He stood, reached for his jacket, and headed out the door. Perhaps by the time he reached Blythe’s apartment he’d have dredged up some enthusiasm for this dinner party.

When he arrived at his fiancée’s, he was surprised to find that she hadn’t changed out of the business suit she’d worn to the office that afternoon.


He was even more surprised when she lit a cigarette and blew a stream of smoke at the ceiling. It was all he could do not to ask her not to smoke when she was pregnant. Apparently she experienced a pang of guilt herself because she put out the cigarette after a single puff.

"I thought you’d given up smoking,” he said dryly.

"I had. After these last couple of weeks I might take it up again.”

"I hope you don’t mean that.”

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She ignored the comment. "I had tea with your grandmother this afternoon.” She waited as if she expected him to make some statement.

"That’s nice.” A rather dull remark, but he hadn’t a clue what she wanted him to say.

"I take it your grandmother hasn’t spoken to you?”

"No,” he admitted, "should she?”

Blythe gave a cold, short laugh. Ted disliked the cynical, pessimistic moods she sometimes slipped into.

"If it had been me, I’d have been on the phone so fast it’d make your head spin.”

Ted was lost. He’d come to escort Blythe to a dinner party, and she was speaking in riddles. "I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

"I don’t expect you to,” she said, and slipped the diamond engagement ring from her finger. It came off with some difficulty. She stared at it a moment and then deposited it in his hand.


She sobbed once. It could have been a laugh, but with Blythe it was sometimes difficult to tell.

Ted stared at the diamond in the palm of his hand and frowned. "If this is because of—”

"You can have your precious Joy now,” she said bitterly.

"Blythe,” Ted said gently, not wanting to distress her, "we’ve already been through this once.”

She turned her back to him. "The baby isn’t yours.”

Ted reeled backward and sank onto the end of the sofa, sitting on the arm. "What do you mean?”

"Do you need me to spell it out for you?” She whirled around to face him. "You’re not the father of this child.”


"I assumed it wouldn’t matter.” She brushed the hair from her face. "I thought that I could make you believe that a couple of weeks one way or the other in a pregnancy doesn’t mean anything. But I can’t marry you, Ted. I know that now.”

"What about you and the baby?”

"What about us? The way I figure it, this kid is stuck with me as a mother. Who knows? I might even enjoy this parenting business.”

Madge was gone. She’d died peacefully, surrounded by those who loved her. With the grace and composure that had marked her time on earth, the gentle old woman had slipped silently, serenely from one world to the next.

Paul looked to Bernard and knew the older man suffered from an overwhelming sense of unreality and profound loss. If it had been in his power, Bernard would have reached for his wife and pulled her back, and clung to her.

It was what Paul had wanted in Barbara’s final moments.

Desperately tired and emotionally exhausted, Paul returned to the house. He walked in the back door, to be greeted by dirty dishes soaking in the sink. They reminded him of the urgency with which he’d left.

He heated a single cup of coffee in the microwave and carried it into his office with him. He wanted to sit a spell and sort through the emotions Madge’s death had resurrected.

He knew that his own grief had been all-encompassing and severe for several months now. Only recently had it occurred to him that his capacity for pain was indicative of his capability to experience joy. He was ready for the pendulum to swing in that direction.

Other matters plagued him as well. Bernard had asked Paul to give the eulogy at Madge’s funeral. Paul had reluctantly agreed. Now wasn’t the time to tell the grieving man that he’d resigned from his ministerial duties at the church. Now wasn’t the time to inform the bereaved husband that Paul had turned his back on his congregation.

Paul stood in the doorway of his small den and stared at the book-lined shelves. Several volumes were spread about in a haphazard fashion. In times past, he had been fastidious about his library. Never a book out of place. Never an unfiled paper or an unanswered letter.

He hadn’t noticed that the room had gotten quite so disorganized and regretted that he’d neglected some of the most beloved volumes in his wide collection.

After tucking his books back in their proper places, he sat down at his desk. The surface was reasonably neat. Either Joe or Annie had made an effort to straighten up for him. Stacks of sermon notes and other slips of paper were piled onto one corner, held down by a white binder.

The binder resembled the one he’d kept for his notes on John’s Gospel, the one he planned to write a book from someday, but it couldn’t possibly be his notes. He’d tossed them in the garbage himself and then later made sure it was emptied into the Dumpster.

He regretted the action now, but it was done, and nothing could undo it.

He sat on the old mahogany chair, which moaned in protest. Curiosity made him reach for the tattered white binder. He flipped it open and read the first line.

He gasped and wheeled back from his desk as if burned. It was his sermon notes from the Gospel of John. It simply wasn’t possible.

With his very own eyes Paul had seen the sanitation worker empty the Dumpster no more than two or three minutes after he’d emptied his garbage.

Leta Johnson.

Somehow she must have discovered what he’d done and gone after the sanitation truck and convinced them to let her have the binder.

As far as he was concerned, his secretary had overstepped the boundaries of what he considered her duties. She’d stretched the limits of her job description to the breaking point.

Furious in a way he rarely was, he marched across the yard and into the church, past the sanctuary and directly into his office.

Leta looked up from her computer screen when he entered the room.

"You’re fired,” he announced heatedly.

To his utter amazement she didn’t so much as blink. "As I recall, you’ve resigned. In other words, you don’t work here any longer. You can’t fire me.” Without missing a beat, she returned to her typing.

"You got into that Dumpster and—”

She glared at him above the rim of her bifocals. "I beg your pardon?”

"My sermon notes on John’s Gospel.”

"What about them?”

"I threw them out.”

Her eyes widened momentarily with what looked like dismay, but she met his gaze straight on. "You’re saying I did what?”

"Dug them out of the garbage.”

"Oh, puhleese.”

He’d worked with Leta for a lot of years, and never once had she used that tone of voice with him.

"Do you honestly believe I have the time or inclination to follow you around and check every bit of paper you toss? I can tell you I don’t. As for your sermon notes, well, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

All at once Paul felt incredibly foolish. His indignation had carried him this far but had quickly deserted him. He rubbed a hand down his face. Instead of chastising Leta, he should be thanking her for driving into the hills and finding him. Thanking her for serving faithfully as his secretary for these many years.

"I appreciate what you did this morning,” he told her. "Driving to the campground was above and beyond the call of duty.”

"Does this mean I can have my job back?” Leta asked with a soft smile.

Paul grinned and nodded. "Sure thing, but as you said, I don’t have any right to be firing or hiring you.”

Leta held up the envelopes, addressed to the church elders, that contained his letter of registration. "If anything mysteriously disappears into the garbage, it’s going to be these.”

Paul stared at the envelopes for a long time before moving into his own office. He sat behind his desk and looked about the room. It was as familiar and as comfortable as a favorite pair of old shoes.

He leaned back on the chair and closed his eyes. The last twenty-four hours had certainly been full. He’d written out his letter of resignation. Then he’d escaped into the hills and been called back to be with Madge Bartelli when she died.

When he opened his eyes, he found Leta standing in the doorway. "Madge?” she asked softly.

"Gone,” he told her, unable to disguise his regret.

She nodded and swallowed once. Paul knew it was an effort for her not to break into tears. "I’m going to miss her,” Leta whispered.

"We all will.”

"Bethany phoned.” She walked over and placed the pink message slip on his desk. "I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to tell her.”

His daughter was a dear, but she tended to overreact now and again. Her response, had Leta mentioned his resignation, didn’t bear thinking about.

"What did you tell her?” he asked.

"That you’d been called out of town, but that I expected you back any time.”

"Did she press you for details?”

"Is Bethany your daughter?”

"She worries too much.”

Leta didn’t say anything for the longest time. The silence between them was uncomfortable, almost as if it were anticipating something happening.

"You’re feeling better, aren’t you, Paul?”

He needed a moment to think about that. "Yes, I think I am. Being with Madge in the end helped. Good friends helped,” he said, thinking of Steve Tenny.

"Prayer helped,” Leta offered.

"I’m sure I’ve been on many a prayer list.”

"I can’t speak for anyone else, Pastor, but you’ve been on mine.”

"Thank you, Leta.” He opened his desk drawer and reached for a pen. "Two things,” he said. "First off, is that invitation for Christmas dinner still open?”

Leta looked as if she were about to faint. She literally fell onto the chair. "Ah, I’m afraid the Tennys asked me to join them, and I’ve accepted.”

"That’s not a problem, they invited me as well. I’ll phone Steve later and ask if he minds adding one more plate to the dinner table.”

"There was something more?”

"Yes,” Paul said, leaning back on his chair, relaxed now. Confident he’d made the right decision. "I’ve decided to submit my resignation after all. We’ll need a replacement for me, effective next Sunday.”

If Maureen kept worrying about Brian wanting custody of Karen, she was going to make herself sick. His sudden desire to spend time with his daughter, talking to Karen behind Maureen’s back, making plans with her, all seemed to add up to one thing. He would soon apply for custody of Karen.

Maureen didn’t know what to do.

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