Cora Timms was a three-wheeled trolley ride away from a nervous breakdown. Her neighbor, Patrick Hyde, warned her of a prowler in the neighborhood. She ran to lock the doors. Where was Ed?
He should’ve been home hours ago. The sharp ring of the phone cut through the air, and sent shivers jolting down her spine. Another ring. Was it Ed, or…the wretched man who’d harassed her for several weeks? The thunder of the Arizona monsoon fed her near-phobic state. She was worried about her husband. She had to answer.
Cora held her breath as the caller’s gruffness accosted her ear.
“You look as pretty as ever in your white pants and purple shirt, Cor-rah.”
Her nervous fingers punched the off button of the cordless phone as her throat tightened with pent-up screams. She wiped perspiration from her hands and dialed her friend.
“Three threatening calls in one day, Dahlia. How could it be a coincidence? He can see me because he knows what I have on. I’m scared. Ed’s two hours late. Could you come sit with me?”
“My pie’s pert near done, so give me five minutes and I’ll be over, Sugar. Meanwhile, shut them curtains, and make us a pot of industrial strength coffee.”
The living room draperies billowed as Cora yanked them closed. Why hadn’t Ed taken the calls more seriously? Where was he, anyway? Had he drowned in a flooded ditch, like their daughter, Vanessa? Her stomach coiled. Determined to keep her mind off negative thoughts, Cora headed for the kitchen.
The rich scent of coffee grounds permeated the kitchen as she counted scoops. Cora filled the glass carafe with water, and wiped the bottom with a linen towel. She jumped as a loud thud outside grabbed her attention. What was that?
A movement on the patio. Lightning flashed and illuminated two obscured figures struggling in the torrential rain.
She gasped and choked back a cry. She set the carafe on the counter, and stretched across the sink to lock the window. Her elbow hit the glass pot and knocked it to the floor with a crash.
The next burst of lightning revealed only one person, his hooded face staring at her.
Cora screamed and jumped back in alarm. Her foot slipped. The world tilted and went dark.
A baritone voice called through the muddled fog. “Cora?”
Her eyes fluttered. She heard her name again, inviting her back to consciousness.
“Can you hear me?”
Dazed, she blinked several times as her elderly neighbor came into focus.
Dr. Sam Richmond sat on the floor beside her, and lightly smacked her hand. A mix of spicy aftershave and coffee hung in the air.
She turned. A coffee can rested beside them, its grounds strewn about with broken glass and water.
Dr. Sam’s white shaggy-dog eyebrows bobbed above pop bottle glasses, which magnified his eyes. A shock of unruly white hair topped his forehead, where drops of rain beaded.
What was he doing here?
Why was she spread-eagled on the kitchen floor? Cora pushed a lock of wet hair from her face, touched the throbbing lump on the back of her head and winced. “Ow! What happened?”
“I hoped you could tell me.” Sam’s arthritic fingers shoved his thick-lensed glasses up on his nose. He held two fingers to the pulse of her wrist and cleared his throat. “Do you recall how you got this knot on your head?”
She squeezed her eyes shut, in an attempt to remember. Vague images materialized in a cloud of gray. A gut feeling suggested she had witnessed something horrible. Another burst of lightning made Cora flinch and grasp the sleeve of Sam’s hooded windbreaker. The doctor’s eyes bored into hers. “You remembered something, didn’t you?”
She released the death grip on the older man’s arm. Years of trust between them should’ve brought reassurance. Why did she feel so uneasy?
“I can’t make sense of what happened. I saw someone outside the kitchen window.” Cora turned away and changed the subject. “These lousy monsoons are the only thing I hate about living in the Arizona desert.” She winced. “My back hurts, Sam. I need to get off this floor.”
Another flash of lightning filled the room.
She covered her eyes while images popped into her mind, again.
Two men wrestled on the patio…and then, only one. Could one have been Sam or…her husband?
Cora shuddered at either possibility.
She struggled to get up. “Ed left and never came home. Where is he?”
“Calm down.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Ed’s in the living room talking to the McGibbons’s. They were too loud so I asked them to leave. We’ll call him in a minute.”
As Sam scooted forward on the rubber mat, caked mud fell from his shoes. Maybe he was one of the men outside the window. She suppressed the negative thought.
“Do you remember anything else?”
Cora hesitated. “One minute I was making coffee and waiting for Ed to get home with ice cream from Sugar Dips. The next thing I know, I’m on the floor with you staring down at me.”
“So, you were at the window, and whatever you saw caused you to faint?”
Should she say anything else? One admission would lead to another. She covered her face, and whispered, “All I remember is slipping in the water.”
“It’ll come to you.” He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. “Any other pain?”
“Other than my tailbone taking root on this hard floor, no.”
He smiled and patted her arm. “You and me both, Cora. Here, take my arm. Let’s see if you can sit. Easy does it.” Dr. Sam’s manner, as always, was professional and dignified. He changed positions and braced her with his left hand.
The room doubled as Cora sat up. Two Sams and four magnified eyeballs swirled in front of her. “That’s far enough, Sam.” Her voice shook. “I’m woozy. Where’s Ed?” She blinked and attempted another peek as Dahlia McGibbons’s familiar Texas drawl came from the dining room.
“All I know is, the poor little thing was fit to be tied about ya bein’ two hours late, Ed. Ya keep scarin’ her like that, she ain’t never gonna get her pluck back.” Dahlia clucked her tongue. “Anyway, there was another one of them phone calls, like last week when ya was gone.”
Ed cleared his throat. “Did she say if it was the man this time?”
“Yeah. He scared the puddin’ out of her. I sent Wendell Floyd to Sugar Dips to fetch ya while I came on over here.”
As Dahlia spoke, worry bounded through Cora. The bits and pieces of memory confused her, like two jigsaw puzzles in the same box. Oh, yes, Ed was late. Now that she remembered with great clarity. Her teeth clenched. ‘Late’ would’ve been twenty minutes, but two hours? That’s more like…missing. She was glad he’d made it home safely, however, once her backside was off the floor, he was dog meat.
“Ed?” Her voice squeaked.
A gamut of emotions flickered across Ed’s face, and his shoes crunched on broken glass as he rushed to her side. “I’m here, Toots.”
“She’ll be just fine.” Sam shifted to face him. “We’re trying to figure out how to get off the floor. Wanna give us a hand here, buddy?” He raised his arm for assistance.
“Absolutely.” Ed used his foot to scoot shards of glass away before helping the wobbly doctor. Once Sam was steady on his feet, Ed knelt beside his wife. “How are you?” His voice quivered. “I’ve been worried.”
Cora gazed into Ed’s bronzed face, and her frustration melted. She loosened the hold on his golf shirt. “I’m fine.”
He drew her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “Dahlia was on her way over when Wendell and I got here. We found you unconscious on the kitchen floor.”
Dahlia came into the room. Her signature flippy, dark hair, still damp, had been whipped and tangled by the storm’s gale. “Like he said, ya was out cold. Wendell Floyd hot-footed it next door to get Sam.” Her bracelets jangled when she placed a cool hand on Cora’s forehead.
Equally wet and disheveled from the storm, Wendell Floyd McGibbons stood behind his plump wife, and patted down his meager comb-over. The pudgy security guard invested a lot of time to disguise his bald pate with a few surviving hairs. “Ya got glass all over the floor. Did ya have yourself an intruder?”
Ed stood. “Let her gather her wits before you go into interrogation mode, Wendell.”
“Well, it’s my sworn duty as senior secur’ty guard to ask questions,” Wendell griped.
The kitchen window rattled with a crash of thunder and heavy rain beat against the house. Ed turned to the doctor. “OK to get her up, now, Sam?”
“Yes, but take it easy, Cora.”
Her trembling hand reached for Ed. “I’m fine.”
“You may experience more dizziness when you stand.” The doctor turned to Wendell. “Let’s get a chair ready for her.”
Ed put an arm around her waist as Cora took a deep breath and clung to him for support. Another thought resurfaced. The phone calls. That man threatened Ed’s life and knew her secret. How could he know about that? Well, now wasn’t the time to spring that little nugget on Ed, still, he needed to know his life was in danger. She tugged on his sleeve and looked up. “Ed, there’s something I need to tell—”
Sam interrupted. “You might want to have her lie down for a while. Be sure to call me right away if you have any problems.”
“Thanks, Sam.” Ed shook his neighbor’s hand. “Don’t know what we’d do without you. Now, what can I give you for the house call?”
The older man waved. “Don’t mention it. Glad to be of help.” With his medical bag in one hand, he reached for his umbrella with the other. “I don’t know why I brought this thing. The wind’s too strong for it. ‘Night, now.” Lightning flashed as Ed opened the door. The doctor hesitated before stepping into the deluge.
Determined to stay on the subject, Cora waited until Ed returned. “I’ve been trying to tell you that wretched man phoned again.”
Wendell moved forward. “Dahlia Sue told us about that when Sam was here.”
“Is that when you passed out?” Ed lifted her hand and kissed it.
Cora’s pulse quickened. “Just listen to me. It’s hard for me to piece it together. I need to talk it through.”
Ed shrugged and rubbed his forehead. “I didn’t mean to rush you. Take your time.”
“Let’s see. I was putting the kitchen window down, and then, I-I saw them.” Weariness weighed her down.
Their home, in this gated community, had always been a safe haven. It certainly wasn’t now. Not with the phone calls and two strangers fighting on her patio. She felt violated and vulnerable.
“You saw someone in our backyard? In this storm?” Ed handed her his hanky and tenderly smoothed her hair. “You’ve been so high-strung since those phone calls began. I don’t mean to doubt you, but are you sure there were people out there?”
Wendell spoke up. “Every now an’ again, Sam forgets to let his silly cat back in. I’m guessin’ that was him out there lookin’ for ol’ Smudge.”
A frown creased Cora’s forehead. “I know the difference between a man and a cat, Wendell.” She brushed coffee grounds from her stained pant leg.
“Now wait a minute.” Ed went to the kitchen window. “Could it have been your own reflection?” He pointed. “There’s mine. It would’ve been an honest mistake.”
“You’re not listening, Edward.” Cora’s eyes flashed. “It was not my reflection. I saw two people out there! They were fighting and one of them fell.” She frowned.
Question 1: How did Ed and Cora react differently to their daughter's death?
Answer 1: Ed relied on God through his grief. Cora felt Ed was forgetting Vanessa and betrayed their daughter's memory. She couldn't bring herself to do that.
Question 2: How did Cora behave when she felt God was silent during her time of sorrow?
Answer 2: She blamed God and withdrew from life.
Question 3: Why did Cora fear her husband finding out her secret? What finally put her fears to rest?
Answer 3: She was afraid of losing Ed's love. Once they were able to talk about it, Ed's confession of undying love put her mind at ease.
Question 4: Why didn't Ed and the police believe Cora's story of a stalker?
Answer 4: Cora was worried about her secret coming to light, and her nervousness made her appear guilty.
Question 5: Would Cora's circumstances have been easier if she had confided in her husband at the onset of her problems?
Answer 5: Yes, secrets keep you in bondage. John 8:32
Question 6: Who supported Cora and why did it take so long for others to get behind her?
Answer 6: Wendell was the first to back her. He wanted to be accepted and recognized. Without witnesses or evidence, her story didn't appear credible.
Question 7: What does the Bible say about peace?
Answer 7: John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Question 8: What are two ways God's perfect timing was manifested in Cora's life?
Answer 8: He protected her during the car chase. Neville Neubauer saw the TV program that led him to call Nonie.
Question 9: How did Jocelyn's talk with Cora help heal the pain of Vanessa's death and help their relationship?
Answer 9 Cora learned Vanessa wasn't forgotten. She also discovered she didn't have all the facts and judged James and Jocelyn out of spite.
Question 10: Do you have sympathy for Rita? For the caller?
Answer 10: Rita's love of money trapped her in an abusive relationship. The caller's greed turned him angry and hateful. Both characters were miserable without God. Matthew 5:44 tells us to love our enemies and pray for them.