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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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It was a bigger ordeal getting out of the backseat of the car than it had been getting in. For one thing, he didn’t have old Army Boots to inspire him. He just had Jo watching him and looking as if she was going to burst out in tears any second. The poor kid had a load of blame slung in a sack over her shoulder. When Wes felt better, when the dark cloud quit drifting over his head, he’d have to try to get her to throw that sack away. He’d never been able to do it about Rosa and Lydia. But that was different. There weren’t any tornadoes that night. Just the road and the car and him behind the wheel.

He turned his mind away from the memory of the wreck. He couldn’t think about that now. Not unless he wanted to get lost in the black cloud that kept trying to settle over his head. And right now he had to get out of the car.

Jo had hold of his cast, and David had his hands and was trying to tug him out of the car. Trouble was, Wes could barely move. His backside and other leg had gone numb during the ride home. It would have been funny if they hadn’t all been looking at him as if he were going to turn purple and blow up any second.

Then Jo’s ugly dog, Zeb, came racing from somewhere and started dipping in and out under his leg and barking. Lovella shouted at the dog and then started reciting something. What with the blood thumping in his ears and the dog’s barks echoing off the side of the house, Wes couldn’t make out the words, but he could tell it was Scripture. David was saying something too. His mouth was moving as the sweat dripped off the end of his nose while he pulled on Wes.

Maybe he was praying over Wes. It wouldn’t be the first time. He knew David prayed for him even if the man never said so in so many words. After all, the man was a preacher, a man called of God. He had to pray for everybody. It was part of his job.

Wes couldn’t remember the last time he’d prayed. Maybe when he was a kid tagging along with his mother to Sunday school. Maybe never. Not a real prayer. He might have said words.
Our Father up in heaven, hallowed be thy name
. For years, he’d thought it was “Howard be thy name.” Wes had a brother named Howard and had once asked his mother if she’d named Howard after God. She laughed as if he’d told a good joke when she finally figured out what he was talking about. That was the best thing about his mother. The way she could laugh. She died when he was fifteen, so many years ago that he could barely remember her face, but he remembered her laugh.

Now the dog, maybe dizzy from all his running back and forth, banged into Jo’s knees and knocked her backward. She let out a little squeal as her hands slipped off his cast. Wes stiffened and braced himself for the pain of his leg jarring against the ground, but Zeb, as if he really knew what was happening, scooted under the cast and stopped, letting the weight of it land on his back. He stopped barking and looked over at Wes almost apologetically. Then the dog started panting with his tongue near to dragging on the ground as the poor creature’s legs almost buckled under the weight of the cast. He turned his head to direct a little hurry-up woof at Jo, who was scrambling to her feet.

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Tabitha said. “Do you think he aimed to do that or he just got under there at the wrong time?”

“Well, of course he aimed to,” Jo said as she grabbed hold of the cast again so the dog could move out from under it. Zeb wobbled over to the shady side of the car and collapsed. “He didn’t want to hurt Wes. He was just excited.”

“Come on, Jocie,” Tabitha said. “He’s just a dog.”

“Try telling him that,” Jo said.

“Why? You think he might bite me or something if I say he’s a dog? He is a dog.” Suddenly Tabitha didn’t look all that sure. “Isn’t he?”

David smiled at Wes as he tugged him a little closer to the edge of the car seat. “He looks like a dog, he sounds like a dog, and heaven only knows, he smells like a dog. So I think we can be pretty sure he’s a dog.”

“But smarter than any other dog you’ll ever meet on this planet,” Jocie said. “Right, Wes?”

“Oh, no, not the out-of-Jupiter stories again.” Tabitha smacked the palm of her hand against her forehead as if her head had started hurting. “You guys are weirder than anybody I ever met from here to California and back.”

Wes laughed. He was out of the car at last and on his feet, or foot might be more accurate. The good leg was tingling awake. He needed to stomp it, but it was hard to stomp when only one foot was in working order. He shoved the crutches up under his arms and didn’t pay the first bit of attention to the complaints his arms and shoulders started shouting at him. He just kept laughing. That somehow seemed a better thing to do than cry, especially with Jo watching him.

“‘A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.’” Lovella smiled at him.

“‘But a broken spirit drieth the bones,’” Wes said.

“Proverbs 17:22. I didn’t know you knew the Scriptures, Wesley,” Lovella said.

“There was a Bible in the table drawer at the hospital. And a lot of time for reading if I could get the nurses to let me alone.”

He let them help him up on the porch and into the house. They’d shoved all the living room furniture to the side of the room and put up a cot for him with a table beside it. The bed looked awfully low to the floor, but maybe if they set a straight chair beside it he could pull himself up out of it. Jo must have gone to his rooms and brought him a stack of his books. An easy chair with a footstool sat right by the table with a floor lamp over the chair. He could feel Jo watching him to see what he thought of how they’d fixed it up for him. He let the smile hanging around from the merry heart stay on his face and tried not to think about broken spirits drying up bones as he looked at her. “You guys have got me fixed up so good, you may never get rid of me.”

For a minute he thought Jo was going to start bawling. He was glad she fought it off, because he wasn’t sure he might not have joined in. And then the merry heart medicine would have been down the tubes.

7

Things were always a little wild on Sunday mornings at the Brooke house as they all scrambled to get ready for church. Before Tabitha came home from California, Aunt Love had kept David and Jocie on schedule. If either of them stayed too long in the bathroom, she rapped sharply on the door and got them moving. But it was hard to move somebody out of the bathroom who had morning sickness. And it was beginning to look as if the only thing that was going to ease Tabitha’s morning sickness was having her baby. Her doctor had told Tabitha some women were just unlucky that way.

David still had a hard time thinking of Tabitha as a woman. He’d lost so many of her girl years after she’d left with Adrienne that he wasn’t ready for her to be a woman, even if she was only a few weeks from being a mother. She had settled in better back in Hollyhill than he ever imagined she would after they came home from church a couple of months ago to find her on the porch. She’d ridden a bus all that way. By herself. Holding the secret of her baby close within her for weeks after she was home. Aunt Love had finally insisted Tabitha tell him what he’d been too blind to see. So many surprises already this summer.

Sometimes David was almost afraid to stick his head out from under the covers in the morning for fear of what the Lord might send his way next. But then when the sun started pushing light in through his window, David would say his morning prayer. “Oh, Lord, be with me today.” And the Lord’s answer would echo back.
Lo, I am with you
always, even unto the end of the world
. The Lord’s promise was good to the disciples who faced much more perilous times in those New Testament days than David could even imagine facing, and that same promise was good to the Lord’s followers now. David just had to lean on the Lord and in all things be thankful.

And he was. He was thankful Tabitha was home. He was thankful for the child on the way. He was thankful for a church that trusted David to lead them. He was thankful Jocie had weathered the storms of the summer. He was thankful Wes had survived the tornado. He was thankful that it was so easy to smile when Leigh was around. He still didn’t know exactly what he should do about Leigh. If only she wasn’t so young, but maybe it was her being young that kept him smiling.

But none of that made it one bit easier to get out the door on time to leave for church. Or easier to decide what to do about Wes. David wasn’t having second thoughts about bringing Wes home with him, but he was having second thoughts about their ability to take care of him, especially Aunt Love’s and Tabitha’s and Jocie’s when David wasn’t there to help.

On Saturday, they had all three volunteered to stay home with Wes on Sunday. And now Tabitha had found David going over his sermon notes in his bedroom and was trying to convince him she should be the one to stay home. “Let me stay with Wes. Nobody will miss me at church.”

“Everybody will miss you,” David told her. “Whenever you’re not there, they all ask about you.”

“Probably to see if I’m properly ashamed of myself yet.” Tabitha made a little face as she touched her rounded stomach.

David stood up from his desk and went over to hug her. “You know that’s not true. The people out there have been nothing but kind to you. Haven’t they?” He peered down at her face. Maybe there was something he didn’t know. Maybe the Martin boy was at it again. It had been Ronnie Martin’s ugly words in Jocie’s ears that had sent her reeling earlier in the summer.

David and the boy’s father, Ogden Martin, one of the deacons at Mt. Pleasant, had talked it out, then prayed together on their knees in the men’s Sunday school room until the Lord helped them find a way to both continue on in the same church. Ogden made his son apologize to Jocie, something she stood still and endured even though she didn’t want to. The words were said, but David didn’t sense a genuine feeling of sorrow in the boy over what he’d done any more than he felt any hint of forgiveness in Jocie. He wouldn’t be surprised if Ronnie was already making more trouble.

But Tabitha was shaking her head. “No, they don’t say anything outright. It’s just the way they look at me with those ‘oh poor pitiful thing’ eyes like I had leprosy or something instead of just expecting a baby. And then if I tell them I’m doing fine, they look at me like I shouldn’t be doing fine, like I should be sitting over in the corner staring at my hands and crying big crocodile tears or something.”

David tightened his arm around her shoulder and smiled a little. “We don’t always act the way other people think we should.”

Tabitha looked up at him. “Well, I mean, I know I did wrong, that I should have waited till I was married, but if I had, this baby would’ve never been. And Aunt Love helped me pray and tell the Lord I’m sorry. She said the Lord would forgive me if I did that.”

“And the Lord did. In the Bible it says if we ask for forgiveness the Lord will separate us from our sins as far as the east is from the west.”

“How far is that?” Tabitha asked.

“If you were to start walking east and never turned around, you would never go west. You would just keep walking east forever around and around the world.”

“Really? I’d never thought about that.” Tabitha looked as if a light had come on inside her head. But then she was frowning again. “But the women at church want me to be miserable instead of happy. They think I’m sinning if I smile when I feel little Stephanie Grace kicking.”

“Oh, I don’t think they’re that bad.” David had given up sticking in a word here and there to prepare Tabitha in case her baby didn’t turn out to be the girl she was so sure she was carrying. She said she was having a girl. She was naming her Stephanie Grace, and that was that.

“But why can’t they just be glad for me? I’m glad. Why can’t they be?”

“Tell them that. Tell them you’re glad about the baby and hope they will be too.”

“I couldn’t do that.” Tabitha looked half scared at the thought. “They’d really think I was awful then.”

“No, they wouldn’t. They’d think you were a mother who loved her baby just the way they loved their own babies before they were born.” David brushed Tabitha’s forehead with his lips.

“I’m not sure about that. They already think I’m half heathen because I’ve got this rose on my cheek.” Tabitha touched the small tattoo on her left cheek. “And I’m probably causing you enough problems at church without saying all the wrong things the way DeeDee used to when she went.”

“Your mother never liked being at church.”

“I remember,” Tabitha said.

“I suppose you do.” David hadn’t realized until Tabitha came home how much the girl had known about the problems between David and Adrienne. He thought he’d kept it all hidden so well. “But you’re not causing me any problems, and when your baby comes, the people at Mt. Pleasant will be won over by his or her first smile.”

“If you say so, but somebody has to stay home with Wes. It can’t be you. You have to preach. And Aunt Love likes to go to church too much to miss. I guess Jocie and me can take turns, but let my turn be first. Please.”

“Okay, if you promise to call Mr. Crutcher next door if you need help. If Wes were to fall or something, you couldn’t try to help him up.”

“Mr. Crutcher goes to church too, doesn’t he? Doesn’t everybody in Holly County go to church except Wes?”

“Well, I’m not sure the whole county is that faithful, but just in case, I’ll tell Wes not to try to walk to the bathroom till after church time,” David said.

“Maybe you’d better ask him instead of telling him. Nicely,” Tabitha said. “Wes doesn’t take orders too well. He was even cranky with Jocie last night when she was trying to get him to eat.”

“We may be expecting too much out of him. He’s lived by himself for years now, and we plop him down in the middle of what he calls Brooke Central Station. He told me that it wasn’t even quiet around here at midnight with the way Grandfather Brooke’s clock bongs out the hours.”

“I’ll go out and sit on the porch today and let him have all the silence he wants.”

“He’ll probably appreciate that,” David said.

Jocie didn’t protest when he told her Tabitha was going to take the first turn staying with Wes. She just said, “Okay. I forgot to get somebody to help Miss Vangie in my place with the Beginners’ Class today anyway. I’ll ask Paulette if she can do it next Sunday.”

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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