Authors: Lynne Hinton
“I know. You are perfectly capable of running this place without me,” Charlotte responded. “I just think I'll be needed more sometime later.”
Maria pulled away her hand and cleared her throat. “Okay, but just let me know. I can rearrange some things at work and I can be here.”
Charlotte studied her friend. Sometimes Maria would get carried away by details, like not having enough beds, but she really did make a difference with her work. Charlotte knew she wouldn't be able to
do as much as she did without the help of Maria's volunteer work. It was a big job for just one person, and she was extremely grateful for what Maria gave to the shelter. She was like a mother to many of the residents at St. Mary's.
“Your offer means so much.” Charlotte thought for a second. “And yes, if I change my mind, I will ask for your help.”
Maria nodded. And the two women smiled.
“Now, what else can I do before I leave?”
Charlotte considered the question. “I think we've got today under control. I've got to fill out some forms for Rachel and try to finish that grant application, but everything seems to be fine for now.”
“Did Tempest's boyfriend make bond?” Maria asked, knowing that Charlotte and Tempest had been worried that he would try to find her.
“No,” Charlotte replied. “I called the DA and got it set pretty high. I don't think he'll be out for a while.”
“Well, that's some good news, isn't it?”
“Yes,” Charlotte responded. “There has been some of that today.”
“Okay, I'll see you in the morning,” Maria said. “I'll drop the cot off on my way to work. I won't be back to spend any time, though, until the weekend.”
Charlotte nodded. She knew that Maria had lots of commitments at her work and her church and with her family. She was glad for the time she got from her volunteer and friend. “Thanks, Maria.” She paused. “For everything.”
“It's all good,” Maria translated, and walked out of the office. “
Todo esta bien.
And Charlotte, knowing what she did about Margaret and now about a young woman with bruises and broken bones, wondered if such a thing could be true.
2 cups sugar
1Â½ cups vegetable oil
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups chopped apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream together eggs and sugar; add oil and mix well. Combine dry ingredients and add to oil mixture. Add chopped apples, nuts, and vanilla, mixing thoroughly. Spoon into a greased and floured tube pan and bake at 350 degrees for 80 minutes or until until cake tests done.
1 cup brown sugar
Â½ stick margarine
Â¼ cup evaporated milk
Combine ingredients in saucepan over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes. Pour over cooled cake.
eatrice!” Louise was knocking on the bedroom window and shouting loudly. Her face was pressed squarely against the glass panes, her hands cupped around her eyes trying to see inside. She knocked again.
“Are you sure she's in there?” Jessie asked. She was glancing around the backyard, worried that a neighbor might think they were burglars. “Maybe we should just try calling again,” she suggested.
“She won't answer the phone,” Louise reminded her. “We tried that for an hour. I know she's in there.”
“Beatrice, get out of bed. I can see you.” She turned to Jessie, who was standing next to her. They had already tried calling on the cell phone, ringing the front doorbell, and knocking on the kitchen door. Beatrice had not answered.
“Besides, Dick said she wasn't going anywhere today, that she hadn't gone anywhere all week.” Louise banged again on the window.
Jessie continued to look around nervously.
There was a small movement from the bedroom. Louise cupped her hands closer and squinted. She could see the bed and the sheets rumpled around what looked like a body underneath. She knew it was Beatrice and that she was trying to ignore them.
“She's moving,” Louise noted to Jessie, who tried to see into the window at what Louise had noticed.
“Get up, Bea Witherspoon, or I'm going to call 911 and then you're going to have to face some ambulance driver in your nightgown.”
The two women thought they heard something. Then Louise jumped when she saw a face right in front of hers. Bea was standing at the window and saying something but the words were muffled. Neither Jessie nor Louise could make it out, but they could both tell that she didn't appear very happy about the two women standing at her bedroom window.
“Go to the door!” Louise yelled. “Go open the back door!” She watched as Beatrice moved out of the bedroom.
She and Jessie hurried around the house to where she had directed Beatrice to meet them. All three of them arrived at exactly the same time. Louise and Jessie stood side by side on the landing.
“What do you want?” Beatrice asked, opening the door only a bit. She was still in her bed clothes. Her hair was a mess. She smoothed down the top of it with her hand.
“Good Lord, Bea,” Louise addressed her friend as she pushed open the door and walked inside. “It is one o'clock in the afternoon. Have you not dressed yet?” she asked. She was staring at the woman before her as if she had never seen her looking as she did.
“I was taking a nap,” Bea explained, moving away from the door and over to the sofa in the den. She sat down, yanking a blanket from the back of the sofa and pulling it around her.
“A nap?” Jessie asked, following Louise. She studied her friend. “Did you make any transition from waking up this morning to how you look now?”
Bea didn't answer. She glanced away at the two women as they sat down across from her in the overstuffed chairs she had bought to match the other new den furniture. Jessie and Louise didn't speak for a few minutes. Each was waiting for the other to begin.
They had decided a week ago that it was time for an intervention with Beatrice. She had missed the last two meetings of the cookbook committee and had not returned phone calls that both of them had made. She had gone with them to take Margaret for the outpatient surgery a few days earlier, but she had seemed sullen and withdrawn the entire time.
The two of them had spoken to Dick about her, and he confessed that he was at his wit's end with his wife. He had tried everything, he had told them, but Beatrice was not taking seriously what was happening and she was not getting any better. “If anything,” he had said to Louise when they spoke earlier that morning, “she's getting worse.” He was relieved to find out that Jessie and Louise were planning this visit. He had encouraged it.
Once the two of them were with their friend, however, neither one was sure of what exactly an intervention was. They had heard the term, thought they understood what it meant, but it felt different now that they were sitting across from the one whose life they were supposed to be intervening in.
Finally Jessie cleared her throat. “You want some coffee?” she asked as a way to begin.
Beatrice shook her head. Then she paused. “Do you?” she asked.
Jessie shook her head as well. They both glanced over to Louise,
who seemed to be interested in the chair in which she was sitting. She was ignoring them.
Jessie began again. “Beatrice Newgarden Witherspoon, you have got to get yourself together.” She delivered the opening proclamation. “There is something wrong with you and we are going to figure this thing out and get you fixed.”
Beatrice seemed to expect what was being said.
“Do you know what is wrong?” Jessie asked. “Are you mad about something? Do you feel sad? Is it Dick or one of the children?” Clearly, no one understood what had happened to the perky and eternally optimistic Beatrice.
Bea smoothed down the sides of her hair again and pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. She looked up at Jessie. She knew they were there for her benefit. She understood how much they cared for her, but she just didn't know what to say, how to respond.
“Just tell us when this started,” Louise said as she sat back in the chair, waiting for some reply from Beatrice. She glanced around again at the chair and then slid her hands along the wide arms and appeared to be trying to get comfortable. “This is nice,” she added, referring to the chair. “Is it new?”
“Louise, try to stay focused,” Jessie said, and then turned back to Beatrice. “What happened to set you off like this?” she asked.
“I bought it in the summer at the outlet mall. I got it because it matched the sofa but it has some problems. Be careful. Dick and I don't sit in it that much. I think it's broken.”
Louise nodded as she moved in the chair from side to side, leaning against the back, and sliding up and down in it.
“Beatrice, will you answer me?” Jessie asked, trying to keep the intervention in place.
Beatrice turned toward Jessie. She shrugged. “I don't know exactly.”
“Is it something in your marriage?” Jessie asked.
Beatrice shook her head.
“Is it one of the girls?” she asked, referring to Beatrice's two daughters. “Teddy?”
Jessie hadn't heard that there was anything wrong with the two women, both of whom lived out of town or her son who was out of the country, but sometimes you didn't know everything about the children of friends unless you asked.
“No, they're all fine,” Bea answered.
Jessie slumped in her chair. She was waiting for Louise to help in the conversation. She glanced over at her friend, and Louise was still moving around in the chair as if she was trying to get into a particular position.
“This is really a comfortable chair, Bea, is it a recliner?” Louise asked, paying no attention to what Jessie was doing. It was as if she had completely forgotten their purpose for this visit.
Jessie rolled her eyes. “Louise, could we stop talking about the chair?” she said with an agitated tone.
“Right, sorry,” Louise apologized. She kept sliding her hands along the thick arms of the chair and then down along the sides. She was trying to see if there was a handle to change the chair's position.
“I don't think so,” Bea responded. “But remember, be careful, it's broken.”
“Right,” Louise said, but she continued to move around in the chair.
“Louise,” Jessie said sharply. She shot a hard look in the direction of Louise, who suddenly stopped what she was doing.
“Yeah, sorry,” she said, moving her attention back to Beatrice.
“We know something is wrong, Bea,” Jessie said, “and we're not leaving until we start to find some solution. You can't keep going like this. I mean, look at you.”
Beatrice glanced down at herself. She pulled at the top of her nightgown. “I know,” she said. “My mother would roll over in her grave if she saw me looking like this in the middle of the afternoon with guests in my house.”
Louise shook her head. “We don't care about how you look, Bea,” she said sympathetically. “We're just worried about you. You're just not yourself, and, well, we miss the old Bea.”
Beatrice glanced over to her friend. She smiled. She was touched by her friend's concern. “Sometimes you used to get annoyed by the old Bea,” she said.
“Most of the time, I got annoyed by the old Bea, it's true,” Louise agreed. “But I still miss her.”
“Is it Margaret?” Jessie finally asked the obvious. She knew all three of them were struggling with the same issues when it came to their friend.
“Maybe, a little,” Beatrice replied. “But I don't know. I felt this way before we knew the cancer was back. But that did make it worse,” she added.
Louise nodded. She had suffered too with the recent prognosis. She wasn't sleeping as well, and she noticed she had lost her appetite. Since she had taken over the cookbook project, she got nauseated every time she received a new recipe card from someone. She thought she was going to throw up when she got Emily Edwards's recipe for an apple dabble cake. She had not been able to add that one to the file on the computer yet. It had something to do with the sauce.
“What do you think about her?” Bea asked the two women.
Neither of them spoke at first. The truth was they hadn't really let themselves discuss it and they hadn't really thought that this conversation, this intervention, would go in this direction.
Jessie shook her head. “It doesn't look good,” she replied. “Lana researched some stuff on the Internet about cancer spreading to the liver. There really isn't anything anybody can do about it. There's no surgery or anything. The chemo is the only treatment they've got. And I don't know if that really helps or not when the cancer has spread.”
“She didn't do so well last time with the chemotherapy,” Louise recalled.
The other women remembered Margaret's infection, her reaction to the harsh drugs, how sick she had been.
“Frankly, I was a little surprised that she agreed to take these treatments,” Louise added.
Jessie nodded. “I'm not sure we gave her a chance to say no,” she pointed out.
And all three women knew that was true. When the doctor had given the prognosis the three friends starting making the plans and appointments for the portacath surgery and the treatment dates while Margaret got dressed. No one had even bothered to ask her if that was what she wanted.
“What will happen to her?” Louise asked. “What did Lana find out about what happens to somebody with liver cancer?”
Jessie looked down at her hands that she had folded and placed in her lap. “She didn't tell me much because I didn't really want to know. She just said a patient loses her appetite, stops eating, feels sick a lot.”
The three women went silent. It was a while before anyone spoke again. Finally it was Beatrice who broke the tension. “I just feel like my whole life has been a joke,” she confessed. “Like I've been the Hope Springs joke.”
Louise and Jessie looked at each other. Both of them seemed surprised to hear what their friend was saying and startled to have the subject changed so quickly.
“I feel like I've been so stupid, trying to get people to do projects or join some group and that everybody goes home and laughs at me. âCrazy ole Beatrice, always trying to fix something she broke.'” Beatrice dropped further down into the sofa.
“Fix something she broke?” Louise asked. “You didn't break anything,” she added. “And what's wrong with caring enough about people that you try to offer them something to get better?”
There was no reply.
“I know I was the worst one about making fun of you and your projects, Bea.” Louise leaned forward in Beatrice's direction. “But the truth is I was jealous that you had something to offer. I could never think of anything and you always had something. And maybe it was crazy or off the wall, but it was something and I was always envious of that.”
“That's why this is so hard for us,” Jessie continued. “We need you. We need your project and your ideas and your crazy expressions of faith. Especially now, especially with Margaret.”
“Expressions of faith?” Beatrice asked. “You think they were expressions of faith?”
“Of course,” Jessie replied. “Your cookbooks and your contests are a means to remind us to get up and do something, to see and act beyond ourselves and our own troubles. They bring us together and
they are vehicles of grace. There is always more to them than what appears on the outside. It's like some offering that you make, and whenever you make an offering with a heart of love, it is always a gift that God can use to do what needs to be done.”
“Wow,” Beatrice exclaimed. “You really think that a cake cookbook is a vehicle of grace?”
“I don't think that,” Louise noted with a smile. “I'm the one doing all of the work since you expressed your faith and then backed out, and I'm the one getting sick thinking about all these desserts. I don't feel any grace.”
Jessie laughed. “Well, maybe I went over the top a little.”
“I know what you're trying to do and I appreciate it, really I do.” Beatrice smiled slightly. “But I just can't shake the feeling that I've never done anything great or meaningful. And now that Margaret is dyingâ” She stopped. The word surprised her, and she looked over at Jessie and Louise. They looked away.
“It's true, isn't it?” Beatrice asked. “That's really what's happening here, isn't it?”
No one answered.
“We don't know that,” Louise finally replied.
“No, but it looks that way, doesn't it?” Jessie asked.
Beatrice and Louise didn't respond.
“In a sense, we're all dying,” Beatrice remarked.