But for the

Gr ace of God

Kathy Witman

Copyright © 2014 Kathy Witman.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means,
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and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.
Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.
ISBN: 978-1-4908-3069-8 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4908-3071-1 (hc)
ISBN: 978-1-4908-3070-4 (e)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014905052
Printed in the United States of America.
WestBow Press rev. date: 04/03/2014

Contents
Preface................................................................................................. vii
Acknowledgement................................................................................. ix
Chapter 1............................................................................................... 1
Chapter 2............................................................................................... 9
Chapter 3............................................................................................. 25
Chapter 4............................................................................................. 36
Chapter 5..............................................................................................51
Chapter 6............................................................................................. 60
Chapter 7............................................................................................. 72
Chapter 8............................................................................................. 78
Chapter 9............................................................................................. 84
Chapter 10........................................................................................... 97
Chapter 11......................................................................................... 107
Chapter 12..........................................................................................115
Chapter 13......................................................................................... 123
Chapter 14......................................................................................... 128
Chapter 15..........................................................................................135
Chapter 16......................................................................................... 138
Chapter 17......................................................................................... 143
Chapter 18......................................................................................... 146
Chapter 19..........................................................................................149

Chapter 20..........................................................................................165
Chapter 21..........................................................................................170
Chapter 22......................................................................................... 177
Chapter 23..........................................................................................183
Chapter 24..........................................................................................197
Chapter 25......................................................................................... 200
Chapter 26..........................................................................................210
Chapter 27..........................................................................................216
Chapter 28..........................................................................................218

Preface

I

have always enjoyed writing. In my younger years, I wrote a lot of
poems. Some were serious, and some were funny. My coworkers
looked forward to hearing the poems that I often wrote for our
Christmas celebration as well as personalized poems that I wrote about
some of my colleagues. I also used to make my own greeting cards. So
I have a history of writing, although I never pursued having any of it
published.
When my daughter was young, I got it into my head that I wanted
to try to write a book. So after I’d put her to bed for the night, I’d sit at
my computer and type away. When I was trying to decide what the book
should be about, I considered what I liked in a book. One thing that I
always liked was a plot twist; something totally unexpected. I also liked it
when there were several story lines which all tied into the main plot. Once
I decided on the main part of the story, the characters and the timeline,
the ideas just seemed to flood into my head every time I sat down to write.
I never once experienced the dreaded “writer’s block” that plagues some
authors. In fact, there were times that I could hardly type fast enough to
keep up with all of the ideas in my head. Once I had completed the book,
I read it over and over, each time changing little things or adding and
removing little bits here and there. But each time I read the book, I liked
it better than the last time I read it. Sometimes I would read a part of it
and think, I can’t believe I came up with that! But I did. I hope you enjoy
reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. God bless you.

vii

Acknowledgement

I

am so blessed to have many friends and loved ones who helped
and supported me while I went through the process of writing and
publishing this book.
First, I would like to thank my friend Sherry Arias, a retired nurse who
read my book to ensure that the medical terms and scenarios made sense.
Sherry was one of my biggest fans, encouraging me to pursue getting the
book published.
I’d also like to thank my niece, Trish Rowland, who read my book and
inspired me to follow my dream of getting it published.
I also thank my friend Cindy Burtner, who helped by giving me a
refresher course in punctuation and also edited my book.
And special thanks go out to my husband, Jim and our daughter, Jenna
for their love and support of everything I do.
My acknowledgements would not be complete without giving thanks
to God, who blesses me every day. I felt God’s presence in every part of
the process of writing and publishing my book. It would never have come
to fruition without God in my life to inspire and guide me.

ix

BUT
for the
GRACE of GOD

Chapter 1

I

t was a beautiful sunny day in September, her favorite time of year.
Frances was at home and had just gotten back from church. She
loved her church. She loved her pastor and the people she knew from
church. But she had never really gotten close to any of them. They were her
“Sunday family”. The only other time she saw them was at special church
functions. She drew strength from the sermons she heard at church, she
tried to take the time to read her Bible, and she prayed faithfully. But while
she desperately wanted to be a good Christian, she often found herself
struggling to be as close to God as she wanted to be.
Frances was a relatively happy young woman. She had a good job at the
local hospital in the town of Faith, Maryland where she lived. She worked
in the emergency room and loved what she did. It made her feel good to
know she had helped to save literally hundreds of lives and that she was
good at her job. She had studied hard all through college. When many of
her friends were out partying and sowing their wild oats, Frances could
be found in her dorm room studying. While most of her female friends
had boyfriends and were experimenting with sex, Frances’ love affair was
with her books. She loved to read her course books and medical journals;
in fact, she devoured them. She was incredibly bright and had an uncanny
ability to retain most, if not all of what she read. It was because of this that
she finished in the top five of her class.
To some, Frances seemed to have it all. She had a good job and
therefore made good money. She was buying a condominium in a nice
neighborhood in Faith, just a short drive from Baltimore, Maryland. And
while she wasn’t a beautiful woman, she was attractive in a simple way.
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Kathy Witman

Like many young women, she never felt like she was thin enough, but the
few extra pounds she carried around certainly wouldn’t have classified her
as fat. At twenty-eight years old, she was the picture of health. She didn’t
obsess over a healthy lifestyle, but she made a conscious effort to eat right.
And yet, Frances felt like there was something missing in her life. She
yearned to be in a loving relationship and share her life with someone she
could love.
Frances was not a virgin. She had lost her virginity to a young man she
had dated just before graduating from college. It was one of the few things
in her life she truly regretted doing. Although she was in her early twenties
at the time, the young man had been her very first boyfriend. He was a
nice person, but after dating for several months, he began to pressure her
about having sex. Worrying that she might lose him, she reluctantly gave
in and was immediately sorry she had. But of course, it was one of those
things she simply could not undo. For the remainder of their relationship,
she carried the guilt of what they had done like a rock around her neck.
Then after graduation, he moved back to his hometown hundreds of miles
away and she never saw him again. Since then, she had gone on a few dates,
but none of them ever turned out to be what she was looking for. She had
vowed never again to allow a man to influence her into doing anything
she didn’t want to do.
Frances was looking for storybook love. She wanted the kind of love
she had read about in romance novels; the kind she had heard about in
songs on the radio. She wanted to be with a man she loved so much that
she ached when she wasn’t with him. And she wanted him to love her
back in the same way. She knew that not too many romances were of the
storybook kind, and yet, she still held out hope that she would someday
have the relationship she desired.
But with working at the emergency room at Faith Memorial and
keeping up with reading the latest medical journals, there was little time
to do much of anything else. If she managed to eat, sleep and keep up
with the mundane chores required to keep her condo clean, comfortable
and in working order, she felt she was ahead of the game. Thank goodness
she had friends she could at least call and talk to when she didn’t have the
time or energy to actually socialize.

2

But for the Grace of God

As she finished folding a load of laundry, she decided to call one of
those friends. She reached for the phone and dialed the number with a
smile on her face. If Frances didn’t have a social life of her own, she could
always have one vicariously through Brandy.
“Hi Brandy. It’s me.”
“Hey Franny! What’s up?”
Brandy Delaughter was Frances’ best friend. She had met Brandy when
she was in her third year of college and Brandy was a freshman. They had
remained close even though Brandy had dropped out after only a little
more than a year. Brandy was a wild child. She was an attractive, black
woman and very smart. She was loyal, with a kind heart and would do
almost anything for her friend. But she just didn’t have the discipline, or
the desire to go to school. She wanted to live life in the fast lane. And she
did. She partied all the time, slept with whomever she chose, and earned
a living working at the Chat Room as an exotic dancer.
“Oh, I just got back from church,” said Frances. “I thought I’d do a
couple of loads of laundry and go to the grocery store.”
“Man, you have just got to slow down girl! You’re gonna kill yourself
livin’ so crazy,” Brandy laughed.
“Gimme a break,” said Frances. “Just because I don’t party every night
doesn’t mean I’m a loser. Besides, stuff’s gotta get done. You gonna come
over and do my chores for me?”
“Yeah, right! I don’t even do my own!” They both laughed.
“I really do wish I could get out more Brandy. Maybe if I actually had
a social life, I’d find that Prince Charming I’m always on the lookout for.
Of course if I did find a man, I’d probably be too busy to spend any time
with him.”
“Girl, what would you do with a man anyway? They just try to own
you and tell you what to do. They get all bent out-of-shape if you want
some time on your own. What you need is someone to keep you warm at
night, if ya get my drift. And while you do need a man for that, you don’t
have to keep him!”
“But that’s exactly what I’m not looking for. I’m tired of being on my
own. I’m ready to share my life with someone. And for your info, if all
I wanted was someone to keep me warm at night, I’m sure I could find

3

Kathy Witman

someone who’d be accommodating. That’s just not what I’m about and
you know it.”
“You’re never gonna find anybody in the places you go! What are you
gonna do, ask out one of the walking-wounded that come into the ER?
Oh yeah, that’d be great! ‘Hey buddy, as soon as you’re out of that body
cast, how ‘bout us getting’ together?’”
“Very funny. But I’m serious. I know you don’t want a permanent
fixture in your life Brandy, but I do. I’m tired of being alone. I’m twentyeight years old and the longest relationship I’ve ever had was a six-month
stint in college. I have everything else I need in my life; a good job, good
friends, a nice place... not necessarily in that order of course. Now I want
a commitment. I want stability. I want to come home to a big, strong pair
of arms, a soft heart and a hairy chest!”
“Maybe you should get yourself a chimpanzee. Ha!” Brandy laughed
at herself, proud of the joke she had made.
“Oh you’re hilarious Brandy!” Frances was sounding frustrated.
“Oh alright, I know. But if you can’t have what you want, then in the
meantime why don’t you just have a good time?”
“And by a good time, you mean party all week, sleep with a different
guy every night and take my clothes off to earn a living?”
“Yeah,” snorted Brandy. “Now you’re talkin’!”
“We can’t all be party girls,” stated Frances. “Besides, you know I love
you and I accept you as you are, warts and all. But I just can’t be like that.
I’d feel guilty every time I went to church.”
“Then don’t go to church!” she snorted, again proud of herself. She was
on a roll and the two girls laughed out loud.
“Anyway,” Frances interrupted. “I really do have to get going. I have
places to go, things to do and people to see.”
“Yeah, the grocery store, the laundry and your mother,” Brandy
cracked.
“Man, you’re just a barrel of laughs, aren’t you? You take your funny
pill today?” Frances smiled. “But seriously, I have to get going.”
“I gotta go too. I work tonight.”
“Are you dancing tonight?” asked Frances. “On a Sunday?”
“Yeah, on a Sunday. Horny men spend money on Sundays too ya
know. I’ll give you a call in a couple of days. But in the meantime, while
4

But for the Grace of God

you’re doing the laundry and takin’ out the trash, why don’t you think
about takin’ Tuesday off? I got a great party we can go to on Monday night
and that way you can sleep in the next day.”
“Oh, I don’t know Brandy. Every time I go out with you I either end
up having a rotten time or doing something I shouldn’t. Besides, why do
your friends always have parties on weeknights? Don’t they have jobs?”
“One or two of ‘em have jobs!” she cracked. But they all do have lives!
So why don’t you get one! Come on, Franny, say you’ll go with me. Who
knows, maybe Prince Charmin’ll be there!”
“Oh sure, he’ll be the one with the shaved head and the pierced nose.”
They laughed again. “I’ll think about it. Call me tomorrow. I get off work
at six. By the way, what time does this party start?”
“Eleven o’clock.”
“Eleven o’clock! Who starts a party at eleven o’clock?”
“You do girl. At least you will tomorrow. I’m countin’ on you goin’,”
Brandy said assertively.
“Well, don’t get your hopes up. You know I’m usually beat when I
come home from the hospital.”
“It’ll be alright, Franny. You can take a nice cool, shower, get a little
caffeine in your system, and you’ll be fine. I’ll be over at ten.”
“I’ll think about it. Bye.”
Frances hung up with a dread in her heart. She didn’t really like the
kind of party Brandy went to and she meant what she said about feeling
guilty over that kind of thing. On the rare occasions when she had gone
to parties with Brandy, she always ended up feeling remorseful. The only
good thing about it was that she always prayed fervently afterwards to ask
God for forgiveness and it brought her closer to Him.
She was just about to gather up another load of laundry when the
phone rang. This time it was Alice, a long-time friend of the family who
lived in the same town as Frances. Much older than Frances, she was a
mother figure to her. Alice knew Frances was a good girl, but she also knew
her best friend Brandy who was usually up to no good, and sometimes tried
to drag Frances down with her. So she checked on Frances from time to
time to make sure she was alright.
“Hi Frances,” came the gentle voice on the other end of the phone.
“You just get back from church?”
5

Kathy Witman

“Oh, hi Alice. Yeah, I’ve been back for about an hour or so. How
are you?”
“I’m fine. I just wanted to know if you’d like to stop by later and have
an early supper. You know I always make too much and it will just go to
waste.”
“Oh, I don’t know Alice. I appreciate the offer but I have a lot of stuff
to do. Can I have a rain check?”
“Of course honey. I just thought if you weren’t busy, well, you have
to eat, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. But I just have so many things to get done today and then
of course I have to get ready for work tomorrow,” said Frances.
“That’s fine. Maybe we can get together some other night this week.
Is any particular night better for you?” Alice asked.
“Not really, any night is good. Except, maybe tomorrow,” Frances
muttered. As soon as she said it, she wished she hadn’t. Now certainly
Alice would ask her what she was doing the next day, and Frances would
have to tell her about the party Brandy wanted her to go to. Frances truly
liked Alice, but Alice treated Frances like one of her own children and if
she thought Frances was going to do something she shouldn’t, she wouldn’t
hesitate in telling her so.
“What’s happening tomorrow?” Alice inquired.
“Oh, not much. Brandy is coming over and we’re probably gonna
get into something.” It wasn’t a lie, it just wasn’t the whole truth, Frances
thought, already feeling guilty.
“Hmmm, Brandy? You’re not going to let her talk you into getting into
trouble now, are you?” Alice’s voice mirrored concern.
“No, not at all Alice. I was just talking to Brandy a little while ago,
complaining about how lonely I’m feeling these days. So she offered to get
me out of the house for a little while, you know, meet some new people,
and have a little fun. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Frances said,
feeling like she had to defend herself.
“Just be sure that wherever she takes you is a place you’d not be
ashamed for your mother to know about. I like Brandy but that girl doesn’t
know the meaning of the word moral. You watch out for yourself Frances.
Besides, most of the places Brandy would take you would definitely not
be the kind of place where you would want to meet a potential husband.”
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But for the Grace of God

“I’ll be fine Alice. Besides, I’m not necessarily looking for a potential
husband, I’d just like some male companionship. I know there’s someone
out there for me. I just haven’t met him yet.”
“Don’t fret child. You’ll meet your special someone someday. But he
won’t be in the places Brandy takes you,” Alice said rigidly.
There it was; that ‘mother’ voice again. Frances smiled knowing that
Alice wasn’t just trying to intrude, but had her best interests in mind.
“The best place to meet a good man who will treat you right and not
cause you a lot of heartache is in church,” Alice continued. “You don’t want
to meet a man at those places Brandy frequents. You want to meet someone
who loves the Lord as much as you do, has a strong sense of family and
likes to stay home at night… not running all over the city looking for the
next party.”
Frances knew Alice was right, but she didn’t want to get into it with
her. So she changed the subject. “You’re right Alice. Hey, how about
Thursday night? I get off early, so I can swing by around, say, five o’clock.
How’s that?”
“That’ll be fine, dear. Take care of yourself and stay out of trouble.
I’ll keep you in my prayers.” With that, Alice hung up and Frances went
about her chores.
Alice’s words rang in Frances’ ears as she tidied up her condo and went
about her household chores. She knew Alice was right and for the most
part, she didn’t really want to go to the party with Brandy anyway. But
there was a little part of her that did want to go. It was a part of her that
just wanted to get out, have a little fun and let loose for a change.
She didn’t get the opportunity to do that very often. She could hang
out with some of the people she worked with who often invited her to come
with them when they went out after hours. But Frances was reluctant to go
with them. She was always very conscious of her reputation. She was wellrespected at the hospital. Her co-workers thought of her as responsible,
knowledgeable and down-to-earth. She feared that if she ever really let
her hair down around her peers, she would do or say something to tarnish
her good standing. And since she had aspirations of someday being the
head nurse in the ER, she was adamant about keeping her good character
intact. Besides, many times when the gang from work got together, “he”
was with them.
7

Kathy Witman

Dale Green, current head nurse at the ER, and her boss. Dale was
pure evil in Frances’ eyes. He was good at his job, but as far as Frances was
concerned, there ended his good attributes. Dale was constantly on Frances’
back. He seemed to be the only one at the hospital who didn’t tender the
respect she desired and felt she deserved. He was an enigma in Frances’
eyes. She sometimes caught him leering at her when he thought she wasn’t
looking. She couldn’t figure out why. Certainly, he wasn’t looking at her
from a sexual standpoint. He didn’t even like her. And the feeling was oh,
so mutual. Yet, the way he stared at her… well, it just gave her the creeps.
Frances took pride in the fact that she liked, and got along with most
people. But Dale was one person that she just could not appreciate. Just the
sound of his voice made her wince. She had no choice but to interact with
him on the job, since he was usually on duty when she was working. But
she went out of her way to avoid him whenever possible. And because she
felt so uncomfortable around him at work, she had no desire to be around
him in her free time. Therefore, when one of her associates invited her to
go out on the town, it was fairly certain she would respectfully decline.
It was early the next morning when the phone shook Frances from a
deep sleep. She looked at the clock. It was 3 a.m. Who could be calling
her at this hour? “Hello,” Frances managed to say.
“Hey girl!! Whatcha doin?” It was Brandy.
“What do you mean what am I doing? It’s three in the morning. I’m
sleeping! Or I was. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah girl! Everything’s fine.” I’m just callin’ to make sure you’re ready
when I come by tonight. Ten o’clock, right?”
“That’s why you woke me up when I have to be at work in three hours?
Yeah, I’ll be ready. Ready to kill you!” Frances managed a little smile. She
was somewhat irritated at Brandy, but she never could really be mad at her.
“O.K. See you then.” Click. The phone went dead.
I really am gonna kill her, Frances thought.

8

Chapter 2

F

rances could not get back to sleep. She lay there, thinking. Thinking
about what she should do. Part of her wanted to let her hair down
and go to the party with Brandy, but the little angel on her shoulder
told her it wasn’t a good idea. It seemed she often struggled with that
little angel. She was thinking she probably shouldn’t go to the party. She
knew wherever Brandy was taking her would not be a place she’d want
her mother to know about. But she wondered, what was wrong with a
little fun? She didn’t get rip-roaring drunk, or do anything lewd or vulgar.
But still, she thought about what Alice said. She wondered if she’d feel
comfortable with her mother knowing about some of the places she went to
with Brandy. Oh well, she had the whole day to think it over. She’d weigh
the pros and cons, and then decide what she wanted to do. And besides
she smiled to herself, it wasn’t very likely her mother would be showing
up wherever Brandy was taking her. She smiled at the very thought of it.
It was now four thirty in the morning. She may as well get up and get
ready to go to work. She put her nurse’s uniform on the bed, packed her
lunch and threw a few things into her carryall bag. She showered, did her
hair and makeup and got everything ready to take out to the car. It was
the beginning of autumn. Frances just loved this time of the year. It wasn’t
too cold and, thank the good Lord, not that hot, humid weather that was
typical of Maryland. When she stood out on the balcony of her condo,
she could see the mountains. The air was starting to get cooler; the leaves
on the trees would soon be starting to turn to those luscious shades of red,
gold, and auburn she loved. It was quiet, calm and peaceful. Life was good.

9

Kathy Witman

When she arrived at the hospital, things were calm there too. There
were a few people in the emergency room. A few minor cuts, a woman
complaining of dizziness, and an elderly man who had come in claiming
to have shortness of breath. Everything was being taken care of by the
personnel already on duty. So Frances went about her business putting her
things away. Since there were no real emergencies, she decided to take a
look at the how the ER supplies were holding up. It wasn’t really her job,
but Frances liked to keep busy. And she liked to make sure everyone had
everything ready and available when they needed it. She often made it
her business to take a quick inventory of supplies when things weren’t too
hectic upon her arrival at the ER. Everything looked good, so she decided
to start on some paperwork she had left from her previous shift. As she
passed by the desk, she glanced at the roster to see who else was on duty.
She flinched when she saw Dale was there. But she was in too good of a
mood to let that bother her. She’d deal with him when and if, the time
came. And soon enough, it did.
Things were quiet for some time. Frances caught up on her
administrative duties and was about to see if there was anyone she could
help in the ER when suddenly, the call came in on the monitor. The
ambulance was on the way with a forty-two year old woman who had chest
pains. Frances knew the drill. She started preparing.
Minutes later, the emergency room doors burst open, and the
emergency medical team came in with the patient on a stretcher. The
ER doctor sprang into action with Frances by his side to assist. She knew
exactly what to do, and did it without hesitation.
“Let’s get the patient hooked up,” the doctor bellowed. He was talking
about an electrocardiogram, otherwise known as an EKG. It would
measure heart and respiratory function and provide the physician with a
tracing of the electrical activity of the heart. While the patient was being
hooked up to the heart monitor, Frances started to take her vitals. Her
heart rate was only slightly elevated, but her blood pressure was pretty
high. Neither was too extreme though and both could have been caused
by the stress of the situation.
While another nurse took blood samples to be sent for immediate
testing, Frances quickly grabbed a clipboard, and at the doctor’s instruction,
made a note to give a sublingual nitroglycerin tablet to the patient. These
10

But for the Grace of God

were often given to patients who were suspected of having a heart attack.
As Frances observed her, she noticed the sweat beads that had collected on
the woman’s forehead. Knowing that the woman was probably frightened,
she used her calmest and most soothing tone when she began to speak to
her. “Hi, my name is Frances. I want you to put this tablet under your
tongue and just let it dissolve there. Do you feel well enough to answer
some questions?”
“Yes,” the woman replied in a shaky voice.
“Can you describe the pain for me? Is it a feeling of tightness, pressure,
numbness, burning, or maybe just dull discomfort?”
“It’s a pressure, like someone is pressing on my chest, hard.”
“And do you feel pain in your neck, arms, back, jaw, legs or anywhere
else?”
“No.”
“Do you feel faint or dizzy?”
“I’ve been feeling a little faint, but I never actually passed out.”
“What were you doing when you first started feeling the pressure?”
“I was taking my dog for a walk. I do it every day. I’ve never had this
happen before. All of the sudden, I had a pain, right in the middle of my
chest. Almost like someone had thrown something and hit me there.”
“How long did the pain last?”
“It passed quickly, probably lasted less than a minute. But then it came
again! And it seemed to be worse that time.”
“And how long was it before you got help?”
“Well, I wasn’t far from home so I managed to walk home and tell my
husband I was having these pains and he called 911 right away. I guess
all that only took about ten minutes. Then it probably took another ten
minutes or so for the ambulance to come. They got there pretty quickly.”
“Has this ever happened before?”
“No, never.”
“Do you smoke?”
“No.”
“And how do you feel now, are you experiencing any pain?”
“No, actually right now I don’t have any pain, but I’m scared! Am I
having a heart attack?”

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Kathy Witman

“It’s too soon to tell, but we’ll have some information for you very soon.
You try to relax as best you can.”
Frances couldn’t be sure without the blood work and the EKG results,
and she knew an x-ray had to be taken and some other tests run. But she
suspected that it was angina. Chest pain caused by an inadequate oxygen
supply to the heart muscle. She excused herself from the woman and went
to discuss it with the doctor.
The EKG looked good, but the doctor had ordered a cardiac
catheterization to get a better assessment of the situation. They would run
a tube through a vein or an artery into one or two of the heart cavities.
This would tell them the rate of blood flow and recording of blood pressure
in the heart cavity and connecting vessels. If this test showed no sign of
a reduced blood flow and x-rays indicated no damage to the heart muscle
itself, then the woman would be instructed on how to take care of herself
and sent home. But for now, they took no chances. Until all tests confirmed
otherwise, she would be treated as though she had a heart attack.
As Frances was about to go talk to the doctor, Dale appeared from
another area of the ER. He grabbed the clipboard from Frances, wearing
that smug look he always sported and began to look at the information she
had collected. Frances seethed. She knew he would question something,
she just didn’t know what.
“Do you have the paperwork in order for the cardiac cath?” he barked.
“One of the other nurses is taking care of that. I got vitals and history.”
“And what would your diagnosis be then?” He sneered.
“It’s not my place to make a diagnosis Nurse Green. I just collect the
information and present it to the doctor in charge.” She always called him
nurse whenever she got the chance. While she herself was proud of the title,
it seemed to annoy him for some reason and she knew it.
“But if you were to make an educated guess... you can do that, right?
What would it be?”
She loathed him. He spoke to her in such a condescending tone. And
he was always trying to trip her up. But since she was relatively sure about
the situation, she offered her conclusion. “I would surmise that this is a
simple angina attack.”
“And what treatment would you offer?”

12

But for the Grace of God

“Depending on the severity of the angina, I might treat her with a beta
blocker and prescribe nitroglycerin for her to take home with her. I’d order
a complete profile on her lifestyle and health habits and then instruct her
accordingly. Then I’d set her up with the dietitian and physical therapist to
make sure she eats properly and gets the appropriate exercise.” Frances was
pleased with herself. Even Dale had to know this was exactly what to do
for angina. Any medical student would have learned that in their first year.
“Oh, so you did manage to stay awake during med school. What a
surprise!”
Frances was used to his insinuations and the way he attempted to
irritate or humiliate her. For the most part, she tried not to let it get to her,
or at least not to let on that it had. She tried to keep her cool even when
she felt like the top of her head could just blow off any minute. Of course,
she couldn’t retaliate or talk back to him in the same manner since he was
her boss. So, she did the only thing she could do.
“Thank you Nurse Green,” she replied in a contemptuous voice. She
knew that just that phrase was enough to annoy him and give him a dose
of his own medicine, albeit a small dose compared to the ones he gave her.
Dale turned and went straight to talk to the doctor. He still had her
clipboard. He was probably going to regurgitate everything she had told
him to the doctor and take credit for it. The doctors were always so busy
in emergencies like this that they had no idea who was assisting them or
to whom they barked orders. It could have easily been Dale. Not that it
was a big deal. It wasn’t like she had made an extraordinary discovery or
anything. Anyone who knows anything about emergency treatment could
have made that call. And it wasn’t like she might receive an award for this
remarkable diagnosis. This was a typical occurrence in the ER. Besides,
if she was correct, and she probably was, the doctor had already come to
those same conclusions himself. She stopped, said a little prayer asking
God to help her to let it go, and also to forgive her for the hateful thoughts
she was thinking about Dale, and then went on about her business.
The rest of the day was fairly routine. There were the usual accident
victims, sprains, bumps, bruises and broken bones. In fact, it was so quiet
that Frances took her pager, signed out of the ER and went up to the
children’s ward. She loved children. She hoped to have some of her own one
day. But that would never happen she thought, if she didn’t meet someone
13

Kathy Witman

to have children with. She was only twenty-eight, but her biological clock
was ticking so loudly that it was almost deafening.
She stepped off the elevator and into the ward. The first thing she saw
was a little girl in a wheel chair. She was completely bald. Her eyes were
sunken in and she had big dark circles under them. She was obviously a
cancer patient. The chemotherapy does that, she thought, especially to the
young. The drugs used in chemotherapy were extremely effective in ridding
the body of cancer cells. They worked by interfering with the cancer cells’
ability to reproduce. But because the drugs could not distinguish a cancer
cell from other healthy cells in the body, they often caused anemia, internal
bleeding, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. These things were hard enough
for an adult to endure. But children, as well as the elderly, had a much
harder time recovering from the treatment. Frances smiled at the little girl,
and when she did, the little girl smiled back. It wasn’t a big smile, but it
was a smile. Frances stopped to talk to her.
“Hi, my name is Frances. What’s yours?”
“Karen,” came the meek reply.
“Hi Karen. How are you feeling today?”
“I’m alright, kind of tired I guess.” the little girl managed to say.
“How old are you Karen?”
“I’m nine and a half.”
“Almost ten! Wow, I guess that puts you in about fourth grade, huh?”
“Well, I should be in fourth grade, but I’ve missed a lot of school. I’m
not really in any grade at all. I have a tutor that comes to my house - or to
the hospital. But most of the time, I’m too tired to do much schoolwork.
I like to read stories though.”
“You do? Well, do you like to have stories read to you?”
“I guess so.”
“Well then, let me just wheel you up here to the book closet and we’ll
pick out a book for me to read to you.” Frances wheeled the little girl past
the nurses’ station to the place where the children’s books were kept. Karen
picked out a book called, “I Love to Run” and handed it to Frances. “Do
you love to run Karen?” she asked.
“I think I’d love to. But it seems like in the summer, I’m always sick.
And in the winter, my mother is afraid to let me outside because I might
get a cold or something.”
14

But for the Grace of God

Frances understood right away. The child’s immune system was
probably so compromised from the chemo that her mother was terrified
she would catch something she simply couldn’t fight off.
“Well then let’s read about running. If you close your eyes and use
your imagination while I’m reading, it’ll be almost like you are running
yourself!” Frances kept a smile on her face but she wanted to weep. She
felt so sorry for this little girl and for her family. Her experience working
in the hospital reminded her that a serious illness was almost as hard on
the family as it was on the patient.
Frances read until Karen quietly fell asleep. Then she tiptoed out of
the room. She returned the book to the book closet and stopped by the
nurses’ station. Her friend Dorothy was sitting there going over some
charts. Dottie, as Frances called her, always seemed to have a frown on
her face. Probably, Frances thought, because she saw so much pain and
suffering on the children’s ward where she usually worked. Even Frances
herself thought that having to see a child suffer had to be the worst thing
about being a nurse.
“Hi Dottie,” Frances said with only half a smile on her face. “What’s
the deal with Karen?”
“Oh, that poor little girl. She has acute leukemia. She’s had it since she
was six. She did well with her first series of treatments and was in remission
for almost two years. But then last fall it came back again.”
Acute leukemia, otherwise known as cancer of the blood. The words
cut through Frances like a knife. It was common in children. Leukemia
constituted about a third of all cancer cases in children under fifteen. With
all her training and all the patients she had treated over the years, you’d
think she would have become indifferent. But she was such a caring and
compassionate person that sometimes her heart would ache for some of
the patients. Frances had always had a particularly soft spot for children,
and Karen was unmistakably, very sick. Her only hope was that the chemo
would work again and she wouldn’t have to go through the ordeal of a bone
marrow transplant. Frances hung her head at the thought.
“Is she responding to the chemo?”
“Well, her T-cells are up,” Dottie responded. Frances knew that was
good news. T-cells are nature’s way of directly attacking foreign substances
in the body. Diseases like cancer that damage the ability of T-cells to
15

Kathy Witman

function, threaten the body’s ability to defend itself against infection. Her
only hope was that the chemo would rid her of the malignant cells and
keep them from reproducing, then her T-cells would continue to multiply
and would relieve her body of the unwanted cells.
“Keep me informed okay?”
“Will do. See ya Frances.” At that, Dorothy frowned once more and
continued with her paperwork.
It was now almost six o’clock. Frances had worked a twelve-hour shift
and even though it wasn’t too hectic, she was beat. She had made up her
mind - she wasn’t going to the party with Brandy. She was going to go
home and relax with her medical journals. Besides, she hadn’t remembered
to ask for the next day off and there was no way she could go out partying
all night and then go to work the next day. Brandy would have to get
over it.
Frances was sitting at her dining room table in her chenille robe and
fuzzy slippers when the doorbell rang. It was ten o’clock exactly. If nothing
else, Brandy was prompt. Frances was all ready for bed, but since Brandy
neglected to call earlier, Frances had to stay up to tell her she wasn’t going
to the party. She looked out through the peephole in the front door and
sure enough, there was Brandy, making a face through the hole in the
door, knowing Frances always looked through before opening it. Frances
removed the chain and unlocked the dead bolt.
Brandy bounded in. She wore a one-piece, skin tight, black leather
outfit that had the entire back cut out. It was long sleeved with a neckline
that plunged down so low it barely restrained her breasts. She also wore
black stiletto heels and a black leather choker with long fringes. She had a
ring on every finger and her hair was piled up on her head in a haphazard
manner, sticking out every which way. She wore heavy eye makeup, but it
didn’t look trashy. Frances couldn’t help but smile. Even dressed that way,
she thought Brandy looked cute. With a figure like hers, she could wear a
potato sack and look cute.
“Girl! You’d better get a move on! We’re gonna be late! Not that it
really matters, but come on! I’m ready to party!” Brandy was animated.
You would have thought this was the party of the century!
“I’m not going, Brandy,” Frances said flatly. “I’m tired and I just want
to go to bed.”
16

But for the Grace of God

“Not! You’re not going to bed! You’re goin’ with me to a party. So come
on, I’ll help you pick out something to wear. You sure can’t go like that!”
“Brandy, I’m not going! I’m tired. I worked a twelve-hour shift and I
didn’t take off tomorrow either. I have to report to the hospital at eleven.
You go. You’ll have a better time not having to babysit me anyway.”
“Girl, get into that bedroom so I can help you pick out somethin’ to
wear. I don’t care if you only stay for an hour you’re goin’ to this party.
You’re gonna have some fun whether you like it or not! Now move it!”
They argued for another ten minutes with Frances protesting and
Brandy insisting; and in the end, Frances acquiesced to a compromise.
Frances would indeed go to the party with Brandy. But it was understood
that she was to be home and in her bed by no later than two o’clock. Once
the agreement was made, they went into Frances’ bedroom to pick out
something for her to wear.
“Girl, where are your party clothes? Everything in here looks like it
belongs to a schoolmarm! Is this all you got? You should’a said somethin’,
I could have brought you somethin’ to wear.”
“I’m sure we’ll find something. It just won’t have fringes, glitter,
or rhinestones on it. And if you’re looking for something skin tight or
something that has holes cut in it to expose body parts, then you’re out
of luck,” Frances said halfheartedly. She still didn’t really want to go. It
seemed so late to be starting out for the night. She was usually in bed by
this time. Here it was, almost eleven o’clock and she was just getting ready
to go out. And that little angel on her shoulder was shaking her finger at
Frances, telling her that going to this party would not be a good thing.
Frances just wished she could crawl into her nice warm bed and go to sleep,
but she had already made the deal with Brandy. So she could either bite the
bullet and go out for a short while or spend the next hour or so arguing
with Brandy about it. And then she’d probably end up going anyway. The
little angel would just have to look the other way this time.
“What about this?” Brandy pulled out a black skirt with a matching
sweater. The sweater had a heart-shaped neckline and large black wooden
buttons. It was simple, but she could accessorize it. The skirt was too long
in Brandy’s estimation, but the waistline could be rolled up. It would work.
“That’s my funeral outfit,” Frances laughed.

17

Kathy Witman

“Well you’re gonna do some livin’ in it tonight girl!” Brandy cackled.
Now lemme see, do you have any scarves? And let me take a look at your
jewelry. I hope you have some decent lookin’ shoes and not just those
sensible numbers you wear to work. I guess you can always wear those
fuzzy things you got on your feet right now.”
“Very funny Brandy. Here are some scarves and my jewelry box is over
there. As for shoes, the only thing I have is a pair of black pumps.”
Brandy managed to throw together an ensemble that made Frances
look like the young, attractive woman she was. She added a black and
silver silk scarf, long dangling silver earrings, three, different length silver
chains and a silver ankle bracelet. They found a pair of black pantyhose
and a pair of toeless black heels in the back of her closet that Frances had
forgotten she had. Brandy rolled the waistband of the skirt several times to
shorten it. Frances felt somewhat uncomfortable, and yet when she looked
in the mirror, she wasn’t altogether displeased. Her outfit wasn’t wild like
Brandy’s, but at least she didn’t look like a schoolmarm.
When they left the condo, it was already after eleven o’clock. They
drove to a section of Baltimore that Frances would never have gone to
on her own. The streets were dark and dangerous looking. Most of the
streetlights weren’t even working. There were seedy-looking characters
lurking about in the shadows. The houses were squalid looking and in bad
need of repair. It was cold that evening, but on almost every corner stood
half-dressed girls wearing way too much makeup and smoking cigarettes.
They were driving slowly so Brandy could try to find the house they were
looking for. Somewhere in the distance you could hear music blaring.
“Slow down, slow down! I think that’s it up ahead,” Brandy said
excitedly.
“I’m not surprised,” Frances remarked. It was the house with the
blaring music. Cars were parked everywhere. As they got closer, you could
hear people talking, shouting, laughing, and even the occasional scream.
“I don’t know about this. Are you sure my car’ll be okay parked out here?
It’s not much, but it is all I have.”
“Don’t worry girl,” Brandy snorted, “We’ll tell the security guard to
keep an eye on it.
“Very funny. But I’m serious, I-”

18

But for the Grace of God

“You’re always serious!” Brandy cut her off. “Way too serious. Now
lighten up and get ready to have a good time. And don’t let me catch you
sittin’ by yourself in some corner all night watchin’ the clock. It’s almost
midnight. You have two hours to get down! And if you want to stay longer,
well you just say the word.”
“Yeah, right. My goal is to just get out of there alive.”
“Come on Franny! Let loose for a change. Chances are you won’t know
anyone here. I’d be surprised if you did anyway. You can do anything you
want, be anyone you want and you’ll never have to come face to face with
any one of them again. Get wild! Go crazy! Let your guard down! Forget
about your job and your mother and your church and your God, just for
tonight. Have a blast!”
That was the problem, Frances thought. She couldn’t forget about her
God. Even for one night. He was with her all the time. Suddenly, Frances
felt guilty about coming. It was the little angel again; shaking her head
at Frances. She should not have come here with Brandy. Why did she let
herself get into these situations? She thought of Alice’s words; “Just be sure
wherever she takes you is a place you’d not be ashamed for your mother
to know about.” My mother would have a heart attack if she knew I was
here, Frances thought.
They finally found a parking place several blocks away and started to
walk back to the party. Frances was on edge. She felt threatened in this
neighborhood. Everything looked dangerous. Somewhere in the distance,
you could hear some kind of alarm going off, and Frances swore she heard
gunshots. When they got to the corner of the street where the party was,
a man approached them.
“You ladies lookin’ for a good time?” he asked them.
Brandy took Frances by the arm and hurried her along. Neither of
them spoke to the man. Frances’ heart was racing. She was genuinely
scared.
“Brandy, I don’t know about this. This just isn’t my kind of place.”
“Well they don’t hold parties like this in the church social hall and
we’re already here so get a grip girl, we’re goin’ in.”
With that, Brandy swung the door open, stepped into the house and
pulled Frances in with her. The music, which could be heard from blocks
away, was now almost deafening. The smoke was so thick that it looked
19

Kathy Witman

like a fog. And the combined smell of liquor, cheap perfume, and who
knows what else made Frances almost nauseous. She wanted to turn and
run but it was too late now. Brandy had hold of her arm and kept pulling
her deeper and deeper into the belly of the party.
It was a sight to behold. Frances tried not to gawk, but she was
absolutely flabbergasted by what she saw. She had never been to a party
like this before. It was very dark except for a few lamps, some candles, and
a partially working string of white Christmas lights that went from one
end of the house to the other. People were talking, laughing and dancing.
There was a dirty mattress in one corner where a couple was making out
like there was nobody else in the room. And the way these people were
dressed! She could hardly believe her eyes! Some of them made Brandy
look like she was dressed conservatively.
There was a girl off to one side of the room dressed in nothing but
a thong. That was all. Just a thong and otherwise naked! Naturally, four
or five guys surrounded her with their tongues practically hanging to the
floor. And just beyond her, was a man who must have had a hundred
body piercings. Ouch! She could never understand why anybody would
do that to themselves. Beside him was a girl wrapped from her chest to
the top of her thigh in plastic wrap, the kind you might use to wrap a
sandwich for your lunch. That was it. Just the plastic wrap and nothing
else. No underwear, no jewelry just the plastic wrap. And not very much
of that either. She may as well have just been standing there completely
naked! Once again, Frances felt the pangs of guilt for allowing herself to
be persuaded into coming to a place like this. She was even getting angry
at herself for using such poor judgment and not standing her ground with
Brandy. She could be home in her nice warm, soft bed. But no, she was here
in this strange place with all of these strange people. It was definitely not
a place her mother would endorse. And certainly not a place God would
approve of. Why could she not be a stronger person? Why did she let herself
get talked into situations like this? It was then that Frances noticed Brandy
had long since let go of her arm and left her to wander around by herself
gawking at these spectacles.
She turned suddenly to go back to look for Brandy when bam! She
ran right into someone. Someone big. Someone bizarre. She took a step
back to take it all in. He was a very tall, very large man, with smooth,
20

But for the Grace of God

cocoa-colored skin. His hair was in dreadlocks with strings of different
colored beads braided through them. He wore a knotted, leather string
around his waist from which hung long, fat feathers. She wasn’t sure
whether he was wearing anything under it or not, but kept her eyes averted,
just in case he wasn’t. He had beaded and feathered ornaments around his
neck, in both ears and around both wrists and both ankles. There were
markings all over him in what looked like white glow-in-the-dark paint.
The contrast between the white phosphorescent paint and his dark body
was almost startling, and strangely attractive to her. He carried a long,
carved wooden pole in one hand and a drink in the other. He looked like
a tribal witch doctor.
Frances bit her lip. She did that sometimes when she was truly nervous.
Most of the time, she was unaware she was even doing it. She didn’t bite
hard enough to break the skin; it was almost as though she was chewing
on her lip. She must have looked like a deer in the headlights. All she could
do at the moment was to stand there looking stunned at the man. At first,
his face was expressionless. But after watching Frances stare at him for a
moment, he smiled. Then he spoke.
“Does the white hunter like what she sees?” He had an accent; it
sounded Jamaican, like an “island” accent. And his tone was very gentle.
At first, Frances couldn’t answer. She just stood there, thunderstruck.
It felt like several minutes had gone by before she could regain her
composure. She started to speak but couldn’t. She just stood there with
her mouth hanging open and her eyes opened wide. She had no idea what
to say or what to do. Then he spoke again.
“Cat got your tender little tongue?” he said with a chuckle.
“I, I…” was all she could get out.
“First time to one of Lucy’s parties huh?” he said. “Well, don’t worry.
You’ll get used to it. After you’ve been here a couple of times you’ll be
dressin’ a little less formal yourself.”
It was then that she realized she was indeed the most formally dressed
person there. Her outfit seemed a little racy to her when she left the condo,
but now, compared to the costumes and attire worn here, she still looked
like a schoolmarm.
“I’m sorry for staring. I just, I mean, I never...” She was still at a loss
for words.
21

Kathy Witman

“That’s okay. I’ll take it as a complement. They call me Savage.” he
said. “Because I dress like one, not because I am one.” He grinned. “I can
see you’re a little nervous. Why don’t we get you a drink?”
She looked around the room for Brandy, who was nowhere to be seen.
She made a mental note to chew Brandy out the first chance she got. But
for the time being, she had to do something. And despite his appearance,
and his name, Savage seemed harmless. “Okay.” She said. And he took
her by the arm and led her to another part of the house where the bar was
set up.
Not being much of a drinker, she started to ask for a white wine
spritzer when he asked her what she wanted to drink, but she caught herself
in time and asked for a beer. Savage handed her the beer and asked if she
wanted a glass. She declined. Without saying another word, he gently took
her hand and guided her to the basement where it was a little less noisy.
The only light down there was a large, three-wick candle in the center of
the room. It was so dark you could hardly tell what the room looked like.
You could see that there were other people in the room, off by themselves.
But you couldn’t make out any distinguishing features. You could hear the
low murmuring as the others spoke, but the music from upstairs was still
loud enough that you couldn’t understand what was being said.
“So let me guess,” Savage began, “you came here on a dare? Or did
you lose a bet? Maybe you got lost and stopped here to ask for directions.
What is it? And by the way, you know who I am, but so far I have no idea
who you are.”
“I’m sorry. My name is Frances. I must look like a total jerk. I don’t
know why I came to this party, I feel so out of place. My friend brought me
here and then left me the minute we walked through the door and I...” She
was rambling. One more thing to make her look like an idiot, she thought.
“Oh, so a friend brought you. Well, I can hardly believe he’d leave
such a beautiful and innocent young lady by herself in a place like this.
Especially when it’s her virginal appearance at one of Lucy’s parties.”
“Oh it wasn’t a he, it was a she. Her name is Brandy and -”
“Brandy!” He cut her off with a big smile. “Ah, yes, everyone knows
the delicious and delectable Brandy. Why, she’s usually the queen of the
party. Any party.”

22

But for the Grace of God

“Yeah. She’s a queen alright. I’d like to crown her right now, if you
know what I mean. I could just kill her for leaving me alone. She knows I
don’t know anybody here and I’m not used to parties like this.”
“Well don’t worry; you’re in good hands now. I promise to take care of
you for as long as you’d like me to. I’ll make sure you aren’t bored, thirsty,
or hungry until you’re ready to leave. Now, feel better?”
She did feel a little better. Savage turned out to be a very nice guy. Not
the kind she’d want to take home to mother, but nevertheless a nice guy.
They talked until exactly two o’clock. Then Frances excused herself and
went to find Brandy, but she was nowhere to be found. She looked in every
room. She looked in every chair. She looked on the floor, under tables, in
closets and outside. Brandy was not there. She ended up obtaining the
help of her newfound friend, Savage, but even the two of them came up
empty-handed. It was now two-thirty. Frances didn’t know what to do.
She hated to leave without Brandy but she just had to get home and grab
a few hours’ sleep before she went to work.
Finally, Savage said to her, “You know, Brandy is the kind of girl who
can take care of herself. It’s hard to tell where she went or what she’s gotten
herself into. If she knew you wanted to leave by two and isn’t around, then
perhaps you should just go home. I’m sure she’ll call you tomorrow. Did
you drive?”
“Yes. I’m parked a couple of blocks from here. I hate to ask this, but
would you mind walking me to my car? I don’t mean to sound like a sissy,
but I’m not used to this area and I can’t help it - I find it a little scary.”
“I’d be happy to. Did you bring a coat or a purse or anything?”
“No. I didn’t want to carry anything so I stuck my car key down in
my bra. I knew it would be safe there,” she giggled.
“Then let’s go.”
They walked the few blocks to where she had parked the car. At least
the car was still there and intact. She was torn between worrying about
Brandy and being infuriated with her. She pulled the key out of her bra
and opened the car door. Then she turned to her unlikely companion.
“Thank you so much for taking me under your wing this evening
Savage. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”
“Truly, it was my pleasure. Maybe I’ll see you here again?” he asked
with question in his voice.
23

Kathy Witman

“I don’t mean to sound snooty, Savage, but this really is not my scene.
I felt so out of place, and very uncomfortable. Until you came to my rescue
that is. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Drive safely. And don’t be too hard on Brandy. She’s
just out looking for a good time.”
“Hey,” Frances said with an afterthought. “It just occurred to me,
I never met the hostess, Lucy. A fine guest I am. I didn’t even get to say
thank you for the hospitality.” She grinned when she said it, knowing that
people who have parties like that, don’t usually worry about proper party
etiquette.
“Oh, not many have ever met Lucy. She doesn’t usually come to these
parties. She just lets everybody use her house. I only met her once. And
I’ve been coming to these parties for years.” Savage laughed.
With that, Frances got in her car to drive home and Savage went back
to the party. When she finally got into her bed, it was after four o’clock in
the morning. She had to be at work at eleven. That meant she was going to
get less than five hours rest. As she drifted off to sleep, she thought about
Brandy and wondered what misadventures she had gotten herself into.

24

Chapter 3

B

y the time Frances had finally fallen asleep, it was close to five in
the morning. When her alarm went off at nine-thirty, she sat up
in bed feeling almost drunk from lack of rest. She had only two
beers the night before which she nursed throughout the evening. The way
she was feeling now was from lack of sleep rather than from too much
alcohol. She slowly went through her morning routine as though she were
on automatic pilot. She was too tired to think, but she had to clear her
head so she could function at work.
She started the coffee pot before taking a cool shower to try to wake
up. The briskness of the water startled her. She dressed and went for the
coffee. She was moving so slowly that she was now slightly pressed for
time. So, she put her coffee in a cup with a lid and took it with her. She
said her morning prayers before leaving the condo, thanking God for her
blessings, and asking Him to help her through her day. She also prayed that
Brandy would be alright. She was still worried about her, but had to put
it out of her mind. Out of my mind and into God’s hands, she thought.
She wondered what would be in store for her at the hospital and hoped it
would be as quiet and uneventful as the day before.
No such luck. When she arrived at the ER things were hectic. Doctors
and nurses were running around, and there were a lot of people in the
emergency room. Some were shouting and some were crying. It seemed
chaotic. She went immediately to the nurse’s station and asked the nurse
on duty what was going on.

25

Kathy Witman

“There was a fire over on 23rd street, an accident on the main highway,
and oh, they brought that lady in again who was in here yesterday. The one
complaining of chest pains. She died ten minutes ago.”
“What?” exclaimed Frances. “She died? Of a heart attack?”
“It looks that way. Anyhow, you can start back in triage where the
burns are and when you’re done in there, start cleaning and dressing the
red and yellow tags. And by the way, Dale has been looking for you.”
She headed for triage, the part of the ER where the most seriously
ill or injured patients were identified for immediate attention. There was
already a nurse working there, but two nurses could get to the patients
faster and identify the ones who really needed urgent help. She could not
believe the woman from the day before had died. She looked at her charts
after her preliminary tests had come back. Angina. Everything pointed to
simple angina. There had been no reason to suspect that she would have
a full-blown heart attack. She was only forty-two years old and Frances
wondered if she had small children. She softly whispered a prayer for the
woman’s soul, as well as for the woman’s family. Even though she didn’t
know them, her heart ached for them.
There were at least ten victims on stretchers in triage still waiting to
be seen. All were from the fire. She grabbed a clipboard, a few cold packs,
and some triage tags; a set of colored labels used in the ER to prioritize the
casualties in order of need. Certainly, she thought, all of the third degree
burns would have already been taken for treatment since they were the
most serious. She hurried to the first cot to make an assessment.
A young woman lay on the stretcher. She was crying softly. Her arms
were bright red and had some blistering, but there was little if any serious
damage to the epidermis. This woman would be fine. Frances broke open
a cold pack, wrapped it in a towel, and put a yellow tag on the young girl’s
chart. “Someone will be with you soon,” she said compassionately. Burns
were so painful. Frances had never been burned badly herself, but she had
seen how much suffering was endured by those who had, and it tore at
her heart.
She went to the next few stretchers. All of the victims had similar
burns. Burns that were painful, but not serious or life threatening. It
seemed that the other nurse working back here had done a good job of
identifying the most serious burn victims and starting their treatment. The
26

But for the Grace of God

man on the next stretcher had his eyes closed and was leaning forward with
his head in his hands. Much of his clothes had been burned or scorched.
He sat quietly with beads of sweat running down his face. A quick glance
indicated that he had second and third degree burns on at least forty
percent of his body. Frances wondered why he hadn’t been taken for
immediate treatment.
“Hi, my name is Frances. Has anyone looked at your injuries?”
He raised his head slowly, wincing as if the simple action caused him
pain. “Some nurse peeked in at me earlier and sent me here. That was
about half an hour ago. Nobody’s looked at me since. My name is Norman
Marshall. But I go by James.”
“Well James, it looks like you may have some third degree burns. The
first thing we have to do is get you out of these clothes so I can make an
accurate assessment.”
Even in his pain, James couldn’t help but making a joke. “You want
me out of my clothes? And I haven’t even bought you dinner.”
Frances smiled. Under different circumstances, she may have
considered him amusing. But foremost in her mind right now was her
work; evaluating and treating the patients. “Seriously, I’m going to roll
you behind this divider and I want you to remove all of your clothes and
cover up with this sheet. Then I’m going to get someone to clean you up.
We need to get those burns cleansed and get some antibiotic on you so an
infection doesn’t set in. Would you like me to ask the doctor to give you
some oral medication for your pain?”
“Yeah, I’m always up for some good drugs,” he said kidding again. Do
you want me to take off my underwear?”
“Yes,” she replied in a clinical tone. “Your left upper thigh and hip look
like they need some attention and it will be easier if you remove all of your
clothes. It looks like you’re going to have to call someone to bring you some
fresh clothes anyway since these have all been burned.”
“Well, I’d love to oblige you but as you can see my hands are also
burned and I’m not sure I can remove my clothes without considerable
pain. Could I get some help?”
She looked at his hands, indeed they were severely burned. She was
almost finished with triage and the two remaining victims looked like
they had only minor burns. “I’ll be right back. Let me just slap a tag on
27

Kathy Witman

these last two patients and I’ll get you some help.” She knew he really did
need some medical attention, but for some reason, he irritated her and she
didn’t know why. Aside from his proclivity to taunt, he was well-mannered
enough and she knew he really didn’t mean any harm with his teasing, but
there was something about him just didn’t set right with her.
She found the ER doctor in charge and requested that he prescribe
something for Mr. Marshall’s pain and then returned to tag the two
remaining burn victims. She gave her clipboard to the nurse at the nurses’
station, changed her rubber gloves and grabbed some items she would need
to clean the wounds. Then, she picked up some dry sterile bandages and
returned to her patient. She pulled James’s stretcher around a corner along
with a mobile partition for privacy.
When she turned back to face him, he had stretched out on the
cot and was smiling up at her. Even through the black soot and residue
from the smoke, she could see he was a nice-looking man. He was tall
with a medium build and had collar-length, brown curly hair. He had
sparkling green eyes with long lashes that were almost pretty, but there was
something about him that made her feel uncomfortable, she just couldn’t
put her finger on what it was.
“Okay Mr. Marshall, I think the best way to do this is for you to
stand up.”
“I’m there,” he said. Cautiously he got off the stretcher. Despite his
teasing, he was in a great deal of pain. He stood before her as she unzipped
his pants and he could not help but find the situation amusing. Here he
was, standing in front of what he considered to be an attractive young
woman who was about to take off his pants, and all she wanted to do was
clean and bandage him. He comically thought to himself that he hoped he
didn’t get turned on, but that thought went out the window immediately
once she started to remove his trousers and pain surged through his body.
She was being very careful. She knew if the skin was damaged to the
point that it was sticking to the pants, it could pull off when the pants were
removed. When he let out a howl, she stopped immediately. She grabbed
a pair of sterile scissors and began to cut away at the pants. “Now you will
have to call someone to bring you some more clothes,” she told him. “The
best way to get these off is to cut them.”

28

But for the Grace of God

She asked an orderly who was passing by for help and the two of them
managed to remove his charred clothing without inflicting too much pain.
The orderly helped James up on the stretcher again and covered him with
a sheet while Frances went about the business of cleaning his wounds.
She dressed the burns where appropriate, and simply laid gauze over the
more serious ones to protect them until the doctor could take a look. She
administered the pain reliever the doctor had authorized and asked him
if he needed anything else.
By this time, James was in considerable pain, but he managed to
answer, no. His left hip had some serious damage bordering on third
degree burns and the removal of his clothing had torn off some of his
skin. He would more than likely have to be admitted to the hospital for
at least a few days.
Before Frances left him, he thanked her for her kindness. “Too bad we
couldn’t have met under different circumstances,” he said.
Frances managed a smile, nodded, and left him.
The emergency room was finally settling down with all victims having
been treated and released or admitted. James was among the latter. It was
five o’clock in the afternoon and Frances had to work until eleven that
night. Since things had calmed down considerably in the ER, she decided
it would be a good time to take a quick lunch break.
She was sitting in the nurses’ lounge when Dale exploded through the
door. “Didn’t they tell you I was looking for you?” he bellowed.
“I was in the ER doing my job,” she said sarcastically.
“Well I hope you enjoyed it. Because you may not have a job much
longer after what you did,” he was pleased to bestow what was going to be
bad news to Frances.
She looked at him puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“You gave that woman a beta blocker for angina when she should have
been treated for a heart attack.”
“What? I didn’t give her a beta-blocker! I didn’t give her anything! I
was the attending ER nurse, not the doctor! I would never presume to do
anything like that!” She was angry and a little scared. This wasn’t the first
time Dale had accused her of making a medical mistake. But it was the first
time he had accused her of doing something that had caused someone to
lose their life. She knew he was evil, but was he capable of unjustly blaming
29

Kathy Witman

her of such an irresponsible act? This wasn’t just a little accident that he
was accusing her of, he was actually blaming her for something that had
caused the loss of life! She was furious! The gloves were off!
“Dale, you know I didn’t administer anything to that woman! You
asked me what I would do if I were to make a diagnosis! You knew as well
as I did that I wasn’t authorized to do so! It was just an opinion! And I
never administered anything except for the nitroglycerin the doctor had
ordered!” Frances was so angry she couldn’t think straight. It was not in
her best interest to talk like that to her supervisor no matter what he said
or did, but she just couldn’t help it. What he was accusing her of was
unthinkable. She could lose her job. Her reputation would be ruined. If
he took this to the hospital administration, even if it were found to be
false there would always be a shadow cast on her character. She had to do
something before this got out of hand, but what could she do?
She got a grip on her anger, chewed on her bottom lip, and said a little
prayer asking God for His help. And then she played the only card she
could think of.
“Okay, Dale. Joke’s over. You had me for a minute but I see what you’re
doing. And I have to tell you that I really don’t find it funny.”
“Oh I wasn’t trying to be funny,” he said. “I intend to take this to
the board and see that you are removed from your duties, from this
hospital and from this profession,” he stated smugly. “You overstepped your
authority and in doing so caused a patient to die! You haven’t heard the last
of this,” he said as he turned and walked out of the room.
Frances was enraged. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. She
considered beating Dale to the punch - going to the hospital administration
to present her side of the story before he went to them with his lies. But
after thinking it over, she decided if she did that, it might make her look
guilty. She knew Dale had no evidence to confirm that she had done
anything wrong because she hadn’t. So she decided the best thing to do
was to wait to see if she was called on the carpet by admin and then defend
herself as best she could. She had the truth on her side, and that had to
account for something.
Her blood was still boiling when one of her coworkers peeked in
the nurses’ lounge and said, “Hey Frances, your friend has been asking
for you.”
30

But for the Grace of God

Frances turned around with a baffled look on her face. “My friend?”
“Yes. She’s up on the second floor. She’s in pretty bad shape too. You
might want to look in on her.”
“What are you talking about?” Frances said, still confused.
“I don’t know her name, but they brought her in here early this
morning. Somebody beat her up pretty badly. She had several broken bones
and lacerations everywhere. Looks like maybe a boyfriend or something
did it, but she’s not talking. Actually, she isn’t able to talk much anyway.”
“And you can’t remember her name?” Frances said in a questioning
tone.
“Nope. She’s a pretty black woman with long hair. Well, it was long.
Somebody pulled out big hunks of it and “Brandy!” Frances cut her off. “Where is she?” Frances demanded.
“Second floor I said. She’s in the last room on the left after the nurses’
station.”
With that, Frances hurdled over a chair and raced out of the lounge.
She ran to the elevator and pushed the button frantically but the elevator
was all the way up on seven. Running to the stairs, she took them two at
a time, making her way to the second floor. She passed the nurses’ station
and hurried down the hall to the door of the room where Brandy was.
Even with all of her years of nursing, Frances wasn’t prepared for what she
was about to see.
She stopped, briefly at the door to compose herself. Then she pushed
the door open gently and walked inside. What she saw made her weep.
Brandy’s face was so swollen from the blows that were inflicted that Frances
would not have recognized her if she hadn’t already known who it was.
Her once-pretty hair had been pulled out in hunks all the way down to
the scalp. There were cuts, scrapes, and bruises on almost every inch of
her body. In all her years of nursing, Frances had seen worse injuries from
assaults than this, but she had never seen them on someone she loved.
She stifled a scream and had to struggle to catch her breath. Brandy’s
eyes were so swollen she could not open them. She wasn’t even aware that
Frances was in the room. Frances took another few seconds to get control
of her emotions, and then softly spoke her name. Brandy moved her head
slightly to acknowledge that she had heard.

31

Kathy Witman

Frances bit down hard on her lower lip and whispered, “Brandy, who
did this to you?” Frances could hardly contain the pain in her voice. A soft
moan was all Brandy could manage in response.
Just then a doctor appeared. “Do you know this woman Nurse Cane?”
she asked.
“Yes, she’s my best friend.” Frances was quietly crying and her voice
caught as she tried to speak. “Who brought her in?”
“We received an anonymous call at about five this morning. They told
us where to find her. When the ambulance arrived, she was unconscious,
lying in a dumpster on the south side of town. I hate to be the bearer of
bad news, but we aren’t sure she’s going to make it.”
With that, Frances felt faint. She had to sit down. Sensing her
condition, the doctor grabbed a chair, pulled it to Frances, and guided
her down into the seat. For some reason, Frances stood up quickly, as
though there were something she had to do in a hurry. The next thing she
remembered was light shining in her eyes and hearing voices. As she slowly
regained consciousness, she realized she was on a stretcher in the hospital
emergency room. She was in her emergency room. Her feet were elevated
and she was covered with a warm blanket. But she wasn’t concerned about
herself just now. She would be fine. That wasn’t necessarily so for Brandy.
“Brandy,” she said in a weak voice and then tried to sit up.
“Hold on there Frances, you’re not the nurse right now you’re the
patient, so lay back down there until I tell you to get up.” Frances didn’t
know the nurse but remembered seeing her at the hospital. She was smiling
at Frances because she had been told what had happened and felt sympathy
for her. “You have a nasty bump on the back of your head. I think the
doctor wants to do some x-rays,” she said very gently.
“I don’t need any x-rays, I just want to get back to my friend.”
“I guess it’s true what they say about doctors and nurses making the
worst patients,” the nurse said smiling. “But seriously Frances, you took a
pretty hard fall. You may not feel it now, but you’re probably gonna have
a tremendous headache. Just lie there and rest. Your friend is being tended
to and there’s nothing more you can do for her. Right now, we have to
take care of you.”
Frances couldn’t get the image of Brandy out of her head, which was
indeed now starting to pound. What had happened to Brandy? Frances
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But for the Grace of God

couldn’t help thinking that maybe it wouldn’t have happened if she had
waited for Brandy instead of just leaving the party without her. She couldn’t
believe the horrible turn of events of the day. First, the emergency room
was so crazy. And then there was that woman who had died of a heart
attack and that man who had been burned in the fire. There was just
something about him made her feel uneasy but she just couldn’t figure
out what it was. And then Dale! She had no idea what she was going to do
about that! And to top it off, Brandy. Her sweet Brandy. Frances started
to cry softly and the nurse came over to her.
“Now, sweetie, don’t cry. It’ll only make your head feel worse. You’re
gonna be alright. That bump is nasty but we’ll take care of it.”
Frances was silent. She wasn’t really crying for herself, but for Brandy.
Her friend being in so much pain caused Frances pain. And the worst part
was, she couldn’t do anything about it, it was out of her control. It was in
God’s hands, so she started to pray. She prayed for Brandy, and she prayed
for the victims in the ER. She prayed for the family of the woman who
had died earlier and she prayed for herself. And then finally, she prayed for
Brandy again. She just couldn’t say enough prayers for Brandy.
After Frances was taken care of, the doctor on duty told her she should
go home and rest, but since there wasn’t anyone to take care of her when
she got there, she shouldn’t sleep for a few hours. She had hit the floor
pretty hard and now had a mild concussion. Frances was certainly aware
of what to do for a concussion, but she didn’t want to go home. She wanted
to go to Brandy, but the doctor was adamant. He told her to go home, have
a light dinner and do something that relaxed her. He sent her home in a
cab because he didn’t want her driving for twenty-four hours.
However, when she got home, she couldn’t relax. Nothing she did
could take her mind off Brandy. She decided to call the hospital to tell
them she was taking the next day off. She had to be with Brandy. She
talked to the nurse in the ER and asked her to relay the message to Dale.
She was so thankful that she didn’t have to talk to him. For a second, she
started to get angry about what had happened with him that day, but that
just made her head pound even more. Besides, she decided that worrying
about it wouldn’t change a thing. She’d deal with whatever happened - if
it happened. She had given it to God, and now she had to leave it there.
Right now, she had to focus on her friend. She had to rest and get herself
33

Kathy Witman

straightened out so she could go to the hospital the next day to be with
Brandy.
She tried reading some medical journals but the remaining dull ache
in her head seemed to amplify when she read, so she called Alice. She
repeated every last detail of the horrifying day she had and Alice listened
sympathetically. Then, when Frances had exhausted herself from so much
talking, she paused and waited to hear what Alice had to say. She figured
Alice would have some kind of motherly advice for her, and she was right.
“Well, my stars child! You did have a dreadful day didn’t you! I really
am sorry to hear about all your troubles. And despite the fact that you
know I’m not overly fond of Brandy, I would never wish her any harm. In
fact, I will certainly keep her in my prayers, along with you of course. The
first thing you have to concern yourself with is getting better. You can’t do
a thing for Brandy if you’re not up to par. I think you did the right thing
by taking tomorrow off, and if you still don’t feel well by Thursday, then
don’t you worry about our dinner date. We’ll just do it some other time.
Perhaps I should come over to your place. I could bring dinner with me,
or we could have something delivered. I’m concerned about you dear.”
“Don’t worry about me Alice. I’ll be alright. I’m just so upset about
Brandy. You should have seen her. She looked like she had been run over
by a locomotive. The doctor said she might not pull through.”
“I know Frances, but the only thing you can do for her right now
is to pray. Honey, I know how it is when you’re going through difficult
situations in your life. We’ve all been there. Just try to remember that no
matter how bad the situation, in the grand scheme of things it will only
last for a fraction of time.”
“I know Alice, it’s just that when you’re in the midst of it, things look
so bleak. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Well I can help you with that. Pray. I know you believe in the power of
prayer, Frances. It’s times like these when you should be putting that belief
into practice. When bad things happen, many people scratch their heads
and wonder why. Strangely enough, those same folks never scratch their
heads and wonder why they receive blessings! Some people feel that God
punishes us, but I don’t believe that. I believe God sometimes withholds
His blessings from us, and so from that standpoint, I suppose you could
say that indirectly, He is punishing us by not blessing us. But more so, I
34

But for the Grace of God

believe God tests us. As Christians, we go through our lives reading God’s
word and learning how to live according to His standards. And we’re never
finished learning, it’s a life-long process. I believe God occasionally puts
that learning to the test. Much like an earthly parent might test their child
to be sure the child is not only aware of a lesson that’s been taught, but
has retained the information and is able to put those lessons into practice.
My daughter has always earned good grades in math, and even though I
knew that she read and completed her homework, I used to test her to see if
she could apply what she had learned. So I’d have her help me balance my
checkbook, or add up how much I’d need to pay my bills for the month.
In that same way, God sends people and events into our lives so we can
apply the lessons we’ve learned. After all, what good is learning something
if you never use it? I know it’s hard honey, but instead of looking at all these
events as catastrophes, try to look at them as opportunities to show God
you’ve learned the lessons he is teaching you and you can pass the test.”
It was heartfelt advice. And Frances knew that what Alice said was
absolutely right. She also knew that passing all these tests she now had
facing her was not going to be easy.
“I know you’re right Alice, it just seems so hard. I understand what
you’re saying, I just wish God hadn’t sent so many tests my way all at once.”
Alice smiled to herself. “I never said it would be easy. God never said
it would be easy. And I’m sure that right now, with all this staring you in
the face, you probably feel somewhat overwhelmed. My advice would be
to prioritize your concerns, then, pick the most important thing and work
on it until it’s resolved. By then, you’ll be ready to move on to the next. If
you try to work on everything at once you’ll end up spinning your wheels
and getting frustrated.”
With that they each hung up and Frances sat alone in her living room,
praying, and thinking about what Alice had said. She didn’t have to ponder
on it too long; she knew what her first priority would be. Brandy.

35

Chapter 4

F

rances took the next few days off work and kept vigil in Brandy’s
hospital room. Her head felt better as far as the bump she sustained
when she fainted, but she was depressed. She felt absolutely helpless.
There was nothing she could do for her friend, except to pray, and so she
did. She had a lot of time while she sat with Brandy so she took Alice’s
advice. She talked to God. She spoke to Him in the same way she might
have spoken to someone sitting there with her. She told Him things and
she asked Him for things as well. She shared her feelings, her fears, and
her needs. She held nothing back. And every time she said amen, she felt
refreshed and hopeful - even though there was still no change in Brandy.
Late into the second day, Brandy was still in a semi-unconscious
state, partially because of her injuries and partially because of the heavy
painkillers they had her on. The doctor said the only thing they could
do was keep her as comfortable as possible, tend to her wounds and wait.
Frances stayed with Brandy most of the day and night. She went home
once a day to shower, change clothes and look at her mail. She wanted to
be there when Brandy woke up, and she just knew Brandy would wake
up. Frances was slumped in a chair gazing out of the second story hospital
window when the nurse on duty came to change some of the dressings on
Brandy’s wounds.
“Why don’t you take a break Frances?” the nurse suggested. “Take a
little walk or get something to eat. You must be bored and probably stiff
from just sitting. Go on now. It’ll take me a while to finish up here and
there’s no sense in you just sitting there watching me. If she comes to, I’ll
page you.”
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But for the Grace of God

It was good advice. The nurse was right. She had been there for hours
and hours and there wasn’t much to do. All she could do was read, stare out
the window or just watch Brandy. And her back did hurt from sitting for so
long. She really could use a little walk, and a sandwich was sounding good
too. She walked over to Brandy’s bedside, leaned over, and kissed her softly
on the cheek, her lips barely brushing against the bruised and battered face
that was once so pretty. Then she slowly walked out of the room.
She walked down the hall and pushed the button on the elevator door
across from the visitor’s lounge. She was miles away in her thoughts when
she heard a voice behind her.
“Don’t you ever go home?” the gentle voice inquired.
Frances turned to see the man she had treated for burns sitting in a
wheelchair behind her in a hospital gown and obviously a patient. For an
instant, she thought about doing an about face and hurrying to the stairs,
but she knew he meant no harm. And it might actually be good to have
some conversation. For the past several days the only conversation she had
was with the doctors and nurses who had come to tend to Brandy, and
those discussions were short and usually upsetting to her.
“Hi. You’ve obviously taken up residence here too,” she said nodding
her head toward his wheelchair.
“Hey, I just wanted to hang around here so I could run into you again,”
he said timidly.
“How are the burns healing?”
“Okay. I had some skin grafting done yesterday. The doctor was afraid
infection would set in so they put a little donated skin on my hip and thigh.
They said my body would probably reject the skin graft since it wasn’t my
own skin they used, but by the time that happens, my own skin will be
growing back.”
After having said all that, James remembered she was a nurse. Feeling
somewhat foolish for explaining something that she surely already knew,
he shook his head and smiled, “I’m sorry. I’m sure I’m not telling you
anything you don’t already know. Hey, maybe I should be asking you for
information. Do you think this’ll leave scars?”
“Well, you’ll probably always have a little reminder of the burn, but
it shouldn’t be that bad if it heals properly. Just remember when you go
home to keep it clean. Your doctor will give you instructions on what to do.
37

Kathy Witman

Make sure you listen. The good thing is that even if there is some scaring,
at least it’s in an area that’s usually covered.”
“How do you know?” he asked mischievously. “Maybe I like to run
around in my underwear,” he said with a grin.
Frances blushed. Not so much because he had said anything that was
really off color, but because when he said it, she instantly pictured him in
his underwear. And of course, she knew what he looked like since she had
treated him in the emergency room.
“I’m sorry,” James said shaking his head again. It seems like I’m either
insulting you or embarrassing you. Can we start over? My name, in case
you don’t remember it, is James. James Marshall.
“Don’t worry about it. No offense taken. I thought your name was
something else… Nolan was it?”
“My name is Norman James Marshall. But I never liked the name
Norman, so I go by James.”
“Oh, okay. And my name is-”
“Frances,” he cut in without hesitation. “I didn’t get your last name
but I’ll never forget your first.”
“My last name is Cane. Frances Cane. James, would you like a soda
or something? I was just about to go down to the cafeteria and a little
company would probably do me good.” Frances knew that normally taking
patients off their floor wasn’t allowed, but since she was a nurse, she could
get away with it.
“I’d love to get off this floor for a while. I’ve only been here a short
while, but I’m not used to being cooped up, and this place gives me the
creeps.”
“We’ll just swing back by the nurse’s station and tell them where you
can be found.”
Frances pushed his wheelchair down the hall to the nurse’s station to
tell them James would be with her. The nurse behind the desk raised her
eyebrows a little, but nodded in consent. They got on the elevator and went
to the hospital cafeteria, placed their orders and settled down at a table.
For a minute or two, it was quiet and Frances felt a little uncomfortable,
but James broke the silence.
“So, how long have you been a nurse?”

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But for the Grace of God

“I studied at Johns Hopkins right out of high school. I always wanted
to be a nurse. Then, I found out that Faith Hospital was affiliated with
the local college so I took a few courses part time and worked here in
an apprenticeship program part time. When I had taken all the classes
I could take here, I went back to Johns Hopkins and finished up. I got
enough credits to earn my degree, took my licensing exam for the state of
Maryland, got my RN and the rest is history.”
“I’m impressed. But I noticed you completely avoided telling me how
long you’ve been a nurse. Are you one of those women who don’t like to
divulge her age?”
“No. But I didn’t realize you asked because you were trying to find
out my age. I thought you were inquiring about my career,” she said, not
knowing whether to be annoyed or amused.
“There I go again, offending you. You know, I’m not really a jerk. It’s
just that I’m a naturally mouthy person, and when I get around you, I get
a little tongue-tied. My brain gets a little short-circuited and I say stupid
things.”
“That’s okay. I’m really not offended. My brain’s a little short-circuited
itself. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I haven’t been sleeping well.
I’ll try not to be so sensitive to your ramblings,” she said with a smile.
“Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we do this starting-all-over-again
thing after I’m released? I shouldn’t be in here for more than another day
or so. Once I get out, maybe we can have dinner or something?”
Frances looked at him in astonishment. It never occurred to her that
he was trying to pick her up. She just wanted a little light conversation.
Besides, she didn’t have time right now to date. Her first priority was
Brandy. Furthermore, she wasn’t sure she really liked this man. He was
okay, but the same thing that nagged at her in the emergency room had
begun to bother her now. She just couldn’t identify what it was that
disturbed her about him. He was pleasant to look at. He had a sense of
humor and he was nice, despite the occasional blunders he made. She knew
he was just nervous. He had that brown curly hair, sparkling green eyes
and those long beautiful lashes. In a sense, he was almost too pretty! But
there was just something about him that made her feel uncomfortable. “I
don’t know,” she said indecisively.

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Kathy Witman

“Aw, come on Frances. I like you. You seem like a sweet girl and I’d
like to get to know you better. I noticed you haven’t mentioned a boyfriend
and there’s no wedding ring, so I’m going to assume you are single and
unattached. For the record, so am I. Just have dinner with me once, then, if
things don’t go well we won’t go out again. And you got a free dinner out of
the deal.” He smiled as he watched Frances contemplating what to say next.
“Tell you what, my friend is on the second floor and is in very bad
shape. I’m really upset about her and she’s all I can think about right now.
I’m just not up to going out, but I’ll make you a deal. When my friend gets
better, I’ll consider it. Right now, I don’t think I’d be much fun.”
He took her hand. “Understandable,” he said compassionately. “Give
me your phone number and I’ll call you in a week or so. Hopefully your
friend will be on the mend and maybe even out of the hospital by then.”
“Why don’t you give me your phone number and I’ll-”
“Oh no you don’t.” He cut her off with a smile. “If I give you my phone
number, I might never hear from you and I really want to see you again.
I’m not trying to be pushy Frances,” he said. His bright green eyes twinkled
as he looked at her. “I just want you to give me a chance, and like I said,
if you decide after one date that you never want to see me again, then I
promise I won’t bother you a second time. Nothing ventured, nothing
gained, right?”
She smiled back at him. All else aside, it was flattering that he was so
determined to go out with her. “Alright,” she said.
They finished their sandwiches and started out of the cafeteria. As
Frances pushed James to the elevator in his wheelchair, they heard someone
call out his name. Frances turned to look, turning James’s wheel chair at
the same time. She saw a woman, pushing a man in a wheel chair toward
them. Both had smiles on their faces.
“Mom, Dad! Hey, what are you doing here?” Now James was smiling
too. “Frances, these are my parents, Cynthia and Frank. Now didn’t I tell
you two not to bother coming all the way down here?”
“Now honey, your father and I know how you hate being indoors and
unable to get out and about. We just thought it might cheer you up to have
a little company, but I see you already have some,” James’ mother said in
an inquisitive tone.

40

But for the Grace of God

As she looked Frances over in a somewhat critical manner, Cynthia
Marshall pushed and pulled at her hair with her hand and twisted it
around her index finger like a little girl might do. It was an unconscious
habit she had when she was speculating about something. She continued to
stare at Frances in a very peculiar way, almost as if she were sizing her up.
“Mom, Dad, this is Frances. She works here. We were just having a
little lunch. She was kind enough to get me out of my room for a little
while.”
“Oh, so you’re a nurse,” Cynthia said, still somewhat curious. “How
nice of you to take your job so personally. How do you ever find the time
to take all your patients to lunch?”
“Stop it Mom. She’s not just a nurse, she’s a friend.” As he said it, James
looked at Frances, wondering if she’d feel comfortable with him describing
her as a friend. At this point in time, they were actually just acquaintances,
but in his heart, he hoped they’d become friends. Actually, he was hoping
they’d become more than friends. Much more.
“I see. Well, would your friend like to join us in a little stroll outside?
That’s all right isn’t it? I mean if we take him for a little walk around the
hospital grounds?”
“Oh that’s fine. But I don’t want to intrude on your family time, I’ll
just stop by the nurse’s station to tell them where you are, James, then I’ll
go back to Brandy’s room.” Frances felt somewhat uncomfortable around
James’ mother. She thought it peculiar that it was the same uneasy feeling
she had when she had first met James. Perhaps it was a family trait to make
those around you feel ill-at-ease, she thought.
“You don’t have to go, Frances, come with us. You can push me and
Mom can push Dad. We can have wheelchair races.” James tried to have
an upbeat tone, sensing a slight tension from Frances.
“I can maneuver on my own, son.” It was the first time Mr. Marshall
had spoken. He had until then sat in his wheelchair, quietly taking in the
conversation between the three of them.
“I know you can Dad, but the more the merrier, right?” James felt the
tension even more after his father had spoken, and was afraid that between
the two of them, they might have offended Frances. He was trying to keep
the peace through what he considered to be an uncomfortable situation,
wondering why his parents were being so curt. They weren’t normally
41

Kathy Witman

unfriendly people, and yet neither of them was warming up to Frances.
He felt the urge to nip that in the bud, since he was already planning on
Frances being a part of his future, one way or another.
“Thank you James, but really, I want to go back to my friend’s room
now. I’ll catch up with you later.” As she turned to leave, she took one final
look at James’ parents. Cynthia, still twisting her hair around one finger
stood with a disapproving look on her face as though she didn’t like it that
her little boy might be interested in Frances. Frank Marshall just sat in his
chair with a blank look on his face, staring at Frances as if assessing her.
What is their problem, Frances thought as she walked away.
Since she had to tell the nurse’s station where James was, she stopped
to look at James’ chart. The nurse on duty kept peering at her so Frances
struck up a conversation.
“I’m just checking on my friend,” she smiled at the nurse.
“So, you know the hero, huh?” she questioned Frances.
“The hero?” Frances said with her eyebrows raised.
“Oh, you mean you really don’t know? That’s how he got burned. He
tore through a burning building to save a young child who was trapped.
It wasn’t even his building that was on fire. It was a just a building on the
same street as his. Mr. Marshall didn’t even know them. His building was
never really in jeopardy, nor was he, until he went in to save that little girl.
What we have here is an honest-to-goodness, Good Samaritan.”
“Oh, really?” Frances said while pondering what she had just been told.
A Good Samaritan, she thought. Maybe there’s hope for this guy yet. It
would take a very brave and selfless person to risk injury in a fire to save
someone he didn’t even know. Perhaps she had misjudged James, perhaps
she ought to give him a chance after all.
There wasn’t much change in Brandy over the next two days. Now and
then she would moan and turn her head from side to side, but other than
that, she was still pretty much out of it. Frances was starting to worry. It
had been almost a week without much improvement. She couldn’t take
off work anymore and was scheduled to go back on Monday. She wanted
so badly to be there when Brandy woke up. Sadly, she sat back in the chair
that had become her reading room, her bedroom, and her church over the
past week.

42

But for the Grace of God

She started to cry and in her pain, decided to pray again. “Father,
Brandy doesn’t deserve this. I know she’s a little wild, but she has a good
heart Lord, you know that. I beg you not to let her die. Please lay your
healing hand on her. Let her stay here on the earth for some greater
purpose. Place yourself in her heart and let her live for you Lord. She’s such
a good friend Father and if she dies, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll miss her
so much. I don’t know what kind of test this is God, but I plead with you
to help her pass it - help me to pass it. If there’s anything I should be doing
just show me. I love her so much and I’d do anything I could for her. And
anything for you Lord. I’ve been a good and faithful child of yours. Help
me. Help Brandy. Help us. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”
As always, she felt somewhat comforted after she prayed. She fell asleep
in her chair and got some much needed rest. She didn’t wake until she
heard a noise in the room the next morning. It was the doctor and several
nurses. They were all crowded around Brandy’s bed. Fearing the worst,
Frances sprung to her feet and vaulted to the bedside.
She heard the doctor say, “Welcome back Brandy.” And when she
looked, she saw Brandy’s eyes were opened. Brandy was looking around
as though she were trying to assess where she was and what was going on.
Frances burst into tears, but this time, they were tears of joy. She went to
Brandy’s side and took her hand. Looking upward as if looking to heaven,
she said aloud, “Thank you God.”
It would be another full day before Brandy was able to speak. The police
were called in to question her about who had hurt her. They questioned
her until the doctor finally asked them to leave, saying she needed to rest
and could be questioned again at another time. Brandy had given them
no information that would lead to identifying the culprit.
After the police and the doctor left, Frances finally got the chance to
talk to her friend. She had taken one more day off to be with Brandy now
that she was finally able to speak.
“You gave me quite a scare you know,” Frances said emotionally. “So
you really have no idea who did this to you?” she questioned.
“What difference does it make? It’s done. Even if they could find the
guy who did it, that wouldn’t make all this go away.”
“I know Brandy, but don’t you want whoever did this to you to pay
for it?”
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Kathy Witman

“It makes no difference to me.”
“Okay. We can talk about that some other time. Right now, we just
have to concentrate on getting you healed.”
Frances and Brandy talked until late that evening, but the subject
of who hurt Brandy didn’t come up again. Frances had a suspicion that
Brandy knew her attacker and didn’t want to identify him. Brandy might
not care if he was brought to justice, but in the back of her mind, Frances
vowed to find out who he was and make sure he paid for what he had
done to her friend. She knew that the ultimate punishment for his crime
would come when he met his Maker, but she wanted him to pay his earthly
penance as well.
She kissed Brandy good-bye softly on the cheek and left. Like it or not,
she had to go home to get ready for work the next day. When she got there,
she did some chores that had been put on hold for the whole week she had
been staying with Brandy and got everything ready for work the next day.
Then she called Alice and told her the good news. Alice seemed genuinely
happy and told Frances she’d continue to keep Brandy in her prayers.
Minutes after they hung up the phone rang. Thinking it was Alice
who had forgotten to tell her something, Frances picked up the phone
immediately. She was surprised to hear the voice on the other end.
“Hi Frances.” There was silence for a moment and then he spoke again.
“It’s James. I was just calling to see how your friend is getting along.”
Frances had forgotten about the promise she had made to go out with
James when Brandy was doing better. When his voice reminded her of it,
she felt a slight dread. The story about him saving the little girl quickly
played in her mind and she felt a small tug at her heart, but she just didn’t
feel like doing this right now, and decided to tell him so.
“Hi James. Brandy’s doing much better. But look” Anticipating what she was about to say next, James cut her off. “Frances,
I didn’t call to pressure you about our date. I just really wanted to see how
your friend is doing. Is she still unconscious?”
Feeling somewhat sheepish for her discourteous tone, she answered a
little more softly, “No. She came out of it last night. She still has a long road
ahead of her, but at least she’s talking. She’s still in a lot of pain though.”

44

But for the Grace of God

“I’m really glad to hear that. I know how important she is to you.
And how are you holding up? Have you been staying at the hospital all
this time?”
“Yes. But I’m back home now for good. Since she’s out of immediate
danger, I really need to get back to work tomorrow. I haven’t been there
for almost a week.”
They chatted for a few more minutes but the subject of their impending
date never came up. James sensed right away that this was not a good time,
and was afraid if he pushed, she’d dismiss him altogether. So he decided
to be patient. He figured Frances really had to be worn out from her weeklong vigil anyway and maybe if he gave her some time to rest and get back
into her regular routine, he’d have a better chance at winning her favor.
After they hung up, Frances sat in her living room thinking. She was
so glad Brandy was awake and doing better, but she just couldn’t figure out
why Brandy seemed to have no desire to catch the person who had hurt
her so badly - had almost killed her! She intended to have a heart-to-heart
with her on the subject when she had recovered a little more. But for now,
she was satisfied just to have her back.
Then Frances’ thoughts went to James. What was she going to do? For
whatever reason, she was still hesitant about going out with him. If only
she could figure out why. For some time now, she had been whining to
anyone who would listen about wanting to meet a man to share her life,
and he seemed to meet at least some of the criteria she had for prospective
dates. Maybe she was just tired. Maybe she should give it a while and then
she’d be ready to go out with him. She was still thinking about him when
she fell asleep on her couch.
The next week practically wore Frances out. She worked a full twelvehour shift every day. At the end of her shift, she went to be with Brandy
for a couple of hours and then went home to take care of her chores,
run errands and catch up on her reading. Even on her breaks, she went
to Brandy’s hospital room to talk and sometimes watch her undertake
the physical therapy the doctor had ordered for her. She was healing
very quickly now. Her doctor told Frances in confidence that if things
continued to go this well, Brandy would be out of the hospital soon.
Frances was elated and a little relieved. As much as she loved her friend
and wanted to be there with her, the past few weeks had really taken their
45

Kathy Witman

toll on her. She had absolutely no energy and the dark circles under her
eyes were getting darker by the minute.
On Wednesday of the following week, the doctor finally told Brandy
she could leave the hospital. But there was a condition attached to it; she
couldn’t be alone for a while. She could only leave if she had someone to
take care of her for another five to seven days. Naturally, Frances insisted
that Brandy come home with her. Frances would request the night shift
and therefore be working when Brandy was asleep. Then, when Frances
came home, she could make her something to eat, help her bathe and assist
her with her physical therapy. “Who better to do all these things than a
nurse?” Frances asked after it was settled that Brandy should come home
with her.
The next week was great for Brandy. Every day brought something
she hadn’t had the day before. Sometimes it was more movement, and
sometimes it was a bruise that had vanished. And sometimes it was having
less pain than before. The swelling had finally gone down in her face and
she was looking more like the old Brandy. But for as much as Brandy
improved, Frances’ state of health was declining. She was working herself
to death. Between working the late shift, coming home and tending to
Brandy’s needs and keeping up with the day-to-day tasks that had to be
taken care of, Frances was surviving on only a few hours of sleep a day.
By the end of the week, when Brandy was finally ready to go to her own
apartment, it was Frances who was in need of care. But when Brandy
offered to stay to help her, Frances insisted that she could take care of
herself and that Brandy should go home.
To make matters worse, Frances was going back to her regular shift the
next day, which meant that after finally getting her body clock accustomed
to working nights for a week, she now had to adjust to sleeping at night
and working through twelve-hour days. The first night was awful. She
slept very fitfully, tossing and turning. The next day she felt like she hadn’t
gotten any sleep at all, but she still had to show up for work. Since she had
taken off the entire time Brandy was in the hospital, she couldn’t take off
again just now.
By the end of her shift, she felt like the walking dead. She was so
tired that she felt light-headed as she walked to the parking lot. Just as she
arrived at her car, she heard a voice in the distance. It was James. He was
46

But for the Grace of God

going to the hospital for some post-burn treatments and had noticed her
leaving the ER. He was smiling as he approached her, but upon seeing her
face, his smile vanished. She looked like she was in a trance. Her eyes were
looking at him, but he could see her mind wasn’t registering who he was.
“Frances, honey, are you alright?” She looked right at him but said
nothing. “Frances it’s me, James. Honey what’s wrong?” He had no
sooner said it than she started to slump against her car. She didn’t lose
consciousness, but very well might have if James hadn’t been there. He
immediately lowered her to the ground and patted her hand, then he just
sat there on the ground beside her, contemplating what to do next. More
than a minute passed before she finally snapped back and became aware
of her surroundings. When she did, she could see the concern on his face.
“James, what are you doing here? What’s wrong?” she said in a confused
tone.
“What’s wrong? That’s what I should be asking you. You almost passed
out. Are you sick?” He was genuinely worried about her and you could
hear it in his voice.
“Oh no, I’m not sick, I’m just really tired. It’s been a long couple
of weeks and I haven’t slept much. I’ve been taking care of Brandy and
unfortunately, not taking care of myself. It was only a matter of time before
it caught up with me. But now, I’m going home and straight to bed. I don’t
have to be back to work until seven in the morning and I plan to sleep the
night away.”
“Well I’m gonna drive you home Frances. You shouldn’t be driving
in this condition. If you pass out behind the wheel – well, it wouldn’t be
good.”
She didn’t have the strength to argue, and she knew he was right. So
she let James help her into the passenger’s side and watched as he walked
back around to get into the driver’s seat. He completely dismissed his
treatment. Right now, it was far more important that he get Frances home
safely.
She told him how to get to her condo and where to park. When they
got out of the car she said, “I’ll call you a cab to get back to the hospital.
They can pick you up right here. I’m sure it won’t be a long wait since the
cab company is just a few blocks from here.”

47

Kathy Witman

“That’s not necessary Frances, I can take care of getting my own ride.
But I’m not leaving until I know you’re tucked away safely.”
She considered telling him no. After all, she really didn’t know him
very well, but in her weakened state, she could only trust that he would do
what he said he was going to do and be on his way.“ Alright, you can help
me to my door but really James, I’m not up for any company right now.”
“That’s fine,” he said in a totally believable voice. So up to the second
floor they went, with James holding her arm in case her steps faltered.
Without a word, he took the key from her hand and opened the door.
Then he took her by the hand and led her inside. “Where’s your bedroom?”
She nodded in the direction of her bedroom and he guided her to it.
He helped her take off her jacket and then sat her down on the bed. He
removed her shoes and turned the bed down. Without a word, he left the
room and returned a few minutes later with a glass of milk and a sandwich
on a tray. He sat it down on the nightstand and then stooped down so
they were both at the same eye level. “Frances, I’m leaving now. I’ll lock
the door behind me, but after you’ve gotten a little food in your stomach
you go and throw the dead bolt, ya hear?”
“Yes.” she managed a smile. As he walked through the bedroom
doorway and started for the front door, she called after him. “James!”
He immediately shot back to the bedroom, fearing that she was feeling
faint again.
“Thank you,” she said. He could see the appreciation in her eyes, or
was that just exhaustion? It didn’t matter. “You’re welcome,” he said with
a smile, then he left.
The next morning when she woke, the entire previous day was a blur
to her. She sat at the side of her bed thinking. Did she even go to work?
She didn’t remember driving home. Was Brandy still here? What day was
this? Had James really been there at her condo or was that part of a dream?
She went to the bathroom, splashed some cold water in her face and then
went to the kitchen to start some coffee. When it was done, she sat at her
kitchen table drinking it and trying to remember the day before. When the
coffee kicked in and the cobwebs began to clear from her head, little bits
and pieces of the previous day started coming back to her. She did go to
work. Brandy had gone home the day before. And she didn’t drive herself

48

But for the Grace of God

home, James did. And he really was there in her condo for a short while.
It wasn’t a dream after all.
By the time she was ready to go to work, her mind had completely
cleared and her memories of the day before were vivid. The thing that was
foremost in her mind was James. She remembered the entire incident.
How he helped her at her car, insisted on driving her home and made sure
she was all right before he left. He had the perfect opportunity to take
advantage of the situation if he was so inclined, but he hadn’t. She was still
thinking about him when she got to the hospital.
Frances was still tired even though she had finally gotten a good night
sleep. Thank goodness the ER was slow that day. It had been slow all week.
Even without asking for it, God had taken care of her, she thought. Shortly
after noon, she signed out of the ER and went for a lunch break. She was
sitting in the nurses’ lounge at a table by herself when Dale came in. The
instant she saw him, the thought entered her mind that he had not yet
gone to the hospital administration with his crazy allegation. In all that
had gone on with Brandy, she had completely forgotten about it. The next
thought in her mind was that she wondered what he was up to, and in the
following moment, she found out.
He walked right up to her table, even though there were other empty
tables available. He sat down in the chair across from her and just sneered
at her with an evil look. She knew he was up to something and it couldn’t
be good.
“Hello Frances,” he said in a sarcastic tone. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Well I’ve been right here at the hospital Dale.” In her fatigue, she
just didn’t have the energy to battle with him. But by the same token, she
wasn’t going to take any crap from him either.
“I guess you’re wondering why I didn’t turn you in for that, well, let’s
just say for that bad call you made in the ER.”
“Listen Dale, if you really believe I performed irresponsibly then go
ahead and report me. I know you can’t prove I did anything wrong because
I didn’t. You don’t have a leg to stand on. So either go to the administration
and have your say if you’re determined to cause me trouble, or let it go. In
either case, I’m not going to stand for your harassment!”
“No, you listen to me!” Their voices were getting loud and some of the
others in the lounge looked their way, but Dale didn’t care. If others saw
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Kathy Witman

them arguing, they would remember it later if this ever came out and it
would make her look bad, he thought. “I haven’t turned you in yet because
I’ve decided to give you a break. But you’d better walk the straight line
missy because I’m watching you. I’ve documented that little error you
made that cost that woman her life. And from now on, if you so much
as put a bandage on crooked I’ll be there to bring it to your attention.
Nothing will get by me. I’m going to be breathing down your neck every
second of every day. I’m gonna be your worst nightmare!”
“You’ve always been my worst nightmare Nurse Green,” she said as
she got up to leave. He remained sitting there as she gathered her things
and walked out.
Her rage overcame her weariness. She stormed out of the hospital
and went to sit outside even though it was cold and she hadn’t picked
up her jacket. She didn’t even realize how cold it was because she was so
hot with fury. What should she do? She had done nothing wrong and he
knew it, yet, he insisted on carrying on this charade. She wondered if he
himself believed the story he had concocted. Perhaps she should go to the
board with a harassment suit. But that wouldn’t work either, she thought.
For some unexplained reason, he had the respect of most of the board
members. Why was he doing this? Was he trying to make her quit her job?
Well it wasn’t going to work. She decided right then and there to stand her
ground. If he took his accusation to the board, she would stand and fight.
After all, she was innocent. She was a good nurse, and if he didn’t stop
harassing her, she would go to the administration and request a transfer
to another part of the hospital. But she hoped that wouldn’t be necessary
as her heart was in the ER.
She finished her shift and left the hospital, still mulling the situation
over in her mind. When she got home, she went straight to bed. The
episode with Dale had only added to her lethargy. She fell into a deep sleep
within minutes. When the phone rang, she never heard it.

50

Chapter 5

T

he first time he called and she didn’t answer, he thought that
perhaps she was in the shower. So James waited an hour and
called again, but there was still no answer. She should be home
by now. It was after nine o’clock. He paced back and forth for a while in
his modest apartment.
James came from a family that didn’t have much money. His father
was a stockbroker and did well at first, but an accident in his mid-twenties
left him severely crippled and unable to work. James, an only child, along
with his mother and father lived a meager life. There was no money for
a college education for James so he pursued a career in a profession that
didn’t require one. Starting out as a gofer in a local construction company,
he served an apprenticeship under the owner and earned his carpenters
license. He liked the work and eventually learned how to operate some
of the smaller excavating equipment. When he had finally mastered the
smaller equipment, he learned how to operate the larger ones, and James
now made a tidy living. He was neither rich, nor poor. He was certainly
better off than his parents were when he was growing up. After all, a
disability check doesn’t go very far.
He looked around his apartment as he paced. It was neat and clean,
furnished with very basic furniture and a few nick-knacks his mother had
talked him into buying to dress up the place. As he walked by the phone,
he decided to call one more time. Still nothing, and he was getting worried.
He knew she hadn’t been feeling well and was worn out from taking care
of Brandy and working the late shift. He contemplated what he should do

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Kathy Witman

for another minute then grabbed his jacket and his car keys and headed
for the door.
As he drove up to Frances’ building, he could see all the lights were
out in her condo. He pulled into the parking area and saw her car. Now
he was really in a quandary. Should he assume that she was in bed asleep
and everything was alright, or should he take the chance and knock on her
door? What if she’s fainted like she almost did the other day, he thought.
She could have hit her head and be laying there, bleeding and unable to
call for help. It was now ten o’clock and he had been calling since eight.
He wondered whether he was worrying unnecessarily, but he made his
decision. He parked just a few spaces from her car, got out, and walked up
to the second floor where Frances lived.
He stood there for a minute, wondering if what he was about to do
was the right thing. If she was only sleeping, it might make her mad to
be jolted awake by the doorbell. But James couldn’t shake the image of
Frances somehow being hurt and needing his help. So he rang the bell,
and he rang it again. And again.
When the third series of rings didn’t bring a response, James started
to panic. If she were just sleeping then the phone and the doorbell should
wake her. Shouldn’t it? There must be something wrong. James pounded on
the door. He pounded some more and rang the bell at the same time. Just
as he was contemplating an attempt at breaking down the door, he heard
a sound from the other side. It was the sound of locks being unlocked.
Then, the door opened just a little crack that the chain lock allowed. And
on the other side stood Frances. Her hair was a mess and she was squinting
at the light from the hallway.
“James?” she said in a questioning voice. “What’s wrong? Why are you
here? What time is it anyway?”
“I’m so sorry Frances, I was worried about you. I’ve been calling
all evening and you didn’t answer the phone. I was thinking about you
almost passing out the other day, and then when your car was in the lot
and you didn’t answer when I rang the doorbell, I was afraid something
had happened to you.” He spoke very rapidly as though he was in a hurry
to get it all out so she would understand.
“Come in,” she said, taking off the chain and opening the door. James
stepped inside. He was embarrassed now but in his mind, he stood by his
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decision to do what he had done. He would never have forgiven himself
if he had just let it go only to find out later that she had been in need of
assistance.
“You say you’ve been calling me?”
“Yeah. Since about eight o’clock. At first I thought you were in the
shower or something, so I called back a couple times after that. But then
when you didn’t answer and I was afraid you had passed out and hit your
head or something. I had to know that you were alright. Obviously, you
were sleeping. I’m so sorry I woke you.”
“That’s okay. I went to bed early because I was so tired. I had a rough
day at the hospital and I still haven’t caught up on my rest from when
Brandy was here. I can’t believe I didn’t hear the phone ring. Anyway, it
was nice of you to be so concerned about me.”
“Well, I’ll get out of here now and let you get back to bed. Again, I
really am sorry Frances.”
“Don’t worry about it James. Give me a call later this week. Maybe if
I can rest up a bit we can finally have that first date.” She surprised herself
by saying it. James was elated, although he didn’t show it outwardly. He
simply nodded and left, secure in the knowledge that she was alright.
Frances went right back to bed but she couldn’t fall back to sleep.
Probably because of being jolted awake when James pounded on the door
and rang the bell. She lay there thinking about James. It really was awfully
nice of him to be so concerned about her that he would drive all the way
to her condo and come up here to make sure she was alright. He did seem
like a nice guy after all. She made a mental note to give him a chance and
then finally fell asleep, thinking about him.
The next day Frances was still feeling slightly worn. She just couldn’t
seem to get the amount of rest her body was telling her she needed. It was
Saturday morning, and she didn’t have to go to work for two whole days. It
seemed to her like an eternity since she had a day off. And it probably had
been an eternity since she had a whole weekend off. She knew there were
a lot of chores to do around the condo, but she rolled over and went back
to sleep anyway. When she awoke, it was a beautiful, crisp fall day. She
finally felt a little more energetic so she busied herself, tidying up the condo
and doing the laundry. She fixed herself something to eat and lounged in
front of her big picture window admiring the distant mountains. It was
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Kathy Witman

the end of September and the leaves on the trees were starting to change
and would soon be at their peak. The colors would be so breath-taking that
she had, in previous years, sat there looking out for hours, simply enjoying
the beautiful splendor.
When her chores were done, she decided to take a shower. Maybe she’d
take a nice walk in the park or something. It had been a long time since
she had done that. She finished her shower and called Brandy to check
up on her.
“Hi Bran, how ya feeling?” For the first time in a while Frances
sounded chipper.
“I’m okay. What’s up?”
“Not much. I have the next two days off work. I think I’m gonna kick
back and take it easy. I really need a little R & R. Hey, do you remember
me telling you about that man at the hospital? The one I thought was
kinda lame?”
“Yeah, I remember. I think you secretly wanta tap that!” Brandy said
laughing.
“Well I don’t know about all that, but I do think I’m gonna go out with
him this weekend - if he calls me, that is. And I think he will.”
“Well, what brought all this on?”
“Oh, it’s a long story. But to make it short, I ran into him a couple of
times and he seems to be an okay guy after all.”
“Uh huh… do I hear romance in your voice?” Brandy’s tone was
lighthearted. She was teasing Frances, but in her heart, she wanted nothing
more than for Frances to find someone she could share her life with,
because she knew that’s what Frances wanted.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to see how the first date goes. We kinda left
it open, but he has been bugging me about going out for a while. I’m still
not even sure I want to get something started with him.”
“He’ll call girl. And when he does, you’d better say yes!”
Across town, James was thinking about Frances. He was delighted that
she had brought up their going out. He contemplated when he would call
her, what he would say and where he would take her on their first date.
He felt kind of silly, almost like a love-struck teenager. He wanted it to
be memorable, but he was nervous about it. Should he bring her flowers?
Candy? Should he bring her anything at all? Perhaps he shouldn’t seem too
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anxious. He needed to relax, but he couldn’t. He was too excited about the
prospect of the impending date.
James hadn’t had many girlfriends. Of course, he had dated a few girls
in the past, but only once had he gotten into a relationship that could be
classified as serious. And even that one hadn’t lasted long. It seemed to him
that the women he met just weren’t what he was looking for. He could
never put his finger on why, they just weren’t. Some were too bossy, some
were too clingy and others were just too aggressive for his taste. He had
just never met the one who had all, or even most of the qualities he was
looking for in a woman. He wanted someone who really cared for him but
wasn’t too clinging, someone who is independent, but still has room in her
life for him. He wanted a girl who has a good sense of humor and enjoys
having fun, someone with good common sense. He wondered if maybe
Frances was that girl. “We’ll see.” he said out loud to himself.
Frances had a great weekend. Although she had no plans, her condo
was clean, her bills were paid, and her laundry was finished. So she did
just what she told Brandy she was going to do. Nothing. She slept, and she
lounged around in her bathrobe all weekend She read, listened to music
and watched a little television. And she sat in front of her picture window
admiring the view. Finally, on Sunday night, she allowed herself to think
about James, as she too pondered their upcoming tryst.
It had been quite a while since Frances had gone out on a date. A part
of her was looking forward to it much like an excited schoolgirl, but the
other part of her worried that it might end up a disaster. She had been on
dates like that before. She speculated about the same things James was
thinking about all the way across town in his apartment. She wondered
if he would call. There was a chance he wouldn’t. Although, she mused,
it was a slim chance. She felt kind of giddy about the fact that he had
been so persistent about their getting together. But what if he turned out
to be totally horrible? What if it turned out to be the kind of date you
just couldn’t wait until it was over? For a moment, she almost panicked.
Maybe she shouldn’t agree to go out with him. But then, a more pleasant
thought occurred to her, what if it was fantastic? What if she had a great
time? What if he turned out to be the most wonderful man she had ever
gone out with? What if he was the one? In any case, she would just have to
see where the date leads. She wouldn’t borrow trouble contemplating what
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could go wrong. Nor would she daydream about how good the date might
be if she just let herself go and tried to enjoy it.
She decided not to contemplate the scenario any longer. She would just
have to go out with him to see how things turned out. If their first date
were to be a catastrophe, she would just not see him again. But if it went
well, who knows, maybe this could be the start of something very nice.
She finally turned out the light and went to bed. No sense in even
thinking about it anymore tonight. It was only Sunday. Nothing was going
to happen until at least the following weekend and that was days away. She
would simply put it out of her mind until he called.
She was in a good mood the next morning when she left for work,
allowing herself to think only about pleasant things. She wouldn’t allow
herself to feel anxious about James or the possibilities of the upcoming
weekend. And when thoughts of Dale came into her mind, she immediately
shook them out of her brain. The one thing that did keep creeping into
her mind today for some reason was Karen, the little girl she had read to
in the pediatric ward. Frances wondered how she was and made a mental
note to stop in to see her when she took her break.
When Frances arrived, the emergency ward was once again hectic.
There were no major or life-threatening injuries, but the ER was full. She
checked in and went to the desk to get her assignment. The nurse on duty
gave her several charts and pointed out the locations of the patients she
was to treat.
She looked at the charts and prioritized them in order of urgency. They
were all run-of-the-mill minor injuries. A woman with a small gash on
her hand from a knife that had slipped, a man with an allergic reaction to
a bee sting, a little boy who’s eye was swollen from some foreign particle
that had torn the cornea, and of course there was the homeless man who
had come in complaining about dizziness. Frances recognized him. He
had been there several times before. He came there to be inside when the
weather was bad. He’d complain of something that was not immediately
diagnosable, something that would require a stay for at least few hours
in a dry, soft bed. He always managed to come up with something that
might be diagnosed with only a non-invasive test or two. And of course,
he would be given a hot meal while he waited for the test results, which
usually showed there was nothing wrong at all. Sometimes he would ask to
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take a shower. Most of the doctors and nurses detested these poor homeless
souls, but Frances felt sorry for them. Whenever she had to treat one of
them, she made a point to pray for them. Sometimes, she even sent them
away with some of the snacks they kept at the nurses’ station for patients.
These pitiable, unfortunate people made her aware of how blessed she was.
By the time she finished up with her patients and assisted some of the
other nurses with theirs, it was one-thirty in the afternoon. She signed out
and went to have some lunch. Then she went up to the children’s ward to
check on Karen.
Her friend Dotty was at the nurses’ station again. “Hi Dottie, how’s
it going?”
“Great. And you?”
“I’m alright. I came to see Karen. You know, the leukemia patient? Is
she awake?”
“She’s gone,” Dottie said without expression.
Frances thought the worst. “Oh no! When?”
“Oh I’m sorry Frances. I didn’t mean gone in that way. She went
home. The chemo did its thing and the doctor felt she was well enough
to go home.”
“That’s wonderful!” Frances was elated. “She’s really been on my mind
and I’ve been praying for her.”
“Well it looks like your prayers were answered. She was a little worn
out when she left, but it looks like she’ll be okay. Her parents said they were
going to give her a week or two to rest up and then they were taking her to
Disneyland. She was all wound up about that when she left.”
“I’m so happy for her. She was such a cute little girl. Thanks for the
good news Dottie.”
“No problem.”
Frances practically skipped all the way out of the children’s ward. She
loved to hear good news about the patients, especially the children. It was
going to be a good week. She could feel it.
However, her workweek was slow and monotonous, and her personal
life seemed to drag as well. Alice was out of town visiting one of her
children and so didn’t call. And Brandy was, well, who knows where.
Frances had called her several times but kept getting her voicemail. Frances
was worried about what Brandy might be getting into. Even the experience
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of being beaten almost to death hadn’t changed Brandy’s inclination to
live life in the fast lane. Since she had recovered, she was back at her job,
dancing. Frances knew that Brandy would leave the club with strange men
if she thought they were cute, or would buy her something or take her out
to eat. She also knew there was nothing she could do about it, so she just
tried to put it out of her mind.
But it seemed that when Frances tried to put something out of her
mind, she just ended up thinking about it more. Take James for instance.
She tried not to think about him, but he kept intruding on her thoughts. It
was almost annoying to her, and yet, in her heart of hearts, she was hoping
he would call. Her life, although a good life, hadn’t had much excitement
lately. None that was pleasant anyway. And although she hated to admit
it, she was secretly hoping they’d go out and have a great time.
It was Wednesday, the first day of October. The ER had been crazy
and Frances was dead on her feet. She stopped by the liquor store on the
way home and bought a bottle of wine. When she got home, she poured
herself a glass, lit some candles, and drew a hot bath. She really needed to
unwind. She had just settled down into the warmth of the water when the
phone rang. She considered ignoring it, but she was always afraid it would
be important. She made a mental note to get herself an answering machine.
She was probably the only person on the earth who didn’t already have one,
she thought. Then, she jumped up, grabbed her robe, threw it on and ran
to the phone, dripping with every step. When she picked up the receiver,
she was slightly annoyed for having been interrupted, but the voice on the
other end soon lifted her spirits.
“Hi Frances. It’s James, I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“No, not at all,” she smiled. “I was just about to take a bath. How
are you?”
“Great, great. I was calling to see if you wanted to do something this
weekend?” James held his breath, hoping the response would be affirmative.
He had been thinking about her since the previous Friday when they had
last spoken, and like Frances, his days had seemed never ending from the
anticipation of their get-together.
“Uh, yeah, that would be fine,” she said after an appropriate pause. She
didn’t want to sound too eager.

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There were a few moments of silence. Both of them wondering exactly
when they would have their date, but both being too stubborn to be the
one to ask. Finally, James spoke. “Would Friday work for you? Unless you
think you’d be too tired after working all day. I know you said you needed
to catch up on your rest. If you think Saturday would be better, we can do
that. Unless you have to work Saturday too, then-”
“Friday’s fine,” she said, smiling to herself. She could hear the
nervousness that had crept into his voice and it amused her. Could
he actually be nervous about talking to her? “Do you have something
particular in mind? I mean, how should I dress?”
“Dress casually, Frances. I want this to be relaxed and comfortable.
First dates are hard enough without having to worry about how to dress, or
using the right fork and all that stuff. How about if I pick you up around
eight for a late dinner? Would that be okay? We’ll go somewhere informal
where jeans will be considered appropriate dress, alright?”
“That sounds fine James. You already know where I live, so I can be
waiting for you outside if you’d like.”
“Oh, no, that won’t do. When I call on a lady, I meet her at her door.
I’ll be there promptly at eight. And Frances, I’m really looking forward to
this.” The minute he said it he wished he hadn’t. It was true alright, but
he didn’t want to sound over-zealous about their date. He wondered if she
would look forward to it as much as he did. Then, she spoke words that
somewhat put him at ease.
“I’m looking forward to it too James. I’ll see you on Friday.”
With that, they both hung up, smiling. And each was wondering if
the other was smiling too.

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Chapter 6

W

hen Friday finally came, both Frances and James were giddy
with excitement, although neither knew the other was feeling
the same way. James had racked his brain to come up with
what he considered would be a memorable date. He had decided upon
taking her a single, yellow rose. He had read somewhere that yellow
roses symbolized friendship, whereas red roses were for lovers. Since they
hadn’t even been out yet, he thought red roses were a bit presumptuous.
He deliberated about whether he should take her a bouquet or just one,
and in the end, decided a single rose, even a friendship kind of rose, was
more romantic than a bouquet of flowers. He hoped Frances would feel the
same way. Besides, he had a little plan for repeating the yellow rose theme
during their date. He thought it was romantic and hoped she would too.
When he got home from work, he took a long shower, shaved, brushed
his teeth, and picked out what he would wear. He chose black jeans and
a blue sweater that brought out the color of his eyes, so he had been told
by a female acquaintance. Blue was his favorite color. Black socks and
a pair of black loafers completed his ensemble. His left ear was pierced,
and he deliberated about whether or not to wear an earring. In the end,
he decided against it, not knowing whether Frances liked pierced ears on
men. He decided to dab on a little light-fragrance cologne. He wanted to
smell nice, even sexy, but he didn’t want it to be overpowering. After he
ran a comb through his hair, he looked in the mirror and was happy with
what he saw. There- he was ready. And it was only six-thirty. Now he had
to kill another hour or so before he could go pick Frances up. He put on
some music and decided to have a beer to calm his nerves. Why not, he
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thought, I’ll just brush my teeth again. Don’t want to show up smelling
like a brewery, he chuckled to himself. It had been a long time since he
had put so much thought into his appearance. And this might very well
be the most thought he had ever put into a date. But tonight was special,
at least he hoped it would be.
Across town, Frances was rushing around trying to get ready. She
hadn’t gotten off work until six, and then she got caught up behind a
fender-bender that had delayed her. She ran into her condo, threw her
things on the bed and jumped into the shower. She too wanted the night
to be a pleasant experience. She hoped everything would go smoothly and
they would enjoy each other.
She used the perfumed bath gel she saved for special occasions and the
shampoo and conditioner for her hair that had the same light fragrance.
After toweling off and drying her hair, she brushed her teeth and reapplied
her makeup. She was grateful that her shoulder-length, brown hair was
thick and curly, no need to mess with curlers or styling gels. Then she
went to her closet to tackle what would be the most frustrating part of the
routine. Frances could never decide what to wear. She had pondered over
it several times during the day, but had never decided on anything specific.
Should she wear jeans, like he had recommended? Or should she perhaps
wear a skirt? She wondered just how casual he meant this date to be. After
trying on several combinations, all of which were eventually returned to
her closet, she decided to go with the jeans as James had suggested. She put
on a pair of designer jeans that had cost her a small fortune and a powderblue, silk blouse. Any shade of blue was her favorite color. First, she tucked
the blouse in her jeans. Then, she ripped it out to see what it looked like
that way. In the end, she tucked it back in and threw on a belt. She chose
small, silver dangly earrings with a matching bracelet and necklace. Each
piece of jewelry had a small ruby, her birthstone, on it. After selecting a
pair of casual black shoes, she stood in front of her mirror. She was never
completely satisfied with the way she looked, but on this night, she was a
little more pleased than usual.
After turning in every direction to critique herself in the mirror, she
nervously chewed her lip for a moment, and then decided she was as ready
as she’d ever be. And it was a good thing, because at that very moment, the

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doorbell rang. She looked at the clock. It was eight o’clock on the button.
Well, he was prompt if nothing else, she thought.
She peered through the peephole to make sure it was James. Even with
the slightly distorted image the peephole made, she could see he looked
very nice. She opened the door and a smile came to both of their faces.
Neither spoke for a few moments. They both just stood there, looking at
one another. Then James gently offered her the yellow rose he had brought.
“You look great,” he said in a voice uncommonly gentle for him.
“Thanks, you look very handsome yourself,” she said, feeling nervous.
“Look, Frances, I know that first dates are always a little tense, but let’s
make a pact right now. Let’s try to relax and just get to know each other a
little bit tonight. I’ve put a lot of thought into this date and I hope you’ll
enjoy it – I hope we both will, but if we’re too edgy, it’ll detract from the
evening. So why don’t we both take a deep breath and agree to loosen up
a bit. Okay?”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” she said, appreciative of his honesty
and understanding.
Even after all that, there was still a bit of uneasiness after they got
in James’s car. It was quiet for a few moments, and then James broke the
stillness.
“Do you like Italian food?” As he asked the question, he silently
hoped the answer would be yes. He had arranged for a special evening at
an Italian restaurant owned by a friend of his, and even though he had an
alternate plan if she didn’t like Italian food, it wasn’t nearly as nice.
“Sure, I love it,” she answered honestly.
“Great,” he said, inwardly pleased with himself. “Then we’ll be
going to a little restaurant downtown. I used to work with the owner,
in construction. Then his parents were both killed in a plane crash and
he inherited the restaurant. When he decided to take it over and make a
go of it, I helped him to renovate it. It has a lot of charm and the food is
excellent.”
“Alright then,” she said, still a bit nervous. Frances wanted so much
to enjoy herself and to like James, but still, she felt awkward. Even though
she was normally talkative and friendly, she just didn’t know what to say
to him. There were way too many periods of silence on the way to the

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restaurant. But finally, they arrived and James hopped out of the car and
went around to the other side to open the door for her to get out.
As she got out, she was silently hoping the conversation would pick
up during dinner. In her mind, she tried to think of things she could talk
about. She could tell him about her family and upbringing and could ask
him about his. She could talk about Brandy. After all, James kind of knew
Brandy. At least he knew who she was. She could talk about the hospital.
But as she thought of those things, they all sounded boring. It wasn’t that
she particularly wanted to impress James, she just didn’t want to put him
to sleep on their first date.
While she was thinking about what to talk about, it occurred to her
that although she had a relatively happy life, she didn’t do a lot of fun
things. It was also then that she decided she needed to make some changes
in her life.
As they walked through the front door of the restaurant, a handsome
man in a white apron greeted them. James turned to Frances and said, “Oh,
I forgot to tell you, this isn’t a fancy place, the staff here each has multiple
jobs. The greeter is the waiter, the cashier is the hostess, and the wine list
consists of either red or white, but I still think you’ll like it.”
She smiled. “I’m sure I will. I’m not the kind of person who feels
comfortable with ‘fancy’ anyway. Besides, we agreed our first date should
be relaxed and informal. This is perfect.”
Now James smiled. Chalk up one for me he thought to himself, the
restaurant was a good choice.
The man in the white apron smiled too. Although there were several
other customers in the restaurant, he led them to a corner of the restaurant
that was almost deserted. Frances noticed right away that there were no
lights on in that part of the room, only candles, and there were lots and lots
of candles. Soft, romantic music spilled from what seemed to be the only
speaker in the restaurant. On the table, there was another single yellow
rose in a bud vase. And on a separate, smaller table just behind where
they would sit was a small potpourri, which offered a spicy, almost exotic
aroma. She wondered if James had planned all of this, and she would find
out later that he had.
After the waiter seated them, without a word he brought them a bucket
with a bottle of red wine in it. Silently, and still smiling, he poured each
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of them a glass of wine and placed one menu in front of them. This was
another part of James’ plan. Having only one menu would compel them to
sit closely to decide what they wanted to eat. James had thought out every
detail of their evening in advance. He wanted things to go smoothly and
he wanted to do all he could to make the evening memorable. Memorable
in a good way of course.
There it was again, that silence that was almost deafening. After
enduring it for a few moments, Frances decided it was her turn to break it.
“Kudos for your choice of restaurant,” she said, looking him in the eye.
It was then that she noticed how green his eyes were. They almost sparkled
in the candlelight. She wondered if it was just the atmosphere or if he really
was particularly handsome tonight. It was the first time Frances felt more
than a little attracted to him, and she liked it.
“Thanks. I was hoping you’d like it.” Feeling that there was still
uneasiness between them, James lifted his glass, determined to bring
comfort to the evening. “I’d like to make a toast.” Frances lifted her
glass and waited for him to speak. “I’d like to raise a toast to a wonderful
evening that will hopefully be the beginning of new things for both of us.”
Without breaking eye contact, each sipped their wine. Then, putting all
inhibitions aside, not to mention allowing himself to become vulnerable,
James decided to lay his cards on the table.
“Frances, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been looking forward to this night for
a long time, even before we actually agreed to go out tonight. Something
about you makes me want to get to know you better. Even though I don’t
know you that well yet, something tells me that you and I are destined
to grow closer. I’ve only known you for a short time and we haven’t spent
much time together, but I find myself thinking about you, a lot. It’s almost
as if we already have some kind of connection. I hope I’m not being too
forward. And I hope tonight is the beginning of many nights like it.”
Frances was almost stunned by his words. She was surprised that
he seemed to have such strong feelings for her so soon. It also surprised
her that he was open and honest enough to share his emotions out loud,
especially on their first date. For a moment, she sat very still, not speaking,
then she decided to open up as well.
“Thank you James. I think it’s very sweet that you can be so open with
your feelings. So, I’ll be honest too. I have to admit that I feel an attraction
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to you. But I also have to confess that for some reason, when we first met, I
had an uneasy feeling about you. I don’t know what it was, but for whatever
reason, I was reluctant to allow myself to like you. It wasn’t that I disliked
you, there was just something that made me want to keep my distance. I
guess that’s why I put off going out with you at first. But since we’re both
being honest, I’ll also admit that more recently, I’ve been hoping to get to
know you better too. And I was also looking forward to our date.”
As they gazed into each other’s eyes, they each had an expression of
appreciation on their faces. Each of them seemed appreciative of the other’s
openness. Finally, the mood had changed from one of tenseness to one of
calm and trust. They had become vulnerable to one another and both had
accepted and validated each other’s feelings. And they were both thinking
the same thing. They were thinking that for the first time in a long while,
there was something exciting about to happen in their lives.
“What changed your mind,” James asked with apprehension.
She decided not to tell him that she knew about him rescuing the
little girl from the fire, she was afraid it might embarrass him. “Oh, I don’t
know, you just kind of grew on me.” She smiled. She had told him the
truth. Telling the truth was very important to her.
The waiter appeared again, still wearing the same smile as though he
could not wipe the grin off his face. His silence was almost mysterious, and
without a word he placed a small platter of hors d’oeuvres and one plate
in the center of the table. Again, James had planned all of this in advance.
“Why don’t you move your chair over this way a little and we can
get started on this scrumptious food?” James offered. Frances complied
happily.
The plate held two each of several different taste treats. The smells
were delightful. James carefully chose two of the same kind and placed
them on the plate they shared. It was Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese
wrapped in soft dough with a sliced black olive and just a bit of sauce over
the top. He gently picked one up with his fork and fed it to Frances. Even
though she was a bit surprised by this intimate act, she took it from him
and immediately began to sigh with appreciation.
“This is fabulous,” she said sincerely. James ate his portion, kind of
hurriedly and then chose two more for them to sample. Since he ate at
the restaurant often, he had tried just about everything they had to offer
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beforehand and had chosen his favorites to be served to them tonight.
Right now, he was concentrating on giving Frances the pleasure of the
cuisine. He was really enjoying feeding her, it was probably as sensual as
they would get on their first date he thought. But that was okay. He was
anxious to have their relationship accelerate, but at the same time, willing
to take it slow. He didn’t want to be too aggressive and risk being pushed
away.
The second hors d’oeuvre was a crisp wafer with melted provolone
cheese, roasted peppers, a hint of bacon and of course, the obligatory
Italian sauce. This time, James picked one up with his fingers and placed
it in Frances’ mouth. Upon tasting it, she closed her eyes and heaved a sigh
of approval. The food was indeed very good, but the fact that James was
feeding it to her made it even more interesting.
Even though it was uncharacteristic of her to be this bold, she decided
to reciprocate. She pulled the platter toward her and placed the remaining
two samples on their shared plate. The last delicacy consisted of a jumbo
shrimp with cocktail sauce, capers and Italian spices served on a thin biscuit
with just a hint of Parmesan cheese. She picked one up and brought it to
James’ mouth. He opened it very sensually and took what she offered,all
the while, their eyes were fixed on each other. The chemistry had begun,
they both felt it. It was the food the candlelight, and the combination of
the aroma of the potpourri and the cuisine. It was the two of them coming
together.
James kissed her softly on the cheek and picked up the menu. “If you
want to order from the menu, you can, but if you’ll trust me, I’ve asked the
waiter to have several sample entrees prepared and ready for our dinner.
That way, the next time we come here you’ll know what your favorites are.”
Assuming they’d be back was a risk on James’s part, but at this point, it
was a risk he was willing to take.
“You seem to have made quite a few arrangements,” she said, grinning.
“I don’t want you to think I haven’t noticed all the little details and the
trouble you’ve gone to. I noticed the music, the potpourri, the candles, and
of course, the yellow rose. Not to mention that even though the rest of the
place is filled now, we seem to have the only quiet corner to ourselves. It’s
wonderfully romantic James. I’m impressed and appreciative.”

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He picked up their wine glasses and gave hers to her, then he entwined
their arms and each sipped- their faces only inches apart. They sat in
silence, staring at each other, but this time, it wasn’t an uneasy silence.
It was a dreamy, passionate and comfortable silence they both seemed to
enjoy.
James nodded to the waiter, who was standing off to one side watching
them and still smiling. Without otherwise moving, the waiter snapped
his fingers as if signaling someone. Immediately, another waiter appeared
with salads, steaming hot rolls, and a small decanter of spiced olive oil.
He placed the food in front of them and without a word, offered freshly
ground pepper for the salads. James looked at Frances, who simply nodded
in approval. The waiter twisted the peppermill briefly over each salad, and
then left as soundlessly as he had arrived.
James poured some of the olive oil on a plate, offered Frances a roll and
took one for himself. Following his lead, she dipped the roll in the spiced
oil and took a bite. Even this simple pleasure seemed delicious. They each
began to eat their salads, which consisted of romaine lettuce, almonds,
mandarin orange slices, shaved coconut, thinly-sliced cucumbers, croutons,
and very small cherry tomatoes. It was topped off with a mildly sweet but
spicy dressing that brought out the flavor of the other ingredients. And
boy was it good. Frances thought this might be the best salad she had ever
eaten. Or was it just the company she was keeping?
The minute they had finished with their salads, the smiling waiter
returned to clear the table. The instant he left, two more waiters appeared
with two platters, each containing two sample-sized entrees. One waiter
stayed to serve them, but a wink from James sent him on his way. James
carefully cut a portion from each entrée and placed it on the plate in front
of Frances, then he took a portion of each for himself. Then, the original
waiter, whom Frances now called ‘Smiley’, reappeared out of nowhere. He
poured water for them and refilled their wine glasses. Before leaving, he
glanced at James and paused until he received James’ nod of approval, then
he disappeared again.
Throughout the rest of the meal, they talked in turn about their lives.
Each learned many things about the other. Occasionally, ‘Smiley’ would
peek around the corner to determine whether they needed anything. If it

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seemed as though they did, he immediately catered to their needs, if not,
he left them alone to enjoy their meal.
When they had finished their dinner, two waiters quickly returned to
clear the table. Then ‘Smiley’ materialized with after-dinner drinks and
yet another platter containing several small dessert selections. Frances and
James were both stuffed, but James insisted they should have at least one
bite of each.
“I know you’re probably full, but these desserts are to die for,” he said
closing his eyes as if to indicate immense satisfaction. He sliced just enough
for a taste and served Frances before taking some of each for himself. When
Frances picked up her fork, James gently took it from her and placed it
aside. “Please, allow me. I enjoy doing this,” he said with a sly grin. Slowly,
he proceeded to feed her. After she had tasted one, he offered her a drink
of water to somewhat cleanse her palate so she could fully appreciate the
next taste.
When he was through, Frances picked up James’ fork, fully intending
to return the gesture, but after one bite, James stopped her. “Thank you
Frances, but I’m so full I feel like I could explode, besides, I’ve tried all of
them before. I know how good they are.”
“That’s not fair,” Frances protested. “If I have to gain five pounds over
this meal, then you should too!”
James took her hand in his. “Oh don’t worry Frances,we’ll walk it off
later. This evening isn’t over with yet.”
They talked for a while longer and then decided it was time to leave.
James got up and pulled Frances’ chair out for her to get up. ‘Smiley’
reappeared with a small silver tray which offered several after-dinner mints.
They each took one and James reached for his wallet to pay. But ‘Smiley’
held his hand up in protest, and spoke for the first time. “Dinner is on the
house James. It was my pleasure to watch the two of you enjoying your
meal and your time together. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening as
well.”
“Thanks Michael, for everything.” James grinned, pleased with the
evening as well as with himself for planning it.
When they got outside, Frances was somewhat irritated that James
hadn’t introduced her to his friend. “Why didn’t you tell me that ‘Smiley’
was the friend you were talking about earlier?”
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“Oh I don’t know, I didn’t want even one minute of our evening
interrupted by introductions. You’ll see him again I’m sure, under less
private conditions. I wanted this evening to be just about us, you and me.”
How romantic, she thought. She certainly couldn’t be irritated about
that,it was actually very thoughtful. Something she herself probably would
never have considered. She was glad now that she hadn’t brought up
Brandy during the course of the evening. So far, they had talked only about
themselves. That was good. They were both learning so much about each
other, and they both liked what they had learned.
They got back into James’ car and he drove south, out of the city. “Now
where are we going?” Frances asked.
“There’s a lake in a little park just outside of town. It’s public property,
but because the area is small and undeveloped, not many people go there.
It’s quiet, beautiful and private.” Then, sensing a sudden nervousness about
her, he added, “Don’t worry Frances, I’m not taking you there to seduce
you, I just thought it would give us more of an opportunity to get to know
each other. I promise you I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”
Relaxing, she replied, “You’ve been perfect so far.” She took his hand
as they drove on.
When they arrived at the lake, James parked the car in a grassy area.
Frances noticed tire tracks and that the grass had been smashed down.
Obviously, others had been here recently, but she didn’t see any other
cars now. James grabbed a flashlight from the back seat and got out of
the car. He opened her door, took her hand and led her down a dirt path.
He seemed to know right where he wanted to go. They came to a clearing
where there was a blanket stretched out on the ground with a large picnic
basket sitting on it. The moon provided just enough light for Frances to
see it. Her first thought was that someone else had come here to be alone,
but James took her right to the blanket, sat down and patted it to indicate
that she should do the same.
“This is your stuff?” she asked, surprised.
James just smiled and lifted the lid of the basket. He took out a small
oil lamp and a pack of matches. He lit the lamp and took out a miniature
vase with a yellow rose in it. Then he took out two wine glasses, a bottle
of wine wrapped in heavy foil and a small CD player. Setting them aside,
he closed the lid of the basket, and sat the lamp, the CD player, and the
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rose on top of it. She watched in appreciation. He had certainly thought
of everything. This guy was special, she thought to herself.
He turned on the CD player, which began to play slow, romantic
music, and then turned to Frances. “Would you like some wine now or
would you rather wait? I’m sure the foil has kept it cool, but if you’re still
full from dinner, I’m just as sure that it will keep a little longer.”
“You are so thoughtful James,” Frances said in genuine sincerity. “You
certainly went to a lot of trouble to make sure we’d enjoy our date.”
“It was no trouble at all. Planning it and anticipating your reaction
was half the fun.”
“It touches me that you’ve put so much thought into it. Your attention
to detail is amazing, right down to the yellow rose. Not too many men
would have been thoughtful enough to consider that a yellow friendship
rose would be more appropriate for our first date than a red rose. And to
repeat it at the restaurant and here, well, it’s very flattering that you gave
our evening so much thought.”
“You’re worth it Frances,” he said in a soft voice.
The place James had chosen for them was on a hill at the edge of the
lake. The air was crisp and calm and a bright full moon reflected in the
lake illuminating it. Occasionally, when the wind blew softly, she could
see the ripples dance across the water and she could hear the rustling of
the leaves in the trees. It was so tranquil, and so romantic.
They talked for hours. At one point, “Unchained Melody” came on
the CD player and James stood up, took Frances’ hand and pulled her to
her feet. He pulled her close to him and they began to dance. They danced
until the song stopped. James politely kissed her hand and they returned to
the blanket. Frances was overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness and his sense
of romance. This guy might just be a keeper, she thought.
They drank a little of the wine James brought and discussed their likes
and dislikes. They told each other stories about their past and talked of
their dreams for the future. They discovered that they had many common
interests and many similar expectations for their lives. They even discovered
some traits in which they were totally opposite, but overall, they just
enjoyed the evening and each other’s company. They both hated to see it
end, but when a glance at James’ watch by the light of the lamp revealed

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that it was almost three in the morning, they agreed that it was time to
call it a night.
James packed up his things and put them back in the basket. It was
getting a little chilly so he folded the blanket and wrapped it around
Frances. He’s the most considerate man I’ve ever met, Frances thought.
The drive back to Frances’ condo was quiet. Not because they couldn’t
think of anything to say, but because both were dreamily lost in reflecting
upon the evening. When they arrived at the parking area, James turned
off the car, got out and opened the car door for Frances to get out. He put
his arm around her as they slowly walked to her front door where they
stopped. James gently turned Frances around to face him. He cupped her
face in his hands admiring what he saw as fresh, simple beauty.
“If you enjoyed the evening half as much as I did then I will assume
you had a good time,” he whispered.
“It was more than a good time James, it was what I honestly have to
call a perfect evening.”
They gazed at each other for another brief moment, and then with their
eyes never moving from one another, James slowly moved his face closer to
hers. He brushed his nose lightly over the tip of her nose and they smiled.
Then, pulling her into his arms, he kissed her forehead, her nose and then
each cheek. He moved his lips to hers. Although he didn’t kiss her right
away, in a slow but purposeful back and forth motion, he lightly touched
his lips to hers. First he kissed her at each corner of her mouth, then lip to
lip, barely making contact. Frances was so overcome with the passion and
excitement of the moment she thought she might faint. Their hearts were
beating wildly with anticipation. He then kissed her, tenderly and softly,
remembering all the while that it was their first date and he didn’t want
to be too pushy. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” James said in what was almost
a whisper. He kissed her hand and slowly backed away, never taking his
eyes off of her until he reached the stairwell and she disappeared inside
her condo.
Frances was speechless. As she stood motionless, leaning against her
door, she was thinking that this was good… this was really good.

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Chapter 7

F

rances woke the next morning in a very good mood. She played
the previous evening’s events over and over in her mind. She had a
wonderful evening, way beyond what she had expected. And now
she wondered what would happen next. Would he call her? Should she call
him? Was what she felt toward James something that could eventually turn
out to be love or was this just a dreamy romantic feeling she had because of
the night before? Whatever it was, she felt really good and she wanted to
talk about it. So she dialed Brandy’s number, even though it was only ten
o’clock in the morning and she knew Brandy wouldn’t be up yet. Brandy
always worked on Friday nights and the club didn’t close until 2 a.m. but
she just had to talk to someone and Brandy was her best friend.
“What is it!” was what Frances heard when Brandy picked up the
phone.
“Well that’s a lovely way to answer the phone!” Frances said chuckling.
“I know I woke you, but you could have been a little more polite. What if
it had been someone important?”
“Man, nobody important ever calls me. What’re you doing up this early?”
“Thanks a lot! Anyway, it’s ten o’clock in the morning. Most people
are up by now.”
“Yeah, well most people weren’t up until four.” Brandy wasn’t really
mad, she was just tired and of course, a little hung over. “So, what’s with
the wakeup call anyway?”
“Well, I wanted to tell you about my date last night with James.”
“Oh yeah, you finally went out with wonder boy. How was it? Y’all
do the wild thing?”
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“Brandy! I certainly didn’t sleep with him! It was our first date!”
“Oh that’s right, I forgot. God would be annoyed if you did something
like that huh?”
“I’m in such a good mood that I’m going to ignore that. I didn’t call
to argue about God or anything else for that matter. I really wanted to tell
you about what a good time I had last night. It was so nice.”
Frances told Brandy every detail about her date. From the yellow roses
and all the trouble James had gone to for their dinner to the blanket and
the music and the dance. As she told the story, she relived it in her mind.
By the time she was through telling it, she had that dreamy feeling again
just like she had the night before when James left her standing at her door.
“He did all that for you and you didn’t even give him any?” Brandy
asked. “He won’t be back. He’ll cut his losses now and go find a woman
who knows how to show her appreciation. No wonder you don’t have a
boyfriend Franny.”
“Oh Brandy! He didn’t expect anything, I know he didn’t. He enjoyed
the evening just as much as I did. And although, if I had offered to sleep
with him, he probably would have taken me up on it, he respected me
enough to know not to push for it. Do you sleep with everyone you go
out with?”
“Pretty much! And some that I don’t even go out with. Ha!” Brandy
laughed in amusement at her little joke, but in reality, it was the truth.
“You’re sick, girlfriend! Maybe you ought to play hard to get
occasionally, let the guy respect you and love you first. Men don’t respect
floozies.” Frances laughed as if she was kidding, but she was all too serious.
“No wonder you don’t have a boyfriend.”
“I don’t need a boyfriend. I don’t even want a boyfriend. I just need
somebody to take care of me once in a while, like this dude here now.”
Frances gasped, “You mean there’s someone there with you now?
Brandy, who’s there?”
“I don’t know his name, Troy, or Trent or something. It don’t matter.
He served his purpose.”
“Brandy! Have you forgotten what happened to you almost one month
ago today? Have you completely taken leave of your senses? Where’d you
find this guy?”

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“Chill out girl, I met him at the club. He was tippin’ me pretty good so I
figured he had some cash he would be willin’ to part with. So I went for it.”
“What am I going to do with you? I can’t believe you took a perfect
stranger home with you after what you went through last month!”
“Oh he’s far from perfect.” Brandy laughed out loud. “He’s got a long
way to go before he’d be perfect. Anyway, quit worrying about me! Girl,
you not only need a boyfriend, you need a kid too. That way you could
worry about it, boss it around, and tell it what to do. You’re wastin’ all that
mothering on me.”
“Brandy I’m serious. I do worry about you. Doing what you do just
isn’t safe. One of these days-”
“Get off of it, Frances.” Brandy cut her off. “You just worry about
yourself and let me worry about me. I can take care of myself.”
“Like you took care of yourself last month?”
“Man, that was a fluke. That guy was high on somethin’. He didn’t
even know what he was doin.”
“Oh, so that makes it alright? Brandy, please be careful. I don’t ever
want to have to see you in that shape again. I still think you ought to turn
that guy in to the police. And don’t tell me you don’t know who he is,
because I know you do.” Frances was outraged over what had happened
to Brandy. She couldn’t believe Brandy wasn’t more anxious to have the
person who hurt her caught. After all the suffering she went through, you’d
think she’d want the culprit caught and punished!
“It’s over now girl. It’s in the past and I ain’t gonna drag it up again.
And I wish you’d stop draggin’ it up too. Get over it. It’s just somethin’
that happened.”
“Well believe it or not Brandy, it can happen again. And it will if you’re
not more careful.”
“Okay mommy,” Brandy said sarcastically. “I’ll kick him out right
now, run right down to the corner church, and ask for forgiveness. Will
that make you happy?”
Frances ignored her sarcasm. “Call me after he leaves. I’ll worry until
you do. I want to make sure he leaves and you are alright. You hear? ”
“Yes mommy. I’ll call you later.”
With that, they hung up. Frances was truly worried about her friend.
Brandy took these things too lightly. That was how she wound up in the
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hospital looking like she’d been put through a meat grinder. Frances had
a real fear that one of these days Brandy would hook up with someone
who would hurt her even worse. But there was nothing she could do
about it. Brandy was determined to live on the edge and to hang out with
questionable people. All Frances could do was to pray for her safety.
And so she did. As soon as she hung up the phone, she prayed. She
prayed for Brandy’s safety and that she would use more common sense.
And she prayed that when Brandy didn’t use the good sense God had given
her, He would still keep her safe. Then she thanked God. She thanked
Him for her blessings and the wonderful life He had provided for her, and
she thanked Him for the lovely time she had with James. She asked God
to guide her in that relationship if it was meant to be. And she prayed for
James, because that’s just how Frances was. If she cared for someone, she
prayed for them.
“Amen,” she said out loud. Then she sat on her couch in front of her
picture window and drifted into her daydream world again, thinking about
the night before. She smiled as she thought about it. But the phone ringing
interrupted her thoughts.
Thinking it was Brandy, she picked it up quickly and said, “Well, that
was quick. You must have literally kicked him out!”
“Excuse me?” responded Alice’s confused voice.
“Alice! I’m sorry, I thought it was Brandy. I just talked to her a few
minutes ago and she was supposed to call me back.”
“Hmmm, I won’t ask why,” Alice said in a judgmental tone. I don’t
understand your attraction to her Frances, you’re a good Christian girl
with high standards and good moral values, and she’s the total opposite.
I know I’m not her judge and jury, but one of these days when she meets
the True Judge, she’s going to wish she had lived her life differently. But
by then, it’ll be too late. Anyway, let’s not spend our time talking about
her. How are you?”
“I’m fine Alice. Actually, I’m more than fine. I’m great! I went out with
James last night.”
Frances couldn’t wait to repeat the account of her date once again.
So she did, telling Alice everything that happened, right down to the last
detail. She spoke with a soft, wistful voice that sounded like a high school

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girl who had met a movie star. Alice listened intently, trying to size James
up from the details that Frances was providing.
“He sounds like a nice young man. Will you see him again?”
“I think so. He seemed to enjoy the evening as much as I did, so I think
he’ll call again. Or maybe I’ll call him.”
“Frances, young ladies don’t call men. They wait to be called.”
Frances laughed to herself at Alice’s old-fashioned viewpoint, but she
didn’t say any more about it. She didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
“Well, if you want my advice, I’d tell you to just take it slow. Frances
I know you’d like to have someone in your life, but don’t push it. If the
relationship is meant to be then it will happen. It is the Lord’s will for
people to have a mate if they want one. In Genesis, He said ‘It isn’t good
that man should be alone’. That’s why he created Eve for Adam. God will
give you a mate if you really want one. You just have to be patient and wait
for Him to provide you with His choice. Don’t settle just because you’re
lonely, Frances. That’ll never make you happy. Take your time when it
comes to selecting someone for a life partner. Don’t just settle for what’s
in front of you because it’s all you have at the moment. Your Provider will
send you someone, someday, who’ll make you a good husband and who
will be a good father to your children. In the meantime, you should be
concentrating on the Lord and trying to please Him.”
“You’re right, I know Alice. And I’m not really trying to hurry it along.
It’s just that I so enjoyed James’ company last night. And I want to see him
again, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?”
“Not at all, sweetie pie. Just don’t get caught up in the romance of it
all and lose sight of what’s important. And don’t try to hurry things along
before the timing is right. You know, being single should be used as a time
to prepare yourself for marriage. When the timing is right, God’s timing,
He will bless you with someone who is good for you. And someone you’ll
be good for as well, a man you can love and that you can love God with.
Then you’ll know it’s right. Is this man a Christian?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Frances said, almost embarrassed. “He seems very
nice. But after all Alice, it was our first date. I didn’t find out everything
about him.”
“That’s one of the first things you should’ve found out Frances. There
are worse things than being alone you know, and one of them is to marry
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someone who doesn’t love the Lord as you do. Solomon’s sinful wives led
him into a life of idolatry and he lost his eyes because of Delilah. And
David, he willingly committed murder because of his lust for Bathsheba.
Many have lost their souls and fallen short of the Father because of a
man or a woman. You need to pray about it Frances. If you don’t have
the Lord within your relationship, then it’s not the right relationship. If a
marriage isn’t made and blessed by God, it will only end up in tragedy. I
don’t mean to preach at you honey, I just want you to do the right thing.
I’ll certainly be praying for you. Remember, don’t rely on lustful or even
romantic feelings to choose a partner. Rely on the Lord, He’s the only one
you really can count on.”
After Alice and Frances said their good-byes, Frances started thinking
about what she had said. As usual, she knew Alice was right. She knew
it in her Christian heart, so she made a mental note to discuss God with
James the next time she saw him, if she saw him again. Then she began
to worry. What if James really didn’t love God? Or even worse, what if he
was a nonbeliever! She just couldn’t think that. He was such a sweet guy,
he had to believe, and that’s all there was to it. Besides, if he didn’t believe,
then Frances would just have to lead him to God. Maybe that’s why they
were together in the first place. Maybe God put James in her life so she
could show him God’s word. Only time would tell.
Well at least she wouldn’t have to wait too long to find out, because
James called her that very night and asked if he could see her again. She
didn’t bring up God or ask James if he believed. That was something she
wanted to do face to face. She wanted to wait until the right moment when
she could see his reaction.
Since Frances didn’t have another day off until the following Friday,
they decided to see each other on Thursday night. She told him her job was
so demanding that she just couldn’t be out late on a night before she had
to work. James had to work on Friday, but he said he didn’t want to wait a
minute longer than necessary to see her again. So it was a date. It was their
second date. And now they were both eagerly waiting for Thursday night.

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Chapter 8

W

hen she awoke on Thursday, Frances was eager in anticipation
of seeing James that night. After she had her morning coffee,
she went to her wardrobe to pick out what she would wear.
They decided to keep it simple again. That was good because Frances didn’t
have a lot of fancy clothes and casual dress meant she didn’t have to shop
for something to wear. She wondered if that was the reason James didn’t
want to get all ‘gussied up,’ as her mother would have put it. He struck her
as a man who wouldn’t have fancy clothes or suits. Oh well, what they wore
didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was going to see him again.
She chose a skirt this time. It was a simple, black, A-line skirt with
embroidered trim around the hem which fell between her knees and her
ankles. She didn’t wear skirts or dresses often because she didn’t like the
way her legs looked. But she was feeling particularly pretty today and
besides, the length of the skirt would cover almost all of her legs. Since the
weather was getting colder, she picked out a burgundy, beaded sweater with
three-quarter length sleeves. The neckline was rounded, and slightly lower
cut than she generally liked, but other than that, she liked the sweater,
so she put it on the bed beside the skirt. She chose a large, gold cross
necklace that would look great with the neckline of the sweater. It might
also provide the opening she needed to work “God” into the conversation.
Small diamond earrings and a thin gold watch completed the jewelry
selection and a pair of plain black casual flats finished the ensemble. There,
she was ready for her second date with James. Of course, she had to go
to work first. So she gathered her things, put on her uniform and left for
work. It was going to be a great day, and an even better night.
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When she got to the hospital, she found the usual chaos. There had
been a three-car collision that brought eight people to the emergency
room. Most had only minor cuts and bruises, but there was one woman
who had possibly cracked or broken some ribs. A young girl who had been
hit in the face with a soccer ball sat in a corner with an ice pack, while
a woman who was obviously her mother held her hand and stroked her
hair. A moan coming from the back of the ER turned out to be a man in
his early twenties who had overdosed on some kind of drug, and then of
course, there was the homeless man, back again and complaining of flulike symptoms.
She took her clipboard and checked at the desk to see where they
wanted her to go. When she heard his voice behind her, she closed her
eyes tight, as if that action would make him disappear. But it didn’t work.
She turned to face Dale Green, and immediately started chewing on her
lower lip.
“Nurse Cane, you’ll be assisting with the O.D. in the back room. See
if you can get him to tell you what his drug dujour is. I realize he’s much
younger than you, but I thought you could talk to him. At least if you’re
just talking you can’t misdiagnose him.”
She could feel her blood pressure rise as she glared at him. She decided
to just go do her job and ignore his lame comment. She didn’t feel like
verbal warfare right now and the less interaction she had with him the
better. She turned in the direction of the back room, but then stopped
when she heard his voice again.
“By the way, I know you were supposed to be off tomorrow, but I had
to revise the schedule because two of your coworkers called in sick with
the flu. I’ll see you tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.”
He smiled when he said it. There was no way he could’ve known she
had plans, but he got so much obvious enjoyment out of the prospect that
he might be interfering with any possible plans, that she felt immediate
fury toward him. Her first inclination was to turn around and slap him,
but of course, she couldn’t do that. And any objection on her part now
would only confirm to him that he had indeed succeeded in screwing up
her plans. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction, she simply continued on
her way. It was just one more reason to loathe Dale Green, not that she
needed another reason.
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As she worked, she thought about what she would do about her date
with James that night. She didn’t want to cancel it, but she also knew she
couldn’t be out late and then function properly in the ER at six in the
morning. She’d just tell James she wanted to call it an early evening. That
might be best anyway. She had decided to ask the God question tonight
and if it didn’t turn out the way she hoped, parting early might be best.
The rest of her day was ordinary. Upon talking with the young man,
she found that he had consumed a substance that was unknown even to
him. What an idiot she thought, but she didn’t say it of course. She gave
him the old, “you’re lucky to be alive” speech that she had given before to
the druggies who had come into the ER for treatment. And then followed it
up with the “you should consider this a second chance and seek treatment”
lecture. As she spoke the words, they came out of her mouth almost in
a drone. She was having a hard time concentrating and her heart wasn’t
really in her work. That was uncommon for Frances. Usually, she was very
dedicated and sympathetic to the people she treated. But today, as hard as
she might try, she couldn’t keep her mind off of James.
But she wasn’t thinking about him in the romantic sense as she did
in the days after their first date. Alice’s words kept playing through her
brain. She knew Alice was right and if James didn’t share the same basic
beliefs that she did, it would never work. She pushed that thought from
her mind as she cleaned a wound on the last patient she would see that
day. She applied some antibiotic cream, finished dressing the injury and
sent the patient to the front desk to fill out some paperwork. She cleaned
herself up, collected her personal items and left for the day.
When she arrived at the front door of her condo, it was almost six
o’clock. There, between the doorknob and the doorframe, was a longstemmed yellow rose with a note. She picked it up and hesitated before she
read it. Was he canceling out on her, she wondered?
Frances, I can’t wait to see you again.
I’ ll be at your front door at seven-thirty.
James
She smiled. He had come all the way across town, knowing she was at
work, just to leave this memento of their first date. It fascinated her that
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this man was so thoughtful and so romantic. He was so sweet and so nice.
He had to believe in God. He just had to.
At seven-thirty sharp, her doorbell rang. She was ready. She got up off
of her sofa, took a deep breath, and went to the door. Before she opened
it, she closed her eyes and said a final little prayer. Please Father, let him
believe. She opened the door and smiled at what she thought was the most
handsome man she had ever personally known.
They went to a local park and grabbed a hot dog, fries and a soft
drink from a vendor. They walked for a while before going to a movie,
throughout which Frances could not stop thinking about the question
on her mind. When the movie was over James drove to her condo. The
conversation was a bit slow, and finally James had to ask.
“You seem a little distracted tonight. Is everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah, James. Everything’s fine, I’m just a little tired from work.
It’s not only physically demanding, but it drains me emotionally sometimes
as well.”
“I’m sorry you have to work tomorrow, but in all honesty, since I have
to work too, it’s probably better that we call it an early night.”
They had the chance to talk a little at the park, but Frances didn’t feel
like the timing was right to ask him such a serious question. So when they
walked up to Frances’ door, on the spur of the moment, she said, “James,
would you like to come in and have a cup of coffee or something? I don’t
have any beer, but I could come up with a glass of wine for each of us if
it’s too late for caffeine,” she smiled at him.
“Sure.” James wasn’t sure what this was all about, but he certainly
wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to spend a little more time with
her. He was certain she wasn’t asking him in to seduce him. He started
to worry that she was going to give him the “it’s not working out but can
we still be friends” routine, but he went in anyway. If that’s what this was
about, might as well get it over with, he thought.
“So what’ll it be, coffee or red wine?”
“I’d have to go with the red wine. If I drink coffee now I’ll never get to
sleep.” He figured red wine would help to ease his nerves if she was going
to drop him. He was thinking that he wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway if
that happened. He wondered to himself how he had become so enamored

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of this woman so quickly. It wasn’t like him. This was only their second
date and already he felt like she owned his heart.
She came out of the kitchen with two glasses of red wine that she kept
on hand in case she just needed a little something to take the edge off of
her day. Frances didn’t really drink a lot, but she did like to relax with a
glass of wine now and then. She handed him his glass, then clinked hers
to his and said simply, “To us.” James was thinking that she certainly
wouldn’t have said that if she’d planned to give him the old heave-ho and
he instantly relaxed a bit. He was also thinking that he shouldn’t be so
insecure about this relationship, after all, each time they were together so
far, they had a great time. He was silly to even think she would want to
end their relationship already.
They chatted for a few minutes about their jobs and the possibility
of getting together again. The prospect of getting together again gave
Frances an idea and she thought it was now or never, so she opened up the
conversation with an invitation.
“I’d love to see you again James. Why don’t you come to church
with me this Sunday?” There. It was on the table. Was he hesitating? She
couldn’t read anything in the look on his face, there was nothing there
to betray him one way or the other. It seemed like an eternity before he
answered.
“Church, huh? I haven’t been to church in a long time.”
Frances’ mind was racing. Well at least he had been to church at some
point, but why did he stop going? She spoke again.
“Well I’d love for you to come. It’s a little Methodist church downtown,
very small actually. One of those where everybody knows everybody else’s
name. I really like it. What church did you go to? I mean, when you used
to go to church.”
“Oh, I went to an Episcopalian church with my parents when I was
a kid, and then I quit going in my late teens. It wasn’t that I stopped
believing or anything, I was just into being a rebellious kid. You know, too
interested in partying and hanging out with my friends to go to church.
My mother was devastated when I quit going. She begged me over and
over to go back, but you know how it is.”
Actually, she didn’t know. Frances had attended church regularly with
her family since she was born. But at least she knew now that he hadn’t
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stopped going because he lost his belief or had a falling out with God, and
at least he seemed to be open to going again.
“So why not go with me? James, I want you to know that God and my
faith are important to me. I believe wholeheartedly in Him. It sounds to
me like you do believe in God, don’t you?” She held her breath, awaiting
his reply.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “I do believe in God. I guess I’ve just gotten away
from that whole scene. You know, church, revivals, praying, reading the
Bible, not that I don’t believe in it or anything, It’s just been a long time
since that was a part of my life.”
“James, I like you, I really do. But I have to tell you that going to
church and having God in my life is not only important to me, but it has
to have importance in the life of any man if I’m to be involved with him.”
The minute she said it, she felt a lump in her throat. Here it was only
their second date and she was already telling him that she was thinking
of getting involved with him. And she was attaching a condition to it as
well. Oh well, she thought, I’ve said it and there’s no taking it back. At
least he knows, now it’s up to him. She wondered how he would handle
the information.
“I’d love to go to church with you,” he said in a soft voice, and then he
kissed her, ever so softly and gently. First on the lips and then he took her
hand in his and kissed it as well. “I’d better be going, I’ll see you Sunday
then, right?”
“Church starts at nine-thirty. Can you be here by nine?”
“I can be here anytime you want me to be,” he said. And with that,
they walked to the door and said their goodnights. Frances couldn’t wait
to call Alice.

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F

rances hummed to herself as she got ready for church. She was
so happy James was going with her. At nine o’clock exactly, her
doorbell rang. She smiled, knowing it was him. He was always
right on time. She even wondered if he sat in his car, waiting until the
appointed time to come to her door. The thought amused her.
When she opened the door and saw him, she had to catch her breath.
He was dressed in a beautiful dark gray suit that made his green eyes
glisten. He had on a light-blue shirt with a matching tie and a very smart
looking silver tie tack. His nails were scrubbed, every hair was in place
and as the autumn wind blew past him, she could smell a trace of cologne.
He looked to her as though he had just stepped off the cover of GQ, and
her first thought was that he was so sexy. But she quickly dismissed that
thought and brought herself back to reality, they were going to church,
after all.
“My, don’t you look nice,” she said slowly. “I’m impressed.”
“Aw shucks,” he said in a teasing voice. “It ain’t nothin’ special.”
She laughed. “Seriously, you really look great.”
After a moment or two of just standing there looking at each other,
Frances said, “Well, I’m ready. Shall we go?”
When they arrived at the church, she could see James was feeling a bit
uneasy. “It’ll be okay James, really. These people are just plain folks like
you and me, you’ll see.”
They walked into the church and shook hands with the greeters at
the door. Frances introduced James to everyone they ran into. She felt
very proud to be there with him. She had never brought a male friend to
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her church before and many eyes were upon them. Not in a judgmental
way, but more out of curiosity. Frances hadn’t mentioned to anyone that
she was seeing anybody, so James’ presence was a surprise. They made
their way to the middle of the church and Frances slid into the pew. A
minute later, the acolyte came forward to light the candles followed by the
minister, a woman, who was glancing around the church and smiling at
her parishioners.
“You didn’t tell me you had a woman minister,” James whispered to
Frances.
“Does that matter?”
“No, of course not. I guess the male chauvinist pig in me had just
assumed it would be a man,” he said grinning.
The service started. Several hymns, a few announcements, and a
number of prayers later, came a time in the service called, “Passing the
Peace,” where everyone stood to greet one another. Frances sensed James’
nervousness again, so she took his hand.
“This is my friend James,” she said proudly to each one who had come
to greet them. Knowing this was a customary part of the service, she had
given some thought as to exactly how she would introduce him. “Boyfriend”
seemed so adolescent, and besides, she wasn’t sure they had progressed that
far yet. “Friend” sounded like they were acquaintances, perhaps co-workers
or something. But unable to come up with a better word to describe their
new relationship, she decided that “friend” it would be.
Just before they were to return to their seats, Cassie and Max, a
young couple with two children approached them. They were smiling at
Frances and the woman immediately gave her a hug. Introductions were
made and then the woman spoke to Frances. “Hey lady! Did you hear in
the announcements that there’s gonna be a costume party on the 2nd of
November? It’s the church version of Halloween,” she said smiling. “Are
you going to go?”
“I must have missed that announcement,” Frances replied. “I’m not
sure if I’ll go or not. I have no idea what costume I would wear.”
“Well, you’re supposed to come as a biblical character, so that’ll narrow
it down for you a little bit. You really ought to come. It should be fun.
We’ll all be there. There’s a costume rental shop downtown that has plenty
of possibilities. You should at least go there and check it out. And bring
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your friend,” she gestured toward James. “We haven’t spent time together
for so long Frances. It’ll give us a chance to catch up.”
“I’ll consider it Cassie. Anyway, take care. We’d better get back to our
seats now.”
After the service as they made their way back to James’ car, he felt
a sense of relief that the ritual was over. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the
service, it was just that it had been so long since he had been to church and
all those unfamiliar smiling faces were a bit overwhelming.
“So, how did you like the service?” Frances asked. She almost held
her breath, waiting for his reply. She wanted so much for him to enjoy
it, or at the very least, she hoped he didn’t hate it. This was still kind of
shaky ground they were standing on and as far as she was concerned, a
lot hinged on his feelings towards church and even more important, his
feelings toward God.
“It was-” he paused, carefully choosing his words, totally aware that
this was important to her. “Nice.”
“You felt pretty uncomfortable, huh?”
“I’d be lying if I said otherwise Frances, but that’s just because it’s
been so long since I’ve darkened the doors to a church. The message was
interesting enough. I’ve never heard a woman minister before. I have to
say that she kept my attention.”
“Really? You’ve never heard a woman minister? There’re a lot of them
around these days, and Janet, that’s our minister, is a truly remarkable
woman. She is such a God-loving person. She’s done wonders with this
church. There’s something for everybody here. If you can’t find something
to get involved in at this church, then you’re just not trying. I told her once
that God must be pretty proud of her. She is just what we needed here. We
had a couple of pastors who didn’t seem to have what we needed. One had
tons of personal problems that kept him from running the church with any
level of efficiency, and another one, although he tried, was just so green that
his lack of experience let too many pieces of the church fall through the
cracks. But when Janet came, she just took hold of every part of the church
and made it come alive. We’ve gotten so many new members and added
programs and activities. I really like her, not just because she’s female, but
because she’s brought the whole church closer to God.”
“Is she married?” James asked out of curiosity.
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“Only to God. She told me once that she accepted long ago that she
would probably never marry. Her life is so involved in church and God
that she doesn’t have the time, or the desire, so she says, to date.”
“She never wanted children?”
“She loves children, you know, the ones that come to our church, but
without a husband of course, she’d never have children. I think she is just
so devoted to God that earthly things like husbands and children of her
own just aren’t things she thinks about much. She believes if God wants
her to have a family of her own, He’ll send them her way. In the meantime,
she simply doesn’t seek to acquire them on her own.”
“Well, I’m sure I’ll be seeing more of Janet, and I’m sure I’ll like her
more and more, as you do.”
Frances grinned, not just because he seemed to like Janet, but also
because he was obviously open to attending church with Frances again. He
was certainly showing promise. She still wanted to talk about her beliefs
with him. She wanted to know exactly where he stood on issues concerning
God and on important values and moral standards. But at least the first
step in the process had gone well. So far, so good, she thought. He had gone
to church with her, and even though she could sense that he was anxious,
she chalked that up to nervousness about being in a strange place with so
many unfamiliar faces.
“So, do you want to go to the costume party?” James asked her.
“I don’t know… it might be fun. Would you go with me?”
“That’s why I asked, I figured if we wanted to go, we’d better go check
out that costume rental place your friend told us about. Don’t want to wait
until all the good ones are taken, right?”
“Okay then, we can do that any night of the week after we get off work.
It shouldn’t take too long to pick out costumes.” Frances was thrilled that it
was James’ suggestion that they attend this church function. “Besides, the
only way to get to know the people at church is to spend time with them.
You’ll find they’re just regular people like you and me. And like Cassie said,
it should be a lot of fun.” Frances tucked this conversation in the back of
her mind and made a mental note to set up a specific day to go looking for
costumes with James. This was a good sign!

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Frances talked James into going back to her condo, not that she had
to twist his arm or anything. He was more than willing to just spend time
with her and the solitude of her condo was as good a place as any to do that.
She made some sandwiches and drinks and took them to the living
room in front of the balcony door where she loved to sit and enjoy the
scenery.
“You know, you’ve told me relatively little about your family James,”
Frances said inquisitively.
“Not much to tell. You’ve met my parents. They live in Baltimore.
My dad was a stockbroker many years ago. I really don’t remember much
of that, but I understand he made good money at it. When he was about
twenty-five, he was in a really bad car accident that left him paralyzed from
the waist down and he’s been in a wheel chair ever since.”
“How terrible! Is that why they never had any more children?”
“No. Actually, I guess I should tell you that they never really had me
either. I’m adopted.”
Frances was surprised. “Adopted! You never told me that!”
“Well, I’m telling you now,” he said smiling. “It’s not something you
just blurt out in casual conversation, but that’s the scoop. They adopted
me a few years before the accident. I’ve never met my birth parents, but
I understand they live somewhere in the general vicinity as well. It seems
they already had several other children and when my biological mother
became pregnant again, they looked at their financial situation and decided
the best thing for me was to put me up for adoption. I’m told they wanted
me to have a better chance, so they chose my adoptive parents. At the
time, my adoptive dad was working and I guess he and Mom seemed like
first-class candidates. I guess the joke was on my biological parents though,
because shortly thereafter when Dad had his accident, the money stopped
coming in and what they had saved was soon used up. I guess I was just
not meant to live in the lap of luxury.”
Frances didn’t really know what to say. “I’m sorry,” was all she could
think of.
“Don’t be sorry. They may not have had much money but I have good
parents. They loved me and raised me as best they could. And I didn’t even
realize we were poor, life was the way it was and I was used to it. You don’t
miss something you never had.”
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“And you’ve never been curious to meet them? Your biological parents
I mean.”
“I’ve been curious, but never enough to hunt them down. Besides,
what good would it do? It might just upset them. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy
decision for them to make, especially since they had other kids. It occurred
to me that maybe they wouldn’t really want to see me now. It might just
remind them of a painful time, and if they didn’t tell their other kids about
me, it could make for an uncomfortable situation. Besides, my adoptive
parents are my parents. They raised me and took care of me and loved me
and that’s all there is to it.”
Frances was touched that he had put his biological parents’ feelings
ahead of his own. He was truly a thoughtful person. Just one more reason
to make him near and dear to her heart she thought.
The next day was Monday, and Frances had the day off. She didn’t
have anything specific to do. Her house was clean, her chores were done
and James was working. She had been considering visiting her parents, she
even mentioned it to James. They were retired so they would be home as
always, and glad to see her.
Frances had a strained relationship with her parents although she never
understood why, it was just so. She loved her parents and she knew they
loved her, but for some reason she didn’t connect with them. She tried, they
tried, but she never felt at ease with her parents, especially her mother. She
always felt awkward when she tried to talk to her mother. It was almost
as if it embarrassed her mother to talk about personal things. She kept all
her feelings and thoughts to herself and it appeared that she preferred that
others do the same.
Neither was her father the talkative type. When they did speak,
they connected somewhat, but it just wasn’t in his nature to hold long
conversations. Maybe, she thought, it was because her parents were oldfashioned, and yet, Alice was as old-fashioned as they come and Frances
had always felt comfortable talking with her. Perhaps it was just the fact
that they were her parents that hindered her from talking openly about
personal things like she did with Alice.
It bothered Frances that she didn’t have an open and trusting
rapport with her parents. It especially bothered her where her mother was
concerned. She knew several girls who were close to their mothers and she
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had always felt envious of them. Her mother was a kind and gentle woman
and Frances wanted to be able to talk to her about her life, her ambitions,
her dreams, her joys and her heartaches. But whenever she attempted to
do so, her mother acted as if Frances were speaking in a foreign language.
Her mother never knew what to say or what to do. She couldn’t seem to
discern whether she should offer advice or just listen. And when she did
make the effort to offer advice or a word of encouragement or praise, it
seemed to Frances that it was her mother who was speaking in a foreign
language. They just didn’t seem to understand one another.
Frances’ father was a sweet soul. He was very quiet and unassuming
and he didn’t hold long conversations with Frances either. He didn’t hold
long conversations with anyone. He always smiled at her and hugged her
when she came to visit, but he rarely had much to say other than to ask
her how she had been. And after she answered him with “Fine Daddy,”
the conversation was usually all but over. He spent most of his time
reading or tinkering in his little workshop in the basement. He made
lovely little shelves and bookcases, desks, stools and other small pieces of
furniture. He’d spend hours drawing up a pattern, tracing it on the wood,
cutting it out, assembling it and finishing it. Then he would lovingly
put it somewhere in their house or give it to Frances. She had several of
his homemade items in her condo, and she cherished them because they
reminded her of him.
It had been quite a while since she had seen them and phone calls were
a rarity. Her parents lived in an antiquated world. They had a phone, but
didn’t use it often. It was as though it was there for emergencies only and
not to be used for idle chatter. Frances was in a very good mood, as she
had been since she and James started dating. She figured since it was time
for a visit anyway, today was as good of a day as any. She was determined
to attempt to have a meaningful conversation with her mother. This could
be a good opportunity to catch up on what her parents had been up to, not
that it was ever any different, and Frances wanted to tell them about James.
Her parents never pressured her to find a partner, but she knew both
of them would be happy if she did. Although they never mentioned it,
Frances knew they would be tickled to death if she were to marry and
eventually produce a grandchild or two. Frances didn’t tell them every
time she dated someone, she didn’t want to get their hopes up. Especially
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since none of the men she had previously dated had worked out over the
long haul. But now, she was thinking that James might be different, she
could feel it, and she wanted to share it with them. The fact that she didn’t
often mention men in her life would make this special to them too, she
thought, so she got ready for the half-hour drive to their home and out
the door she went.
When she arrived, she let herself in with her key. Her parents always
kept the house locked up tight, even when they were home. She walked
immediately to the living room where she knew she would find one of
them because the light was on. Though it was early in the day, the house
was closed up; all the blinds and curtains were drawn, forcing them to
use lights wherever they were in the house. That was another peculiarity
that she never understood about her parents. Especially since she loved the
freshness of the outdoors and preferred to have her windows open with the
outside light and air pouring in.
The house was quiet as usual. Her mother was sitting in the living
room doing needlepoint and her father was nowhere to be seen. Frances
stood there and watched her mother for a few moments. She noticed that
her mother was squinting at the needlepoint hoop that she held in her
hands. Her mother was getting older and she probably needed to see an
eye doctor. Frances wondered when the last time was that her mother had
seen any doctor and made a mental note to bring it up to her.
When she entered the room, her mother looked up from her needlepoint
for a moment and smiled. “Hello Frances,” she said before returning to her
sewing. It was as though Frances dropping in was a common occurrence nothing to be surprised or excited about, but the fact was she hadn’t been
there in months.
“Hi Mom,” Frances said when it was apparent that she had to be the
one to speak if ever a conversation was to take place. “Where’s Dad?”
“Oh, he’s probably in the basement. He’s been working on something
down there for weeks. Why don’t you go down and say hello to him?”
That was it? No hugs, no kisses? No, “Oh how wonderful to see you,”
no, “I’m so glad you came?” Frances knew her mother was happy to see
her in her own way, she just had such a hard time showing emotion. She
remembered when her mother’s mother died, she never saw her mom shed
one tear, her face was solemn but expressionless. A stranger would never
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have been able to guess that she had just lost her last remaining parent. To
the outsider, it might have just been the funeral of an acquaintance. It was
just a part of her mother that Frances had to accept. She tried not to take
it personally or get her feelings hurt over it, she didn’t understand it, but
it was just the way things were.
She put her belongings down and went for the basement. At least
there, she knew she’d get a warmer welcome. As she went down the
basement steps, she could see a light streaming from the area of her father’s
workshop. She could hear him whistling and pounding something with
a hammer. Entering the room he was in, she stood there silently for a
moment, watching him.
He was bald on the top of his head with just a little dark hair that
started over each ear at the sides and continued around to meet at the back
of his head. He was a very small man, in fact both of her parents were
small. She never understood how she had grown to be several inches taller
than either one of them, and although Frances wouldn’t be considered
overweight, she had fought her weight for as long as she could remember.
But her mother’s waist was just as small now as it appeared to be in pictures
of her when she was younger.
She stood there motionless for a few minutes while she watched him
work, then finally, she said very softly, “Hi Daddy.”
He turned around slowly and carefully as though he was afraid he’d
knock something over in the cluttered little space he called his workshop.
When he saw who it was, he broke out into a big grin and held his hands
out to welcome her. “How’s my girl?” he said in genuine affection.
Frances hugged her father and gave him a little kiss on his forehead.
“Oh I’m fine Daddy. Whatcha makin’?” She knew that asking him about
whatever project he was working on was one sure way of getting him to
talk to her, at least a little. He had a passion for his wood-working projects.
He stepped aside to reveal a large antique trunk. It had been stained to
a rich warm auburn, was trimmed in brass cladding over leather straps and
a brass latch that had a key hanging out of it. There were wood and brass
handles on both sides and herringbone embossed brass covered portions
of the front and back of the trunk giving it a very distinct look.
“That’s beautiful!” Frances exclaimed. “Did you make that Daddy?”

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“Nope. I bought it at an auction. I’ve just been refinishin’ it. It’s from
the early part of the nineteenth century. Some call it a Jenny Lind trunk
named from a singer that used to use ‘em. Look, it has wooden rollers on
the bottom to make it easy to move around.”
“Can we open it?” Frances squealed in anticipation.
Without a word, her father turned the key, pausing for effect, then he
opened the lid of the trunk. “This here’s a bonnet box. The ladies kept their
hats in there so they wouldn’t get squished. It sits in this wooden tray. I’m
gonna replace this material here on the inside. I’ll put some sort of blue
material in there because I know you like blue. He paused again before
saying with pride, “I’m making this for you Frances.”
“For me? Oh Daddy! I love it!” She grabbed him and gave him another
hug. She knew he had put a lot of effort into refinishing the old trunk
and he made it look like a work of art. “What’s the occasion? It’s not my
birthday.”
“Oh, no special occasion honey, I just saw it at the auction and thought
of you. I know you like old things and I know you like wooden furniture,
and I know you like it when I make something for you. So I bought it up
and been working on it ever since.”
“How long have you been working on it Daddy?”
“Going on two months now.”
“Oh Daddy, you’re the best.” She hugged him once again.
“Daddy, are you blushing?” she asked upon seeing his face flush.
Frances smiled at the possibility of her father being embarrassed over an
intimate moment with his only daughter. “What am I going to do with
you,” she laughed. “Come on, let’s go up and talk with Mom. I have
something I want to tell the both of you.”
Her father turned off the light and put his tools back into their places
before obediently following her up the stairs and into the living room
where her mother was still sitting with her needlepoint in her lap. Frances
noticed that she was still squinting at it as though she was having trouble
seeing the stitches. Her mother looked up and smiled at the two of them.
As they stood there, both gawking at her, she said, “Is something the
matter?”
“No. I just wanted to have a conversation with both of you at the same
time for a change. It seems like I’m always telling you things up here and
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then running down to the basement to relay the same information to Dad.
I thought for once he could take a break from his workshop and maybe
you could put your sewing aside and we could have some tea and talk, just
the three of us, like regular folks. Like a family.”
Her mother looked at her like she had two heads. “Why? Are you sure
there isn’t something wrong?”
“No, mother, nothing is wrong. I just have something to share with
you and rather than repeat it to each of you individually, I thought we
could simply talk like normal families do.”
Her mother put her sewing aside. Frances could tell from her expression
that she was still entertaining the thought that some horrible tragedy had
occurred and Frances was now going to fill them in on the dirty details.
“Can I get either of you anything to drink?” Frances asked. “I put the kettle
on before I went downstairs. It should be about ready by now.”
Now both parents were staring at her, even her dad looked as though
he was readying himself for impending bad news.
“Oh, for crying out loud, can’t we ever just talk without it having
to be a tragic event?” Again, there was silence. She threw her hands up
in surrender. “Okay, I give up, you win! We won’t just relax and enjoy a
normal conversation. Why would we want to do that? I’ll just tell you the
news and that will be that. I’m seeing someone. His name is James, and
although I’ve only been out with him a few times, I think he’s really special.
There, you have it, nothing but the facts.” She rolled her eyes around a few
times and then let them rest on her mother.
“Why are you telling us this honey? You’re not pregnant are you?”
“Mom!” Frances exploded. “Of course I’m not pregnant! I told you I
had only been out with him a few times! What kind of girl do you think
I am? Jeez!”
“I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just that you don’t
tell us about the boys you see too often. I thought you were telling us this
time in order to ease us into something else, some other news.”
“Oh mother! First of all, I’m twenty-eight years old, I don’t go out with
boys. And secondly, you don’t hear about too many dates because I don’t
have that many. And last, but certainly not least, I don’t tell you about the
dates I do go out on because when I do share something personal, you act
like a stranger has just bared their soul to you. I’m not a stranger, Mom.
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I’m your daughter. I just wanted to share something that’s important to
me with the both of you.”
Seeing that she was upset, her mother moved toward her and took her
hand. “Frances, I’m sorry, it’s just that I didn’t come from a sharing family.
Everyone just kept their personal business and their feelings to themselves.
I’m glad you feel comfortable enough to share these things with us, but I
just don’t know what to do with this information once you’ve given it to
us. Should I ask questions? Should I give you advice? Should I change the
subject? Tell me what to do.”
Frances looked at her mother and then at her father, who was obviously
distressed over the situation. “Doesn’t your curiosity get aroused just a
little? Come on, Mom. Doesn’t your mind raise questions? Who is this
man? What’s he like? Where does he come from? What does he do? Just say
what’s naturally on your mind, that’s how people carry on conversations!”
There was silence for a minute or two and then without further
prodding, her mother said, “Alright Frances, who is this man?”
Frances shook her head. She was somewhat upset, but she knew she
just wasn’t going to change things. Not now. They had been this way for
too long.
They sat there, the three of them, for another hour or so, making
small talk until Frances couldn’t stand it any longer. “Alright, I better get
moving, I have to work tomorrow so I need to get home. But before I do,
Mom, I noticed you squinting at your needlepoint. Are you having trouble
with your eyes?”
“Oh no, not really. I just have to move things back and forth a little
until they come into focus.”
“Well, I think it’s time you made an appointment to see an eye doctor.
You only have one pair of eyes and you need to take care of them. Promise
me you’ll call this week to make an appointment.”
“Oh Frances, you know I hate to come into the city, and there aren’t
any optometrists around here.”
“Mom, you don’t have to go all the way to Baltimore, Faith has plenty
of places for you to get a checkup. Look in the phone book, find an
optometrist, call and make an appointment. Then when you come to town
for your appointment, you can stop at my place and I’ll make dinner for
the three of us. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
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“I guess so honey. But you know we don’t like to drive in the dark,
we’d have to have dinner early.”
“Oh, Mother,” she said exasperated. “We’ll make it work. It’ll all
depend on what time your appointment is, but if it’s late and we end up
having dinner late, you can simply spend the night at my condo. I have
a guest room you know. Then you can get up the next day and be on
your way at your leisure. Now that settles it, just let me know when your
appointment is so I can plan what I want to make for dinner.”
“Alright Frances, I’ll do it for you.”
“Mother, do it for yourself, you need to take care of yourself! Now give
me a hug, both of you, and I’ll be on my way.”
On her way home from her parent’s house, Frances thought about
the strange relationship she had with them. Even her dad, who was more
at ease with her than her mother didn’t question her about James. You’d
think that, as a father, he would want to know what kind of man had come
into his little girl’s life. But like her mother, he listened to the information
Frances offered and asked for no more. Frances thought that if she ever
had children, she would want to have open communication with them.
She would want to be close to her children and have them feel comfortable
talking to her about all aspects of their lives, but she would never have that
with her own parents. Perhaps she should just be happy knowing that they
both genuinely love her.

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W

hen she pulled into the parking area of her condo, James was
there. He stood in the lot, leaning on the front fender of his
car. He was dressed in blue jeans, a flannel shirt and muddy
construction boots. Frances parked, got out of her car smiling and went
to him.
“What are you doing here?” she said in a happy voice.
“Well, you told me you were going to visit your parents today and that
it was always a traumatic experience, so I stopped by to see if you were
okay. I thought if you didn’t mind being seen in public with a dirt worker
you might want to grab a burger and fries, unless you’ve already eaten.”
“No, I haven’t eaten yet. How’d you know when I’d be back?”
“I didn’t, but when I pulled in and didn’t see your car, and noticed it
was after six, I figured you’d probably be here soon. I figured I’d wait a
little while and then if you didn’t show up, I’d just grab some carry out
for myself and head home.”
“You’re just so thoughtful. But instead of getting fast food, why don’t
you come up and I’ll whip up something a little healthier?”
“Oh Frances, I’m so dusty and dirty, I wouldn’t want to sit on any of
your nice furniture. And since I’m not exactly dressed appropriately for a
restaurant, I thought fast food would be the closest thing to a meal.”
“It’s not that I have anything against fast food, I’m just not really that
fond of it. But really, I don’t mind if you’re dusty, you can leave your boots
on the rug inside the door.”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

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When they got to the door, James brushed off as much dust as he could
and the removed his boots before they went inside. “Frances, do you mind
if I wash up a little?” he asked.
“No, you go do that and I’ll make us something to eat. Bathroom is
down the hall on the left.”
Frances made up plates with tuna salad, raw vegetables, and sourdough
rolls. She poured some ranch dressing into a small bowl for them to dip
their veggies and poured them each a glass of lemonade. She put their
dinner on a tray and carried it into the living room where James was now
sitting on the floor in front of the balcony door, enjoying the beautiful
view.
“James, really, you don’t have to sit on the floor, if you get dust on the
couch, it’ll clean up easily.”
“I don’t mind sitting on the floor. Besides, I really am a mess. Why
should you have to clean your couch when I’m perfectly comfortable here?”
“Okay then, I’ll join you.”
She placed the tray on the coffee table and sat down beside him. They
were both hungry so it was a few minutes before either attempted to speak,
but then, finally, James ended the quiet.
“So, how was the visit with the folks?”
“Oh, it was fine, perhaps a little draining. My parents are so weird
sometimes, especially my mother. But overall, I’m glad I went. I don’t
really see them that often. I love them dearly, but I swear, I simply can’t
communicate with them. When I was younger, I thought the lack of
communication was just a teenager thing between me and them, but
things haven’t changed now that I’m older.”
“I’m not saying this in a judgmental way Frances, but just be happy
that they’re both still alive and healthy. When I go to visit my parents,
with my dad being disabled and all, it’s like a visit to a nursing home. It
can be very depressing. I try to stop by as often as I can, but I don’t stay
very long when I do.”
“I know. I am glad that they’re healthy. And really, they’re both happy
in their own little world. Sometimes it just seems as though they’re from
another planet. You know James, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking
about you being adopted and not knowing your biological parents. I hope

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you don’t mind me talking about this. Do you? I mean, if it’s a sensitive
subject, I’ll shut up.”
“No, that’s fine,” he said smiling. “It’s not a sensitive subject, it’s just
a fact of life. I’m adopted and I don’t know the people who actually gave
me life, but that doesn’t bother me because no matter how you slice it,
my adoptive parents are the ones who raised me. Like I told you before,
as far as I’m concerned, they are my parents. It’s not that I’ve never been
curious at all about my biological parents, I guess I just don’t want to put
forth the effort it might require to find them. And like I told you before,
without knowing their current situation, I wouldn’t want to make them
uncomfortable if I did find them.”
“I guess you’re right, but I can’t help but think that if I were in your
situation, I’d be more than curious, I’d be one of those people who would
move heaven and earth to track them down and meet them face-to-face.
I wouldn’t be able to help myself. I’d want to know everything about
them, what they did for a living, what they looked like. I’d be interested
in knowing how many brothers and sisters I had and what they were like.”
“Don’t think those things haven’t occurred to me Frances. Like I said,
I am curious, but I guess another thing that keeps me from looking them
up is fear. Fear that they wouldn’t welcome me, fear that they’d completely
reject me. I don’t need that kind of crap in my life. I’m happy and I have
two loving parents who raised me. They are my family, and now I have
you. Right?”
She looked at him and smiled. “Uh-huh,” she nodded. It was the first
time that either of them had acknowledged even the slightest hint of an
actual relationship. He put his fork down and took her glass out of her
hand. He took her in his arms and held her gently. He kissed her forehead
and nuzzled her ear. He then kissed her full on the mouth. It was a slow,
purposeful kiss and he let his lips linger on hers for a moment even after
the kiss. He kissed her again, and again. And while he kissed her, he
tenderly rubbed her back and neck. It was sensual and very romantic. He
continued to kiss her face and neck very lightly, just barely brushing his lips
against her skin. Frances was enjoying every moment. But suddenly, she
thought about where this might be headed and Alice’s words rang in her
ears, “Take it slow, don’t push it, if it’s meant to be, then it will happen.”
Frances gently pulled away.
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“What’s wrong, baby?” James looked hurt.
“I’m sorry James. I don’t mean to act like an adolescent. I guess I’m just
concerned about where you might be going with this. I’m just not ready to
take this relationship to a physical level, not just yet anyway. I’m so sorry.”
He was clearly disappointed but he sat back against the couch and
nodded. “Okay Frances, anything worth having is worth waiting for. We’ll
wait until you’re ready.”
James’ understanding made it even harder for Frances to resist him.
She had the desire to hold him again and kiss him like he had kissed her,
but she knew that would be teasing him and wouldn’t be fair. So she took
his hand and kissed it, then held it in hers.
“Thank you James, it touches my heart that you are so understanding.
Most men wouldn’t be, most men would have either been angry or tried
to force the issue.”
“Don’t you know by now, sugar?” he smiled at her. “I’m not most men.”
“You’re certainly not.”
He pulled her back to him and cradled her in his arms. He wanted
her so much and this was indeed difficult for him, but he didn’t want to
ruin what they had by acting like “most men.” So, for now, he would have
to be patient and wait for her. He was sure the time would come when
they would have a physical relationship. He hoped he didn’t have to wait
too long.
They sat there for a while taking pleasure in the silence and the comfort
of their bodies close to each other. James realized he had to go, but before
he did, he kissed her again. He wanted her to know that he respected her
for her decision. But he also wanted her to know that he yearned for her
and that he’d be waiting for her when she was ready. They made plans to
see each other again the following Saturday, then they parted.
After he left, Frances sat pensively in front of her balcony window. Her
eyes were closed and she relived him holding her, kissing her. She wanted
him as much as he wanted her, but she had to restrain herself. She just felt
so juvenile when the subject came up, like a teenager, afraid to allow her
boyfriend to touch her because it was just wrong. She didn’t think for a
moment that James only wanted her in a sexual capacity, she believed in
her heart that he was looking for more. But she had to get past the lustful
desires for now, she had to be sure that this was what God wanted for her,
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or it just would not be right. Her feelings for James had escalated rapidly
over the short time that she had known him, but like he said himself,
anything worth having is worth waiting for.
In his car driving home, James was thinking about Frances as well.
He too was going over the evening in his mind. He wondered what it was
that was keeping Frances from giving herself to him. But he had resolved
to wait, he would not push. Whatever it was, she would eventually be
his, of that, he was positive. In the meantime, he had to be patient and
understanding or risk the possibility of losing her for good. Besides, in a
way, this was a good thing. It showed him that she had morals and that
she wasn’t a loose woman. It showed virtue on her part, and that was just
one more thing that attracted him to her, one more thing that made him
desire her so much. Looks like a long night and a cold shower for me, he
thought, but he smiled as he thought it.
Saturday couldn’t come soon enough for either of them. James had
wanted to go back to the lake where they went on their first date, but it
was a windy night in mid-October and too cold. So he decided to take her
back to the restaurant where they had gone that night.
When her doorbell rang at five minutes till eight, she figured it would
be James. He was always punctual, and they had agreed to meet at eight.
Frances was ready. James had told her on the phone earlier that day that
he wanted to go back to the Italian restaurant and she was delighted. It
would be like revisiting their first date and Frances had been fanaticizing
about that evening. She practically skipped to the door and flung it open.
To her surprise, Brandy stood on the other side. Frances couldn’t hide her
astonishment.
“Well, obviously you were expecting somebody else,” Brandy laughed
a devilish laugh. “Is lover boy on his way over here?”
“As a matter of fact he is, come on in. I’ve wanted you to meet him,
but then, you’re outta here!”
“Well, ain’t that a kick in the head? I called you a couple of times this
week and you weren’t here, so I figured I’d stop by on the way to work. Hey,
why don’t you come down to the club? You can have a few drinks and-”
“Oh yeah,” she cut Brandy off. “That’s just where I want to take a
date, a strip club. I can see it now… ‘And James, you see the naked black

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woman with the nipple rings? Well, that’s my good friend Brandy! Do run
along now James and shake her hand…’” Frances laughed at the thought.
“Why not? It’ll probably do him some good. You probably haven’t
given it to him yet so he’s probably got a hankerin’ to see a little skin.”
Brandy howled, as usual, always pleased when she made what she thought
to be a funny comment. She could see by the exasperated look on Frances’
face that she was right.
“I can’t believe you haven’t slept with him yet. What are you waitin’
for? How long you been goin’ out with him Franny? Are you ever gonna
give it up?” She roared with laughter.
All of the sudden Frances didn’t see the humor any more. “We’ve only
been going out for a few weeks Brandy. I’m waiting to be sure it’s more
than a physical thing.”
“More than a physical thing? It hasn’t even been a physical thing yet,
girl!”
“You know what I mean Brandy! I’m not like you, I don’t want
somebody just to sleep with! I want more, I want a relationship. And I
want it to be right in God’s eyes.”
“In God’s eyes? In God’s eyes? Have you been talking to Alice again?”
“Alice is a good person, Brandy. And besides, she gives me advice, good
advice. And for the most part, what she says is true. If the relationship isn’t
what God wants for me then there’s no reason to pursue it. I don’t want to
complicate things by sleeping with James, I want to get to know him first
and then decide whether we should take the relationship to the next step.”
“Franny, Alice is full of it! She fills your head with all that God stuff
and you just suck it up. God don’t care who you’re sleepin’ with, He has
more important things to think about. You should know that!”
“You’re wrong Brandy. God cares about every aspect of my life, and
He cares about yours too. You just have to trust Him.”
“Yeah, I see how much he cares about my life Franny. That’s why he
let that dude beat the crap out of me, huh?”
“God doesn’t control your life like a puppet either Brandy. He gives
us common sense. Well, He gives it to most of us anyway,” she frowned at
Brandy. “You just have to use that common sense.”
“Are you sayin’ I don’t have any common sense? Just what are you
sayin?” Brandy snorted.
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“What I’m saying is-” Just then the doorbell rang again. Frances knew
it was James this time, literally saved by the bell, she thought.
“Okay Brandy, that’s James, so I’m not going to pursue this argument
right now. Please behave yourself and whether you actually have any or
not, try to act like you’ve got some sense.” Frances smiled. She could never
really be mad at Brandy.
When she opened the door, James immediately took Frances in his
arms and gave her a little kiss on the cheek. As he did, he looked over her
shoulder and saw Brandy standing in the living room, so he took it no
further than the little kiss.
“James, this is my friend Brandy,” Frances said, somewhat nervous of
what Brandy might be getting ready to say. “Brandy, this is James.”
James went to Brandy and shook her hand, much like he would have
with a business acquaintance. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Brandy. Frances
talks about you often.”
“Yeah, well, don’t believe everything she says,” Brandy laughed. “If she
tells you she thinks I’m wild, that’s just because her life is so boring. I just
know how to live, that’s all.”
“Actually, she’s never told me that she thinks you’re wild. The only
thing she’s ever told me is that you’re a good person and an even better
friend.”
“Ha! Well don’t believe that either,” Brandy snickered.
“Well,” Frances interrupted, “Brandy was just on her way out the door.
You do have to be at work soon, right?”
“Where do you work Brandy?” James asked.
“I work at the Chat Room. You know it?”
Frances knew immediately what Brandy was trying to do. By
establishing that he knew the strip club where Brandy worked, it could
be assumed that perhaps he had been there. That would give Brandy
ammunition for a whole lot of grief Frances didn’t feel like tonight. On
the other hand, she was kind of curious about whether he had been there
or not, so instead of interrupting, as was her first inclination, she waited
for him to answer.
“No, I can’t say that I do. What is it, some kind of internet thing?”
Brandy snorted, “Yeah, that’s it dude. It’s an internet thing.” She
started to say something else, but Frances cut her off.
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“Okay, then, have a good night Brandy. I’ll give you a call in a day
or two.” Frances almost pushed her out the door as Brandy continued to
cackle. She was certainly having a good time with this. “Well, I don’t know
about you, but I’m starved,” Frances said, turning to James.
“Let’s go then.”
When they arrived at the restaurant, James’ friend Michael Tonissi
greeted them as they entered. As usual, he was wearing a huge smile as he
shook James’ hand. This time, introductions were made before Michael
led them to their table. It was the same table where they dined on their
first date. Frances was thinking that although it had only been a few weeks
since then, it seemed to her as though it was a long time ago.
Just as before, they had a wonderful dinner. It wasn’t exactly like the
first time, but they did have their private table, candlelight and soft music.
The food was delicious, and as before, James seemed to delight in feeding
her when they had dessert.
When dinner was over, they said their good-byes to Michael and
walked to where James had parked. He turned to face her, leaning up
against the car, and took both of her hands in his. “What do you want to
do now honey? It’s too cold to go up to the lake like we did before. Did
you have anything particular in mind?”
“Not really. What about you?”
“Well, we could go over to my place. You haven’t seen it yet. Not that
it’s a big deal or anything, but I would like you to know where I live.”
An alarm went off in Frances’ head. Did James just want to show
her his place? Or did he have something else in mind? She hated to be
so suspicious, but she didn’t want to get into an uncomfortable situation
either. Once again, she felt like a little kid. She hated this. She just wished
she could get over these feelings of fear at being intimate with him.
“Why don’t we see a movie? I didn’t look in the paper, but there’s
usually something worthwhile playing over at the Community Theater.”
“Okay,” James said slowly. “We’ll catch a movie and then stop by my
place for a drink after. I bought some wine just in case we decided to stop
in tonight.”
Now the alarm was really loud in her head. Going to his apartment
after the movie and drinking wine might be even more dangerous.

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“I have an idea,” Frances said quickly. “After the movie, we could
stop by that little coffee shop down the street from the theater and have a
cappuccino. It’s close to the theater and their cappuccinos are really good.”
James was pensive. Was he being paranoid or was Frances deliberately
avoiding going to his apartment? And if she was, why would she be
reluctant to go there? He figured there was only one way to find out , he
would just have to ask her.
“Frances, don’t you want to see my apartment? It’s nothing fancy,
but it’s mine and I’m proud of it. I want to share it with you. Is there a
problem?”
When Frances didn’t answer, he thought he knew what was going on,
so he decided to put her mind at rest.
“You know, if you’re afraid I might try to seduce you Frances, you
really don’t have anything to worry about. I would never force myself on
you. I told you I’m willing to wait until you’re ready, and I mean it.” He was
trying to sound kind and understanding, but he was just a little annoyed.
It almost seemed like Frances was suspicious that his every action was an
attempt to get her to have sex with him. And although he did want that,
he was sincere in that he would never press the issue, he would wait until
she was ready. He just hoped she would be ready soon.
“Oh, it’s not that,” Frances stammered, a little embarrassed.
“Then what is it? Be honest honey. We agreed that we’d always be
honest with each other no matter what. Didn’t we?”
She nodded. “Okay, James, I am afraid. Not that you’d force yourself
on me, but I’m just not ready to take our relationship to a sexual level.
I know nowadays, most people who’ve been out two or three times have
already slept together, but I’m just not like that. I appreciate you being
patient with me, and I hope my reluctance to have sex with you now won’t
drive you away, but I’m just not ready. I’m convinced that sex changes
everything, and I’m not saying that it wouldn’t change it for the better,
I’m just saying I want to wait, that’s all. I don’t want to get into a situation
where I can’t restrain myself in the moment and I just give in. You know
what I mean?”
James took her in his arms and hugged her. “I appreciate your honesty.
Now I’ll be honest, I do want to make love to you. Sometimes the urge is
almost overwhelming, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had the urge the very
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first time we went out, but I knew it was too soon. Although I personally
don’t feel that it’s too soon now, I can see how important it is to you that we
wait, so I’m willing to wait until you’re ready. And I don’t want to pressure
you either Frances, but I have to say it can’t be too soon for me. So as soon
as you feel comfortable with the idea, you let me know. Okay? Until then,
you’ll get no pressure from me, so please stop thinking that everything I
suggest we do has an ulterior motive. Okay?”
“James, I don’t want you to think I’m the ice queen or anything and
I’ d be lying if I said I’d never thought about it. I’ve been in an adult
relationship before, and I really like you a lot, but I don’t want to rush into
anything. I don’t want to get involved sexually unless I’m sure what we
have can be more than just sexual. I mean, we seem to enjoy each other’s
company and we have a lot of fun together, but I’ve seen it happen before.
A couple has sex too soon, before they’ve established a true connection
with each other, and then it just ends and I don’t want that to happen to
us. I don’t want the guilt and remorse that goes along with that scenario.
Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“Yep. You’re saying we’re going to the movies, and then to get a
cappuccino,” James smiled. He pulled her close and gave her just the
slightest little peck on the cheek.
Another test passed, Frances was thinking.

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T

he next week was particularly draining for Frances. There were
several nurses out with the flu so she had to work longer hours
than usual, sometimes even a double shift. She would never
understand why some of the medical staff didn’t get their flu shots. But
that didn’t change the fact that she had to work the extra hours. James
had called her once in the middle of the week, but she was so tired that
they didn’t talk very long. Then after hanging up, it occurred to her that
she might unintentionally be driving him away. That was definitely not
what she wanted to do. She really liked James. She really did want their
relationship to grow and become more involved. She worried that if she
continued to deny him sex he would simply not call her at all, even though
he said he didn’t mind waiting. Still, she wondered just how long he would
be willing to wait. What was too long? Or for that matter, what was too
soon? She was perplexed. She didn’t know what to do and she was just too
exhausted to worry about it now.
On Friday morning, she decided she’d call him when she got home
from work and ask him to come over on Sunday. She knew she’d only have
to work a ten-hour shift on Saturday, but she also knew she’d be too tired
to go out that night. Maybe he’d go to church with her again. It was the
best she could do right now. She just hoped she had the energy to even go
to church.
When she got home from work on Saturday, she was absolutely worn
out. She decided to go right to bed after a light dinner. She called James
before retiring for the night and he had agreed to go to church with her
the next day and then come to her condo for brunch. She knew she should
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check her refrigerator and pantry to make sure she had something to fix
for them to eat, but she was simply too tired.
The next morning, Frances woke early and began to get ready to go to
church. She hoped this time James would be a little more relaxed. Well,
she thought, the only way for him to feel more comfortable around her
church family was to spend more time around them. She was thinking
that instead of going back to her condo, perhaps they should ask one of
the young couples to go out to lunch with them. That way he could get to
know them better. One step at a time she thought. At least she believed
James was on the right track. He did, after all, agree to go to church with
her again and she was very pleased at that.
Just as before when James had gone to church with Frances, her
doorbell rang at nine o’clock sharp. She grabbed her purse and headed
for the door. When she opened it, a feeling of déjà vu coursed through
her body. Today he was dressed in a silver-blue suit that made his eyes
absolutely shine. He was so handsome! Especially so when he was dressed
up in a suit. But she had to stay focused, she couldn’t let her physical
craving for him get too intense. She shook it off and simply smiled at him,
changing her thoughts to church.
James gave her a long, tender embrace. Then, slowly and reluctantly,
he pulled away. “You feel good in my arms babe, but you look tired. Did
you get some rest yesterday?”
“Yes, I got some rest. I think my body just hasn’t caught up from this
whole week.
Double shifts are a killer. Are you ready to go?”
“Ready, willin’ and able,” he said with a smile.
The service was low-key but Frances could feel James’ nervousness
when the time came to “pass the peace.” They rose from their seats and
she took his hand. She knew that even though he had been introduced to
many of her friends when he had previously come to church with her, he
would probably not remember their names, maybe not even their faces.
So as people approached them, she made a point to say their names. She
hoped that if this was a part of James’ nervousness, she could at least
circumvent it. It seemed to go well and she thought she could feel him
relaxing a little.

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When Frances saw Cassie and Max approaching from a short distance,
she turned to James and said, “You remember my friends Cassie and Max,
right?” But before he could answer, Cassie and Max were upon them.
“Hi Frances! Hi James! How are you both?” Cassie was always so
friendly and animated. “We have to run right after church, but I wanted
to remind you about the costume party this Friday night. You said you
were both going to come didn’t you?”
Frances glanced at James. They had discussed it previously and James
had agreed to go with her, but she didn’t know if he was really into going,
or if he just agreed because he thought she wanted to go. So she simply told
her friends they were thinking about it and left it at that.
When they were walking to the car after church, Frances brought up
the subject of the costume party. “So are you sure you want to go to the
party this Friday? Is it something you think you’d like or not?”
“Well,” he said slowly, taking the time to think about what he wanted
to say, “I have to admit that I haven’t been to a costume party for a long
time, probably since I was in high school. And I don’t know how I feel
about it, since I still don’t really know the people from your church, but
if it’s something you want to do, then I’m in. What exactly does one do at
a church costume party? I mean I’m pretty sure we won’t be playing spin
the bottle and I’m also thinking that any kind of drinking game will be
out of the question.” he smiled as he teased her.
She smiled too, knowing that he was playing with her. She decided
to play along. “Well, that’s how much you know! These church social
gatherings can get pretty crazy! At the last party, one of the deacons drank
so much cola that he burped out loud and scared one of the choir members
half to death!” They both laughed. “But seriously, I’d like to go, but not
if you think you’d feel too uncomfortable. I mean, I know how it is to be
around a bunch of people that you don’t know. And I don’t want you to
be sitting there looking at your watch all evening wondering how soon we
could leave.”
“I think I’ll be okay sweetie. Besides, it’ll only be a few hours, right?”
“Oh yeah. We’ll have something to eat, there will be a ‘best costume’
contest and then a little dancing if you’re up to it or just socializing with
the other folks. And if you really do feel uncomfortable, you can just let
me know and we’ll make an excuse and leave. It really will be a good
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opportunity for you to get to know some of my church friends a little
better. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like you and I had better go to that costume rental place
before everything is already rented out.”
When they arrived at the condo, Frances hurriedly warmed up some
soup she had made a few days before. She added an open-faced crab cake
sandwich with cheese on top, which she broiled in the oven and she cut up
some fresh fruit. She poured them some lemonade, threw everything on
a tray and carried it to the dining room table. After placing napkins and
eating utensils at each place, she motioned for him to come and sit down.
“One of these days I’m going to have to cook you a proper meal. It
seems like I’m always just warming things up or grabbing something quick
for us to eat.”
“Don’t fret about it honey, this is fine. Although, I bet you’re a great
cook.”
“Actually, I do pretty well, I have several meals that are my specialties.
One of these days, soon, I promise I’ll cook one of them for you.”
“That’s a deal,” he grinned. He was so relieved that things were going
well with them. He took pleasure in spending time with her, even if it was
just enjoying soup and a sandwich.
When they had finished, James helped Frances to clear away the
dishes. They were both quiet, it was almost too quiet; until the doorbell
rang.
Frances went to the door, all the while wondering who it could be
this early on a Sunday morning. When she opened the door to see Brandy
standing there, she was more than surprised.
“Brandy! What are you doing up this early on a Sunday?”
“Is it early? It seems late to me, I haven’t been to bed yet,” she snorted.
“Are you kidding me? You’ve been up all night?”
“Up all night and ready to go again,” she said as she gently pushed
Frances out of the way and made her way into the condo. As she did, she
saw James sitting in the living room area. She turned to Frances with a
wicked smile and said, “Looks like somebody spent the night here… you
have a pajama party and didn’t invite me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous Brandy. We just got back from church.”

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“Church? Now why you wanna go draggin’ that man to church? Isn’t
it punishment enough that you won’t give him any?”
“Brandy! Stop it! I mean it! Behave yourself! Now come in and sit
down and I’ll get you some lemonade.”
“Aw, put a shot of somethin’ in it Franny. Straight lemonade ain’t
any fun.”
Taking her by the arm, Frances led her into where James was sitting.
“James, you remember my friend Brandy, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” James replied. “Good to see you again Brandy.”
“I’ll get you that lemonade Brandy. James do you need anything more
to drink?”
“No honey, I’m good.”
Frances hurried to the kitchen to get the lemonade, she was worried
about what Brandy might say or do in her absence. She loved Brandy to
death, but sometimes the girl just had no manners. It wasn’t really that
Frances was afraid Brandy would say something that might embarrass her,
but rather that she might embarrass James. So she poured the lemonade,
threw a few ice cubes in it and scurried back into the room with the two
of them.
“So, James tells me the two of you are gonna go shopping for costumes
for a church party this Friday. What kinda outfit you looking for? And why
is the party this Friday? Halloween is on Thursday?”
“It’s not a Halloween party, it’s a costume party. There’s a difference.”
“Oh that’s right,” Brandy said as she rolled her eyes. “Halloween is
linked to the devil, but if we call it a costume party, and we have it in
November, then that’ll make God happy, right?”
Now Frances rolled her eyes. “Oh Brandy. What am I going to do with
you? We are supposed to come as our favorite biblical character. Want to
come?” Frances smiled. It amused her to think of Brandy in any church.
“Sure mama! I’ll come as Eve; wearin’ nothing but a fig leaf, or two!”
They all laughed at Brandy’s joke. “Better make that three or four fig
leaves anyway,” said Frances. “But really, we do have to be going soon. I
called the costume shop and they’re only open until two o’clock and it’s
after noon already.”
“You mind if I tag along?” Brandy asked. “This might be amusing to
see just what holier-than-thou characters the two of you come up with.”
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“Not at all Brandy. You know you’re always welcomed. Shall we go?”
At that, the three of them left the condo and piled into James little
car and Brandy immediately sprawled across the back seat saying she was
going to take a power nap. “Wake me when we get there,” she ordered.
And then promptly fell asleep.
It didn’t take them long to get to the costume shop, traffic was light
and it was only about fifteen miles away. When they arrived, Frances woke
Brandy as she had been ordered to do and the three of them entered the
store.
“This place is a lot bigger than I expected,” Frances commented.
“Maybe we should ask someone if they have a biblical costume section.”
“Aw come on Franny. Where’s your sense of adventure? Let’s just look
around a little, that’s half the fun of being at one of these places. You know,
checkin’ out the stuff they have.”
“Oh alright, Brandy, let’s just look around then.”
At that, Brandy took off like she was on a mission. “Follow me kiddies!
I see somethin’ we can all check out.”
Taking James by the hand, Frances followed Brandy as instructed.
When Brandy came to a stop with Frances and James behind her, Frances
took one look and breathed a heavy sigh. Of course it was a section of the
store that had all kinds of provocative costumes and props. “Really Brandy?
This is what you want to look at? Most of this stuff looks like outfits you
already have!”
“I was looking at costumes for you Franny! You would look so hot
in that one over there, don’t you think so James?” Brandy pointed out a
black leather body suit that snapped in the crotch, with a matching cap
and whip.
“Oh yeah Brandy, and refresh my memory, just which biblical character
was it who wore that particular outfit?” Frances just smiled and shook her
head. “Come on guys, it’s almost one o’clock and the store closes soon, we
really need to get serious about finding costumes for the party.”
So finally, after much searching, James ended up with a “Moses”
costume which included a robe, long hair and beard, two faux stones
with the ten commandments on them and a staff to carry. Female biblical
characters were much harder to come up with, but Frances eventually chose
to go as Esther in full queen regalia. At any other costume party, nobody
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would probably guess who the costume depicted, but the crown had a big
“E” on it, so Frances knew the church folks would know she was Esther.
When they returned home, Brandy once again was sound asleep in the
back of the car. Frances gently woke her and tried to talk her into coming
back to the condo with them to lie down for a while. She had now been
up for over twenty-four hours and Frances was worried about her driving
home. Hard-headed Brandy declined, got in her own car and drove away.
Frances and James had just opened the door to her condo when the
phone started ringing. Frances dropped the packages on the couch on her
way to answer it. When she said hello, she heard her mother’s voice on the
other end. “Hello Frances, it’s your mother.” Frances always wondered why
her mother felt it necessary to identify herself when she called as if Frances
wouldn’t have recognized her own mother’s voice.
“Hi Mom. What’s up?”
“Well, you said to let you know when my eye appointment was and
that we could stop by your place and have dinner with you afterwards. So
I’m calling to tell you that my appointment is at three o’clock this Friday,
and if it’s alright with you, I think we’ll take you up on the invitation to
spend the night at your place. You know your father doesn’t like to drive
after dark.”
Frances immediately realized that her mother’s appointment was on
the same day as the costume party, but decided not to even mention it.
She’d deal with it. After all, it was she who insisted her mother make an
appointment and she told her any day would be fine.
“Okay Mom, that’s fine. I’ll try to either get all day off Friday or at
the very least, get off early. In any case, either I’ll be here when you get
here, or I’ll make sure someone is here to let you in. Alice lives just a short
distance away and you haven’t seen her in a while, I’m sure she’d be glad
to do it for us.”
“Alright dear, we’ll see you on Friday. Shall I bring anything for the
dinner?”
“No Mom, I’ll take care of everything, I’m looking forward to seeing
you. Talk to you on Friday.” And with that, they hung up.
Frances poured herself a small glass of wine and got one of the beers
out of the refrigerator that she had picked up for when James was there.

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She took them into where James was sitting on the couch and handed him
the drink.
“Everything alright honey?” he asked.
“Yeah. It’s just that my mom has an eye appointment for this Friday
and I told her that when she came to town for the appointment she and
Daddy should come, have dinner with me and spend the night. They don’t
like driving in the dark. Of course it has to be on the same day as the
costume party, but I’ll deal with it,” she said exhaling.
“They like to eat early, so I figure if I have dinner at five o’clock, I can
get everything cleaned up and we can still be at the church by seven when
the party starts.”
“Are you sure honey? Cause we don’t have to go to the party. I’m up
for whatever you want to do.”
“No, I want to go to the party, they’ll be in bed by eight o’clock anyway
and I know they won’t mind when they find we had already made plans,
especially since it’s a church function. And besides, we’ve already paid to
rent these costumes. Hey, you should come and have dinner with us, my
parents will finally get to meet you, and you have to pick me up to go to
the party anyway. How’s that sound?”
“Oh honey, you know I don’t even get off work until five-thirty, then I
have to run home, clean up, get my costume on and come get you. There’s
just not enough time for me to come to dinner, especially since you want
to eat early. But I’ll try to hurry along and I can come in and meet them
for a few minutes before we leave. Is that okay?”
“Sure, that’s fine. It’ll all work out. No worries.”

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T

he week passed without incident and finally it was Friday. Frances
couldn’t get the day off, so she worked an early shift and was
finishing up by three o’clock. Since her mother’s eye appointment
was also at three o’clock she’d have plenty of time to get home and get
dinner started before they arrived at her place.
She was fixing a simple roasted chicken with rice and steamed
vegetables. Her parents didn’t like to eat anything fancy so dinner would
be easy. She stopped at the farmer’s market and picked up some fresh
broccoli and carrots, her mother’s favorites, and a peach cobbler, her
father’s favorite.
When she arrived at her condo, she cleaned the chicken, rubbed oil and
herbs on it and popped it in the oven. She washed and cut up the vegetables
and got them ready to steam. Finally, she prepared the rice cooker with
the rice, chicken broth and a little butter. All she had to do was put the
cobbler in the oven after dinner. Everything was going well, so she decided
to get a quick shower before her parents arrived. Before she did that, she
unlocked the front door and put a note on it telling them to come on in.
When she got out of the shower, she put on a pair of shorts and a
tee shirt. No sense in getting dressed when she’d have to put on her
costume after dinner anyway. She checked on dinner and everything was
progressing well. No sooner had she closed the oven door than her doorbell
rang. She waited a moment, knowing the note on the door told them to
come on in, but she didn’t hear the door open, so she went to the door and
opened it up. There stood her parents, looking confused, as though they
didn’t know where they were.
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“Mom, Dad! Why didn’t you just come in like the note said?”
“Oh Frances, you shouldn’t have left your door unlocked with a note
telling everyone who passed by that they could come on in! It’s not safe,”
her mother said in a distressed tone.
“Well it was only for a few minutes Mom. I wanted to get a quick
shower and didn’t want you two standing out here in the hallway if you
came before I got out. Besides, this is a very safe neighborhood. It’s okay.”
Frances grabbed the note off of the door, closed it and locked it up tight.
That should make them happy she thought.
“Well come on in and sit down, I made some fresh lemonade. I’ll get
you each a glass.” Her parents dutifully went to the living room area and
sat down while Frances fetched the drinks.
“Listen, I have to tell you something. When you called and said your
appointment was today, I didn’t say anything, but I have plans tonight
that I’ve had for a while and didn’t want to cancel. So here’s what we’re
gonna do. We’ll have dinner, it’s almost ready now, and then I have to
get ready for a costume party at the church. I’ll be going as a biblical
character; we’ll see if you can guess who it is. You guys can just relax and
watch television or read the paper or something while I’m gone. I won’t be
too late. Everything’s ready for you in the guest room, so if you decide to
go to bed before I get home, that’s fine. Help yourself to anything in the
condo. I have a peach cobbler that I’m going to put in the oven soon and
you can have some of that later. James will be here to pick me up shortly
before seven, so you’ll get to meet him. Won’t that be nice?”
“I guess so Frances,” her mother said with some trepidation.
“Oh come on Mom. James and I have been dating now for several
weeks and he has become someone really special to me. You’ll love him.
He’s very sweet, you’ll see.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence, which her father then
broke, by saying, “Peach cobbler, huh? I could really go for some of that.”
“I knew you’d like that Daddy. And Mom, I have a roasted, herbed
chicken with rice and your favorite steamed veggies. It should all be done
by now. Shall we go to the dining area?”
So with her parents on their way to the dining room, Frances scurried
out to the kitchen and proceeded to bring the meal to the table. With all
the food now in front of them, Frances carved the chicken and started to
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pass it to her mother, when she noticed her mother was, once again, giving
her a strange look. She knew immediately what the issue was. They hadn’t
asked a blessing. Since she generally ate on the run and usually alone,
Frances had gotten out of the habit of blessing the food she was about to
eat. But she knew how important it was to her mother, so she sat the platter
down and said, “Why don’t I ask a blessing before we begin?”
With the blessing done and the food passed all around, they proceeded
to eat in silence. Frances was keeping an eye on the clock. She had to eat
and then get ready for the party. She wanted to be ready by the time James
arrived so there wasn’t any awkward meeting between him and her parents
with her not present. So at exactly six o’clock, she rose and started to clear
the table.
“I’ll help you with that Frances,” her mother said.
“Don’t be silly Mother. It’ll only take me a minute to clear the table
and throw these dishes in the dish washer. You two go into the living room,
I’ll show you how to work the remote control for the television.”
After she cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen, Frances popped
the peach cobbler in the oven and set the timer, then she went to her room
to get ready. She had decided she would wear her hair tied up with silk
scarves and put on heavy makeup to add to her queen Esther attire. By sixforty, she was ready and went out into the living room where her parents
sat watching the news.
“Ta da!” she said, while regally walking into the room in her queen’s
clothing. “How do you like it?”
Her mother looked her up and down with scrutiny, and then noticing
the letter “E” on her crown said, “Are you Queen Esther?”
“Yes!” Frances said excitedly. “I knew anyone who knew their Bible
would be able to guess who I was.” It was at that precise moment that her
doorbell rang again. Perfect timing she thought as she went to answer the
door.
When she opened the door, she burst out giggling. There stood James
with his Moses robe, full beard and mustache, and hair cascading down his
back. He wore sandals and had a rope belt around his waist. He certainly
looked the part.
“Well it’s not that bad is it?” James questioned when she began giggling.

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“Not at all! In fact, you look marvelous! It was just a little bit of a
surprise, that’s all. Come in, I want you to meet my parents before we
leave.”
As they entered the living room area, both of her parents looked up at
James with startled expressions. Frances decided to make light of it. “Mom,
Dad, this is Moses,” she smiled. “Otherwise known as James. James, these
are my parents Laila and Edward.”
James went to her mother first. He took her hand in both of his and
said, “It’s nice to finally meet you Mrs. Cane.” But Laila just shook her
head in a “yes” fashion and continued to stare at James, who then went to
Edward to shake hands. Strangely, her father was staring at James as well.
Frances figured it was the costume and didn’t say anything. Her parents
were so weird, she thought.
“Alright then,” she said, in a hurry to get out of there before any further
awkwardness ensued. “We have to be going. Mother, I set the timer on
the oven for the peach cobbler. When it goes off, will you please get it out
of the oven and turn the oven off? There’s some vanilla ice cream in the
freezer if you’d like to top it with that. As I said before, I won’t be late,
but if you want to go to bed before I get home, then please do. We’ll talk
again in the morning. Make yourselves at home. Do you need anything I
can get you before we leave?”
At that, Laila rose to feet and looked directly at James. “James,” she
said, “Have we met before?”
“I don’t believe so Mrs. Cane. I think I’d remember you, but you don’t
look familiar.” For some reason, this made James feel a bit uncomfortable.
“I can’t really tell what your face looks like because of the beard, but
you have beautiful sparkling green eyes that I swear I’ve seen before.”
“Oh Mother, how in the world would you have ever run into him
before? It’s not like you travel in the same circles. And while he certainly
does have gorgeous eyes, he’s not the only man on the earth who does.
Next time you see him, he’ll be without the costume and you’ll be able to
see his face clearly, then you’ll realize you’ve never run into him before.”
Frances was somewhat irked at her mother for this outburst, but she didn’t
really know why. “We’ve got to be going. We’ll talk later. Bye.”
“It was very nice meeting you both,” James said as Frances took him
by the arm and led him out the door.
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Frances didn’t bring up what her mother had said, she figured it wasn’t
a big deal. Her mother had seen someone else with the same bright green
eyes as James and had mistaken James for him.
When they arrived at the church, it was almost seven-thirty and the
party was already in full swing. As they walked into the family-fun center
where the adults were, they noticed pictures of people wearing costumes on
all the walls. There were also masks and balloons and streamers. There was
Christian rock music playing in the background and people in costumes
were laughing, talking, dancing and eating.
She and James walked in and were immediately spied by her friend
Cassie, who ran to them. Cassie was wearing a simple dress with a shawl
over her head. She carried a doll baby wrapped up in blankets.
“Hi guys! Cassie said with much enthusiasm. Your costumes look
great! Let’s see, you James must be Moses; and you Frances…” she paused.
“I’m not sure?” she said questioningly.
“Think about it Cassie, I’m dressed in queen’s clothing and there’s a
big “E” on my crown.”
“Esther!” Cassie screeched, pleased with herself for guessing correctly.
“Can you guess who I am? Maybe I should call Max over first. If you see
us together, you’ll be able to tell.”
“No need for that Cassie. I can see you are the holy Mother Mary.
Who else would be carrying a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes? And
it’s my guess that Max is Joseph. So how’d I do?”
“Smarty pants! You’re absolutely right. Now come on over here and
get some punch and something to eat.
With that they walked over to the table where the refreshments were.
Frances wasn’t hungry since she had just had a full meal with her parents.
James hadn’t had time to eat anything so he got two cups of punch and
then proceeded to put some of the little sandwiches and other goodies on
a plate. “Can we sit down Frances? So I can have a little something to eat?
I’m really hungry.”
They found a table with two empty chairs and James ate while Frances
looked around at the other costumes in the room. James had just finished
the last morsel on his plate when a voice came over the loud speaker telling
everyone the games were about to begin.
“Are you up for a game or two James?” Frances asked him.
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Games weren’t really his thing, but he wanted to please Frances, and
he also wanted to fit in with her friends. He didn’t want to be the bump
on a log that sat and watched others but didn’t participate. But he really
didn’t want to play silly games either. “What kind of games are we talking
about?”
“I’m not really sure. Let’s walk over to where their getting ready for the
games and someone will explain them to us. Listen, if you don’t want to
play, I understand. I know that grown people playing games like a bunch
of children would seem silly to a lot of people, especially men. But really,
it usually ends up being funny and a lot of fun. We’ll check it out, and if
you don’t want to play, we’ll sit on the sidelines and be the cheering section.
How’s that?”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, glad that she gave him an out.
The first game had two teams lined up across from each other. The
first person put an orange under their chin, and then had to pass it to the
next person without using their hands. Each person would then pass it to
the next, under their chin, and the first team finished won. James was not
thrilled about this game, but he wondered what the other games would be.
This might be the lesser of the evils. He had to make a decision, to play or
not to play. So thinking again about pleasing Frances and making a good
impression on her friends, he decided to play.
He and Frances got in one of the lines and with a blow of a whistle,
the game began. When each person was passing the orange to the next,
the rest of their team shouted encouragement and helpful hints on how to
accomplish the task without dropping the orange. When the orange came
to Frances and she then turned to James to pass it to him, she realized it
was going to be difficult because of the fake beard he was wearing. To
make it even harder, at this point both she and James, as well as most of
the others on their team, were laughing at the antics of those who had
passed the orange thus far.
She leaned into James and he leaned into her and tried to get the
orange from beneath her chin. But the beard made it slippery and he
couldn’t seem to get a grip on the orange. Finally, with time being of
the essence, James ripped his fake beard off while the crowd roared with
laughter. He grabbed the orange from Frances with his chin and passed it
on to the next person on their team. The other team ended up winning,
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but they all had a lot of fun. They laughed and talked about it for some
time after the game was done.
They played another game or two and then sat down to rest. Glancing
at the clock on the wall, Frances noted that it was after ten o’clock. “James,
do you have to work tomorrow?” she asked.
“Yes, I do, but only for half a day. We just need to finish up part of a
job we started today.”
“Then we’d better be going. I know you need your rest.” At that they
said their good-byes and left the party.
The ride home was kind of quiet. Both of them were smiling as they
played some of the antics of the evening over in their heads. When they
arrived at Frances’ condo, James turned to Frances and said, “I had a nice
time tonight honey. I have to be honest, I didn’t think I would. I thought
it would be weird, but it really was fun. I’m glad we went.”
“And I’m glad you enjoyed yourself and got to know some of my
friends a little better.”
They sat there just staring at each other for a moment and James ran
his hand through her hair. His touch seemed to be electric to her, she
got goose bumps. He leaned over and kissed Frances on either side of her
neck. All she could do was to sit there with her eyes closed and enjoy the
excitement that James was generating within her.
He pulled her closer and put his face to hers, cheek to cheek. She could
smell his cologne and she felt herself flush. He nuzzled his nose to hers,
then kissed her forehead, her cheek and brushed his lips ever so lightly on
hers. She almost felt faint. He kissed her again, but not so lightly this time.
He went for it, he kissed her passionately; and she kissed him back. Then,
realizing that it couldn’t go any further, James pulled back from her and
looked lovingly into her eyes.
“Frances,” he said nervously, “I know we’ve only been dating for a short
while, but I have to tell you I think I’m falling for you.” He specifically
avoided saying the word “love” for fear that it would be too soon in their
relationship to spring that on her. After all, she said she wanted to take
things slowly. But he had to tell her how he was feeling, and after he said
it, he was glad he did.
“I know James. And I’m starting to have some pretty serious feelings
for you too.” They sat there for another minute just looking at one another.
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James got out of the car, opened her door and walked her to the door of
her condo. They kissed again, then Frances went inside and James left.
Things were really starting to heat up, she thought, and she liked it. But
once again, that little angel on her shoulder was shaking its finger at her,
warning her to be careful.

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F

rances awoke the next morning in a very good mood. Her first
thought was of James. Things were really moving along in their
relationship, and it was alright with her. At first, she wanted to move
slowly, but they had such a connection that now she was thinking perhaps
they should move full speed ahead. She was thinking she would call him
and invite him over for that home-cooked meal she had promised him.
But first things first, she had to get up and get her parents on their
way back home. She showered and went out to the living area, where her
parents were already sitting.
“Good morning Mom & Dad,” she said in a happy voice. “What
would you like me to fix you for breakfast? I can do omelets and toast, or
hot cereal, and fresh fruit that will go with either. What will it be?”
“Don’t go to any trouble honey. We were really just waiting for you
to get up so we could get on the road back home,” her mother replied in
just as happy a voice.
“Waiting for me to get up? It’s only seven o’clock, just how long have
you been up?”
“Oh you know your father, he’s up at the crack of dawn. I believe we
were dressed and ready by five-thirty.”
“Wow! Why didn’t you just wake me up?”
“I peeked in your room and you just looked so happy and restful, I
didn’t want to disturb you. Besides, it’s not like we’re in a hurry really, we
just have things to do and I’m sure you do too. We want to be on our way,
but thank you so much Frances for dinner and for letting us spend the
night. You know Daddy doesn’t like to drive after dark.”
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“You’re welcomed, anytime Mom, it was my pleasure. By the way, what
did the eye doctor say?”
“Oh, he thinks I need new glasses. I made another appointment to
come back at the end of next week. The glasses will be ready and I have
to go for a fitting.”
“So, you’re talking about next Friday? Why don’t you plan to do the
same thing then? You can just come over here after your appointment, have
dinner and spend the night again. Sound like a plan?”
“I suppose so Frances, I hate to impose though.”
“Oh Mother, it’s no imposition. I really love having you and Daddy
here. This time, I’ll invite James to dinner as well. It’ll give you a chance
to get to know him a little better. That’s alright, isn’t it?”
Her mother didn’t speak immediately, but instead looked over at her
father as if silently asking for his input. But her father only looked back
and said nothing. So her mother said, “Of course dear, that’s fine. My
appointment is at three again, so I guess we’ll probably be here around
four or four-thirty. Is that alright?”
“I’m already looking forward to it,” Frances said, smiling.
So Laila and Edward kissed their daughter good-bye and left the
condo.
Frances went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea and sat
looking out her balcony window. She couldn’t stop thinking about James
and how exciting his touch and kiss had felt the night before. It awoke
some very strong sexual feelings in her and she wondered now if it was time
to take their relationship to the next level. The thought both excited and
frightened her. It seemed to her that she and James were on the same page
as far as their feelings for each other. The night before they had admitted
to each other that they had strong feelings for one another. Although it
didn’t escape her that neither one of them said the word “love.” Was that
in itself a sign that they weren’t ready? She didn’t want to have sex with
anyone unless she was in love with him and he was in love with her. So
she had to ask herself, was she in love with James? Was he in love with her?
She sat there pondering her next move. She decided that she would
invite him over to dinner as she had planned and see how things went
from there. They would talk and just see how the evening went. That was
probably best. She wouldn’t plan anything specific, she’d just see how the
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evening unfolded. She had to trust that she would know when the time
was right.
Usually, when Frances was pondering over a situation, she prayed
about it. But now she thought, should I be praying to God asking Him if
I should have sex without being married? Wouldn’t His answer be “No?”
If I do decide to have sex with James, isn’t that a sin? Maybe I should
rethink this whole thing. Now she began to feel distraught about the whole
scenario. But in the end, she decided she’d still invite James to dinner and
leave the rest to the hands of fate.
She dialed James’ number and waited to hear his voice, but the phone
rang three times and went to his answering machine. It was then that she
remembered he said he had to work half a day, so she left a brief message
asking him to call her when he got home. Then she waited.
It was after two in the afternoon when her phone finally rang. She
figured it was James returning her call, so she settled down on the couch
and readied herself to talk to him. “Hello,” she said in that happy voice
again.
“Hi babe. What’s up?”
“Not much. Mom and Dad left this morning and it’s been a quiet day.
I read some medical journals and just took it easy. How about you? Are
you tired from work?”
“Not really. But something tells me that by the end of the day I’ll be
tired.”
She could hear the slightest bit of distress in his voice, so she asked,
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s really wrong, but Mom called and left a message on my
machine saying that they’re having some plumbing problems in their
house. So I guess I’ll head on over there and see what I can do. Last time
they had plumbing problems, it took me three days to fix it. I had to replace
pipes and install new fixtures.” He sighed. “I hope whatever is the matter
is minor and I can knock it out in one evening.”
Well, there went her plans of having him over for dinner. She was
surprised at how disappointed she was, but decided not to let him hear it
in her voice. Instead she said, “I didn’t know you were a plumber, I thought
you just did construction.”

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“Oh I’m a jack-of-all-trades babe. I know a little bit about everything.
I can be a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter or just about anything you
might need. So now you know who to call if you have any problems at the
condo, huh?” he smiled, and she could hear his smile over the phone line.
“I guess so,” she smiled back. “Well, I guess it’ll probably be too late
for us to get together tonight after you’re finished at your parent’s house,
right?”
“Probably honey. I’m sorry. I was really hoping that we could see
each other tonight. I’ve been thinking all day about how we said goodbye to each other last night and I have to tell you, it makes me miss you
something terrible.”
Frances’ heart started to beat a little faster and she could feel her face
heat up. She didn’t speak for a minute, she just closed her eyes as she too
remembered the night before.
Through the silence, James could almost feel that he had let her down
and it made him feel bad. So he said, “Chin up sweetie. I’ll give you a call
Sunday and we’ll get together, how’s that sound?”
“It sounds great,” she said in a dreamy, romantic voice. All she could
think was that she could hardly wait to see him. And he was thinking the
same thing about her.
The rest of the day seemed to drag on. Frances read a little more,
watched some television and then went to bed early. James hadn’t said
anything about going to church with her the next day and she didn’t want
to push. Besides, depending on what was wrong at his parents’ house, he
might be tired and want to sleep in. So she decided she’d just go by herself
and then they could hook up after church.
Frances was so distracted, thinking about James that she hardly heard
a word of the sermon. She tried to pay attention, but her thoughts kept
going back to the night of the costume party and how he had made her
feel. She was so anxious to see him now that she was feeling very restless.
When church was over, she didn’t hang around to talk to her friends like
she usually did, she made a bee line to her car and headed home to wait
for his call.
And she waited, and waited. Now she began to worry. It was almost
two o’clock and she thought surely he would’ve called by now. She sat by
the phone, flipping through the TV channels but not really even paying
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attention to what was on. Finally, at two-thirty, the phone rang. She was so
excited that she picked it up before it had even completed one ring. “Hello!”
“Hey honey! That was a quick answer. Were you sitting on the phone?”
“Well to tell you the truth, I was starting to get a little worried. I kind
of thought you would have called a little earlier, but that’s okay. It’s good
to hear your voice now. Why don’t you just come on over here and we’ll
decide what we’re going to do today?”
She could hear the disappointment in his voice, as he said, “Baby, I’m
so sorry, but I’m not going to be able to come over. I’m still at my parents’
house. They had a pipe burst and it damaged part of their ceiling. I had to
tear it out last night and get the stuff to replace it today. I feel just awful.”
Frances’ heart sank. She was so disappointed she could barely speak
at first, but she decided she wouldn’t make him feel any worse by whining
about it. So she said, “I understand. You have to take care of your parents.
Life happens. How long do you think it’s going to take you to finish up
there?”
“It’ll definitely take some time, but I should be able to finish up by
tonight. I can’t tell you how bad I feel, I really wanted to see you. I’m so
sorry.”
“It’s alright James, really. I wanted to see you too, but you’ve got to
do what you’ve got to do. If you get home at a decent hour, give me a call,
alright?”
“Will do honey. And if I get home too late to call you tonight, I’ll
definitely call you tomorrow.”
“Okay. I have to work until six tomorrow, but still, I want you to call.
I miss you James.”
“I miss you too Frances. And Frances, I love you.”

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A

s it turned out, James was still finishing up at his parents’ house
until late Sunday night. He called Frances on Monday, but he was
so tired after working all day that he apologized again and told
her he was too tired to come over.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were no better. It was one thing
after another that prevented them from getting together. By Thursday, they
were both frustrated and missing one another a lot.
Frances told James that her parents were coming back again on Friday
to pick up her mother’s glasses. They would be coming to dinner and
spending the night again as well. They both decided that since it was so
close to the end of the week, they would just get some needed rest and
get together on Friday. Finally, James and her parents would spend some
quality time together and get to know each other a little better.
They hung up again and both went to bed, thinking of one another
and wishing they could be together.
She had just turned the light off and settled into her bed when the
phone rang. She looked at the clock. It was exactly nine o’clock and she
wondered who could be calling. She was startled when the voice at the
other end turned out to be her mother. “Hello Frances. I hope I’m not
interrupting anything.”
“No Mom. What’s up?”
“Nothing dear, I’m just calling to remind you that your father and I
will be coming to town again tomorrow. Is that still alright?”
“Absolutely. In fact, I’m looking forward to it again. I’ve invited James
to come to dinner as well so the three of you can get acquainted.”
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There was that silence again, Frances thought. Why was her mother
acting reluctant to get to know James? You’d think she’d be happy that
her daughter had someone in her life that made her happy. “Mother, are
you there?”
“Yes honey, I’m here. We’ll see you tomorrow. Will you be home when
we get there?”
“Yes. I worked extra hours during the week and only have to go in for
a few hours tomorrow. I’ll see the two of you when you get here. Drive
safely.” And at that, they hung up.
Her parents arrived at four o’clock exactly. James wouldn’t be there for
another two or three hours, so she’d have some time to talk to them before
he got there and ask why they were acting so weird about him.
She opened the door to find her mother standing by herself. She peered
behind her and looked to each side to find her father, but he was nowhere
to be seen. Knowing that her mother would never have driven by herself,
she asked where he was.
“He’s down at the truck. He needs your help to carry something up
here,” her mother replied.
“What is it?” Frances couldn’t imagine what her father had to carry
that was so big he needed assistance, but when her mother broke into a big
smile, it suddenly dawned on her. “The trunk!” she squealed.
“Make yourself at home Mother. I’ll get you something to drink as
soon as I help Daddy with the trunk.”
Her father was sitting in the bed of the truck on top of the trunk,
patiently waiting for assistance. When he saw Frances he broke into a
wide grin.
“Hi Daddy. Oh, it’s beautiful,” she crooned, referring to the trunk. The
shiny finish that had now been applied enhanced the rich, warm auburn
color. The brass was polished to a brilliant shine and even the leather straps
had been cleaned and restored, making them look almost brand new. The
brass latch still had the key hanging out of it. She ran her hands over the
soft leather and the embossed herringbone on the front.
“Oh Daddy, this is gorgeous!” As she looked in the trunk, she saw that
the old, worn material had been removed, and as her father had promised,
had been replaced with a soft, teal blue material. It had been carefully,
lovingly and perfectly tucked in and fastened to the inside of the trunk.
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The inside of the bonnet box had been fitted with the same soft material.
It was absolutely, flawlessly done. It was truly a work of art.
“I have just the place for it at the foot of my bed.” She was like a little
girl on Christmas morning, and her daddy was proud as ever to see that
she was enjoying it so much.
They carried the trunk up the stairs and down the hallway to the
condo. When they got to her door, her mother was waiting for them and
opened it for them to bring the trunk in. After they carried the trunk into
her bedroom, the two of them emerged to find Laila still standing in the
middle of the room like she was lost. “Mom, what’s the matter?” Frances
questioned her.
“What’s the matter? Oh, nothing dear. I was just enjoying the view,”
she said, motioning toward the picture window.
“Well, why don’t you sit down? Can I get you something to drink? How
about you Dad? Would either of you like something? I made some iced tea.”
“Sure darling. We’ll both take some iced tea,” her mother replied.
Frances brought the tea in, sat it in front of them and sat down on the
over-stuffed chair facing them.
“Now, what is the matter with the two of you?”
“There’s nothing wrong sweetheart, look at my new glasses. Do you
like them?” At this her mother put her glasses on and smiled prettily at
her daughter.
“They’re very attractive Mom, but don’t change the subject. Is there
something going on that you need to tell me? You’re acting so weird!”
“We’re not acting weird, Frances,” her mother replied, a bit defensively.
“Did you like the trunk? What’s for dinner?”
“I absolutely loved the trunk. Thanks again, Daddy,” she said as she
rose to give him another hug.
“Your mother sewed the lining for the insides,” her father announced.
“Thank you too Mother,” Frances said as she gave her mother a hug
as well. It was barely reciprocated. “Dinner is salmon with honey mustard
sauce, au gratin potatoes and a salad. How’s that sound?”
“It sounds delicious, Frances,” her mother answered.
“And don’t forget that James will be joining us in a little while. Are
you hungry? I have some cheese and crackers we can munch on until he
gets here.”
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Once again, the silence was deafening. Her parents looked at each
other like they had some deep, dark secret and she just wanted to scream!
“Oh come on, you guys! What is up? I’m going to find out sooner or
later, so you might as well tell me now. Why do you both go all goofy
when I mention James? You don’t even know him! He’s a good guy! I just
know that if you get to know him a little better, you’ll learn to love him
the same way I do.”
“So you are in love with him, Frances?” her mother asked in
astonishment. “I thought you have only been seeing him for a month or
so, seems awfully quick to be in love with someone.”
Frances sighed. “Mom, I really do care for James. He is a lot of fun,
he’s thoughtful and he wants a lot of the same things out of life that I want.
Perhaps at this point in time, love is too strong of a word, but I believe
eventually, that may be where our relationship is headed. I don’t get why
you are so against me having someone in my life for a change. I’m happy.
And I want the two of you to be happy for me, for us!”
“Frances honey, we’re not against you having someone in your life.
And of course we want you to be happy, we just don’t want you rushing
into anything. We don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Mother, we’re not rushing! In fact, we are taking it slow. We’re just
having fun and enjoying each other’s company. It’s not like I’ve announced
our engagement or anything. Chill out! Get to know him before you judge
him! He wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. I just know he wouldn’t. Please,
give him a chance.”
“We will, Frances, we just want what’s best for you, that’s all.”
The next two hours seemed to crawl by for Frances. Finally, at sixfifteen, her doorbell rang and she rose to let James in. Before she opened
the door, she looked at her parents with a stern face and said, “Please,
Mother, Daddy, just get to know him a little. You’ll see, he’s a nice guy.
You’re going to learn to love him.”
When Frances opened the door and saw James standing there, she
couldn’t help herself. It had been a full week since she saw him and since
they had that special moment after the costume party. She threw her arms
around him and gave him a big hug. She whispered in his ear, “I’m so glad
you’re here. I’ve missed you.”

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He flashed those beautiful green eyes at her and said, “I’ve missed you
too, baby.”
Frances took him by the hand and led him to the living room area
where her parents were sitting. Smiling, she made the introductions.
“Now I know you officially met last week when James picked me up
for the costume party, but you didn’t really get the chance to get to know
one another. So Mother, Daddy, this is James. James, these are my parents,
Edward and Laila.”
James shot out his hand. “I’m pleased to meet you sir.”
“Likewise,” her father answered. He was still examining James. It
was almost as though James looked familiar to him and he was trying to
place him.
“And it’s also nice to meet you Mrs. Cane.” Even though she had been
introduced to him as Laila, he decided that calling her Mrs. Cane was more
appropriate and showed respect.
“Thank you Mr…” She paused, waiting for him to offer his last name.
“James, please, just call me James.”
“Well, James it is then. And how do you know my Frances?” She was
fishing for information. She knew exactly who he was, and Frances had
already explained how they met and began dating each other, but Laila
wanted to have him explain the relationship from his point of view. She was
curious as to just how he would define his association with her daughter.
But before he could say anything, Frances interrupted.
“Let’s get dinner on the table, I’m starving! We can chat while we eat.
James, will you help me in the kitchen? Mom, Dad, please take a seat at
the dining room table and we’ll be right in.”
When the food was set forth and the blessing was said, Frances glanced
at her mother. She was studying James. Frances could feel her face getting
warm. What was her mother thinking? Why was she staring at him?
Frances could see that James was feeling a bit self-conscious, so she made
some small talk while she passed the food around for everyone to serve
themselves.
“So, James,” Laila finally spoke. Have we met before? You look
familiar?”
Frances’ eyes opened wide at the question. “Mother, what is wrong
with you! You asked him that same question the night of the costume
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party! I thought we all agreed that there was very little possibility of you
meeting him before.” Frances was getting slightly irritated.
“Alright then. Frances wants us to get to know one another. So where are
you from?” Laila’s question was so abrupt that Frances frowned at her. Then she
remembered having chastised her mother for not being curious about James
before, so she let it go. She only wished her mother would have felt comfortable
enough to talk to her in the same way she was now questioning James.
“Well, I’m originally from Baltimore, but I live here in Faith now,” he
replied courteously.
“And your family, are they still in Baltimore?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No Mrs. Cane, I’m an only child.”
“Your parents only wanted one child then?”
“Mother!” Frances finally interrupted.
“I’m only making conversation dear,” her mother replied in an even
tone.
“Well you could at least give yourself a little time to get to know
James before you start interrogating him about his whole family!” Frances
was really getting annoyed with her mother now and wondered why of
all questions, her mother would ask if his parents only wanted one child.
“I’m trying to get to know him Frances. That’s why I’m asking about
his family.” Laila turned her attention back to James. “What do your
parents do for a living?”
“My mother has never worked at a nine-to-five type of job. She believed
that being a homemaker was her job. My father was a stockbroker.”
Laila’s face froze. “A stockbroker? You said was. Is he not still a
stockbroker? Perhaps he’s retired?”
“No on both counts ma’am. He was in an accident early in his life,
after that, he couldn’t work anymore. My mom took care of him. But
he was unable to do anything else.”Upon hearing this, Laila looked at
Edward. They both seemed to be staring at each other. Frances couldn’t
figure out what was wrong with them. She looked back and forth from her
mother to her father. They seemed to be speaking to each other without
using words. There was something going on between them that Frances
and James were not privy to.
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“Mother, what is the matter with you?” Frances could take no more.
She felt embarrassed for her parents and for James who had to witness
this strange behavior. But nothing could have prepared her for what was
about to happen.
Laila turned her attention to James again, her eyes were fixed on his
eyes, and with a calm, and purposeful voice she asked, “Were you adopted
James?”
Frances practically fell out of her chair. She didn’t know whether to
be appalled at the audacity of her mother for asking such a question, or
amazed at her perceptiveness.
“Mother! Why would you ask such a question?”
“I didn’t hear Mr. Marshall’s answer. Are you adopted?”
Frances looked at her mother curiously. Why was this so important
for her to know? And how did her mother know his last name? Frances
distinctly remembered that when her mother prodded him for his last
name when introduced, he never said it. Had she mentioned his last name
when she told them about James at their house? And if she had, would her
mother have remembered it all this time?
The four of them sat there looking at each other. Laila and Edward’s
eyes were on James. Frances was looking at her mother contemptuously,
and James looked back and forth from Laila to Frances. He was confused.
He too remembered that he hadn’t offered his last name. And even he
was taken aback by the question, especially in light of the fact that he was
indeed adopted. Finally, he spoke.
“Yes ma’am, I certainly was adopted. With all due respect, what made
you ask that question? Is that something you frequently ask people when
you first meet them?”
James and Frances were both looking at Laila now. Laila’s face was
ashen. Edward turned to Laila and took her hand. They looked into each
other’s eyes, again, silently communicating. James and Frances just sat
there, amazed and confused about what was going on. Finally, Frances
could take no more.
“Alright, enough is enough! What is going on here?”
Her parents turned to Frances and James but neither of them spoke for
a moment. Finally, her mother said, “Sweetheart, we need to talk.”

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F

or a few more moments, the four of them just sat there, looking
at each other. Laila and Edward looked terrified. Frances and
James looked confused and afraid. And they all had good reason
to feel the way they were feeling, although Frances and James were yet to
know why.
When Laila asked Frances if she had any wine, Frances knew that this
was serious. Her mother rarely drank alcoholic beverages. Frances poured
her mother and herself each a glass of wine. She brought James a beer and
when her father asked for one as well, the knot in the pit of her stomach
got a little bigger, a little tighter.
Finally, they had all settled into their seats with their drinks and
Frances could wait no longer. “Mother, what is it? What’s wrong?”
Edward took Laila’s hand again, and with a troubled look on her face,
Laila began. Her parents had only just come to a realization that was to
be devastating.
“Frances, your father and I have something to tell you.” She stopped,
as though she didn’t know what to say next. You could visibly see her
thinking about what she was about to say.
“In the first few years after your father and I were married, we were
fairly poor. We did the best we could, running the farm, and with both
of us working together, our financial situation improved somewhat. Then,
one day I found out I was pregnant with you. Although we were delighted
to be having a child, it meant I could no longer do the heavy lifting and
laborious work that went along with farming. So, I began to take in sewing
for people, and your father continued with the farm work. But back then,
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times were tough all around and most people did most of their own sewing.
Needless to say, I didn’t make much money and I didn’t know anything
else. So I settled into being a full time housewife and mother. I cooked,
and cleaned and did the laundry and took care of all of the household
things. That left plenty of time for reading to you and having tea parties
and playing with your dolls and such. To be honest, I loved it. Being with
you and taking care of you was what I enjoyed.”
“Your father worked very hard. He was the only one bringing in any
money so he worked on the farm, literally from dawn to dusk. Still, it
seemed that we could only barely make ends meet. Then, when you were
a little more than a year old, I found out I was pregnant again. This time,
we were a little less delighted. It wasn’t that we didn’t have enough love for
another child, but your father already worked seven days a week to make
the meager living that he made. The second-hand farm equipment would
soon need to be replaced and the bills had piled up. We already had so little
time to spend together as a family, and if your father had to take on another
job in addition to the farm work, we knew we’d hardly ever see each other.
We felt sad for you and for our unborn child. We felt sad that we’d
all have to struggle financially. And we felt sad that we’d never really be
able to have much of a family life if your father had to work every waking
hour. We wanted to be able to provide a good life for you. We wanted to
be able to send you to college, and we knew that if we had two children,
we wouldn’t be able to do that for either of you. So after agonizing about
it, praying about it, and discussing it, we made the decision to put our
unborn child up for adoption.”
Frances jaw dropped. She was absolutely blown away by what her
mother had just imparted, but she still hadn’t connected with the full
impact of what her mother was saying.
“So what you’re telling me is that I have a brother or a sister out there
somewhere?”
Her parents looked at each other, tears were in her fathers eyes. He still
held on tightly to his wife’s hand. Then Laila continued.
“We went to a lawyer who found a family, a man and woman who
had never been able to have children. They seemed like very nice people,
they earned a good living. We felt that not only could they give our child
love, but that they could provide for that child, in a way we couldn’t. We
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arranged to have them adopt our baby. It was a hard decision, the most
difficult decision we had ever made, or have ever made since”.
“They lived in Baltimore. The man was a stockbroker and the woman
a homemaker.”
When James heard these words, he stood up. The look on his face was
one of pure shock. He stared at Edward and Laila. The force of what Laila
had said was like a knife that had plunged into his heart. Frances looked
at her parents and then at James. She was in total denial and still had not
made the connection. Then, they all turned to Frances.
“What? What?” she cried in confusion. “What are you trying to tell
me Mother?”
James turned to Frances. As he spoke, his voice quivered, “What she’s
trying to tell you Frances is that they are my biological parents and that I
am your biological brother.”
Frances gasped for her breath. She stood, she sat back down, she stood
up again. Her head was reeling, she felt sick. The room was spinning and
her vision blurred. She started to fall. It was as if everything was happening
in slow motion.
The next thing she knew, she awoke in James’ arms. Her parents were
sitting on either side of her with concerned looks on their faces. She could
hear them talking but she couldn’t understand what they were saying. It
was as if she had had a bad dream, a very, very bad dream.

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A

fter a few minutes, Frances sat up. She could not speak. All she
could do is stare into space. The realization of what her mother
had said had hit her full force. She didn’t feel shocked, she didn’t
feel sad, she didn’t feel anything. She was numb. She couldn’t look at any
of them. Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t aware of her surroundings. She
could still hear their voices, but she didn’t comprehend any of their words.
Finally, James could no longer endure seeing her that way. “Maybe we
should take her to the emergency room,” he said nervously.
Her mother took Frances’ hand and turned her face toward her own.
“Frances, honey, can you hear me?” There was no response. “Yes, let’s take
her to the emergency room,” she said to the others.
Laila stood to get her purse and Edward pulled his keys from his
pocket. James stooped by Frances with tears streaming down his face.
“Honey, we’re going to take you to the hospital.”
When she heard the word “hospital”, Frances suddenly snapped out of
it. She didn’t want to go to the hospital. She didn’t want to go anywhere,
she wanted to go to bed. She wanted to sleep forever, she didn’t want to
deal with what she had just been told.
It was one thing to find out at the age of twenty-eight that you had
a sibling you never knew about. It was quite another to find out that the
man you were falling in love with was that sibling. The ramifications tore
at her head and at her heart.
“I’m not going to the hospital,” she said clearly.
They all looked toward Frances. Each had concern on their face. Each
had sadness in their eyes. Each had a break in their heart.
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“Honey, are you okay?” James asked with genuine concern.
“It depends on what you mean by okay,” Frances answered. “If you
mean am I physically okay, then the answer is yes, I’m feeling somewhat
better. If you’re asking if I’m okay with all of this, then the answer is no,
I am certainly not alright with it. I don’t think I’ll ever be okay again.”
Then she began to cry. It started out like a soft whimper, but soon she
was sobbing so hard that her body was shaking convulsively. James held
her as he cried along with her.
Her mother took her hand again. “Why are you crying Frances?”
Frances shook her head at her mother. “Why am I crying? Why am
I crying? Why do you think I’m crying? For starters, why have you never
told me that I had a brother?”
“Frances,” her mother said with a shaky voice. “We were sad about
the whole thing. It was something we never talked about, even between
the two of us. We didn’t think there was any reason to tell you. We never
counted on the two of you meeting, let alone dating. If that thought had
ever crossed our minds, we would have told you, but we figured the two
of you would never meet.”
“Never meet? With us living in the same town you thought we’d never
meet? Oh yeah Mother, that makes sense. What are the chances of two
people running into one another in a small town the size of Faith?” she
said sarcastically.
“Frances, please don’t blame your mother,” her father said awkwardly.
“Remember, I’m partly to blame as well. And in our defense, we didn’t
know James had moved to Faith, or we would have at least considered
telling you. As far as we knew, he was still living in Baltimore, where he
grew up. Baltimore is a big city, and far enough from Faith that we just
never, in our wildest dreams figured the two of you would cross paths.”
“And now that we have crossed paths, what are we supposed to do
about it?”
“Well it’s clear that you’ll have to stop crossing paths,” her mother said
matter-of-factly.
James, who had been silent until now, stood up. “Now wait a minute,
I think it’s a little too late for us to start avoiding each other. We’re going
to have to give this some thought.”

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“There’s nothing to think about James,” Laila lamented. You are blood
brother and sister. You cannot continue with the relationship you have
started. It’s as simple as that.”
“It’s not as simple as that!” James slammed his fist against the wall.
“I’m in love with her!”
Frances looked into James’ eyes. “And I love you James.”
“Frances Marie Cane!” her mother shouted. “You can’t pursue an
incestuous relationship! It is wrong!”
“And was it right that you never told me about my brother? Was it right
that you kept it from me until now?”
“Maybe we should have told you Frances, but we didn’t. We agreed
when it happened that it was best that you never knew, but a fact is a fact.
James is your brother. Not your half-brother or even your stepbrother, but
your honest-to-goodness, genetically-connected, biological brother! And
not only is it illegal to have a relationship with him, but more importantly,
it is immoral.”
“There’s got to be another way,” James said desperately. “I’ve only
known Frances for a short while but we’re so good together. The thought
of losing her makes me realize how much I love her, there’s just got to be
another way.”
“It would never work James. I know that Frances wants to have
children someday, and the two of you could never have children together.
It’s just wrong. Aside from the illegal and immoral reasons, you know the
offspring of biological siblings are likely to be born physically and mentally
handicapped. It wouldn’t be fair to the children. This relationship must
end here and now.”
“Then we won’t have children,” James snapped. “That’s it. We can adopt.
It was through an adoption that we found ourselves in this predicament
and it’s through adoption that we can solve the problem. I’m willing to
have a vasectomy so we won’t ever have to worry about a pregnancy.”
“That’s not the point James,” Laila snapped back. “It’s not just the act
of having children that is wrong, it’s also the act of being intimate with
your sister that is a sin in itself.”
Suddenly Frances had a thought. “Wait! I just thought of something!
It’s not certain that James is your child! James, didn’t you tell me that the

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family that gave you up for adoption had children? Meaning more than
one child? Maybe the other things are just a coincidence!”
“That’s what my parents always told me. They said the family had
several children and felt they just couldn’t afford one more.”
“STOP! Laila shouted. “It’s not a coincidence. The name of the couple
that adopted our son is Marshall. That is your last name isn’t it James?”
“Yes,” James said with his head down.
Then Laila continued, “Your father’s name is Frank and your mother’s
name is Cynthia. Your father was a stockbroker who was in some kind of
accident not long after you were adopted. The accident caused him to be
paralyzed.”
“Yes,” was all James could muster.
“He’s the one, Frances,” Laila now said more calmly. “We kept in touch
with the Marshalls for many years after James was born. Mrs. Marshall
would occasionally send us pictures of him, but we never went to see him.
It would have been too difficult for us. That’s why I thought he looked so
familiar when we first met. The last picture I have of him is from his high
school graduation. You haven’t really changed much since then, James. At
first, I thought it must be a coincidence as well, an incredible coincidence.
Especially since you’re called James. I knew the Marshall’s had named
their son Norman.”
“I started going by James just after high school because I never liked
the name Norman.” James continued to look down at the floor, unable to
meet with Laila’s eyes.
“But then you answered when I called you Mr. Marshall, and I knew
it was true.” Laila closed her eyes as they filled with tears.
“This can’t be happening,” Frances cried. “It’s not fair! I finally find
someone I care about, someone I thought perhaps God himself had sent
me to have as a husband, and now, this!”
“God may have sent him to you Frances, but not to have as a husband.
Maybe God wanted you to know your brother, maybe He was righting a
wrong that your father and I committed. We may never know why James
was brought into your life, but we do know that it was not for him to be
your husband.”
“You have all the answers, don’t you, Mother?” Frances said cynically.
“Well then, answer this: why did we fall in love? Huh? If James is my
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brother, then surely God knew that. Why didn’t He stop us from falling in
love? We were innocent! We didn’t know the circumstances! If He wanted
me to know my brother, as my brother, why didn’t He bring James into
my life as my brother?”
“Frances, don’t blame this on God. You know as well as I do that
God doesn’t control our lives. What He does is simply beyond our human
understanding. We can’t second-guess Him, and unfortunately, we can’t
always comprehend why things happen the way they do. All I know is that
no matter how much the two of you think you love each other, you have
to make a break, there can be no other way.”
“That’s easy for you to say, Mother. You’re not the one who’s hurting.”
“You think I’m not hurting over this Frances? Well you’re wrong. You
are my daughter, when you hurt, I hurt. I know we’ve never had the close
relationship that either one of us had hoped we’d have, but that doesn’t
mean I don’t love you. Like most mothers, I would literally give my life up
without a moment’s hesitation to save yours. I hate that this has happened;
if I could change things, then believe me I would. But I can’t. If this
disastrous situation is my fault, then so be it. I’ll accept the responsibility.
I am human, and therefore, I make mistakes. But that still doesn’t change
things. And if you come to hate me for it, then I can’t change that either.
But I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me, sweetheart, please
don’t punish me by hating me. I couldn’t bear it, I can’t lose you Frances,
I love you.”
Laila’s voice was steady, but her body was shaking. Her eyes pleaded
with Frances not to hate her. Tears began to pour down her face. It was the
first time in her entire life that Frances ever saw her mother cry.

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F

rances had rarely called in sick to work, but she did so the following
day. She was very depressed and confused. All she wanted to do
was sleep. She wasn’t hungry, and she didn’t want any company.
She turned the phone ringer off and crawled into bed.
Several hours later, she awoke to a pounding noise. Someone was
banging on her front door. She lay there, contemplating whether or not
to get up and answer it. The pounding continued. She figured whoever it
was probably saw her car in the parking lot and knew she was there. She
might as well get up and see who it was, even though the last thing she
wanted right now was company.
She peered sleepily through the peephole. It was Alice! Frances was
surprised to see her. The look on Frances’ face was one of astonishment,
but the look on Alice’s face was one of concern.
“Frances, dear, how are you?” Alice gave her one of those long, hard,
motherly hugs. Again, Frances was surprised, but the look on her face had
now changed to puzzlement.
“Hi Alice. What are you doing here?”
“Your mother called me. She told me what happened and when I
finally figured out that you weren’t answering your phone, I decided to
come over. I know you’ve got to be very upset, but shutting out the rest
of the world isn’t going to make it go away. I hope you’re not upset with
me for coming over sweetie, but I was worried about you. And so are your
parents.”
“My mother called you?”

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“Yes. She called the hospital and they said you had called in sick. Then
she tried to call you here, but of course she couldn’t get through either.
She was worried Frances, and so am I. When your mother told me what
happened I was absolutely sick. I told your parents long ago that they
should have told you. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but then
maybe it would have.”
“You knew?” Frances questioned her in amazement.
“Yes Frances. I knew. And if the next question out of your mouth is
going to be, why didn’t I tell you, it’s because I promised your parents
that I wouldn’t. You know I always hold to my promises. Besides, it wasn’t
my place to tell you. If anyone told you, it should have come from your
parents. They made the decision not to tell you because they thought they
were protecting you. I’ve never agreed with them, but it simply wasn’t my
decision to make. I had to honor their request.”
“Alice, what am I going to do?”
“What do you mean, honey? There’s only one thing you can do. As
hard as it may be, you have to stop seeing this man. Anything less is
unacceptable in the eyes of God.”
“But Alice, I’ve fallen in love with James,” Frances sobbed.
“There, there dear. I didn’t say it would be easy. But I know you believe
in the Word, and the Word is clear. There are countless chapters of the
Bible that state unmistakably that it is a sin to sleep with your brother,
no matter what the circumstances. In the book of Leviticus, the Lord
Himself says not to approach any close relatives to have sexual relations. It
specifically says that you may not have sexual relations with your fathers
or mother’s children, whether they were born in the same house or not. It
calls the act a disgrace and a dishonor. I know this may not be easy for you
Frances, but I also know that you won’t deny your God.”
“Where was God when James came into my life? Why didn’t God let
me find out who James was before we fell in love?” Frances was trembling
with her grief.
“Frances, we don’t always understand God, but we must fear and obey
Him. As humans, we can’t always understand why God does what He does
because He hasn’t revealed everything to us. Our limited minds couldn’t
possibly grasp all of His work, and some information would simply be
unnecessary or unhelpful for us to know. But this I do understand; God
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intends for us to obey the commandments and laws He has given us. That’s
why you simply must stop seeing James.”
“It’s just not all that simple Alice.”
“Frances, have you been listening to me? It is exactly that simple. It
may not be the simplest thing you’ve ever done, but it still has to be done.
Right now, you’re confusing simple, with easy. Certainly, it won’t be the
easiest thing you’ve ever done, but as I said, the word of God is clear. It’s
that simple. God loves you Frances, He gives you guidance to live by because
He loves you. And although we may not always understand, or even like
what He tells us to do, we can’t question His authority. Right now, you’re
angry sweetie. But I know that deep down, you still believe He is our
loving Father.”
“I don’t know what I believe Alice. Except I believe this hurt will never
go away.”
“I know that’s how you feel now Frances, but it will go away in time.
I promise.”
Frances felt like a lost child. Alice held her for a long time, with neither
of them speaking. Then, Alice began to pray. She prayed that Frances
would find the strength to end the relationship and that the hurt Frances
was feeling would soon go away. She prayed that James would stay away
and not make it harder for Frances, and she prayed that through it all,
Frances would forgive her parents and that her faith would remain strong.
Frances felt exhausted. She had worried, cried, sobbed and trembled,
and her strength was zapped. After Alice left, she went back to bed.
She slept all through the night and got up only the next day to call in
sick again. It wasn’t a lie, she thought, because she really did feel sick.
Exhausted, frustrated, devastated, and most definitely, sick.

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rances was still sleeping at five-thirty the next evening. She awoke
once again to a pounding on her front door. That must be Alice
again, she thought. I wish she’d leave me alone. She decided not
to answer, but the pounding continued to get louder and faster. Alice
probably thinks I’ve done myself in, Frances thought, I’d better let her
know I’m okay.
She put on her robe and stumbled to the door. Even with all of the
sleep she had been getting, she still felt tired and sluggish. Without even
looking through the peephole, she swung the door open. When she saw
James standing there, her hand went to her throat and she immediately
began to cry.
Without hesitation, he took her in his arms and held her as tightly as
he could. He stroked her hair as she cried on his strong shoulder. When it
was apparent that she couldn’t stop crying, he picked her up and carried her
to the bedroom, gently lowered her onto the bed and sat down beside her.
“It’s gonna be alright honey,” he said softly. “We don’t have to do
what everybody thinks we should do. We’re adults. We can do whatever
we want.”
When she finally stopped crying, she looked into James’ eyes. Tears
still filled her own eyes and she was shaking as if it were freezing cold in
the room. “James, I don’t know what I want to do. Do you?” she asked
pleadingly.
“Yes, I do Frances. I don’t care what your parents, or maybe I should
say our parents, think. I want to continue to see you, I love you Frances.
I’ve never loved another woman like I love you. I don’t want to let anything
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take that away. It’s not like we set out to do this. We didn’t know. It’s not
our fault.”
“I know it’s not our fault James, but, you are my brother. My brother!
And we can try to justify it any way we want to, but it’s still not right.”
“So, you want to stop seeing each other?” he asked in disbelief.
“I don’t know, I really just don’t know.” She started crying again.
“Frances, honey, listen to me. Neither one of us had even a clue about
all this. We didn’t know. We met, we enjoyed each other’s company and
we fell in love. If we had known, we never would have allowed ourselves to
be together. But we didn’t know and we are together. We can’t turn back
now, can’t you see? What difference does it make now? We are in love. You
can’t just undo that.”
“James, you know how important I’ve told you that God is to me,
right?”
“Right,” James sighed, knowing what was coming next and not
wanting to hear it.
“Well, as much as I didn’t want to hear it from our mother, or from
Alice, I know that what they say is true. No matter how much we don’t
want this to be, the fact remains that we are biological brother and sister,
that will never change. And even though we haven’t slept together, if we
were to continue with a relationship, you know it would come to that point
sooner or later. The Bible is very clear, it’s a sin. There’s no other way to
look at it.”
“But honey, we don’t have to have children together. Did you hear
what I told Laila?” For some reason, he just couldn’t bring himself to
acknowledge Frances’ mother as his own.
“Yes, James, I heard you. But that’s not the point, it’s the act of having
sex that is the sin itself. It’s wrong, there’s no other way to interpret it. The
Bible is very clear.”
“Don’t make up your mind today honey, please, give it some time.
Right now, you’re just blown away by all that’s happened. It’s just too much
for you all at once. Please wait before you just throw away what we have.
Give it a few days, a few weeks, or however much time you need to really
think it over, don’t make up your mind right now.”
It suddenly seemed strange to Frances that while she argued the point
of ending the relationship with her mother and also with Alice, it seemed
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clear to her now that they were right, the relationship had to end. “Oh
James, I don’t think I’m jumping the gun here, I just-”
James cut her off by putting his finger to her lips. He couldn’t bear to
hear her say it again. He was sure that after she had some time to really
give it some thought, she’d change her mind.
“Well, I can see that I’ve interrupted your rest, so I’ll go now. I won’t
come around bothering you, but please, turn your phone back on. I tried
calling you early this morning and couldn’t get through. Maybe you could
even give me a call tomorrow to let me know that you’re okay, I was really
worried about you honey. I came right over after work. When you get the
rest you need, you’ll be able to think a little clearer about all this. I know
you’ll come to the right decision. I’ll let myself out. You go back to sleep.
I love you Frances, remember that.”
He kissed her softly on the forehead and left. Frances laid her head on
her pillow and started to cry again. It amazed her that she had any tears
left.
It’s odd, she thought to herself, that until James had come over, she
wasn’t really sure how she wanted to handle this. But as she spoke with
him, it seemed that her subconscious took over and her true feelings made
themselves known. She knew what had to be done. She didn’t like it, but
she knew what she had to do.

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T

he next few days were a blur to Frances. She went through the
motions at work but her heart and her mind were not in it. She
was so withdrawn and lethargic, everyone believed she was sick,
especially since she had called in sick for four days in a row. She had never
done that before.
On Friday, she decided that she couldn’t possibly work the weekend
shift. The ER was always more hectic on the weekends and she just didn’t
have the energy to put into it. She needed some more time to rest and to
think about what she would do and how she would go about it. Having
the weekend off would give her the time she needed to do those things.
The bad news was that she had to talk to Dale if she wanted more time off.
When her break came, she went into the break room and sat at a table
with her head in her hands. The last thing she wanted right now was a
confrontation with Dale. Unfortunately, it usually ended up that way when
she spoke to him about anything. She was thinking about how she would
approach him and what she would say when the break room door flew open
and in he walked. He had that superior look on his face that Frances hated,
and the minute she saw him, she knew there would be trouble.
“Well, well. Is Nurse Cane not feeling good this afternoon? Has she
had a rough week? Or perhaps she’s had a rough night? What is it nursie?”
he said with an evil laugh.
“Look Dale, I really am not feeling well and I don’t feel like a boxing
match with you right now. What I do want to tell you is that I’ll need the
weekend off. I’ve got to get some rest so that I’ll feel better.”

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Completely ignoring what she said, Dale skipped to another topic of
conversation, one that he knew he could use to taunt her with.
“I saw you at the park last week with your little boyfriend. The two of
you looked so cute, holding hands and giggling, you couldn’t take your
eyes off of each other. That is just so sweet, but maybe, just maybe, that’s
the problem. Maybe you couldn’t keep your hands off each other either.
Could this illness be more than just a little flu? Could this be, dare I say
it, morning sickness?”
Just hearing what he said would have infuriated Frances at any other
time, but she didn’t even have the energy to get angry. Besides, she didn’t
want to give him the satisfaction of thinking he had unnerved her. She
raised her head and looked him square in the eye, “Dale, you’ll have to
find someone else to work for me this weekend. I can’t do it. I’ll take care
of myself so I can work a full week next week. I’ll work seven straight days
if I have to but this weekend I need to be off.”
“Poor Frances,” he said mockingly. “Of course you can have this
weekend off to take care of yourself. You’ll need at least a day or so to
recuperate after you get rid of the, um, mistake. Oops! Did I say that out
loud? I hope I didn’t hit a nerve!”
He is such a jerk, Frances thought. But she was just too exhausted to
take the bait. Without another word, she got up and left the break room.
She heard his laughter behind her and was thinking that he must be the
most evil person she knew.
When she got back to the ER, she was given a chart and pointed in
the direction of a man who had been brought in because he had fallen. A
neighbor had found him unconscious and called 911.
He was bruised and had numerous cuts in various places on his body,
the worst of which was a large gash on the side of his head that would need
to be stitched. She took his vitals and determined that although he was
shaken up, his wounds were not life threatening.
She cleaned his abrasions and then sat down beside him. Although
she could not detect the smell of alcohol on his breath, he had the classic
signs of an alcoholic. He stated his age as forty-eight, but he looked like
a man in his sixties. His skin had a faint grey, yellow color, which was
likely the onset of cirrhosis. His nose was red with broken veins and he
was pencil-thin. Most veteran alcoholics ate very little. They typically did
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this so the alcohol they consumed would give them a better buzz, and
sometimes because they couldn’t afford to buy food and alcohol; so they
opted for the booze.
As she began to question him about his accident, he seemed disoriented,
incoherent and occasionally slapped at his neck as though knocking off a
nonexistent something he apparently thought was crawling there.
“Mr. Troxell, can you tell me what happened?” she asked with as much
sympathy as she could muster.
“I don’t know,” he said very slowly. “I was in my apartment and the
next thing I knew I was here.”
“Has this ever happened before?”
“Yeah, it happened a couple of times.”
“When was the last time you had something to eat?”
“I, I don’t remember. I think I had some toast this morning. Or maybe
it was yesterday. I’m not sure.”
“Had you been drinking today Mr. Troxell?”
“No, I, I haven’t had anything to drink for a couple of days.”
“How often do you usually drink, Mr. Troxell? Every day?”
“Most every day I guess. But sometimes I don’t.”
So, that was it. Not only has he not eaten, but also his body is reacting
to alcohol withdrawal.
“Are you on any medication?”
“No.”
“Are you diabetic or do you have a history of high blood pressure?”
“I don’t think so…” his voice trailed off and he slapped at the side of
his neck again.
“What’s wrong with your neck Mr. Troxell?”
“Bugs. They’re pretty bad this time of year. You’d think a hospital
wouldn’t have ‘em, but they’re everywhere.”
Frances smiled at him and began to prep him to have his head stitched.
She stayed with him while he had his head sewn up and then sat beside
him again to talk further.
“Do you live alone Mr. Troxell?”
“Yes.”
“Well, here’s the deal. I’m guessing that you blacked out because of
alcohol withdrawal and lack of food. Do you think that’s a possibility?”
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“Could be. You know, I haven’t had any money for a couple of days.
My disability check is due soon though, so if I can just make it til then,
I’ll be alright.”
“We can give you something to make you feel better, but the hospital
doesn’t want to release you unless you have someone with you. Is there
anyone who could come to stay with you for a few days?”
He sat, pensively for a few moments, then shook his head.
“How about somebody you can stay with for a few days, just until
you’re feeling better. Can you think of someone?”
“I have a daughter. She lives on the other side of town. I think she’ll let
me stay with her as long as it’s only for a few days. But probably no longer
than that.” He dropped his eyes, as if he was wondering if she really would
let him stay with her.
“Alright. Give me her name and phone number and I’ll give her a call.”
“Her name is Nancy DeHaven, but I don’t remember her phone
number, I think it’s in the phone book though.”
“Good enough. You rest while I see if I can get in touch with her. I’ve
ordered something for you to eat. Try to get as much of it down as you
can. I’ll be right back.”
There was a Robert and Nancy DeHaven in the book. Frances figured
that was probably the woman she was looking for. She dialed the number
and got a busy signal. Several tries later, the phone rang and was answered
by a woman in a very low voice. It almost sounded like she had just
awakened.
“Hello, is this Nancy DeHaven?” Frances said in the cheeriest voice
she could rally.
“Yes,” was the curt reply.
“And is your father named Robert Troxell?”
“What’s he done now?” The woman’s voice was already full of anger,
obviously, she had received calls about her father before.
“This is Nurse Cane from the Faith Memorial Hospital. Your father
had a fall and sustained some minor injuries. No need to worry, he’s going
to be alright, but he’ll need a place to stay for a few days and someone to
look after him until he’s feeling better.”
“Well you’ve called the wrong number lady. I’ve had all I’m gonna
take of that drunk.”
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Frances was irritated at the lack of compassion and respect the woman
had for her father, but she kept her cool in hopes of talking the woman
into changing her mind.
“It would only be for a few days, and-”
“I wouldn’t let him stay here for a few minutes! You tell him to call one
of his drinking buddies, they see more of him than I do anyway. The only
time he comes around here is when he needs money to buy more booze.
I’ve had it with him! He’s not welcomed here!”
Upon hearing a click from the other end of the line, Frances hung up.
She rubbed her forehead and shut her eyes tightly. Then, she went to tell
Mr. Troxell the bad news.
When he saw her coming, he managed a vague smile. “Did she say she
was coming?” he asked.
“I’m sorry Mr. Troxell, she said she couldn’t manage it just now. Are
you sure there’s nobody else I can call?”
His face dropped. “No. I guess she didn’t want to be bothered with me.
Can’t say that I blame her, I’m nothing but trouble you know.”
“Tell you what. I know it’s no fun to stay in the hospital, but I think a
day or two here might be just what you need anyway. We’ll give you some
medicine to help you feel better and get a few good nourishing meals in
you, and then you’ll be able to go home and take care of yourself. How
about that?”
“Guess I don’t have much choice, do I?”
“Not really. It’ll be alright. You can rest up, and we’ll take care of those
stitches. And maybe you can talk to a counselor, you know, someone who
can give you some advice on how to take care of yourself a little better. I’ll
go make the arrangements. Why don’t you take a little nap?”
Frances smiled at him sympathetically, pulled the sheet up to his chest,
and patted him on the shoulder. As she left, he swatted at the imaginary
bug on his neck again. Just as she closed the curtain around the gurney,
she saw a single tear roll down his cheek.
How could his daughter be so insolent, she thought. Alcoholism is a
disease for goodness sake. It’s not a condition the poor man had chosen.
Maybe he’d never win parent of the year, but he was her father after all.
As that thought crossed her mind, she thought of her own parents. Since
the incident, she had neither called them nor had she answered the phone
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when they called her. She knew she would forgive them eventually, she
had to. Right now, she was just so angry. But she refused to act like Nancy
DeHaven.
She made a mental note to call her parents after she came home from
church the following Sunday. Maybe after she had been to God’s house,
and had prayed about the situation a few more times, she’d be ready. But
forgiving them wasn’t the only thing she had to do. She had to confess that
they were right, and that the only way to handle the situation was to stop
seeing James. That would be more difficult than the forgiving.
At the end of the day, she stopped by to see Mr. Troxell before she left.
He was sleeping. She stood at the end of his bed for a few minutes watching
him. She felt deeply sorry for him, not just because of the alcoholism, but
because of his daughter’s refusal to have anything to do with him. She
said a silent prayer for his recuperation and for his rehabilitation from
the disease. She also prayed that his daughter’s heart would soften for her
father. She said amen out loud, and left.
The minute she walked in the door of the condo, the phone was
ringing. She walked over to it and stood, trying to decide whether she
wanted to answer it or not. She really didn’t feel like talking to any of the
people who might be calling her, but feeling guilty about worrying her
family and friends, she reluctantly picked up the receiver and said hello.
“Girlfriend!” came the voice of Brandy on the other end. “Where you
been?”
“It’s Friday evening,” Frances answered somewhat tersely. “I’ve been
at work.”
“Well get on your partyin’ clothes woman, because we’re going out on
the town! I ran into some friends of mine earlier in the week, so I took the
night off and we’re all going clubin’! I want you to go too.”
Brandy did not yet know what had happened with James, and Frances
didn’t feel like going into it with her. She didn’t feel like partying with
Brandy and her wild friends either. Although, there was a part of her that
thought she would probably benefit from letting her hair down a little.
Besides, saying no to Brandy would just mean a battle of wills between
the two of them until Frances gave in anyway.
“Alright. Where are we going and what time should I be there?”

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“Alright? That’s it?” said the bewildered Brandy. “No fight? No, ‘I just
got off work and I’m too tired’ or anything? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine Brandy. I’ve just had a tough week and in all honesty, a
little fun wouldn’t hurt me a bit. Besides, it’ll be a good distraction.” The
minute she said it, she wished she hadn’t. She knew Brandy would question
her about why she needed a distraction, and she just didn’t feel like reliving
the entire ordeal by discussing it with her, but there was no taking it back.
“What’s going on Franny? Somethin’ happen? Talk to me.”
“Never mind Brandy. It’s not important. Just tell me where to be and
what time.”
“Nine o’clock at the Leather ‘n’ Lace.”
“Leather and Lace!” Frances said in an astonished voice. “Why there?
That’s in a rough neighborhood, isn’t it?”
“Well, we’re kind of a rough crowd,” Brandy laughed. “And we picked
that place because there’s a good band playin’ tonight.”
“What’s the name of the band?” Frances asked, almost afraid to hear
the answer.
“Revulsion. You’ll love em,” she laughed again.
“I doubt it. But I’m sure there’s no talking you into going somewhere
else.”
“You know it babe. We’ll see you there at nine. If you get there before
I do, have a couple of drinks and loosen up a little. Me and my buddies
won’t have any of that schoolmarm, withdrawn, shy, timid crap tonight.
We’re all gonna party and have a good time. And you better show up girl!”
“Can’t wait,” Frances said somewhat facetiously.
“And listen missy, dress the part, will you? Go a little wild for a change!
I’ll see you later.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Frances answered as she hung up the phone.
Frances drew a bath and went to her wardrobe to pick out an
appropriate outfit. Now, what would be appropriate for a bar that caters
to punks, motorcycle gangs and hoodlums, she thought mockingly. She
spied a leather skirt in the back of the closet that she hadn’t worn for a
while because it was too tight. She wondered if it might fit, in light of the
fact that she hadn’t eaten much all week. And to her surprise and delight,
when she tried it on, it did fit. It was ever so slightly snug around the hips,
but that’s the way they wear them, isn’t it, she thought?
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She picked out a plain white tee shirt to go with the skirt and a blue
flannel shirt to wear over it. To accessorize, she chose a large pair of cheap,
hooped earrings, a chunky looking chain necklace someone had given
her that she would never wear anywhere else, half a dozen bangles for her
arms and black, high-top sneakers. She found a pair of sculptured, black
panty hose that had little roses on them. In a classier outfit, they would
add elegance, but in her present apparel, it added just the proper funk. The
amusing thing, she thought, is that even in this get-up, she would certainly
not stand out in the crowd, not in that bar.
After her bath, she decided that since funky was going to be the look
of the evening, she might as well go for it. Instead of styling her hair in the
usual, conservative fashion, she bent over, and flinging all her hair forward,
dried her hair with a blow dryer. When she stood up, her hair fell down
past her shoulders. Her normally curly hair was straight as a stick but still
had a lot of body and bounce. She had been thinking earlier that she was
way past due for a haircut. But it was just right for the look she was going
for tonight.
Beginning to apply her makeup, again she decided to depart from her
normal, conventional, toned down look. While seeking a tube of dark blue
eye shadow she had probably had for ten years or more, she found a tube
of glitter gel she had once used to enhance her makeup for a Halloween
costume years before. She smoothed the glitter on each eyelid and then
lightly on her face from the corners of her eyes to her ears in a triangle shape.
Then, she applied the blue eye shadow, heavier than she normally wore eye
shadow, but not too heavy. The glitter gel, under the blue shadow, gave it a
metallic appearance. She came up with some black eyeliner powder, with
which she would have normally used a wet eyeliner brush for its intended
purpose. But tonight, she put just a touch of the dry, black powder in the
creases of her eyelids and smeared it slightly up toward her brows. It gave
her a smoky, dark, almost ominous look. She used the same blusher and
lipstick she normally used, but put it on considerably heavier than normal.
She grabbed a loosely knitted, black wrap for warmth and threw it
around her shoulders. Her ensemble complete, she gazed at herself in
the mirror. It was a far cry from the mundane attire she was used to, but
she had to admit, she liked it. It made her feel exotic, and somewhat,
mischievous. Won’t Brandy be surprised, she thought in delight.
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Of course, then the thought occurred to her that she shouldn’t even
be going to a place like the “Leather ‘n’ Lace.” Look at the terrible thing
that had happened to Brandy when she had gone with her to Lucy’s party.
Maybe it was a higher authority, trying to tell her not to go to those kinds
of places. Once again, Frances was struggling with the little angel and the
little devil on her shoulders.
She looked up as if searching the heavens. I just want to get out a little,
she thought. I really need a little distraction. When the opportunity arises
to have a little fun, you either jump at it, or you leave it alone. It’s just a
bar, no better or no worse than any other bar. And while she knew there
were a lot of other places she could go to enjoy herself aside from a bar, she
knew that this time, she would not leave it alone. She would jump. The
little angel would simply have to look the other way tonight.
She waited until nine o’clock to leave for the evening. Brandy and her
gang would probably be late anyway, and she didn’t want to be the first one
to arrive and have to sit by herself until the others got there. When she got
to the bar, she drove around the block several times to get her courage up
to go in. Finally, she parked, took a deep breath and walked up to the door.
The bouncer, a grotesquely fat man, was sitting on a stool outside the
door. He had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. When she
approached, he looked her over like he would have liked to take a bite right
out of her. Any other time, she would have been insulted at his ogling her,
but tonight, for whatever reason, she took it as a complement. She flashed
her driver’s license at him, walked past without a word and set to the task
of finding Brandy.
As she entered, her senses were assaulted. The music was so loud, and
so ‘metal’ that she felt with every beat of the drum and every strum of
the guitar, as if someone was physically slapping her. The smoke was thick
enough to reach out and grab hold of, and her nose and lungs burned with
every breath until she finally became used to it. The room was very dark,
but had colored lights scattered about and of course, the obligatory strobe
light at the dance floor.
People were laughing, dancing, drinking and screaming. It seemed
like chaos to Frances, but obviously, to the regulars it was just par for the
course.

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As she walked slowly through the bar taking in the sights, she found
one particular corner to be louder and more chaotic than the rest of the
bar. She knew immediately she would probably find Brandy somewhere
near there, and she was right.
As Frances observed, Brandy was in the thick of that corner, dancing
with two men. She was rubbing up against each one of them in turn and
gyrating to the music. She was dressed in a very scant, brightly colored
bikini top with a matching sarong stretched tightly across her hips. The
sarong was so short, that when Brandy’s back was to her, Frances could
actually see her butt cheeks. She couldn’t help wonder if Brandy was cold,
it was autumn after all.
It was very apparent that Brandy was not wearing anything under
the sarong. She had a jewel in her belly button that shimmered when the
colored lights hit it and she was covered from head to toe in jewelry. Her
ears were pierced at least five times each and every hole bore an earring. She
was wearing rings on every finger and on each thumb. Several necklaces
in various lengths adorned her neck and both ankles displayed several
ankle bracelets on each one. An assortment of bangles went from her lower
forearm all the way up to her shoulder on each side. When she saw Frances
walking toward her, she stopped in amazement and squealed so loud you
could easily hear her above the blaring music.
“Look at you girl! What has gotten into you! You look fabulous!” She
ran to Frances and gave her a big hug and kissed her square on the lips,
which startled Frances. “I was all set for you to show up wearing your,
I’m-here-but-I-don’t-really-want-to-be outfit, and just look at you! Baby,
I’m proud of you!”
Brandy snapped her fingers at someone behind the bar and yelled, “Get
this woman a drink! She’ll have an Orange Blaster.”
“What’s that?” Frances asked.
“Don’t worry about it baby, you’ll love it. It’s kinda fruity, right up
your alley.”
And Frances did love it. She loved the first one, the second and even
the third. But as she finished the third and Brandy ordered her another,
she was feeling a bit woozy.
“What’s in these things Brandy?”

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“Hmmm… I think it’s orange vodka, lemon schnapps, and a drop of
ginger ale. Good, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they’re good. But really, I have to slow down on these a bit or
I won’t make it til midnight.”
“Oh don’t be a party pooper! Drink up girl. If you’re too drunk to
drive, one of us’ll drive you home.”
“Oh that’s comforting,” Frances said laughing and nodding toward
the others who were with them. It was clear from their actions that they
were already drunker than she was. She was thinking that if worse came
to worse, she’d call a cab before she’d get in a car driven by anyone at this
party. She picked up the drink Brandy had ordered for her and was about
to take a drink when suddenly, someone grabbed her arm, jerking her up
out of her seat. “Let’s dance baby,” said the man pulling her toward the
dance floor.
Since she didn’t really have a choice, Frances politely loosened his grip
from her arm and reluctantly followed him. She wasn’t really educated
about the kind of dancing done here, but as she watched the others around
her, she could see that there wasn’t much to it. Just shake your body to
the beat of the music and jump around she thought to herself. And that’s
what she did.
After a minute or two she was actually getting into it when she felt
a hand on her shoulder and heard a familiar voice say, “Could I cut in?”
She turned, thinking that it was one of the others who had come with
Brandy and was totally shocked to see Dale Green.
He was dancing and smiling at her with what she could only describe
as an evil look about him. He held a drink in his hand that sloshed over the
rim of the glass and spilled on the floor with his every movement. Frances
stopped dancing and just stood there, her eyes wide and her mouth open.
She didn’t know what to say at first, but remembering that she had
asked for the weekend off for recuperative purposes, she decided she’d
better say something to defend herself.
“Look, Dale, the reason I needed some time off is because I’ve had
some personal problems and I need some time to think. My friend asked
me to come here tonight and I really needed to let loose a little and-”
“Stop!” he said cutting her off in mid-sentence. “Let’s call a truce for
tonight Frances. You’re here for the same reason I am, to have a little fun
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and go a little wild. I don’t really care why you wanted the weekend off,
your reasons are your business. I must say though, I never would have
pegged you to be a patron of this establishment,” he said grinning.
“Alright,” Frances said hesitating. Calling a truce was better than a
confrontation, but she was skeptical of his sincerity. Was this a ploy to
catch her off guard? Was he just drunk? And once sober, would he not be
so understanding of finding her partying when she had asked for the time
off from work? In any case, she decided she would play along for now.
There was nothing else she could do.
She was glad to hear the music end and the lead singer announce that
the band was going to take a break. She thanked Dale for the dance and
went back to her table. She watched him as he stumbled to the other side of
the room where he plopped down in the only chair at a small table. He was
there alone. She kept an eye on him periodically throughout the rest of the
night and noted that he didn’t talk to a single soul. He would occasionally
make his way onto the dance floor and dance around the others, but he
never actually had a dance partner of his own. He would just dance around
from one pair or group to the next with his drink still in his hand, spilling
on the floor, on himself and on anyone else who happened to be too close.
There was a part of her that actually felt sorry for him.
At two o’clock in the morning, Brandy and her friends were still
going strong. A young man who was not a part of the original circle of
Brandy’s friends had managed to latch on to Brandy at some point in the
evening. Brandy was ordering him around, pushing him and treating him
in somewhat of an abusive manner, much to the amusement of her friends.
At one point, she commanded that he go get her a drink. He jumped to do
as she had ordered, even paying for the drink himself. When he returned
with the drink, she took one quick sip of it and then promptly poured most
of it down the front of her stomach and ordered him to lick it off, which
he did without question. Her friends laughed and guffawed throughout
the entire production. When she tired of this, she grabbed a hand full of
his purple hair and jerked his head away. She then promptly proceeded to
toss the rest of the drink he had fetched, right in his face. He never spoke
a word. Never taking his eyes off her, he just wiped it away, and smiled.
Probably, Frances thought, to hide his embarrassment.

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When Brandy then ordered her new-found flunky to fetch her
something to eat, Frances decided she had had enough fun and frivolity
for one night. As the young man hurried to retrieve what Brandy had
asked for, Frances gathered her wrap and her purse and rose up out of her
chair. But when she stood, she swayed and her head began to swim so she
sat back down.
“Where you goin’?” Brandy yelled at her.
“I’ve really had a great time Bran, but I’ve been up since five yesterday
morning and I think it’s time I call it a night.”
Laughing, Brandy said, “You don’t look like you’re in any shape to be
goin’ nowhere girl!”
Recalling her earlier plan, Frances responded with, “I know, I know,
but don’t worry about me. I’m going to call a cab. I’ll pick up my car
tomorrow.”
At this, Brandy and everyone at their table broke out into uproarious
laughter. Surprised and confused, Frances looked to Brandy for support.
“Girl, do you know what end of town you’re in? There ain’t no cabs
around here, and there ain’t no cabby gonna come here either. Besides,
you leave your car here and it’ll be a chassis in the mornin’.” Again, they
all roared with laughter.
“Well, anyway, I’ll take care of myself, and you do the same,” she said
looking at Brandy with that mother-hen look on her face.
“Don’t start on me girl! You take care of you and I’ll take care of me.”
At this, Frances nodded, gave a vague smile and made her way to the
exit. She had hoped that when the crisp air hit her she’d feel better, but
that was not the case. If anything, now that she was outside on her feet
without tables and chairs to hold onto, she was even wobblier than before.
She walked to the curb and leaned on a car, shaking her head. It was a short
drive, but her mind was so blurred by the alcohol that she didn’t think she
should even try it. And she certainly couldn’t walk home.
She was still there, trying to clear her head enough to think of what
to do when she realized someone was standing close to her. It was Dale.
“You okay nursie?” he said.
“Oh, Dale. Yes, I’m okay. I just need a few minutes out here in the air
to shake this off. I’m not used to drinking so much.”
“Are you going to be able to drive?” he sounded genuinely concerned.
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“Well, I probably shouldn’t, but I’ve been warned not to leave my car
here overnight. I’m trying to decide what to do.”
“Tell you what, I know the bouncer. He lives a few houses down the
street. If I ask him, he’ll let me park my car in his driveway. My car’ll be
safe there for the night. And then I can drive you home in your car. I’m
not exactly sober, but I do believe I’m more coherent than you. Unlike
you, I am used to drinking,” he said with a grin. “I don’t work tomorrow,
and I’m in this end of town often. I’ll simply have someone bring me back
tomorrow to get my car.”
Frances wasn’t wild about the idea, but she couldn’t think of an
alternative. She really was too inebriated to drive and Dale did seem fairly
clear-headed. So while Dale was getting the bouncer’s blessing to park in
his driveway for the night, Frances stumbled back to where she was parked
and dropped into the passenger’s seat.
Once his own car was parked, he climbed into the driver’s seat of
Frances’ car. She watched him as he started the car. He buckled his seat
belt and motioned for her to do the same. He turned on the defroster and
the fan for the heater, checked the mirrors and turned on the headlights.
He seemed sober enough, Frances thought, and to her relief, he drove very
cautiously and very skillfully to the parking lot of her condo.
He turned off the engine and opened his door to get out. At this point,
Frances decided she didn’t want to tempt fate. Although they had put their
differences aside for the evening, Dale wasn’t exactly a friend. She could
walk to her condo on her own, she thought, and although she was grateful,
she didn’t really want to feel obliged to invite him in for a nightcap or
whatever to thank him for bringing her home.
“Dale, I can make it to my door from here, thank you so much for
the ride. I’d be happy to call you a taxi to get you home tonight. My treat.
And likewise, I’ll pay for a taxi for you to get your car tomorrow if you
can’t make other arrangements. By the way, thank you for not giving me
a hard time tonight.” She had been thinking about that on the way home.
He really could have made a scene this evening. She was very thankful
that he hadn’t.
“Don’t be silly. I’ve brought you this far. I’ll just walk you to your door.
It’s three in the morning. You never know who might be lurking about.
We’ll call a taxi from your place and then I’ll be on my way.”
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Frances smiled a half-hearted smile. “Really Dale, I’m fine. The ride
home cleared my head a little. It’s just a short walk and this is a safe
neighborhood.”
He was out of the car and at her door before she knew it. He opened
the door and bowed at the waist, motioning for her to get out. “Come on.
The sooner you get to your door the sooner I can go home.”
Not wanting to press her luck and risk Dale having a mood change,
she stood and started to walk toward her building. They walked silently
up the one flight of stairs to her condo and stopped when they reached
her door. With Dale looking over her shoulder, she took her key from her
purse, unlocked the door and pushed it ajar.
She plastered a fake smile on her face and turned around to thank him
again and bid him goodnight. As she turned, she suddenly found Dale’s
arms around her and his lips on hers. Terrified, she struggled to push him
away. For some reason, he seemed to interpret this as a come on and smiled
as he pressed his lips to hers again and grabbed her tightly.
She managed to free herself from him and caught her breath. “Dale!”
she snapped in a shaky voice. “Get hold of yourself! It’s time for you to go!”
He sneered as he gave her a push through the partly opened door and
she fell backwards, sprawling out on the floor of her condo. She sat there,
wide-eyed for a moment, trying to assess what was happening. That was all
the time Dale Green needed to shut the door, throw the dead bolt, unzip
his pants, and fling himself on top of her.
She was screaming now. “Get off of me Dale! What do you think
you’re doing! I mean it, get off!”
He was still laughing as he responded with, “Lighten up Nurse Cane.
You know you want me to do this. I picked up on the signals you were
sending me, or is this part of the game? You pretend not to want it and I
pretend to take it anyway?”
“I’m not pretending! Get off me now!” The gloves were off. The
congeniality was gone. The truce was now officially called off as far as
Frances was concerned. She was frantic. How could she have let this
happen? She knew that Dale acting friendly and nonchalant about running
into her at the bar was just too good to be true.
With him still on her, she pulled to one side and drew her knee up.
Then she rolled over onto her back again and kicked him in the stomach
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with all her strength, tossing him away from her. He truly wasn’t expecting
that. In his convoluted mind, he actually believed that because she was
cordial to him earlier, she would accept his advances.
Stunned, he sat against the wall where he had landed. The expression
on his face had turned to anger. Holding his stomach, he unsteadily got to
his feet and started toward her. “You little tease!” he screamed.
At this, Frances jumped to her feet. The effects of the alcohol had
dissipated. She ran to the kitchen where she drew a large butcher knife
from a drawer. As she turned, Dale appeared in the doorway and seeing
her with the knife, stopped short.
“You teasing little witch!” he spewed. “Change your mind did you?”
“Dale, this was never on my mind.” Frances said, her voice still
trembling. “Now get out of here before I call the police!”
They both stood there for a moment, neither of them moving or
speaking. Finally, Dale backed out of the kitchen. When she heard the
door slam, she waited a short time before she dared to budge from the spot
where she seemed to be glued.
Hearing nothing from the other room, she slowly crept to the entrance
of the kitchen and peered out into the dimly lit condo. What if he hasn’t
really left, she thought? She spied the phone on the other side of the room.
With her remaining energy, she leapt over the couch, fell, and then on
hands and knees scurried to grab the phone from the table by the easy
chair. With the receiver in her hand, she turned around and surveyed the
room. He was gone. She sat there, motionless for what seemed like an
eternity until the mechanical clock on the end table startled her. As she
turned toward the sound of the chime, she noted that it was three-thirty.
She hurt all over, every muscle was tense. There was a particularly
sharp pain on her shoulder. She went into the bathroom and pulling her
shirt slightly off her shoulder, gazed at herself in the mirror. There was a
bite mark on her shoulder. The creep had bitten her! It wasn’t bleeding, but
it was a pretty nasty bite. Surely, it would leave a wicked bruise.
That jerk, she thought. He’s dug his own grave. She’d use this to get
him off her back and keep him off for good.

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rances slept past noon the next day. When she awoke, she had a
slight headache. Must’ve been the Orange Blasters, she thought.
She gulped down a couple of aspirin with some orange juice and
thought about what had happened with Dale the night before. She knew
just what she had to do.
She busied herself tidying up the condo and mentally planning the
rest of her weekend. There were several things on the agenda that had to
be done. First, she had to call her parents to let them know she was alright
and she had decided to stop seeing James. Then, she had to call James, to
let him know the decision she had made as well.
She wasn’t looking forward to making either call, but she knew they
had to be made. The sooner she got this over with, the sooner she could
try to put this chapter of her life to rest. She had some serious healing to
do, and decided to start with the call to her parents.
The phone rang several times before her mother picked up. “Hello,”
was the timid voice on the other end.
“Hello Mother.” Frances chewed her lip and tried not to pay attention
to her stomach which was now doing flip-flops. She wanted this to be over
with so badly, she hadn’t even started the conversation and already she
could not wait to hang up.
“Frances!” came the startled reply. “How are you honey? I’ve tried
calling you several times this week, I guess you were working.”
“I haven’t been answering my phone,” Frances decided to be honest. “I
needed some time to think things through and decide what I would do.”
“And have you? Decided, I mean.”
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“Yes. I know that I can’t pursue a relationship with James. No matter
how innocent it started out, now that we know what our true relationship
is, it would be wrong to continue.” Tears stung Frances’ eyes and now a
lump in her throat caused her voice to sound distorted. “I’m going to call
James today and tell him about my decision.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I know this is hard for you, but you’re making the
right decision. I’m so sorry this has happened, and I’m so sorry we never
told you. If there had been some way for me to know that not telling you
was going to cause you this pain, I’d have told you years ago. I love you
Frances.”
There was silence on the line for a few moments. Although she knew
her mother loved her, Frances wasn’t accustomed to hearing it said out
loud. It just wasn’t something Laila often said.
“I love you too Mom.” More silence. Then, “How’s Daddy?”
“Your father is fine dear. He’s been worried about you though, he’ll be
glad you called. Would you like to speak with him?”
“No, not right now, I’ll call back sometime next week when I’m feeling
better. I don’t really feel like chatting right now, I just wanted you to know
that I was alright and that I had made my decision. Now, I have to call
James and get this all behind me.”
“Okay Frances. I’ll say a prayer for you. I know how hard this will
be for you. After you talk to James, try to get some rest. And if there’s
anything you need, or if I can do anything for you, just call.”
Even though Frances was still angry with her parents for not telling
her about her brother, she could hear the concern in her mothers voice and
was touched by it. She had heard it the night that this whole horrible event
took place and here it was again. Could it be that this tragedy might bring
them closer together? Alice always said that every tragedy brings some good
with it. Could this be the good part? Only time would tell.
They said their good-byes and hung up. Now she would have to make
the most difficult call of all. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. Her
headache finally gone and her stomach now settled, she decided that a
glass of wine might help to calm her nerves a bit before making the call.
But she didn’t want to chance it on an empty stomach. She fixed herself
an English muffin with some jelly. When she had finished, she sat at her
dining room table and stared at the phone.
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Two hours later, she was still staring at the phone and had not made
the call. She went to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of wine, took it to
the easy chair beside the telephone, and sat, still staring at the phone. She
just had to get this over with. A few more sips of wine and she dialed his
number. He answered on the third ring. His voice was low and sounded
depressed. It took her a moment to speak after he answered.
“James, it’s Frances.”
“Frances!” His voice was immediately brighter. “Baby, how are you?
I’ve been worried sick about you. Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m feeling fine,” she lied. “We need to talk.”
“I know honey. I’ve missed you so much. I’d like to see you tonight if
you’re not too tired. I can be there in twenty minutes. Is that okay?”
“James, I, -” she stopped. She had to choose her words carefully. She
didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and yet, she didn’t know how to say this
without doing so.
“What is it baby? Are you sure you’re alright?”
“James,” she continued, ignoring his query. “Please listen to what I
have to say without interruption. This is as hard on me as it is on you but I
just have to say it. I love you, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to continue
seeing each other. This isn’t our fault, but the bottom line is, we simply
can’t continue with this relationship. I believe that to take it any further
would be even harder on us, because eventually, it would have to end. It
seems senseless to proceed with a relationship that has no chance.”
Her words cut him to the quick. He had believed all along that after
she thought it over, her love for him would convince her to persevere
through this troubled time. And that’s how James saw the situation. It was
just a stumbling block, something to be conquered so they could move
forward and be happy. In the back of his mind, it had occurred to him
that she might decide to end the relationship, but in his heart of hearts, he
really didn’t believe she would. And now, here she is saying just that. She
was trying to convince him that they had to end their relationship. He
simply could not believe what he was hearing.
“Frances, you can’t mean that!” his voice was pleading. “We didn’t
know! We fell in love! I love you Frances!”
Tears were quietly streaming down her face. She had expected
this of James. She knew he didn’t comprehend the significance of the
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circumstances in the same light that she did. Still, she thought he would
at least understand that they simply could not continue to pursue a
relationship now that they knew what they knew. This was going to be
tougher than she had anticipated.
“James, I know we fell in love and we didn’t know who we were to
each other. So up until now, we didn’t do anything wrong. But we can’t
pursue an incestuous relationship, that would be wrong, that would be a
sin. And I can’t justify it, there’s no way to look at the situation and defend
or validate us continuing on in this relationship.”
“I can’t believe this!” James was now yelling into the phone. “Frances,
we can’t help what has already happened! We fell in love! To stop now and
miss out on what could be a beautiful union, now that would be wrong!”
“I’m sorry James,” she cried openly. “I really do love you, but in my
heart, I know that moving forward with this would simply be wrong. And
I can’t knowingly do it, I just can’t. I think the best thing to do would be to
steer clear of one another – at least for a little while. Surely, we’ll see each
other sometime, I mean, now that you know who your biological parents
are, you’ll probably want to get to know them. And certainly, we’ll run
into each other from time to time.”
“I don’t want to run into you Frances! I want to have you with me,
always! I saw our relationship as one that would continue into marriage
and children and grandchildren!
And as for your parents, our parents, if you’re going to break off our
relationship, then I don’t want to see them either! It’s because of their lies
that this happened! If only they had told you the truth, then we would
have known that we were related and never fallen in love! So this is on
their heads! If I can’t have you to love, then, I don’t want them either!” He
slammed the receiver down and fell into a chair, weeping.
Frances was stunned. She had sensed that James would want them
to continue seeing each other, but she never thought he would become so
bitter when she refused him. She was trembling now and felt as though
she was about to throw up. The wine that had helped her to summon her
courage earlier had soured in her stomach. Her headache had returned and
the room was spinning. Her emotions were exploding within her. Then,
suddenly, everything went black.

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When she came to, it was dark. She opened her eyes and looking
around, came to realize that she was on the floor of her living room. She
laid still for a moment trying to get her bearings, and for an instant, she
couldn’t remember what had happened. When she sat up and caught a
glimpse of the telephone, immediately she recalled what had transpired.
She put her hand to her head. It was throbbing. She felt a large knot
just above her right eye. She must have passed out and hit her head on
something, she thought.
Slowly, she got to her feet, but feeling woozy again, she sat on the sofa.
Now what, she thought. When she finally felt like she could stand, she got
up and went to the bathroom. The little brass clock that sat on the vanity
said six o’clock. It was just after four when she had phoned James. Had she
been unconscious for almost two hours?
Looking in the mirror, she saw dried blood on her face. The knot on
her head was actually a cut, and a nasty looking one at that. She splashed
some cold water in her face, but that didn’t make her feel any better. She
sat on the side of the tub and the room began to spin again. Her stomach
was churning and the pain in her head was now excruciating. Her skin was
clammy and the room began to grow dim. Fearful that she would faint
and hurt herself again, she slid down onto the floor. Before she could get
the toilet lid up, she threw up. It wasn’t just nerves, or what was left over
from the Orange Blasters the night before. It didn’t take a Ph.D. to figure
out that she had a concussion.
She knew she should go to the hospital, but she couldn’t drive herself.
She tried to think of someone to call, but her thoughts were jumbled and
she couldn’t decide what to do. She was exhausted, but she knew that with
a possible concussion she shouldn’t allow herself to sleep. But she couldn’t
fight it, she wiped her face off with a towel and then crumpled it up to
make a pillow. Then without giving it any further thought, she lay down
on the bathroom floor and slipped into quiet slumber.

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soft beeping noise was annoying Frances. Was that the alarm
clock? No, it wasn’t loud enough. Whatever it was, Frances wanted
it to stop. She was so tired, she couldn’t quite muster the energy it
would take to open her eyes to see what was making that irritating sound.
Was she dreaming? What were all those strange noises? And that smell? It
was familiar, and yet she just couldn’t quite place it. Then, the noises faded,
the smell disappeared, and she drifted off again.
Laila Cane sat by her daughter’s bedside with tears in her eyes. They
were the same tears that had been there for two days since the emergency
room nurse from Faith Memorial Hospital called her. “Is this Frances
Cane’s mother?” the nurse had asked. “Your daughter has had an accident,”
she continued, matter-of-factly. “You need to come to the hospital.” The
words rang in Laila’s ears.
Laila’s husband Edward paced behind her. He too had tears in his
eyes. This past week had been nerve racking enough for the whole family.
And now this, his baby girl had been in a semi-conscious state for over
two days now.
Edward paced and Laila cried. Periodically, they both prayed. It was
Tuesday morning and they had been at the hospital since late Sunday
night. The nurses had been so kind to them. They brought in cots for them
to sleep on and clean towels and washcloths for them to use to freshen up.
Even though Frances, in her present state could not eat, the nurses brought
a food tray to the room at mealtimes, hoping that Edward and Laila would
have a bite to eat. But neither of them could eat much, they were so worried
about their daughter.
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After repeated attempts to get Frances to answer the phone failed,
James had gone to her condo. He had calmed down somewhat and wanted
to try again to convince her to change her mind about the breakup. When
he arrived, he saw her car in the parking area but noted that there were no
lights on inside the condo. At first, he thought she wasn’t answering the
phone or the door because she didn’t want to talk to him. But after loudly
banging on her door for more than fifteen minutes, he decided that she
would have answered the door even if just to tell him to be quiet or to go
away.
A neighbor who was passing by asked James if there was a problem.
Upon hearing that the young woman who lived there may be in trouble,
the neighbor called the condo superintendent who eventually came to
unlock the door.
Finding Frances unconscious on the bathroom floor, they called
for an ambulance. Frances had not fully regained consciousness since.
Occasionally, she would open her eyes and stare straight ahead, but she
didn’t speak or acknowledge anything or anyone.
It was particularly hard on her parents that Frances showed no
recognition of either one of them. As he paced, Edward’s mind traveled
back to a happier time when his precious daughter was a little girl. He was
remembering the Sunday morning excursions the two of them used to
make to the park. They would cook breakfast together on the grills by the
pavilions and then play on the swings, seesaws and the merry-go-round.
Looking now at Frances and allowing his memory to run wild, he
could visualize her as a child, running around squealing and laughing. Her
long, brown curls would dance all over the place as she ran. After breakfast,
she would always jump into his arms and give him a long, satisfying hug.
He would kiss all over her face and tickle her neck with his chin. She
would giggle, screech and squirm until he finally stopped, at which time
she would look at him and say in that little-girl, almost elfin-like voice,
“Daddy, I love you.” His heart would melt. Even now, just thinking about
it brought a lump to his throat. He could almost smell the fragrance of
his little girl’s hair as it would brush against his face. Her mother used to
wash it in lilac shampoo as she bathed Frances and got her ready to go to
the park with her daddy. Then Laila would lovingly pack up their picnic
basket and send them off.
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Laila never went with them on their excursions to the park, that was
their time together. Whether it was for a Sunday picnic in the springtime
or to go sledding down the long snow-covered hills that the park provided
in the winter, it was a time for just father and daughter to enjoy each other’s
company. With Edward being so busy running the farm, the two of them
had so little quality time that Laila didn’t want to intrude on their special
moments.
Edward stopped at his daughter’s bedside. He picked up her hand and
brought it to his lips. He gently kissed it and rubbed it over his face, just
wanting to feel the soft, warm skin that belonged to his daughter. Now
he recalled the many evenings after dinner that he would sit Frances on a
tall, yellow, metal stool that had been painted many times over the years.
He would sit facing her, on a kitchen chair while playing his guitar and
singing. After many years of his playing and singing the same songs time
after time, she knew all of the words and would sing along. Not only was
she a delightful audience, but she was also his biggest fan. When he finished
a song, she would clap, cheer and request another one. Although Edward
wasn’t aware of it, this was one of Frances’ favorite childhood memories.
Her parents sat quietly for hours, neither of them speaking. They
simply watched their daughter in her deep sleep and occasionally glanced
at the contraptions that monitored her blood pressure, heart rate and brain
wave activity. The only sound was that of the low drones and beeps made
by the machines.
Just after noon, a nurse appeared with a food tray. Without uttering a
word, she rolled the portable table between Edward and Laila and placed
the tray on top of it. They sat silently while she took the lid off of the plate
to reveal a turkey sandwich, applesauce, vegetable soup, a fruit cup, and
some milk.
The nurse took pleasure in looking after Frances’ parents. Not only
was she a caretaker by nature, but she was also a friend of Frances so she
felt even more inclined to give them special attention. She handed each
of them a napkin and taking the utensils out of their plastic bags, placed
them on the table. She walked to the window and opened the blinds just
enough to allow some of the warm sunlight to flood the room.
Before she left, she checked on Frances, fiddling with the monitors
and IV’s. Then, smiling at Edward and Laila, she simply said, “Please eat
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something. You both need to keep up your strength so you can take care
of Frances when she wakes up.” And then she left as quickly and silently
as she had come in.
The food didn’t even smell good to Edward and he certainly wasn’t
hungry. However, he was concerned over the fact that his wife had not
eaten for days. The two of them sat there staring at the food and at each
other until finally, he spoke.
“You really should eat something honey,” he said with genuine concern.
“I’m not hungry Edward. If anything, my stomach is queasy, I’m afraid
if I try to eat, I’ll get sick.”
“Could you just have some of the soup? That shouldn’t make you sick.
There’s nothin’ in it but broth with a few vegetables thrown in. You like
soup.” He was trying to act normal, even brave for Laila’s sake, but in his
heart, he understood exactly what she was saying. Not only was he not
hungry either, but he felt that if he attempted to eat anything, it would
surely stick in his throat. Nevertheless, he spooned up a bit of the soup and
held it to Laila’s mouth. She accepted it but shook her head and motioned
with her hand that she didn’t want any more.
“Really Edward, I don’t want anything. I’m not hungry I tell you. I
know you mean well, but please stop fretting over me. I won’t waste away
to nothing from not eating every meal.”
“But honey, you’ve hardly eaten since Saturday. And besides, I’m not
fretting over you, I just don’t want to see you get weak from not eating. I
couldn’t stand it if both my girls were to take ill. And it would be no good
at all if you were sick and weak when Frances starts getting better, she’s
going to need you to help her get well.”
“I appreciate you wanting to take care of me Edward, but trying to
force feed me isn’t going to make me any hungrier or make my stomach
any less queasy.”
“Still, it wouldn’t hurt to just try to get a little soup in you. Maybe your
stomach is queasy because it needs a little something on it.”
While bickering back and forth about the food, neither of them noticed
that Frances had opened her eyes and was silently watching them fuss at
one another. It wasn’t until she uttered a faint moan that her parents both
turned to her in surprise.

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“Frances, you’re awake! Edward, get a doctor, hurry!” At this, Edward
tore out of the room. Tears were streaming down Laila’s face, but her smile
was as wide as the Potomac River. “Oh Frances, we’ve been so worried
about you! We love you so much! Can you hear me honey?”
Frances was too weak to answer, but she managed a faint smile and
blinked her eyes to indicate that she could hear her mother.
After the doctors had tended to Frances, her nurse friend brought a
fresh food tray for her. The food from the first tray was virtually untouched,
but it had been sitting for too long to be consumed now. Besides, after not
having anything to eat for several days, Frances had to start out slow. The
tray contained some flavored gelatin, saltines, and chicken broth.
Edward and Laila competed to ready the food for their daughter, who
was now sitting in a reclining position in her bed. But when the wrappings
had been taken off all the food and it was ready to be eaten, it was Laila
who gently placed a napkin over Frances’ chest and fed her. Edward
mysteriously disappeared from the room.
She ate relatively little, but at least she ate. After a few bites, Frances
indicated that she didn’t want any more. Laila wiped her mouth, placed
the remaining food back on the tray and rolled the table out of the way.
Then she sat by her daughter and held both of her hands tightly in her own.
“How are you feeling honey?” Laila asked.
“Like I’ve been dropped out of an airplane without a parachute”
Frances answered in a whisper.
“Well, at least you still have your sense of humor. I am so glad that
you’re back with us Frances. You don’t know how frightened your father
and I were, having to watch you lay there day after day, not knowing when
or if you were going to wake up.”
“What do you mean, day after day? How long have I been here?”
“It’s Tuesday evening. We received the call on Sunday night. So I
guess it’s just been two days, but it seems longer. The hours have passed so
slowly and this waiting has been torture. But now you’re awake and can
start recuperating and your father and I will be right here to help you.”
Frances’ memory was fuzzy. She didn’t remember passing out, hitting
her head or even going into the bathroom. The last thing she remembered
was talking to James.
“Who called you?” she asked, trying to piece the picture together.
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“One of the nurses from the ER recognized you and called us right
away. Your father ran through two red lights getting here.”
“Who found me?”
Laila didn’t answer for a minute, but decided that Frances would find
out sooner or later anyway. “James found you. He had gone to your place
to talk to you. When you didn’t answer the door, the super let him in and
they called 911.”
“And how do you know all this?”
“He told me himself. He was here when we got to the hospital. In spite
of the situation, he cares about you. He stayed until we got here, then he
disappeared after he spoke to us briefly.”
Suddenly, Frances remembered the last thing James had said to her;
“If I can’t have you to love, then, I don’t want them either! “
“What else did he say?”
“He told us that you two had argued because you told him you had
decided to end the relationship. Frances, I don’t want you to worry about
all this right now. You’ve had a very serious concussion. The only thing
you should be thinking about is getting better. Sweetheart, these past few
days in the hospital have been very difficult for your father and me. When
I looked at you and was faced with even the slightest possibility that you
may never come out of it, my heart simply broke. Having ample time to
reflect while you were unconscious, I thought of all the years leading up to
now that I have wasted by not allowing myself to be close to you. I know
you’ve wanted to have a close mother-daughter relationship, and I have too.
But I’ve always held back. I felt guilty for having you and for being able
to enjoy you when I had given up my flesh and blood son to someone else.
I didn’t feel I deserved a close relationship with you. I suppose that I was
actually punishing myself for giving up my son. And now, I see how unfair
that was to you. It didn’t occur to me that while I was punishing myself I
was also punishing you. I’m so sorry Frances. Can you forgive me?”
Tears stung the eyes of both mother and daughter. Frances didn’t speak
for a minute or two. She was too busy thinking. She wasn’t thinking about
whether or not she would forgive her mother, because she already had, even
before she had been asked to do so. But thinking in amazement about
what her mother had just shared with her. Frances was bowled over by her
mother’s confession. This was the first time in her life that Frances ever
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recalled her mother allowing herself to be vulnerable by opening up and
sharing something this personal. This was a part of her mother that Frances
had never before been a part of, and she just knew it was the beginning of
a new and better relationship with her.
“I love you Mother, and it’s not necessary to ask my forgiveness. But
you do need to forgive yourself. I can see how you must have been in agony
all these years over having to give up your child, but there’s no need to beat
yourself up over it anymore. James has told me that he had a very good
childhood and loving parents. You and Daddy did the best you could do,
given the circumstances. No one can blame you for that. Now that this is
all out in the open, I hope we can put it behind us and start fresh.”
The two women embraced. Years and years of mystery and feelings
of resentment and frustration were washed away. They were mother and
daughter in the truest sense of the words.
Moments later, Edward appeared in the room again. He was carrying
containers of Chinese food. He should have been happy now that he had
his daughter back, but his face was as white as a ghost and his expression
was anything but happy. “I brought you some food Laila, but before you
eat, can I see you out in the hall?”
Both women looked at Edward in puzzlement. What could he
possibly have to say that had to be said in private? Laila was oblivious
to his demeanor. Still smiling, she rose and walked to the hallway with
her husband. But when they turned to face each other, she realized that
something was wrong.
“Edward, what is it?” she asked in alarm.
“It’s Brandy, Frances’ friend. One of the nurses caught me on my way
back in and told me they brought Brandy in on Saturday. She was beaten
up again and this time, she didn’t make it.”

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hen her parents returned to the room, Frances could see that
they were visibly shaken. After just moments before sharing
what could only be described as a momentous experience
with her mother, she was puzzled as to why Laila was not still glowing in
the aftermath. Puzzlement soon turned to concern, which then turned to
fear. As she watched them, her parents walked to opposite sides of the bed
and each took one of Frances’ hands in their own.
“Now what is it?” The fear was apparent in Frances’ voice. “What’s
wrong? Mother, Daddy, you’re scaring me!”
Laila looked at Edward, her eyes pleading. He understood at once that
she wanted him to tell her.
“Frances, honey…” her father began. “I don’t know how to tell you
this, but…”
He hemmed and hawed and stuttered until Frances thought she would
have to grab hold of him and pull the words out. If she had been stronger,
she might have done just that. Instead, she stared at him, her eyes wide
and begged him to just get it over with - tell her the awful news, whatever
it was.
“Frances, it’s about your friend Brandy?” He said it like a question.
Frances was getting more and more anxious.
“Yes, yes, what about Brandy?”
“Honey, they brought her in the other morning. Somebody had beaten
her up pretty bad.”
Before he could go on, Frances interrupted, “Oh no! I can’t believe it! I
told her it was going to happen again if she wasn’t more careful. You can’t
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tell her anything. She thinks she’s invincible. She thinks that no matter
what, she can handle the situation. Like last time, she was lucky then that
she wasn’t hurt worse than she was. So, how bad is she Daddy?”
Edward swallowed hard. Before he began to speak, he tightened his
grip around Frances’ hand. “Honey, she passed away.”
At first, there was silence. Frances stared at Edward as though he
had two heads. Then, she started to wail. The monitors that Frances was
still hooked up to started flashing and beeping. Immediately, two nurses
came running into the room. Gently pushing her parents out of the way,
they started comforting Frances while keeping an eye on the information
provided by the monitors.
They had known it was coming. All the nurses on this floor knew what
had happened and knew that Frances was Brandy’s best friend, and they
knew that sooner or later Frances would be told and that it would break her
heart. The doctor had left instructions that the information be withheld
from Frances for a day or two so as not to cause her stress. But the nurse
who had told Edward about Brandy had neglected to pass that on to him.
So now, Frances knew.
Laila and Edward stood by Frances’ bed while tears steadily fell from
her eyes. She had been given a sedative to calm her, but the shock of the
news of Brandy’s death kept her from falling asleep. She was drowsy, but
her father’s voice echoed in her head, “Honey, she passed away.” The words
were surreal. She couldn’t believe Brandy was gone, but it was so.
The doctor said a therapist would be available to talk to Frances if she
wanted to, after she had some rest. Laila and Edward were terrified that
the shock of Brandy’s death along with Frances’ already unstable condition
would send her back into her safe, dream world where she wouldn’t feel
the hurt. They stayed by her bed as she cried softly until finally, Frances
fell asleep.
Frances slept through the night. Edward and Laila slept fitfully, in
shifts. One slept, while the other simply sat by their daughter’s bed and
watched her. They kept an eye on the monitors. Neither of them really
knew what the monitors meant, but as long as there were no changes in
the bleeps or the wavy lines, they figured all was well.
The next two days were a haze to all concerned. Frances was kept
sedated so as not to cause her any more stress. Edward and Laila went
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home occasionally to shower and change clothes, but other than that, they
stayed at the hospital.
On Friday, Frances’ condition had stabilized. She was feeling better
physically, but mentally, she was frazzled. The events of the past week
were almost more than she could tolerate. Her parents had gone home to
freshen up and she was sitting in her hospital bed, staring into space. She
was trying to make sense of any of it when a nurse walked in. It was Daisy,
a friend of hers that she had worked with many times in the ER.
“Good morning!” Daisy said cheerfully.” It’s good to see you awake for
a change.” While she talked, Daisy checked the IV’s, took Frances’ blood
pressure, pulse, temperature and busied herself attempting to make her
comfortable. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Like I have a hangover,” Frances answered.
“Well, I don’t have to tell you that’s from the constant diet of sedatives
they’ve been feeding you. The doctor ordered them to back off, starting
today, so the cobwebs will soon clear out of your brain. The bump on your
forehead is looking better too. All in all, your stats look better than they
have in a couple of days. The overall prognosis is good and I’m sure you’ll
be up and about in no time.”
Daisy stopped with her duties and stood beside Frances. Her tone
changed to somewhat more serious. That must’ve been a nasty fall you
had Frances. Was it a fall?”
“What do you mean? I passed out. Isn’t that in my chart?”
“Yes, that’s what the chart says. But I was on duty when they brought
you into the ER and I couldn’t help but notice the mark on your right
shoulder. It’s almost disappeared now but when they brought you in it was
pretty vicious looking. I know the ER team noticed it, there was mention
of it on your chart. Somebody even jokingly hinted that it was the result
of, well let’s just say rough play with your boyfriend. You want to tell me
about it?”
Frances had completely forgotten about the bite and the scene with
Dale. When it all suddenly flooded back into her mind, her heart sank.
She had intended to stop by her doctor to have it treated, not so much
because of the severity of the wound, but because she wanted to have it
documented. That way, if Dale started to give her a hard time, she’d have
proof of his attack. She knew she’d have a difficult time proving that it was
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actually he who did it, but if the wound were documented, there’d at least
be enough circumstantial evidence to make him squirm.
“So, nobody really questioned how the bite got there?” Frances asked
in frustration.
“You know how it is Frances, it was noted in your chart, cleaned and
some antibacterial ointment put on it. But the attending doctor determined
that further treatment wasn’t necessary. Then, well you know how that
bunch is in the ER. The comment was made about the rough play, there
were a few snickers and we went on with treating the more serious wound.”
“Who made the comment?” Frances asked. “Who made the comment
about rough play?”
“I’m not sure, let me think.” Daisy pondered for just a moment and
then poked her finger in the air as if she’d had a sudden revelation. “Oh
yeah, it was Dale. He’s so crazy sometimes. I think-“
“Dale! Dale Green?” Frances cut her off.
“Yes, I think it was him who made the comment and everybody
snickered and he went on his way. He wasn’t actually supposed to be there
that night. I think he wandered in to check on you when he heard you had
been brought in. I think that’s sweet. He was just concerned. When he
found out your injuries weren’t life-threatening, he made that comment,
you know, probably to lighten the mood, and then he left.”
Concern my foot, Frances thought. She sat up in bed and gently
grabbed both of Daisy’s arms to get her full attention. “Daisy, this is very
important. When abuse cases are treated in the ER, it’s standard procedure
to photograph the injuries. Did anybody think to do that?”
“I’m not sure, but I can check.”
“Do that! Please,” Frances added.
“Okay, now settle down honey, you don’t want to get yourself all
worked up so that the doctor wants to medicate you again. What is the
story on that bite?”
“I’ll tell you after you check the files to see if it was documented. Can
you please go and do that now?” Frances pleaded.
“Sure. Tell you what. Lunch trays are coming up in about half an hour
and I’m due for a break. I’ll check the charts, grab my lunch and your tray
and we’ll talk. There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about anyway,
and this is as good a time as any.”
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“What?”
“Your friend, Brandy. I know you’ll want to know what happened to
her. I was also working when they brought her in. I recognized her right
away from the time she was here before, and I knew she was your friend.”
“Yes, Brandy. I do want to know. Please hurry Daisy.”
With that, Daisy was out of the room and about her business. It
seemed like forever to Frances before she returned, but finally, in she came.
Her arms were full with Frances’ lunch tray, a brown paper bag containing
her own lunch and a folder, which Frances immediately recognized as a
file from the ER.
“I didn’t have time to peruse your records and I wasn’t even sure what
you were looking for, so I brought the whole file with me. You know, I’m
in big trouble if anybody finds out I’ve brought this to you.”
“I know Daisy. Thank you for going out on a limb for me.”
As Daisy prepared their lunches, Frances could wait no longer. She
grabbed the file Daisy had laid on the tray and began to search through it.
In the back of the file were several forms on which were documented the
treatment of her head wound. There were also several pictures of Frances in
which she was obviously unconscious. Her shirt had been removed and a
sheet discreetly covered her. One picture was from about two feet away and
simply showed that there was a mark on her shoulder. The second picture
was a close up, clearly showing that the mark was a bite. She continued
to look through the file, searching for mention of the wound. Then, she
found what she was looking for. It was only a short paragraph, but it was
there. Buried within the narrative account of her more serious head injury,
the doctor on duty had very meticulously described the mark. It had been
measured, documented, and the description indicated that it appeared to
be a human bite. Dale had finally dug his own grave.
Frances was so elated that her appetite returned after being absent for
many days. She ate and actually laughed a few times when Daisy brought
her up to speed on the hospital gossip. It wasn’t until they had finished
their lunch that Daisy’s demeanor became serious again. Frances knew
immediately what the next topic for discussion would be. She braced herself
for the details and sat back to listen to Daisy’s account about Brandy.
Brandy’s already lifeless body had been brought into the emergency
room at about nine o’clock on the Saturday morning after they had all
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been partying at the Leather n’ Lace the night before. A housekeeper at a
local fleabag motel had found her when she had gone in to clean the room.
Brandy had been tortured. She was completely naked and her hands and
feet had been tied to the four corners of the bed. She had cigarette burns
all over her body. A rag had been stuffed into her mouth, which had a piece
of duct tape over it so that she couldn’t spit it out. She had been beaten
unmercifully, sexually molested and then strangled.
Brandy was pronounced dead on arrival and the police were called.
After forensics had photographed her and taken evidence samples, her
body was transported to the hospital so an autopsy could be performed.
The actual cause of death was deemed to be strangulation.
Frances wept quietly while Daisy described the horrific details of
the incident. Seeing that she was upset, Daisy stopped at one point, but
Frances motioned her on. She needed to know what had happened to her
friend. Suddenly a thought occurred to her, this had all happened a week
ago. Frances had obviously missed the funeral of the best friend she had.
She was heartsick.
“Did they catch whoever did it?” Frances asked hopefully.
“I don’t think so.”
“When I get out of here, the first thing I want to do is go put flowers
on Brandy’s grave.”
“Well, you’ll have to wait to do that,” Daisy said compassionately. “As
far as I know, she hasn’t been buried yet. Because of the police investigation
and the need to gather additional forensic evidence, the funeral was
temporarily put on hold. But I think it might be scheduled for tomorrow.”
“Then I’m out of here,” Frances said decidedly.
“Frances, I don’t think the doctor plans to release you for another day
or so.”
“Then I’ll just have to change the doctor’s mind, won’t I?”

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A

nd change the doctor’s mind she did. It took some pleading, some
promises and even a few threats to convince the doctor to release
her. The end result was that by the time her parents had returned
to the hospital early that evening, Frances was dressed and ready to leave.
One of the promises she had made was to go home with her parents
for at least a few days. That was not a problem, Frances knew her parents
would be happy to take care of her. And even though she didn’t relish the
thought of staying with them, albeit only for a day or two, she did what
she had to do to convince the doctor to let her go home. Besides, Frances
was still feeling a little weak, it might be a wise thing after all to have her
parents care for her for a few days.
The following day was indeed Brandy’s funeral. Frances, with her
parents in tow arrived at the funeral home more than an hour early. She
wanted to be alone with Brandy for just a few minutes to say her good-byes.
When they walked in, the smell, characteristic only of a funeral home,
hit Frances in the face. It was as though the acknowledgement of that
smell brought to reality the fact that Brandy was actually dead. Frances
began to shake and weep. Immediately, both of her parents were at her
side, comforting her.
“Honey, are you sure this is such a good idea? I hate to see you so
upset.” Laila’s voice was filled with genuine concern. Since their talk in
the hospital only days before, they had grown even closer. It was the first
time in her life that Frances felt this close to her mother.

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“I have to mother, I’ll try not to get too upset, but I have to do this.
She was my best friend. And mother, I have to go in alone, I’ll be alright.
You and Daddy wait out here and I’ll call you if I need you.”
With that, she opened the door to the parlor and walked into the room
where Brandy’s body lay. She moved slowly, looking around the room as
she walked. There were a few flower arrangements by the casket and a
beautiful arrangement of roses on the casket itself. As she approached,
she saw the card on the roses. It said, In Loving Memory of Our Daughter.
When she read that, she burst into tears once more.
“Oh Brandy,” Frances sobbed. “Why? Why? Why couldn’t you listen
to me? Why did you have to do everything to extreme? Why? Don’t you
worry, we’ll get whoever did this and they will pay! I promise you that
Brandy. They will pay!”
Her parents heard her sobs from outside the door. Laila started to
enter the room but Edward put his hand on her shoulder. “Leave her alone
honey, she’ll be alright. This is something she has to do. She needs closure.”
It was killing Laila to hear her daughter sobbing. Knowing that her
daughter was in pain hurt Laila to the core. Instinctively, she wanted to
take away her pain and make everything alright. But she couldn’t. The
frustration was almost more than she could stand. She too started to cry.
Edward, with tears in his eyes, silently held her and stroked her hair.
Twenty minutes later, Frances emerged. Her eyes were red and
swollen. A steady stream of tears cascaded quietly down her face. The
three embraced.
The funeral was short. Brandy hadn’t darkened the doors of a church
in years so it wasn’t as though the family preacher could be called upon
to extol her virtues. She was a wild child that didn’t have any use for
the church or for God. She lived her life on the edge. She did whatever
pleased her and whatever felt good at the time. A list of heroic acts and
selfless deeds that she had accomplished during her lifetime was virtually
nonexistent. She was ornery. She was brazen and she was brash. But she
was a good and loyal friend. She was Brandy.
Frances knew the true Brandy. She knew that she had a heart of pure
gold. It was Brandy who had come to her rescue many times when her
own life was in turmoil. It was Brandy who held her hand and spoke
uncharacteristically soft and compassionately while Frances cried over a
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wrecked romance or a bad situation that she was experiencing. Frances
knew that deep down, under that seemingly harsh and self-centered
character, was a heart that cared. And now she was gone.
At the advice of her doctor, Frances took the next few days off work,
but decided to go back to work on Wednesday. If it proved to be too much
for her, she would leave early or perhaps take Thursday off if she had to.
Perhaps working part time, or every other day would be best for a while.
She had been at her parent’s house long enough.
They had taken good care of her and although she appreciated it, she
needed her own space. She wasn’t yet scheduled to return to work, but a
simple phone call would put her on the roster. She knew how busy it was
at the ER and that she would be welcomed if not needed when she was
ready and able to return. She didn’t want to spend another day crying and
worrying. She needed a distraction and it might as well be something she
loved.
When she arrived at the ER on Wednesday morning, everyone looked
at her sympathetically. They all knew about what she had been through,
and thus, she was treated with kid gloves all day. She was given the easiest
patients to deal with and everyone kept telling her to take a break, which
she did often. She was actually glad to have it easy. Usually, it was so hectic
and tense in the ER that it drained her energy. And since she didn’t have
a lot of energy to begin with, she’d have never made it through a normal,
frenzied day.
After lunch, Frances wondered why she hadn’t seen Dale all day. She
knew he was on duty because she had seen his name on the schedule.
Although she was tired, and didn’t really feel like participating in a full
scale, all-out war, she was actually looking forward to her next meeting
with Dale. For once, she felt like she had the upper hand.
At mid-afternoon, she went to the break room to sit for a few minutes
and have an orange juice. As she entered, she saw that the room was empty,
except for Dale who was sitting, slumped in a chair in the corner with his
head propped up on his fist and his legs sprawled out in front of him. He
looked fatigued. His face was ashen like he might have been just getting
over an illness. He had big, dark circles under his eyes and the wrinkles
in his face were more pronounced than usual. His usually neat uniform
looked like he had slept in it and there was some kind of stain on his shirt.
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This was all out of character for Dale. Frances wondered whether he had
actually been sick, or if perhaps he had been out partying a little too hard.
Whatever the reason for his weariness, it didn’t matter to her. Actually, it
would probably work to her advantage. If he wasn’t quite up to snuff, there
was a better chance she could get to him. After all, how many times had
he taken advantage of her when she wasn’t feeling up to par?
Without looking at him, Frances went to the refrigerator to get herself
a drink. She snapped the cap off of her orange juice and took a long drink.
She still averted her eyes from him as she put the cap back on and headed
in his direction. When she came up to his table, she finally sought his eyes
with hers. The fact that he looked so bad brought a smile to her face. This
was going to be fun she thought.
“Nurse Green not feeling well today?” she asked in a singsong voice.
“That’s too bad. Can I get you anything? Perhaps you’d like a beer? Or
maybe some raw eggs? Or, how does a tuna sandwich sound to you?”
Although Dale did his best not to react, she could see that just the mention
of food made him a little green around the gills. He must have one doozy
of a hangover. She was having fun already!
“Get away from me Cane.” Dale said while turning in the opposite
direction.
Ignoring his request, Frances stepped closer. “Oh my goodness! I can
see we’re in a bad mood. Pity too. Because what I’m about to tell you isn’t
exactly going to make your day.”
His expression was one of anguish as he remained turned away. He
really did feel awful, and although Frances had no way of knowing it,
her guess was correct. Dale had been drinking heavily the night before.
And the night before that and the night before that. He had actually
been drinking every night for well over a week – sometimes at bars and
sometimes alone in his apartment - and it was really taking its toll on him.
“Do you want something or are you just here to aggravate me?” Dale
hissed.
“Oh, Nurse Green, I’m going to do more than just aggravate you. I’m
finally going to get you off my back - for good.”
This peaked Dale’s interest. Although he didn’t move, he rolled his
eyes toward her, squinting wickedly. Most of the time, he enjoyed a good
clash with her, as long as he was in control and getting the better of her.
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But what she had just said to him, in that self-confident tone, gave him
cause to worry, ever so slightly.
For a split second, Dale’s evil expression gave Frances a start. But that
passed quickly. She was on a mission. And this mission was going to be a
successful one, for her.
“I can see your ears are perked and ready, so let’s get started. You
know a week or so ago when you so kindly offered me a ride home from
the Leather ‘n’ Lace so you could attempt to rape me?” At this point, Dale
opened his mouth as if he were about to say something, but was quickly put
in his place. “Just shut up and listen Dale,” Frances said forcefully. “Well,
unfortunately for me, I fell the next day and hit my head and had to be
brought to the hospital. Of course, you knew about that. But even more
unfortunately for you, the doctor in charge at the ER that night noticed
the bite mark you had put on my right shoulder. And even though you
slithered by like a snake and tried to throw them a red herring, the doctor
documented the bite, photographed it and reported that in his opinion, it
was a human bite.”
She paused for a moment to assess any reaction that she might get
from Dale. She noted that his gaze was fixed on her and she could see the
rage in his eyes. For a moment he didn’t speak, but then a crooked smile
crossed his lips and he sneered at her.
“So the file says someone bit you. So what? It could have been one of
your many lovers, as I suggested to the ER staff that night. Besides, files
get lost, information is misplaced. It happens.” Pleased with himself he
planted a smug look on his face.
“I anticipated that the file with the information and the pictures
might mysteriously disappear. So naturally, having access to the files, I
made copies of everything and had it all placed in a security box. As you
said, the bite mark could have come from someone else. But what if there’s
something else you’ve forgotten about? Something you left behind at my
condo; something that will point to you and only you.” She specifically
said “what if” so as not to lie. All she had to do was plant a seed of doubt,
which she had done. Now it was she who wore a smug look.
The look of self-satisfaction had disappeared from Dale’s face now.
Actually, he looked a little nervous. It took all the strength he could muster
not to jump up and ask what she was talking about, but he had to remain
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unflustered, cool. He had to pretend that he didn’t care. Frances could tell
that he wanted to know what she was talking about. She could see that
he wanted to ask her so badly he could taste it, but he showed remarkable
restraint.
I’m thinking that from now on, you’ll want to stay out of my
way and off my back! We both have to work here, but it’s a big ER,
I’m sure you can manage to stay far away from me and not cause
me any trouble whatsoever. Because if you do…” she trailed off.
“Well, let’s just say that you don’t want to give me a reason to go to your
supervisor, or to the police with the information and the evidence I have.”
Point, game, and match, she thought as she turned and simply walked out
of the room.
Her little victory with Dale made her perk up after that. When she
left the hospital to go home, she felt much better than she had earlier. It
really did her heart good to know that for once she had the upper hand
with Dale, and this was something she could hold over his head forever.
Dale had actually left nothing behind at her condo that she could use to
point the finger at him, but he didn’t know that. He was drunk, so he
couldn’t possibly know whether or not he had left anything behind. Just
the possibility of that was all she needed, just that little bit of doubt that
she had now planted in his mind. She would always have this bargaining
chip, and a big chip it was.
She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she almost didn’t notice the
young woman leaning against her car, smoking a cigarette. When she did
finally notice, she stopped in her tracks. The woman hadn’t noticed her
coming so Frances took the opportunity to study her for a moment. She
was a very small person. Short, as well as very slim. She had short, bleached
blonde hair that looked as dry as straw and stuck out in every direction as
though it hadn’t been combed in a long time. Her bright red lips caught
the sunlight and almost looked as though the lips themselves were giving
off light. She had a mole or maybe a beauty mark on the side of her chin,
which Frances thought wasn’t real. And she wore dark, wire-rimmed
sunglasses. She looked so familiar. Where had Frances seen her before?
As she continued her approach, the woman finally spotted Frances.
She smiled slightly, revealing a front tooth, which was outlined in gold. It

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was then that Frances’ memory was jarred. She remembered her from the
Leather ‘n’ Lace. She was one of Brandy’s friends.
“Hello, you’re Mae aren’t you?” Frances said, suddenly remembering
the girl’s name.
“Yeah.” The girl said in a very quiet voice. “And you’re Franny, right?”
Frances laughed. The only person on the earth who had ever called her
that was Brandy. “Yes, I am. What can I do for you?”
“I was hoping we could talk,” she said anxiously. “Do you have a few
minutes? And a place where we could talk? You know, in private?”
Frances looked pensively at the girl, wondering what she could want to
talk to her about. “Are you walking, or do you have a car?” Frances asked.
“I’m walking.”
“Well, if you want to hop in my car, I can give you a ride to, wherever,
and we can talk on the way. But you’ll have to put your cigarette out before
you get in.”
The girl nodded, took one last long drag on her cigarette, tossed it to
the ground and crushed it with her sneaker. Frances unlocked the car and
they both got in. Neither spoke until they were well out of the hospital
parking lot. Then, Mae opened up.
“You know, the police came to talk to all of us who were there that
night. Did they talk to you?”
She didn’t have to tell Frances what night she was talking about or
who ‘all of us’ was. She knew that Mae was talking about the group with
Brandy the night she was killed.
“No. I haven’t spoken with the police yet. Why? Is there something I
should know?”
“Just that the guy, you know, the one she threw the drink on was
the one that left with her. You had already gone, so I figured you didn’t
know. Brandy and me, we came out right after you left. We got outside
just in time to see your car pass by. Brandy said you were headin’ home
and you’d be alright. I remembered Brandy sayin’ that you worked at the
hospital. And I remembered your car, cause of the bumper sticker on the
back. So I thought I’d just come by and tell you what we knew, what we
told the police.”

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Frances had all but forgotten about the bumper sticker on her car that
read, “Have you hugged your Nurse today.” She thought it odd that this
girl even remembered it.
“So, what did you tell the police?”
“We just told ‘em about how Brandy was messin’ with him all night.
And how when the bar closed, we all went our separate ways and Brandy
was still with him when we left.”
“Does anybody know who he is?”
“The police do. They picked him up to question him. Of course, he
said he has an alibi, but he did it.”
“Do you know that, I mean, for sure?”
“Who else would’ve done it? I mean, he was hangin’ around her all
night and she was treatin’ him like dirt. I don’t know why she liked doin’
that, it wasn’t the first time. She’d done it before to that same guy, and even
to others. He had to be embarrassed at some of the stuff she did. She made
him look like a fool. People were laughin’ at him and snickering. Although
that didn’t mean he had to kill her. I don’t know why he came back for
more. Unless maybe he came back to get revenge, that’s what I figured.
He was probably mad that she did that stuff to him and then didn’t even
sleep with him. She liked to play with him, at the bar I mean. But she told
me she didn’t want to have sex with him because she thought he was too
young. She said she didn’t feel like breakin’ him in.”
“And you told all this to the police?”
“Yeah.”
“And they picked him up for questioning, you’re sure?”
“Uh huh.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me? Anything that you haven’t
already told me?”
“Nope. That’s it. I just figured you’d want to know. I know she was
your best friend and all. Besides, the cops’ll probably be around to question
you too.”
Frances hadn’t even thought of that. She wondered now why the police
hadn’t already contacted her. Perhaps she’d go to them.
“This is my apartment house,” the young girl said, pointing to a
rundown complex. “Thanks for the ride.”

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“You’re welcome. Look, I’m going to write down my phone number
for you. If you think of anything else, or if you hear anything else, will
you give me a call?”
“Sure.”
As fate would have it, when Frances returned to her condo, the phone
was already ringing. It was the police, and indeed, they did want to talk
with her. And she was anxious to talk to them. She wanted to do whatever
it would take to find Brandy’s killer and lock him up, so she agreed to meet
with them on Saturday morning.
The next day was Thanksgiving and Frances was going to her parents’
house for dinner. She asked her mother what she could bring but her
mother had insisted that she take it easy. Her mother loved to cook and
would make a fuss with every dish she made. And besides, Frances really
was tired, she’d take a pass this time. She knew there’d be plenty to eat
without her bringing anything.
When she arrived at her parents’ house, Frances sat in the car for a
few minutes before going in. What she really wanted to do was to go back
to her condo, put on her pajamas and curl up with a good book or watch
a movie. But she knew that to miss Thanksgiving dinner would hurt her
parents’ feelings, so she took a deep breath and opened the car door.
She rang the bell and started to open the door to go in, but it was
locked. Why her parents always locked the doors up tight when they were
home, she just could not understand. But that was what they always did.
Her father opened the door with a big grin on his face. “Hi honey! I’m so
glad you came.” He gave her a big hug, and then putting his arm around
her shoulder, guided her into the house.
The house smelled wonderful. It was a combination of the turkey,
the stuffing and the spices that Frances presumed were in the pumpkin
pies. There were also candles everywhere and the house was decorated to
perfection. Frances noticed that her mother had put a family picture in a
new frame, decorated it with fall flowers and put it on the fireplace hearth.
Her mother was quite a woman. Everything in the house screamed family
and love.
Her father wouldn’t even let Frances help to set the table or bring the
food to it. He and Laila did everything and then called her to come eat.
They all sat down and Laila took Edward and Frances’ hands in her own.
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“Before I ask the blessing, I just wanted to say what I am thankful for.
First of all, I am thankful for my Lord and savior who gives me blessings
every day of my life. I am also thankful for my wonderful husband and
my amazing daughter. I’m grateful for our good health, our comfortable
home and for good friends. And Frances, I am extremely grateful that you
and I have started a new, closer relationship. You don’t know how much it
means to me.” Laila had tears in her eyes as she squeezed Frances’ hand.
She then asked the blessing and they began to eat their dinner.
There was never a lot of talking at her parents’ table. Regardless of
who was dining with them, they were generally quiet except maybe to say,
“Please pass the turkey,” or to make some comment about the meal. So
while they ate in relative silence, Frances was also thinking of the things
she was thankful for.
She too was thankful for the new connection she had made with her
mother. In fact, she was thankful for both of her parents. Despite the fact
that they hadn’t told her about having a brother and she had to go through
all that whoop-de-do, they really were good parents and she loved them
whole-heartedly. Frances had made a conscious decision to simply be
thankful for the time she had with James and also with Brandy, instead of
dwelling on the unfortunate circumstances that had taken each of them
away from her.
She was thankful for Alice, who had been an absolute rock in these
past weeks. She talked to Frances and helped her to make the decisions
she had made regarding James and Brandy. She prayed with Frances and
helped her to see that regardless of what she and James had been through,
Frances had gained from the experience. After all, it was because of the
relationship with James that her mother was forced to tell the truth. And
because of that truth, she and her mother had become closer. And while
she missed Brandy terribly, she was ever so thankful that she had been
blessed with so many years as her friend.
She was also very thankful for her job. Despite having to work with
Dale, she enjoyed what she did and believed she was a good nurse and
helped to save lives. Yes, she had more blessing than she had disasters.
After dinner, Frances insisted that she be allowed to help in the
cleanup. She told her daddy to go on into the living room and watch the
football games that she knew were on, and she started picking up the dirty
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dishes and taking them to the kitchen. As she and her mother stacked the
dishes in the dishwasher and put the leftovers away, Frances was watching
her mother and thinking that it was a shame that it took a crisis to bring
them closer together. But at least they were closer.
After everything was cleaned up, Frances took her mother’s hand and
lead her into the living room where her father was intently watching the
ball game. She told her mother it would be alright if she wanted to get her
sewing out and work on it. But Laila said she’d rather just talk to Frances,
and talk they did.
They discussed the trunk her dad had finished for her, the hospital and
many, many past events that either brought smiles to their faces or tears
to their eyes. Both of them purposely stayed away from discussing James
or Brandy. They each just wanted this to be a pleasant and memorable
Thanksgiving, and it was. When Frances looked at the clock it was after
eight. She knew she had to drive home, get her things together for work
the next day and try to get a few good hours of rest. So she got to her feet
and turned to address her parents.
“Mom, Dad, this has really been a great Thanksgiving. Even with the
distressing events of these past few weeks looming in the background,
I feel so much love from both of you that I know I’ll hold this in my
memory bank and think of it often.” Her parents came to her and the
three embraced.
“I’ll call you sometime this week Mom. Thanks for the lovely dinner,
I won’t be able to eat for a week!” Frances smiled at both of them and then
left.
The next day at work was typical. There were so many people there
with so many ailments. Frances was still feeling a bit weak, but she did her
best and took breaks whenever she could. When she got home, she made
a light dinner, had a glass of wine and went straight to bed. She was tired
and wanted to get some rest so she would be sharp for the next day when
she went to the police station. She fell into a very deep sleep and didn’t
wake until the alarm screamed at her the next morning.
When she arrived at the police station, she was treated very kindly.
Those involved with the case knew she was Brandy’s best friend and
that she herself had recently been hospitalized for a head injury, so they
treated her gingerly. She was offered coffee, water, tea, a snack to eat and
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a comfortable chair. After getting seated, she was made to wait for about
fifteen minutes until the detective in charge of the case appeared.
Frances watched him as he shuffled papers on the desk and checked
his voice mail before speaking to her. He was clean cut with short, light
colored hair and dark eyes. Very conservative looking she thought. He was
dressed in stylish gray pants with a black belt and of course, the prerequisite
white shirt and tie. He had a gun holster over his shoulder, but she noticed
it held no gun. He busied himself for a minute or two, smiling at her
politely when they accidentally made eye contact, then finally, he spoke to
her in a gentle, controlled voice.
“Hello, Miss, Cane I believe?”
“Yes. Frances Cane. I’m here about Brandy Delaughter’s-” She was
about to say murder, but the word just wouldn’t come out of her mouth.
“I know Miss Cane. I’m Detective Wilkerson, please call me John. I
know this is hard for you Miss Cane, so I’ll try to make this as easy on
you as possible.”
“I appreciate that. And please, call me Frances.”
“Alright then Frances, what can you tell me about that night?”
Frances told the detective all she knew about the night her friend
was murdered. She tried to remember as many details as possible, but
she explained in embarrassment that she had had quite a few drinks that
night herself.
“Do you normally drink heavily when you go out Miss, uh, Frances?”
“Actually, I don’t normally go out. That night was one of the few times
I decided to go when Brandy called, but the answer to your question is
no, I don’t usually drink much at all. I had been battling some, personal
issues and just needed a little distraction that night. When Brandy called,
I decided to go out and let my hair down a little. Actually, I’m glad I did.
I’m glad I got to see her one last time.” Tears stung Frances’ eyes and she
fought to regain control.
He offered her a tissue, and then asked, “Do you know how often Miss
Delaughter frequented that particular night club?”
“Not really, but I do know that when she went out she tended to go
to the seedy, more dangerous places. That was what she liked. It was just
the way she was.”

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“I see. Have you ever seen her before with the young man you said she
was toying with that night?”
“No. But like I told you, I really didn’t go out with her that much.
She’d call me up every so often and ask me to go with her, but for the most
part, I usually wormed my way out of it.”
“So you didn’t approve of her lifestyle?”
“It wasn’t for me to approve or disapprove. Brandy was an adult. She
lived her life the way she wanted. I loved her for who she was. That doesn’t
mean I had to approve of her actions. But I didn’t judge her. She was a
good person, despite her untamed nature. And she didn’t deserve to die.”
“Are you sure I can’t get you something to drink? I know this is
difficult. I only have a few more questions.”
“No, thank you, I’ll be fine. I want to help. I want to do anything and
everything I can to see that this sicko is caught.”
“I appreciate that Frances and I’ll try to wrap this up quickly. You said
you left before she did. Then you didn’t see her with anyone else, other
than the group of friends that you were with?”
“And the young boy I mentioned before.”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
“No. I had never seen him before that night and haven’t seen him
since. I wouldn’t even be able to come up with his name. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. Is there anyone else you saw her talking to, or dancing
with? Anyone else at all?”
Frances frowned, trying to think. She pictured that night in her head.
She could see Brandy dancing and shrieking and the young boy she played
with, heeding to her beaconed call. She didn’t remember anyone else even
talking to Brandy, other than the group they were with and that young
boy. “No. I’m sorry. I don’t recall seeing her with anyone else.”
“Did you notice anyone else paying attention to her? Maybe not
actually talking to her or interacting with her in any way, but possibly
watching her?”
Frances managed a little laugh. “Detective, when Brandy was out
on the town, everybody watched her. You couldn’t help yourself, she was
always the main attraction wherever she went. As I said, it was just the
way she was. But I didn’t notice anyone else paying more than the usual
amount of attention to her if that’s what you mean.”
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“And this, group she was with, the ones you were with. Are these the
people she always parties with?
“Not necessarily. She went out with different people all the time.
Brandy was well liked by the partying crowd. This just happened to be the
gang she was with that night. I did recognize one or two of them as people
I had seen her with before, but not all of them. And I’d be hard-pressed to
come up with their names.”
“Do you know most of her friends?”
“I wouldn’t say most of them, but some of them.”
“Did you ever meet, or hear her talk about hanging out with an older
man? Say, in his mid to late forties?”
Frances thought for a minute. “No. That wasn’t her type. She didn’t
like them too young or too old. She tended to hang around with people in
their twenties or early thirties. Why do you ask?”
“I’m just trying to cover all my bases.”
“But you are asking about someone specific, are you not? I mean, why
ask about a man in his mid-forties, if you weren’t asking about a particular
man? Am I right? Is there the possibility of her being with someone else
that night?”
“Miss Cane, Frances, I really can’t tell you everything we know. But I
can tell you that more than one person saw her talking to a man who was
not a part of your group.”
“You mean a man who was at the club?”
“Really Frances, I can’t tell you any more. We have several leads, but
if the information gets out, it may put us at a disadvantage. We don’t want
to put anyone on alert, if you know what I mean.”
“I understand. It’s just that she was the best friend I had in this world
and I want to know if you think you’re close to catching whoever did that
to her.”
“I appreciate your concern as well as your need to know, but I hope
you can respect my position as well. It’s not that I think you’re going to go
blabbing everything to everyone you see, but if I allowed certain details to
get out and they got to the wrong person, it could compromise our case.
Do you understand?”
“Yes. But when you can, will you share information with me?”
“I will when I can,” he smiled.
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Chapter 24

T

he following Tuesday was the 2nd of December and she had another
appointment right after work to talk to Detective Wilkerson. He
had called to ask her if she could possibly take the time to stop
in once again. He promised to “catch her up” on the progress of Brandy’s
case, but he also had some more questions he wanted to ask her.
As she waited in John Wilkerson’s office, she went over the events at
the Leather n’ Lace again in her mind. She tried desperately to think of
something, anything she might have forgotten to tell him before. As she
replayed the evening over and over again, she could not think of a single
detail she had left out. She wondered what questions he wanted to ask her.
Just then, the door gently opened and John walked in. He smiled at
Frances and shuffled papers around much like he had the first time she
met with him. He was a nice looking man; very clean-cut and of medium
build. His short, sandy blonde hair complemented his dark blue eyes. For
some reason, Frances hadn’t really noticed that he was such an attractive
man when she previously spoke with him. Perhaps that was because she
was so focused on talking to him about Brandy.
“Hi Frances. Thank you for coming by again. I know this might seem
like a pain, but I just want to go over your statements again about the
people who might have had contact with Brandy that night.”
“No problem, I want to do anything I can to help you catch this guy.
What in particular do you want to hear about?”
“Well, I was hoping, now that you’ve had some time to think about it,
that you might have remembered a detail or maybe some other person you
hadn’t thought of before, even if it seems unimportant to you. Sometimes,
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it’s the tiniest detail that links other pieces of the puzzle together and
makes sense of what otherwise didn’t.”
“You know John, I have been trying to think in just that way. I’ve
continually repeated the entire night over and over in my mind and I just
can’t come up with anything I haven’t already told you. I wish I could.
Believe me, nobody wants to find this creep more than I do.”
“I know, I know. But let’s concentrate again on the people at the bar.
I know you told me that you left before she did and that you didn’t notice
anybody paying an unusual amount of attention to her. So what I’d like
you to do is to reflect on anyone who was at the bar that night. Anyone
you can remember, whether they seemed significant or not. Anyone other
than the group you were with and the young boy you were telling me about
before. Did you talk to anyone else that night? Did anyone buy you a drink,
or did you buy anyone else a drink? I know there was a band playing. Did
you dance? Can you remember anyone on the dance floor? I want you to
tell me about anyone at all, even if they seemed insignificant.”
“As a matter of fact, I remember several people I saw at the bar
that night. Mostly because of their unusual attire,” she said somewhat
mockingly. “But I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about them other
than what they looked like.”
“That’s alright. Let’s start with that. Pick one, and give me as many
details as you can remember. Then move on to the next one.”
For the next hour or so, Frances recounted every person she remembered
at the bar. She closed her eyes now and then to picture each one in her
mind. She was actually surprised about how many details she came up
with. Some things she hadn’t really given much thought to until now.
When she was just about to say she couldn’t think of anyone else, she
remembered Dale. But he left with her and he didn’t have a car, so he
couldn’t have been with Brandy later that night. Oh well, she thought. He
said he wanted to hear about everyone, whether she thought them to be
significant or not, so she told him about seeing Dale.
“And you know this man?” Detective Wilkerson questioned.
“Unfortunately, yes. He’s actually my boss. We’re generally not on
good terms, but he was in a particularly generous mood that night and
gave me a ride home. You know, since I was a little under the weather,” she
said somewhat embarrassed.
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“So then he wasn’t drinking?”
“Oh yeah, he was, but he’s more used to it than I am. And he seemed
clear-headed enough, better than I was anyway. I paid particular attention
to him once he was in the car. He seemed to be fine, and really, he drove
fine too.” Then she thought of what happened with Dale when they got
to her condo and wondered whether or not she should tell John about the
incident. She decided that it was far too embarrassing and certainly not
relevant to Brandy’s murder. It was just one more agonizing memory she
didn’t want to dredge up, so after giving him a brief description of Dale,
she left it at that.
It seemed to Frances that Detective Wilkerson might have a suspect
in mind other than the young boy that everyone seemed to be pointing
the finger at. It was almost as though he was trying to trigger a memory of
someone else, without actually planting a specific notion of someone in her
head. It was as though he believed that if he questioned her enough, she’d
remember someone else who had been there that night. Was there someone
else she saw but just didn’t remember? Could there have been a person or
a detail that would help to break the case? What could she do that would
make her remember? If only she could go back to that night. If only she
could be there again, knowing what she knew now and specifically looking
around for the culprit, memorizing everyone she saw and committing to
memory every little detail.
These thoughts haunted Frances. She wanted so much to help Detective
Wilkerson with the case. She wanted so much to find the person that did
that to her best friend. But what could she do, she wondered? Then it came
to her, she couldn’t go back to that night, but she could go back to that
bar. Maybe she would see something or someone that would prompt her
to remember an important detail about that night. The thought of going
back to that bar scared her. Not only would she be out of place, but she
would also be alone. And the thought of revisiting the last place she had
seen Brandy alive made the hair on the back of her neck bristle. But she
had to do it, for Brandy.

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H

er next day off was Saturday. She had already decided that no
matter how tired she was, she would return to the Leather ‘n’
Lace on Friday night. She was extremely nervous about going.
As she dressed, she unconsciously chewed on her bottom lip, so much so,
that by the time she was ready to leave, her lip was sore. She had already
decided she wasn’t going to drink any alcohol and wondered how she
would do this in a bar without looking out of place. She decided she’d deal
with that when the time came.
Frances wore the exact same outfit she had worn the last time she went
to the Leather ‘n’ Lace. She wanted to recreate the circumstances of that
night as best she could, hoping that something would jog her memory and
help her to think of something significant. Besides, the outfit was funky
enough to fit in without drawing undue attention, and she certainly didn’t
want any attention drawn to her.
She decided to leave her condo at nine o’clock exactly. The same time
she had left to go that night when she was meeting Brandy. Although she
wasn’t really familiar with bars, she figured that the same people tend to
patronize them on the same nights. She also figured that they would tend
to show up and to leave within the same general timeframes. She would
stay until two o’clock – if she could stand it, and she would drink in every
detail she could while comparing this evening with that horrible evening
all those weeks ago.
She was lucky enough to find a parking place relatively close to the
bar. She had a small purse with some money, her keys and a small note
pad and pen in it. If she remembered anything at all that she wanted to
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tell Detective Wilkerson, she would write it down this time, even if she
had to go into a bathroom stall for privacy so she wouldn’t look suspicious.
As she walked by the bouncer, she remembered him as being the same
one that she saw there before. As she approached the entrance, he gave her
the once-over without speaking, just as he had the first time she was there.
She was certain that he didn’t remember her, not that it mattered.
She walked into the same smoke-filled room, to the same blaring music
and the same dimly-lit bar that she remembered from being there that one
time. And as before, people were dancing, laughing, and having what they
considered to be a good time. Since she wasn’t meeting anyone this time,
she eyed a small table for two along the wall and decided to make it hers.
Before she did, she walked to the bar. She had to have a drink in her hand
or she’d look out of place.
“What’s your pleasure honey?” the bartender crooned, as he too gave
her the once-over and smiled approvingly.
Resting her elbows on the bar and motioning for him to come closer,
she whispered, “I think I’m gonna start out with something soft. The night
is still young and I don’t want to get wasted too early.” She smiled back at
him and tried her best to give him what she considered to be a sexy look.
It’s probably best to make a friend of the bartender, she thought.
“I know just what you need,” he replied. He grabbed a large glass,
filled it with ice and proceeded to fill it more than three quarters up with
what looked like juice of some sort. Then, winking, he splashed a small
amount of some other liquid in it and topped it off with an orange slice
and a cherry. Then, leaning over to her, he whispered, “There’s just a tad
of grenadine in it to sweeten it up. It’ll get you ready for whatever you
drink later on.”
She thanked him, paid him and then turned to set her sights on the
table that she had spied earlier. As she settled into her chair, her back
against the wall, she gazed around the room, desperately searching for
a familiar face. After a few minutes, she became conscious of the fact
that what she was really searching for was the attire worn by the people
she saw when she was there before. Unfortunately, it was the outfits that
she remembered most, not the faces. The only way she might remember
someone who was there that night would be if they were wearing the same,

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or at least very similar get up. Having had this revelation, she became
flustered. What was she doing here?
Suddenly, she became very uncomfortable and felt very out of place.
It seemed as though everyone was looking at her. As her paranoia began
to overtake her, she decided she had to get out of there, but just as she was
collecting herself to go, she saw him. The young boy that was with Brandy
that night came sauntering into the bar.
He wasn’t wearing the same clothing. Actually, like that night, he
had very little clothing on at all. He was adorned only by a pair of leather
bikini-style pants and a pair of leather chaps. And although that wasn’t
what he had been wearing that night, it was unmistakably the same young
boy. He did, after all, have the same purple hair. No mistaking that.
Frances stopped in her tracks. She settled back down into her chair and
tried to watch him as nonchalantly as possible. He seemed to be having
a good time. He was on the dance floor with another man who was also
dressed in very little. They were bumping, grinding, and feeling all over
each other as though there were nobody else in the room. Was he gay?
Bisexual? What is his game, she wondered?
When the dance was over, the two men walked to a nearby table and
sat together. Frances kept her eyes on them as much as she could without
staring, but she also continued to scan the room for anyone or anything
else that might jar a memory.
But nothing or nobody did, and as the night wore on, the leather-clad
young man and his friend did nothing that she thought noteworthy. This
was pointless, she thought. Several times during the evening, she had been
asked to dance and she declined of course. But sitting here by herself all
evening, nursing the same drink and not dancing was bound to make
anyone who noticed a little curious. It was only midnight, but Frances
decided it was time to go. If anyone were going to darken the doors of this
establishment, surely they’d be here by now. She was through with this
exercise in futility.
She took the last sip of her drink, which by now was nothing more
than melted ice cubes, and stood to leave. When she got to the door, she
turned to scrutinize the room one last time. It was then that she saw Dale
and he was looking right at her. She gasped, with her hand at her throat,
turned and rushed out.
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She practically ran to her car. Thank goodness it wasn’t far. With her
keys already in her hand, she unlocked the door, jumped in and put the
key in the ignition. She burned rubber pulling out, not that the screeching
of tires would be noticed in this neighborhood. With the music blaring,
there was a good possibility that no one even heard it.
As she drove, she thought about Dale. She wondered if this was one of
his regular hangouts. He did tell her that he was in this end of town often.
She wondered how long he had been there. Had he seen her earlier? Or did
he see her for the first time when their eyes met as she was leaving? She
was just grateful that he hadn’t followed her, or if he had, he wasn’t able
to catch up with her. For a moment, she wondered if he would be able to
remember something from the night Brandy was killed that might be of
help. She wondered if the police had questioned him. She made a mental
note to ask Detective Wilkerson if he had.
The next few days were carbon copies of one another. Frances went
to church on Sunday. She worked every day the following week. She even
pulled a double shift on Wednesday when an accident involving a bus
brought a sudden drove of people to the ER just as she was about to leave.
When she arrived home on Thursday, she was tired from the double
shift the day before. She had taken a long, relaxing bath and had just sat
down on the edge of her bed to retire for the night when the phone rang.
She considered not answering it, but her curiosity won out and she picked
it up. As she did, she chastised herself for not yet getting an answering
machine!
The voice on the other end was unquestionably James. She remained
silent as he rambled on about how much he loved her. He was slurring
his words and several times used somewhat colorful language. He had
obviously been drinking, and he had been drinking a lot.
“James, I don’t appreciate you calling me up and talking like this,” she
said when he finally stopped for a breath.
“You don’t appreciate it? You don’t appreciate it? Well ain’t that just too
bad! You know what I don’t appreciate? I don’t appreciate you throwing
me away like I was a pair of old shoes!”
“I’m going to hang up James. Please don’t call me again. This upsets
me too. It wasn’t an easy decision. But I just felt like God-”

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“GOD!” he cut her off. “You just felt like God would want it that way,
right? Well let me tell you something! You can keep that God of yours! He’s
no God of mine! Any God that would bring two people together just to
break their hearts and rip them apart is no God that I want any part of!”
“James, please don’t talk like that. You’re just upset. Actually, it sounds
like you’re just drunk. I know you’re hurt too, but you can’t blame God.”
“Oh can’t I? That’s exactly who I blame! We found each other and we
loved each other! And I know you were tryin’ to pull me into the fold,
Frances. Tryin’ to get me to love your God the way you do, but it’ll never
happen. I think it was a pretty dirty trick of God to let us get together. He
knew who we were to each other! Then He let our feelings grow for each
other, and just when we really started to click, just when I was ready to
give up my heart, he slaps us on the hands and says, No! You two can’t be
together! It would be a sin!”
Frances was crying. She knew there was no use in arguing with him
in his present state of mind. She hung up the phone and left a desperate
James alone. With only his booze and his hatred to keep him company.
Frances worked through the following weekend. On Monday, her day
off, she stopped by the police station hoping to see Detective Wilkerson
again. When she told him she had gone to the Leather ‘n’ Lace to see
if anything would jog her memory, John, who was normally calm and
unruffled, suddenly turned anxious.
“Frances, you shouldn’t have gone there alone. You said yourself that
it wasn’t your type of hangout. At least before, you had people around you
that you knew. That’s a rough place. Please, leave the detective work to
me. That’s my job, not yours.” Then, seeing the wounded look on her face
he added, “I don’t mean to upset you, but that place could be dangerous.
You could get hurt – or worse. I mean, look what happened to Brandy.
And from what I’ve heard of her, she was a tough cookie.”
“I know,” she said sheepishly. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was
just hoping that maybe I’d remember something that might help. I don’t
want this guy to go unpunished for what he did to Brandy.”
“Neither do I Frances. And I know your motives were good, but
placing yourself in danger isn’t going to help Brandy. Please promise me
that you won’t go back there.”

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“I promise,” she answered in a soft voice. It was not lost on Frances
that the detective seemed very protective of her. She wondered if he was
like that with everyone or if it was just her. She tucked that little bit of
information away in the back of her mind.
“Thank you,” he said in a lowered voice. “But since you already went,
did you see anything or remember something that you think could be
relevant?”
“Not really. The young boy with the purple hair was there. He was
with a man this time, but they seemed to keep to themselves. I didn’t see
anything out of the ordinary. Oh and Dale Green was there too.”
“Uh huh. And was he with anybody? Did you talk to him?”
“No on both counts. I only saw him briefly as I was leaving, but he
appeared to be alone.”
“To your knowledge, does he go there often?”
“I don’t really know. Why?”
“I’m just curious. Tell me again what you know about him. I mean,
I remember that you said he was your boss, but do you know anything
personal about him? Does he date? Does he have a steady girlfriend? Is
there anything more you can tell me about him?”
“Dale and I don’t exactly share a lot of personal information with each
other. The only things I know about him are work related. I heard he used
to be married, but that’s all I know. I don’t even know if he’s still married
or divorced.”
“What kind of temperament does he have?”
“I’m probably not exactly the person to ask about that. I told you, Dale
and I don’t get along. I think he’s lower than the dirt on a snake’s belly.”
John smiled at the analogy.
“But why are you asking about him? You don’t think he’s involved do
you? I mean, I’d be the last person to take up for Dale, but as I told you,
he gave me a ride home that night. If I had to, I guess I’d have to provide
him with an alibi.”
John stared at her questioningly for a moment. He wondered why Dale
was giving her a ride home that night if the two of them didn’t get along. “I
know you said he took you home, but can you give me a timeline? A major
part of narrowing down suspects is taking some of the other suspects out
of the running. If we can determine air-tight alibis for some, then we can
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concentrate on those who are left with questionable alibies or without any
alibi at all. At this point, everyone who was at the bar that night could be
considered a suspect. So tell me, what time did the two of you leave the
bar? How long did it take you to get home? What time did he actually
leave you?”
Frances was taken aback. As much as she disliked Dale, she couldn’t
believe he would be involved in Brandy’s murder. Nevertheless, she closed
her eyes for a moment and answered the detective’s questions.
“Let’s see, I walked out of the bar at 2 a.m. I stood there for a few
minutes and then Dale came out. We chatted for a minute and then he
asked the bartender if he could park his car in his driveway for the night.”
She was about to go on when John interrupted her.
“So the bartender knew Dale wanted to park his car there for the
night?”
“Yes, I guess it was at least two-thirty after we moved Dale’s car and
got back to mine. It’s about a twenty-minute drive to my place, so that gets
us to my condo around three o’clock, give or take a few minutes.”
Frances stopped. She recalled that when Dale left the condo that night
after trying to rape her, the clock on the end table chimed. She distinctly
remembered looking at the clock which was exactly at three-thirty. How
was she going to explain a lapse of a half hour without telling Detective
Wilkerson about Dale attacking her?
“What is it Frances? Do you remember something? Take your time.
Tell me.”
She didn’t really feel like reliving the horror of Dale’s attempt to violate
her, but after careful consideration, she decided she had to tell John what
had happened. She recounted the details with tears in her eyes. John knelt
in front of her, holding her hand in an effort to comfort her. She finished
by telling him that it was exactly three-thirty when Dale left her condo.
Of that, she was one hundred percent certain. Then she broke down and
wept, quietly.
“Frances, I’m so sorry to put you through this. Did you report this to
the police?”
She shook her head. John left the room briefly, returning with a glass of
water, which he offered to Frances. She sipped at it while she watched John
shuffling through the files and papers on his desk. It seemed as though he
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was looking for something specific. He opened a file and started reading
it while following along with his finger. Then suddenly, he stopped and
looked up at Frances.
“What?” she said in a puzzled voice. “What is it?”
“Frances, are you going to be able to drive yourself home? I’d take you
myself, but I need to take care of something.”
“Yes, of course. But tell me, what is it you’re thinking?”
“I’m sorry Frances, I can’t tell you just now. But I promise if anything
breaks, I’ll call you right away. Until then, take care of yourself, try to stay
out of danger and pray that we catch this guy.”
Frances took note of the fact that he told her to ‘pray’ that we catch
this guy. She wondered whether he was really a praying person or if he
just said it as a figure of speech. Frustrated and shaken, she drove home.
It was only mid-morning and already she was exhausted. When she
pulled into her parking lot, she immediately recognized James’s car, but he
wasn’t in it. She wondered if he was waiting for her outside her condo door.
Although she wasn’t afraid of James, their last conversation did scare her
a little, and in her present state, she really didn’t feel like talking to him.
But if he were there, she really didn’t have much choice. Then the thought
came to her that it was mid-morning on a weekday. James should be at
work. Why was he here? Has something else happened?
She guardedly walked up the stairs to her condo. Looking, listening,
she was acutely aware of her surroundings. As she walked through the
stairwell, she saw him slumped against the wall beside the door of her
condo. She stopped, observing. Was he asleep? Unconscious? He looked
dirty and unshaven. His clothes were disheveled, almost as though he had
been there for days. As she slowly and silently crept closer, she detected
the odor of alcohol. So that’s it. He had been drinking again and had
come to see her. Either he didn’t have the presence of mind to notice that
her car wasn’t in the parking lot or he realized she wasn’t home and was
determined to wait. In either case, she decided to try to pass by without
disturbing him. If he were drunk enough, she could probably do it. The last
thing she needed after the emotional meeting with Detective Wilkerson
was to have another emotional episode with James.
Ever so gently, she took her keys out of her purse, taking care that they
didn’t jingle. Standing right beside him, she cautiously inserted the key and
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turned it slowly. When she knew she had released the tumblers to unlock
the door, she gently pushed it open until there was enough space for her
to squeeze through the opening. She stepped over James’s legs with one
foot and had almost cleared him with the other foot when he grabbed her
ankle. Frightened, she screamed, “James, let me go!”
“Let you go,” he slurred. “Let you go?” he repeated as if it were a
question. “Why is it that I am always having to let you go? What if I don’t
want to let you go?”
“James I mean it! You’re scaring me! Let me go now!”
He let go of her ankle but was able to grab the end of her skirt, which
he held onto tightly. He tried to stand, but could make it only to his knees.
He swayed, using the hold on her skirt to aid in his balance.
Then, very gently and quietly, he said, “Frances, honey, I’ll let go if you
promise you’ll listen to me. I have something I want to say.”
Feeling that she didn’t have much choice, she nodded, but the second
he let go of her skirt, she backed into her condo slammed the door and
quickly fastened the chain lock. She opened it up as much as the chain
would allow and said, “Go ahead James, have your say, but then I want
you to go. I don’t like seeing you like this. It isn’t making anything better
you know.”
“You don’t like seeing me like this? Well, let me tell you something, I
don’t like being like this. Do you know this is the first time in my life that
I didn’t show up to work? I hate this Frances, but I love you. Please, give us
a chance. I know you’re afraid of what God will do to you, to us, if we go
on seeing each other. But baby, think about it, it was God that brought us
together. You ever think that maybe He wants us to be together for some
reason? You said yourself that we don’t always understand God’s plans.”
“No James, it has never occurred to me that God might want us
together. God wouldn’t put us together to sin. I believe that all things
happen for a reason, and while I don’t know the reasoning behind what’s
happened to us, and perhaps never will, I accept it. God’s word is clear,
we can’t be together. It hurts me too, James, but I have to yield to what I
believe in. I look at it as a lesson. There’s something here that God wants
us to learn.”
“Oh that’s beautiful!” he said sarcastically. “Yield to what you believe
in! I thought you believed in us!” His tone was becoming angry again.
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“James, go home. Sleep this off. Try to work through your anger.
Get up and go to work tomorrow. And get on with your life. You’ll
find someone else. I’ll find someone else. We’ll both come through this,
you’ll see.”
“Oh for crying out loud! We shouldn’t have to get through this! We
should just be together! Frances, please…”
As she slowly shut the door, his voice trailed off. She simply couldn’t
take any more.
She went into her living room and sat down to pray. “Father, please be
with James. He’s having such a hard time dealing with all this. It’s probably
because he doesn’t have you to lean on. Help him to find you Lord. Help
him to want to find you, and then stay with him. I thank you Lord that
I seem able to handle this situation a little better than James. I thank you
for comforting me, strengthening me, and watching over me, every hour
of every day of my life. I pray this in Jesus name. Amen.”

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I

t was Christmas Eve and Frances sat alone in her condo. She pondered
the many things that had happened to her over the past few months.
Christmas was usually a joyous time for her. She usually reveled in
the celebration of the birthday of the Lord. She loved the hustle and bustle
and the general feeling of peace and good will that everyone had at that
time of year.
But this year was different. She had at least managed to set her nativity
scene out and put up her “table-top” Christmas tree. But with all that had
gone on, she hadn’t had much time to go gift shopping. She had a few
things for each of her parents. She even had a gift she had bought earlier
in the year for Brandy. It was wrapped and sat under her tiny, artificial
Christmas tree with the other presents. It was a pair of black leather ankle
boots she had seen at a little shop in Baltimore. They had four-inch spiked
heels and a little silver moon on the outside of each one. When she saw
them, she immediately thought they screamed of Brandy. And even though
it was only September at the time, she bought them to give to her for
Christmas. Now she wondered what she would even do with them. They
weren’t exactly her style, or her size. Maybe she’d just leave them in the box,
wrapped and put them away with her other Christmas things in January.
She poured herself a glass of wine and considered the other gift that she
had bought, but would not be giving this year. It was a watch for James. It
had a thick, brown leather band with small silver studs in the pattern of a
cross on one side. She actually saw it as she passed by a pawnshop window
in Faith. It was masculine enough so as not to insult his manliness and the
cross was a gentle reminder of God. So she bought it also with the intention
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of giving it as a Christmas gift. Funny, she thought, that the two gifts she
wouldn’t be giving were both leather with silver ornamentation. Again, she
wondered what she would do with either gift now.
It was about nine o’clock and she was considering what time to get
up to go to her parents’ house the next morning. She always went to her
parents’ house on Christmas morning and this year would be no different
except for her mood. She was usually bubbly and happy at the excitement
of celebrating the Christmas season and watching her parents open the
gifts that she had lovingly selected for each of them. But this year, she was
depressed.
The phone ringing brought her out of her daze. She picked it up to
hear Alice’s voice, full of the usual Christmas cheer.
“Merry Christmas Frances! Did you go to Christmas Eve service?”
“No,” she said dryly. “I didn’t feel much like going to church. I don’t
really feel much like going anywhere.”
“Now sweetheart, I know you’ve been through more than your share
of heartache lately. But you must pray for strength and rejoice in the fact
that you have your faith and your God and your Savior!”
Alice was way too chipper for Frances right now. She really didn’t feel
like a pep talk. She didn’t really feel like talking to Alice at all, but to cut
her off would hurt her feelings, and she certainly didn’t want to do that
either.
“Are you going to your parents’ house tomorrow? Maybe that’ll cheer
you up.”
“Yes, I’m going, but it won’t be the same this year. I only had time to
shop for a few measly gifts and I had even less time to put any real thought
into them. They probably won’t even like them. I’ll see them on the table
at my mother’s next yard sale.”
“Now Frances, you know that whatever you give them they’ll cherish
simply because it’s from you. And remember, a gift is a gift, like the ones
God gives us. You give the gift with love and that’s all that matters. Once
you give it to someone, it’s theirs to do whatever they choose to do with it.
If that means putting it out at a yard sale, then so be it. And if someone
gives you a gift out of love, you accept it with love. Even if it’s something
you never in a million years would have gotten for yourself. Besides,

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the reason for the season is not about material gifts – the giving or the
receiving. I don’t have to tell you that.”
Frances knew she was right, as usual. But still she just didn’t have
the feeling of joy in her heart that was normally there at Christmas. She
chatted with Alice for a few more minutes, wished her a Merry Christmas,
and hung up.
As she had anticipated, Christmas day at her parents’ was very lowkeyed. They exchanged gifts, ate lunch and then settled down for some
eggnog afterwards. But the undertone of sadness was hanging in the air
like a broken Christmas ornament. Strange, she was actually in a better
mood at Thanksgiving, even though the wounds from losing both Brandy
and James were still fresh at that time. Frances thought that perhaps she
had been in denial at Thanksgiving and that reality had now sunk in. It
didn’t completely ruin the day, but it was always there, hanging over their
heads.
After she had been there for what she considered to be a reasonable
time, she rose to leave. She kissed her parents, thanked them for everything
and went back to her condo earlier than she normally did in previous years.
Frances worked the whole weekend after Christmas. She really didn’t
have a lot of vacation time available and besides, she needed to keep busy.
The weekend seemed to pass without incident.
On the following Monday, the phone ringing woke Frances. A glance
at her alarm clock told her that it was only five in the morning and she
had to get up in one hour to go to work. She hesitated before answering,
worried that it might be James. Who else might be calling her at this hour?
“Hello,” she managed to say in a faint voice.
“Frances, it’s John. I wanted to call you before you left for work. We
got him!”
“Got who? What are you talking about? Who is this?” Not fully awake,
she wasn’t even sure at first who she was talking to. Then it dawned on her.
It was Detective Wilkerson.
“I know you’re probably scheduled to work today, but I need you to
come down to the station. I’d like to get a few more statements from you,
for the record. And I’d like to tell you all about what’s happened, in person.
I don’t want to tell you this over the phone.”
“Alright. Did you say you got him? Him! Meaning Brandy’s killer?”
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“We got him. We got Brandy’s killer. Can you come?”
“Give me half an hour.”
When she arrived at the station, exactly half an hour later, the place
was buzzing. Detective John Wilkerson was waiting for her on the steps.
He took her hand and ushered her into his office. “Can I get you some
coffee or something?”
“Coffee? No, just please, tell me what’s going on!”
He got them each some coffee anyway. Then sat in front of her, face
to face so that he could be sure she heard and understood every word he
was about to tell her.
“Contrary to what everyone seems to have been thinking Frances, the
young boy with the purple hair, Simon – that’s his name, has never really
been a suspect. He’s a friend of the owner of the bar and he stayed along
with more than a dozen others that night after the place officially closed
down at 2 a.m. We have sworn statements from everyone who was there
that Simon didn’t even leave the bar until after eight the next morning.
Dale Green has been our number one suspect all along.”
As he said it, her mouth flew open, but she could not speak. She simply
started to shake.
“Take it easy Frances. I know this is hard on you, but I want you to
hear this. At the very start, we had an eyewitness who said he had seen
Brandy talking to a man in his mid-forties with gray hair as she left the
bar that night. Unfortunately for Dale, that particular bar isn’t a hot spot
for many people his age. He fit the description, so the finger was pointed
at him right off the bat, but we didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him.
When we hauled him in for questioning, he swore he was home in bed by
two thirty. We questioned the bouncer who backed him up, saying that
Dale left the bar alone at about two o’clock. So we didn’t pursue the lead
any further at that time. Of course, I didn’t know then that the bouncer
was a friend of Dale’s. Anyway, when you told me that Dale left you at
three-thirty, that meant he was lying to me so I started poking around.
The time of Brandy’s death was documented to be between six and sixthirty the next morning. After you told me what had happened at your
place, I knew Dale was lying about being home at two-thirty. But if he
was involved, he had to get back to the bar that night somehow. I decided
to check his cell phone records on the chance that maybe he had called
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someone for a ride. We subpoenaed the phone records and found that
someone called a taxi at quarter till four that morning. We questioned the
cab driver who gave a description of Dale as the man he picked up at your
development about ten after four and drove him to the bouncer’s house
just a few doors down from the bar. The bar officially closes at two in the
morning, but usually the regulars stay behind to party until the wee hours
of the next morning. The bartender said that Brandy left at about fourthirty. It’s about a twenty-minute drive from your development to the bar,
so that puts Dale in that general vicinity at about four-thirty, just as Brandy
was leaving. Dale must have seen Brandy leaving and talked her into going
to the motel. The motel manager says that Brandy came in alone and got a
room at about 5 a.m. I figure Dale just waited outside. The time frames all
match up. With them getting to the room shortly after five, and the time
of death being between six and six-thirty, that gave Dale time to, well, do
what was done and then take Brandy’s life. I brought Dale in again, with a
warrant to get some samples for DNA testing. Brandy had skin under her
nails and I knew that DNA tests would either prove or disprove that Dale
was the guy. Meanwhile, I cornered the bouncer again and he changed his
story. He had initially told us that he didn’t recall that Dale had parked in
his driveway. But of course, his memory came back after I told him that
we had your testimony saying that Dale had obtained his permission to do
so. Then, under the threat of arresting him for obstruction of justice, he
also remembered that Dale had come back that night to retrieve his car.
The DNA tests came in yesterday. The skin under Brandy’s nails belonged
to Dale. There were also semen samples in the room where Brandy was
found. We sent those for testing too. I’m sure they’ll be a match as well.
Then, we called the cab driver in again and he picked Dale out of a lineup.
With the bouncer’s testimony, the cab driver’s testimony, your testimony,
and the DNA matches, we’ll be able to put him away for quite a while.”
Frances was in shock. She sat there, frozen. She knew Dale was a
horrible person, but in her wildest dreams, she never thought he was
capable of something like this. “Where is Dale now?” she asked in a shaky
voice.
“He’s locked up in the County Detention Center. He’s not going
anywhere Frances. I have a few things to tend to here, but it’ll only take
about fifteen minutes. Why don’t you use my phone to call the hospital
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and tell them you won’t be in this morning and I’ll take you home? You
could probably use a little alone time to collect yourself. Someone from
the station can follow me in your car. I think you’re a little too shaken to
drive just now.”
As soon as John left her at her condo, she threw herself on her bed and
began to weep. She still couldn’t believe that Dale was the one who had
taken Brandy’s life. And the thoughts that were going through her mind
right now were driving her insane.
Was Dale in a sexual frenzy after Frances thwarted him that night?
Did he choose Brandy because he knew she was Frances’ friend? Did he
kill Brandy to somehow get back at Frances? Perhaps he had even planned
to do to Frances what he had done to Brandy! She would probably never
know the answers to those questions.
When her weeping subsided, she prayed. She prayed for strength for
herself. She prayed for Brandy’s soul and even for Dale’s soul. Even though
she thought Dale to be the most wicked person she had ever personally
known, and she hated him for ending Brandy’s life, she knew she was not
his judge and jury. In the end, only her Father in heaven could demand
restitution.

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T

he next day, the story hit the newsstands. Although Frances didn’t
often read the local paper, she bought a copy. The trial wasn’t
scheduled for several months, so the paper didn’t give all the
details, but it did say that Dale Green had been arrested to stand trial for
the brutal murder of Brandy Delaughter. There was a picture of Brandy on
the front page along with the details that could be released.
Frances turned to another page of the paper to read the continuation
from the front page and another story caught her eye. “Local Man Found
Dead at Construction Site.” Why it caught her eye, she had no idea, but
for some reason it did and she began reading it.
“Late yesterday evening, a local man was found shot to
death at a construction site in the North end of town.
Upon reporting to work that day, a construction worker
found the body along with some personal items in the cab
of a piece of excavating equipment. An investigation is
pending however, twenty-seven year old Norman James
Marshall, of Faith, Maryland is presumed to have taken
his own life with a large caliber pistol. He is survived by
his parents, Frank and Cynthia Marshall and one sibling
whose name is unknown.”

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Frances had no tears left to cry. Over the past few weeks she had cried
and sobbed and wept herself dry. Nothing even shocked her any more.
Without expression, she folded the newspaper and picked up the phone
to call her parents. They probably didn’t know yet. It would be up to her
to break the news.

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Chapter 28

I

t was a beautiful, sunny day in September, her favorite time of year.
It had been a year now since those horrible things had happened. As
she walked through the park, Frances reflected on all that had come
to pass over the previous twelve months.
She thought of her friend Brandy. Certainly, it was tragic that she
had to die, especially in that way, but Frances had good memories of her,
and she always kept those at the front of her thoughts. The way Brandy
must have suffered before she died was just not something Frances chose
to think about. Brandy lived her life the way she wanted to, albeit not
the way Frances would have chosen for her. She spent her time the way
she wanted. She had fun. Again, not necessarily Frances’ idea of fun, but
nevertheless, it was the way Brandy wanted to live. Brandy enjoyed her life.
She was happy. Knowing that helped Frances to get through the heartbreak
of losing her best friend.
She thought of Dale Green. Only through prayer - lots and lots of
prayer - had Frances come to a place in her life where she didn’t feel hatred
for him anymore. The trial had finally ended the week before. Frances
attended each one of the sessions. Even with all the testimony and evidence
the jury had to consider, they took only six hours to reach a verdict. Dale
was found guilty of pre-meditated, first-degree murder and then sentenced
to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As they took him out
of the courtroom in handcuffs, he turned to look at Frances. When she
thought of the evil smile that crossed his face, she shuddered. It was as
though he was proud of what he had done, even if he had to spend the rest
of his life behind bars to pay for it. Frances knew that if he never sought
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But for the Grace of God

forgiveness for his crime, he would also spend eternity in a fiery hell. But
this did not give her satisfaction. All she felt for Dale Green was pity. In
killing Brandy, he had also ended his own life by forfeiting his freedom.
He would never be free again.
One good thing that had come from all this was that Frances now held
the prestigious position of Head Nurse in the ER. And while she would
gladly give that up if she could change the turn of events that had made
the position available, she knew she couldn’t. So she graciously accepted the
position when it was offered, knowing that it would not have been made
available to her if she weren’t the most qualified.
She thought of her dear friend Alice. After several months of fighting
a recurring illness, Alice had passed away just a few weeks ago. Although
Frances would certainly miss her confidant and partner in faith, she could
only feel joyful that, after a long and happy life, Alice’s spirit had gone
home to the God that she so dearly loved.
She thought of James. Dear, troubled, confused James. Her efforts to
lead him to the Lord had been in vain. She realized that the nagging feeling
she had towards James when they first met must have been God trying to
warn her, but she hadn’t listened. She was so intent on having someone
in her life that she hadn’t heeded to God’s message. And look what it
had brought her. It was a valuable lesson now learned. To this day, it still
troubled Frances that James just couldn’t seem to get over what he felt was
a conspiracy between their parents and God. And that he took his own
life over it was something that would always cause an ache in her heart.
A smile came to her face as she thought about her parents, still living
in their own little world. Still healthy, still happy, she was grateful to have
them. Through all the tragedies that Frances had endured, her parents had
supported her, loved her, and comforted her. Alice used to say that for every
bad thing that happened, something good would always come out of it.
The good that had come out of all this was that she was closer than ever
to her parents, especially her mother. She finally had the mother-daughter
relationship that she longed for. They talked, they laughed, they cried and
they shared together. Her parents helped her when she asked for help but
left her alone to make her own decisions and even her own mistakes if
that was what she required of them. Frances felt genuinely blessed to have
them so close in her life.
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Her parents had been elated when Frances told them she was engaged
to John Wilkerson. Just like Alice had said, her Provider sent her someone
who would make a good husband and be a good father to the children
that they would surely have together. They had started seeing each other
not long after Dale was arrested. She remembered thinking that nothing
could be better than the courtship she had with James, but after dating
John for just a short while, she knew that she had been wrong. She soon
found John to be the sweetest and most gentle man she had ever known.
The timing was right, God’s timing, and He blessed her with someone
who was good for her, someone that she was good for as well. They liked
to do similar things, they had similar backgrounds and most of all, John
loved the Lord as much as she did. He was a man that she could love God
with. She knew, without any uncertainty, that this was right. He was the
one. She even wondered if all that had happened was what needed to take
place to bring her together with John. After all, she probably would have
never met him otherwise. The Lord works in mysterious ways, she thought.
After all these years of just attending church, the congregation was
finally more than just her “Sunday Family.” She and John not only attended
Sunday services regularly, but they were both involved with the youth of
the church. They went on retreats and attended Bible study together, and
they truly loved the fellowship they had with their church kin. Janet, their
minister would be officiating at their wedding, which was planned for
the following June, and the relationship Frances now had with God was
stronger than it had ever been.
As all of these thoughts echoed through her mind, she tried to
concentrate on the good that had now come to her life. As she turned her
head toward heaven, she smiled a satisfied smile. She knew it was because
of her faith that she had been blessed. Just as she knew she would never
be able to completely forget the sadness and tragedy that had befallen her
friends and loved ones because they couldn’t bring themselves to rely on
God. As she walked and thought of each one of them, she spoke the words
softly, to no one in particular, “There, but for the Grace of God go I.”

220

MYSTERY

F

rances is a young woman trying to lead a noble existence
while looking for someone with whom she can share her

life. When she finally meets someone who seems to fit the
bill, a surprising plot twist causes her to have to make a decision
that could either save her soul—or condemn her to hell.
Along the way she gets caught up in some seedy situations that
lead to a murder. While trying to determine whether the man she
met is for her and figure out just who the killer is, she gets caught
in situations that put her beliefs to the test. You won’t want to
put this book down as you read about the bizarre and fascinating
situations Frances encounters while trying to figure out the right
path to follow to bring her happiness, maintaining her integrity,
and following a suitable spiritual path.

KATHY WITMAN has a creative, imaginative spirit. The
idea for this, her first novel, came so quickly she could hardly type
fast enough to keep up with the plot lines that now weave their
way through this story. She lives with her family near Baltimore,
where this story takes place.
U.S. $17.95