I just wanted to get his present.”
“You are strong-willed, aren’t you?”
“Either that or stupid. I haven’t decided which.”
Paul laughed. “Well, at least I don’t need to yell at you. It sounds like you’ve learned your lesson. But promise me you’ll ask for help next time.”
“Well, we still need to get David’s cake and ice cream.”
“And I need to have time to buy him something, which means I’ll have to go tomorrow morning. Do you think you can handle the boys on your own, or should I take Jared with me?”
“I should be okay for a few hours.”
“Then give me your keys. I’ll get the bag from your car.”
Elizabeth got the key from her purse. He would figure out it wasn’t a bag when he got out there.
Paul came back in with the keyboard. “Beth?”
“In my closet.” She followed him back to her room. “I don’t know how I’m going to wrap it, but I’ll think of something.”
“You didn’t carry this to your car, did you?”
“I’m not quite that stupid.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Paul looked at her. Then he smiled. “You and David are quite a pair. Get some sleep. You’ll need it for tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks, Paul, for everything you’re doing.”
“Any time, Beth. Don’t be afraid to ask for help ever.” Paul left her alone.
Elizabeth went to bed and slept straight through until morning when David brought her breakfast again.
Go to Chapter 26
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.