Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins
“Where to? Another foster home?”
“They’ve got her at some kinda central home.”
“Ugh. Like an orphanage?”
“I guess. But that’s better’n where she was.”
“Listen to this. ‘We appreciate your interest, Mr. Schuler, and you may rest assured that we will do all we can to insure
the safety of every child under our jurisdiction. You may also let young Mr. Jackson know that we will keep confidential his
general whereabouts, as he is now of age and entitled to his privacy. However, I would consider it a personal favor if you
would inform him that Jennifer asks about him and would undoubtedly be encouraged to hear from him. I would be happy to pass
along any messages and he may feel free to call the following number without fear that anyone will determine his whereabouts.’”
“Jackson see this yet?”
“Thought we’d tell him together,” Coach said. “But I’m sure he’s already run off.”
“Yeah. To Tee’s. Rachel’s gonna see him there tonight. I’ll have her tell him we wanna see him during his afternoon study
“You can come early with all you got going on?”
“I’ll make it work.”
• • •
I drove to Bev’s feeling like I’d downed a cold drink on a hot day. Besides the news for Elvis, the team was up, Coach was
encouraged, and Bev was slowly getting better. I was still raising a kid on my own and watching the slow death of a business,
a school, and a town, but nobody ever promised everything would be rosy. Anyway, I was in love.
Rachel was there, waiting for me to take her to see Elvis. I didn’t expect to see Kim, but it was okay cause she seemed to
be easing up on me. Bev was asleep, so Rachel went to the car and Kim and I talked in the living room.
“You’re doing more than could be expected, Cal.”
expected, you mean?”
“I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on you. It’s just that you mean so much to her.”
“Well, she means a lot to me too, Kim. I’m just sorry it took something like this to make me realize it. I don’t know if I
was her whether I’d have waited that long for me to get a clue.”
Rachel seemed put out when I got to the car. “I don’t want to miss him, Daddy. They close early and he gets outa there as
soon as he can.”
Driving over there I told her to tell him Coach and I needed to see him the next afternoon.
“I’m not sure he’s even gonna talk to me,” she said.
“He’ll talk to you.”
“You don’t know everything.”
She hadn’t said it as mean as it sounded. I gave her a look, but it wasn’t like she said something that wasn’t true. I didn’t
come close to knowing half of anything. “Who could shut you out, honey?” I said.
“He’s pretty mad.”
“He can’t think you said that on purpose. How could you know about the wreck?”
“He told me. Told me and Coach.”
“Then he probably thinks that’s how I know.”
I pulled up just south of the diner.
“Speaking of Coach, Daddy, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Bev and I saw Miz Schuler at the rehab center.”
“She didn’t know who we were and we didn’t tell her. She said we looked familiar and that she bet we were from Athens City.
We just told her we were friends and that we wanted to read some Bible verses to her and pray with her.”
“Then she said something weird and Bev and I just looked at each other and didn’t know what to say. On the way home we decided
we wouldn’t tell anybody, but there’s not much I don’t tell you.”
“Cept that you and Bev had become buddies. Did you promise her you wouldn’t tell me what Miz Schuler said?”
“No, but you have to promise not to say anything.”
“To Coach, you mean? Is this something he should know?”
“If it’s true, he knows. I don’t know, maybe
already knew this. Maybe he told you. For all I know, she could have just been babbling.”
I was curious, but I wasn’t going to make Rachel tell me.
“Bev was reading Luke 1:45 to her, something Bev says she likes to read to women when she doesn’t know where they’re coming
from as far as what they believe and all.”
“Remind me what it says.”
“Oh, let’s see, it’s that one about Mary that you hear at Christmas. ‘Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment
of what the Lord told her.’ Something like that.”
“That really got to Miz Schuler somehow. She looked real sad and dazed. I figured maybe she was disappointed in God, like
that promise wasn’t for her, you know? But pretty soon she interrupts us and she says, ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes
away.’ I thought I knew what she was talking about.”
“Sure, but she wasn’t. She said, ‘God took my baby girl.’ Scared me to death, Daddy.”
“Her baby girl?”
Rachel nodded. “Bev says, ‘You lost a baby?’ And Miz Schuler says, ‘Before she was even born.’ That’s when Bev and I looked
at each other and Bev asked if she could pray. Miz Schuler didn’t say anything, didn’t bow her head or close her eyes or anything.
She just kept staring, and Bev prayed for her. Then we left. Did you know anything about that?”
I shook my head. “And it’s not the type of a thing I could ask Coach about either.”
“Should I have told you?”
I told Rachel I was willing to wait, but she said, “I hope Elvis and I will talk awhile, Daddy. If we do, maybe I can get
him to walk me home. If I can’t, I’ll call you.”
“I’ll be sound asleep soon, hon.”
“Well, if I don’t call in half an hour, I won’t need a ride.”
I couldn’t really sleep without Rachel safe and sound in the house. I sat by the phone, still dressed and nodding off. Finally,
she called. “I just wanted you to know you could go to bed, Daddy. He’s gonna walk me and we’ll talk on the porch.”
“Everything’s all right, then?”
“I didn’t say that, but this is a start.”
achel had found the door locked at Tee’s but the lights were still on, so Elvis had to be there. She knocked and knocked until
he emerged from the back. He stopped dead and frowned, then unlocked the door and backed away, dragging a chair out from a
table. He sat and looked up at her. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll seat myself.”
He said, “I’ve still got a lot to do here.”
“Then let me help you. I’m not done talking to you, and I need you to walk me home so my dad doesn’t worry about me.”
“And you think all you have to do is say the word and I’ll do that?”
“Elvis, I’m sorry for whatever I said that made you mad. But you have to understand that I don’t do this stuff on purpose.
I asked you to tell me about your parents the other day and you blew me off. I used a stupid story to make a point today and
set you off again. I thought I knew how to talk to people. Most kids like me and don’t get all bothered by what I say, even
if it’s something dumb. So can you give me a break? If I insult you, can you just assume I didn’t do it on purpose? Cause
He looked down and she thought she might be getting through. “Elvis, I see something in you that you don’t see. You’ve got
this shell around you that keeps you from, I don’t know, seeing stuff.”
“I know that sounds silly,” she said, “but it’s like your world is small. I mean, this is a small town, maybe smaller than
where you came from, but you’re all tied up inside yourself and you’re missing stuff you could be excited about.”
“You’re back to ‘Everything’s beautiful’ now?” he said. “You admitted losing your mom wasn’t some Sunday school story you
could tell all your life.”
“You’re right and I
being phony, even if I didn’t know it. But look at you. Do you have any friends?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“See? I’m not trying to put you down. It’s just that I see this guy who could be so cool, who people would love if you’d give
em a chance. You’ve got so much going for ya, but you’ve also got this attitude. I know more about you than anybody in town,
but I hardly know you at all. You won’t let me in. Does anybody know how you got here? Where you’re from? That you didn’t
have parents? Okay, you had parents until you were ten. But see? You’re looking at me like I’m saying something to hurt you,
and I just want to know you.” She stopped and shook her head. “Come on, give me a towel or a broom or something and let’s
get this place done so we can talk at my house.”
Rachel talked as they worked, feeling as if she was building a fragile wall that kept falling around her. “All I’m asking
is that you give me a chance, Elvis.”
“A chance? You didn’t even want me to touch you!” “I thought we were past that! I told you, I don’t take that lightly. If
you’d think about it, look outside the personal little fort you’ve built, you’d let me know enough about you that I’d believe
you really want to be my friend. Who knows? I might even hold your hand.” Elvis scowled. “C’mon! That’s a joke. Give me a
laugh, at least a smile. You’re not gonna treat me like some girl from back home, because I’ll bet they didn’t know you either.
Am I right?”
He was wiping down the counter. “Yeah,” he said.
Half an hour later, as they walked to her house, she said, “Okay, I’m starting, but one of these days, it’s gonna be your
turn. You wanna know the truth about my mom? I was only five, but I knew it was coming. She was real sick, and then she went
into the hospital. I don’t know how I even knew about people dying or getting better, but I wasn’t hearing the answers I wanted
when I asked my dad or my grandmaw when Mama was coming home.
“They’d say they didn’t know or they weren’t sure or they wanted her home as much as I did. I never believed that. I wasn’t
good at putting things into words, but nothing was like it used to be. Grandmaw or my dad putting me to bed just wasn’t the
same. They didn’t hug the same. They didn’t smell the same. They didn’t read me the right stuff or sing me my song.
“Every night they tried harder and must’ve got hints from her. I don’t know. They probably told her I wasn’t sleeping well
or that I was getting up in the night, and they’d all of a sudden start reading me the same stories Mama read me or singing
the same song. But that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted my mom back and I didn’t want to wait any longer.” Rachel looked at
Elvis in the darkness. “You sure you want to hear all this?”
“If you want to tell it,” he said, emotion in his voice.
“I got to see Mama about once a week, and she looked worse every time. Somehow I knew she wouldn’t be coming home unless she
started to look better. I’d say, ‘Mama, you’re white!’ and someone would tell me not to say that. I’d say, ‘You got more tubes
than before,’ and I’d be told not to say that. I’d say, ‘I want you home,’ or ‘Sing me
and I’d get shushed. Finally I got so mad at everybody telling me not to bother Mama that I just started crying real loud.
I was hysterical.”
Rachel’s eyes stung. “Grandmaw and one of my aunts were saying, ‘Don’t make Estelle go through this. Take her out.’ Daddy
picked me up and I was yelling, ‘I just want Mama to sing
to me!’ He was crying when he set me down in the hall and held onto me so I wouldn’t run back in, but next thing you know,
Mama was calling for me. I said, ‘She wants me! Daddy! She wants me! Let me go!’ And he made me promise to be quiet if he
took me back in.
“I would have done anything,
to not get dragged away from her, no matter how sick and tired and pale she looked. My dad took me back in, holding my hand,
and Mama reached to me from the bed, saying, ‘Come here, sugar.’
“I looked around to see if it was okay, and even though the big people all looked at each other and shook their heads, Mama
kept reaching. Daddy lifted me up and held on so I wouldn’t put too much weight on her or get tangled in the cords. I didn’t
care about the medicine smell or how I could see her veins through her skin. I was with my mama again and I was doing more
than just giving her a quick kiss or letting her hold my hand.
“She put her arms around me and tried to pull me close, but she was so weak. Daddy was still holding me so I wouldn’t hurt
her. And then she started singing. ‘You are my sunshine.’” Rachel’s throat caught and tears streamed. “‘My little sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.’” She whispered now. “‘You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take
my sunshine away.’”
Rachel couldn’t go on. She wanted to tell Elvis how her mother was never able to do that again and how even though Rachel
had promised, she couldn’t help crying and screaming again when her dad finally had to pull her off her mother. She had taken
those words to heart and believed with everything in her that she was her mom’s sunshine and that Mama didn’t want anyone
to take her away.
Rachel stopped walking and tried wiping her face with her hands. Elvis had turned away and his shoulders heaved. “May I use
your sleeve?” she said.
He turned, sobbing, and offered his arm. She bent and wiped her face on his shirt and he embraced her. He cried and cried
on her shoulder, then backed away and wiped his own face.
Finally they walked on. “See?” she managed. “Truth hurts. It’s easier to just remember that when my mom died she was finally
not sick anymore, she was with Jesus. It was what I’d been taught and needed to believe so bad. That was sure easier than
what I just told you, which I haven’t even talked about to my dad since the day it happened. I don’t know if he even remembers
They reached Rachel’s house and sat on the front steps. “Let me tell you something,” Elvis said. “I’ll bet you anything he
remembers everything about it and that it hurts him just as much as it hurts you.”
They sat inches apart for several minutes and finally Rachel leaned over until her shoulder touched his.
never really sleep till Rachel’s home. I heard her and Elvis on the front porch till late that night. I couldn’t make out
their words, but she did most of the talking. That girl can talk to anybody. Wish I was as good at it. Wish I had her faith
too. Rachel really believes God answers prayer. I do too, course, but not like her. Even keeps a prayer list. I’m on it. So’s
Elvis and the school and the town, even American Leather. I don’t know how she keeps it all straight and I worry when she
doesn’t get the answers she wants. She just keeps it up anyway.