119

Father's Choice

     She had made her exit by snatching a framed photo of herself with Joel, Marshall and Delores off the wall and smashing it down onto the pointed top of a Dove award.
      Joel reached for a pillow and closed his eyes as he thought about the one moment that had hurt him more than any other. It wasn't her accusations. It wasn't her threats or her four-letter words. Nothing had any impact at all compared with that split second that her shining eyes first dimmed and her bright smile clouded over with that earliest twinge of fear that something was not right.
     All night long and all day, that one change of expression played before Joel's eyes like some kind of cruel hologram. Now, as it haunted him again, he heaved a ragged breath and, dispensing with the prescribed rudiments of manhood, gave in to that racking, depleting sort of sobbing that comes in mercy to stop a man's heart from killing him.

     Meredith crouched pathetically in the window-seat and identified with the dead gray barrenness of November's first Saturday.
     Like Joel, her mind had relentlessly forced her to relive yesterday's nightmare over and over. She had engaged in one early bout of weeping when, upon awakening, she remembered that Joel had asked her in Gatlinburg to spend today with him.
     Those tears and the few that Gary had induced and now all was dead. And gray. And barren.
     Father sat quietly and watched her, His heart full of her. His arms were ready to take her but He knew that this strange child that He loved so much wanted to keep hurting. Right or wrong, it was her way. And persistently loving her was His way. Sooner or later, their ways would merge.
     "Meredith."
     "Don't," she whispered.