Read And the Greatest of These Is Love: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel Online
Authors: Staci Stallings
Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction, #Inspirational
“That’s an excuse.”
“It’s an excuse, Andrew, and it’s your right to choose to use that excuse, but before you do, I want you to realize, it
He tried to form a sentence in his head that didn’t start with but; however, none was getting through.
“Listen to me, the Andrew Clark I know wouldn’t let a few bars stop him — he’d just find a way to get it done anyway.”
“Well, how do you propose I do that?”
“I think you can start by looking past yourself. I saw you do that at the center, and you single-handedly turned that whole financial situation around — not to mention picking up a kid and a few adoring fans along the way.”
He smiled at that.
“All I’m saying is you’re never gonna get these days back, maybe there’s something you can do even now — even when it all looks hopeless,” she said, never losing the softness. “Just promise me you’ll think about it, all right?”
Ever so slowly he nodded, but that was enough.
“Now, everyone out there is pulling for you,” she said, stepping over to him, “and so am I.”
He could feel her there barely a foot away, and instantly his body went on high alert.
“I’m right here,” she said. “I’m in this fight with you, and so is everybody else. Remember that. Okay?”
Slowly he nodded again, and then she reached over and put her arms around him. When he closed his eyes and held her to him, all the bars disappeared.
“How’s Andrew?” Bryan asked as Gabi followed him into the living room.
“I think he’s gonna be okay.”
The sunlight seemed brighter when she awoke Sunday morning, and instantly Gabi thought about how clean her windows seemed. It was strange, but in reminding Andrew of his purpose, she had reclaimed some of her own. Sometimes miracles don’t happen quite the way you had expected them to, but they happen all the same.
Miracles. She had prayed so hard for one, and then almost missed seeing it when it came along. She pulled the covers from her body and tip-toed into the living room. The tiny figure curled on her couch looked as though he belonged nowhere else in this world. In fact, it would be difficult to see him go when Andrew got out.
Quietly she filled a glass of milk and made a piece of toast, and then she sat down at the table to simply enjoy the morning watching the most enchanting scene she had ever witnessed.
“Gabriella,” Father Callihan said, greeting her with a smile after Mass.
“Hello, Father.” She shook his hand and looked down at the little figure cowering behind her. “I’d like you to meet Antonio Walls. He’s a friend of mine.”
“Well, hello, Antonio,” Father Callihan said, extending his hand to the child. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Hi,” Antonio said shyly, and then, in perfect form, he extended his own hand which Father Callihan shook.
Father smiled once more before resuming his conversation with Gabi. “It’s nice to see you again, Gabriella. How’s everything at the center?”
“Much better,” she said, and even as she said it, she couldn’t stop the smile.
“Yes, I’ve been reading the articles in the paper,” he said. “I’m glad things have settled down.”
“So, am I.” And she meant it. “Well, we’d better be going.”
“You take care, Antonio,” Father Callihan said.
Antonio nodded as he reached up and took hold of Gabi’s hand. They extracted themselves from the crowd and walked down the hallway slowly.
“Do you think God knows about Andrew?” Antonio asked, tipping his head as he gazed up at the statues lining the space.
“Sure, He does,” Gabi said, wondering where this conversation was headed — with Antonio, there was never any telling.
“Does He know about me?”
“Yes, Antonio. He knows about you.”
The little boy was silent for a moment, and Gabi could almost see the wheels turning in his little head.
“Do you think talking to God makes any difference?” he asked, his voice drifting as if on wings.
“Yes, I do.”
He looked up at her then, trust mixed with concern. “Do you think we could talk to God about Andrew? Just to make sure He knows and everything.”
The smile came all the way from her toes. “I think that would be a great idea.” Stopping at the door she knew so well, she reached and opened it. “Let’s go in here into the chapel, and we can talk to God—just us. Okay?”
Together, they walked to the front. Gabi had the vague feeling that this must be what it was like to be a mother — holding the hand of a child you love, and helping them learn to talk to God.
“Let’s sit here,” she said, entering a pew, and Antonio followed. Gabi sat down, and Antonio settled in beside her. For a moment all was silent, then slowly as though it didn’t even belong to her, her arm went around him, and he snuggled in closer to her as they both gazed up into the soft white-yellow light over the small altar.
“Do you think God listens to you if you’re sitting down?” Antonio whispered.
Gabi leaned down to him. “I don’t think it matters.”
He nodded but then scowled. “Maybe we ought to kneel just in case.”
“Okay.” Who was she to argue? So, they both slid off the pew and onto the kneelers, and for a moment all was silent.
A long moment and Antonio shook his head. “I don’t know how to talk to God. How do I know if He’s listening?”
“He’s listening,” she said, knowing in her heart it was true. She had seen His work, up close and personal. “Just think of Him as your best friend and talk to Him like that.”
Antonio nodded seriously.
“God,” the little voice beside her said then, and the entire chapel seemed to fill with light. “I know You’re busy and everything, but we need some help...”
Gabi waited patiently for the jail visitation room door to open. She had so much to tell him that her heart was about to burst at the seams. But nothing, nothing, had prepared her for the entrance he made today.
“Oh, Gabi, good. I thought you’d never get here,” he said the moment he crossed the threshold, barely waiting for the guard to un-handcuff him.
“Andrew?” she asked in bewilderment, but he didn’t give her a chance.
“You’ve gotta see this.” He retrieved a small stack of papers from the guard. “Thanks.”
The guard nodded and stepped off to the side. Coming over Andrew spread the papers out on the table.
“What’s this?” Gabi asked as her bewilderment grew.
“The center,” he said simply. He smoothed out the sheaves with his hands. “See, I think we could put a computer room over in this area, and it makes no sense to close the cafeteria when the older kids get there. All those tables would be great for studying — and the elementary school kids could do crafts in there. Plus, we could do tutoring in there. It wouldn’t be near the gym, so it would be a lot quieter.
“I also think we need to talk to some of the teachers at the schools — who knows maybe they’d be willing to volunteer once or twice a week? And I know some of the older girls could help out. Some of them are really good with the kids.”
“Andrew! Take a breath!” she said in disbelief, and for the first time since he’d entered the room, he really looked at her, and his eyes were sparkling.
“So, what do you think?”
She laughed, floored by the dynamic energy pouring off of him. “I think you’re insane.”
“Well, it’s better than being dead,” he said, raising his eyebrows and grinning at her. “Oh, and look at this. These are some foundations we need to apply to…”
The reporter who appeared in Judge Carson’s courtroom the following morning was not the same man the bailiff had led away three days before.
“I will ask you again, Mr. Clark,” Judge Carson said, staring at him over his reading glasses. “Will you, or will you not answer the questions presented to you?”
“No, Your Honor,” Andrew answered with no trace of hesitation or uncertainty. “I cannot answer those questions, but if you don’t mind I have a few questions of my own.”
The judge raised his eyebrows at that. “Oh?”
“Yes, Sir. I would like to know if I can be allowed access to a telephone during the afternoons.”
“A telephone, Mr. Clark?”
“Yes, Sir. You see I’m working on getting grants for the center over in Collins, and being able to call the people directly would be a lot quicker than having to write requests for the applications.”
“Mr. Clark, I can’t start authorizing phone privileges,” Judge Carson said as though it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard of.
“You can’t, huh?” Andrew said, stymied for only a moment. “Okay. Then can I at least have a typewriter and some decent paper to work with? The foundations really frown on loose leaf.”
Irvin came bouncing into Gabi’s room at just after 4:15 on Monday afternoon. “Hi, Miss T.”
“Hi, Irvin,” she said, so thankful for the young man’s positive presence.
“Hey, Irvin.” Antonio ran to his friend and grabbed his hand. “We’re playing house, you wanna be my little boy?”
Looking first at Antonio and then at Gabi, Irvin’s face registered wide-eyed concern. “Oh… Kay.”
Gabi stifled a laugh as Irvin allowed himself to be led into the group of four-year-olds.
“You have to get down on your knees though. Boys aren’t supposed to be bigger than their dads,” Antonio instructed as he assessed the situation.
“Oh.” Irvin dropped to his knees. “Is this better?”
“Yes,” Antonio said with a satisfied grin.
“You know, I hate to say this, Andrew, but I think as your lawyer it’s time to at least look at the option of talking,” Bryan said as he watched Andrew typing quickly in the corner of the cell.
“How do you spell ‘assiduously?’” Andrew asked without looking up.
“Never mind.” Andrew resumed typing. “I’ll just use diligently.”
Bryan let out the breath very slowly so he didn’t lose the patience with this little brother that was slipping from his grasp. “Andrew, you’re not listening.”
“How do you spell, ‘unfathomable?’”
“How in the world did you ever become a reporter?” Bryan asked in exasperation.
“Spell check,” Andrew said and resumed typing. “Do you think Carson would let me have a dictionary?”
“Andrew!” Bryan said loud enough to command quiet in several other cells as well.
“What?” Andrew looked up in annoyance.
“What’re you doing?” Bryan asked, shaking his head.
Lifting his chin with half a shrug, Andrew looked right at his brother. “Living.” His gaze never faltered. “I’m living. Now, do you think you could get me a dictionary?”
“He’s dead!” Antonio squealed, rushing to the giant ‘patient’ stretched out in the middle of the floor.
“What should we do, Doctor?” Shaniquille asked, her high-pitched voice going even higher on the drama.
“We’ll have to give him mouth-to-mouth perspiration,” Antonio said, seriously shaking his head.
“Hey. Whoa. Hey now.” Irvin sat up and put one hand up as well. “That’s okay, I’m alive.”
“No, you’re not,” Antonio said in full command mode, “now lay down!”
Irvin looked at Gabi who shrugged helplessly, and then with more worry than she had ever seen on his face, he did as instructed by the little four-year-old dictator.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Bryan said humbly at his unscheduled appearance in Carson’s chambers at just before five. “I do realize it’s a strange request.”
“And then the wolf said, ‘Little pig, little pig, let me come in,’” Irvin said in his very best wolf voice. “And the little pig said,”
“Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin!” the children chorused around his feet.
“Here’s your dictionary.” Bryan held the small book between the bars, and Andrew leaped from his seat and grabbed the book from his brother’s outstretched hand.
“Great!” he said as though it was the bicycle he’d wanted his whole life. Without pause he began searching through it.
“So, how are the grants coming?” Bryan asked slowly.
“Pretty good.” Andrew sat back down as he searched for a word in his new prize. “If I get these two done tonight, do you think you could mail them on your way home?”
“Andrew,” Bryan said, crumbling again.
“Look. It’s not like I asked to hand-carry them to Pennsylvania.”
Bryan slumped on the understanding that his client and brother had both lost his mind and permanently decided not to relinquish the information the justice system wanted. “Yeah,” Bryan finally said. What else could he say? “I’ll take them.”
Irvin dumped an armload of toys into the box and shoved it under the cabinet. Antonio had been sent to retrieve a mop and a bucket from the janitor’s closet, so for the moment, it was just the two of them.
“You were really good with them today,” Gabi said as she leaned against the bookshelf, watching him.
“I had a good teacher.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back and nodded.
“You’re gonna make a really good father,” she said, and the admiration in her voice was no act.
Irvin laughed. “Not for a long, long time.” Then the smile vanished. “Thanks to Mr. C that is.”
“Andrew?” she asked instantly puzzled. “What does he have to do with you being a father?”
The shrug was only barely there. “Let’s just say the bet made me see things a lot differently.”
“Bet? What bet?” she asked, getting more concerned with every word.
“The bet. You know.”
“No, I don’t know.”
“Oh, well, it’s no big deal really. I just thought Mr. C would’ve told you about it by now.”
“No. He didn’t, but you’re going to.”
“Oh.” Irvin stood from the task and put his hands on his waist and his gaze on the floor. “Well, we just made this bet that... Well, that I wouldn’t... you know... sleep with anybody... for a month... you know...”
Gabi came out of coil with a snap. “He what?”
Irvin shrugged again. “Yeah. We just got to talking the other night, and the subject came up, and… well, he bet me that I couldn’t go a whole month without…”
She waved her hands to get the details to stop. “I get the picture.”
“Truth is, I thought he was crazy at first, but Tonika was willing to give it a try. And well, let’s just say it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” she said, trying to figure out a plausible response to this story. Should they really be getting involved in the private lives of the kids? That seemed a step beyond their jurisdiction — at least.
“Hello! What do I look like a five-year-old?” Antonio asked from the doorway as he struggled in with the bucket and mop.
“Here, let me help you with that,” Irvin said clearly more than a little glad for the interruption.
As she drove away from the center later, Gabi’s heart once again agreed with him, but her head vehemently protested that they shouldn’t be getting into the middle of the students’ romantic lives. That shouldn’t be in their sphere of influence. What if Irvin’s mother found out? What if she wasn’t happy about the interference? What then?
“Hey, guys and dolls, I’m Antonio Walls, comin’ at ya from KATC,” Antonio said from the other seat as Gabi’s attention glued there in amusement. She really did need to get the radio fixed. “And now here’s one from my favorite artist, it’s call ‘I Just Wanna Be Near Ya.’ I just wanna be near ya. I just wanna hold ya all night. I just wanna be near ya. Come on, Baby, what’d’ya say-ay-ay?”
For a four-year-old, his singing was amazingly good, but hearing those words coming from the tiny voice startled something deep inside her.
“Antonio,” she said more harshly than she had planned. “Where did you hear that?”
A long, ominous pause filled the car.
“On the radio,” he finally said as the fear laced its way across his tiny face, “at Andrew’s place…”
And as he said it, his face crumpled back into fear and protectiveness mode.
Gabi sighed at her own stupidity and harshness. He was four, and he was just following along with what everybody else was doing. “I’m sorry, Antonio.” She reached over and put her hand on his knee. He wasn’t doing it to annoy her. He was just trying to be upbeat in what had to be a horrible situation.
“When’s Andrew gonna get to come home?” Antonio asked softly, his little eyes pleading and scared.
Gabi fell silent for a long moment. She had no answer for that question. “I don’t know, Antonio.”
“I don’t understand why I can’t see him,” he said miserably, and she could almost hear his little heart breaking. “I just want to see him. Why won’t they let me?”
“I’ll tell you what,” she said, praying as she said it that somehow they could make that happen, “we’ll talk to Bryan and see if he can talk to the judge about you seeing Andrew.”
“Can we, please?” he asked as the crocodile tears spilled over his eyes. “I just want to see Andrew.”
“Yeah, Antonio. We can. We’ll see.”
“And Bryan mailed the letters today. Do you think Jerry could get me a list of the other grants we can apply for?” Andrew asked, looking every bit the CEO ticking off the meeting’s agenda though the orange jumpsuit made the whole experience feel like a funhouse gone mad.
Gabi nodded slowly, sitting at the little gray table, knowing she needed to tell him but not knowing how. It would crush him to know how badly Antonio was struggling on the other side of those walls.
“What, Gabi?” he finally asked interrupting his own meeting with concern snaking into his eyes. “What is it?”
“It’s Antonio.” She kept her gaze on her fingernails, hoping that not looking at him would soften the blow. “He wants to see you, but Bryan doesn’t think that’ll be happening anytime soon.”
“How is he?” Andrew asked, looking at her — CEO totally forgotten.
“He makes Gibraltar look weak,” she said with a tiny laugh. Her gaze chanced up and brushed his. “But he misses you, Andrew. He really does.”
Sadness crossed Andrew’s face. “Yeah. I know. I miss him, too.”
“And I’m trying, you know? But I don’t know what to tell him anymore,” she said, and the misery in her voice came through loud and clear. Somehow she had thought she would stop there before confessing her own weakness, but it spilled out before she could get it to stop. “I snapped at him tonight in the car, and he wasn’t even doing anything. He was just singing this stupid song, and I snapped at him.”
“It’s okay, Gabi.” Gently Andrew put his hand across the table and covered hers.
“I thought I could do this, you know? A couple of days. I could do that, but I don’t know how long I can do this anymore.” Desperation from all the pain she had buried began to claw its way to the surface. “I just don’t know how to be a mother.”
Andrew exhaled as if he’d been hit by an arrow. “Gabi, come on, you’re great with the kids.”
“No. That’s different,” she said as the voice inside her head started whispering incessantly.
You can’t do this. You do not have what it takes to be a mother, Gabriella.
She shook her head to get the voice to stop. “I don’t know the first thing about being a mother.”
“Gabi, what’re you talking about?” he asked with full-on concern. “You’re so great with the kids.”
The tears began stinging her eyes. “No. It’s not the same.”
“It is the same. What’s different about it?”
“School’s just for a few hours. Mothering is all the time — it’s forever.”
“Okay, first of all, I don’t plan on being in here that long, and second of all, can you really tell me that you’ll stop caring about Irvin next year or the year after that? Or 25 years in the future?”
Stop caring? That would be like stopping breathing. “No.”
“So then, why is being a mother so different?”
“It just is,” she said, anger cracking over the tears, and the heat in her words startled even her. Suddenly she knew she couldn’t stay in the room — not even one more minute — and without even willing herself to, she jumped to her feet. “I’ve gotta go.”
“Now?” he asked, jumping up, which attracted the attention of the guard who took a step in their direction.
Gabi shook her head and skirted his reach. “Antonio’s waiting. Take care, Andrew.”
And with that she was gone.