OCFW Christmas serial story
this chapter by Robin Patchen
Copyright © OKC Christian Fiction Writers
Eleanor ducked back into the store and pretended to be absorbed in a display of jewelry, but she couldn’t erase what she’d just overheard. What caused Tad’s sudden desire to flee? She wondered for a brief moment if it was her, but something—perhaps insight from the Holy Spirit—told her it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with his bitterness over Robbie’s death.
For the first time since she’d seen him that day, she didn’t want him to leave.
Father, she prayed, give me the words to say. Give me wisdom. We were never friends, not really, and I barely understand myself how You could take Robbie from us. Speak through me. Reach Tad, as only You can…
“Did you see something else you wanted?” Tad’s voice startled her, and she turned too quickly, banging into him. Too close!
He took a step back and glanced at the package in her hand, his frown making him look slightly annoyed.
“Uh, no. I was just…I don’t have anyone else to buy for, but I thought they were pretty.” She absently fingered one of the beaded necklaces she’d been staring at without really seeing.
“So you’re done?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Uh-huh. Let’s get out of here before we’re trapped by the blizzard.”
They walked back into the mall, where Tad raised his eyes to the skylights in the ceiling. She followed his gaze and saw the snow swirling on the glass above their heads. “I’m afraid we might be too late.” Tad reached for her package and led her back the way they’d come.
Eleanor was praying for him as they wordlessly made their way through Macy’s to the door they’d entered. She felt a strong desire to tell him… what? She wasn’t sure, but her heart broke for him, knowing the turmoil that must be going on within him. What could she say to him about Robbie’s death? It had nearly destroyed her, and she felt sometimes her tenuous hold on God was barely enough to keep her sane. How could she grab Tad, too? Maybe the thin strand would snap and they’d both go crashing down.
Tad held the door open for her and she smiled politely before she walked outside into the blizzard.
The sight of the world they entered left her breathless.
Snow covered everything in a thin layer of purity. The hum of the conversations and music and cash registers was replaced by the soft whistle of the wind. The only sound interrupting the snow-muffled silence was the distant jingle of a bell—one of the Salvation Army’s Santa Clauses was still working somewhere in the distance. She was entranced with the glistening world.
She looked up to the dark sky in silent praise to the One who created it. Snow landed on her face, tiny pinpricks of cold like a refreshing shower. But then she noticed the glow of the streetlights illuminating the snow still coming down fast. The sight snapped her back to reality, and she glanced at Tad. He was staring at her, a half-smile on his face, and she realized she’d stopped to gawk. Heat rose in her cheeks.
“What?” she asked defensively.
“Just watching you.”
“Well, cut it out,” she said to hide her embarrassment. “We better get moving or we’ll never get home.”
They started walking toward her father’s car, snow crunching beneath their feet. The parking lot was slick and treacherous, and she found herself inching along carefully. She was just a few feet short of the Cadillac’s bumper when her foot slipped on a patch of black ice.
Tad caught her under the arm, stopping her fall and nearly stumbling himself. They both froze, facing each other with wide eyes. The moment lengthened and Eleanor felt like she was still falling…
“Thanks.” She knew she was blushing, felt heat radiating up her neck and into her face. Was it the cold, the fall, or his touch? She didn’t want to know. “Almost lost it there.”
“My pleasure.” He loosened his grip but continued to hold onto her until they reached the passenger door. Only after she’d settled inside and he’d stowed the packages in the backseat did he make his way slowly to the driver’s door and climb in beside her.
“Wow, if the parking lot’s any indication, we’re going to have a rough drive home.” He started the car, the engine coming to life quickly.
She hugged herself against the chill. “Yeah. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.”
He smirked at her. “Gee, you think?” he asked, backing out slowly.
She chose to ignore his sarcasm. “But I got my shopping done.”
He shook his head but made no comment as he made his way toward the mall’s exit.
Eleanor knew she needed to bring the conversation back around to what he’d said in the bookstore. “Don’t worry, Tad,” she said as casually as she could manage. “God’ll take care of us.”
“I’ll take care of us, Ellie. God can stay out of it.”
He heard the bitterness in his own voice and regretted the words immediately. Not that he didn’t stand behind them. No, Tad had lost any faith that God was on his side when Robbie was killed. But he regretted voicing his opinion to Ellie. He knew she’d feel the need to set him straight, to tell him how wrong he was about God. He braced himself, waiting for the impending lecture.
She said nothing.
They stopped at a red light, so he chanced a quick look in her direction. He saw a tear on her cheek.
“I’m sorry,” Tad said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, it’s okay.” She sniffed and swiped at her cheek.
What happened to the angry, headstrong girl she’d been in high school? This certainly wasn’t her. He felt the need to explain himself, though it made no sense to him. Why did he care what Robbie’s twin thought about him? Sure, he’d known her for years, but it’s not like they were close. Still, it seemed important to tell her what he’d been feeling.
“It’s just that… ever since he died, I can’t shake the knowledge that God could have stopped it, and He didn’t. He did nothing to help Robbie, so how can I ever expect him to help me? And if He’s not there for me, and He wasn’t there for Robbie, maybe He’s not there at all.”
The light turned green, and he very slowly maneuvered the car through the intersection, the tires skidding on the slick surface repeatedly before finally catching. White-knuckled, he kept his distance from the truck in front of him, afraid to trust the brakes.
“Tad, did you see how beautiful everything was when we walked out of the mall?”
He’d noticed it, but only because he’d been watching her. He couldn’t say that, though.
“Didn’t you think it was beautiful?”
He half-smiled, picturing her with her scarf pulled around her neck, her hat pulled down over her ears, and the way her eyes sparkled behind her glasses as they took in the scene. “Yes,” he agreed, “It was very beautiful.”
“Do you really think this amazing creation was an accident?”
He sighed. Of course not. That was one of the reasons he’d finally trusted Jesus for his salvation. The idea that there wasn’t a Creator went against all the evidence.
Tad stopped at another stop light and turned to her. “Ellie, I’m not saying I don’t believe there’s a God. It’s just that… I guess I’m not so sure anymore what He’s like. Maybe He just spun the world into orbit and sat back to watch. Maybe He created earth and then went on to his next project and forgot about us. I don’t know. All I know is, the God I trusted would never have taken away my best friend. I mean, how can you still love Him, knowing what He did?”
Her tears started again, and again he berated himself. Nice going, Tad. Why can’t you just shut up!
“You think I don’t miss Robbie?” She sniffed and wiped her eyes with her cotton gloves. “I miss him every day. I long for him all the time. He was my twin, my best friend until you…”
He stiffened. Here it comes. She’s going to blame me for everything, just like she always did. Funny thing was, he blamed himself, too.
He waited, but she didn’t finish the thought. “Until I what?”
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter now.”
Tad turned left at the stop light and headed up the steep hill. Suddenly the busy well-lit street was in the rear-view mirror. The narrow road leading to the Clark’s home was dark—the few houses on either side were far enough apart and far enough back from the road to make it feel like they were in the country. He tightened his grip on the wheel. Just another mile and they’d be home, safe and sound. But the snow was coming down faster, and he was struggling to keep the car on the road. Help us get home, he prayed. Then he shook away the thought. Old habits die hard.
“Tad, people die. God promises eternal life, but not here on earth. And He intervenes in our lives all the time. Haven’t you seen His handiwork?”
He had seen God work miracles. He’d seen it in his own life, in his own transformation. He peeked at her quickly and remembered… he’d seen God work a miracle after her accident. But he didn’t believe anymore. “Coincidences, modern science… who knows? But whatever I’ve seen, it’s not God.”
“Tad, you can’t…”
“Can we just… drop it please? I need to concentrate.”
He felt her eyes on him and forced himself not to keep his gaze on the road. He really did need to concentrate. “Thank you.”
They reached the crest of the hill and began down the other side. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw there was nobody coming up from the bottom. It was even steeper on this side, and getting down it without swerving would be hard enough without having to dodge other cars. He tapped on the brakes to keep his speed under control, gripping the steering wheel tightly. They were almost to the bottom when he felt the tires slide, the anti-lock brakes began to tremble under his foot.
Suddenly, the front wheels lost all traction, and the car began to slide toward the ditch on the right. He turned the hard wheel to the left to try to straighten it, but overcompensated, sending the car too far left. They began to spin, across the oncoming lane and off the road.
He heard Ellie scream just before the car collided into the tree, smashing against the passenger side.
Next chapter on Friday!