Drenched in Light | Chapter 22 of 37

Author: Lisa Wingate | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1767 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 14
017
Saturday morning, I woke up stiff and sore. The phone was ringing, and for some reason, nobody was answering it. Rolling over, I grabbed it clumsily and croaked, “Hello?”
“Julia?”
It took a minute for my mind to register the voice. My thoughts swam sluggishly through a murky mixture of past and present. “Jonathan?” I murmured, blinking sleep from my eyes, momentarily snuggling into the idea that the past eight months had never happened—that my breakup with Jonathan, rehab, the end of my dance career, moving home with Mom and Dad, the job at Harrington, the scene with Jonathan and his new wife at the Target gift registry were all part of a long, strange dream, and I was finally waking up.
“Jonathan?” I said again.
“Julia? Are you all right?”
“I just woke up.”
He chuckled. “Sleepyhead. It’s after eight.” Jonathan was always an early riser. He’d never understood those of us who weren’t. The tenderness in his voice made me laugh along with him.
“It’s quiet here this morning.” The words ended in a sigh, and I closed my eyes again, my mind wandering back in time, convincing my body to travel along.
“I just wanted to”—he arrested the sentence with an odd hesitation—“see how you were doing. I figured if I called early, your folks might still be out for their walk.” Every Saturday morning, my parents took a walk to the park and back. Jonathan, of course, knew the routine.
“I’m sore from . . .” From what? I dragged my eyes open again. Why was I so sore? I was never sore after a performance . . .
Slowly, the memory of dancing with the Jumpkids wound into my consciousness. I recalled lifting tiny dancers into the air as they practiced pas de chat and changement de pieds over, and over, and over. Yawning, I surveyed the grant paperwork strewn on the floor, where I’d worked last night after surviving Mrs. Mindia’s latest dance class, dinner with the Jumpkids, and countless exuberant hugs.
My mind snapped back to the present like a rubber band with a spit wad of reality attached to it.
Clearing my throat, I sat up, brushing strands of tangled hair out of my face. “Jonathan, why are you calling me?”
“I just . . .” Another trailing sentence, punctuated by a gap, during which I tried to imagine what he was thinking. “I just . . . I’ve been . . . You’ve been on my mind this past week. I wanted to know that you’re all right.”
“I’m all right,” I replied flatly, then felt a pang of guilt. His concern was genuine, his voice colored with shades of leftover feelings and latent regrets. It only made talking to him more painful.
“I knew. I knew what you were doing, Julia, and I didn’t do anything about it. I just put more pressure on you. I didn’t understand how serious it was. I . . . I thought it was something you could control.” The words rushed out as if he’d stored them up, practiced them before dialing my number. “But seeing you the other day, and then hearing that news story last week about that girl who’s brain-dead because she went too far with diet pills and purging . . . God, Julia, I realized that could have been you. I’m so sorry. I should have done something about it.”
A dozen possible responses raced through my mind. I felt myself shrinking and shrinking, and shrinking, until the room, the world, seemed too big. “Jonathan, it wasn’t your responsibility. It isn’t your responsibility. I was the only one who could do anything about it. I still am.”
“I should have been there for you. Things could have been different. We could have—”
“Jonathan.” I stopped him before he could go any further, before he could say something he would regret and I would torture myself with forever, thinking about what might have been. “Things aren’t different. We are where we are. I drove you away because I knew you were figuring me out. It’s part of the addiction—keeping everyone at arm’s length, maintaining secrets. It’s over, and now I have to move on. We have to move on. You have a wife; you’re going to have a baby. I have a new job I’m really into right now.” Maybe that was becoming true. It sounded convincing, anyway. “It’s OK. Things are OK.”
He sighed, a long, slow, resigned passage of breath, as if he knew I was right. “Things should have been different.”
Tears prickled in my eyes, and I pressed my fingers to my nose to keep from sniffling. “Jonathan, what is . . . is. There’s no point thinking in should-bes. It only causes misery.” A direct quote from Dell’s Grandma Rose. Now I understood how true it was. Both Jonathan and I had to accept the truth and move on. “You and Carrie seem really happy together. I wish you the best. I really do.”
“Julia—”
“I’d better go. Lots to do today.” Even as I said it, I was hobbling stiff-legged to the shower.
“I’m always here if you need anything. I still care about you, even though it didn’t work out.” Behind the words, there was an unspoken uncertainty; Maybe I still love you.
Or maybe he was just unsettled by the collapse of a long-term relationship, finding someone new, getting married, and now becoming a father, all in less than a year.
“Be happy, Jonathan. You and Carrie seem great together. Really.” She’s much better for you than I ever could be. She’s normal.
“Take care of yourself, Julia.” He hung up without saying good-bye, leaving the conversation feeling unfinished.
I stood in the bathroom trying to decide what to do next. The prospect of hanging around the house all day was unbearable. I had to get out, do something, even if it was only perusing bridal registries or shopping for honeymoon lingerie with Bett.
Showering and dressing quickly, I pulled my hair back into a damp ponytail and left the room, sidestepping the piles of grant papers and promising myself I would work on them this evening and all day tomorrow. Right now, I needed to go . . . somewhere.
Things were quiet downstairs. Joujou was asleep on the sofa, making peaceful little pug-nosed snorts, her legs twitching in some dream. Outside the patio, Dad was trimming the holly bushes and the crape myrtles, getting them in shape for spring. On the kitchen table, there were scrambled eggs and toast on a plate and a note from Mom. Bett had a touch of food poisoning this morning, and Mom thought she’d better go over there. I pictured poor Bett, pregnant, sick, having both Mom and Jason fussing over her, when what she probably wanted was to sleep or camp out in the bathroom. I considered attempting to lure Mom away from Bett’s place with some wedding-related errand, but there wasn’t much chance it would work. When Mom took charge of a situation, she hung on with all ten claws.
Standing in the kitchen, I tried to decide what to do next, then finally settled on heating a small portion of the leftover breakfast. Before I realized it, I was hiding the rest of the food under a newspaper in the trash. Old habits die hard. Staring at the contraband, I heard myself telling Jonathan, “I’m all right.” What a lie that was. Three months out of rehab, and I was still hiding food in the trash. When was I ever going to be all right?
“Focus on the little battles, not the war,” Dr. Leland had told me when I was at St. Francis. “One step at a time—two forward, sometimes one back, then forward again. That’s how recovery is done . . .”
“Fall down nine times; get up ten,” Sister Margaret advised. Japanese proverb.
Taking the plate from the microwave, I ate what was left. One step forward.
While I was eating, I focused on the successes of the past week. I had shared more or less regular meals with Mom and Dad all week. I hadn’t stood at the mirror loathing my reflection and imagining that I could see every calorie clinging to my body—I hadn’t had time. At school, I hadn’t skipped lunch or picked through a cafeteria salad, carefully dipping each lettuce leaf in the dressing so I would consume less fat. I’d eaten lunch each day without even thinking about it while tutoring Dell in the storage room. Not once had I stopped to lament the calories or consider how much weight gain might be caused by a bag of Cheetos. I had arranged for the wedding dress to be restored, ordered some nice bouquets for Bett’s rehearsal, and given a little business to a sweet old lady who’d treated me to free flowers. Best of all, I had attended Jumpkids on Friday and danced without feeling as if I were tasting the forbidden fruit, that would surely bring about my downfall.
Compared to all of those achievements, a few eggs in the trash can didn’t mean much. Overall, it had been a successful week. If Mom searched the wastebasket, which she probably would, and found the hidden food, I would tell the truth and move on. One piece at a time, I would put together a life for myself—one that could, perhaps, include dance even if dance could no longer be my life.
All of a sudden, I knew where I wanted to spend my Saturday. I wanted to dance with various partners, none of whom was over four feet high. Finishing the last bites of breakfast, I put the plate in the dishwasher, left Mom and Dad a note, grabbed my purse, jacket, and briefcase, and headed for the Jumpkids mini-camp in Hindsville.
In the driveway, I called Karen’s cell phone, hoping she would answer. When she did, the reception was so scratchy I could barely hear her.
“Karen?” I said. “This is Julia Costell. Seems like my day is looking pretty clear, after all. Do you still need help with the minicamp in Hindsville?”
“Oh, don’t say that unless you mean it,” Karen blurted out. “Mrs. Mindia’s got the flu this morning, and James had to leave late last night to fill in for another pilot who had a family crisis. I’ve got fifty kids coming and so far only myself, Dell, my sister from Hindsville, and some of the local church volunteers to help. One of our counselors from last summer was supposed to be driving up from New Mexico, but he had car trouble and doesn’t know if he’s going to make it, and . . .” The sentence faded into static, then came back. “. . . stressful morning, sorry. If you can come, we would be thrilled. We’re in the car, about thirty minutes out of the city right now. Do you know how to get to Hindsville?”
“Just a minute.” Fishing a map from the console, I unfolded it, traced the road south, and found Hindsville in microscopic print along a winding river. “I see it. What do I do when I get there?”
“Just come to the Baptist church. You can’t miss it. It’s right on the square, next to . . .” Static overtook the line again, and I waited, thinking the connection might be lost for good this time. It didn’t matter. I had a destination and an invitation, which was all I needed.
Karen came back on the line, laughing. “Dell’s bouncing up and down saying, ‘Cool, cool, cool!’ Can you hear her? She’s had the blues all morning because James had to leave, and Keiler might not make it to minicamp. She looks happy now, though. I think you’ve got a fan.”
“It’s a mutual admiration society.” It sounded like a lighthearted quip, but it was true. In some strange way, Dell was doing as much for me as I was for her. “She’s quite a kid.”
“Yes, she is,” Karen agreed. “Listen, we’re about to go down a hill, so I’ll sign off before this thing fuzzes out again.”
We said good-bye, and I hung up, then pulled out of the driveway and headed for the interstate as I called Bett’s place to see how she was doing. Jason answered and gave me the abridged version of Bett’s symptoms. Her nausea was worse than usual, and she couldn’t keep food down, but she wasn’t running a fever. My mother was the one who had diagnosed food poisoning.
“Listen, just make sure it’s not the flu,” I said, thinking that Mrs. Mindia had the flu, and several Harrington teachers and students were out with it. “Bett’s had her flu shot, hasn’t she?”
“Now you sound like your mom,” Jason chided. I was reminded again of how lucky Bett was to have him. He could even laugh at Dr. Mom, right in the middle of a family medical crisis. “Yes, Bett has had her flu shot.”
“Good, then I’ll leave you alone.” I was suddenly very, very glad I was leaving town, so that Mom couldn’t drag me into the food-poisoning drama. Next, she’d be trying to move Bett out of the apartment and back home, so that Mom and Joujou could look after her properly. “You three have a good day, all right?”
Jason groaned, then said good-bye and hung up.
Chuckling, I relaxed against the headrest, thinking that I’d made exactly the right decision today. An adventure was just what I needed. The shadow of gloom and worthlessness that had haunted me all morning flew out the window, and suddenly I was as bright and sunny as the late-winter day.
The drive to Hindsville was quiet and peaceful. Leaving the interstate, I transferred to an old two-lane snaking lazily through the Ozarks, climbing wooded hillsides, plunging into valleys, climbing again. By the time I reached the outskirts of Hindsville, I was far from all my normal reference points. The town itself seemed as unreal as the road that led me there. Comprised of an old-fashioned square with a park and gazebo in the center, it looked like an advertising print on a calendar selling some wholesome, all-American product like baked beans, fresh bread, fruit, or apple-pie filling.
As I pulled into town, the place itself seemed to be yawning and stretching, just waking up as sunlight reached the valley floor where the town was nestled like a tiny diorama tucked within the folds of a thick, winter-brown quilt. At the café, men were standing on the sidewalk next to a pickup truck, laughing and sipping cups of coffee, steam rising from the mugs and dancing near their mouths. In front of the hardware store and the grocery, merchants were setting out their wares, and at the Baptist church, the steeple bell was ringing. I pulled in and parked, feeling like I’d just dropped out of my own life and into someplace that didn’t seem quite real.
Climbing out of the car, I stretched, taking a long breath of the clean, fresh air as I slipped on my coat and surveyed the town. What a perfect place to take a short vacation from the stress of ordinary life.
A flock of geese flew overhead as I walked to the front door of the church. Shading my eyes, I stopped to watch them lazily circle the town, sizing up the river as a landing site. Finally, they veered off and headed north again, the change in direction effected when one bird took the lead, in a hurry to move on toward spring nesting grounds.
“Indian legend has it that sometimes they’d circle until they fell out of the sky.” An elderly man, balding, with puffy shocks of gray hair on the sides, was standing in the doorway, holding open the door. Portly and modest of stature, he reminded me of Mr. Stafford, except that this man had a quick eye and a kind face. He focused on the geese again. “Of course, what they’re really looking for is a leader. All those birds, and they’ll just keep circling forever until one breaks the cycle and heads north again.” Tapping a finger to his lips, he made a quick notation on a spiral-bound pad taken from his shirt pocket. “I’ll have to put that in the Sunday sermon. I’ll call it, ‘One Bold Bird.’ ” He waved a hand across the air, as if he were putting the title up in lights. “What do you think?”
“It sounds great,” I said, smiling. “I’m a middle school guidance counselor, so I understand the ‘one bold bird’ theory. Most of the kids want to circle with the flock, unfortunately.” Strange how easily “I’m a middle school guidance counselor” rolled off my tongue. I’d never identified myself that way before, even in my own mind.
The man at the doorway nodded in agreement, or recognition. “You must be the one from Dell’s school. She’s been looking for you ever since she got here. I hear you’re our dance teacher for today.”
“I think so.” Again, strange how quickly and naturally that answer came out. Julia Costell, guidance counselor, dance teacher.
He extended his hand as I walked up the steps. He had a warm, twofisted grip that lingered for a moment. “Brother Baker. Welcome to First Baptist of Hindsville.”
“Julia Costell.” Taking another breath of the fresh mountain air, I gazed up at the old frontispiece, its peak adorned with stained glass showing a dove landing in Jesus’ hands. “What a beautiful old building.”
Leaning back, he studied the window with me, then glanced into the building, the lines of his face straightening with concern. “How are things going for Dell in school?” He checked the doorway again, making sure we were alone. “She started the year very excited about the musical opportunities there, but the last few times she’s been here, she has seemed somewhat worried and overburdened by it all.”
I winced, wondering how much to say. “She’s . . . trying,” I hedged, tempted to blurt out the whole story. I wanted to talk about Dell with someone who knew her, but I couldn’t risk driving her away. In her desperate bid to preserve the ideal family image, she had to fill the role of ideal daughter—talented, smart, helpful, loving, not conflicted in any way, not failing in anything. Especially not failing her classes at school.
“I was afraid of that,” Brother Baker said soberly. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”
Blowing out a long breath, I stared at the sidewalk. “It might be.” Ethics or no ethics, my job was about helping kids, and the best thing I could do for this kid was to find out more about her. “We’re trying, but she’s behind. She doesn’t want her foster parents to know.”
Brother Baker nodded. “It isn’t uncommon for adoptive kids to have a hard time relating honestly to a new family. When life has taught you that you’re not worth loving, you either reject the idea of love altogether, or you try to mold yourself into someone good enough to be loved. Kids in Dell’s situation are afraid to be real. Experience has taught them that doesn’t work. We are all products of our experiences.”
I realized he was looking at me very directly, and I was falling into the words, thinking not only of Dell, but of myself, hopelessly convinced that the real me wasn’t good enough, that I needed to be a little thinner, a little more talented, a little more successful. “I think a lot of this stems from being abandoned by her father.” I blinked, trying to separate the mixture of Dell’s life and mine, like egg whites from yolk. “Her biological parents, I mean. She writes often of her mother’s reasons for leaving and of wondering about the identity of her father. I think she’ll always be seeking the answers to those questions.”
Brother Baker rubbed his brow, then his eyes, looking tired. “That’s a can of worms.”
I wondered if my mother might answer the question about my father the same way, if I asked. That’s a can of worms. . . . “She has a lot of questions about her past. She’s coming to the age of trying to figure out who she is, where she came from.”
Brother Baker nodded in a wise way that made me wonder if he knew this was as much about me as it was about Dell. “I can’t tell you much about Dell’s past,” he admitted. “Not beyond what you probably already know from her school files. Her grandparents were agricultural workers down on Mulberry Creek, never had much, never were considered very fine folks, if you know what I mean. The grand-father died in a farming accident when Dell’s mother and her brothers were teenagers, and the family went further downhill after that. One of the brothers got killed. The other one, Bobby, was in and out of jail and right now he’s back in for DUI. Dell’s mother quit school as a teenager, ran off, got involved in drugs and whatnot. Came back a few years later, with Dell just a tiny baby. Never said who the father was, as far as I know. She eventually left again, got pregnant, later gave that baby to its father, and took off a third time. She died in Kansas City. Overdose. Dell was left with no one but a grandmother, who was in declining health and unprepared to raise a little girl.”
Shaking his head, he sighed. “One of those stories that never seemed like it would have a happy ending, but here we are. Karen’s grandmother, Rose Vongortler, lived across the river from Dell’s granny. Rose was lonely and Dell was lonely and the two of them became friends. Eventually, Dell was like a part of the Vongortler family. It seemed a natural thing that when Dell’s biological grandmother died last year, Karen and James took her in. They’d never been able to have children of their own, so Dell was a long-awaited gift. God has an amazing way of weaving lives together.”
Clearly, he wanted to leave the story at that. Happy ending. No more to be said. I pushed for more, anyway. “Dell has mentioned a boyfriend of her mother’s—someone with long dark hair. She thinks he might be her father. Do you know who that could have been?”
Brother Baker squinted upward. “No, I don’t believe I do. Dell’s family always kept to themselves. They didn’t like a lot of people knowing their business—always afraid of the welfare authorities and things like that.” Tapping a finger against his chin, he frowned thoughtfully. “I hate to say it, but if Dell has a biological father out there, she’s probably better off not knowing him. Dell’s mother didn’t run with a very savory crowd.”
“I suppose not,” I muttered, but in the back of my mind, I felt that even if the answers weren’t pleasant, Dell still had a right to find them. I’d learned from experience that ignoring the questions wouldn’t make them go away.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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