Clarice picked up the receiver on the third ring. She didn’t usually answer the home phone - just let it go to a message, but she was feeling more generous than usual with her time that morning.
“Hello, is this Clarice?” asked an unfamiliar female voice.
“Yes, who am I speaking to?” Clarice tapped her finger impatiently on the counter top.
There was a big, slow intake of breath that almost made Clarice hang up, and then the woman began.
“This is Darla Nolan.”
“Oh?” Clarice was conscious of a wide smile spreading across her face and was glad Darla couldn’t see her. A couple of decades had passed since high school and still she was this pleased to have one of the most popular girls from her class call her.
“Yeah, um, I know it’s strange to call, but...I just wanted to thank you.” Darla spoke in a nervous rush.
“Yeah - why?” Clarice wished she could sound a little more intelligent.
“Well, I came back for the funeral. It was hard - I haven’t been back in years. That stuff in high school you know - people talk. I couldn’t stand it. That’s why I left. Not that they were wrong, mostly they were right. I...”
“Darla, I don’t...” ‘follow,’ Clarice was going to say, but Darla started in again.
“I knew I was taking a chance coming back. I had to anyway, it was my dad. I thought maybe it was long enough ago, maybe nobody would remember, I hoped not. It’s terrible when you mess up so bad in high school and everybody’s watching you. I just wanted to drop out of sight, but I couldn’t. Everybody knew. And I knew.”
She paused after this rush of incoherent words and Clarice could hear traffic, people, lots of activity in the background. She wondered where Darla was calling from and she still didn’t know why Darla had called.
“So at my dad's funeral, this man approached me and I just knew I’d have to say something about it, about me. I didn’t know him though. Then he said he was your husband - you weren’t there,” she interjected.
“No, I didn’t know your dad. Bill knew him from work,” Clarice explained.
Darla rushed on. “Your husband said you told him about me. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know you knew, but everybody did, of course. So, then I was mad at you, at life, at evertything.”
“What? but...” Clarice tried to cut in, but Darla rushed on.
“He said you told him I was pretty and popular and you said I was different from most of the popular girls because I wasn’t a snob, and that’s all you told him, apparently. Thank you.”
“Darla, I only remember you as the new girl who was so cute she took the high school by storm. I might have been jealous of you, but you weren’t one of those mean girls. You were kind,” Clarice explained.
“I wasn’t kind. I was the worst. You knew about the pregnancy, didn’t you? And you had to know I never ... I didn’t...she wasn’t born, she didn’t have a chance.”
Finally Clarice understood and wished she could help. What words could she say?
Darla made an effort to clear her throat, her voice. “Well, listen. My plane’s boarding. I need to go. Thank you, you’re kind. You could have told him anything, but you didn’t. I’d like to say we’ll keep in touch, but I won’t. I know I won’t. Bye.”
The line went dead.
Clarice slumped into a chair and let out her breath. She put her head in her hands and cried and prayed.
Lord, what can I do? What was that about? How could you let her call me and keep me so helpless. And what do I do now? That poor woman carries a terrible load of guilt. She needs to know You. She could find her rest in you - but I didn’t guide her in any way.
“But, my child, you did. She has learned that you are a safe person. She knows how to reach you, and I know how to reach her. You can rest in me, too.”
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