At first Gloria couldn’t remember where she’d parked her car, but when she punched the security lock button on her remote key entry device, the lights began blinking, the horn sounded, and she walked toward it, surprised she could walk at all, or breathe.
She struggled to rein in her racing thoughts to keep from imagining what horrible things might be happening to Austin right now. Yes, he was an unruly little boy, and mischief oozed from his every pore, but his big blue eyes were just like Laura’s. And Bryan’s. She started weeping again, remembering her children’s eyes growing red-rimmed before the tears began to flow. Austin’s eyes did that, too, and his eyelashes were long and wispy, and white—almost invisible—like Laura’s. And Bryan’s. Like a breath and just as fragile.
Where could he be? What could have happened to him?
She positioned herself behind the wheel, started the car to turn on the air conditioning, then dug into her purse to find her cell phone, blessing the person who had thoughtfully returned it to her handbag.
Suellen Kelly answered her cell phone on the first ring. Will had already called to tell her about Austin, and to say that he was worried about his wife.
“I am not hysterical. He already accused me of that when he called. And besides, my reactions are quite beside the point, as I told him on the phone.”
“Where are you right now? I’m on Park and Alma and I’m coming to drive you home.”
“I’m in my car, ready to leave. I can drive my own car. But I need to see you. I’ll wait here—I’m in the parking lot outside of Collin Creek, on the west side. Oh! I see your car already. Slow down, lady, you’re driving like a crazy person!”
With all the eagerness and warmth of a time-tested friendship, Suellen and Gloria jumped out of their cars and flew into each other’s arms. They held one another for a long moment and then Suellen took Gloria’s hand and led her back to the Volvo.
“Are you sure you’re all right to drive?” Suellen asked.
“Yes. I’ll be fine. In fact, the drive will be good for me. I’ll be glad for the time to pull myself together before I see Will. Driving relaxes me, in a way. When I was younger and it all got to be too much for me, I loved to head out to a country road and drive fast; somehow it helped clear my head.”
“I suggest you call Will before you go looking for a country road. If you try to find a long stretch where you can drive fast you won’t be home before morning.”
Suellen placed her hands on Gloria’s shoulders and locked onto her eyes, compelling her to listen. “Stop and think: Remember all the roads we’ve gone down before this one? Remember the times we thought it was hopeless—like Eric’s accident when they told us he’d never live, and now he’s strong and healthy, pestering the fool out of his sisters and giving us all fits because he’s so active and smart?”
Gloria nodded, remembering. “And God was faithful. Always.”
“Yes. Remember how often we’ve talked about finding the quiet place,” Suellen went on, her voice filled with compassion. “Remember? The place where we’re held safe in Jesus. ‘The place’ doesn’t simply remove fear—it transcends fear, and the emotions of the moment. I’m praying for you, my dear friend, and reminding you that you are safely in His care. He’s on the case, isn’t He? We have history, you and I, with God and with each other. We can rest our trust in Him. We wouldn’t willingly go through any of it—Bryan, Eric, and now this—but He has turned those things, as He always does and always will, into rivers of living water. You know you can draw from that well now.”
There was silence for a minute or so while both women wept quietly.
Suellen was the first to regain her voice. “Now take a few deep breaths and call Will. Tell him you’re okay. He’s awfully worried about you. He needs you, Gloria. Will adores Austin. I’ve watched when they play together with the trains, and I’ve never in my life seen a more patient Grandpa. It’s as if Will feels privileged to have a little boy to play with again.”
“You’re right. Austin is his favorite. Not that he doesn’t love the babies, but you know how men are. The babies make him nervous and Austin is older. He’s so different with Austin, as if maybe he thinks Austin is like him, which he isn’t, not in the least. Will is so controlled and calm, while Austin can be awfully naughty sometimes…” She stopped herself from rattling on.
“I’m sure I would have picked that boy up by his heels and given him a long overdue spanking,” she said, “but not Will. He just fixes what Austin breaks and cleans up whatever he spills.” She could feel her heart slow down as she pictured the two of them playing model railroad games of pretend.
“You need to go home now and take care of Will. Stephen and I are praying for all of you,” Suellen said.
“Thank you! You’re a real friend—I love you!”
Remembering her fainting spell, and how she couldn’t stop crying at the salon, her face grew warm with embarrassment. She had embarrassed herself. She wanted to handle things the way a mature Christian woman should. Hadn’t she told people countless times “God knows the end from the beginning, and He will work out all things for your good?”
Gloria believed Christian women should conduct themselves with grace and dignity, not like immature females with no spiritual moorings.
Living in Dallas had immersed her in a culture quite different from the practical, straightforward community in which she’d grown up. When Will had taken the position with Texas Life and Fidelity and they moved from Milwaukee to Dallas, Gloria told him that all the women she ran into were “high-maintenance, empty-headed fluff chicks” who ran around all day spending their husbands’ money.
Will told her she would have to repent and eat her words, as was usually the case when she prejudged people, and he was right, as was also usually the case.
For one thing, after all these years, she had developed a few high-maintenance habits of her own. Looking in the rearview mirror, she adjusted a stray strand of hair with elegantly manicured nails, and the new ruby and diamond ring Will had given her for Mother’s Day, catching a ray of sunshine, sparkled back at her.
She had met Suellen Kelly, for another thing. Gracious, beautiful Suellen, polished and refined—“a classy dame,” Will called her. Although Suellen and Stephen moved in much more upscale circles than did Gloria and Will, she was the most uncompromisingly Christian woman Gloria had ever known, hardly empty-headed or superficial.
For all the years they’d known one another, she and Suellen deepened and enriched their friendship by reminding each other, during times of crisis, of God’s great love and faithfulness. They always helped each other find “the place,” no matter what was going on. “The place” was the term they used to describe a dwelling place in the Spirit where they knew they were close to the heart of God, “sheltered in His pavilion.”
When Will and Gloria’s son Bryan was diagnosed with cancer, Suellen’s unflagging prayers for the family inspired all of them to trust and hope.
Not that she’d felt all that spiritual during the long weeks of waiting and watching Bryan’s life slip away.
One night Will had gone to the hospital without her, insisting that she stay home and rest a few hours. She’d waited until the garage door had closed, and then had stomped around the house, raging, howling with grief. Tears coursed down her cheeks now, remembering that Will had reappeared then, sensing that she needed him. They held on to each other until their arms ached, weeping, praying. They prayed earnestly for Bryan’s healing, but neither one ever had an “inner knowing” that he was, in fact, going to be healed this side of Heaven.
“Oh Father,” Gloria had cried, “I know there’s a place of quiet rest near to Your heart, but I can’t find it by myself. Help me, Lord.”
One hard, cold morning, she and Will met Suellen in the family waiting room at the hospital to tell her it was over. Bryan was in the presence of the Father. Gloria would never forget the moment. She and Suellen, tears streaming down their faces, spoke in unison. “God is good.” They experienced “the peace that passes understanding”–peace that made no sense.
Eric’s near-drowning in the backyard pool plunged the Kellys into a crisis just a year after Bryan died.
No one knew exactly what happened. Will thought it was likely that nine-year-old Eric and his friends were playing cannonball or just horsing around, as boys do, and Eric accidentally hit his head on the side of the pool. Suellen had turned her back for only a minute it seemed, when she heard the boys screaming in the back yard. She ran out to find her son face down in the water. By the time paramedics arrived nobody knew how long he’d been unconscious, not breathing.
Paramedics revived him and took him to the hospital where Dr. Ben Rogers, Will’s college classmate, told the Stoners confidentially they might have been better off not reviving the boy at all. The prognosis was grim. If he ever came out of the coma, which Ben deemed extremely unlikely, Eric would probably have severe brain damage and might have to live out his life in a vegetative state. He certainly would never walk again, Ben and consulting physicians predicted.
Gloria remembered holding her trembling friend in her arms, crooning over the shattered woman as if she were a babe in arms.
Suellen couldn’t stop blaming herself. From a well of faith deeper than she’d ever known before, Gloria, weeping, told her that God loved Eric and that somehow she knew that God was touched with her pain, that He wept with her.
After the first week, Suellen came to her and said, “My friend, I want to declare something in your hearing, and if I waver, I want you to remind me. It’s this: If God heals Eric, God is good. Whether Eric lives or dies, God is good.”
Gloria had been a friend to the family during that time, by the grace of God. In addition to driving the 11-year old Kelly twins, Eva and Gail, to music lessons and volleyball games, she had arranged a round-the-clock prayer vigil. In fact, if Suellen or Stephen couldn’t be at Eric’s bedside, Will or Gloria filled in.
This time God gave them a true miracle. It took a while. Day by day, one little victory after another, until finally, Eric was completely restored.
After all they had been through, Gloria knew she should know that falling to pieces in time of crisis was a normal reaction, but she still felt grumpy for being so frantic and weepy. She expected better from herself. She hated knowing how foolish she looked to everybody at the hair salon. Some example she’d been to Alex!
If only she could make her emotions cooperate with her resolve. Traffic on 190, the most direct route west, was light and for that she was grateful. She knew she was not a good driver right now, but she had better success controlling the car than in taking captive her own wildly raging imagination.
Still struggling for control, she pulled her car into their driveway. The sight of Will standing there in the garage, obviously waiting for her, brought a fresh torrent of tears. Dear, sweet, solid Will. With a familiar hand gesture, he brushed back the reddish-blond hair that now existed only in his memory. He opened the car door and helped her stand until she could collapse against his tall, lean body.
He held her, patting her back, murmuring “hmmms” and “hmmms?” at her until she pulled back a bit to look up at his beloved face, into his solemn, deep blue eyes. He took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt.
“Well, Glory-girl, we have us a real mess on our hands. Let’s go inside. I made a fresh pot of coffee.”
“What happened, do you know? Oh, Will! I am so sorry for acting dopey when you called earlier. You were right, I did behave like a foolish, hysterical woman.”
Setting mugs of steaming coffee on the antique oak breakfast table, they sat down and he began to explain.
“Laura called here asking for you, and when I said you were having your hair done, she started crying and couldn’t talk, so David took the phone from her and told me that when they had driven as far as Springfield, Missouri, it was almost light out. That’s when they noticed Austin wasn’t in the van. Allison woke up crying for her brother.”
They each took a sip of coffee and stared unseeingly out of the window. On the one hand, she wanted Will to hurry and explain it, and on the other hand, the whole world seemed to be moving in slow motion and even at that, the facts of the very real crisis they were in came at her faster than she could absorb them.
“Of course I asked him when they last saw the boy,” Will went on, “and he got all worked up and started giving me a lecture on being supportive instead of critical. After talking to him it occurred to me that I probably should have handled my call to you a little better,” He looked over the top of his glasses with a sheepish half-smile. “Especially since I told him my reactions weren’t the issue.
“They called the Missouri State patrol, but neither David nor Laura can say for sure when they last saw Austin. They had been on the road a long time, and after a while, one hour seems to run right into the next one. They did remember stopping at a rest stop near Rolla, Missouri. David said he was driving, but he thinks everybody stayed put while he went to the rest room. Laura didn’t even wake up that time.” He paused, scowling into his coffee.
“The thing is, Gloria, they didn’t have the little girls in car seats either. David’s mother gave them some big old quilts, and they laid the back seat of the van flat, making a kind of bed with all three of the kids lying side by side, expecting them to sleep through all the time it was dark, which they supposed they had. The girls did, obviously. Sometimes I wonder if those two are responsible enough to raise children.”
“Isn’t that beside the point right now? And where are they, anyway? They should be here soon, shouldn’t they?”
“They’re still in Springfield. The police want them to stay there and wait until they can figure out what might have happened—if somebody grabbed the boy out of the van or what.
“If somebody grabbed him. Grabbed him? What?” She heard her voice becoming shrill and didn’t care. “Do you mean kidnapping?” Why would anybody do that? What kind of a crazy person grabs a little boy sleeping in his parents’ van?” Her eyes widened as the possibility registered. “Who has him and what has that animal done to my baby!” Her best intentions forgotten, she laid her head on the table and sobbed.
Will reached across the table and patted her hand. “Come on, Glory-girl. We have to figure out a way to find Austin. Try not to think of the worst-case scenario.”
He cleared his throat and continued in his getting-down-to-business voice. “This not knowing is driving me crazy, too. I can’t think about anything else, of course. I have an idea or two about how we might find him. First of all, I think they should come here and make this their base while the Missouri State patrol goes about their business. When they are here you can help Laura take care of the little girls while David and I try solve this mess.”
While the thought of having the kids here was of immediate comfort, she felt vaguely irked at the presumption that the women were expected to take care of things in the house while the big strong heroes go out to slay the dragon. She wouldn’t mind killing a dragon or two herself right now, preferably with her bare hands.
“Are they going to call back soon? How can we tell them to come here?” Gloria asked. “Did they ever get a cell phone?”
“No, no cell phone, but David did give me the phone number of the police station where they are right now, so I’m going into the den to call there and see if they know anything new. It’s still quite a drive here from Springfield, but I can’t see the sense of them staying there.”
“Of course not. How can they stay there with a four-year-old and a nine-month old baby? That’s a perfectly wrong combination. Remember what a brat Austin was when he was four years old? Impossible! Well, not that he’s an angel now, and he’s almost seven. Oh dear, the baby must be completely off-schedule. The best way to keep a child calm is to keep her on a schedule, although I can’t honestly say Laura has kept any of them on much of a schedule; it’s not as if she is on much of a schedule herself…”
Will interrupted, “I’m hoping you will schedule yourself for a deep breath here! I know you’re upset, but you’re rattling on and on about nothing. Now, don’t you think we ought to pray together before we call the kids?”
Following a calming few moments with her head on her husband’s shoulder, Gloria followed Will into the den where they sat side by side on the sofa, holding hands while Will, in his matter-of-fact, respectful way, addressed his Heavenly Father, asking Him for insight and wisdom. As they bowed to pray, they naturally, after so many years of praying together, inclined their heads toward one another.
Gloria had only a momentary thought of what her husband’s heavy head was doing to her freshly coifed hair.