© Copyright 2006 by Elizabeth Delayne
“Is mama going to die?” Brittany asked as they rounded the last corner and the resolute hospital came into view. Kelly had ridden with the ambulance, leaving Joanna with her nine year old sister.
The question made Joanna’s stomach hurt. She turned and looked at the girl with compassion, not knowing how to respond. The feelings were all warped within her, churned fast and angry. Margaret Stark was much more of a mother than her own.
Joanna took the little girl’s hand in her own. “You’re mother’s a strong lady, Brittany. I know that she has every intention of living through this.”
Brittany nodded briefly, her eyes swinging to the hospital parking lot. Joanna prayed that whatever happened, the family would have the strength to survive. God, Father, I want you to heal their mother ... I don’t know what you see, but from this view things don’t look so good without Margaret Stark.
Kelly was not as sedate as her younger sister. As soon as Joanna had talked to the doctor and called Helen to see if she could come for Brittany, Kelly cornered her in the ER waiting area. Her hands were ringing over each other in a nervous motion.
Feeling a little weak, Kelly dropped down on the waiting room chair beside Joanna. Her eyes roamed until they landed on Brittany curled into a little ball at Joanna’s feet. “But I’m glad you were home. You had just gotten home?”
“Yeah ... I’m glad I was home, too,” Joanna whispered, suddenly remembering Rod. After their long, heart opening talks from that afternoon, Rod had made her promise to call him. As much as she wanted to talk to him, she felt that Kelly needed her more. He was an adult, she reminded herself. He could deal with waiting and worrying a lot better.
Kelly lowered her face into her hands for several minutes, pressing her palms against her tired cheeks. Her breathing was unsteady, but deep. Joanna dropped a reassuring hand on her tense back. Margaret Stark’s girls had been through so much in their lives. Meredith Grande, her oldest daughter by her first husband, was on her way. Meredith had not only lost her own father, but her step-father as well. Their mother was their family—their protector, friend and nurturer.
Eventually, Helen arrived and Joanna walked with Kelly up to the ICU waiting area. Kelly paced, sat, flipped through magazines, and poured herself cups of complimentary coffee only to sit and stare fearfully at the dark liquid. They had been outside of ICU for over an hour before Kelly spoke again. She was sitting now, her eyes fastened on the hands that she held clamped together. Her voice was sad, filled with struggle and confusion.
“I’ve heard you and mamma talking before. I know you want to believe there’s some Being out there who cares for us. I suppose you would say that it’s because of God—that you were home because God knew you needed to be.”
“I think He knew that—”
“Then why,” Kelly looked up with stormy eyes, “is He taking her away? She’s all we’ve got!”
“Kelly, honey,” Joanna tried to reason with her calmly, “the doctor said your mother is in stable condition. People can rehabilitate themselves—compete in normal life again.”
Joseph Simpson didn’t ... Joanna pushed the doubt back for the sake of the girls before her.
“God took my dad away—”
“Joanna, don’t you see? This God of yours doesn’t care about my family!”
“Kelly—” Joanna felt helpless.
“You can believe whatever you want. You can even say that He let it happen! I don’t care. Even you can’t argue about that!” She looked across the waiting room. “What are we going to do? Do you realize we would have paid off the mortgage next month or so? Mom was so excited! It has been all she’d talked about for the last year or so.”
Tears appeared as they slowly rolled down her cheeks. She began to sob. She bent over and gave way to the tears, mourning her father and trying to deal with the fear of loosing her mother.
Joanna tried to comfort her by drawing her closer, but she stayed silent, knowing that she had said all she could. Kelly pushed away and leaned back against the chair, her face a mixture of emotions.
“Thank you,” she said softly to Joanna before turning her eyes away in near humiliation, “for not thinking I’m stupid.”
“I would never think that,” Joanna’s her heart went out to the girl. “And if you need someone to talk to—ever, you can come to me. You’ve grown up my next door neighbor and my friend, sometimes more my family to me then my own has been,” Joanna said softly. “Don’t push me out because I’ve been your teacher.”
Kelly did not respond. Instead she stood and walked over to the other side of the room to be alone and sort out her feelings.
* * *
Sitting in the cramped, stuffy hospital phone booth, Joanna pulled Rod’s phone number out of her purse. Nearly five long hours had passed since bidding him goodbye in Dallas. He would have been waiting for her call for over three hours. Right now she just longed to feel the strength of his arms, the gentle pressure of his chin when he rested it on her head, the strong steady beat of his heart.
It was amazing how much of her senses had absorbed him.
A single ring barely sounded when someone picked up. “Hello?”
Rod’s voice, medicine for Joanna’s weary soul, sounded hopeful, his voice soothing the weary part of her soul as it reached out to her heart. She wondered what kind of thoughts he had been thinking. After all ... she had promised.
“Forget to call?”
Joanna nodded, almost to assure herself. She leaned her head wearily against the solid wall of the booth, shutting her eyes against the weariness, “No … just, all this stuff happened. I’m fine. I’m at the hospital—”
“No! I mean—” Joanna responded to the alarm in his voice defensively and sat straight up, suddenly ridged. How stupid could she be?
“I mean, I made it home safely, and this has absolutely nothing to do with me. Excepted that I am at the hospital, but not because I’m hurt,” she closed her eyes wearily and sighed. “I said it all wrong. I’m sorry. My neighbor had a stroke and I came with her daughters. I haven’t had a chance to call.”
“No one but that non-talkative answering machine picked up at your house. You don’t know what’s been going through my head.”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to call.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Rod tried to assure her. His voice soothed the ridged muscles of her shoulders enough that she was able to lean back against the booth again. “I just wish you weren’t two hours away from me. I figured you were fine ... but things are so new between us ...”
Joanna felt tears rise to her eyes as she stared through the glass at the white hospital walls and polished floors. She was not used to someone caring like Rod was ... not used to that sound in his voice that made her feel like she, Joanna Berkley, was special.
“Are you okay? Really okay?” Rod asked her again. “You sound tired.”
“Exhausted,” Joanna admitted, leaning her had against the hard wood of the phone booth. “This day has been hard ... for me ... not physically—it’s not really that kind of tired. It’s emotional ... inner. Between what you’ve said and what I’ve said and thought, and the Starks, I just feel like collapsing.”
“Rod, I ...” Joanna began hesitantly, unable to continue, lacking the words. Rod said nothing, waiting patiently for her to develop her thoughts. The static on the phone line was the only thing between them until she spoke again. “I ... I never really told anybody, about ... about what I told you this morning. I never needed too ... no one ever, I mean ... for someone who cares, or, at least seems—”
“I understand, Joanna,” Rod tried to stop her, sympathetic to her tone. “Bethany tried to get me to see all of that years ago, even when I left Glendale that last time. Maybe I did see, in part, but the pieces didn’t fit until this morning. I couldn’t understand, for so long, how Jo Berkley could lack confidence when she accomplished everything she set out for.”
Had he really thought her so confident, she wondered. That was what she had seen in him.
“But, no matter what, don’t try to feel bad about talking to me. Not ever.”
A soft sigh of frustration escaped Joanna’s small lips. “Not all the pieces fit, Rod. There are some things even I don’t understand.” She wrapped her fingers around the phone cord. Her eyes moved vacantly to the hallway that would take her back to the Starks.
“I’m so mentally conquered right now and I have people who need me for at least another hour until their uncle gets here. Meredith has to be strong and she’s holding up for the moment, but she’s near breakdown and Kelly’s having a major war with God. I’m just thankful that Helen came for Brittany. Despite her tendency to try to mother me, she is a good mother and so good with children.”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Joanna pushed the hair away from her face and continued weakly. “I feel so inadequate here. I don’t know what to do—what to say. How can I help someone who cares so deeply about their mother when I’m so unsure about how I feel about my own—but,” she stopped herself from rambling, uncomfortable with the ease that she had betrayed her own privacy. A shiver ran down her back and she shook herself slightly, “I can’t talk about it ... not now. You haven’t said a thing about your day.”
“The beginning started out beautiful,” Rod replied, accepting her need to stop sharing her heart. Her problems would take awhile to heal, and was almost surprised to realize he was willing to wait ... almost surprised. Joanna was growing on him. Quickly.
Rod told her about his meetings he’d had via a round of golf, part of a conversation with his mom, and even confessed his frustrations about work.
Drained and in need of a friendly voice, Joanna talked to Rod for nearly thirty minutes and tried not to think about the bill on her calling card. His voice was so reassuring. It was nice to listen to someone else talk about work in some place other than Glendale. For years she had imagined herself with an accounting degree and working in a big sky scraper on the Dallas sky-line where Rod was now.
Yet, God had different plans for her, and for that, Joanna was glad. As much as she wanted to live closer to Rod and as much as she missed him and needed him, people needed her in Glendale for the moment. The Starks presently, the countless girls that spent hot afternoons with her on the softball field, her family, her little league team ...
Next summer, the reunion would be over, a year would have gone by. Would Rod still be there? Would he want to be around when she was dealing with bizarre problems in her life that might never be solved? Was she prepared to give even this much of herself, to give her private emotions to one man if he did not plan to be around for that long?
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
“... hey, listen,” Rod was urging, “I hope your kids win their game tomorrow.”
Joanna laughed, a smile back on her face. “Well, if they don’t win, they’ll have fun loosing, I’m sure. They’re the greatest bunch of kids.”
“They have to be, because they have the best coach I know.” Rod said without doubt. “I want to get down and see them play one day.”
“Of course I’m serious. I can tell they mean a great deal to you.”
“That would mean coming back to Glendale,” she teased.
“You’d be surprised at the lengths I’d be willing to try.”
She felt her heart flutter, suddenly nervous. Her team was almost like family to her. Having Rod come was almost like having him meet mom and dad.
“What about the Fourth of July?” she asked, figuring that there was a good chance for him to have already made plans. “We have a city wide tournament that afternoon and we might get to play more than once. It’ll be our last game.”
“The Fourth? That sounds good, I think. We could go out for the picnic and concert at the park after the game, snuggle up later under the stars and watch the firework’s.” Rod suggested, working everything through his mind as he spoke. “They still have the firework’s show, don’t they?”
“ If you can believe it, it’s actually gotten better.”
“Than it’s a date,” Rod announced, feeling satisfied, telling himself that he would have to deal with hesitation later. “I can’t wait to see you coach.”
Joanna felt herself smile, “I guess I need to be getting back to those kids. “I do feel a little responsible for them since they grew up next door, like they’re the little siblings—the sisters I never had.”
“I’ll be praying for you, Joanna,” Rod told her, “for all of you. Please don’t forget that.”
HEY! and don't forget to e-mail me if you have a comment!
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