Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Valentine Fiction
by C.J.

This story is very loosely inspired
by an experience I had once
giving a ride to a near runaway bride
as she walked along the highway. 
 But the story itself is purely fictional.


Carrie sat in her grandmother's buttery yellow guest room with her suitcase open on the bed beside her.  She could reach the dresser drawer while sitting on the end of the bed to put her things away.  It was a teeny tiny room in a teeny tiny house.  Her wedding dress billowed out from the closet where it was smashed.  However, everything else was neat as a pin in between the piles of her grandmother's stuff shuffled around to make room for her stuff .  A little bitty table was shoved in the miniature blue painted kitchen with two chairs.  The miniscule living room barely had space for her Grandmother's recliner to be squeezed in a corner beside a lumpy love seat.  A twelve inch television sat on top of a bookshelf next to a small china cabinet.  The pink bathroom was roomy enough for a claw foot tub and a pedestal sink.  It was like a haven, an oasis, a tiny desert island of escape in her world gone crazy.

Escape was Carrie's only thought after the disaster of her wedding canceled between the rehearsal dinner the night before and the mid-morning in which the ceremony was to have taken place.   Her fiancé Kyle was going out with his friends after the dinner.  When she got wind of what they had planned for him, Carrie gave him the ultimatum.  It was her or them.  What kind of friends would want to get the groom plastered the night before his wedding and hire a stripper?  The man who she thought she knew, a supposed believer, a supposed non-drinker,  a man who supposedly was committed to staying pure until marriage was willing to throw it all away, to give into peer pressure to have one last bachelor fling with his buddies.  Well, throw it all away he did.  Then he had the nerve to not believe her when she called it all off when he came stumbling in smelling of liquor.  He cajoled her crying, apologizing, down on his hands and knees begging, even throwing up all over her tennis shoes from his binge of the night before.

She had walked away barefoot from the country church and down the highway back to town wearing her jeans with her wedding dress over her arm and the sheer veil still pinned to her head blowing in the wind.  She'd left her parents back at the church to cancel everything two hours before the service and her bridesmaids to pack up the decorations in the sanctuary and reception hall. 
Truckers blew their horn at her.  Cars honked.  She was a sight.  Her ex-fiancé had driven on the shoulder begging her to get in and reconsider.  She ignored him and kept walking.  He finally gave up and whipped his Kia around as if it was a fancy sports car and zoomed past her.  It was just another mile back to town from the country church when she heard the unmistakable grumbling of her grandmother's little Volkswagen Bug.  She tried to ignore her but the tremulous voice called, "Sweet girl, let Grandma take you away."  That was the best news she'd heard in the last twenty-four hours.  Carrie ran back, threw her dress in a heap in the backseat and climbed in. 
"I hope you don't mind, dear, but I put your going away suitcase in my trunk along with your makeup bag.  I'm ready to go home.  Would you like to come with me?"
Carrie leaned over and kissed the cool cheek.  "Yes, Gram.  I can't think of anything I'd rather do right now."
"Good.  I hoped you'd think so.  It'll be just you and me as long as you'd like, dear.  I do have my bitty babysitting job four days a week and some nights, but you can relax at my little house by yourself and not have to think about anything at all.  No one will bother you.  I made your mother promise not to give out my number or address to anyone.  They are the only ones who know that I've kidnapped you." She said it with a girlish giggle.
Carrie leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes.  "Thank you, thank you, Grandma.  You've saved me from a cruel death back there.  I can't face anyone, not my friends, not my family, not my church family and certainly not his family!"
"Well, I was about to get out my horse whip and take it to that young man when I found out what he had done.  You did the right thing, baby girl, and I'm so proud of you!  Just because something is as difficult as canceling a wedding at the last minute, doesn't mean that it isn't the right thing to do.  He most certainly is not the right man for MY granddaughter!  That is one wedding that I'm thrilled to see cancelled."

The mental image of her precious little godly grandmother taking a horsewhip to her no good, dirty-rotten ex-fiancé was worthy of a chuckle.  Carrie snorted.  "I would have like to have seen that, Gram."
Even her grannies' little old lady driving could not scare her after what she had just gone through.  It was a four hour drive.  They'd be there before dark.  Carrie gazed unseeing out the window.  At some point her grandmother went through a drive-through for a soda and hamburger, a far cry from the wedding banquet that had been planned.
After an hour of a peaceful long pause, a silence which her grandmother did not try to interrupt or fill in with music from the radio, Carrie was ready to change the subject from that which was going round and round in her head and talk about anything that did not have to do with a wedding.  She finally said, "So, tell me about this babysitting job you're doing, Gram.  I thought the purpose of retirement was to take it easy."
"Yes, well, it is except if the Lord leads you to minister where there is a need.  It's only temporary.  We're praying the Lord will send the right person to take on the job on a long-term basis."
"How long have you been doing it?"
"I'll go the long way around to answer your question. You know how the last church your grandfather served was kind enough to provide us with our little house for our retirement years.  Since he passed away, I have a small retirement to supplement my social security checks.  I manage, but this little job has helped me be able to get some repairs done on the car and a few things like that, not that I do it for the money, mind you.  You see, a dear friend of mine in the church lost his wife tragically in a car wreck about a year ago.  We had watched them fall in love.  In fact your grandfather had introduced the two of them after a service one Sunday morning.  He had the joy of joining them in holy matrimony--sorry dear to say those words so painful to your ears right now."
"No, go on."  She was barely listening, but was enjoying being bathed in the honey of her grandmother's voice.
"Well, we'd become very close to them.  Nolan and Rita are their names.  It was almost like they were some of our grandchildren too.  Anyway, the Sunday before Earl passed away, he'd had the privilege of dedicating their little baby.  Then, like I said, the dear mother passed away so tragically.  Nolan was able to take six weeks off while her parents went home to square things away so they could come back and help.  So, for the next six months, her parents stayed on to help with the baby.  Nolan is an E.R. doctor and has to be on call so his schedule is tricky and always changing.   Then, the last four months his parents took a bereavement leave from their teaching jobs to help after her parents had to return to Georgia.  When they had to go back home, Nolan could not find a proper replacement. So, I volunteered to help out while he keeps looking." 

She went on, "You know, it has to be just the right person to suit a flexible schedule, someone who can spend some nights, and someone who loves that precious little baby.  The poor thing has already had to cope with a change over of caregivers to deal with, Rita, then her parents, then his parents, and now me.  He needs to find just the right solution.  You know it's very damaging to a child to switch caregivers too often, something called attachment disorder or the like.  Anyway, my schedule is free so that I'm able to stay the nights he's on call, as well as the days he works.  I must admit, it stretches my strength, but God provides.  I'm not a spring chicken, and that little Emily has become a busy little thing running around now.  But what a privilege to see her nurtured and growing, and not sent off to a whole nursery full of babies to be watched by strangers in a daycare."
"Well, I hope this Nolan appreciates what you are doing and is not complacent about finding a replacement.  That's a lot for you to take on at your age, Gram."
"Yes, well, it has kept me busy, to say the least.  The jest of that long story is to let you know that I'll be in and out of my little house, but you can make yourself at home.  You are welcome to come with me sometime, if you like, and meet this little one.  She's a dear."
"Maybe.  But right now, I'd just like to hibernate, not go anywhere, not see anyone. I had to quit my job before the wedding since my fiancé, I mean my ex-fiancé, had accepted a position out of town, so I'm not in a hurry to go anywhere, as long as I'm not a burden to you, Gram."
"Of course dear.  I understand completely.  No pressure.  You could never be a burden.  That's why you are going home with me, to take all the time you need.  You've been through a very traumatic event."
"Thank you for being you, Grandma and so understanding.  I can barely put two thoughts together right now."
Carrie became an expert at a minimalistic existence.  If her grandmother was home, they worked together in the kitchen, literally bumping into each other.  Fortunately, a few stores were within walking distance, so she was able to go get groceries even when her grandmother was at work with her car.  The house had no Wi-Fi.  She checked her phone occasionally at a nearby Starbucks and downloaded more e-books.  In spite of her mother's frequent phone messages, she only returned them once a week and no one else's.  Carrie's laptop was back home, which was a relief. She did not want to correspond with anyone on Facebook or by email.  She was cut off from the world.  Nothing felt better than this caveman life of food, water, and shelter.

She read, but hardly watched any television.  Much of the time, Carrie found herself staring off into space.  She tried to read her Bible, but had not thawed out from her experience for much to sink in.  The first Sunday, Carrie stayed home from church.  The next Sunday, her grandmother agreed to sit with her in the back and slip out early.  By the third Sunday, she allowed her grandmother to make a very few introductions, with no explanations about her visit.  One such introduction was back at the church nursery Dutch door where her grandmother wanted her to meet a completely adorable toddler, Miss Emily.  Then the girl's father showed up to pick up his child.  Nolan was tall, making her grandmother look like one of the seven dwarfettes.  He was serious and barely smiled as they were introduced, hardly meeting her eyes.  But he smiled down sweetly bending over, child in hand, to kiss her grandmother on her wrinkled cheek while the little girl leaned over to squeeze pudgy arms around Gram's neck.  There was no denying that they were a little circle of love which left Carrie out.
The next Sunday she faded into the background in the church foyer as her grandmother visited here and there, and  watched him.  He had friends his age, couples, but an inordinately large gaggle of females seemed to be drawn by his singleness, the catch du jour.  She had to admit, he looked immune.  His face seemed to light up though when he came back from the nursery carrying his daughter.  She was a doll.  Suddenly, the child was staring at her, as if she remembered her, which hardly seemed possible.  Her father looked back and forth until he saw Carrie half hidden behind the rubbery leaves of an artificial tree.  He came over which scared Carrie half to death.  She had not had to have a conversation with anyone but her grandmother in weeks.
In a low voice, he said, "Your grandmother briefly told me of the reason for your being here, and I wanted to say I'm sorry.  I hope this time with her will bring some restoration.  She's a wonderful woman, that grandmother of yours.  Emily and I are very appreciative of your family sharing her with us.  We could not have survived without her."
 She could only nod.  The little girl had begun sucking her thumb, but reached over and grabbed a strand of Carrie's hair, almost like a security blanket.  Finally as he worked to loosen Carrie's hair out of her fist, she managed to say, "She's darling.  I can see why my grandmother is so in love with her."
"Sorry about the hair grab.  I haven't seen her do that before.  It must be because it's so silk...I mean, soft, well...:" and he cleared his throat.  "I hope you aren't too tender headed.  Listen, I usually take your grandmother out to lunch on Sundays, but haven't lately due to your wish to be alone. But if you are open to it, I'd be happy to take you both out."

Carrie opened her mouth and gulped air like a goldfish.  Fortunately her grandmother rescued her by popping up and saying,  "We're going out to lunch today with Emily and Nolan, dear.  However, if it is too soon for you, you could drive my car back to the house, and Nolan could give me a ride home on the way back from the restaurant."

"Sure, I'd like to go out with you...I mean, sounds good."  Carrie reminded herself that once upon a time she'd been quite fluent in speaking.  Maybe she'd better resort to talking to herself when she was by herself at her grandmother's house to practice up.

"Alright, I can take you both in my car and then swing by here on the way back, like usual," Nolan said.

Carrie was quiet at lunch and mostly played with little Emily.  When she got fussy, obviously ready for a nap, Carrie cleaned her up, lifted her out of the high chair.  The little girl melted into her arms.  Once again she was sucking her thumb and holding onto a lock of Carrie's hair.

She saw her grandmother and the doctor exchange glances before he said, "Emily usually takes a very long time to warm up to strangers.  You must have a special touch."

"Emily's very sweet."  She carried her out to the car, strapped her into the car seat and sat in the back with the toddler who fell asleep clutching Carrie's hair.  She noticed the doctor kept glancing at her in his rear view mirror with a quizzical look.

When they got to the church parking lot, Carrie extricated her hair before her grandmother handed her the car keys evidently wanting to stay to talk with Nolan a few more minutes.  The way they kept looking over at her made her nervous.  They most definitely were talking about her.

"What was that all about?" Carrie asked her on the way home.

"Just a prayer request we agreed to pray together on."

"Why do I think it somehow involves me?"

"He's the only one who knows anything about your story, and not very many details at that.  But I had made arrangements to go out of town for your wedding.  He knew it was for my granddaughter named Carrie, so it was not hard for him to put two and two together.  I thought he deserved a little bit of an explanation since you're not exactly having your honeymoon with me."

The next time her grandmother asked if she wanted to go along to the doctor's house while she babysat Emily, Carrie finally agreed.  She had to admit that she was a little curious about the father and daughter. What she had not expected when he answered the door was the little thing to launch herself into her arms instead of her grandmother's.

The doctor put his hand through his hair perplexed.  "I guess you could say that Emily has taken a liking to you.  I've never seen her behave in this way."

Gram patted him on the arm.  "It's a good thing." Carrie holding Emily followed her in. 

The doctor came over to kiss his daughter on the cheek, but she hardly noticed.   The child was busy holding her baby doll up for Carrie to kiss.  Gram just made herself busy in the kitchen.

After an exhausting morning playing with Emily and feeding her lunch," Carrie rocked her to sleep and put her in the crib.  "I don't know how you do it, Gram.  I'm already worn out.  Surely you don't do his chores too."

"Oh, no, the doctor has hired someone who comes in to clean every week.  I just putter around the kitchen when there's time.  If I don't have anything made for supper, I just tell him when he calls on his way home.  He doesn't mind bringing home food if I'm too tired."

"Good.  He should.  This is an enormous task, Gram.  I think I should help you while I am here.  Maybe by the time I'm ready to leave, he'll have found your replacement."

"Perhaps," her grandmother said with a peculiar smile on her face.  "I'm sure the doctor won't mind if you help me out."

One morning soon after Carrie had been going with her grandmother to work, she heard a loud bang followed by a sharp cry.  "Grandma?"  Carrie quickly put Emily in her playpen and flew to the nursery.  She found her Gram on the ground holding her ankle looking quite white.

"I think I've broken it, Carrie.  Can you call the doctor?  His number is right beside the phone."

Carrie hurried in to make the call and insisted on talking to the man, no messages.  It took too long until he came to the phone.  By that time little Emily had picked up on the tension and was crying loudly. 


"Is this Carrie?  What's wrong?"

"Gram fell and may have broken her ankle."

"I'm calling an ambulance. Then he hung up."

She left her Gram where she was holding ice on the ankle, to let the paramedics in.  Emily's eyes were huge when the man and woman came in with the stretcher. 

"Doctor Weldon told us to hurry up and just bring her in.  We'll take her vitals in the ambulance. He'll see to her himself once when we get to the hospital. He also said for you not to bring his daughter there to the waiting room.  Too many germs."


"He knows best dear.  I'll be fine," Gram said , but then she moaned as she was transferred onto the stretcher. 

"I'll be praying.  Tell him to call me as soon as your x-rays are read."

"Of course."

Then they were gone.  Carrie was shaking from the ordeal of seeing her grandmother in pain.  She hugged Emily tightly and said a quick prayer before calling her folks.

"Let us know what they find out," her mother said.  "I knew it wasn't a good idea for her to babysit."

"Well, I'm helping her here, so it was fine."  It was fine until she had tripped on a toy in the nursery.
It wasn't fine.  Her grandmother was going to be laid up. 

"I'm so glad you are there.  I worry about her being all alone in her house in case something like this happened.  Tell her we are praying."

"I will."

It was over an hour later before Nolan called.  "It is broken and in a cast now.  I'm taking the rest of the day off and am bringing her home."

"Here or her house?"  Carrie thought to ask quickly before the man hung up on her again.

"My house, of course."

"But..."  He had hung up.

As soon as she heard his car, she ran out with Emily on her hip.  "Are you okay, Gram?"

It was a paler, more fragile looking old lady looking back at her with a quivering smile.  "I'm fine dear, just embarrassed about all this fuss.  It's a good thing I work for an E.R. doctor.  They had me taken care of in no time."

Nolan was around the car and picking her grandmother gently up, being careful of her leg, and carrying her into the house.

Emily thought it was a game and clapped calling to her daddy no doubt wanting to be next to be carried.

"Let's put you in your room here for now.  You need to rest.  Your body has been through a shock with all that pain.  I'll be giving you your meds for now.  We can't let you get behind or it will sneak up and bite you." 

Carrie hurried up and pulled back the covers on the bed.  She bent over and kissed her grandmother on the cheek once she was settled feeling how cold her hand was before tucking her in.  "I called mom.  I'll let her know that you are back here and in a cast."

"Thank you, dear.  I believe I will take that nap that Nolan suggested.  The meds are making me sleepy."

"I think I know where a cowbell is, Grace.  That way you can ring it when you need help.  I'm afraid if I leave the door open, Emily won't leave you alone."

"That's fine, dear.  You are a very good doctor, by the way."

He kissed her on her forehead and ushered Carrie holding Emily out before softly closing the door.  His face turned more anguished as soon as it clicked shut.  "I never should have allowed Grace to take this job.  It was an accident waiting to happen.  Brittle bones and baby toys don't mix."

Carrie  put her hand on his arm.  "She has loved doing it.  God alone knows why accidents happen.  It's not your fault."

He looked down at Carrie. "Are you willing to stay here and watch over your grandmother as well as Emily?  It will be a big job."

"Don't you think I should take her home?"

"No.  You only have that claw foot tub and her couch is not long enough for her to comfortably recline.  It's better if she stays here.  I can bring her a shower chair and a wheelchair to use.  She'd never be able to get around with a wheelchair in her tiny house."

"I see."  Carrie bit her lip.  "I guess I'd better drive to her house to pack up what we need while staying here.  How long do you think until her cast can come off?"

"Six to eight weeks at least."

"Oh."  Carrie wilted.

"I can hire someone to help you if you like."

"No, I think I can do it, but I might not be able to have dinner on the table at night every night."

"That's fine.  I'll plan on bringing it home.  I'll stock up on microwave stuff too for when I'm gone."

Carrie sighed.  "Thanks.  I guess it would be best if I left while she's asleep."

It was a strange feeling to pack up her grandmother's things as well as her own.  It was one thing to occasionally spend the nights the doctor worked than totally moving into the man's house.  She thought to bring some books she figured her grandmother would like to read and checked the mail. Carrie called her mother before she went back.

"Don't you think we should come?" Her mother sounded ready to jump into the car.

"Ordinarily, but we'll be staying at Dr. Weldon's.  It would be awkward to make extra company there."

"Why don't you just take her back to her own house?  I could come stay with her there.  Surely you could take care of the baby for her."

Carrie explained about the obstacles to taking her grandmother back home.

"Oh, I can see you are right.  But I still want to come see my own mother, for goodness sakes, even if it's just for a few hours."

"You could stay in her house and come check on her, I suppose, as long as we don't take over the doctor' house."

Her mother sniffed.  "We wouldn't want to put that man out, now would we."

"Mother, please!"

"I can't help but feel as if that man has taken advantage of her sweet nature."

"It's not like that."  Carrie didn't know why she felt like she had to defend Nolan.  "She does it for his daughter.  Gram really loves her."

"Well, she can love her from afar.  That doctor needs to be looking for a replacement and quickly."

Carrie cringed.  "We can't as long as Gram is recovering.  He has generously opened his home to her."

"We will drive over in the morning.  What is the man's address so I can put it in our G.P.S."

Carrie sighed.  It was going to be a crazy next couple of days.

Carrie arrived with their suitcases at the same time as the pizza delivery guy.  "If you don't mind just go ahead and open the door for me, please.  It's okay.  I'll let him know you are out here waiting."

While the doctor paid for the pizza, Carrie put the luggage in the hall back by the bedrooms.  She hoped sharing the bed with her grandmother wouldn't bother her too much while she was in pain.  Maybe she should just figure on sleeping on the couch the first few nights instead of sharing the guest room's bed and chancing jostling her leg too much.

The doctor had the paper plates out and a liter of soda waiting with the pizza on the table. 

"Ahh, nutritious.  Are you as hungry as I am," she asked.

"Yes, I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast.  It shook me up when you called about your grandmother.  You know we love her, don't you."

"I know she loves you both.  But I have to tell you that my mother and father are driving over in the morning to see her.  They will be staying at her house overnight."

"That's perfectly understandable.  I know that Emily will not understand your grandmother being in her cast, but I am thankful you are here.  I don't know what I would have done if she was hurt in there all by herself.  No telling how long she would have had to lie there and what trouble Emily would have gotten into.  I think I'll insist on her wearing one of those monitor things after you go home."

"Won't you have found someone to replace her by then?"

Let's finish this conversation after I give Emily her bath then put her down for the night.

As always, it amazed Carrie how well he cared for his daughter.  Finally he came back and sat down on the couch with her.

"How long are you staying?"  He looked directly at her.

"I don't know."

"Would you consider the job?  I'm looking for someone long term though.  It's not good for a child to have too many broken attachments.  It can be quite damaging in fact.  She's had too many as it is."

"I'll have to pray about it.  It's a big commitment.  How long term is long term?"

"My job makes it difficult since I work some nights, so daycare isn't the answer.  I need a live-in care giver at least until the time comes when I remarry."

"Remarry?"  Carrie couldn't help keep the surprise out of her voice .  "Are you seeing someone?"

"No, I don't have time to date much, which is a problem since I'm supposed to be finding a wife.  But it just so happens I did ask someone out this Saturday night, that is if I can ask you to babysat in the evening too.  If it's too much, I'll cancel."

"Emily goes to bed early, and I'd be here with Grandma anyway.  It's no problem."

He put his hand on hers. "Thanks." Nolan quickly jerked his hand away like she was on fire.

"Is it anybody I've met?"

"Did you ever meet Susie O'Brian?"

"No, I don't think so.  Describe her."

Nolan ran his fingers through his hair.  "Umm.  Well she's a blonde and...I don't know."

Carrie was smiling mischievously.  "Is she short, fat? Tall, skinny?"

"I'm not sure.  I don't think she's any of those."

"Oh, so she's just right?"

"I wouldn't say that." 

"What would you say?"

"Well, she's a nurse.  She doesn't work in the E.R. but in the regular part of the hospital.  I met her at church."

"Well, unless she wore her nurse's uniform, I doubt that would help me remember if I've met her or not."

"I guess not, huh."  He smiled realizing she'd been teasing him.  He looked into her face.  "I think her eyes are about your color, but not as pretty, I mean, not as dark."  The color crept up his neck.

"It doesn't sound like you are rushing into anything."

"No, my heart's not into it.  It just doesn't seem right.  It's only been a year since the car wreck, but I need to start thinking about a mother for Emily.  I have that constant pressure on me whether I like it or not."

Her parents visit the next day was a little awkward.  Her mother clearly made it be known that Gram had no business taking care of a toddler.  Gram tried to soothe it over as best she could, while Nolan looked to Carrie for support.

"I'm sure Gram is able to make up her own mind, Mom.  Obviously, she can't do what she was doing before for at least right now, but I'm here.  We appreciate all the doctor is doing by making sure she is well taken care in his home."

"Thank you, Nolan.  We do appreciate it," her father had the grace to say.

Finally, little Emily was the one who won them over with her adorableness.  Her father acted like a grandfather, getting down on the ground to play with her.  Her mother read board books to her.  When it was time for them to go home, all they could talk about was the child.

By Saturday night, her parents had gone home and soon Emily and her grandmother were asleep.  Carrie felt odd waiting up for Nolan to come home, but she was curious how his date went.  She flushed at the jab to the pit of her stomach at the thought of him kissing Miss Susie Q goodnight.  Surprisingly, she heard him come in rather early, so her sitting up was not all that obvious.


He laughed.  "I see how it is.  You want me to give you the run down, huh?"

"Let's just start with this.  Are you going to ask her out again?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"I don't know.  Okay, it was awkward.  She could tell I really wasn't into dating her and let me off the hook."

"So, no good night kiss?"

"Not even a peck on the cheek.  There, are you satisfied?"

"Maybe it will get easier."

He sank down on the couch where she sat.   "Want to watch a movie?  Check out my DVD's."

Together they chose "August Rush."

"Great minds think alike," she smiled.

"Want some popcorn before we get started?" he asked.

"Sure.  Do you, as a doctor speaketh, really think that someone could be gifted like the kid in the movie?"

"Not my area of expertise, sorry," he conceded.  "Don't let it damage your enjoyment of the movie though.  I do trauma.  Ask me a question about broken bones, head injuries.  I can dazzle you with that."

"Save that for one of you other dates," she teased.

"Oh, so this is a date?"

"Two dates in one night?  I don't think so."

He brought the whole bowl over to share between them, so she scooted over after getting their sodas.

Sometimes they both dug into the bowl at the same time.  It was rather chummy, she thought, though they glanced at each other involuntarily each time their hands met over the popcorn. 

By the time the movie was over, Nolan had his feet up on the coffee table and his head laid back and was sound asleep.  She stood and bent over to shake him lightly.  When he startled awake, his feet swung up and it knocked her down onto his lap.

"What? What are you doing?" He flailed about.

"What am I doing?" Carrie said indignantly. While quickly climbing off, she shoved him hard with her hands against his chest, her cheeks flaming.  "You tripped me with your big feet, you oaf.  I was just waking you up to tell you that it's time to go to bed."

"Right.  See you in the morning." He wouldn't look at her.  "By the way, I can stay home with your grandmother so you can go to church if you like.  I don't think she'd better venture out quite yet."

"No, I've already decided to stay home with her, but thanks."

When he came home from church, he asked her if she could watch Emily again so he could go out on another date.  It was just the two of them after they ate the meal he'd brought home.  The other two little ladies, young and old, were napping.  He was leaning his back up against the counter near where she was doing the dishes.

"Really, so soon?  What, are you starting a feeding frenzy with the single women at church?"

"I guess so.  I don't know exactly what happened, but that must be how I got roped into this.  She asked me out.  I was so dumbfounded, I didn't know what to say."

"Okay, tell me who it is."

"Have you met Gretchen?"

"Sorry, but I don't hardly know anybody's names.  Describe her to me."

He groaned.  "Here we go again.  Let's see, she's a brunette," he looked at Carrie's hair, "sorta like yours, you know, but without all the highlights..." He reached out almost touching her hair before putting his hand back down.  "I don't know, maybe not as shiny or as long.  I think she had something funny done to it at a hair dresser's. One week it wasn't very long, then the next week it was really long."

"What are you doing, comparing them to me again?  Last time it was my eyes.  This time it's my hair," she giggled.  "You're hopeless.  I hope these women won't find out how little of an impression they've made on you.  And she must have had hair extensions.  That's what those are called."

"Just because you're privy to my foibles, doesn't mean you can advertise them."  He playfully socked her on the arm.

"Sure, I'll babysit.  You're more interesting than watching "The Bachelor" on T.V."

"Yeah, right.  By the way, I hate to tell you that my in-laws plan to be here in a couple of weeks, hopefully for only a couple of days."

"Why?  Are they pushy?"

"You could say they are Pushy with a capital 'P.' but I can't deny them being able to see their granddaughter.  Things got pretty strained the last time they stayed."

"Can I guess that you won't be going out on dates while they are here?"

"Not unless I want to be grilled worse than you ever thought of doing," he said with a grin.  "They'll even be giving me a hard time about a pretty young thing that has been staying here, I'm sure."

Carrie turned around to clean the sink trying to hide the flush she was sure was creeping up her cheeks.

"I can hear the lecture now that no elderly ladies are allowed to babysit, or anyone young enough to find me as an eligible chick magnet.  So that only leaves forty to fifty year olds, I guess."  He sighed only partly in jest. 

"Have you thought of trying any Christian dating sites?"

"Not interested.  Women who haunt those must be pretty desperate."

Carrie huffed, "Aren't you?"  She sank onto the sofa where he was reclining with his feet back up on the coffee table.

"If I had good childcare, sometimes I think I'd gladly stay single for a good long while.  Of course it would be nice to find the head over heels kind of young love again, but I don't know.  I had the privilege of a good marriage once though we didn't have the time I thought we would.  But I also know now how hard marriage is.  Starting over is something I would almost dread.  It would have to be with the right person, someone I could sit around and talk to like this, I mean, well you know..." 

"What do you think makes for a good marriage, Nolan, from your perspective?" Carrie didn't exactly know why she was asking him, but it was probably because of her close call with Kyle.

"Aside from all the biblical advice which I'm sure you've heard, I read a good article in a journal once that explained it well. I think it caught my eye because I'm so sensitive to what Emily has had to go through as well, and this explained that too.  Of course it has to be more than infatuation, more like a search for a basic, secure connection with another person.  The article said it's the survival response, the driving force like the bond of security a baby seeks with its mother, an emotional attachment.  It's the same reason why it is important for Emily to not have too many breaks in those who care for her.  It would be like having divorce after divorce.  Anyway, this attachment brings the greatest sense of security and safety, like knowing someone will be there for you no matter what, that you are cherished, even more than just companionship, you know."

"That makes sense," Carrie said thoughtfully, but  cynically added, "until the relationship falls apart."

"That's what makes marriage work, to make sure it doesn't unravel.  It is not just physical isolation but emotional isolation that is traumatizing for humans.  The amygdala part of the brain sends out an alarm, a feeling of panic.  Yet, there is an underlying vulnerability in that need for connection. That's also why touch is the most basic way of connection to one another, why couples in love can't keep their hands off each other.  Even after marriage, Rita and I deliberately chose to hold, hug, kiss each other when we woke up, when we left the house, when we went to sleep.  Of course, I miss that."

He stared at his hands, "Well, I guess that's more of an answer than you were counting on, but I also wanted you to understand how important it is to Emily's well-being to find the right caregiver as well as the pressure I am feeling to remarry."

"Well, God did say it is not good for man to be alone.  It is certainly something to pray about for both you and Emily.  I was on the brink of a disastrous marriage.  So, I'll admit, I'm afraid.  It's scary to think that you know someone, but you don't really.  It sure has made me gun shy."

"Do you mind telling me what happened?  You don't have to, of course, but I can't help wondering how stupid a guy is to mess up a chance to marry you."

Carrie looked up at him surprised.  "Thank you.  I don't mind telling you, really, but I don't want other people to know.  That's why I'm here.  I can't face people yet.  It's embarrassing to have had to cancel my wedding the morning of, like I'm a real loser."  So she told him the whole story complete with her grandmother picking her up barefoot along the two-lane highway.  It still was so infuriating that she was practically shaking after remembering it all over again.

He was quiet so long that Carrie was beginning to get uncomfortable.  She started to get up, but he put his hand out on her leg.  "You're a strong little woman, Carrie.  That took a lot of gumption to do that, but it obviously was the right thing to do."  Then he realized how he was touching her and jerked his hand away.  "Sorry."  He got up quickly.  "I guess I'd better get ready for my hot date."

"Where are you going this time?  Does she have it all planned out for you?"

"Yes.  I think it's a movie and dinner.  I hope it's not too late since I have an early shift in the morning.  Are you going to be waiting up for me to get home again?" and he winked.

Carrie rolled her eyes.  "It's kind of hard not to since I'm sleeping on your couch.  But I just don't think that little bit of information would go over very well as a part of your dinner conversation."

That night the doctor got in late.  Carrie was covered up snuggling her pillow when she heard the door shut.  She couldn't resist whispering, "Did you have a nice time, dear?"  She giggled.

"Okay, Mom. And no, we won't be going out again.  Are you satisfied now?"

"Yes, goodnight."  Carrie didn't know why she was so glad that his date didn't go well, but she was.

The next morning little Emily woke early.  Carrie held her on her hip making coffee while he scrambled some eggs.

She handed him a cup. "Thanks.  I appreciate you making this for me."

When he was ready to walk out the door.  Carrie was right behind him so Emily could wave bye-bye to her daddy, but she about fell over as soon as he opened the door.  Her ex-fiancé was standing there on the porch about to knock.  She was speechless.

"Can I help you?" The doctor was puzzled.

"I'm here to see Carrie."  He looked angrily back and forth between them.

"I don't have anything to say to you, Kyle.  You might as well turn around and drive home."

Nolan stepped back beside her and said under his breath, "Is this who I think it is?"

"Yes," she answered with gritted teeth.

Nolan took charge.  "You heard the lady.  She doesn't want to see you.  Since she works for me,  since this is my home and you are on private property,  I suggest you do as she says and leave."

"Carrie, he can't speak for you.  We just need to talk."  He raised his voice and made the mistake of trying to push past the doctor.

Nolan was several inches taller with more muscle and took the young man by the shoulders and shoved him towards the sidewalk.  Kyle almost tripped.  "You need to leave now before I call the police.  And if I find out that you've been harassing her, I will file a report."

Emily began to cry.  Carrie turned away saying, "Go home, Kyle." She went back into the house out of sight to calm the child.

Nolan came back in as well shutting the door.  He looked out the living room curtains until her ex drove away.  "Are you alright Carrie?"  He took his daughter to soothe her. 

"I'm sorry you had to deal with that."  Carrie chewed her lip.  "No one was supposed to find out where I was.  He must have worn my mother down, I'm sorry to say."

"I mean it.  I will file a complaint against him if he comes back here.  Do you feel safe?"

"Oh, he's not aggressive really, just annoying, and it seems a little persistent.  But it won't get him anywhere with me.  I just feel a  sick to my stomach over it all.  Again, I'm really sorry.  This is your home, and he should never have come here."

"I'm only concerned about you being here if he comes back.  Do you think it's okay if I go to work now?"

"Yes, I'll lock the door, and if he comes back, I won't answer it.  Don't worry, and thanks."

He cupped her chin tilting her face up and looked into her eyes seriously studying her.  "If you are sure."  She could hardly swallow to say anything so she just nodded. He handed Emily back into her arms and left kissing Emily on the cheek and then leaning over to kiss Carrie lightly grazing her lips.

He jerked back as if shot.  "I am SO sorry."  His eyes looked wildly around.  He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess old habits die hard.  I used to kiss Rita and Emily goodbye like that every morning I went to work.  I didn't mean to..."

"It's okay," she squeaked before adding with a sly smile, "But if you're going to kiss me, next time do it in front of my ex-fiancé then maybe he'll get the message."

Nolan chuckled nervously.  "I'll try to remember that." He couldn't get out the door fast enough.

After he left, Carrie leaned back against the door.  "Now that was an interesting morning, Miss Emily."  She heard her grandmother's sweet voice calling to her from her bedroom, "Carrie, did I hear somebody here already this morning?"  She sighed.  Not even Gram would hear all the details of what had just transpired.  She felt her lips where the memory lingered.  Then went to tell her grandmother of the unwelcome surprise at the door.

Things were a little stiff at the dinner table as their eyes darted every which way than on each other.  Grandmother looked surreptitiously back and forth between them.  "So I heard I missed a little excitement this morning as you were getting off, Doctor.  I guess I might still need to get out my bull whip after all."

"Your what?"  Nolan was dumbfounded.

"It's just Gram's expression of wanting to wup up on a certain somebody," Carrie explained.

"I felt a little like that myself," he grinned at the sweet little old lady. "I was glad to hear that he didn't come back though.  I guess he got the message."

Carrie didn't tell him that Kyle had come back, but sat out in his Kia watching the front door for hours.  Fortunately, Gram hadn't noticed either.  He was gone before the doctor came back home at least, thank goodness.

"I called Mom to chew her out for giving him Nolan's address, but she said that they'd felt sorry for him and had him over for dinner, but then she'd walked in on him scrolling down her phone.  Evidently he'd found it on her G.P.S."

Things eased into the usual conversation as Carrie filled him in on all the cute little things Emily had done that day.  Truth be told, Carrie was getting quite attached to the sweet thing.  It was hard not to let her heart go out to a motherless child, for crying out loud, and that didn't even take into account the adorableness factor.  How was she supposed to guard her heart against that? I think I'm plumb falling in love with her, she admitted to herself. She tried not to think of the girl's father at the same time.

There were no more ex-fiancé sightings at least.  The next weekend someone at work had fixed Nolan up with a double date.  It seemed everybody heard he was dating again.

"Is she a Christian, do you know?" Carrie asked when they were alone.

"Am I still getting the fifth degree?  Yes, I asked that, of course."

"Do you know anything about her."  When Nolan raised his eyebrow at her she just said, "I'm just curious, I'll admit it."  She straightened his tie.  His hand rested momentarily on her elbow.

"No, I don't have a clue what she looks like.  From what my friend says, she's a nice career woman."

"What does she do for a living?  By a career, could that mean she might be a babysitter for a doctor or something like that?"  She loved teasing him and watching him blush.

But this time he looked seriously at her.  "Carrie,"  He didn't say her name very often.  "I want you to know that I think what you are doing for Emily is as important as any career a woman could have."

"The pay isn't quite the same, but the benefits are good," she grinned.

"I can pay you more," he offered taking her seriously.

She gave him a shove.  "Don't insult me.  I just told you the benefits are great.  I get to love on a cutie pie, stay in this beautiful home, hide away from my errant ex-fiance and be near my grandmother, not to mention watching a real live "Bachelor" season in person."

He caught her arm, then sighed and let go.  "I'm glad you're enjoying it, cause I'm not.  Dating is a real pain."

"Don't then."

"I need to."

"Who says?  You should just wait until the right woman comes along that makes you really want to take her out.  No more of this forced dating scene."

"You'd be surprised at who I think that would be."

"I'll call her. What's her number?" She laughed but saw him grimacing.  "Sorry.  You didn't laugh at me about my flopped wedding, so I shouldn't laugh at you about your Date-zillas."

Suddenly he was staring intently at her.  "How old are you, Carrie?" 

There.  He'd said her name twice in one evening.  She liked to hear it, she'd have to admit. "Twenty-two.  How old are you?"

"Twenty-nine.  The big '3-0' is lurking.  You know Proverbs 5:18 says, 'Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth.'  I feel like I'm running out of my youth."

"Hey, stop right there and don't quote any more from that passage, thank you very much.  You're in mixed company," Carrie laughed blushingly.

"Oh, so you know your Bible do you?"  Nolan grinned like a naughty boy.

"Thirty's not so old.  You just need to find a young wife then."  She brushed her fingers through his hair, "I don't see any gray hairs..."

He clamped his hand on her wrist staring at her with a gaze she couldn't break.  "Don't tease me, Carrie.  You don't know what it does to me."

She swallowed, and nodded, but was confused. "What does it do to you?"

He lowered his eyes and looked at her lips then back to her.  Then he slowly bent to kiss her letting go of her wrist to put his arms around her while her hand found its way back to comb her fingers through the back of his hair again.  The kiss was just enough to go beyond the brush of lips he gave her the other day.  "I've wanted to do that since I accidently kissed you the other morning.  It's  been all I could think about."

"Oh." She leaned her face against his chest and listened to his heart thumping. Her fingers trickled down and played with his top button.  He just held her with her head tucked under his chin in such a way that it felt as if she belonged there.  "I wondered about that."

"About what?" He said sounding like his heart was in his throat.

"If you ever thought about asking me out."

"Ever since I first saw you standing by the church nursery, especially when Emily grabbed hold of a lock of your hair, and I wished I could do the same.  That's all.  But I thought I was too old for you.  Am I, Carrie?"  He tipped her face up to look at him.  "Too old?"  Their gazes were doing a dance together.

"My father is five years older than my mother.  My grandfather was ten years older than my grandmother.  It was never a problem as far as I could see.  Maybe we women have a thing for older guys in my family.  Does it bother you?"

He grinned, "Not as long as it doesn't bother you.  I think I'll call and cancel that date."

"Good," but she suddenly was feeling shy.  "We'll have to be careful around your in-laws next week when they come to visit.  I wouldn't want to get you  in trouble with them while they are here."

"I can handle them.  What about your grandmother. What will she think?"

"What will I think about what?"

Nolan put his arm around Carrie's waist as they turned to face her grandmother,  "About us."

Grandmother giggled like a school girl coasting her wheelchair up to them then grabbing each of their hands.  "I was hoping and praying for this very thing.  You see, I'm just awful attached to that little Emily and have wanted her for my very own real great-granddaughter.  When your wedding got canceled, Carrie, I knew I had to get you two together.  So I kidnapped you.  Praise be to God and Hallelujah!"

"Gram, I'm the last person who wants to rush into a wedding," Carrie chided totally embarrassed by her Grandmother's declaration.  Then it sank in, "You did kidnap me, didn't you, Gram!  So you've been plotting this all along?"

"Praying, not plotting exactly, dear." Grandma sniffed as if insulted.  "It just seems that God is at work in it all, killing two love bird with one stone, so to speak."

"Two love birds?" Carrie asked.

"Someone for Emily as well as for this wonderful man.  I love you all so very much."  Grandma was sniffing some more and wiping a tear from her eye.  Nolan grabbed a tissue for her.

"You won't hear me complaining," he said with a wink.

"I guess I'm surrounded," Carrie smiled, grasping his hand.  Yeah, touch was a good thing. 

When her grandmother rolled back into the other room, Nolan hugged her.  "Are we good then?"

"Good as in it-is-not-good-for-man-to-be-alone?" she laughed.

"I'm hoping for a it's-not-good-for-a-runaway-bride-to-be-left-alone," he teased back.  "But seriously, I don't want to date you just to date you, Carrie.  I am looking towards marriage.  You have to know that.  You're scared, and I'm scared, but we have to think that God has had His hand in it all somehow, not counting your grandmother, of course."
"We've known each other more than a few weeks now as friends, especially since I've been living here.  I've fallen in love with your daughter.  I can see how I could easily let myself fall in love with her father."
"I've been afraid because you'd think I was too old," he said.  "But every time I touched you, or you touched me, it was almost a sacred feeling."
"What did you call it, a risk of emotional attachment? It's the vulnerability part that is scary."
"I promise to cherish you, Carrie." He kissed her tenderly making her sigh. 
"I want to open my heart for that risk to love again, but I feel like falling in love is more like sky diving this time.  It makes my stomach flop and my heart pound waiting for the parachute to jerk me back into safety. It's that kind of falling.  I especially don't want to do anything to hurt you or Emily, but loving you both is so easy it's scary."
"Do you trust me, Carrie?"  He searched her eyes.
"Yes," she said with a lump in her throat.  "I know that it is more like we are both jumping at the same time holding hands with God as our parachute."
"I'm crazy enough to wish we could jump right away, no standing around on the cliff worrying," he admitted.  "I think I know what kind of person you are already and hopefully, you do likewise.  I've met so many so-called perfect dates, but you're the only one who makes my heart go crazy, and we've never even gone out once."
"Me too," she said wrapped safely in his arms.  "I'll jump if you'll jump."
He threw back his head and laughed.  "You are tempting me beyond what I'm able to withstand.  If you are not wanting a big wedding, we could talk to our pastor about counseling and see where it goes from there."
"No big wedding!  Please!  Been there, done that.  I'm only interested in a marriage, not the wedding this time.  I'll just want my grandmother as my maid of honor."
"Well, how about a honeymoon then.  Spring break would be a good time for a honeymoon because my parents would be on a break from school and could watch Emily," Nolan mused.
"A honeymoon?"
"That's what usually happens after a wedding, but you don't know that yet, you-runaway-bride-you," and he kissed her stopping her nervous laughter.
"Honestly though, next weekend you'll feel like you've been run through the gauntlet by the time my former in-laws get through with you," he warned.  "They've already called you a hussy on the phone when I explained who was taking care of Emily when your grandmother got hurt.  Prepare yourself."
"Maybe we shouldn't let on that there's anything between us then.  Gram and I will need to move back home anyway to make room for them.  I'm sure they'll want Emily all to themselves while they're here.  In fact, it might be a good idea for us to stay at Gram's from now on except when you need us here.  I think Gram can manage that now.  She could shower while she was here while I babysit Emily."
Unfortunately, you're probably right." He kissed her on the forehead.  "I have to protect you from that hussy reputation.  In the meanwhile, I'll look forward to this next week having you here and not being afraid to touch you.  It's a good thing we have your grandmother here for a chaperone." She ran her fingers through his hair as he was saying this.  "I can see," he continued, "that this might be tempting..."
"I know," she sighed.  "That's why I said, "Jump!"
Once again Nolan was laughing.  "You are astonishing me here.  Killing me in fact, that you're more willing than I could have dreamed."
"Who am I to go against a grandmother's prayers?  After all, who else has a grandmother who kidnaps them to meet a potential groom, especially a granddaughter who ran away barefoot from the altar before?"
"Only you.  It will ever be only you as far as I'm concerned."
This time he kissed her good and well enough to fully convince her where words failed.
When it got quiet, one little grannie smiled with her ear by the crack of  the door, and quietly whispered with a sigh, "Thank you, Lord!" 
By the way, remember that runaway bride
I gave the ride to?  She's in the middle of
her happily ever after.
Happy Valentine's Day


*The journal article loosely quoted is "Hold Me Tight," by Dr. Timothy Rood, ""Psychology Today."







No comments:

Post a Comment