Emily’s gift was a Honda Civic. Not brand new. He couldn’t afford new. But there was a used silver one she had seen in a Honda dealership a few months prior. Taking note of the desire emerging upon her face, he had gone in the next day and filled out most of the paperwork for the car. Now, there were just a few other minor things that need to be taken care of, and the car was all hers. The plan was to take her to the dealership, finish up, and let her drive it home.
They arrived around two o’clock that afternoon via bike. (The dealership was only a few miles away in the direction of downtown L.A., so he’d figured it would be okay to get a little bit of a workout in as well.) It wasn’t long after they pulled in that the salesmen were on them like leeches. They sat in their glowing white gazebos all day long searching for prey like buzzards, and once they spotted someone, they were racing after them at leopard speed. It never failed. The only people more annoying might have been paparazzi. But Marty was prepared, and he located the one of the bunch who had helped him the last time he was there. The man knew him immediately and gestured for them to follow him inside.
The building was incondite, the ceiling absent and the air ducts showing. It reminded him of walking through a Sam’s Club – customers always kept looking up to make sure it wasn’t going to collapse in on them, especially during storms when every raindrop could be heard pounding the metal like machinegun fire. Everything was white, except the desks employees sat at which were a contrast of many different colors. It was as if a posse of Behr paint cans had experimented with their own World War. He was much more comfortable once they were in the dealer’s office where everything up top was covered by panels. Unable to see the inner workings of the building was a blessing.
The dealer was kind and lacked the obsessive nature that most of his coworkers possessed. A triangular plaque atop his desk announced his name in bold bronze letters: Marvin Trill. It was easy to see, judging by the mess of papers scattered about it, that he wasn’t the organized sort, but the framed certificates hanging everywhere in the room pointed to him as being one of the dealership’s prized sellers.
He came across a bookshelf near the back where he discovered a few of his novels. This inspired him to strike up a conversation with Marvin who, he soon learned, was a huge fan of Martin Love stories. While he filled out the last of the paperwork, they talk about Marvin’s love for the books, and Marty ended up giving the man his autograph.
The beauty, though, was that it didn’t take as long as Marty had expected. They were there for about an hour before everything had been finalized. Marvin never pressured them or hit them with any unplanned-for curveballs that would’ve jacked the price a mile high. The warranty was modest, but it covered a lifetime. And his daughter was overjoyed when it came time for the test drive. She handled the machine as if it was a long-lost friend, and it listened. He knew instantly that this car was meant for her, and she was crazy for it.
Once done, Marty shook hands with Marvin and thanked him for everything. He told his favorite author that it was nothing. Then they headed out to the lot. Emily helped him hook the bikes onto the bike rack on the roof. They hopped in, and they were off, closer and closer toward the tragedy that would rock his world.
Emily knew the back roads quite well, so he wasn’t worried. He’d taught her everything he had in his mind about driving, and now she was as good as him. He watched her at the wheel, handling the vehicle like a champ. It moved with such grace that it might’ve been accurate to name the car the Heaven Mobile.
She, being the zealous Christ-follower she was, hit the radio and switched it to the Joy FM. She relished their music saying that it always encouraged her to push on and make the most of her life serving the Lord. He preferred classic rock, but this was tolerable.
She glanced at him when she finally realized he was staring at her. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s just that my little girl’s all grown up.”
She smiled. “Not yet, Daddy. There’s still college.”
“I know, but that’s not too far away. I feel so old.”
“You are old,” she said, laughing.
“Watch it there, pumpkin. I can still ground you.”
She made the turn onto Wilshire Avenue which would take them toward Hepinger and then toward Buckley. This was a strip of small restaurants, convenient stores, and clubs that Marty was always wary of. It wasn’t necessarily part of the route he would’ve taken, but she was driving. The last thing he wanted to do was interfere.
“So what were you and Mom up to today?” she asked, with a wink. “I noticed she didn’t go to the clinic.”
He grinned. “The less you know, the better.”
She giggled. “I just know that you two don’t get as much time together with me and Carl around, so I was just curious. It’s kinda obvious–”
“Stop while you’re ahead,” he told her.
She laughed hard, so much so that she snorted. It was beyond cute, and he couldn’t help but laugh along once he heard it.
“What’s gotten into you? You’re never like this.”
She shrugged. “I’m just really happy right now. And…”
The ‘and’. It was going to come eventually. He knew it. Now that it had come, he didn’t know how he felt about it.
“…there’s this guy. His name is Trevor, and he’s just about the cutest boy you could ever come across. He wants to go out with me. And the awesome thing is that he’s also planning on attending UCLA. May I, Daddy?”
This was inevitable. His daughter may have been a zealous Christian, but there were some things in the world that caught on to everybody eventually.
He smiled. “We’ll see. I want to meet him first.”
She was so excited she slapped the steering wheel. “Thank you, Daddy. I love you so much.”
“I love you too. How was school?”
“I had a really good day. First period, Jessica got something–”
Then it happened. All he saw was a flash of sunlight on metal before the driver’s side door was crunching in on her. The car was sent spinning uncontrollably. His head bashed against the window of his door causing him to see stars. Everything outside became a meshed blur of myriad hues and shades much like a multicolored rainbow. Nausea quickly crept into his stomach along with a headache, the product of dizziness. The Honda made it about a few feet (He would learn this later. At the time it felt like miles.) before tripping on a curb and rolling for several yards. He remembered the roll because the spinning had changed from a horizontal pattern to a vertical one, and he felt as if his intestines were bouncing up and down throughout his abdomen. He had lost track of Emily in the confusion, but all he could think about was the door beginning to come at her. If it had finished, she would be crushed now.
That was his last thought before blacking out.
He dreamed while gone of a long black corridor with a dot of light at the end. (He wondered why he was remembering this now while he was telling Dave the story. It was the first time since the accident.) A Stephen King fan, he thought of the tunnel scene in The Stand where it was completely dark, and all Larry Underwood, one of the protagonists, could think about was zombies coming out to get him until his girlfriend nearly scared the crap out of him by sneaking up on him. But this tunnel was different. There were no bodies in it, and it seemed peaceful. His own body was there, but it wasn’t. It was a strange experience, to say the least. Through his there-but-not-there eyes, all he could focus on was the dot of light. It was an opening, he knew, because all other dreams like this had that opening, and if the dreamer went into the light, he or she would enter the afterlife. It was odd, though, that this light struck him as being alive.
He began walking toward it. To his surprise, it moved toward him as well. With each one of his steps, the light took one of its own. When he was halfway there he could barely make out the form of a cross. How he was seeing this, he did not know, but something hung from the cross. He deduced it to be a man, and blood puddled beneath him. A lifeless cadaver, he slunk forward, eyes closed and, as he reached up to feel his neck, no pulse. As he came closer, he could make out striations and lacerations where it appeared he had been flogged, certain strips of skin hanging from his body. The crown on his head was made of some kind of plant that consisted of about fifty inch-long thistles that pierced the skin and dug into his skull. And to top things off, he had been nailed to the cross, one in each wrist and another through his shins. He couldn’t imagine the kind of pain this man had gone through. How was this–
The man’s eyes flicked open. Marty was so startled that he fell backward. He hit the ground so hard that his tailbone stung. How was this possible? The man was dead. He had no pulse. He couldn’t be alive, yet he was staring right at him.
His line of sight went to Marty. “Come back to me,” he said.
“Come back to me.”
The dreamscape began to fade as the man’s words echoed. Come back to me, they said. Come back to me. But how? And who was this man? He had the distinct feeling of déjà vu, but he could not recall his name. He kept fading and fading and fading and…
He bolted up nearly choking on his seatbelt. It snagged his chest and threw him against the backrest. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was. But as he was thinking, there was tugging at his sleeve. He turned to the left to see Emily looking at him, parts of the skin on her face peeled down to reveal the muscle beneath, much like the body of the man on the cross. And there was blood, so much blood. He could see that the windshield was gone, meaning that it must’ve imploded on them and shredded his daughter’s face. That was not the worst of her problems, however. Along with the face, she was pinned between the armrest and the caved-in door.
“Daddy, please!” she shrieked.
“Hang on, baby. I’ll try to get us out.”
He turned to his side to find himself staring at a power line pole. Somehow through the vehicle’s rolling it must have slammed into the pole and become wedged. Surveying the dashboard, he was amazed that the glove compartment hadn’t been driven into his legs. The more he saw, the more apparent it became that they would have to go through the windshield.
“Hang on, baby. I’m gonna get us out of here. Just tell me what hurts.”
He winced as he undid the belt. Nothing was broken, he was pretty sure, but there were definitely some cuts and bruises. It came loose with ease and clashed with the doorframe. He pushed himself up and began to crawl through the opening.
“I’m still here, Em. I haven’t gone anywhere.”
“I can’t feel my leg!”
This wasn’t good. “Which one, honey?”
“The right one.”
He needed to work fast. He moved back in on her side and touched her right shoulder. “Does that hurt?”
She shook her head.
“Okay. Tell me how tight you feel.”
“Between the door and the armrest.”
She seemed to be thinking, but it was hard for him to tell with all the flesh hanging from her face. “It’s really tight.”
“Do you think you could move if I helped you?”
“I don’t know. My arm stings.”
“But you said it was fine.”
“My left arm.”
That actually made sense. He couldn’t even see it because it was buried under the folded steel. It had to be broken.
“Alright,” he said. “We have to try, though. I’m going to pull. You push, okay?”
“On the count of three. One…two…three!”
She squealed. He hoped he never had to hear that again. And she was crying now.
“It’s okay, Em. It’s alright.”
The tears started to die down. “Daddy?”
“I’m really tired.”
Oh, no. Please, God. If you’re truly there, don’t let this happen.
“You need to stay awake, honey.”
“But I’m so tired.”
“I know, but you need to stay awake.”
He never heard the sirens until the ambulance and fire rescue trucks were right across the street. He turned to them and began flagging them down as they exited their trucks and vans. “Help me! She needs help!” When he turned back, Emily had passed out. He yelled. “Emily! Don’t go to sleep! Stay awake, baby! The paramedics are here!”
She made no response.
He swung around. The medic stepped back, obviously caught off guard.
“What’s the problem?”
What do you think, nimrod? “My daughter,” he said. “She’s stuck.”
He climbed to the hood and asked Marty to step down. He fought the man, but two other firefighters yanked him off and sat him on the curb.
“We’ll handle it from here,” one said, and then ran to help his buddy.
He wanted to jump up and fight them as well, but he was too weak and distraught. What was happening? And why? He could hardly process anything.
One second she was in the car. He heard a snap! as the seatbelt was cut loose. (That’s why he couldn’t get her out. It must’ve been caught on the door because as soon as it was cut, she came free.) They were lifting her through the windshield opening and laying her on the hood. Another man and woman from the ambulance arrived with a stretcher. He watched them carefully place her on it and hurry her to the vehicle.
As soon as they were running, he scurried over and hopped in just before the doors shut. The lady examined him, thoroughly.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m her father.”
She shook her head. “You shouldn’t be here.”
He glared. “I’m not leaving. I don’t give a crap what you say. I’m riding with my daughter to the hospital.”
She gave no argument. She just turned and began hooking up a portable heart monitor to Emily. Her friend was in the driver’s seat maneuvering through the streets. He could make out the blue-red-white pattern of the flashing emergency lights through the window. The siren was ear-shattering.
The monitor began to rapidly beep.
“We’re losing her!” the woman yelled.
She ripped out a defibrillator from an orange bag. She tore Emily’s blouse so that her breasts were showing.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to restart her heart, sir. Please, sit back.”
This was unreal. It couldn’t be.
Dave listened intently, taking the story in. It was obvious that the woman had gotten Emily’s heart pumping again, but at the time it had scared Marty out of his mind. Throughout his conversation with the woman, she’d kept saying that “it would take a miracle to get this girl back into shape”. It was the first time he would remember hearing that word, but it was certainly not the last.
“What happened after that?”
“Not much,” Marty said. “We pulled into the hospital, the woman and the man removed Emily from the ambulance, and they rushed her inside with me right behind. She was taken to the emergency room where they stabilized her arm, wrapping it in the cast, and attempted to stitch her wounds back together. They were able to get most of them, but for the ones they couldn’t, they used the skin grafts. While they were working, I called Jenna and told her what happened. The rain had stopped, so she was gardening again, like she had been earlier, but she dropped it in an instant and was in the hospital within a matter of minutes. I wonder how many traffic laws she broke to do so.” He smirked.
“It wasn’t long after that that they had her in this recovery room, and she’s been there ever since. They kept her in a coma for a while to belay the pain. She’s out now, but she doesn’t remember anything except informational knowledge.”
Dave resumed patting his back. “She will, Marty. In time she will.”
“What do I have to do, Dave? I want this to end.”
“You must have patience. God has His own timing. But while you wait, you must also pray. Ask God to forgive you and reassure Him that you trust in Him. Let Him know that He is going to be the center of your life from now on. Maybe He will give you back what you have lost.”
Dave rose and began down the corridor to the elevators.
“Where are you going?”
He turned. “My job here is done. I’m going home, to my family.” He smiled. “Remember what I said, Marty. Go to God, and then go to her.”
With that, he left. No other words were spoken. Marty was left with a choice: live for God or choose the world.
He stood and went into the room. Emily was as asleep as she was when he left her. She lay on her side, her chest rising and falling without a sound. The grafts made her face look like a papier-mâché sculpture.
He fell into the seat by the bed and let his head lean back, into the glass. The blinds made a cracking sound as they bent with the weight. Maybe Dave was right. The words in his own bible had practically told him the same things. But what if God wasn’t as powerful as people thought He was? What if He was like the Greek gods who were human in nature? Nothing that had happened would be planned. It would all be chance. But that didn’t make sense because everything had been aligned perfectly. He may not have wanted it that way, but he could not deny that there was a structure to everything that was taking place. Something or someone was in control, and if it wasn’t the God he had put his faith in, who else could it be? Nobody on earth qualified. They were all imperfect, selfish human beings, far from being in control. Christ was the only answer and would always be.
He dropped to his knees on the floor. Burying his face in his folded hands he did something he had not done in years: pray. If anyone had walked in at that time they would’ve heard this said through tears:
“Lord, I’m sorry. I’ve failed you, and I realize that now. No matter what you said to me, I always turned the other way and never once used what you have given me for you. Like that man in the Bible…the rich man, you had given him everything, and he turned away and refused to give up his things. I don’t want to be a pawn of the world. I want to be someone who matters, and I now refuse to be like that rich man. I am a worthless human being who would have no purpose if it were not for you. You make all things beautiful. You make all things good. In the midst of the muck and grime you come through and forever clean. A relationship with you is worth far more than any of the worldly possession you have blessed me with, and I come to you a humble servant. I am not in control, and the more I try to control my life, the more it falls apart.
“Please, Lord, I beg you to spare my daughter of this mess. Give her back her memory so that she may reclaim her life here on Earth. If there is someone who is every bit deserving of your grace, it is her. She has done nothing in this life but serve you. You are her rock. Give her back her life so that she may serve you more and win more souls for you. If I could exchange myself for her, I would ask you to take me instead. Let me suffer in her place. Let her take my spot and live to the fullest because I know that she is far more worth it than me. Anyone would be more worth it than me. I don’t want to be the failure I have been anymore, and I would gladly sacrifice myself if I knew it would get my daughter another chance. She’s just a child. She hasn’t even experienced adulthood yet. I want to see her grow, get married, have a family. She would be so much better at it than I ever was.
“Lord, I know you can do it. You’ve proven yourself time and time again, so please, forgive me. And take me back. I love you, and I promise to be forever yours.”
ϯ ϯ ϯ
He watched her rise on the swings. They were here favorite objects at the playground. It wasn’t far from the house, that’s why he’d chosen it. He couldn’t remember the name. He’d only had the chance to glance at it shortly. But it was popular. Kids played all around, diving into the tunnel that connected the two halves of the set, flopping down the plastic, swirling yellow slide, hanging from or sitting atop the monkey bars. He smiled as he perused the mothers and few fathers that observed their children at play. Some of them were on the verge of sleep; others read books or the newspaper; the rest devoted themselves to anything that would keep them distracted. The whole time, he kept an eye on his beautiful Emily and told her in his head to never grow up, stay young. It was true that the ways of childhood vanished far too quickly, and the adult life brought nothing that measured up to the joy it provided (little did he know that he would be asking God ten years later to allow her the chance at adulthood).
She jumped off and went for the jungle gym, both her ponytails flapping in the wind like the wings of a dove. If they went any harder, he knew she would fly away, in the bright blue canvas of sky. The pink tank top merged with her white skirt perfectly. It was as if he was in the presence of an angel.
She hit the steps and climbed to the platform where she met a boy in tan shorts and a Pac Man t-shirt. She asked him to follow her through the tunnel and to the slide, to which he obliged. Marty watched them crawl through and pop out the other side.
He loved to view his daughter at play. She was so graceful and kind to everyone and everything, a trait that would travel with her into her teenage years. Shyness was a thing of the past, something she went through at the ripe old age of three. Now, if there was someone to talk to, she would talk. The boy had noticed this too and had a wide smile on his face. For a split second, Marty wondered whether this was the start to her dating life and was hoping for it to not be so. She was only seven; it could wait. But that subsided when the boy yelled to his father who sat on one of the blue benches. The man was wearing a Michigan Wolverines jersey and spoke with that northern accent that could only be from the New England region or at least somewhere close. He bet that the boy and his father would be leaving for home in the not-too-distant future.
She flew down the slide until it spat her out the end. Her purple sneakers collided with the mulch-covered surface where she skidded to a stop. The khhhhhh! of her shoes grinding against the tiny pieces of wood could be heard from where he sat. For the grand finale, she did a jumping jack (or something that quite resembled one) yelling “Yeah!” into the wind. The boy made his exit and collided with her, sending them both to the ground. He almost rose from the bench to see if they were okay when he heard them laughing and saw them pushing themselves back up. Soon, they were on their feet again and weaving their way through the play set for another round.
He looked down and removed the blueberry Slurpee he’d gotten at Seven Eleven from his leg, setting it beside him on the bench. The condensation had left a darkened wet mark on his pants.
Movement near the edge caught his attention. He looked out of curiosity. A squirrel scampered across the concrete, probably rummaging around for some grub. He saw its tail swinging in a circle and couldn’t help but smile. It found an acorn and then gazed up at him with its tiny black orbs. He began to wonder how they thought. Animals, creations with mere instinct and no reason, were all action, but what of thought? This one scrutinizing him seemed to be thinking, though he knew it wasn’t. What would life be like if there was no such thing as pain and/or suffering?
He let his hand down in a cupped formation, and the creature crept over placing its nose in his palm. It tickled his skin. For a moment, he found himself lost in nature’s beauty. It was magnificent and–
His head felt heavy. He slowly raised it, wiping the sleep from his eyes. As they opened, he began to make out the room. He was still at the hospital. It was all a dream.
Whew, he thought. I’m glad that’s true because my interaction with that squirrel was really strange.
The first item that became clearly visible was the rose. It swayed in the glass, nonchalantly. The instant it was seen, the smell became apparent as well, poignant beyond belief. He heard rustling out in the hall and turned to see the familiar food cart squeaking by again, consumed by tremors.
Turning toward the bed, he saw Emily watching him.
“Good morning, sleepy head,” she said, with a smile.
He smiled back. “Good morning to you. Why are you so happy?”
She said nothing, continuing to smile.
Then, it dawned on him. “Did you just call me ‘Daddy’?”
She nodded. “What else would I call you? That’s what I’ve called you since I could talk.”
This was impossible. She could remember?
“I assume you sent Mom and Carl home. I’m glad you stayed, though. And I’m glad that Grandma and Grandpa could make it for as long as they did, with Grandma’s retirement coming up and all.”
She could remember! Everything! His heart was beating a mile and a half. “You remember.”
She nodded again, a tear rolling down her face.
He ran to her and threw his arms around her. He’d never felt so relieved in all his life. His precious baby girl had returned.
Thank you, God, he thought through fresh tears of his own. Thank you, God.
The doctors were astounded. Not only had Emily made a full recovery of her memory, but the wounds under the skin grafts had completely healed as had her broken arm. They had seen nothing like it. No patient in the history of their hospital had ever recuperated so quickly. They had no idea how to explain it. But Marty did: God. He had come through, just as He’d always promised He would.
He stood to the side as they removed the grafts. They peeled off like Band-Aids, and underneath, her face was exactly the same as it was before the accident. No scars, just a clean, beautiful surface. He was so overwhelmed by the sight that he walked over and gave her a long kiss on the cheek. She grinned wide and pecked him on the forehead. It was honestly and truly the happiest time of his life.
The next thing to go was the cast. As it came off, he was hesitant to look, expecting to find it as the mangled mess he had seen at the crash site. (When the EMTs had gotten her out, it was flopping around, bent backward and as white as limestone. It had been so horrible that day, so horrible that he’d left it out when telling Dave the story. Some things were best kept in the mind, and he knew that that was one of them.) But what was revealed was a straight, healthy limb without any evidence that it had been broken. He exhaled and praised the Lord for what he was seeing, almost falling to his knees in thanks.
When Jenna heard the news, she was ecstatic, so much so that she was balling through the earpiece of his phone. He told her to bring Carl, and he would meet them at the entrance to the hospital. So, she did, and when he saw his son, he caught him in a strong embrace, sharing with him the new love that Christ had given him. It felt so powerful to be a true follower of God that he had no idea what he had been thinking when he had neglected to give in.
Upon entering the room, Jenna ran to her daughter with a planned interrogation, disbelieving that what she was witnessing was the real deal, and then wrapped her in a hug of her own, after she had passed with all the correct answers. He took in the scene from a distance admiring the wonderful family God had been so kind to bless him with. Before the accident, they had been just a family. But now that Emily was back and God had succeeded in influencing Marty to make the most of his relationship with Him, they were far more.
Considering the situation, the doctors decided it would be best to hold Emily at the hospital for another twenty-four hours to do some tests. All of them said that it was fine, simultaneously, assuring Dr. Wright – the one who had overseen everything since the beginning – that the entire family would be staying there until the tests were over. And this was no problem for Marty. He was actually excited because this would give him plenty of time to tell his wife, son, and daughter all about what God had done.
He had no idea where to start, so he just began by telling them how he had been previously, how he had simply been going through the motions not caring about having a friendship with Christ, just wanting to use His gift of salvation as a get-out-of-jail-free card. (It had only been a few hours, but it felt like that other Marty was a thing of the past.) Then he went on to tell them what he had read in his bible and how, even though it had warned him of what would come, he was persistent to disregard it as nothing. But then he explained how Dave had come to talk to him about his struggle and had been the channel through which God had removed the seal from his eyes.
Emily cried as he apologized to her for being the cause of her injuries, but she would have nothing to do with that, insisting that God allowed the accident to happen so that her father would finally know Him for who He truly was: a loving Father and friend. She was the tool He had used to get through to him, and that made her so proud. Listening to her allowed him to understand what he had been missing this whole time. She was selfless and exhibited the same love Jesus had shown to the world to her own father and everyone, and an attitude like that was only possible if the Savior lived inside the heart.
His wife and son walked over and smothered him in a group hug as he cried onto their shoulders, so amazed by the power of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Around noon, a Hispanic woman dressed in a striped button-up shirt and a black suit stepped through the door. Marty would’ve placed her age around forty-five or fifty noticing the wrinkles beside her nose and just below her eyes. As a random addition, her jaw was askew, leaning more to the right, as if she had made a living out of avoiding orthodontic practices. She flipped open an ID holder sporting a golden badge that said LAPD at the top. She introduced herself as Detective Maria Welsh and told them that she was the detective assigned to Emily’s case.
“Case?” he asked.
Welsh nodded. “Yes. The car that hit you was never found at the scene therefore the accident was a hit-and-run.”
“What have you learned?”
“Thankfully, at the time, there were several witnesses about, and one of them was quick enough to write down the plate number.”
“We found the man, hauled him out of a bar actually.”
He was so relieved.
“His name is Kyle Paulson,” she continued. “He has a chronic drinking problem. As it turns out, this is not his first hit-and-run. Four years ago he drove a Toyota Tundra into the side of a Wachovia building causing the death of an infant boy. Hence, he’s been wanted for vehicular homicide. Phoenix PD in Arizona had him incarcerated on DUI charges for a while, but his rich daddy bailed him out. That’s when he took off, but it looks like he finally settled in L.A.”
He pinched his eyes against his nose. “Is he trying it again?”
“No, sir. Thankfully, old daddy’s done protecting his boy. That’s why I’m here.”
He looked up to see her watching Emily, who was resting. “I would like to ask your daughter if she would act as a witness for the D.A. We have a rather well supported case. All that’s left is the testimony of a victim.”
“What about the family that lost their son?”
“That’s another case entirely. He will be tried for that as well.”
He woke Emily and explained who the woman was and what she was asking. His daughter thought about it for a moment before extending her consent. Welsh then asked if she could take her statement, and he had Jenna and Carl follow him out of the room, to leave them be.
Five months later, Kyle Paulson would be sentenced to life in prison.
The next day, the doctors agreed that Emily could leave. She’d gone through all the tests, whatever they were, but they were still stumped as to how she could’ve healed so fast. Instead of putting her through more, however, they just figured it was time to give up.
Marty called his parents and let them know that they were leaving the hospital and that they would be home soon. He also told them about Kyle and Emily’s potential involvement in his trial. His father was pleased to hear that, and he gave his son the I-told-you-so. He was smiling on his end, not surprised by that at all.
Now, back in the room, he stood to the side as Emily pushed herself out of the bed and onto the floor. Dr. Wright had one of the nurses return her clothes to her. He grabbed Carl and took him outside for a second so that his sister could change. When they came back in, she was back in the red tank top and jean shorts she had changed into after arriving home from school.
She twirled around and looked to her father. “Good as new.”
“Yes, you are,” he told her. “And as beautiful as ever.”
“Can we go now?” Carl pleaded.
Jenna smirked. “You in a hurry?”
“No, I just hate all this mushy, gooey stuff.”
They all laughed.
“Yes,” Marty said. “Let’s go.”
They headed out the door, past the counter, and toward the elevators. He saw the cat, still grinning, but it wasn’t as threatening anymore. He never discovered whether or not he was losing his mind, but he was pretty sure it was just sadness rather than depression. God wanted his attention, but he was fairly certain that He wouldn’t have let him end up in a mental ward.
They were halfway down the hall when he stopped. “Wait,” he said. “I forgot something.”
He hurried back in and found the rose. He had been there the whole time, but he had no clue who had put it there. As a matter of fact, it was in the room before they had even put Emily inside to recover. He snatched it between his thumb and forefinger and lifted it to his nose. The scent was pleasantly sweet. What had once caused him headaches and added to his stress by taunting him had now been reduced to just a plant, but one that would make a wonderful gift for his daughter.
He jogged back out. He was at the door when someone going the other direction thudded into him and fell to the ground.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, turning to pull the man up.
The man clasped his hand. Once on his feet again, he said, “Oh, it’s no problem. Happens at least once a day with my job.”
Marty was frozen. There was something familiar about the man, but he could not put his finger on it. The man was wearing an orange baseball cap over a long head of thick brown hair that had been gathered in a ponytail. It reached to the base of his neck. On his face was a long, fluffy beard. He was dressed in a gray jumpsuit with a belt of tools around his waist. The man struck him as being a carpenter, but he didn’t know why.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
The man shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. You’re not the first to think that, though. I get that all the time.”
“Name’s Jeffry Chamberlin,” the man said. “I’m head of maintenance here at the hospital.”
Marty extended his hand, and they shook. “Martin Love.”
Chamberlin’s eyes widened. “Oh, yeah. I knew I recognized you. You’re that famous Christian thriller writer, right?”
“I love your stories.”
“I’m writing a story of my own.”
Marty gave a grin. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah, but people aren’t going to get to read it for a while.”
Marty nodded. “Publishing can be an ugly business.”
“No need to tell me twice.” The maintenance man peered behind him. “Is that your daughter?”
He turned around to see Emily standing by the elevators talking to her mother and brother. He looked to the man. “Yes, sir, it is.”
“She’s very beautiful. Is that rose for her?”
“It is. She just got done recovering from an accident.”
“Well, it’s a nice gift. I’m sure she’s going to love it.”
The man was still looking at her. “Emily’s always been filled with promise. Enjoy her, Marty.”
He spun in shock, his heart racing. How did he know her name? And he’d called him Marty as if he’d known him for a long while. How…?
The man continued in the direction he had been going but then stopped. He looked back to Marty. “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot…you’re far from worthless.”
Marty, stunned, watched him leave without words. What did he mean by that?
Then, it clicked. The initials: J.C. No way. Was it possible?
He went to catch the man, but he was gone. Where…?
He ran to the nurses’ station. The young intern at the desktop chatted away with someone on the other end of the phone – something about faulty insurance for another patient. If he had been in a hurry, he may have yanked her lip ring until she said uncle, but he knew that wouldn’t be the best approach. Instead, he leaned against the counter rolling his fingers across the top.
When she was finished, she looked up. “May I help you, sir?”
“Yes. I was wondering if you could tell me where Jeffry Chamberlin was headed.”
She stared, raising an eyebrow. “Who?”
“The head of maintenance.”
“Sir, I have no clue who you’re talking about.”
“Could you look him up in the system?”
She sighed and began tapping away at the keyboard. A few seconds later she said, “I’m sorry, sir, but there is no one working here by that name. Can I help you any further?”
He shook his head. “No thanks. I’ll be alright.”
He started toward the elevator, baffled. The Lord had been there the whole time, right there with them the entire way through Emily’s recovery, and none of them had seen Him. Why? He could’ve made His presence known. But then again, that wasn’t the way it was meant to be, was it. What would faith be if people could see?
He looked to the rose, now gleaming in his hand, and smiled. Some people don’t believe in miracles. But as for Martin Love, he would always know they were possible.
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