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.
The following day Gail stopped by to water the potted plant as promised, but she seemed troubled.
“How is Johnny’s scholarship fund going?” Stephanie probed.
“Johnny’s scholarship fund is going great.” Gail handed Stephanie a photocopy of a letter. On it was drawn the picture of two young girls with very sad faces and tears flowing from their eyes. The writing below the picture read, “We miss you Aunt Stella.”
Gail explained, “Stella worked as a teller at our bank before she took early retirement to raise her sister’s daughters. Her sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car wreck. Stella loved those girls. She gave them a good home and made sure they attended school and church. But the Department of Human Services cited her home as an unworthy trailer in need of repairs. DHS workers took the girls from Stella and placed them in a detention center while they arranged for foster care. A worker at the center made sexual advances toward the older girl, who called Stella. Now they’ve sent Stella this letter.”
“Can’t someone call DHS and file a complaint?”
“Several people have. Stella’s pastor called on behalf of her church. The DHS workers who took Stella’s nieces think they are God. They just don’t care about the complaints.”
“I’ll call the paper tomorrow and have some friends check into the story,” Stephanie promised.
“Thanks. I’m heartbroken for Stella and her nieces, but I’m even more worried about Johnny. The Whitten house is very large and over a hundred fifty years old. Rooms are filled with antique treasures as well as old magazines and newspapers. The same DHS workers gave my aunt and uncle an ultimatum to clean and fix the house. It could cost $100,000 to fix that old house. They don’t have that kind of money.”
“If they try to take Johnny, I’ll have that story on the front page of the paper,” Stephanie assured Gail.
“I asked Dr. Ward to intervene. That helped, but DHS only gave my aunt and uncle a little more time. They will never be able to fix that house.”
“Don’t worry. You have a lot of friends who will help if they try to take Johnny.”
“Stephanie, I know this may sound extreme, but if DHS tries to take Johnny, I’m taking Johnny to Canada.”
“You can’t do that! You’d be an outlaw. If they catch you, your jail sentence could be ten or twenty years. Think about your life. Someday you’ll be married and have a lot of kids.”
“I don’t care about my life. I care about Johnny’s life. I want him to have a good home. I want him to marry a good wife and have lots of kids.” Gail looked at Stephanie in earnest. “My aunt and uncle love Johnny. Will he be loved like that in foster care? We take Johnny to church and read Bible stories to him. Will a foster family take Johnny to church and teach him about Jesus? We’re not just fighting to keep Johnny in the family; we’re fighting for his soul. He’s only five. His life is a blank slate.”
Tears came down Gail’s face as she spoke. Then she choked on her words and started to cry.
Stephanie comforted Gail, but Gail continued to sob until Libby entered the room. Libby was quite stunning, elegantly attired in heels, a long flannel dress, and a matching coat. Stephanie whistled at her, hoping to lift Gail’s spirits.
Gail smiled and wiped her tears. “Hello, Libby.”
“Hello. What’s wrong?”
“Gail’s afraid that DHS will take Johnny,” Stephanie volunteered, not wanting Gail to retell the story in tears.
“My dad can help,” Libby offered.
“Thanks for helping me feel better. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll keep both of you informed.” Gail departed to attend a fund-raiser for Johnny’s scholarship account.
Stephanie studied Libby’s outfit. “You look like a corporate executive!”
“Do you like it?” Libby twirled about on her heels like a runway model. “My dad calls it my ‘power suit.'”
Libby kicked off her heels and curled up in a chair with her books and CD player. The sound of classical music filtered softly through the room. It was soothing to a worried patient. Still, Stephanie noted a little edginess in Libby’s demeanor.
“Stephanieee,” Alex called from behind the door.
When he entered, he made immediate eye contact with Libby. “Still here?” he asked.
“Alex!” Stephanie protested, “Libby’s my friend.”
“Sorry. Have you read today’s paper?”
“No, I didn’t get a paper.”
Alex pulled a paper from his briefcase. “Read this.”
Alex’s article was front-page news: “Supervisor Paved Private Driveways.”
“By the time I finish with those people,” Alex boasted, “I’ll have a Pulitzer Prize.”
“What people?” Libby asked.
“Those black supervisors.”
Libby looked harshly at Alex. “So those people are black.”
Alex ignored Libby and turned to Stephanie. “They send white supervisors to jail for paving private driveways, but the black supervisors think they’re above the law.”
Libby interrupted Alex. “Did you mention that the white supervisor went to jail for paving his own driveway and using county workers to cut his own yard and build his own garage?”
“So,” Alex continued, staring down at Libby, “now the black supervisors are doing the same thing. They should expect the same scrutiny.”
Libby shifted her feet beneath her in the chair, straightened her posture, and pulled a copy of the paper from behind her back. “Your article never mentioned that the black supervisor paved the driveways of shut-ins. They were elderly widows whose driveways were washed out by a storm. Social services couldn’t even drive to their homes. If you had just called Supervisor Robertson, you would have known.”
Alex’s face turned red. “I did call.”
Libby read the paper. “‘Supervisor Robertson was not available for comment.’ You called his office at noon. His secretary told you to call back after lunch, but you never did.”
Libby looked up at Alex without flinching. “Those women needed their driveways repaired immediately. The supervisor did the right thing. He had no way to profit from paving their driveways.”
“He bought their votes!” Alex bellowed.
“He bought the votes of shut-ins?”
“You’re exactly what’s wrong with young people today. You think you know more than I do, even though I’ve researched this subject for a month.”
Libby tightened her gaze on Alex as she eased into her heels. “I do know more than you do about this. Supervisor Robertson is Tameka’s father.”
“Is that so? Then I say that Tameka’s covering for her father.”
Libby rose from her seat and walked toward Alex. She was almost as tall as him in her heels. When she was within three feet of his face, she said, “I think the problem is this: You’re trying to make a name for yourself, and you don’t care what the truth is.”
Alex was so mad that he shook. “You spoiled little brat!”
Libby responded, “You can forget your Pulitzer Prize tomorrow when the television stations air the widows’ side of the story.”
Alex’s veins stood out in his neck, and his face flushed red. “Why don’t you take your books and go home?”
Libby turned to Stephanie for support.
“Libby’s my friend, Alex. You can’t tell her to go home.”
“Fine. The two of you can just enjoy Christmas here alone.” Alex hurried out the door.
Libby hugged Stephanie’s neck and called behind him, “We won’t be alone.”
Alex’s loud footsteps could be heard the length of the hallway past the nurses’ station and to the elevator.
An awkward silence followed as Stephanie gave Libby an inspecting look. “You planned this confrontation, didn’t you? You were lying in wait for Alex, waiting for him to brag about his article.”
Libby looked down at the newspaper. “Everyone at school knew about the article on Tameka’s dad. Even though she’s adopted, he’s the only father she’s known. I know how I would have felt if the article had been about my dad. After watching Tameka cry all day, I went home, changed clothes, and hoped that Alex would show up tonight. So yes, I planned this confrontation, and Alex deserved it. No one’s going to treat my ALIVE sister that way if I can help it.”
Libby peered up at Stephanie, “Are you mad at me?”
Stephanie continued to stare at Libby in amazement. “Actually, I look at you and see myself. When I was fourteen, I stood up for someone just as you did.”
Libby smiled. “Well, how did I do?”
“You were awesome. Have you thought about going into law?”
“Only if I could represent the innocent.”
“You know you just chased away the closest person to a boyfriend I had.”
“He’s nothing. You can do much better.”
“But, Libby, I’m almost thirty-five. I’m sick, and my hair is falling out.”
“And you’re beautiful,” Libby added.
The following day Libby came by with two letters in her coat pocket. “I brought your mail.” She handed a bill to Stephanie. The other letter she held back.
“What’s in the other hand?” Stephanie inquired.
“A Christmas card from Amsterdam.”
“You can throw it in the garbage.”
“It’s a card from Sonny. May I read it?”
“It’s just a Christmas card. Throw it away.”
“Okay, if you will throw it away.”
Libby tore open the card. “There’s a picture in here.” Reading the back, she continued, “It’s Sonny in Moscow with the Russian President. There’s a personal note.” Libby read silently for a moment, then read aloud: “‘I will be spending another lonely Christmas in our country’s service. I love you. Sonny.'” Libby exhaled. “Sonny still loves you.”
“Libby, Sonny loves everybody. He’s a real charmer. The Queen of England invites him to royal functions. In fact, Sonny is known by all the Royalty of Europe.”
“How do you know that? I thought you threw away his letters.”
“I did throw away his letters. But Sonny grew up here. I have the misfortune of being liked by Sonny’s mother and sister. They call me from time to time. At first that was hard, but now it doesn’t bother me. They give me Sonny’s news, even though I don’t care to hear it.”
“I bet he doesn’t write everyone a Christmas card like that.”
“Libby, I’ve spent fifteen years getting Sonny out of my mind. Let’s not waste all that effort.”
“Sorry,” Libby apologized.
Stephanie gave her a reassuring hug. As she did, she contemplated her hospital stay—Alex was history, but she felt no loss. It was Libby’s friendship that warmed her heart.
Saturday afternoon Gail watered various flowers in Stephanie’s room. When Dr. Ward stopped by to check on Stephanie, Gail thanked him for interceding with the Department of Human Services and for saving Johnny from foster care. “I don’t know what we’d do without Johnny,” she explained. “He’s been a part of our family for five years. I don’t see how they can take him away.” She soon left to help her aunt and uncle repair their old house.
With Gail gone, a feeling of dejection came over Stephanie.
“How’s my star patient doing today?”
“Not so well. My hair’s coming out, I feel sick to my stomach, and a friend of mine didn’t come today.”
“Libby has a twenty-four-hour stomach virus,” Dr. Ward explained. “I told her not to come.”
The phone rang. Stephanie answered it and smiled to hear Libby’s voice. After the phone call, Stephanie became aware of the doctor’s gaze.
“Libby brightens my day,” she admitted. “I look forward to the afternoon just to see her. I hate to be so selfish. Libby should be enjoying her own life. She should be with her family.” Stephanie looked down at the floor. “I should tell Libby that I’m all right without her. I should discourage her from wasting her time here every day. She comes as faithfully as if… as if she were my donor.”
Dr. Ward looked into Stephanie’s eyes for a moment as if inspecting her soul. “She is your donor.”
“SHE IS?” Stephanie gasped.
Dr. Ward continued, “Libby is your bone-marrow donor. She is the only possible match for you out of all the donors in our data base. And…” The doctor paused. “She’s a perfect match. All six of her antigens match yours. Because of Libby, you will live. Without her, you would die.”
“Libby is my donor? Then we must be related!”
“I suspected that Libby might be a match, but only God made her the perfect match. That means you won’t have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of your life.”
“I think I know who her mother is,” Stephanie responded.
“I can’t talk about that,” Dr. Ward cautioned.
“Then we are related,” Stephanie asserted.
“Libby has always wanted to help someone else. She tried to save the life of Reta’s baby. Now she’s so excited that she can save yours. Don’t ruin this for her, and don’t tell her I said anything about it.”
Stephanie looked off as if seeing something far away. “I love her to death. It’s hard to believe that a fourteen-year-old girl would care so much about me. She makes me feel very special.”
“Love and happiness are important to your recovery. Libby has a lot invested in you. She has no plans to let you lie in the hospital alone.”
Stephanie’s sickness paled in comparison to her friendship with Libby. Tomorrow she would express her thanks.
Sunday afternoon Libby entered Stephanie’s room. “Come here,” Stephanie requested with a big smile on her face. As Libby approached, Stephanie hugged her neck tightly; the scent of Libby’s hair was refreshing. She then held Libby back to get a good look at her.
“Who are you, Libby Anderson?”
“Did Dr. Ward tell you?” Libby inquired.
“Yes, he did. No one has ever given me such a wonderful gift. I love you, Libby Anderson.”
“God has given you a more wonderful gift.”
“I stand corrected. God’s two most wonderful gifts to me are Jesus and you.” Stephanie released her grasp on Libby. “I asked Dr. Ward if we were related. He wouldn’t say, but I judged from the conversation that we are. It’s just so unlikely that unrelated people would match like we did.”
“How would we be related?”
“I may be an only child, but I have lots of cousins on my father’s side and on my mother’s side. I’m certain we can find your biological mother.”
“Who are your cousins?”
Stephanie was unwilling to tell Libby about Allison, especially considering Libby’s interest in Sonny’s letters. So she considered other possibilities. “My mother was a Johnson. Westhaven is full of Johnsons, but I don’t know which ones I’m related to. At a young age, I attended a Johnson family reunion with over two hundred people. My mother introduced me to many of my Johnson cousins. I wish I could remember them now.”
“So you think my mother was a Johnson?”
“She could be.”
“How can we find her?”
“We’ll have a family reunion, invite all the cousins, seat them by name, and serve ice-cold tea in plastic cups with their names on the cups. When we clean the whole mess up, we’ll seal the ladies’ cups in plastic bags and test their DNA against yours.”
“But what if my mother doesn’t come?”
“Then we will know who she is not, and we’ll be that much closer to finding out who she is.”
“Thanks.” Now Libby gave Stephanie a hug. “When can we start?”
“As soon as I get out of this hospital.”
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.