"I don’t know to this day if I ever recovered emotionally from losing Earl. I think sometimes we love so deeply, so profoundly, that anything else pales by comparison. It was that way with Earl and me.”
"Do you still think about him, after all this time?” Blythe asked with surprise.
"Fifty years later and not a day passes that some memory of Earl doesn’t come to mind. We were together so short a time. Too short.”
"It must have been so difficult for you alone with Emma.”
"The difficult part was that Earl was no longer with us. Anything else I could deal with or reason out, but not that Earl should die.
"He never knew the beautiful daughter we created, and I ached for Emma to remember her father. He would have been so proud of her, as proud as she is of him. Unfortunately she has no memory of him.”
"But you got on with your life, you married again.”
"Yes, in time,” Catherine admitted, but it had taken nearly five years. She might never have remarried if it hadn’t been for Frank’s gentle persistence. He’d wooed her for three of those years.
Like Earl, he’d been a soldier, but the fates had been kinder to him, and he’d returned home from the campaign in the South Pacific to a hero’s welcome. He’d been gentle with her, cajoling her for weeks before she’d agreed to go out with him.
Catherine never fully understood why Frank fell in love with her. She wasn’t interested in remarrying, wasn’t even interested in another relationship. Yet there he was, loving, gentle, eager to be a part of her and Emma’s life.
By then she’d accepted Earl’s death and made her peace with God. The battle had been hard won. Catherine had told God that if this was the way he treated his friends, it was little wonder he had so few.
She smiled at the memory.
"I loved Frank,” she said, "not with the same intensity that I did Earl, but I did love him. A woman doesn’t spend forty-three years married to a man without strong feelings.”
"I don’t understand why you’re giving me this pin,” Blythe whispered brokenly. "You said yourself you never intended to part with it.”
"That’s because it’s the only piece of jewelry I have that Earl gave me, other than a plain gold wedding band. To this day, whenever I put on that cameo, I can feel Earl’s love for me, as strong now as it was all those years ago.”
Blythe tensed, and her shoulders went stiff. "I’m sorry, I can’t accept this gift.”
"Of course you can, child. I want you to have it. It’s fitting that Ted’s wife would wear it. You see, Ted was an Airborne Ranger himself for a time, like his grandfather.”
"Yes, I know, but I still can’t accept it.” She tried to push the box into Catherine’s hands.
"Blythe, it would do me a great honor if you were to take the cameo. Please. Accept it with my love and with Earl’s. You’re soon to be a part of this family, a very important part. This baby is Earl’s first great-grandchild.”
Blythe stilled, as if she weren’t sure what to do.
"Recently I asked God to send the woman of his choice into Ted’s life,” Catherine went on to say, "and Ted chose to ask you to be his wife.”
"That’s because of the baby.”
"I know, dear, but the baby is his responsibility.”
Blythe didn’t say anything for a long time and seemed to be struggling within herself. "He’s in love with someone else,” she admitted candidly. Her face hardened, her features went sharp and tight. "He didn’t think I knew, but I’m not as stupid as everyone seems to believe.”
"No one thinks anything of the sort,” Catherine said sternly.
Blythe folded her hands and briefly closed her eyes. "I asked him about her. Joy, isn’t it?”
"You know what he said? He said that it didn’t matter, that I was the woman he was going to marry. You know the crazy part—he’s actually excited about the baby.”
That didn’t surprise Catherine. Ted was a wonderful uncle. Many times she’d watched him with his cousins and marveled at his patience with small children.
"This baby may not have been planned,” Catherine said evenly, "but that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t loved or welcome. Emma wasn’t planned, either. I didn’t intend to get pregnant on our honeymoon, but these things happen.”
Blythe lowered her gaze. "I think you should know something. In the beginning, I didn’t want this baby. When I first learned I was pregnant, I seriously considered an abortion. It was so tempting, an easy way out, but when I went to make the appointment, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t make myself do it.”
Catherine was forever grateful that Blythe hadn’t resorted to anything so drastic. "But you didn’t, and that’s the important thing. That took courage, Blythe.”
"Not really.” She briefly covered her face with her hands. "I can’t believe I did anything so stupid as to get pregnant. I know better than to let something like this happen. My stupidity isn’t the baby’s fault.”
Catherine wished she could say or do something to ease Blythe’s discomfort. Blythe was restless and seemed to be on the verge of tears.
"I’m really sorry, but I can’t accept your beautiful pin,” Blythe said finally, and set the box back on the end table.
Catherine winced at the sharp edge of her words. "If you won’t accept it for yourself, then take it for the child. Someday when he is older you can tell the child about his great-grandfather who died in the Second World War, and perhaps you could put in a kind word about me.”
"Ah.” Blythe shook her head from side to side in a wild motion. "No, I’m afraid I can’t do that, either.”
"Blythe, my dear, what is it?”
"He’s in love with Joy.”
"Yes, I know, but Ted’s committed to you.”
"You don’t understand.”
"What is it?” Catherine asked softly. "Tell me.” Gently she took the younger woman in her arms. Blythe buried her face in her shoulder and broke into huge sobs.
"Whatever it is will take care of itself,” Catherine whispered soothingly. "Now, now, it can’t be so bad.”
"But it is,” Blythe insisted, rubbing the moisture from her face. "I can’t take the cameo. I can’t give it to this baby.”
"Of course you can.”
"No,” she cried with such strength, she startled Catherine. "I can’t.” She stiffened as if she expected to be struck or attacked. "Ted isn’t the baby’s father. He’s married, you see, and he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
Paul drove directly from the campground to the hospital. On the two-hour drive back into the city, he tried to compose his thoughts, decide what he could possibly say that would help the Bartelli family deal with Madge’s impending death.
Paul knew Bernard and the Bartelli children were emotionally prepared. As emotionally prepared as one could expect.
By the time Barbara had reached the point of death, Paul was of two minds. He’d wanted more than anything that her suffering end. Yet at the same time, he’d mentally clung to her, unwilling and unable to release her from life. He hadn’t thought he could go on without her. In retrospect, his fears had been well founded.
Paul had forever changed the day Barbara died. He’d nursed the pain of that wound for so long, he didn’t remember what it was like to feel anything other than a pressing sadness.
He didn’t want the Bartelli family to make the same mistakes he had, so he mulled over what he could say, what he might do, that would make a difference.
As he reviewed his own response to death, Paul recognized how angry he’d been. Still was. For two long years he’d submerged the anger, unaware of what it was doing to him. Only recently, when he’d stood in the middle of the church and screamed out at the unfairness of death, had he touched upon his fury. Only when he’d cried out in frustration and from a deep well of pain had Paul become aware of how outrage had subtly impacted both his life and his ministry.
He’d tried to deal with his anger intellectually, reason it out. He’d tried to convince himself that as a man of the cloth he wasn’t like everyone else. Why he should feel exempt from the most crushing of life’s disappointments, he didn’t know.
What he’d failed to do was deal with Barbara’s loss in his heart. In his gut.
His faith should have been strong enough to carry his doubts, strong enough to answer the unanswerable. He was a man of God. He was a man who’d dedicated his life to the ministry. A man who eased others’ pain, but not his own.
The conflict came when his mind declared war on his emotions. Faith merged with doubt, and, like water and oil, the two refused to blend, and soon Paul couldn’t tell the difference between hope and despair. Both felt the same to him.
Once, a long time before, someone had told Paul that the greatest beauty was watered by tears. He’d shed his tears, mourned the loss of his wife, and had yet to find any beauty in her death.
The hospital parking lot was full. If Paul had been looking for a reason to turn away, one was presented to him on a tarnished platter.
"I’m sorry, Bernard, I would have been there in your hour of need, but there wasn’t a parking space available.” How ludicrous that sounded.
Paul circled the lot once more and mumbled under his breath when he didn’t see a single available spot. Not even someone walking through, someone he could follow in order to claim their spot.
Paul eased his eyes heavenward. "If you want me here, you’ll provide the space.”
The words had barely escaped his lips when a car unexpectedly jerked out of a parking space directly in front of him. Paul’s mouth fell open.
"All right, all right,” he muttered, "so you want me here.”
Once he parked, Paul walked into the hospital and took the elevator to the appropriate floor. He stepped onto the floor and walked toward the waiting area. There he found two of the three Bartelli children. He knew them from years past, but they stared at him as though he were a stranger.
"Hello,” he said, walking into the waiting area. He introduced himself.
"I’m Rod,” said the older of the Bartelli sons, exchanging handshakes with Paul.
"Luke.” The middle son shook his hand next.
"Anna and my dad are in with Mom,” Rod explained. He lowered his voice. "I don’t think it will be much longer. She held on until we could all get here. She seems to be waiting for you.”
Paul swallowed uncomfortably with that bit of information. "How’s your father holding up?” He directed the question to the older of the two men.
Rod looked him directly in the eye. "Not good. His heart isn’t good. I don’t know how much more of this he can take.”
"I’ll see what I can do,” Paul promised, although he feared it wouldn’t be nearly enough.