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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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Her father sighed. “Maybe I better get the short version for now. You can tell me the details on the way to get Wes. Who did you hit? And how bad is he banged up?”

“Noah Hearndon, and not too bad.”


“His family just moved here. He said they bought a farm from Mr. Harvey out on Hoopole Road.”

“I heard he sold some land, but I hadn’t heard to who. Some welcome to Hollyhill, huh?” her father said. “Do we need to pay for his doctor’s bills?”

Noah came through the pressroom door. “I don’t think I’ll need a doctor,” he said. “A couple of Band-Aids and I’m good as new. Or almost.”

“Dad, this is Noah,” Jocie said. “He gave me a ride to town since my bike was pretty much out of commission and his was still rolling. And so I thought the least I could do was let him bandage up his head at our sink.”

“I should think,” Jocie’s dad said as he stepped forward with a smile and held his hand out to Noah. “David Brooke. I’m sorry my daughter ran you down. Thank goodness she’s not old enough to get her driver’s license for two more years.”

“She’s a terror on wheels, for sure,” Noah said, taking Jocie’s father’s hand. He was smiling. A real smile and not the laughing-at-the-world smile he’d been wearing most of the time since Jocie had bowled him over.

Jocie breathed a little easier. She wasn’t going to have to run interference between her father and Noah the way she had with him and Zella.

“Jocie said you’d moved in out on Hoopole Road. That’s a long way on a bike.”

“And relatively uneventful until about a mile from town, if you can call this place a town.”

“Noah’s from Chicago,” Jocie put in.

“Then I guess Hollyhill does look small to you. It’ll take some getting used to,” her dad said.

“I’m sure. On both sides,” Noah said.

Jocie’s dad looked puzzled by that remark but didn’t ask what Noah meant.

“Noah may be looking for a job,” Jocie said. “I told him he could have one of this week’s
s, but I don’t remember anybody advertising for help.”

“No, but then some people don’t like to spend money on ads.” Jocie’s father looked over at the press and the pile of paper waiting for their next run. “What kind of job did you have in mind?”

“I worked for a grocery store back in Chicago, stocking shelves, that kind of thing.”

“Our grocery is a family affair. Got a couple of nephews working for them,” Jocie’s dad said.

“Is everything around here a family affair? Jocie said she worked on the paper here.”

“I just help out,” Jocie said. She didn’t want her father to think she’d inflated what she did for the paper.

“I couldn’t make it without her,” Jocie’s dad said. “In fact, while Wes has been out, we haven’t been making it too good anyway. I might could use a little extra help, say two or three afternoons a week.”

“You mean sweeping the place out, that kind of thing?” Noah asked.

“I suppose the place could use a good sweeping, but I was thinking more along the lines of whatever needs doing from setting the type to blocking out ads to making deliveries or running errands.”

“I don’t know how to set type or . . .” For the first time, Noah looked a little unsure of himself. “. . . what did you call it? Blocking ads.”

“You can learn. So what do you think? You want to give it a try for a couple of weeks? I can’t pay much. I’ll have to check with Zella on that. She keeps the books. And it’ll only be until my regular hand, Wes, is back on his feet again.”

“Is he sick?” Noah asked.

“Remember the other totaled bike I told you about?” Jocie grimaced. “And the guy who ended up in the hospital?”

“Now, Jocie. Wes doesn’t hold any of that against you. It wasn’t your fault a tornado blew a tree down on top of him. But he may hold it against us if we don’t get up there and get him out of the hospital. He’s had all the doctors and nurses he can stand for a while.” Her father looked at his watch.

“I’ll go wash my face and hands,” Jocie said.

“Good idea. I’ll show Noah how the press works while you’re getting cleaned up.”

Jocie washed the sweat and dog slobber off her face as fast as she could. Then she ran her fingers through her shoulder-length brown hair and limped back to the pressroom. She didn’t want to miss anything.

When she went back through the door, her father was saying, “So tell you what. You talk it over with your folks, and if they say it’s okay, you can start next week.”

“I don’t need to talk it over with my parents. My father said I could take whatever I found.” Noah held out his hand to Jocie’s dad again. “It’s a deal.”

“Great.” Jocie’s dad shook Noah’s hand. “We’ll give it a trial run next week and see how it works for both of us.”

“The lady out front might not be too happy about it,” Noah said.

“Oh, Zella’s okay once you get to know her,” Jocie’s dad said with a quick look at Jocie to be sure she didn’t contradict him. “Right, Jocie?”

“Sure, Dad. She keeps things straight around here. We’d be broke without her. If you don’t believe me, just ask her.”

“She does keep us in the black. Now we better get on the road.”

Noah walked out with them. As he passed Zella’s desk, he said, “Thanks for the bandages, ma’am.”

“You’re perfectly welcome, I’m sure,” Zella said without looking up from her typewriter. “Will I need to lock up when I leave today, David?”

“You’d better. We probably won’t be back till late, and then we’ll have to get Wes settled in at the house,” Jocie’s father said.

“Very well,” Zella said, her eyes still on the paper in her typewriter. “I hope Wesley makes the trip all right.”

“I think he’ll do fine if we can get him in the car with that cast,” Jocie’s dad said.

Noah leaned over close to Jocie to whisper, “I guess I was lucky to only need a Band-Aid.”

“I told you,” Jocie said.

Out on the sidewalk, Noah got on his bike. “Thank you, Mr. Brooke, or should I call you Rev. Brooke? Jocie told me you’re a preacher.”

“I am, but David will do fine while we’re working.”

Noah hesitated a moment and then looked straight at Jocie’s father. “Jocie said you preached at that church out close to where we live, so maybe I should warn you that my mother might show up for church Sunday morning. She asked Mr. McMurtry about his church when we moved in.”

“Well, that will be fine. She’ll certainly be welcome. Your whole family will be welcome.”

Noah smiled a little. “Then in that case, she probably won’t come. My mama don’t necessarily like to go places where she’s welcome. She likes to go places where she has to make herself welcome.”


The nurse who wheeled Wes to the front door of the hospital took one look at their car and frowned. “Didn’t anyone tell you Mr. Green would need an ambulance?”

“I don’t think so. At least not that I can remember,” David said. “But my backseat’s pretty big.”

The nurse mashed her mouth together in a thin line and made a sound somewhere between a snort and a sigh. It was just their luck that Nurse Army Boots was on duty. Wes had names for all of the nurses. Nurse Merry Sunshine was always smiling, Nurse Stinky had to be eating garlic three times a day to try to ward off germs, Nurse Maybe Someday never came when he rang the call button, and Nurse Sweetie-Pie talked baby talk to him.

But Nurse Army Boots was definitely the worst of the bunch. She was bigger than Wes and Jocie’s dad put together and looked ready to knock aside anything and everything in her path in order to see that things got done her way. She’d already spent more than a half hour lecturing Jocie’s father on the care Wes was going to need when he got home, without even a glance toward Wes as if he couldn’t hear just because his leg was banged up. Then she shoved the mustard brown plastic washpan full of various other mysterious mustard brown plastic hospital stuff at Jocie and ordered her to make herself useful.

Now Jocie tried to do just that by tucking the washpan under one arm and running around the wheelchair to swing open the car’s back door.

“This is not going to work.” The nurse’s frown got deeper. “Surely you can see that Mr. Green cannot bend his leg to get in a car. I’m afraid he’ll have to stay until you can provide proper transportation.”

“I can try to get hold of Gordon Hazelton, but Albert Bowen’s funeral was this afternoon. I don’t know whether Gordon can spare anybody to bring the ambulance over today,” Jocie’s dad said. The only ambulance they had in Hollyhill was an old hearse the funeral director had fixed up for emergency runs. They rarely ever had an emergency in Hollyhill that conflicted with a funeral, so it usually worked out okay. And getting Wes home wasn’t really an emergency.

“Then Mr. Green will just have to stay another night. Probably should anyway. His doctor surely believed Mr. Green was going to a nursing home when he signed the discharge papers,” the nurse said and started to turn the wheelchair back toward the doors.

“Hold everything,” Wes said as he flicked the wheelchair brakes down so the wheels skidded on the sidewalk and stopped. He picked his crutches up off his lap and sat the ends down on the ground. “You ain’t taking me back inside that place.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nurse Army Boots said as she reached forward to release the brakes.

“Don’t touch that brake.” Something in his voice made the nurse stop. Or maybe it was the way his white hair seemed to raise up off his head as if he’d just grabbed a hot electric wire. He kept his eyes hard on her and began pushing himself up out of the chair as he said, “Now stand back out of the way.”

“Really, Mr. Green, don’t be difficult. I’m just here to help you, and I know your family wants to do what’s best for you as well,” the nurse said even as she took a step back away from the wheelchair.

“I’m not the least bit kin to either one of these people. They just came down to give me a lift home, and I aim to take it even if I have to ride with my foot sticking out the back window.” Wes looked at Jocie. “Roll it down for me, Jo.”

Jocie stowed the washpan of stuff in the front seat and rolled the back window down. Without a word, her father was helping Wes get his crutches fixed under his arms. Wes hopped over to the car and slowly turned on his crutches until his back was to the door. He handed the crutches to Jocie and then held on to David until he was sitting on the backseat. “Now hold up my leg a little while I scoot on in here. Just be sure the door on the other side is shut good, or I might scoot right out on the road.” He groaned a little as he inched himself back along the seat.

Jocie crawled in the front seat and leaned over it to push down the lock on the back door. She looked at Wes. His face had gone white and beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. “You sure you’re going to fit?” she said.

“One way or another,” Wes said between pants. “I’ll chop my foot off before I go back in that hospital.”

Jocie looked over the seat at him. “Maybe you should let Dad call Mr. Hazelton.”

“Nope. I’ve ridden in worse shape and I ain’t so big that I can’t sit sideways in a backseat even with this contraption on my leg.” He smacked his hand against the cast.

Jocie peeked back out at the nurse standing on the sidewalk, her feet spread apart and her hands on her hips. Jocie lowered her voice. “Nurse Army Boots is going to report you to your doctor. They’ll probably make you do a hundred leg lifts or something.”

“I’m already doing that, and if I ever get away from here, I’m never coming back. Doc Markum has a saw. And if he don’t, I know where I can buy one.”

Jocie forced herself to look at his cast. She didn’t like to. It made her stomach squeeze up in a hard knot and drop like lead inside her. Of course, it wasn’t as awful as his leg had looked the day the tornado had dropped the tree on it. Then she might have just fainted away at the sight of the blood and bones if she hadn’t been so busy trying to help Wes and taking pictures of what the tornado did to the Clay’s Creek Church building.

Her father said the tornado hadn’t blown away the church, because the church wasn’t the building. The church was the people who went there. And Jocie guessed he was right since the people were still meeting. Every Sunday morning they set up folding chairs on the church floor, which was about all the tornado had left behind. One of the members had taken some pictures of the preacher with nothing but blue sky behind him, and they’d run the picture on the front page of the
last week. Of course, it was black and white in the paper so you had to imagine the blue sky.

They’d used almost all the pictures Jocie had taken after the tornado in the
too. She hadn’t wanted to take the pictures, but Wes had told her she had to. For proof that they actually went nose to nose with a tornado and lived to tell the tale. So it was almost as if she were two people that day—one girl who wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, and another girl who just kept doing what had to be done.

Wes struggled to scoot along the car seat with the cast that went all the way up to his hip and had metal rods sticking out here and there below his knee. Now, as she watched, she felt more like the girl who wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Wes wasn’t very big, not much taller than she was since she’d grown a couple of inches over the summer. He was always saying he was scrawny, but tough. But when Jocie looked at the cast, she was afraid he wouldn’t be tough enough. She was afraid Wes might never be able to walk again without crutches. She’d heard the doctors tell her father that. And she was the reason Wes had the cast.

Wes had told her it wasn’t her fault. Everybody told her it wasn’t her fault, but it was. She was the reason Wes was in the tornado’s path. If only she could go back and live that day over. But she couldn’t. As Aunt Love said, each day brought its own trouble. Aunt Love had a Bible verse she quoted about it, but Jocie could never remember exactly how it went. Something about sufficient unto the day the evil it was going to have.

Jocie thought that verse too depressing to memorize, but her father had told her it was just telling her not to worry about everything and anything. Said there was no need worrying yourself to distraction about things when what you were supposed to do was trust in the Lord. Besides, once something happened, it was done. Jocie couldn’t change the fact that Wes had hurt his leg because of her. She just had to figure out how to help him get better. Right now she had to help Wes get in the car before Nurse Army Boots decided to pick him up and carry him back in the hospital.

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
4.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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