The afternoon had gone well. Grandmother seemed to catch her enthusiasm at the store as Julie showed her around. Ken and Evan arranged the desk and computer, and Evan was very subdued compared to the times he had been harassing her for a date. He worked with Ken, as they both tried to make Julie’s new workplace as comfortable as possible. Then Ken went to study the records at the desk that had been there.
“Anything else I can do?” Evan asked Ken.
Ken looked around and then back at Evan. “I have a ton of stuff I’d like to do, but don’t worry about it.”
“Hey, I’m here. I’ll help. I don’t have anything better to do.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna screw up.”
Ken rose from the desk and went to him. “It’s not that. I just don’t think I can pay you.”
“Man, Ken. You’re an idiot. I’ve only been living at your place for free and eating your food, and you think you got to give me more? Is this another of those church things or something?”
Ken laughed. “Okay. You want to work, let’s go see what we can do. I’ve got to explore every inch of this place myself and become familiar with every product and pet. I think we have a new baby boa. Do you want to set up a display?” Ken led Evan away from them and into another room.
Julie smiled over at her grandmother. “Keep praying for that one, Grandma. I think God has hooked him and has started reeling him in.”
“You’re happy here, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I think I will be. I just have to find work.” Julie watched the door that Ken had left through. “I know he wants to learn everything here and get everything in order, but he set it all aside just to help me get set up.” Julie turned to her grandmother. “He knew I had to move on to give me something to focus on. Know what I mean? He put me first. I guess I’m not explaining it well.”
“Yes, you are. He seems like a good man, Julie.”
“He is. Daddy would approve, wouldn’t he?”
Grandma hesitated. “I can’t really speak for your father.”
“Why wouldn’t he like him? He wouldn’t believe Thomas’ lies. He wouldn’t.”
“No. He’d have seen right through Thomas and probably never hired him in the first place. I guess he’d approve if it weren’t for that little dream of his.”
“It was like he had two children, Julie. You and his business. He always, from the time you were two, planned for you to take over for him. He knew your mother wasn’t good at decision-making or management.”
“Didn’t he want me to marry anyone?” Julie asked in despair.
“Of course he did. Another accountant with good management skills. Oh, don’t worry, Julie. If he could have seen how happy you are with Ken, he’d have given that up.”
Julie wasn’t sure she believed her. Mom just thought Thomas was who Dad would have chosen. But Julie was the one who had to choose. Not her mother or her father. “I love Ken. I guess Daddy would have disowned me also.”
“Oh, Julie, she hasn’t . . . .”
“Yeah, well she let Thomas keep my books and my disks, and she never said a word the whole time he was saying I was a thief and needed to be committed. She wouldn’t have let him do that if she loved me.”
Grandmother stood and put her arms on Julie’s shoulders. “I’m sure she loves you, Julie. She’s just confused right now.”
Julie let her grandmother believe that her words had comforted her, but they hadn’t. How could you be confused about loving someone? If it could be swayed, the love must not be that strong.
Sunday morning Paul Israel was back in his Sunday school classroom. Julie was so excited she almost rushed right to him, but others reached him first. Julie backed away and bumped into someone. She almost expected Ken had come; he was the only one she bumped into regularly. But when she turned, Julie was facing Elizabeth Israel. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Elizabeth smiled, but the smile seemed a little sad, as if some weight was holding her down. “Hi, Julie. How have you been?”
“I’m fine . . . rotten and great . . . but, I . . . .” Should she even ask? “I didn’t hear how David is.”
“He’s out of the hospital. Still recovering.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I just wish he was home. He decided to stay with his brother.”
“Jared?” Elizabeth’s son was only ten or eleven. Julie didn’t think she’d guessed right.
Elizabeth smiled. “Oh, no. Definitely not Jared. Paul’s son, Daniel.”
“I didn’t realize he had one.” Julie blushed. “I’m sorry. I guess it’s none of my business.” She turned from Elizabeth. “I really don’t have any business,” she mumbled.
Elizabeth’s arm went across Julie’s shoulders. “Let’s talk later.”
Paul was bringing his class to order. Julie felt compelled to sit at his command. His gaze met Elizabeth’s, and he nodded. “Why don’t you come to our place for the afternoon?” Elizabeth said. “We’ll have time to talk and relax then.”
“I was going to meet my . . . my fiancé.”
“I lot has happened. Bring him along.”
“I think he planned something else.” Julie wanted to go, but Ken had released pairs of bettas into breeding tanks. All was going well last night, and he had planned to check them before church, and then they were going to go back there, watch the process and move a few of Julie’s fish.
“Maybe tomorrow then.” Elizabeth led her to two seats and then winked. “We better listen to the Colonel.”
“Two minutes back on duty, and I have an insurrection,” Paul teased. “I believe we left off at chapter three. That’s Second Timothy for those of you who are new. Welcome to the class. And contrary to popular belief, I was never a drill sergeant during my career in the military.”
New people? Julie glanced around and grinned when she saw Ken and Evan several rows back. She gave a small wave, and he nodded and smiled in acknowledgment.
“The apostle Paul was just discussing the attributes of God’s servants and how God’s man should behave. Now he switches the discussion to what Timothy or God’s man can expect to encounter. He talks about perilous times and perilous men. Can we have someone read through verse 9.”
Julie was pleased to hear Ken’s even tenor begin to read. “1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth, men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”
The verse hit her hard. It was exactly Thomas. Especially the part about creeping into households and making captives of weak women. Julie hadn’t considered her mother weak before, but she had always had her father to compensate for any gullibility. Julie barely heard them go over each of the terms stated in the first few verses. Instead she kept her head low and prayed. “Lord, please help her. She’s weak. Please don’t let Thomas destroy her. You said in verse nine they will go no further, that their folly will become known to all. Please… please, Lord. Don’t let it continue.”
Julie felt Elizabeth’s arm on her shoulders, and her hand rubbed Julie’s back in sympathy. The class ended, and Julie stood and stretched. “Thanks.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Any time. I need to check on Ruth in the nursery. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” But Elizabeth was gone.
Ken and Evan joined her, and they went to the sanctuary.
They spent the afternoon at the pet shop. It was closed for the first time on Sunday, and they heard several customers come to the door and then leave, but they stayed in the back, enjoying the fish. Ken allowed Evan to take his car home so he could sleep before he had to go into work.
Julie checked the new tanks, and they moved her rainbows, cories, and a few pairs of angels. Then they sat together on the floor in front of the betta tanks, leaning against the counter in the middle of the room. Julie cuddled against him, and Ken wrapped an arm around her. They watched as the male betta embraced the female. Then he would gather the eggs and put them in the nest, rearranging the bubbles and the eggs. A few minutes later he would repeat the process.
Julie had never watched bubble-nesters mate before. “The father is doing most of the work, isn’t he?”
“Yes. After they’re finished, I’ll take out the female, and the male will care for the babies until they’re able to swim horizontally. He will be constantly watching and caring for them for around thirty six to seventy two hours, picking up the babies when they fall from the nest and gently replacing them.”
“He won’t eat them?”
“Not a good father. I’ve had a few bad ones that I couldn’t breed because they’d eat either the eggs or the fry.” Ken kissed her forehead. “They taught me a little about being a good father, I think.”
“Oh, and what’s that? Don’t eat your babies?”
Ken grinned against her hair. “No. Fatherhood is a twenty-four hour a day job. No time off.” Ken laughed slightly. “I learned more from these guys than I did my own father.”
Julie knew he must still be hurting. Perhaps the hurt never really went away completely. “I love you.” She had another thought and voiced it, completely comfortable with him. “It’s great that God uses everything to show us what’s true. Even when people fail us, God doesn’t.”
“No. God never fails,” Ken agreed softly.
The first couple of bettas to mate completed the process after three and a half hours, and Ken removed the slightly tattered female. He placed her alone in medicated water. Another of the four couples Ken had chosen were mating, but Ken and Julie decided to go to dinner.
It was late when Julie dropped Ken off at home, and Evan had left for work. She knew her grandmother had spent the day with Uncle Cal’s family, so she didn’t feel too guilty about being away all day.
Monday morning Julie took a few more of her fish in with her to the store. Then she tried to figure out what she was to do as Ken attended his duties. Julie made sure the software on her computer was still functioning; she made new subdirectories and rearranged things; she ordered her desk and supplies; she watched her fish; but by mid-afternoon, Julie realized it was hopeless. She had no idea how to go about starting her own business and getting clients. She placed her head in her arms on her desk.
“Julie?” Ken asked.
“I’m okay,” she said, not raising her head. “I’m just bored.”
“Ken?” Sue called. “I think you need to see this….”
Ken hesitated. “Julie?” he asked softly.
“Go on. I just need to think.”
She felt his lips lightly brush the side of her face. “I love you.” Then he left her to attend the business.
Of course she could make herself useful around the store, but there were more than enough people working right now and she needed to make some money. There was none on the books. Well, she could do that. Julie gathered the financial information for the pet store and began transferring their records into the computer. At least she had one client. Not a paying one, but it would keep her busy for all of eight hours a month.
Ken was worried about Julie, but he needed to learn everything so he was completely at ease with every aspect of his store. He was relieved when he checked on her, and she was busy working with papers spread over her desk. Ken went back to the front. A familiar woman was looking into the aquariums with a small child.
“Ken Wright. Hi.” She clutched the child’s hand with one hand, a book bag in the other, with a purse slung over her shoulder.
“Mommy. P’etty fith. P’etty.”
“Yes, Ruth. The fish are very pretty. Is Julie here?”
Ken finally remembered her. She was the woman who had sat next to Julie during Sunday school the day before. “Yes. She’s in back. This way.”
Julie looked up as they approached. “Elizabeth! I never expected….”
“I didn’t realize you’d left the accounting firm.”
“It’s awful. You don’t really want to hear it all….”
“Yes. Let me help if I can.”
Ken left them. Maybe that was just what she needed right now. “Lord, please help Julie adjust. I know it’s a big change for her. Help us both adjust.”
Elizabeth stayed for almost three hours, and Ruth was well behaved for being only three or so. She sat on the floor of the breeding room with the book bag full of toys, and watched the fish as she played. Every so often she’d run back to her mother to tell her what the fish were doing.
After Elizabeth left Ken went to see how Julie was doing. The smile and the sparkle in her eye were back. “She was an answer to prayer, Ken. I knew she’d had her own desktop publishing business for years, but I never thought to ask. She gave me all kinds of ideas about how to get clients, and she helped me write an introductory letter. I can really do it now, Ken. I can earn my own money here, and even after I have kids, I can do this at home. I’ll just limit my clients so I’m not over stressed. It’ll really work. It’s even better that I’m doing it now, because I’ll be adjusted by the time I get pregnant. If I’d have stayed at the office I would have had to cut back anyway. I wouldn’t have wanted to work that much with babies, right?”
Ken laughed. “I love it when you’re happy, Sweetheart. Now we’ve really got to remember to call Pastor Nat tomorrow to arrange that wedding, now that we know how we’re going to take care of the children and all,” he teased.
Julie hugged him. “I love you. We have to go when Paul’s there though. I have to know what he thinks.”
Ken wanted to protest. What did it matter? “Yeah, sure.” Ken agreed, not wanting to break her happiness. Paul should approve. His wife was just here for hours. What possible difference could it make? Would she not marry him because of what he said?
Julie and Ken parted at six, Julie going home to spend time with her grandmother, and Ken going to be with Evan.
Evan was preparing dinner when he arrived. “I just called to make sure you’d be here.”
“Thanks.” Ken sat at the kitchen table that was already set.
Evan sat across from him. “Are you gonna be home tonight? We need to talk.”
“Sure. Julie’s not going back in. I wasn’t going to unless you wanted to check on the snake, but he’s doing fine.” Ken knew Evan liked it and was tempted to give it to him, but it was a high priced item and with accessories could mean a difference in someone’s paycheck, namely his, which might be pretty flimsy to begin with. “What’s up?”
Evan stood and checked the meal, turning off the burners. Then he withdrew a pan from the oven.
“Wow. You went all out.”
“I was bored. You went to college. How hard is it?”
“Some classes are harder than others.”
“Too hard for me?”
“No. You just have to take the time to study and do the assignments. You can’t goof off like you did in high school. What do you want to take?”
“Man, I don’t know. I just don’t want to clean toilets the rest of my life.” He went to the food and served it. Ken said the blessing, and they began to eat. “What do you think I should do? Should I just forget the whole thing? Probably can’t do it anyway.”
“No. I think you should go for it. Go in and talk to a counselor.”
“Where? University of Michigan?”
Ken shook his head. “No. You couldn’t get in there until you proved yourself in a community college. Try Mott. They have degrees where you take two years with them and then switch to U of M if you really want U of M.”
“I don’t know what I want. I just know I don’t want to go back to prison, and I hate what I’m doing now.”
Ken grinned. Evan was growing up. He was learning.
“It’s not funny!” Evan said sharply. He left the table, going to his room and slamming the door.
“Hey, wait. Evan . . . .” Ken followed him. He opened the bedroom door. Evan was lying on his stomach on the bed. “Hey, Evan . . . .”
“Get out of here.”
“Evan. I wasn’t laughing at you. I was proud of you.” Ken sat on the edge of the bed. “You’re making a good decision, and you’re sticking with that job even though you hate it, cause you know you need it to reach your goal.”
“I don’t even have a goal,” Evan mumbled into the pillow. “Just get out of here.”
“Sure you do. You want a better life than what we had.”
Evan sat up. “I’m stickin’ with the stupid job because I know you’re going to be kicking me out in a few months.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Oh. So you’re saying you’re not going to be paranoid when you bring Julie home. You’re saying she’s going to like having me in the way. Yeah, right.”
Ken had been too busy with other plans to worry about this minor detail, but apparently it had been weighing on Evan. “Julie and I haven’t talked about it. Evan, I’m not going to kick you out, and I’ll help you through school. Tomorrow you go up to the college and talk to someone. They can tell you about financial aid, what courses they have, and maybe they can tell you about jobs on campus that you’ll like better.” He hesitated, and then stood. “I mean it,” Ken repeated. “I’m not going to leave you.” He grinned to lighten the mood. “I’m just going into the kitchen to finish that great meal you fixed.”
Ken was just finishing up when Evan join him. “Do I get your car tomorrow then?”
“Sure. When you get up just give me a call.”
Julie was about to go to bed when her grandmother said, “I talked to your mother today.”
“What did she say?”
“She wondered how you were?”
“And I told her you were engaged to a nice man, and about your little business.”
“She didn’t get hyper?” Julie asked, coming back into the living room and sitting on the edge of the love seat.
“No. She was very concerned, but I assured her you were doing well. She said you fainted at the office Friday.”
“That’s what they said. But… well, I’m fine now. I’ve adjusted.”
“That’s what I told her.” Grandmother stroked Jonah, and Samson leaped up, begging for equal time. “She loves you, Julie. She’s just confused right now, and she needs to work through this. Don’t judge her too harshly.”
“The wolf attacks the weak,” Julie mumbled as she stood. “I need to get some sleep.” Julie went to bed, but didn’t sleep for several hours, praying again for her mother. No matter what Grandmother said, though, her mother had still chosen Thomas over her. But she had chosen Ken in spite her wishes. It wasn’t the same, though. Ken never attacked her mother or said mean things about her. Julie would never put up with that. How could her mother?
Go to Chapter 21
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.