EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press today continues a 12-part serialization of the novel, “A Scent of Jasmine,” by David Dockery, a member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson, Miss.
Libby’s bone marrow did find a new home in Stephanie’s bones. With Stephanie getting stronger every day, Libby offered to help Gail clean her aunt and uncle’s house on Saturday.
They began the cleanup in the morning, while Johnny and his aunt and uncle were at the zoo. DHS workers had given an ultimatum on their last visit that the house be completely cleaned. The problem wasn’t that the house was dirty, but rather that it was so full of things. After much hard work, Gail and Libby cleaned the kitchen, two bathrooms, the dining room, the den, and Johnny’s bedroom. The cleanup involved moving items from the clean rooms and placing them in other rooms that were not in use.
Libby met Gail in the kitchen with an old newspaper she found upstairs. The headlines read, GERMANY INVADES POLAND.
“We learned about this in history. I wish I’d had this paper to take to class.”
“There are enough old papers and magazines upstairs to fill a library,” Gail replied. “My mother’s family kept everything.”
“I saw a spool bed upstairs. How old is that?”
“My family brought that bed here from North Carolina before the Civil War. General Grant used this house as his command center and slept in that spool bed just before the Siege of Vicksburg. My mother’s great-grandfather was a surgeon. He made a deal with Grant that he would treat the Union’s wounded if Grant agreed not to burn down the house. This is one of the few houses in Westhaven that Grant didn’t burn to the ground.
“Don’t tell anyone this, but our family’s silver is hidden under that bed. Some of the pieces are in this drawer.” Gail pulled out the drawer, and Libby looked at several old silver pieces with the name Whitten inscribed on the handles.
“This fork is dented,” Libby noted.
“Our family buried their silver in several places before the Union troops arrived. After the war was over, some of the silver pieces were damaged by the shovel blade when my mother’s great-grandfather dug holes searching for the silver he buried. Someday all of this will belong to Johnny.”
There was the sound of a car in the driveway.
“That was a quick trip to the zoo,” Gail said.
Libby peeked out the window. “It’s a DHS car!”
An instant later two ladies knocked on the Whitten door.
Gail opened the door. “My aunt and uncle took Johnny to the zoo.”
“We didn’t come to see them,” one of the ladies commented as she peered into the room. “We’re here to see the house.”
“You will have to wait for them to return,” Gail protested.
“We just left Judge Gray’s office. Must we go back for a subpoena to inspect this house?”
“This is Saturday,” Gail complained. “State offices are closed on the weekend. Come back on Monday.”
“Let’s just say that we are dedicated state employees.” The woman smirked. “The state cares about children seven days a week.”
Reluctantly Gail let the DHS workers inside. They seemed surprised and a little disappointed to see the kitchen so clean. Then they inspected Johnny’s bedroom and the bathrooms and found them to be clean and tidy. As one lady made notes on her clipboard, the other opened the door into the one room where Gail and Libby had moved everything as they were cleaning.
“What do we have here?” the DHS worker said in an accusing tone.
“We don’t use that room,” Gail answered. “It’s usually locked.”
“It looks like you are using this room,” the lady replied. “You’re using it to store junk. A child could hurt himself in a room like this.” She shot her colleague a look.
Gail bristled. “Johnny is not going to hurt himself in this room or any room in the house. My aunt and uncle give Johnny something here that he can’t get anywhere else. In this house Johnny is loved. In this house Johnny has family. There is no one in foster care who would love Johnny as much as my aunt and uncle love him.”
“Do you think that Johnny will be placed in foster care?” The lady seemed surprised. “Several couples have asked to adopt Johnny. We know these couples, and their houses are well-kept. They want Johnny and will love Johnny.”
Gail repeated herself. “You won’t find a mother or father anywhere that will love Johnny as much as my aunt and uncle.”
“I think we have seen enough here,” the lady concluded. The two women made a hasty departure.
“They will never take Johnny,” Libby assured Gail. “Our church and the Ward Clinic will make sure of it.”
But Libby’s words were of no avail as Gail sobbed.
“Let’s pray,” Libby suggested.
They knelt before the kitchen table. Libby prayed aloud, but for Gail the prayer time was one of silence and tears.
Gail’s spirits rebounded the following day. A phone call from Dr. Ward to a DHS administrator took care of her worries. Now she could celebrate Stephanie’s last day in the hospital worry free.
Stephanie’s bone-marrow transplant was a total success. For the first time in almost a year, she felt well and full of life.
Gail and Libby greeted Dr. Ward at the door as he entered the room with Stephanie’s release papers.
The doctor looked tired but managed a smile.
“I understand that someone has a birthday this Tuesday.”
Stephanie smiled. “It’s my thirty-fifth.”
“Well, it will be a healthy thirty-fifth birthday. I expect you to see another thirty-five years and many more. Tomorrow you can go home. We’ve found no sign of cancer, and there has been no rejection of your new bone marrow.”
Libby and Gail gave Stephanie a big hug in their excitement.
The doctor hesitated. “I forgot to bring your birthday present. I left it at home.”
“You didn’t have to get me a present.”
“But I wanted to, and I went to some trouble to get it. Maybe I can give it to you on Tuesday.”
“We’ll have the party at our house,” Libby offered enthusiastically. “You can come by for cake and ice cream.”
The doctor seemed to lose his balance for a moment.
“Are you OK?” Libby asked.
“It’s nothing that a little rest won’t help,” the doctor assured her.
After Dr. Ward departed, Libby handed Stephanie a letter from her purse. The letter had been slit open and contained a telegram from Moscow.
“Libby, did you open this?” Stephanie asked, a little hurt by such invasion of her privacy.
“Please let me explain. The night you almost died, I wanted Sonny to know that you were sick. So I wrote him. I sent it to his address in Amsterdam. It must have sat there a long time before someone forwarded it to his new address in Moscow. Since this letter is not a Christmas, birthday, or Valentine’s Day card, I knew it had to do with my letter. So I opened it. Sonny is coming to see you. The airports in Moscow are snowbound now, but when they reopen, he’s taking the first flight out.”
A look of horror came over Stephanie’s face. Her voice rose in anger. “Libby, I despise the man! I don’t want to see him! I spent ten years of my life trying to attract Sonny and the last fifteen years trying to fix my wrecked life after I attracted Sonny. I just want to be whole again. My life is half over. Do you want Sonny to wreck the second half of my life like he did the first?”
“I’m sorry. I thought after all these years you and Sonny could just be friends. He can apologize to you, and you can forgive him.” Libby’s face was hopeful.
“Be friends?” Stephanie was aghast at the very idea. “Do you think he can just step back into my life, smiling, like nothing ever happened? He was my family after my mother and father passed. I was an orphan girl trying to work my way through college. He was my family, my love. I thought our love story was like the book of Ruth. I was Ruth, and he was Boaz, my kinsman-redeemer. Our families had been friends for over 200 years. I thought all of that meant something to him, but apparently not. He left me poor, pregnant, heart-broken, an emotional wreck, and struggling to finish college.”
“That’s sad,” Libby agreed. “But he’s still your cousin. You’ll have to deal with your feelings sometime. Can’t you think of something good about him?”
“As much as I despise Sonny, I will say this for him. He had chemistry. Sonny made my heart beat fast and gave me a euphoria I thought to be love. Other men might have chemistry, but I wouldn’t know. After Sonny, I don’t trust any of them. I keep them all at arm’s length—just close enough to be casual friends.”
“But I think he has feelings for you.”
“With all the girls in Europe after him, I don’t think so.”
“Listen to this.” Libby opened the letter and read aloud:
A friend of yours wrote to tell me you were sick and facing a bone-marrow transplant. I can’t tell you how it hurt to hear that you were sick. I’m taking the first flight home to see you.
In the service of our country, I have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism in Europe. I was one of several who advised the State Department and the President. Each time I felt that my service was indispensable, but now I have my doubts. It has been a lonely fifteen years. I would give anything to turn the clock back to a happier time — a time when we were friends.
“Libby, how could you invade my affairs this way! It’s like someone stuck a knife into an old wound. If anyone else had done this to me, I would be furious. Oh, I wish I could blame someone else for sending that letter to Sonny. I wish I could be closed in a room with them until I finished with all I had to say.”
Libby turned pale. “But in the Bible it says that we are to forgive one another just as –”
“Libby Anderson, that Scripture is more easily given than taken! You wouldn’t be preaching to me if this had happened to you. You would understand how I feel!”
No one would, Stephanie thought. Unless they had been betrayed too.
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.