Previous parts of the story....
Installment One, featuring Parts 1 - 3
Installment Two, featuring Parts 4 - 8
Installment Three, featuring Parts 9 -12
Installment Four, featuring Parts 13 - 15
Installment Five, featuring Parts 16- 20
Installment Six, featuring Parts 21 - 23
Installment Seven, featuring Parts 24 - 29
“Wookiee!” Shawn said as Faith led Chris into the room.
“Yeah boy,” Wookiee smiled. He looked over the room and saw that Amy was laying on the floor with a coloring book draped across her face, motionless. Matt was sitting against the wall, head leaned to the side, eyes closed. Steph was laying with a few little girls, book in front of her, also dozing.
“I would offer you some hospital beds to sleep in,” Faith said to Shawn and Wookiee, “but it appears that your friends have already found a way to make sleep happen.”
“That’s fine, Faith,” Shawn said. “We’ll just sleep in here on the floor.”
“Thank you again, Shawn,” she said. “You don’t know how much I needed some help in here tonight.”
“We just played with the kids to keep them busy. I have three roommates back home I do the same thing with. Kept us busy too, which was nice.”
Several miles down the road, Claire was gathering up her things to go home for the evening. She offered Jennifer a bed at her home, but she was very sad that she didn’t have room for Tommy, Tom, Drew and Justin.
“That’s okay,” Jenn replied. “I’m going to stay with them. Let me give you my address, so that you can write me and let me know how Harvard is.”
“Right,” Claire laughed. Jenn wrote her address down and handed it to Claire. She took it, stuffed it in her pockets, and then hugged Jennifer.
“Thank you so much, Jennifer,” Claire said. “I may only have been a Christian for an hour now, but I can already tell when God sends angels.”
“Alright now, enough of that,” Jenn hugged her back. “You’ll make me cry, and then the guys will rag me later.
Claire hugged each of the guys, and wished them well, thanking them for their help, and then exited.
Drew sat down in an empty booth, leaned his head back and was almost instantly asleep. Jennifer sat on the other side of the booth and did the same thing.
“Yeah, I could use a few minutes of sleep, I think,” Tommy said to Justin.
“You could always use sleep, Tommy,” Justin laughed.
Ty looked around his hospital room, eyes very heavy. Leslie was in a chair across the room, head leaned straight back, eyes shut, thick hair hanging down. He reached over and clicked the button on the side of his bed, changing the channel. A few channels later, he saw Jimmy Stewart running through town shouting “Merry Christmas.”
Ty smiled, “It’s a wonderful life,” and then closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep.
I bundled up the materials that Mrs. Keller had given me, and I saw Michael doing the same. Ginger lay on the couch, the top of her head visible under her blanket. The pillow she was using was thick, and her head was buried in it.
“I say we jack the pillow,” Michael whispered to me, looking at Ginger.
“Nah, let her sleep,” I replied. “Though that blanket is much thicker than mine. That could be attainable before the night is over.”
I put my head down onto the pillow I’d formed and closed my eyes. You know, God, if you had wanted us to go other places than Tuscaloosa, it would have been a lot easier to just tell us, wouldn’t it? I thought.
I can only presume the Holy Spirit gave me a direct answer, comical as it was. But that wouldn’t be near as much fun, would it?“I guess not,” I said aloud, a little louder than I had intended.
“Huh?” Michael piped up, his back to me.
“Nothing Michael,” I replied. “Go to sleep.”
I opened my eyes to the sound of small muffled crying. It wasn’t loud enough to wake me normally, but just enough to get my attention. I lifted my head from my makeshift pillow of two sweaters and a pair of jogging pants, and looked around. Apparently, Michael had also heard the crying, because our heads lifted simultaneously. I gave him a confused glance, and he returned the look. I glanced up at the couch, and Ginger was also awake.
I slowly pulled the blanket back and stood up. My feet were very frozen, so it hurt to stand, and I could tell Michael was in the same boat. He wobbled a bit when he stood. Ginger, who had the benefit of warm socks, sat up on the couch that served as her bed, and stood with us.
I again heard another small sob, and this time I recognized the direction from which it came.
“It’s in the bedroom,” I turned to Michael and Ginger.
“Should we go in there?” Ginger asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess we could knock on the door and see if everything is okay.”
I slowly stepped toward the door, Michael and Ginger close behind me. I stopped a few inches from the door, and reached out, lightly tapping on the old wood.
“Mrs. Keller?” I asked quietly.
“Come in, David,” I heard the soft voice on the other side.
I looked back at Michael and Ginger, and in their faces, both gave me the confirmation to go in. I turned the doorknob and opened the door wide enough to step in. I took a step inside the room, and Ginger followed. Michael stood in the doorway.
Mrs. Keller sat in a rocking chair similar to the one in the living room. Mr. Keller lay in the bed, blanket pulled up to his chin. He was not moving, face pale though looking very peaceful. Mrs. Keller sat in a rocking chair similar to the one in the living room. Her cheeks were moist with tears, though she wore a very calm expression.
“Is everything okay?” Ginger asked.
“Oh, Ginger,” she half smiled, wiping a tear from her eye. “Roger has passed on.”
“Oh no,” I gasped. “Do we need to call an ambulance?”
“No, son,” she said. “I’ve already called the police and the rescue squad. They should be here any moment now. The phone works now, if you’d like to call someone.”
From the light of the sun shining brightly through the window, we had a full view of Mrs. Keller’s face for the first time. She looked much older than she was, but her face had what looked like a lifetime of wrinkles. My mother used to tell me the more wrinkles a person had on her face, the more experiences they had had in their life.
“I’ll make some coffee,” Ginger said softly, walking back towards the kitchen.
“Thank you Ginger,” Mrs. Keller said. “If you boys will go into the living room and call who you need to, I’ll be out there in a minute. I’d like to show you something.”
“Yes ma’am,” Michael said, as I closed the door behind me.
I walked to the phone and dialed Amy’s cell number.
“David?!” she said on the other line when she answered.
“Yes! How are you guys?”
“We are fine! How are you?! Where are you?!”
Michael pulled out his cell phone and realized he had a signal and dialed Jennifer’s cell number.
The phone sat in the middle of the table, as Drew and Jenn both sat on each side of a booth sleeping. Tommy was in another booth, head just hanging off of his neck. Tom was snoozing, with his head on his hand, elbow on the table. Justin’s head lay in his arms, face down on the table.
Customers that came in were told immediately to keep it quiet or leave, because they had guests who were sleeping. The ringing woke up Drew and Jenn both, while Tom’s elbow slipped and his head fell to the counter.
“Hel… hello?” Jenn answered.
“Jenn! It’s Michael!”
“Michael!” she perked up. Drew and Tom both looked up when she said his name. “Where are you guys?”
“We are at the homestead of Roger and Linda Keller,” Michael replied.
“Roger and Linda who?”
“Roger and Linda?” Bethany asked, overhearing the conversation. “Is that where they are?”
“I think so, do you know where that is?” Jenn asked.
“See that house right up there?” she pointed out the window to a small structure on a hill in the distance. “Right there.”
“Michael, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Ty!” Wookiee yelled as Leslie wheeled him into the room. Matt raised his head off of the floor enough to see Shawn sitting up. Stephanie was still asleep, surrounded by a trio of little girls.
Amy hung up her cell phone and announced to the group, “David and Michael and Ginger are okay.”
“Where are they?” Matt sat up.
“They are at a little house about fifteen miles from here,” she said. “They are totally fine. David said we wouldn’t believe the night they’ve had. Drew and the others are at a Waffle House nearby, and said the same thing about their night. We are going to meet everyone there in about an hour.”
Everyone was slowly waking up, being extremely quiet so as not to wake the children. A quite large woman walked through the door and looked at Faith.
“How long you been here?” she asked.
“Since noon yesterday.”
“Honey, go home!” she laughed in a thick twang. “We got staff members all over this hospital about to pick up dey kids and get ‘em outta here.”
Stephanie was awakened, and everyone gathered together. Faith motioned for Steph, Amy, Matt, Shawn and Wookiee to come to where she was. Leslie pushed Ty to the group circle.
“Thank you all so much for what you have done last night and this morning,” Faith said. Without a word, Faith said a prayer for them. When she said amen, she smiled and said “Merry Christmas to all of you.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Faith.” Amy smiled back.
33... THE JOURNAL OF MRS. KELLER
“I have something I want you all to see,” Mrs. Keller said as she emerged from the bedroom, closing the door behind her. She carried with her a little journal, and she made her way to the couch, sitting in the middle.
She looked up at me by the phone, Michael by the fire and Ginger at the coffeepot. “Please, come, come.”
We all looked at each other in wonder that she was so steady when her husband of 51 years just passed away, and was in the next room no less.
“This is my journal,” she said. “I’ve been trying to keep one ever since I was 16 years old. Now, I've gone long amounts of time between entries, but since 1950 or so, I have never let more than a month lapse. This is probably my last journal I’ll keep, as my hands are getting more shaky as the years go by.”
She opened it up to the back. “I’d like to read you something I wrote three weeks ago, my last entry.”
She stared at the book for a moment, and then wiped a tear from her eyes. Then she pushed it to me. “Would you please read it to me? What’s written on the left side, under the day that says December 3rd.”
“Um… okay,” I took it from her and studied the writing for a second to make sure I could in fact read what it said. Her handwriting was shaky, and there were several letters transposed across the page, but for the most part, it was surprisingly legible for someone of her age.
I held the book down in my lap and began to read:
“I always pray for Roger. I know how he treats the young lady down
at the café, I know how he treats the rare guests we have that come
over, I know how he is so rude to everyone but me. I am thankful he
has loved me for the last 51 years, because I know that I am not the
most lovable person in the world. However, to God I pray that
you may send some of your angels to help me with him. He is sick
more often than usual, and I fear that he may not last much longer.
I know with my precious Lord’s help I can make it without Roger,
but I want to know he’ll be waiting at the gates for me when the
Lord takes me home. God, can you please help me? I fear time
is running out.”
I closed the book and looked up at Mrs. Keller’s face, whose cheeks were now wet with tears.
“Before you came to our door last night, Roger told me when he was at the Waffle House, some random strangers came in and started helping. He said it was unlike any act of kindness he’d seen in a long time. Someone told him they were Christian folk, but he said these Christians didn’t get in anyone’s face and tell them they were going to Hell. Instead, they didn’t say anything about God and just started working. He said for the first time, he saw people who call themselves Christians actually acting the way they talk.
“Then, when I went to bed, he said he heard Ginger read the story of Jesus, and he heard the three of you praying for him. He said he could not believe that three total strangers who he had been so rude to would pray for him. He asked me if the God I have loved for all these years was the same God these young people followed. I said ‘Yes’. Then he said something I’ve been waiting for all my life. He said he wanted to meet my God. So right there, in bed, I prayed for him, and my Roger accepted Christ. He got on his knees in our bedroom floor and said that he knew he was a mean person to a lot of people, and he asked Jesus to forgive him and help him change. And this morning, the Lord took him home."
Ginger’s tears began to flow, and I wiped a tear from my eyes as well. Michael turned his face to wipe his cheeks with his sleeve.
She smiled a beautiful smile, and her eyes displayed sadness, but joy. “I prayed that God would send some angels to help me with him, and God answered. He sent you here last night. No matter how uncomfortable you may have been yesterday and last night, it’s clear to me that God wanted you to come here. You thought you were going to help those poor people in Tuscaloosa, but instead, you helped a lost person find Him. I thank God for all three of you.”
Ginger reached over and put her arms around Mrs. Keller, and Michael and I both grabbed her hands. Ginger said a quick prayer aloud, and we sat in silence for a few minutes.
A knock on the door broke the silence. I got up to open it, while Michael and Ginger both regained their composure.
Drew stood at the door.
“Dave!” he smiled. “Are you ready..." He stopped, seeing my expression of sadness, then glancing inside to see Ginger wiping her eyes again. "Dude? What happened? You guys okay?"
"We're great Drew," I smiled. "We're just fine."
34... THE DEUCE
Ginger, Michael and I gave our hugs and said our good byes to Mrs. Keller, and as we were walking out the front door, I spotted a rescue vehicle and a police car coming up the road.
We piled into Drew’s car, none of saying very much. Drew sensed that silence was golden at this moment, so he kept his words to himself.
Matt, Wookiee, Shawn, Steph, Amy, Leslie and a wheelchair bound Ty were waiting on us when Drew pulled up to the Waffle House doors. Ginger squealed with joy, giving Matt a big hug as soon as we walked in.
Tommy gave Michael a big hug when he walked in.
“I thought you might have been dead or something,” Tommy said. “Don’t ever scare me like that, Michael!”
“I wouldn’t die on you, dude,” Michael laughed. “Who would you go with when you are at the movies with three random chicks?”
Jennifer introduced us to Jerome the cook and Bethany the waitress, both of whom had just been relieved of duties by two waitresses and two cooks that had just come into work.
Bethany gave a big hug to everyone who had spent the night in the restaurant, especially to Jennifer. “Thank you so much for letting God use you, Jennifer.”
“Sometimes, you really don’t have a choice,” she replied.
“Peace out, T,” Jerome shook Tom’s hand.
“Peace out, J,” Tom replied, slipping Jerome some skin.
“Boy, have we got a story for you guys,” Ginger said, arm still around Matt.
“We have one of our own,” Drew replied.
“Y’all, that’s awesome, but right now, let’s go home,” Stephanie said. “I’m really tired.”
We all nodded in agreement, and piled out into the parking lot. Due to Matt’s truck not working all that well, Amy drove her truck to carry people back to Birmingham. In three separate vehicles, we followed each other closely all the way back to The Deuce. Amy and I shared our previous night’s stories, while Tom and Shawn just slept in the space behind the seat. Drew’s car was directly ahead of us, and I could see Justin’s, Jennifer’s and Tommy’s head’s not moving in the backseat.
Though dead tired, I couldn’t go to sleep at all when I got back to The Deuce. As each person gave their hugs and said their “Merry Christmases”, everyone left slowly but surely.
Tommy and Wookiee both went upstairs and passed out on the couch, as Justin and Ty passed out on the floor. Tom went straight to bed, as did Shawn. Michael gave a hug to Amy and wished her a Merry Christmas. Amy and I both watched him then disappear into the doors of the Deuce building.
When he was gone, I turned to Amy and smiled, "Well. That happened."
“Yeah," she laughed. "Yeah it did. Hey, thanks for trying to come and help out. " she paused. “Even if you didn’t make it to Tuscaloosa to actually take part in the helping out process.”
“No offense, but I’m kind of glad we didn’t make it. We obviously had other places to be,” I replied.
“Yeah you did.”
“You sure you don’t want to stay here, get some rest?”
“Nah,” she said. “I need to get back to my apartment. I’ll take a nap, then head to Montgomery.”
“Well, then, Merry Christmas, Amy,” I smiled, giving her a big hug. She said, “Same to you, Dave.” She got in her truck, backed out and with a wave through the passenger side window, she drove away.
I sighed, completely exhausted yet exhilarated at a million things at one time, then made my way upstairs. Michael had just sat down on the couch, a foot away from Wookiee’s head. I sat on the other side of the couch, with Tommy’s feet close to me.
“So,” Michael said.
“So.” I replied.
“What do we do now?”
“Same thing we do everyday. Try and take over the world.”
“You wanna watch a movie?”
“Merry Christmas, Mikey.”
“Yep. And to all a good night.”
The All New Epilogue