EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press today concludes a 12-part serialization of the novel, “A Scent of Jasmine,” by David Dockery, a member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson, Miss.
“Someone’s waving at you,” Libby whispered.
Stephanie turned to look. “Oh, no! It’s Sonny’s sister, Allison.”
“Stephanie!” Allison called. Her two daughters trailed twenty feet behind. Her daughters were as blond as she was, only Allison’s hair had darker shades.
Allison hurried to Stephanie and embraced her. “Why didn’t you tell us you were sick?”
“I didn’t want anyone to know.” Stephanie put her arm around Libby. “This is Libby Anderson, Brother Anderson’s daughter. She was my bone-marrow donor. We were a perfect match.”
“Hello, Libby.” Allison extended her hand.
She smiled. “I saw you in the store with your father last month and thought you were Olivia. When I called ‘Olivia,’ you didn’t even turn your head. Then Olivia came up from behind me. I told Olivia she had a twin, and we found out all about you.”
The two blond-headed, blue-eyed girls caught up with their mother, and Allison introduced them. “This is Olivia. She will be thirteen this January, and this is Tiffany, who will be eleven in February.”
“Hi,” Olivia and Tiffany replied together.
“Hi.” Libby appeared fascinated with the two girls, and Stephanie could see why. They were both her twins and looked like pictures of herself at eleven and thirteen. Libby and Olivia stood at almost the same height even though Olivia was a year younger. Olivia and Tiffany seemed equally as interested in Libby.
Allison turned to Stephanie. “Sonny just called me about your illness. I thought he was in Moscow, but he was calling from the Jackson International Airport. He said he was coming home to see you. He’ll be here any minute.”
Stephanie winced. “Allison, I don’t want to see Sonny.”
“Please see him,” Allison begged. “Sonny’s been home only five times in the last fifteen years. We’ve been to Europe to see him more than that. You’re the only reason he came home. He’ll be crushed if you won’t see him.”
Stephanie expelled an exasperated sigh. Why did everyone think they had a right to run her love life? “I’m sure he’ll be just fine.”
“Do you have any older brothers and sisters?” Libby asked Olivia and Tiffany.
“No,” Olivia answered. “It’s just Mom and Dad and us.”
“Was Dr. Ward your doctor?”
“Was he your mother’s doctor?”
“He used to be.”
Stephanie grabbed Libby’s hand. “Let’s go, Libby.” She turned back to Allison. “I’m not waiting on Sonny. If I see him at the funeral, I’ll be polite. That’s the best I can do.”
Stephanie and Libby walked to a grove on the opposite side of the church parking lot.
“Why are we coming here?” Libby inquired.
“To hide until the service starts.”
“You’re hiding from Sonny?”
“You got it.”
“Did Allison ever give up a child for adoption?”
“Bingo,” Stephanie said under her breath.
But Libby heard. “BINGO! Did you say BINGO?”
“I didn’t mean anything. It’s just a game.”
“It’s not a game to me! You think that Allison is my mother!”
“What do you think?”
“I think she might be. Olivia and Tiffany look just like I did at their ages. I think they’re my sisters. I wanted to hug them both. Olivia said that Dr. Ward used to be her mother’s doctor.”
“Allison and I are third cousins twice,” Stephanie acknowledged. “That would explain our bone-marrow match. But I don’t know for sure that she’s your mother. Allison hasn’t passed our DNA cup test yet. So keep quiet about it for now. Even if I knew for sure that Allison was your mother, I really should ask her for permission to tell you. After the initial shock, I’m certain she would give permission.”
Libby turned to see Allison in the distance. “How could she not know that I’m her daughter?”
“The lady is clueless. She’s pretty; she’s smart; she’s accomplished, but she’s also clueless. For fifteen years she has talked to me about Sonny, and for fifteen years I let her know every way I could that I didn’t care to hear about Sonny.”
“But her daughters look like me!”
“Maybe she’s in denial. It must be hard for a woman to give up a baby for adoption.”
“It hurts my feelings that she doesn’t recognize me.”
“Save your hurt feelings. She may not be your biological mother.”
“But you suspect that she is, and you’re an investigative journalist. Do you know something you haven’t told me?”
“You mean something that will stay just between you and me?”
“Allison didn’t return for her junior year at college the year you were born.”
“So there’s a good chance that she is my mother.” Libby looked back to the parking lot as a tall blond man got out of his car. “I think that’s Sonny.”
Stephanie turned her face away from the lot. “How do you know?”
“He looks like the picture I saw, and he’s drawing a crowd.”
“Is he coming this way?”
“Yes, I think he’s spotted you. But first he has to get past Mary Lou. She stepped in front of him. He is a hunk.”
“Mary Lou always did like Sonny. She can have him. I should have worn a hat. This wig matches my hair too much.”
“He’s past Mary Lou and coming this way,” Libby whispered. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three—”
“Hello, Stephanie,” a deep voice said.
Stephanie froze in her position, her eyes cast to the ground.
Sonny walked around to look in her face. “I haven’t slept a night since I heard you were sick.”
“I’m well now,” Stephanie remarked without looking up. “Libby is the one who wrote you. If she weren’t my bone-marrow donor and my best friend, I would have killed her.”
“Hi, Libby,” Sonny said cheerfully. “I’ve heard all about you from Allison. You do look like Olivia’s twin.”
“We were both born in January, except I’m a year older.”
“Did Allison give up her first daughter for adoption?” Libby blurted out.
Time stood still….
“You’re adopted?” Sonny asked. He studied Libby’s face closely. Was there some resemblance to his sister, Allison? Could Libby be her child?
But when he looked into Libby’s eyes, he knew. They weren’t Allison’s eyes. They were…Stephanie’s!
How could it be? His thoughts raced….back to that time…the one time when they…and how angry she’d been at his graduation.
And Sonny put things together. A knife twisted in his gut. Stephanie’s responses at last made sense. Why she had said she never wanted to see him again…why she’d never written back….So she’d birthed this child and given her up? And had known who she was all these years and yet never told Libby?
“I don’t know about that, Libby,” Sonny said. “So I can’t answer that question. But maybe someday Allison can.” He smiled at Libby. “Would you mind giving Stephanie and me a few minutes by ourselves?”
Libby smiled back. “Of course. I—uh—need to talk to somebody over there. I’ll come back in a few minutes.” Libby hurried off without even looking at Stephanie.
Sonny looked around, then drew Stephanie away from the arriving mourners. “Stephanie,” he said gently, “why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“You never asked.” She still didn’t look him in the eyes.
“Is Libby our—” Sonny stopped, his voice too choked for words to go on.
He reached out for Stephanie’s shoulder. She shrugged away from him.
“Stephanie, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Get a grip on yourself!” Stephanie scolded. “You’re making a scene. And that’s the last thing I need in this town…especially right now.”
“I’d give anything to go back fifteen years.” Sonny moaned. “Fifteen wasted years. Stephanie, I’m so sorry.” He took a deep breath. “I’m resigning my State Department job and coming home. I want to redeem the years I lost with you and Libby.”
At that statement, she finally looked up. Startled eyes met his. Disbelieving, cynical eyes. Ones that no longer looked like the Stephanie he knew and loved. “Sure,” she said sarcastically. “You’re going to leave your life in Europe to live in little old Westhaven!”
“I don’t have a life in Europe, only a high position and a high-security clearance. I want to start a life with people I love.”
Her eyes hardened. “Stop before you say something you’ll regret later. It’s not what you think. Libby is not your daughter or mine.”
He flinched. But it had to be. Libby looked so much like Stephanie…. “How can she not be our daughter? You’re the prettiest woman in all of Westhaven. Look at Libby’s face. Have you ever seen a more beautiful fourteen-year-old girl? Her hair is like my sister’s, but her eyes and face look just like yours when you were fourteen.”
“How do you know what I looked like at fourteen?”
“Believe me.” He chuckled. “I know very well what you looked like at fourteen. Ever since the day you hit me with a spitball in church, I’ve known exactly how you looked—very beautiful. But you were too young for me then, and I knew it.”
“It doesn’t matter what Libby looks like,” Stephanie said defiantly. “She’s not our daughter.”
“She has to be,” he insisted. “She was a perfect match as your donor. Half of that is from you, but the other half is from the Shamrock and Johnson side. Only your daughter could be such a match.”
“But she’s not.”
“Libby even uses the same herbal shampoo my sister loves so much. I could smell the jasmine in her hair.”
“The chance of Libby being our daughter is zero,” Stephanie said. “I was there, and I know. Now if you wish to sit with us in church, so be it. But I don’t have to like it.”
Stephanie waved Libby back over to join them, and Sonny knew the conversation was closed…for now.
“Are you going to tell him about the abortion?” Libby whispered to Stephanie when a church member stopped Sonny for a minute to welcome him home.
“I’ll tell him after the funeral.”
“He’s not going to like it.”
“He has only himself to blame.”
Libby took hold of both Stephanie’s and Sonny’s hands as they continued to walk toward the church building. “Did you meet any princesses in Europe?” she asked Sonny.
Stephanie’s tight squeeze was a signal to shut up, Libby knew. But Libby wasn’t about to heed it.
“Yes, lots of princesses and lots of beautiful women,” Sonny answered. “But they all lacked something.”
“Chemistry?” Libby asked.
Sonny grinned. “How did you know? Yes, they all lacked chemistry. I’ve only known one person to have it.”
“Stephanie?” Libby guessed.
Stephanie squeezed Libby’s hand even harder.
“Yes, only Stephanie,” Sonny murmured, with a glance toward Stephanie. “When I knew her, she had a soft heart. Even the sight of an afflicted child could bring tears to her eyes.”
Stephanie looked sad, maybe even vulnerable for a minute.
They walked the rest of the way in silence. Sonny pulled a broken necklace and locket from his coat pocket and placed it in Libby’s palm. “Keep this for me,” he requested.
Libby scrutinized it. Then she understood. Was this the locket that Stephanie had ripped from her neck and flung at Sonny after his graduation? Had Sonny kept it all this time?
Expensive floral arrangements filled the large sanctuary of First Westhaven Church, crowding the pulpit and extending along the side walls. A long line of mourners climbed the front steps of the church, entered through the large double doors at the back of the sanctuary, and filed past Dr. Ward’s casket. Mrs. Ward clung to its side. Even Margie’s gentle pleading didn’t move her.
Tears came to Libby’s eyes as she gazed on the lifeless body of the man who delivered her, then found a wonderful family to adopt her. She turned to see Stephanie’s face. Stephanie was sad but had no tears. It was Sonny who was tearful.
A special section of the auditorium was reserved for Dr. Ward’s adoptive families. Holding Stephanie and Sonny by the hand, Libby asked Allison and her daughters to join them in her family’s reserved seats close to the front on the second row. Allison sat by Stephanie; Libby sat between Stephanie and Sonny. Mrs. Anderson and her other children sat on the other side of Sonny, filling up the second row.
“Please let me pass. I’ve got to get in here,” said a voice from behind them. Phyllis Worth, microphone in hand, muscled into a vacant seat.
Libby turned around. “This section is saved,” she said firmly.
“Then call the police.” Clearly Phyllis had no plans of moving.
As the service began, Mrs. Ward refused to let anyone close the casket. Margie tried to help her mother to the pew, but Mrs. Ward knelt beside her husband and wouldn’t move. The funeral director worked in vain to pry her hands from the casket handles. Finally he nodded to his assistants to continue the funeral, despite the sobs of the doctor’s grieving wife.
Susie Q sat near the aisle on the middle row, almost in the center of the sanctuary. She talked nervously to her friend until Brother Anderson rose to the pulpit, but even then she whispered from time to time. All the while, Susie Q regretted that she had agreed to the interview with Phyllis. What did that white woman care about her anyway? Why was she asked to talk about her personal life?
Brother Anderson began the service with an announcement. Phyllis held up her tape recorder to get every word.
“The Ward family has requested that memorials for Dr. Ward be made to the Johnny Whitten Scholarship Fund. The Whittens adopted Johnny from the Ward Clinic five years ago. Johnny was a great joy to his parents. Then, late last year, a tragic early morning fire took their lives. Our city’s heroic firemen rescued Johnny from his bedroom. Now he’s the sole survivor of his family.”
Brother Anderson looked at Johnny, sitting in the second pew with his aunt and uncle. “We love you, Johnny. We are all your family now.”
The little boy nodded solemnly. He was nestled between his aunt and uncle but was ever looking around for his aunt Gail. Mrs. Whitten assured Johnny in a whisper, “Don’t worry. Aunt Gail will be here.”
Scanning the back of the church, Brother Anderson continued, “Dr. Ward started Johnny’s scholarship fund and picked Gail Morris to be the treasurer. Stand up, Gail.”
Gail stood up and waved shyly, but her face lit up when she saw Johnny standing up on his second pew seat to see her. She then cut her eyes at the DHS workers and deputies on the pew across the aisle. They looked away, refusing to acknowledge her.
Gail smiled as the ushers on the middle and far aisles took their seats in such a way as to cage the DHS workers in their pew. The ushers were big men just back from a tour of duty with their National Guard Unit in Iraq. They would not be easily moved from their places. The closest usher smiled at Gail and signaled with his thumb up.
Brother Anderson focused on Gail. “No one was more surprised than I was when Dr. Ward passed over city leaders and asked a young bank teller just out of college to head up Johnny’s trust fund. But you’ve done a wonderful job. You’ve put your whole heart into this mission, raising funds for Johnny just as if he were your own son. Already some twenty thousand dollars has been raised. Dr. Ward knew that you could do the job.”
The congregation clapped in applause for Gail’s accomplishments.
Brother Anderson then took his seat, and to the surprise of Stephanie, Libby stood and made her way to the aisle. Stephanie quickly glanced at the program and saw that Libby and Tameka listed to sing “The Lord’s Prayer.” She worried for them, hoping they would do well. Stephanie remembered when she was in the church choir, but for her, choir was mostly about being noticed by Sonny and not about any musical talent she had.
In the middle pews, Susie Q gave a nervous chuckle and whispered to her friend, “Look, the girls are going to sing.”
A lady on the pew in front of Susie Q turned and glared in disapproval at the interruption.
Susie Q caught her friend’s eye and they both smothered their laughter.
Libby and Tameka stood before microphones placed on stage for their song. They hit the first notes together, a cappella, and in perfect harmony sang:
Which art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
In earth, as it is in heaven
Give us this day
Our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors.”
“Those girls are good,” Susie Q’s friend whispered. Then she noticed tears in Susie Q’s eyes. “What’s wrong with you? You’re the iron woman. Iron women don’t cry!”
Susie Q didn’t answer. She grabbed her friend’s purse and rummaged through it until she found a tissue to wipe her eyes; her whispering ceased.
Libby and Tameka sang a most beautiful crescendo. Beginning on a low alto note, their voices rose to high soprano. Stephanie thought that each new note must be the top of their range, but they kept hitting notes higher and higher with ease.
“And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory
Stephanie had never heard fourteen-year-old girls sing so well. She turned around to see if others were as amazed as she was. Then she realized that many of the church members had known Libby and Tameka from their early childhood. What a privilege they had to hear such music and to watch these girls grow into young women. Libby and Tameka returned to their seats, seemingly unaware of their great talent.
Brother Anderson began his eulogy. “In Ecclesiastes we read: ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.’
“The heavenly homecoming of a child of God is a time to celebrate. But it is also a time of great loss and sorrow for loved ones.”
Looking at Mrs. Ward sobbing by the casket, Brother Anderson continued, “It’s hard to celebrate, when we can’t all celebrate. It’s hard to rejoice, when some of us have tears. We must find what can be celebrated, but we must also weep with those who weep.
“Dr. Ward’s medical practice in Westhaven spans some thirty years. We and our children have benefited from his skills and his kind words—words of a loving physician.
“One day, when my children were almost grown, I answered a phone call from Dr. Ward that changed my life. He said, ‘Brother Anderson, I have a beautiful baby girl who needs a home. Could you take on another child?’
“I was stunned at the proposal. I told the doctor I was too old; I was nearly fifty. The doctor said that I had raised my children well and that was the kind of home he wanted for this little girl. My wife was on the other line. She spoke up immediately. ‘We’ll take her.’
“That night we went to Dr. Ward’s clinic and picked up our youngest child, Libby. At the time we had no idea what joy she would bring to our later years. She keeps us young at heart and fills our home with love. She soothed our loneliness when the last of our older children married and moved away.”
Libby smiled at her father’s words.
Her father regarded her with tenderness. “Libby, I’ve always regretted that I didn’t speak up for you as fast as your mother did. I wish I had said ‘YES!’ to Dr. Ward at my first chance. I wish I had said, ‘YES, that little girl is our Libby; we must have her!’ Honey, I just didn’t know that little baby girl was you.
“Our wonderful experiences with Libby are but those of one family. Many of you can share similar experiences. Some of you have adopted two or three children from Dr. Ward’s clinic. Those families who have adopted children from Dr. Ward, please stand.”
A fourth of the congregation stood. Applause went up from the audience.
“Thank you. You may be seated. I once asked Dr. Ward why he called on so many Westhaven families to adopt his children. He said that his family grew too attached to them and wanted to keep them close to home. That Dr. Ward could deliver these children and bond to them so quickly is a testament to his big heart.” He paused. “Of course, these children have also filled his clinic with patients.”
Brother Anderson smiled at his last comment, as did others, but then his expression became more calculated, as if searching for words. “Now there are some out there who may ask, ‘Didn’t you protest at Dr. Ward’s Clinic?’ Yes, indeed I did, as did many of you. We wanted expectant mothers to choose life and not abortion. Dr. Ward explained to us that, as a doctor, he had to offer abortion services in order to convince mothers to choose life and adoption. Otherwise the mothers would go somewhere else, where the staff members didn’t care about the baby’s life, and they would have an abortion. At least this way the mothers had the opportunity to hear about the development of the baby and that the baby was just that—a life, a child deserving of a chance, not a fetus.
“Dr. Ward often told me that when Jesus returned, it would be his great joy to present Him with the lives of the children he had saved. On his office desk, he always displayed two Bible passages. One was Psalm 27, verse 10, which reads, ‘When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.’ Dr. Ward was God’s assistant in placing many orphan babies into good homes.
“The other passage was the last two verses of the Old Testament. These concerned the ‘day of the Lord’ and the second coming of Jesus. They are found in the fourth chapter of Malachi, verses 5 and 6, and read, ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.’
“I asked Dr. Ward several times about these verses, but he never explained them. I wanted to ask how there can be restoration between parent and child if the child is aborted. It’s sad to me that not all the Ward Clinic children were saved. It’s sad when even one baby dies.”
“NO!” Mrs. Ward cried out.
Margie hurried up front to put her arm tightly around her mother.
“NO! NO!” Mrs. Ward cried even louder. “My husband was not a murderer of babies. None of the babies died. We saved them all!”
“Mother!” Margie shouted as she tried to turn her mother away from the congregation.
Brother Anderson attempted to continue. “I know those babies are in heaven.”
“NO!” Mrs. Ward shouted. “We have Reta’s baby in our lab! She’s a healthy baby girl.”
Margie covered her mother’s mouth, but it was too late. The church sat in stunned silence. If anyone could keep an aborted child alive, it would be the Ward Clinic.
Reta rose from her seat. “How could you?” she accused. “Who do you think you are, God?” She ran out of the sanctuary in tears.
Margie’s arms fell limp, and Mrs. Ward broke free. She pointed her finger at the Seymours. “Your son was adopted by a family in Alabama. When Ben’s parents were killed in a car wreck, you adopted your own son.”
Mrs. Seymour screamed, cried, and embraced her son.
Margaret Meade held her Down’s daughter high in the air. “What about Emily?”
“Emily is your daughter. You should have known.”
As the Seymours and Meades shed tears of joy over their children, Phyllis stood to her feet and called out, “The woman has lost her mind!”
Mrs. Ward turned to face the insult. Phyllis’s eyes opened wide as the enraged widow walked toward her, with Margie trailing behind. Phyllis quickly took her seat, cowering behind Allison and Stephanie.
With Phyllis seated, Mrs. Ward’s gaze seemed to focus on Allison. Stephanie turned to see Allison’s face. Allison appeared dumbfounded as Mrs. Ward stepped her way.
There will be no need for a DNA test, Stephanie thought. The lady who knows all is about to tell. At last Libby will have the answer she’s been longing for.
“Stephanie!” Mrs. Ward called. The older woman’s face was streaked with tears, but also determination. She pointed her finger right at Stephanie’s face. “Stephanie McAllister! It was your own daughter who saved your life!”
Stephanie’s jaw dropped. She could see the past—her dream—clearly now. Awakened from anesthesia by a frantic commotion, she saw the doctors trying to save the life of her baby as it floated in the warm, sterile waters of an aquarium incubator. A pint of her own blood was pumping through a tube to the umbilical cord with the rhythm of her heartbeat. A shrill monitor sounded as the baby’s weak heartbeat went flat. “Oh, God, please help us!” the nurse prayed out loud, frantically. Written in large letters on the incubator was the name LIBBY MCALLISTER.
Then, in her mind’s eye, Stephanie again heard her own scream and saw the eyes of Dr. Bill and the gas mask. Behind her screams and the dire circumstances was the soothing sound of classical music, the music that Dr. Ward played for all his babies. All the babies whose mothers had tried to abort them. The babies he had delivered prematurely and worked hard to save until they could be adopted by Westhaven families.
Now Stephanie saw her bedroom. On the floor was Libby, straining her fingers to touch her. In her heart was the knife. As Stephanie looked on in horror, she heard the slow Southern voice of Dr. Ward. “You do have a daughter. She may have died in our clinic, but God resurrected her. Someday you will face your daughter.” Suddenly Stephanie was surrounded by happy friends in her hospital room, with Dr. Ward at her side. “I forgot to bring your birthday present. I left it at home.” Stephanie responded, “You don’t have to get me a present.” Dr. Ward answered, “But I wanted to, and I went to some trouble to get it. Maybe I can give it to you on Tuesday.”
Stephanie’s reverie was interrupted when a young teenage girl behind her stood and asked, “Who is my mother?”
“Oh God!” Susie Q’s primordial cry resounded through the sanctuary. She and twenty-nine other terrified women fled their pews in tears for the church doors. Susie Q was the first out, leaving those behind her jammed in the doorway. Other women rushed to the altar and fell at the foot of Dr. Ward’s casket. Among them were women of means, who had evidently kept their abortions secret. One expensively attired lady pounded the side of Dr. Ward’s casket, but soon her fist melted into an open palm which clung to the casket as she crumpled to the floor in tears. A church deacon pointed the woman out to his wife only to find his wife’s face flush with tears. She rose immediately and moved to the aisle as her startled family called after her, “Martha! Martha! Mom, Mom, Mom!” The deacon’s wife rushed to the front of the church and collapsed among the other women.
More children began to stand. Soon a sea of young faces began to crowd around Mrs. Ward. Exhausted by the effort of revealing the long-held secret, Mrs. Ward stumbled backwards and fell into the arms of Margie.
“Mother!” Margie cried.
Dr. Bill rushed to attend his mother.
First a few and then a crowd of adopted children moved toward the altar to find their biological mothers. Others continued to press Margie for information. Families who rose to comfort their sobbing wives and mothers were soon blocked by a multitude of children.
A pretty, ten-year-old, red-headed, freckle-faced girl hurried toward a red-headed lady clinging to Dr. Ward’s casket. Her young friend hurried with her, talking all the way. “I knew you were the teacher’s pet, but I didn’t know she was your mother!”
The distraught woman responded to the touch of her student in a stunned voice: “Jennifer? Jennifer! JENNIFER!” She looked to Margie, who nodded weakly in agreement. The lady immediately embraced her student—her daughter—with loud wailing.
Stephanie was still stunned by the revelation that Libby—sweet Libby, who had given her life and become her friend, was also her daughter.
Mrs. Ward, trembling and nestled in her daughter Margie’s arms, sat propped up on the floor, watching all the reunions. After all these years, the secret was out. Children who would have died, if not saved by her husband and family, were now joined with the mothers who had carried them in their wombs for a time.
She was amazed at how quickly the children recognized their mothers. But then, most children already knew their biological mothers from church or from connections concocted by her husband, who had directed the children to their mother’s music lessons, Cub Scout troops, or softball teams, always exploiting the mother’s interests to make a bond with a biological child without either of them knowing why. He had done the job so well that no one had ever guessed. And because of that secrecy, so many lives had been saved.
At each mother-and-child encounter, a mother would look to Margie. Each nod from Margie led to another reunion and another wailing voice added to a growing chorus.
Five-year-old Johnny was the sad exception. He was walking toward the wrong mother. Mrs. Ward and Margie looked at each other. The boy had already lost his adoptive parents in a house fire; the Wards couldn’t bear to see him hurt again.
“No, Johnny!” Margie called out. “She’s not your mother!”
But the noise of the reunions was too great for her to be heard.
Johnny turned to another woman. Margie cried again, “No, John—!”
Before she could finish her second call, a voice cried above the roar of the crowd. “Johnny! Johnny!”
Gail Morris fought her way through an impasse of people, calling ever more urgently, “Johnny! Johnny!” Her desperate cries opened the way before her. From the expression on her face, Mrs. Ward and Margie knew that Gail now understood what only the Ward Family had known—Johnny was her son. Although she had chosen to abort him, he had lived! And already he had become her greatest treasure in life without knowing who he really was!
“Here comes your mother, Johnny!” Margie declared joyfully.
At last Gail reached Johnny. She gathered him in her arms with such a shrill shriek that it sent chills up Mrs. Ward’s and Margie’s spines.
Susie Q raced down the church steps but stopped suddenly beneath a live oak tree on the church lawn. She turned back to face the church doors and cried, “My baby’s in there!” Some women ran past Susie Q to their cars, but most joined Susie Q beneath the oak tree. They too looked back to the church, not knowing if they should stay or run. Susie Q rung her hands as she repeated, “My baby’s in there! My baby’s in there!”
Tameka stood before Margie with feelings of both hurt and anger and demanded her mother’s name. Margie pointed out the sanctuary’s back doors—a silent acknowledgment that Susie Q was her mother. Unable to penetrate the pressing crowd, Tameka ran out the front door and around the outside of the building. There on the opposite side of the church steps, Tameka saw Susie Q, wringing her hands and crying. The two stared at each other without speaking; they knew they were mother and daughter. Then Susie Q screamed, “MY BABY!” and ran toward Tameka.
Realizing the loss of her abortion hero, Phyllis Worth slammed her recorder to the floor and pushed her way through the crowd. On the back pew she saw her DHS friends and the entire row blocked in by two large ushers. It hardly mattered, as the DHS workers and deputies sat in their place stupefied while the turmoil of the crowd swirled about them. Phyllis rushed out the church doors and ran down the front steps. In her hurry she stepped in front of Susie Q and was knocked to the ground in a bone-jarring collision. It was a collision unnoticed by mother and daughter as they came together in a tearful embrace.
Libby sat in euphoric disbelief. Allison was her aunt. Olivia and Tiffany were her first cousins. Sonny was her father. And her mother… her mother was a life that she had saved and someone she loved dearly. But her mother had aborted her. Was she sorry?
Stephanie was in shock. Her hands hovered above her knees, palms up with fingers curled, as if she didn’t know what to do with them.
Libby was alarmed when she looked into Stephanie’s face and saw only a pale shell and an empty gaze. Stephanie’s eyes were like the windows of a vacant house. Libby grabbed Stephanie’s upturned hands and found them cold and trembling. The rest of Stephanie was motionless.
“Stephanie is not breathing!” Libby cried.
Then Libby felt something wet and warm strike her hand. She feared blood and death, but when she looked at her hand, she saw a tear.
Libby looked again to see deep pools welling in Stephanie’s eyes. A second tear streamed mascara down Stephanie’s face, as if it were rolling down the cheek of a porcelain doll. It too splattered on Libby’s hand. Life returned to Stephanie’s face as her lower lip turned down and quivered in anguish. Then the tears fell like big, salty, splattering raindrops.
When Libby saw the tears, she felt compassion and tucked her head under her mother’s chin. Stephanie clutched Libby tightly to her chest, buried her face in Libby’s soft blond hair, and wept.
Sonny watched as Stephanie drew Libby tightly to herself and sobbed. It was evident that Stephanie was her mother. As Libby and Stephanie rocked gently back and forth, Sonny put his arms around both of them.
Stephanie fought choking sobs to speak softly. “Oh God, I’m sorry. Libby, I didn’t know it was you! I didn’t know…”
Her teardrops turned to torrents, spilling through golden locks and activating a sweet herbal essence, the smell of freshly picked flowers. The aroma completed the fragrance of the sanctuary flowers and was carried out the church doors on a winter’s breeze. There it filtered through playing daycare children and stunned daycare workers, who peered through the wire fence at the commotion outside; and beyond the fenced-in playground, it mingled among the cemetery stones. Hurried by a sudden gust, the aroma of life shifted and settled on the church grounds amongst five thousand tiny white crosses.
Taken from “A Scent of Jasmine” by David Dockery (OakTara, www.oaktara.com). The entire novel is available from amazon.com, christianbook.com or barnesandnoble.com. Used by permission of the author and publisher. David Dockery is a Mississippi geologist and member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson. To read the first chapter of Baptist Press’ serialization of “A Scent of Jasmine” by David Dockery, go to http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=34444. For subsequent chapters, go to BP’s “Search Stories” tab and search by date. Baptist Press welcomes readers’ comments — at firstname.lastname@example.org — about the serialization of a novel such as A Scent of Jasmine.