In the Silence

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

After spending the weekend at Paul's parents home, David headed north toward Seattle early Monday morning. There was less than three thousand miles on the Heavenly Glide and the new Harley rode better than his old one. David was still sorting things out in his mind while cruising north on Interstate 5 for Canada. God, I know you keep giving me all these signs, the football, even this motorcycle, but it would be simpler if you just came out and told me what you expect of me. I'm sure that you want me to fill in Paul's shoes and spiritually help people, but I can't get Marcea off my mind. Should wanting to serve you, make me feel like I have to sacrifice so much? Just make things clearer so that . . .

Traveling next to the huge body of salt water of Puget Sound was cool and refreshing, but when a bank of fog rolled in, shutting off the heat of the sun, David turned east on Interstate 90 for warmer, dryer air. He rode all day and when the shadows began stretching east toward infinity, David stopped in the small Indian town of Yakima to spend the night.

The habit formed by all the months of predawn rising at the monastery kept David from sleeping past six A.M. Once leaving the motel, the brisk morning air had a feel of dampness and made David rethink his travel plans. Maybe I'll pass on cruising into Canada. I'm getting too old to deal with the weather. I know Highway 97 runs along the backside of the Cascade Mountains, so traveling across the high desert should be a sure bet for good weather this time of year. I can always see Canada next year. Wait till Danny sees this! He loved going for rides on my old bike. And I did tell Terry I'd be back to visit him in the hospital before he . . .

On a few of the wide-open stretches David cracked the throttle and the Harley responded like an untamed beast; keeping the new evolution designed motor below sixty would be like muzzling a dog. The straight highway turned into switchbacks as it wound down into the Columbia River Gorge; David finally eased off the power. Crossing high above the river on the Bride of The God's, David watched the brilliant colored sails of windsurfers darting underneath the bridge, catching the warm afternoon easterly winds. It was only a few minutes before he was winding back up out of the deep canyon on the Oregon side of the river and into a forest of tall Douglas firs trees.

By evening David was halfway across Oregon and stopped at a KOA campground nestled at the base of three spectacular snow-capped peaks, known as the Three Sisters. He got a burger, purchased a sleeping bag and paid for the night. It was just before dusk when he found a campsite on a grassy knoll. After unrolling the sleeping bag as the blue evening sky turn to a brilliant reddish orange he leaned back against an old Juniper tree to watch the sun set behind the three mountains. David took in God's show and prayed. God, thank you for everything. I put all my faith in you and hope to continue on in a mission of charity.

David said the prayer over and over until the colored sky faded to dark gray. He had just started walking around the campgrounds when a light shining onto a historical marker caught his attention. He stopped to read it: THE THREE MOUNTAINS IN THE BACKGROUND, NOW KNOWN AS THE THREE SISTERS, WERE ONCE CALLED THE MOUNTAINS OF FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY. Despite the prayer he had just been saying, this time David didn't even look for another message. Instead he looked up, just barely able to see the silhouette of the mountains. In the silence he heard God speak to him.

The next morning David woke up stiff from his sleep atop a picnic table. After a hot shower and some coffee at the campground store, he hurriedly rolled up the sleeping bag, strapped it to the handlebars, and headed south for California.

Ten hours later, just before rush hour traffic, David pulled up in front of Marcea's apartment and, before he had a chance to shut the engine off, Marcea had the door flung opened. A towel wrapped around her wet hair, she walked down the ramp toward him. "David, what are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry. I should've called, but I just got this Harley and remembered how much Danny liked going for rides on my old one."

Marcea looked over the shining new blue motorcycle. "You know, it always scared me when you'd take him for rides back in Colorado."

"I never knew that. You should've told me."

"Can I go? Can I go? Please Mom!" Danny came rushing down the ramp.

Marcea turned toward Danny and remembered the weekend when she moved in with David. She was putting her things away in his mobile home when she heard the deep throated sound and caught a glimpse of Danny sitting on the motorcycle seat in front of David as they pulled away. She was furious, the whole time they were gone she waited under the carport with her arms folded across her chest, ready to tear into David. Finally, the roar got louder as they came back down the road and turned into the driveway, but the smile on Danny's face caused her to keep quiet, and for all those years she kept motorcycles to herself. "I'm sorry Danny, but you don't have a helmet. We left it back in Colorado."

"Please Mom. Just one short ride. Pleezze?"

"No Danny, I'm sorry but those things scare me. Without a helmet, definitely not!"

"He can use my helmet," Ann offered, standing at the top of the wheelchair ramp.

"What helmet?" Marcea asked as she turned to glare at Ann.

"My horse riding helmet," she said darting back into the apartment. In less than a minute Ann came bouncing down the ramp and helped Danny put on her helmet.

Being three against one, Marcea reluctantly gave in. When David and Danny rode off she went inside to get ready for her date.

Ann sat on the bed giving daughterly advice on what to wear. After Marcea tried on the third dress, they both agreed on the sleeveless cotton floral summer dress. Now in front of the mirror Marcea was just starting to fix her hair when she heard the rumbling sound coming from outside. Ann jumped off the bed and beat her to the front door.

David had just put Danny back into his wheelchair and they had started doing their usual high-five hand slapping thing, saying how cool the bike was. "Ready for your ride?" David chided Marcea who was now standing in the doorway.

"Yeah, sure David."

"Go ahead, Mom. Just once, go for a ride. You know, Tony will never have a motorcycle," Ann said to egg her on. "It's almost as fun as riding a horse. Go ahead. I'll watch Danny," Ann was pulling Marcea by the hand down the ramp.

"No, Ann! I don't want to! And besides your helmet won't fit me."

"This one will," said David, loosening up the sleeping bag strapped to the handle bars and pulling out a shorty helmet that was tucked inside. "Sorry Marcea, I'm not calling your bluff. I just wanted you to know that I would've never come by to take Danny for a ride without having a helmet for him."

Feeling somewhat guilty Marcea didn't say anything as David worked the half style helmet back into the center of the rolled up sleeping bag. He tightened the straps and threw his leg over the seat. "Ann, I owe you a ride next time. Danny, I'll call you on the computer soon. I should get going; looks like your mother is busy."

"Not that busy. I thought you offered to take me for a ride?" Marcea said, now taking her turn chiding David. Surprising them all she swung her leg over the seat, stood on the foot pegs, tucked the dress underneath herself and said, "Let's go."

David looked back over his shoulder and said, "Let's not joke around. I'll admit, you were always right. If something happened to us, who'd take care of the kids? You've proved your point."

"David, I'm not kidding. I'm ready to find out what riding on one of these things is all about. Ann's right, I'll never have another chance. Just be careful."

Ann was already pushing Danny up the ramp when she turned and smiled. Her look carried some telepathic message. It was more than an older sister taking care of her brother; it was a daughter knowing where her mother's heart really was and an unspoken seal of approval.

David's thumb pushed on the starter. The sound was intimidating and as the heat of the engine boiled up from under the seat, Marcea could feel the power of the engine thumping underneath her. There was a clunk when David dropped the bike into gear and she instinctively wrapped her arms around his waist. When he feathered out the clutch and started to move she looked over and nervously called out, "We'll see you kids in a few minutes!"

David turned left out of the parking lot, not even noticing Marcea's holding on to him for dear life. He was riding one hundred and ten percent alert. He relaxed a little when they got away from the traffic on an old road that ran through the vineyard outside Napa Valley.

After a few more miles of gliding over the majestic roads, Marcea loosened her grip and leaned back against the small backrest. She breathed in deeply, inhaling the scent of the vineyards while her eyes scanned the unobstructed scenery. The warm wind blowing up under her dress and over her legs was as gentle as a warm on-shore sea breeze. The roar and heat of the engine were now replaced by the gentle soothing vibration of each cylinder firing underneath the seat. They carved around some long sweeping corners and the ecstasy of ride finally overcame her. The freedom was intoxicating, much more than she had expected. Wrapping her arms back around David's waist, she pulled herself against him, not caring where the road would take them, just experiencing the ride. Marcea wished that they could ride into the evening, then stop at a hilltop to watch the sunset where David would wrap his arms around her and . . .

David slowed to a stop at a crest in the road, looked ahead and behind for cars, then carefully turned around and started back. Marcea's dream dissolved.

Ann and Danny heard them pull up out front and rushed out of the apartment excited to know all about Marcea's first ride on a motorcycle. When she pulled the helmet off to talk, she caught a look of herself in the mirror on the handlebars. "Oh, no! Look at my hair! I'll tell you kids about the ride later," Marcea said as she ran in the door.

"Oops, Tony is taking Mom to a big fund raiser tonight," offered Ann, almost as an in an apology. "He told her to look fancy because she might get to meet the Governor."

"Who cares? I'm glad her hair got messed up," Danny said with a devilish grin.

"I'm sure it is important to your mother," David told Danny.

"Yeah, some big party to save sea gulls. It's stupid!"

"David, thanks for the horse riding lessons," Ann spoke up, anxious to change the subject. "Sister Madeline and I are still taking riding lessons, and I might even be able to buy my own horse soon."

"That's great. I know how much you love horses. I have some time to take you for a short ride if you want, Ann. I don't want to leave you out."

"I'll go next time, David. I'm going to go help Mom get ready," Ann said while giving David a big hug. She wanted to say more, not caring for Tony that much herself.

"Well, I'll see you two later. I want to stop by the hospital and see a friend," David said as he pushed Danny up the ramp. From just inside the door everyone could hear the hair dryer blowing and the commotion of Marcea getting ready. "Danny, let's connect up Wednesday night. I've got a new game I want to download to you," David said as he turned and hurried back down the ramp.

The next morning David called Monsignor Grant from the monastery, told him about how good he felt about visiting Paul's parents and was just starting to fill him in on his spending the night at the base of the Three Sisters when Timothy suggested they meet for lunch. Monsignor Grant had more important news and was trying to figure out how he'd explain it all to David.

David purposely showed up early, parked in a conspicuous spot, and waited for Timothy. As soon as he saw the white Buick he waved Timothy over to park next to him. As soon as Monsignor Grant stepped out of his car he said, "I had wondered what had come of Paul's motorcycle?"

"You know about this?"

"Sure. And maybe after lunch you can give me a ride. But let's go on in, we have a lot to talk about."

With the wind taken out of David, they went in and ordered a pizza. They found a window booth and Timothy spoke right up. "Well David, did your trip help you come to any conclusions?"

"Yeah, it did. I don't need to tell you about the motorcycle. But I did have a revelation while spending a night at the base of three mountains. They were once named Faith, Hope and Charity."

"You mean the Three Sisters. That's beautiful country, up there in Oregon. I've caught some big fish in Prineville Reservoir," Timothy said holding his hands up about two feet apart — the distance all fisherman use to illustrate the size of their catch. "Anyway, while you were gone, some things came up. I did some checking and I can get you enrolled for fall classes at the seminary in San Francisco. What do you think?"

"That'd be great. I want to start my studies more than ever now. Especially since the prayer I said while camping . . . " David stopped himself, knowing what the monsignor's reply would probably be. "But what about tuition costs?"

"You could always sell that motorcycle," said Timothy jokingly. He was still trying to figure out how to tell David that someone had made a $70,000 donation for his schooling without David's taking it as another sign. "David, you won't have to worry about costs; someone set up a sizable trust to pay for your schooling."

"I knew it. It's another sign. All of this is, the cycle, my stopping at the Faith, Hope and Charity Mountains, the football — everything."

"David, people help others with their education costs every day. Look at all the parents who put their children through college."

"Well then, tell me who set up the trust? My parents sure couldn't afford it."

"I can't tell you. And let's not get on one of our discussions about inner locutions," said Timothy, picking up a slice of pizza. "Have you given any more thought to enrolling as a permanent deacon?"

David also picked up a piece of pizza. "Yeah, I've thought about it. It might be better for me, with the less schooling and all. I'd have fewer classes and then I could continue at the hospital."

Monsignor Grant finished chewing, then said, "David, what you are doing for those men at the at the hospital is noble. I find it amazing. That's where I see God's signs — in you."

"I'm not doing anything special. Sure, at first I didn't want to go down there, but so many of the guys are around my age . . . Well, we just have a lot in common." David stopped to take another bite. "Anyway, speaking of signs, since you won't tell me who set up this anonymous trust, I've got to tell you about how I was saying this prayer about putting my faith in God, hoping to continue on in a life of charity . . ." Timothy listened to David, smiling and offering his bit of wisdom now and then.

They finished lunch and while walking across the parking Monsignor Grant said, "David there's one more thing I need to show you." He opened the trunk of his car. "The same person that set up the trust thought you could use this at school."

David reached into the trunk and picked up a dark gray notebook computer. His thumb found the snap and he opened it. "I can't believe it! I always wanted this model. It has the new Pentium processor, the build in fax and the dual-scan color display."

"Well, the person knew you wanted it."

David looked directly at Timothy. "Bill is the only one who knew I wanted one of these. I used to talk about it all the time at work. He's the one that set up the trust; isn't he?"

"I promised I wouldn't say."

"I'm not going to take this or the money. That's Bill and Mary's retirement."

"He's right. You are as stubborn as a mule on a hot Texas day," said Monsignor Grant, shutting the trunk before David had a chance to put the computer back. "He told me that the money is from the property and electronic equipment he just liquidated in Colorado. He told me you already paid him for the business and the money is rightfully yours!"

David paused, looked at the computer then walked over next to the bike. Everything started to add up. It's like my whole life had been laid out before time or something, like one big plan. David carefully put the notebook computer in the right saddle bag, then threw his leg over the seat. Still not saying anything, he pulled on his helmet before he looked over and said, "Don't worry, I won't say anything to Bill." David worked the Harley backwards out of the parking spot and then hit the starter. Now only a few feet from Monsignor Grant, David yelled over the low rumble of the motor, "Timothy, it's another sign." Although Monsignor Grant shook his head side to side, his frown turned into a smile. David shifted into gear, and grinning ear to ear, he headed out of the parking lot.

The next week was hectic; David just barely moved from the monastery and enrolled in the seminary in San Francisco. Being closer to the hospital made it convenient to visit between classes, evening and on weekends. With the new notebook computer he could do homework anyplace and he used it to connect up with Danny on Wednesday evenings. For the first six weeks time flew by and the only trouble David managed to find was getting caught giving a patient a ride on the Harley. He had to report to the hospital board, but no formal action was taken. Off the record he was told to be extremely careful and not ever get caught doing it again.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving David and Danny were doing their usual keyboard chatting and just before they signed off David typed:

YOU HAVE A GOOD THANKSGIVING AND WISH YOUR MOM AND SISTER THE SAME FOR ME.

I WILL, BUT MOM WON'T. SHE'S SAD. ANN TOLD ME WE MIGHT NOT EVEN HAVE TURKEY TOMORROW.

DANNY, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE PROBLEM IS?

NO, BUT I THINK SHE'S MAD AT TONY OR SOMETHING.

I'LL PRAY FOR HER. YOU SHOULD TOO, DANNY. GOOD NIGHT.

As soon as Danny switched off his computer he heard the phone in the front room ring. "Marcea, this is David. We haven't talked for a long time. I called back to see how things were going for you. How are you doing?"

"I'm doing okay," Marcea replied softly. "Danny didn't say anything did he?"

"No, not really. But I was wondering what you are doing tomorrow for Thanksgiving."

"Not much of anything," Marcea said as she carried the cordless phone across the room and cuddled up in the corner of the sofa.

"Well, if you don't have plans, why don't you, Ann and Danny come to Thanksgiving dinner with Monsignor Grant and me."

"I couldn't do that. I'd be imposing."

"No, you wouldn't. Did you know Thanksgiving Day was originally a Christian holiday and is really the only one that hasn't had it's date changed or was intended to overshadow a pagan festival? It was actually three days of prayer the early Pilgrims set aside to give thanks to God."

"I didn't know that David. Its sounds like you're becoming well educated at the seminary."

"I wouldn't go that far, Marcea, but I do think . . . " David and Marcea talked for the longest time — just like they use to.

Finally, Marcea confided in David. "Tony kept reminding me that my biological clock was ticking. The straw that broke the camel's back was when he told me that the longer we waited to have a child together the greater the odds of my giving birth to an unhealthy child. The creep showed his true colors by telling me how he wanted his own son to take over everything he had, to play sports with and go fishing."

David shared her pain, wishing he could reach through the phone to comfort her. Just before they hung up David asked, one more time, if she'd meet them at the restaurant for dinner. Marcea wrote down the address of the restaurant but wouldn't promise anything, still insisting she'd feel out of place.

That night when Marcea laid in her bed she thought about how genuine David had been over the phone. He's changed. He's not the same David I lived with. The way he talks and cares . . . everything he's doing at the hospital. It's obvious, David's new destiny is to serve you, Lord. I pray for him.

The next morning Marcea got the children up early. She had Ann put on her finest dress and then went to battle to get Danny to wear a tie. Although she hadn't accepted David's offer to join him and Monsignor Grant for Thanksgiving dinner, she did feel like attending a church service. David's information telling her how Thanksgiving actually originated from three days of prayer by the early Christians had made her reflect on all that she had to be thankful for.

It was a welcomed surprise to David when Marcea showed up early at the small mission church in Davis for the service. David hugged Marcea, asking her if she was going to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. She again declined the offer, saying she would feel like an intruder. Danny was unusually quiet. Marcea had warned him on the drive up not to say anything about going out to dinner. He reluctantly agreed . . . after he got to take off the tie. Ann showed off her dress and wearing her first pair of nylons, she felt like a young woman.

After the Thanksgiving Day service Monsignor Grant wouldn't accept any excuses. They left the church parking lot in two cars for the restaurant. The smell of turkey filled the air as all five of them were seated. Ann squeezed in next to Monsignor Grant, Marcea sat next to them, David sat across from Marcea, and Danny scooted in on the remaining side of the table.

The food was ample and home-made, right down to real mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Danny wouldn't touch the yams or stuffing and David came to his aid; when Marcea insisted he eat everything; David coyly traded cranberry sauce for his yam and stuffing. Monsignor Grant told Ann about the bishop's race horses and that he was looking for a stall keeper for the weekends. Danny and David talked computers while Marcea sat quietly, just content to be with good friends.

While they were eating pumpkin pie Monsignor Grant turned to David and asked, "How are things at the seminary?"

"I'm really busy. The class on Old Testament Hebrew has me lost. But I worked out a deal with the instructor; I helped him connect up the classroom computer to the Internet and he's tutoring me privately."

"That what I heard. You've already got a reputation with your technical skills. The word is they're going to take you up on your offer to network all the computers at the seminary."

"Yeah, I know. Isn't it strange? Here I thought I'd never be using my skills again and I'm back pulling wire and hooking up computers. Who knows, maybe will get connected into the World-Wide-Web and start dealing with a lot of the trash and misinformation head-on."

"I don't think it strange. Maybe it's a sign," Monsignor Grant said with a big smile, before taking a bite of pie. "Oh by the way, the Chancery Office is thinking about installing a permanent deacon at the mission church here in Davis. I offered your name for a possibility after you graduate. I hope that was okay with you?"

"Sure, that'd be great. It'd be convenient for me as I could still work at the hospital. But whatever my mission is, I put my faith in God. Who knows? One of the priest instructors at the seminary was asking me how difficult it was to set up an AM radio station. They're talking about . . . "

Danny interrupted the conversation by bumping David on the elbow, then whispered in his ear. The two of them excused themselves and headed toward the restroom. Marcea was a little uncomfortable, remembering the time she lost it and became verbally hostile with Timothy in the parking lot of the monastery. Trying to show her true side she said, "I'm glad that you put David's name in for that position. I'm sure he would be good there at the small church."

"Yes, I think so. I think the time is coming when the church is going to use deacons more, especially at small mission churches."

Marcea made an effort to keep the conversation going. "I don't understand one thing. You said a deacon, not a priest. Is there a difference?"

"Yes, a considerable difference. A permanent deacon, unlike a transitional deacon stays at that position. He doesn't go on to become a priest. There's less schooling and some other things that makes David a better candidate for that position."

"Oh. I can see where less schooling will be good. David's one of those types who would have a hard time spending five years in the classroom."

"You're right about that. In the short time I've known him I can tell he's one of those hands-on types. He'll be able to do Baptisms and administer Last Rites, which will work into his calling at the hospital very nicely," said Monsignor Grant, taking another bite of pie. The conversation died for awhile and he started to take a drink of coffee. "Oh, I almost forgot. Another thing — a permanent deacon can be married, or get married if his wife agrees to share in his ministry. She's required to also take schooling. It's important that . . . "

"You two are boring me," Ann said, as politely as she could. "Can't we talk about horses?"

Just then David was pushing Danny back from the rest room toward the table. Ann pestered Monsignor Grant, making sure he'd remember to give her name to the bishop, filling him in on all her knowledge of horses. Danny started telling David about two programming errors he'd found with the computer mystery game he had downloaded to him and said he would have it solved soon. Meanwhile the word married kept echoing in Marcea's head as she just sat still, smiling and watching everyone enjoying themselves.

That evening Marcea had Danny call David via computer to thank him for inviting them all out to dinner. She couldn't help herself and after only a few minutes of their being connected she scooted in next to Danny and took over the keyboard.

DAVID, THIS IS MARCEA. I HAD A WONDERFUL TIME TONIGHT. JUST WANTED TO TELL YOU PERSONALLY. THANK YOU FOR INVITING US ALL.

IT WAS OUR PLEASURE MARCEA. ON THE WAY HOME TIMOTHY TOLD ME HOW ANN BENT HIS EAR ALL ABOUT HER EXPERTISE WITH HORSES. HE'S GOING TO CALL THE BISHOP IN THE MORNING. YOU'D BETTER SAY SOMETHING NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT HER HAVING THAT STALL KEEPER JOB.

NO, THAT'D BE FINE. MONSIGNOR AND I ALSO TALKED ABOUT . . . Marcea quit typing.

ABOUT WHAT?

OH, ABOUT YOU AND YOUR SCHOOLING AND DIFFERENT THINGS.

WHAT KIND OF DIFFERENT THINGS?

OH, LITTLE THINGS. HOW YOU'RE MORE OF A HANDS ON TYPE GUY, NOT ONE TO SPEND TIME IN THE CLASSROOM.

BOY, YOU'RE RIGHT ABOUT THAT. WAS THAT ALL YOU TALKED ABOUT?

YEAH, THAT WAS ABOUT IT. OH THERE WAS ONE MORE THING?

YES

There was a long pause.

I ALMOST FORGOT. . . DAVID I COULD USE YOUR EXPERTISE. WE'RE PUTTING ON A CHRISTMAS PROGRAM AT THE DAYCARE/SCHOOL THIS YEAR. COULD YOU HELP WITH THE SOUND SYSTEM?

I THOUGHT BILL DOES ALL THAT STUFF? HE'S PRETTY GOOD WITH SOUND SYSTEMS.

YEAH, HE IS. I MEANT COULD YOU HELP WITH THE LIGHTING AND MAYBE VIDEO TAPE THE PROGRAM? THIS YEAR WE'LL HAVE SOME OF THE SPECIAL CHILDREN THAT STAY AT THE OVERNIGHT CENTER IN THE PROGRAM.

SURE MARCEA, I'D LOVE TO. AND I COULD USE YOUR HELP TOO, ON SOMETHING. COULD YOU HELP ME PUT TOGETHER SOMETHING FOR THE GUYS DOWN AT THE HOSPITAL?

Marcea and David chatted for hours. Neither one thought, or suggested just picking up the phone to have a voice conversation. Danny had long ago slipped into bed and prayed the same prayer he had for years.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first three weeks of December flew by. When David and Bill worked together on the lighting and sound for the children's Christmas play, it seemed just like old times. David did a professional job on the video taping and hadn't expected seventy-three proud parents to ask for a copy. One of the media instructors at the seminary stayed over the first Saturday of Christmas break to help David copy tapes.

Sunday afternoon, with two boxes of video tapes in arm, David knocked on the door to Marcea's apartment with his foot. He was surprised when Bill answered the door. "Let me give y'all a hand," Bill said as he grabbed the top box of tapes from David.

"Hi Bill. You going to watch the kids when Marcea and I go to the hospital?"

"No, we're all going with you," came Mary's voice from inside the apartment. David looked inside the door and saw Mary, Sister Katherine, Sister Madeline, Ann and Danny ready and waiting to go. Marcea was the only one they had to wait for, but she finally emerged from down the hall after changing her sweater and checking her hair for the third time.

David felt like he was leading a procession, helping Bill carry the Christmas tree off the elevator with Mary, Sister Katherine and Sister Madeline following, carrying trays of food and cookies. Ann and Marcea took up the rear with a big box of hand made decorations and cards from the kids at the daycare. Bill set the tree right in the center of the rec-room and everyone started decorating. Sister Katherine started humming "Silent Night" and before she got to the second verse she was being accompanied by three of the patients. Soon everyone was joining in the festivities.

Danny noticed one of the patients in a wheelchair in the corner giving a nurse a hard time when she tried to get him to join in. After she left Danny wheeled himself over next to him and proudly said, "Hi, my name is Danny. I'm a friend of David's."

"David! That do-gooder, shows up here and talks to everyone. It's a big joke. He's not the one dying. Look at me. I was a great athlete and in the prime of my life. Now this."

"What kind of athlete were you?" asked Danny.

"I was great at everything — track, skiing, tennis, even surfing at forty," spouted the patient.

"I'm impressed," said Danny positioning his wheelchair so that he could see everyone else gather around the Christmas tree. "If I could have one thing for this Christmas, you know what it would be?"

"Yeah, kid. I've heard it a thousand times! You'd want to find a cure for AIDS."

"Nope. But that'd be good. What I'd like to do is trade lives with you. If I could do all those things you have done — ski, play tennis, surf, and all that stuff — that would be the one thing I'd want. Just for one year would be enough, but till I was forty would be too much to ask for." Danny then moved himself back to the center of the room to help decorate the tree.

Bill's height earned him the honor of putting the angel on the very top of the tree. After a round of clapping, Sister Katherine started humming "The First Noel." The singing filled the rec-room and floated out and above the fourteenth floor. Danny felt somebody tapping on his arm and looked over to see the patient in the wheel chair. "Hey kid, Merry Christmas."

The stay at the hospital turned out longer than planned for. Both Ann and Danny fell to sleep in the car on the way home. Marcea woke Ann, helped her into the apartment and guided her down the hall into her bedroom. David carried Danny to his bedroom, put him to bed and stood there looking down at him. As they prayed David couldn't help but tell Danny how proud he was of him for the way he befriended a lost soul. Danny just rolled over and groggily said, "I love you, David."

When David left the bedroom and walked out into the dimly lit front room he could smell the scent of Marcea's perfume. Closing his eyes and drawing in the fragrance he envisioned Marcea standing there adorned only by candle light. But the fantasy was snapped by the sound of a door being closed.

"How about if I make us a cup of coffee?" Marcea said quietly, as she came out of the hall and walked toward the kitchen.

David reached out for her hand as she passed by. Marcea froze. David put his other hand on her shoulder, turned her into him, and gave her a small kiss on the forehead. Marcea looked up, closed her eyes, then put her moist lips against David's. They melted into each other as they exchanged warm passionate kisses at the end of the hall. It took all David's strength to break their embrace and looking down into Marcea's big brown eyes he struggled with the words. "Marcea, I'd better leave. I don't think I could control myself if I stayed. I know you understand." David walked to the door still holding onto Marcea's hand. Then he turned and gave her one more kiss on the forehead. Once again their mouths found each other.

This time Marcea broke their embrace and with a somewhat teasing smile she said, "David, I do understand." Then she kissed him with all the months of boiling, pent up passion. Finally, her hand found the doorknob, she opened the door and gently pushed David away.

Dazed and spellbound, David slowly backed out the door, unable to take his eyes off Marcea. "Ah, ah, Marcea I almost forgot. I was wondering if you and the kids would like to come to the Midnight Christmas Mass service we're having."

"I'd love to David. Why don't you call me tomorrow and we'll talk about it." Marcea slowly closed the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was Christmas Eve and David anxiously scanned the darkened church while lighting the candles. Taking the bread and wine to the back of the church, he still did not see Marcea, Ann or Danny. His excitement turned to concern. The church was packed and Monsignor Grant and he were in the foyer, just about to start down the isle. Finally Marcea rushed in the door. "Danny ate too many Christmas cookies. I had to wait for Mary and Bill to come over."

"Is he okay?" asked David as he took Marcea's arms and led her into church.

"I'm sure he'll be fine. He had Ann playing his personal nurse, until Bill and Mary showed up with an armload of presents. It was a miraculous recovery," said Marcea as she let loose of David's arm to slip into the pew.

The service concluded and Marcea waited while David put out the candles, cleared off the altar and turned off lights. Everyone had left the church when David walked back to where Marcea was waiting. Not saying a word, David handed her an envelope, then walked back up to the front of the church and knelt in front of the manger scene. Marcea opened the letter.

Dear Marcea. I could never find the words to tell you how much you mean to me. That is why I've written this letter. Your beauty extends outwards and its only been over the past year that I been able to see that this awesome radiance starts within your soul.

It is my prayer that you would marry me and let me into your heart. No matter what your decision is, I will always pray that the power of the Holy Spirit continues to look over us all. I'm just beginning to see that everything that has happened is God's will and it seems that all the signs suggest that he wants us to be family. The love that His son brought to us on this day is an example of the love I would like to show you. Would you share your family and life with me for the rest of our days?

I Love you. David

Elated, stunned and speechless, Marcea sat there staring at the letter, unable to move as all her deep hidden dreams rushed forward, already becoming plans. We'll have a big wedding, then a romantic honeymoon someplace private, just David and me. Someday we'll get a house in the country where we can have a dog, maybe a horse. I can have a garden and . . .

David walked back then reached into his pocket and said, "I hope that I know your answer, so I don't have to take this back." Pulling out a solitaire diamond ring, he lightly took Marcea's hand and slipped the ring on her finger.

Marcea stood up, kissed David and said, "Yes, David, I'll marry you. That's all I've prayed for since that day I met you out in the parking lot of this church months ago."

"That was at Paul's funeral," David said smiling, thinking of Paul. "You know, Paul once told me if I didn't change, it wouldn't be fair to you if I asked you to marry me."

"David, you have changed. You're not the same person I once knew. It's strange, like somehow Paul planned all this."

"You know Marcea I can feel him right now standing there with a big smile on his face."

"I know, David. And the best part is he brought God into our lives."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Marcea's dream of a large hometown wedding evaporated when they decided to get married in the small church in Davis. Both agreed that this was where their lives were now. Although they only had met a handful of friends, these were the people that meant the most to them. The date was set for the first week in June, after David's final exams and before Marcea's busiest time of year for over-nighters at the school.

The months flew by. Marcea's already busy schedule now had her attending classes two days a week at the seminary with David, a requirement for the wife-to-be of a permanent deacon. The classes did give Marcea and David some quality time together during the week since both now had such full and fulfilling lives. Even on weekends they found it hard to just be alone, with David either at the hospital or it being Marcea's weekend to work. They both couldn't wait until they'd be living under one roof, so that they'd be together more. At least then every night when the lights of their fast-paced worlds dimmed, they could lay next to each other and share something they never had before — their souls.

The small wedding was turning out to be a blessing, with no more than twenty invitations having to be sent out. It made Marcea's decision to walk down the isle by herself less awkward; since she had only met her mothers new husband two times. But David did insist they pay the airfares for Marcea's mother and stepfather to fly down saying a bus from Seattle was too much to ask.

A week before the wedding Marcea picked up her dress and was trying it on in her office before she went home for the day. Sister Katherine happened by the partially open door and looked in. The white sleeveless dress accented her olive brown skin and the small train was not overly done. "Ooh! Marcea you look so beautiful," said Sister Katherine as she pushed the door wide open.

"Thank you," Marcea said turning in a full circle.

"What's going on?" asked Sister Madeline just getting to the doorway. "Oh my, oh my! What a sight to behold!"

Now Mary came to see what all the commotion was about. "Marcea, oh Marcea," she said pushing between Sister Madeline and Sister Katherine and going to Marcea. She grabbed both Marcea's hands and looked at her, unable to speak.

Mary finally caught her breath and started telling of her wedding day to Bill, but then it slipped out. "Marcea, I should have asked you. But I took it upon myself to say it would be okay."

"Okay for what?" asked Marcea.

"A, okay, that a few of the parents from the daycare bring their children to the wedding. I know you wanted a small wedding but a few of the kids really want to come. I can tell them differently if you want."

"No Mary, that's okay. I really don't mind, but it would be a little embarrassing if we didn't have enough food or cake."

Sister Katherine jumped in. "Marcea, don't worry about that. I will make sure there is plenty of food and cake let me take care of that. This is your day."

Sister Madeline coyly slipped in the conversation. "Robin, Danny's friend was asking about your wedding. I think she'd like to come also. If it's okay?"

"That would be fine. But I feel guilty we only sent out twenty invitations. I should really invite them formally."

"Hog wash!" Mary said. "These people are your friends they just want to share in your happiness."

"Yes, don't worry about a thing," Sister Katherine again reassured Marcea.

"Thank all of you for everything." Marcea embraced each woman individually, still floating on the realization that her wedding day was the following week.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The wedding day jitters finally hit Marcea as everyone fussed and helped her get ready. Her mother cried seeing Marcea the first time in her dress. Although well intentioned, she started offering suggestions about the flowers, the seating and tried unconsciencously to take charge. Sister Madeline came to the rescue by taking Marcea's mom and step-father to the reception hall, charming them with witty conversation and coffee.

Danny and David were changing in the small sacristy room next to the altar when Bill came in. "Y'all look sharp."

"Thanks Bill. Doesn't Danny make a good-looking Best Man?"

"You bet he does!" Bill said in a reassuring tone. "By the way David, this is supposed to be a small wedding isn't it?"

"Yeah. Just twenty or so guests and family. Why?"

"Well I think a few extra guests slipped in. Three nurses came with a couple of your friends from the hospital, they said everyone on the fourteenth floor said to say hi and congratulations."

"That's great. I'm really glad they came."

"A couple of guys with tattoos and their women showed up on motorcycles," Bill continued, while scratching his head. "They said they were your riding buddies."

"Yeah, they told me at church they were going to crash my wedding. They're okay Bill. Franko's really a good guy. He and Monsignor Grant go back a long ways."

"Okay then. Y'all got about ten minutes till you're hitched."

"Bill, thanks for everything. You did a great job ushering," David said shaking Bill's hand.

"See y'all in a few minutes." Bill said, leaving to go find Mary. He knocked on the door in the back of church. "You gals got about five minutes. Do y'all need anything?"

Mary cracked the door. "We're all fine, Bill. Would you like to sneak a peek at the bride?" Bill stuck his head in the door and caught a glimpse of Marcea. Her pure radiant beauty stopped all six foot four of Bill. She opened her arms and Bill barged through the door to give her a hug.

Hugging Bill it just came to Marcea, she wondered why she hadn't thought of it before. Raising up on her toes she whisper into his ear. "Bill, would you do me the honor of walking me down the isle? You're the only dad I really know."

Bill held Marcea for the longest time, too emotional to reply. Mary overheard Marcea's request and couldn't help the tears. She now joined them in a three way hug. The room seemed to burst with joy. Finally, Bill put out his arm and Marcea grabbed on to it. "Well young lady, we'd better get this wedding under way." Ann lead them out of the room and when they rounded the corner to walk down the aisle Marcea's hand tightened on Bill's arm. It looked like every child from the daycare and also the overnight inn were there with their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Miller were up front sitting next to the bishop and her mother stepped out from the very front row to snap a picture. The music started.

David's eyes locked on his bride with each step she got more beautiful. His knees trembled as Bill handed her to him. David just gazed upon Marcea, her breathtaking beauty overwhelming him. It was as though there was a strange quietness in the church. He then turned to look out over the love-filled pews. It was strange but he could hear perfectly — just like that night at the base of the Faith, Hope and Charity mountains.

Monsignor Grant greeted the people. "Today I have the honor of joining Marcea and David in the Holy Bond of Matrimony. And as I stand here I can't remember this church ever being so full of God's children. David would probably tell me this is some sort of sign." Monsignor Grant paused and smiled at David. "And today I would agree with him. The sign that I see — is God's love in each and every child here, and that means all of us, as we are all children of God."

The end of a new beginning.

 

 

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