Not So Far Away
Laurel Kerr lives each day fearing it could be her last. Years of pleading with God for deliverance from her husband’s deadly temper have convinced her that she’s beneath the Lord’s notice. Still, she perseveres, hoping that a redeemed husband and a Christ-centered marriage might one day be possible.
Dr. Boyd Wendall has a soft spot for Laurel. Although she’s not his to take care of, she stirs his protective instincts. Time and again he finds himself in the midst of her trouble, and he can’t help but believe there’s a reason for it.
When Laurel’s deliverance comes suddenly and unexpectedly, it raises questions about Boyd’s integrity, reopens wounds from his past, and leads to a trial the two cannot escape. Apart, they are just one man and one woman facing tribulation. Together, they’ll discover that God is not so far away.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
~ Exodus 14:14
This was the worst part of every day.
Laurel pulled hamburger casserole out of the oven and set it on the stove top as the truck door slammed outside. She took a deep, fortifying breath, gathering plates, knives, forks and napkins along with her courage, stomach churning as she wondered which side of his personality she’d be faced with when he came through the door.
Tommy’s footsteps sounded heavy on the front porch. Angry. And the silence when they stopped seethed with fury. Or maybe not. Maybe she just imagined it. But, no. Her heart stopped for a second as she remembered.
This morning Tommy told T.J. to pick up the mess left by a neighbor’s dog when it over-turned their garbage can in the night.
Laurel closed her eyes and expelled a breath.
T.J. came home from school with a fever, and a last minute trip to the doctor confirmed her suspicion that he had the flu. She’d sent him to bed, not giving a thought to the mess outside.
Lord, help me…
Laurel jumped at Tommy’s shout from the living room, even though she had expected it. Footsteps came down heavy on the old hardwood in the living room.
“In the kitchen.” She didn’t dare not answer. That would only make things worse. Setting the table gave her something to do and provided some activity that would, hopefully, deflect his anger.
“Where’s T.J.?” Tommy stalked into the kitchen, shouting despite the fact that there was nowhere in this tiny house one couldn’t hear the quietest of whispers. “Why didn’t he clean up that mess outside?”
“He’s in his room.” Laurel kept her voice calm. Not rising to his level of intensity usually cooled him down. Usually. Sometimes it sent him over the edge. It was so hard to tell which way his fury would go. And right here is where it would probably go one way or the other. “He has the flu, so I sent him to bed.”
“You just…” Tommy waved an arm, “…sent him to bed?”
“I’ll clean up the mess outside after supper.” She put two loaded plates on the table alongside napkins and flatware.
“That’s right, you will.” Tommy grumbled as he grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and took his seat at the table, more expletives streaming out of him. “That boy’s not sick, he’s just lazy.”
“He is sick, Tommy. He has a hundred and three degree temperature, and he can barely stand.”
Tommy took that in, seeming to consider it seriously; seeming for an instant to feel some actual fatherly concern for one of his children. “Where’s Joshua?” He downed half his beer, temper cooling.
Laurel breathed a quiet sigh of relief and took her seat. “I dropped him off at your mother’s when I took T.J. to the doctor. He’s spending the night.”
“You took him to the doctor?” Tommy’s angry glare struck her seemingly from nowhere, then it pinned her.
“Y…yes,” she said, hesitantly. “He had a pretty high fever.”
“Did you see Boyd Wendall? Is that the doctor you went to see?”
Too late, Laurel realized her mistake.
“Is T.J. really sick at all, or did you just make it up so you could go see the doctor?”
“I’ve seen you with him, Laurel. And it’s clear to me that he likes you.”
“You haven’t seen me with him. I’ve never been with him.”
Tommy’s fist came down on the table, and she flinched as dishes rattled.
“Don’t lie to me!” He rose from his seat, sending the chair toppling backward as he rounded the table to loom over her. “You think I didn’t notice the two of you together last weekend? At the hardware store, where he just happened to be at the same time as us? I saw the way he looked at you. And I didn’t miss the way you looked at him.”
“That’s what?” He latched onto her arm and pulled her out of her chair, propelling her toward the wall, and then shoving her painfully against it. His hand slid up to her throat.
“That’s not true,” she said softly.
His hand tightened slightly as his eyes narrowed. It had been stupid of her to bring up the doctor. Her natural inclination to defend T.J. had overridden common sense. She and Tommy had this same fight on Saturday, when they had indeed run into Dr. Wendall at the hardware store and she stopped to chat for a moment. The bruises were healing. But still, she should have known better than to bring it up. Her husband never needed a reason to hold a grudge—even if it was over an imagined offense.
“Is it not?” his voice was low, like a growl.
She shook her head and turned her eyes to the floor so he wouldn’t see anything there he could use against her later. The meeting with Dr. Wendall had been innocent. He was the kids’ doctor, nothing more. But how could she resist the temptation to stop and converse with a man who always treated her with respect, warmth, and kindness? What was so wrong about interacting with someone who would talk to her instead of swear at her…someone who would shake her hand rather than slap her? Clearly, Tommy had sensed the longing in her heart for dignity and respect, and it terrified her that he could see her feelings so plainly.
His hand slipped up to her jaw and he forced her to look at him, his fingers dug into her flesh and brought the sting of tears; tears which he instantly misinterpreted; probably as guilt.
Laurel didn’t even have time to raise her arms in reflex before Tommy’s vise-like grip closed around her arms. He threw her to the floor where she slid into chairs and table, overturning dishes and sending at least one crashing to the floor. She scrabbled to her feet, but he was on her again immediately.
“You’re nothing but a whore.”
“Then what does that make you, Tommy?”
He shoved her hard, and the impact her back made with the wall nearly took her breath.
“I’m not the one who’s been unfaithful in this marriage. I took T.J. to the doctor because he is sick. And I don’t know what it is you think you’ve seen between me and Doctor Wendall, but it’s all in your imagination.”
Tommy’s hand, poised to strike, came down slightly.
“But you’ve never been faithful to me. And you call me the whore.”
There was no point expecting him to see reason, though she prayed daily that he would. And she prayed now as she saw renewed rage contort the face she had once thought so handsome. Lord, where are you? Deliver me from this, somehow.
Tommy’s hand, curled into a fist this time, drew back, and Laurel squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the blow. But the sound of a shotgun’s action behind them was unmistakable, and it stilled her husband.
T.J. stood in the doorway with the firearm pointed at his father. His color was paler than Laurel had ever seen it, and perspiration filmed his face, but he held the weapon firmly in his lanky arms.
“What do you think you’re gonna do with that gun?” Tommy took a step toward T.J., and T.J.’s finger went to the trigger.
Laurel edged her way along the wall until she was as far out of range as possible.
“I’m gonna shoot you with it if you don’t leave this house now.”
“You think you can kick me out of my own house? Tommy took another step, and T.J. countered by pulling the gun tightly into his shoulder, preparing to fire. “Maybe I’ll go to the police and tell them that you pulled a gun on me? That you threatened to shoot me in my own home. Then you can have your very first taste of prison.”
“How do you know?”
“Because they’ll want to know why, and then you’d have to explain that you were beating up my mother, which won’t be hard for them to believe.”
Tommy’s glare travelled from T.J. to her, where it took on an accusatory aspect, as if this was somehow her fault. A string of profane remarks punctuated each of his footsteps as he stalked back through the house and out the front door, slamming it so hard the walls shook.
T.J. stood, strong and ready with astonishing coolness under the circumstances, until the sound of his father’s engine faded into the evening. Then, suddenly, the adrenaline seemed to drain away and he leaned against the wall.
Laurel made it to his side quickly and took the shotgun from his trembling hands. She followed him to the living room, where he pulled back the lace panel and peered out the window. He sank onto the couch, holding out one hand for the gun.
Laurel stared at his outstretched hand, clutching the weapon in both of hers. Only yesterday if he had wanted to handle his father’s shotgun she would have absolutely refused to let him. But today, he had saved her with it.
“You should be in bed.” Hesitantly, Laurel handed the weapon back to him, and he set it gently on the floor at his feet.
“I’ll sleep in here.”
She stacked a couple of pillows at one end of the sofa, and T.J. sank onto them, suddenly a teenage boy again, checking the position of the gun. Laurel spread a quilt over him. “Do you need anything? Are you hungry?”
“No.” T.J.’s eyes closed. “Maybe a glass of water.”
She went to the kitchen to get him a drink.
“Do you think he’ll go to Grandma’s?” T.J.’s question followed her.
Laurel knew what he was concerned about. “He’ll probably end up there. But I don’t think he’ll go there first.” She took a deep breath and carried the glass of water to T.J, setting it gently on the table beside him. “I’ll drive over and get Joshua.”
T.J. nodded, eyes drifting closed. Her oldest son had experienced a good share of beatings.
Laurel always stepped in, frequently diverting Tommy’s anger to her instead—trying to, anyway. But this was the first time ever that T.J. had stepped in on her behalf, preventing what was turning into an attack that might have left her needing medical attention. She smoothed shaggy brown hair out of her fourteen-year-old’s face. He wasn’t a man yet. But he wasn’t a boy anymore. Laurel had often wondered if the day would ever arrive when her sons would fight back against their father’s abuse.
Evidently, today was the day.