Julie stood on the beach, looking out over Lake Michigan. The wind blew over the water, causing the waves to lap against the shore in a steady rhythm. Her hair tangled around her face, and she pushed it back once again before wrapping her arms across her waist to fight the chill. She turned back the way she had come, trudging through the sand. She’d put it off long enough. She should call home. No use waiting until Monday.
Julie had managed to get Nicole on the phone the night before. It was as she had suspected. Nicole had returned her calls; Julie just wasn’t told. Julie had poured out her woes, and Nicole had listened.
“Have you talked to Nat?”
“I tried calling Pastor, but . . . well, I guess he couldn’t get back to me either.”
“Do you want me to talk to him?”
“Thomas said you were seeing him.”
“Well, don’t believe everything you hear,” Nicole said sharply.
“I’m sorry. I should know better.”
“No. I’m sorry. Truth is . . . well, I wish I were. It’s really stupid. I know he’s just being nice to us, and I don’t want to ruin things because of these dumb feelings.”
“No. Don’t feel sorry for me. He’s been counseling me with Rachel. She’s going through a rebellious stage.”
“But she’s only seven.”
“I know. Oh, Julie, I’m so worried. If I could only spend more time with her. If only I didn’t have to work. Nat’s arranged for someone to sponsor her – pay for her tuition, so I’ve been able to switch to the church school, but . . . I’m sorry.”
“No. I am. I wish we had more time.”
“So do I. I have no one to talk to about these dumb feelings because I don’t want to cause trouble for him. I haven’t felt like this since high school. I’m too old for this.”
“No, you’re not. You’re the same age as me, and I’m all giddy for a fish breeder. You’ve seen him. Tell me the truth. Do you think Daddy would approve?”
“Your Dad?” Nicole hesitated. “I’ve never met Ken.”
“What are you not saying?”
“Yes, you are. You think my dad wouldn’t like him.”
“Julie, your dad never liked any of your boyfriends. It has nothing to do with them. He just wanted you to wait, I assumed.”
“But he wouldn’t want me to stay single, would he?”
“No, of course not. If you love Ken, and he’s a committed Christian then don’t worry about it. Invite me to the wedding.”
“Of course. You’ll be my maid of honor,” Julie had said, not letting Nicole realize how her words had hurt. Was she right? Would her dad not approve of anyone? Was it just her dad? Was her mom simply carrying on his job, except Thomas had swayed her? Would Dad have liked Thomas? Julie had her bad dreams again. It seemed she could only get one good night’s sleep before they returned the next day.
Julie left the beach and went up to the hotel and to her room. She took a few deep breaths before pressing in the number. Katie answered on the second ring. “Hi, Mom.”
“Julie! Where are you? We’re all so worried.”
“I’m fine, Mom. I’m just taking a vacation like I said.”
“No single place. Somewhere different every day.”
“Julie, you need to come home. Your uncle wants some changes made.”
“I know. I talked to Grandma Wednesday. Mom, I’ve been thinking a lot about things.”
“Come home, and we can talk.”
“No, Mom. I can’t.” She took a deep breath. “I can’t work with Thomas Randall.”
“Julie, don’t be silly.”
“Mom, listen. I’m serious. I will not work any longer in the same firm as Thomas Randall.”
“Julie, that ludicrous. Come home. We’ll get a good doctor for your nerves.”
“Mother, stop!” Julie shouted, standing as she did. “You’re doing it again. I will not work with him. You fire him or I’m leaving. End of discussion.”
“Now, Julie, you’re over reacting . . . .”
Julie hung up the phone, released her pent up emotions, and then went back down to the beach to watch the waves and listen to the lonely cry of the seagulls. Two hours later, she decided to drive further up the shoreline. Perhaps she’d find a nice church in Traverse City to attend in the morning.
Evan and Ken went into the waiting room of the medium security prison. It was similar to the prison in Ionia, but brighter light lit the room. Banged up lockers stood on two sides, and the rules were posted near the bathroom. People stood or sat in the seats, talking or watching the television, waiting for their visit to be called.
“Man, I hate this place,” Evan said. “I can’t believe I’m here.” He followed Ken to the counter where they waited in line. It was ten minutes before they could state who they wished to see, show their identification, and state their relationship to the inmate. They were given a key to a locker and told to lock up everything. They could only take in the key and up to ten dollars in silver coins for the vending machines. Ken usually picked up a roll of quarters at the bank when he planned to visit Evan, and he had done so that morning while he was out. He gave half to Evan. They put everything else in the locker. Then they waited . . . and waited. “Did you have to wait this long to see me?”
Ken shrugged. “Sometimes.”
Evan glanced around nervously. “I hate this place.”
“You said that.”
“I can’t believe I’m going to let them take me behind those doors. At least it’s just a shake down and not a strip search.”
“No. Just relax, will you. You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”
Evan’s jaw clenched for a moment; then he shook his head. “We’ve come this far.” Evan glanced around again, and then back at Ken. “Man, your face still looks awful.”
“Thanks. We could go home and wait a few weeks until the bruises go away.”
“At least there’s no competition. I’m the better looking son.”
“Yeah. You win the beauty contest. Do you think Dad has a pony tail?”
“You wish you had one?”
“Not really.” Ken glanced at his watch. He hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer. Not that it mattered. If things went well, they’d stay until visiting hours ended. If not . . . . Ken tried not to think about that.
“Wright!” the guard called.
Ken and Evan met the guard and were led between the glass doors. First Ken had the dye painted on his hand. Then he removed his coins and the key, setting them on the counter. He walked through the metal detector and then waited while the guard patted him down. Then he put his coins back in his pocket and waited for Evan to complete the procedure.
“I hate this place,” Evan mumbled.
“You said that.”
“I haven’t had anyone say they really love it here,” the guard said. “You’re clean.”
They were led to the final glass door. Ken saw him, standing just inside the visiting room. “It’s him.” They stood there for several seconds after the guard left them.
Their father shook his head. “I can’t believe it. It really is you two. Come, let’s get a seat.”
Ken wondered if Evan felt it. A little let down. Had he really expected a hug? They followed him to a four chair grouping against the opposite wall. Bill Wright looked them over again after they sat. “Wow, you’ve grown. Especially you, Evan.”
“That happens in thirteen years. Have you been here all that time?”
“No. But what about you two. What have you been doing?”
“Well, why didn’t you find us?” Evan asked. “We lived in that same junky house for five years after you left.”
“I was in seven.”
“And you came back here?”
“I didn’t exactly have a choice. What are you, nineteen now?”
“That old? You lose track of time in here.”
“Really? I kept real good track of time. Marked every day,” Evan said.
“So, Ken, you must be twenty six or seven by now then.”
“I hope the guy that hit you is lying in the hospital somewhere.”
“I just sold part of the insurrection this morning.” At the blank look, he realized he needed to explain. “My bettas fell on me. Two hundred plus canning jars. I breed fish.”
“Fish? What do you want fish for? They’re not even good eating.”
“Ken owns a pet shop in Flint,” Evan said. “He breeds fish to sell.”
“Any money in that?”
“So how’d you get the store?”
“I’m investing with someone else.”
“So you got money.”
“Not after the closing.”
“You mean you haven’t bought it yet. Then why do it? Sounds like a waste. What do you do, Evan?”
“I make tacos and clean toilets.” The edge in Evan’s voice was sharper.
Bill Wright shook his head. “You two are just having fun with your old man. So how’s your mom?”
“Happily remarried,” Evan said. Ken thought he’d snap any minute. He hoped he remembered where he was.
“Yeah, she left me when I was down. Wouldn’t take my phone calls, nothing. All her fault anyway, getting pregnant like that.”
Ken wasn’t sure he really wanted to know all this. Maybe his mother was right. They should have let things be.
“Neither of you are married, are you?”
“Don’t. Best advice I can give you. She’ll tie you down, expect you to give her money, and keep having kids.”
“Oh, I guess that was the worst thing that ever happened to you, huh? Guess I won’t bother you again,” Evan stood and went to the door.
“He always had a temper. Let me have your phone number. I’ll call you.”
Ken watched as the guard let Evan leave. “I’ve got to go.”
“Still running after him, huh? Come see me again. And don’t buy that pet store. I know some people who can get you a real deal on some property up north.”
“Sorry. Not interested. My fiancée and I really want the pet store. I guess I’m going to go home, get married, give my wife money, and hope she has kids someday. Of course, maybe I’ll look back when I’m your age and wish I’d done what you did, but I doubt it.” Ken left him before he let himself speak anymore.
Evan wasn’t in the waiting room. Ken retrieved their things from the locker, returned the key, and got their identification. He found Evan leaning against the car. Ken handed him his wallet. Evan stuffed it in his pocket. His face was wet.
“Hey,” Ken said softly. “We don’t need him.” He remembered how unexpected Jim’s hug had been and how it made him feel. Ken put his arm on Evan’s shoulder and turned him until he could hug him.
Evan let the hug last for almost thirty seconds before he pulled away. “Come on. We’re in the middle of a parking lot. People are gonna think we’re queer or something.”
“You know something? I don’t care. You mean more to me than what they say.”
Evan shook his head, rubbing the back of his arm against his eyes. “Man, Ken, stop talking, okay? Is this what they teach you in that church? How to be a sentimental idiot?” He got into the car.
Ken went to the driver’s side and started home. It was a long, silent drive. “I’m sorry,” Evan said, as they neared Flint. “We shouldn’t have gone.”
“We had to know.”
“Are you going to go see him again?”
“Only if you want to. He asked for my phone number, and he wanted to help me invest my money. I didn’t give him the number. I don’t know. Do we have any obligation, or did he break that long ago?”
“Obligation? To him? You’re kidding? How can you possibly think we have any obligation to him?”
“It’s just that ‘honor your mother and father’ verse. I guess I need to talk to Jim again.”
“I can’t believe you. Man, Ken, you’re as stupid as they come. Get a clue, he never wanted us. Never!”
“Yeah. I got a different dad anyway,” Ken said, thinking of Jim.
“You mean God, right? Man, sometimes I wish I could believe all that stuff about Him loving me. That’s as crazy as you loving me after I nearly killed you.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Ken said softly. “But it’s true. You know it, too. You learned it all with me. If God didn’t love us, we’d be just like Dad back there. But we’re not.”
“Neither are you.”
Evan’s jaw tightened, and his eyes filled again.
Ken concentrated on the road. Evan went to his room when they arrived home, and he didn’t come out until it was time for him to go to work.
Julie had a hard time sleeping. She was not at all sure she was doing the right thing in confronting her mother and threatening to switch jobs, but she didn’t know how she’d be able to stand it there with Thomas, especially knowing her mother trusted him more than her.
Julie chose a small church on the outskirts of Traverse City to attend that morning. The sermon was about forgiveness, and the pastor gave some advice about how to do that. Julie wasn’t sure how it applied to her. It didn’t seem she could use any of it to forgive Thomas. He had torn apart her family and her life, and he was still doing it.
Julie waited until most of the church cleared out and then greeted the elderly pastor and his wife at the back of the church. “Does God want us to forgive even the wolves that tear apart his flock?” Julie asked as she shook his hand.
“That is a hard one, isn’t it, young lady. There is a point where you must be firm. Let’s go sit in those chairs.” He walked with his wife to the couch and chair in the lobby. “By the way, I’m Frank Geddes and this is my wife, Maggie.”
“I’m Julie Hansen. I really don’t mean to bother you.”
“Nonsense,” Frank said, motioning her to be seated in the chair, as he and Maggie took the couch. “I rarely get to expound outside the pulpit.”
Maggie smiled. “Yes, you’re giving him a chance to share what he’s learned. It’s not possible to say everything in forty-five minutes. You’re doing him a favor.”
“It helps me clarify the points in my own mind,” he said, and Julie suspected he was just saying all that to make her more comfortable. “Now wolves… you’re talking about the wolves that Paul warned would come into the flock causing dissension.”
“Is this a real person or hypothetical?”
“Real. Too real.” Julie shivered without realizing it. “He just lies all the time! And they’re mean, cruel things, but he says them so . . . so straight, and . . . .”
“I’m assuming this is in your home church.”
“And does your pastor know?”
“He’s banned him from communion.”
“Then he is dealing with the problem, but you’ve been injured by the slander.”
“My mom is going to leave the church! I . . . oh, there’s too much. I just can’t forgive him.” Julie then began telling them everything. Maggie came beside her and placed her arm across her shoulder as she finished up.
“Julie, he doesn’t want to be forgiven. It doesn’t sound as if he’s repentant. Your fiancé and grandmother are right. You can’t continue there. It’s not good for you.”
“And you never know,” Maggie said. “Your stand may help your mother. It may take a while, but eventually she’ll see you made the right decision and this man is wrong. You can’t give in to wrong.”
“But how can I forgive?”
“By praying that God will change his heart someday also. But forgiving doesn’t mean you let him keep hurting you in the meantime.”
“But my mother . . . .”
“Will believe him more if you give in. You must stand firm.” They both prayed with her. Julie took them out to dinner, and then she left.
She stopped in Mackinaw City and spent the next day walking around, even though most of the shops in the tourist section were closed until Memorial Day.
Evan went to church with him again, and Ken prayed that God was working in Evan’s heart and his interest was sincere. They sat near Jim. Katie Hansen and Thomas were not at the church. Mrs. Hansen sat with another family. Ken suspected it was the uncle that Julie had mentioned.
Jim invited Ken and Evan over to his house afterward. “My wife has a pot of her chili on, so there’s plenty.”
“Yeah, Evan. You’ve got to taste this chili. Just make sure you have plenty to drink.”
The visit seemed to go well. Evan was quiet at first. Jim had four children, and they all went into the large family room in the basement. The oldest boy, Jimmy, talked Evan into playing video games with him. Then Ken and Evan had a match. They also played ping pong and board games. By the end of the day, Evan had relaxed and was joking with the family. Ken noticed he had to catch himself a few times when he accidentally used phrases or words he’d become accustomed to in prison, but the others pretended not to notice, and there were no incriminations or scenes.
“Maybe you didn’t get those bruises for nothing,” Jim said quietly, when he and Ken were leaning against the wall watching a ping pong match across the room. “How’s it been going?”
“We found Dad.”
“Really? Where is he?”
Evan came to them. “You’re good,” he told Jimmy. “I need a break, and then we’ll rematch.”
“He’s in prison,” Ken said, answering Jim’s question.
“Ken,” Evan protested quietly.
Ken ignored him. “Yeah, he told me – us to never get married. He wants to tell me about a great piece of property up north,” Ken shrugged. “And he wanted to call. I didn’t leave my number. I was kind of . . . disappointed, I guess. I told him I was getting married, I’d give my wife money, and I hope she has kids because those were the reasons he used not to get married.”
Jim shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ken.”
“You really said that after I left?” Evan asked, leaning against the wall.
“I was kind of upset.”
“Yeah, but you’re not going to give Julie money. Doesn’t she make more than you?”
“She won’t when she has children to take care of. It’s my job to take care of my whole family.”
“But she can work.”
“Evan,” Jim said. “I have four kids. My wife has no time to work outside the home unless I hire someone else to watch my kids. Frankly I don’t want anyone else raising my kids. I married the woman I wanted for that job. Do you think I make this house the home it is? The money I bring home is for her to use to make this home.”
Evan still seemed confused, but he let it drop, probably to avoid the lectures. Ken suspected he just needed time to adjust to all the new ideas which were really old ideas that he’d never experienced. Watching out for number one had always been the rule. Self-sacrifice and working together for the good of the entire family was foreign to his world.
When it was time to leave, Jim told Evan, “Feel free to come again, Evan. I’m open whenever you want to talk.”
“Yeah, right. See ya.” In the car, Evan said, “Is he serious?”
“Jim is serious. He’s willing to be your friend. He won’t always tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. He’s like a father to me. Way more than Dad ever was. Give him a chance, Evan, you know . . . .”
“Maybe.” Evan glanced at Ken. “Course I’ve got you for all that.” Evan shook his head. “Man, now you got me doing it. You and your sappy ideas. It won’t be long before I’m begging to hold your baby, or something stupid like that.”
Ken laughed. “Uncle Evan. Think you can handle it?”
“You don’t play fair, you know. You make me an uncle, and I’m going to have to make sure I don’t disappoint the kid by being a jerk.”
“Then I hope Julie gets pregnant right away if it’ll whip you into shape,” Ken teased. “A seven pound, crying, slave driver. I’ll have to see what she thinks.”
Julie called not long after they arrived home. She seemed to be in fairly good spirits and laughed when Ken told her about Evan and his comments about a baby. “What do you think about kids?” he asked.
“Well, I want at least two. This only child stuff is rotten. Even though you and Evan don’t always get along, you’re still glad for him, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right. Five years is a little too far apart for playmates, though.”
“I guess we’ll just have to see what God gives us. Oh, Ken. I love you so much. This is so fun. We’ll run the pet store together, and I’m thinking even if my mom fires Thomas I still might decide to work there in the back. If only we could part on good terms. Perhaps she’d even let me keep my clients, or . . . I know I have too much time to think.”
“No. I agree with you. I can’t wait to see you. When are we getting married? Thursday after the closing? Or do you want to make it before.”
Julie laughed. “Oh, Ken, that would be wonderful if it were possible. Why don’t you see if we can make an appointment to talk to Pastor Nat about this marriage thing?”
“With pleasure. And you’re available whenever he is?”
“Yes. Was Paul Israel back yet?”
“I didn’t see him in church.”
“Nothing about David?”
“No. Do you know Paul’s son well?”
“Well, he’s been going to our church since Elizabeth took him in. I haven’t really spoken more than two words to him though. He’s kind of shy.”
“But handsome and into music.”
Julie laughed. “Now, Ken. Don’t be jealous of an eighteen year old, or is he nineteen now?”
Ken laughed in relief. “Is he that young? You’re right. I never realized I was such a jealous man. I guess Evan’s not the only one who has to work on jealousy.”
“I love you, Ken.
Ken sobered then and told her about his visit with his father. She was sympathetic, but they had to part too soon, as Evan had to go to work. “You didn’t get any sleep,” Ken realized as he drove him in.
“Hey, one of the hazards of working third shift. That’s why they pay me that big fifteen cents an hour more than first.”
Ken smiled. “You’re doing good, Evan.” Ken left him, and went home to bed. He was exhausted, his head ached slightly, but he rested with the knowledge that things seemed to be getting better.
Go to Chapter 19
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.