Storied Past – 21

“Is Pastor Marlowe home?”

A distinguished man stood on the porch. He was dressed well and looked important.

“Uh, yes; yes he is. Please come in. I’ll tell him he has a visitor. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Mary Elizabeth queried awkwardly.

“Oh no, my apologies. Please tell him Judge Parker would like a few moments of his time, if at all possible. Thank you, miss.” He stepped into the small entry.

“Of course; I’ll be right back.”

“Dad, there’s a Judge Parker here. He said he’d like to see you for a few minutes.”

“Judge Parker? Oh my; I wonder what he wants. Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. I will be right there.” Marlowe looked a bit rattled. “What in the . . . ?” he thought. He went out to greet the visitor.

“Judge, welcome. What brings you over today? I hope I don’t have an unpaid parking ticket.” Marlowe gave a nervous laugh. “Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. Could you give us a few minutes alone?”

“Pastor Marlowe! Great to see you again. It’s been a while. And is this Mary Elizabeth Hammberg, wife of Ed Hammberg?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Marlowe answered. “That is, she is married to him, yes. What does that . . .”

“Oh, good!” the judge interrupted. “I’d love to have her be part of this conversation, if you don’t mind, Marlowe.”

“Well, does it concern her?” Marlowe was puzzled at this request.

“Actually, I believe it does, and should. May we sit down and talk someplace?” They gathered in the pastor’s office with the two residents wondering what this was all about.

“Thank you Pastor for giving me a few moments. I’ll get right to the point.” He paused for emphasis. “I’m sure you are both aware that Ed was involved in an accident a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yes,” Pastor Marlowe said. “I had heard something about that. Is he OK or did he wind up in jail?”

“Well, he is fine. No injuries that I am aware of. I assigned him some community service in place of incarceration. He has started that already. What I want to talk about though is why you, young lady, are living here with your parents and not with your husband. Did he mistreat you in some way or is there some other reason?”

“No, he has never hurt me. My father said . . .” She apparently thought better of the direction she was headed. “Well, Ed started drinking some and my father thought he might hurt me. He insisted, er . . . suggested that I come back home for a while.”

Marlowe butted in; “Well, I felt like he was developing habits that could cause problems down the road for Mary Elizabeth, Judge, so I . . . suggested that she come home until he got straightened out, that’s all.”

“Mmmm,” Judge Parker intoned. “But he never physically or verbally abused you or caused you to feel afraid?”

“No, never, Judge. He came home after work a little late sometimes and I know he had been to the pub but when he came home he usually just went to bed. A few times he seemed angry and spoke rough to me but he wasn’t mad at me. Seems like there was something bothering him, like he was angry about something or someone.”

“What do you think was bothering him, Mary Elizabeth?” The Judge probed a little, hoping to get to the bottom of this. He had known Ed since he was a pipsqueak and his family as well, so the recent behavioral acting out wasn’t adding up.

“Well . . . I’m not really too sure, Judge. I noticed it a little while after our wedding. We do still love each other so I don’t think he was sorry we married or anything.”

“You know folks; I’ve known the Hammbergs for many years. They have lived in the Valley for more than thirty-five years and have been a good, solid Christian family. Ed’s dad and I went to college together and I have been in their home many, many times. I watched Ed grow up with his two sisters. I saw how he treated them and the way he honors his parents. He has always given my wife and me the utmost respect. So his behavior the last little while really puzzles me. And, it seems to have started not long after he and you, Mary Elizabeth, were married.”

“Well, I . . . I don’t know. Yes, he, or rather it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me either.”

“Well, people change you know, and sometimes they aren’t always who you think they are,” Marlowe interjected with a hint of sarcasm.

Judge Parker looked directly at the pastor.

“Yes, that is true, Pastor, but they don’t usually change overnight like that unless there is a motivating factor in their environment. In Ed’s case, it seems like what he has been doing is some kind of coping mechanism for, as you pointed out Mary Elizabeth, some pain or disappointment he has been experiencing. My years of judicial experience and psychology training years ago have taught me to look deeper than the presenting misbehavior. Usually, there is a reason.”

Marlowe could hardly sit still. “Well I had counseling training when I went to Seminary, too. These kinds of behavior are, at the root, sin. So when someone goes out and gets drunk there is a simple answer; he or she needs to get saved!”

“Pastor Marlowe, I don’t think every situation is quite that simplistic. And, in my court room, I try not to rush to judgment but try instead to look behind the behavior for a cause. Sometimes folks just need a little understanding or someone to take the time to help them process through a past or present issue. Seems like that would be how you would operate in your position too, don’t you think, Pastor? Kind of like how Jesus did with everyone, except the religious elite?”

“Er, yes, of course. Like Jesus did. Right.” Marlowe realized he had been set up.

“And, going one step further, aren’t we all glad we didn’t get immediate judgment for our past sins and “mistakes?” Judge Parker looked directly at Marlowe again, hoping he got the implicit reference.

“Oh, absolutely, Judge, absolutely. I completely agree; couldn’t agree more. In fact, Mary Elizabeth and I were discussing their getting back together again right before you came. Right, sweetheart? We were just saying that it might be good for them to have another go at it; that he was needing help with his recovery. Yes, I completely agree.”

“Well now, that is good news, Pastor. Let me know if there is anything I can do in addition to the community service piece. I am looking forward to reconciliation and recovery for this couple. I believe that’s what God would want, don’t you agree?”

“Yes, your honor, yes I do. That’s what God would want. Amen.”

“Wonderful! I will excuse myself then. I am hoping the best for you two, Mary Elizabeth. Oh yes; there’s no need to share our conversation with Ed. He has enough to worry about right now. Good day!”

“Thank you Judge, thank you very much,” she mumbled.

Mary Elizabeth couldn’t quite grasp what had just happened. Stunned at the influence the judge apparently had and her father’s sudden reversal she wondered how, or what could cause her father to change his hard views so quickly. Did the judge elicit that much respect from Marlowe, or . . . or did the judge have some kind of power over her father? Did he know something? What was it?

– To Be Continued –

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Storied Past – 20

Mary Elizabeth Hammberg, Ed’s wife, had been thinking for several weeks about him. They had talked fairly often, but since her father had insisted she come back home until Ed straightened himself out, she had been confused about her role and her future. She did want to be a wife to her husband; after all she did love Ed, and she really didn’t want to live apart from him.

Ed was always kind to her; well, except when he was drinking. But deep inside, she believed that it was his way of escaping her father’s strong micromanagement of their marriage. There weren’t many places where Ed could make his own decisions so he seemed to choose to drink just to prove he had some control over something.

One time he shared with her that her father was so finicky about what they could and could not do that Ed found it impossible to find activities outside of the stringent church schedule. Everything seemed to be classified as a sin and he said he never really knew where he stood with God. At least when he was drinking, he and everyone else knew he was a sinner.

Like some other young girls and particularly those in her church, the ideal marriage was one in which she was a homemaker without an outside career; a good, loving wife and somewhere in the near future, a mother. How would that ever happen for her now? She respected her parents and all but she really wanted her own home, too. And this arrangement was not what she had dreamed about.

She wished she could have a conversation with her father and just talk about how she was feeling. But she didn’t really know how to do that. He was not that type of a father. Once he had made up his mind about something that was it. No negotiating or listening to reason.

Other kids at school used to talk about outings with their fathers; “daddy dates” and such. She didn’t recall ever doing something so fun and having her father’s love and attention focused on just her. Her father loved her; she was pretty sure about that. He loved her in a righteous, protective, responsible way; but not affection.

Affection. That’s what she got when she started hanging out with Ed. He was a gentleman; chivalrous even. He always opened the doors for her, smiled and paid attention to her exclusively when they were together. She loved getting the attention and feeling valued by this handsome guy. And, like often happens, that led to places they shouldn’t have gone. Thinking about it now she didn’t regret it necessarily, but she guessed should have waited.

Her heart longed for closeness with someone. She felt so disconnected; like she didn’t know where she belonged. Pastor Marlowe (why couldn’t he just be her dad?) always maintained his pastoral air even in front of his family.

“Set apart,” was what he would say. “I must be set apart unto God and not become entangled in the affairs of this world.”

Really? What about real life issues? What about real pain, like she was going through right now? After all, she reasoned, she did get her father’s permission to marry Ed and now she was pulled out from her home by the same man. She understood that Ed needed some help but she was willing to walk through treatment with him, or whatever.

It was mid-morning. Her father was no doubt in his office downstairs. Maybe she could try to talk with him. But what would she say to get through to him?

She knocked on the office door. “Come in,” her father called out.

“Good morning, Dad. I want to talk to you.”

“Of course; just a minute.”

Mary Elizabeth stood waiting for Marlowe to finish the sentence he was writing in some notes. He was editing a personal testimony story to be introduced next Sunday. There were many of these that members of the church could take and hand out to friends and family they wanted to invite.

“OK, Mary Elizabeth, what can I do for you?” He continued working.

“Dad, I’ve been thinking about Ed.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I . . . I kind of miss him,” she said.

“Oh, I’m sure you do?” He still seemed otherwise occupied.

“I am going to move back in with him,” she stated with uncharacteristic confidence.

This got the man’s attention. “I don’t think so, Mary Elizabeth. Don’t you remember the hell you went through? Is your memory that short?”

“I remember, Dad, I remember. I also remember that Ed couldn’t seem to do anything right either, according to your opinion. We never really had a chance to figure out for ourselves how to have a relationship with each other because you were always interfering.”

“What? Watch your mouth, young lady! I’m still your father.”

“Yes, but you are not my husband. I am married now and I intend to go back home and be the wife I need to be to a sick man that I still love.”

She got up, wheeled around, and quickly exited the room, slamming the door behind her.

Just then the front doorbell rang.

Storied Past – 19

“What’s that supposed to mean, sir? Here you are right now telling me something I know nothing about and asking me to own up. I’m not owning up to anything until I talk to that girl—your daughter I guess, and find out what’s going on.”

Mr. Beckett backed off for a minute. Realizing his confrontational approach was making Paul mad and wouldn’t get the information he wanted, he figured he would try a different tack.

“OK, I guess I came off a little intense, Paul. Suppose I start over.” Beckett breathed out slowly. “Ramona’s mother and I raised her to be a Christian, to go to church. We were very careful to make sure her friends were church friends. She wasn’t allowed to go to movies or wear pants and makeup. But she started rebelling against our rules and several months ago she quit coming to church.”

“Her mother, Sarah, passed away a couple years before and she must have blamed God or something. She started hanging out with kids I didn’t know and she got to dancing and partying and . . . and I’m guessing that’s when she met you.”

Paul thought for a moment before he spoke.

“I’m sorry but that sounds kinda weird to me, Mr. Beckett. I mean, you told her what to wear and stuff? Sounds a bit strong. It’s no wonder she kicked at that. I would have, too.” He started to say something about being glad his parents weren’t like that but thought better of it. After all, they weren’t really model parents anyway.

“Well, Paul, I know you’ll be talking to her very soon. I’m sure she has a lot to say to you. And, you can be sure the law will be involved at some point soon.”

Paul groaned.

 

Ramona walked toward the hospital very slowly after her chat with Becky. So much was going through her mind. Maybe she was wrong about church. Well, no, maybe not so much about church but about her understanding and experience with church.

Could it be that in walking away from the church she also walked away from God, throwing both in the same wastebasket.

Becky’s story intrigued her. She tried to imagine what it might be like to have faith in God without being forced to experience Him only through the eyes of a church and its demands on her. What did God demand? What did He really want from her? If what He wanted was to look like everyone else, sing the same kind of music, marry whoever the Pastor okayed and not enjoy life, then that would never work for her.

IF, however, and this was a big IF. If God could love her for the way she was created, the way she seemed to be wired; if God was more concerned about people simply loving Him and loving other people and doing the right things for the right reasons, then . . . then she was in.

 

The afternoon was cool but sunny. Spring was coming. She thought again about the baby’s due date. October seemed so far away. In Maple Valley, that time of year would start bringing the rainy, cold, blustery winter days. Brrrrrr! Summer would be a really different life this year. No stylish swimsuits for her.

She thought as she approached the front doors that she should stop at the desk and get a referral for a pediatrician. Now that she had mostly decided to keep the baby it was time to get that piece in place.

She also told herself that she wanted to come see her dad. But she hoped Paul would be awake. Now this might be awkward with her dad in the next bed but she figured he would be on her side and in spite of the situation, he would protect her.

 

The two men had conversed little since Beckett’s threat about bringing the Law around. Paul’s depression was not improved with the conversation anyway. He considered the morphine drip again.

“Hello Dad, how are you feeling this afternoon?”

Ramona tried to be cheerful, thinking she needed to contrast her attitude with her dad with the one she intended to use with Paul.

“Hi, pumpkin. Your day going alright?

“Ok so far, I think.”

Paul groaned again. Now, he figured; now he would face the music and he didn’t know what kind of tune Ramona would play. He braced himself.

“Looks like you are awake, too, Paul. Guess what? You are a father.”

“Ramona, I . . . I am so sorry I . . . I’m really embarrassed. I had no idea that . . .”

His voice trailed off.

“Do you know what kind of trouble you are in, mister? Do you know? Did you realize how long you could go to jail if you got caught in your little con game?”

Her voice had become strong and she clenched her teeth so that it caused her to literally quiver with anger.

“Did you even think about it before you . . . before you raped me? Before you charmed me and drugged me and raped me? Did you even think with your brain instead of . . . instead of . . .

She stopped abruptly, remembering her dad was in the room.

“. . . instead of thinking about your victim? Huh? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”

“No; no I didn’t. Is that what you want me to say? I totally was thinking about myself; about what I wanted. I have always thought that; what I want in life. I never cared about anyone else but myself.”

Paul’s voice broke.

“Ramona, this, this baby is just way over the edge for me. I actually think I may know how you feel because I have had so much crap happen to me I think this must just be some kind of payback for the life I have lived. I have always been able to control my life and other people but now . . . now I think I’m in over my head. I don’t know what to do.

Paul looked at Ramona with a face that revealed he had met his match. “Can we just talk about stuff? Maybe; maybe you can help me, if you wanted to.”

That last comment disarmed her and partially diffused her anger. Why would he ask her for help? Did he mean it? What kind of help?

She turned so her back faced Paul.

“I . . . I have to think, Paul. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with that. I need to think.”

Walking past her dad, who was also taken aback by Paul’s request, she went out into the hall. This was not how she imagined the conversation would go. She intended to exert emotional pressure on him and demand some answers, but this . . . this idea of helping him get straightened out; this she didn’t expect.

“Oh God,” she prayed, “I don’t want to be manipulated. Please help me wrap my brain around this. I don’t want to help this man. He hurt me so badly.”

Storied Past – 18

Ed eased up to the front door of City Reach.

“Oh brother,” he thought. “One of those soup kitchen places for homeless losers. I don’t belong here. Why did that stupid judge send me to work here? Why couldn’t it be working in the City Park or something?”

He opened the door slowly. The smell of breakfast made him hungry for real food. He remembered the last meal he had was topped with white foam.

Ed looked around for someone that seemed to be in charge. Spotting Becky, who was directing someone to retrieve the salt and pepper, he hesitatingly walked over to introduce himself.

“Hello Miss; my name is Ed Hammberg. I was asked by a local official to give you a hand for a few weeks.” Ed had this part down cold. “Do you need any help?”

“Oh hello, Mr. Hammberg. Yes, the judge called me. He told me you needed a place to do some community service. We’re happy to have you help us for a while.”

Ed flushed. He hadn’t counted on his whole life history being laid out so soon.

“We do have a couple of rules, Ed. May I call you Ed?”

“Uh, yes, of course.”

“Good! You must always respect anyone who comes in here and treat them with love. And, we will have no swearing, no smoking, no alcohol and your first half hour each day here is with the staff only. We will talk about the daily menu for a few minutes and then we all pray for a bit. Sound OK?”

“Oh, uh yeah, I guess so. Pray? Yeah, OK, I can be here.”

“Great! So, Wednesday at 7:30 in the morning? Thank you, see you then.”

The duty nurse came in to check on the patients in 314. Mr. Beckett was sitting up and playing with the TV remote again. Paul was awake but a bit groggy. She slid the curtain back so each could see the other.

She then said, “Well, since you are both awake I think I will let you get acquainted. Mr. Beckett, this is Mr. Weiser; Paul, this is Frank. Enjoy your morning!”

“Good morning, Frank,” Paul said as wakeful as he could, still under some influence of the sedative.

“Uh, HUH,” returned Mr. Beckett, unsure of how to make small conversation with a man he was just now meeting who was probably the father of his daughter’s child.

“So . . . looks like you were in an accident. What happened?”

“Truck; I got hit by a truck,” Paul explained.

“Looks like the truck won, Paul. Are you a Christian?”

“A what?”

“Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” Mr. Beckett inquired.

“As my what? Savior? I don’t know what you mean. I was saved from getting killed, if that’s what you mean. And, I don’t know anybody named Jesus. I know Jose’ who was the salesman in the next region, that’s all.” Paul was unsure about what this had to do with the accident. Maybe Frank Beckett had some brain damage, though his head wasn’t wrapped up.

“No, I meant have you been to church and found Jesus.”

“Oh that. Yes, I went to church. That’s why I’m here. I came out kind of stumped, crossed the street and got slammed. The only thing I found in church was a bunch of people doing some ceremony that didn’t seem to include me. I don’t know how they expect to get anybody to come back when they are so unfriendly.” Paul laid back on the pillow, tired after that rant.

“Yeah, they are like that at the Catholic Church. I don’t blame you.”

“It was that big church down on Main,” Paul revealed. “I’m never going there again!”

Ramona had seen Ed Hammberg come in to City Reach. He looked familiar and thought she should know him but couldn’t place him. As she thought about it, she recalled a few years back seeing him at church. He was just a little older than her and looked a lot scruffier than she remembered.

“What did he want?” she asked Becky.

“You’ll never believe it, but he’s the guy who was driving the truck that hit Paul. The judge sent him here to do Community Service.”

“I think I know him, Becky. He went to my church and married the Pastor’s daughter.”

“Well, that’s interesting. How did Pastor Marlowe allow that?”

Ramona told what she remembered about Ed as she helped Becky clean up. “He seemed to be a decent guy, not my type, but a decent guy. I’m not sure why he went sideways but I heard the pastor was in their personal lives too much.”

“Well that can happen with any parent and their children.”

“No, I mean TOO much. He expected them to be at church for everything and didn’t even let them take time off for a vacation. Ed must have felt he couldn’t—wouldn’t live that way and left.”

Becky sighed. “Sometimes people in leadership use their positions to control others, Ramona. Couple that with the idea that the pastor may have felt that his reputation hinged on the behavior of his children and you have a recipe for misery. It happens too often. I never told you but that’s one of the main reasons I quit being a church member and became a Jesus follower instead.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Well, the church I attended was similar to Main Street Church: friendly, like a big family, they said. But when I was there for a short while the youth leader came to me and wanted me to check in weekly with one of the other leaders. I asked why and he said that I needed to be accountable to those over me. I agreed to and for a while it seemed OK, but when the other leader said he needed to approve my social friends I couldn’t see it. I mean, I thought we were supposed to have friends that didn’t know Jesus so we could ‘be Jesus’ to them.”

“So what did you do?”

“I met a few other friends who felt the same way; Jeremy was one, and we started getting together, reading Jesus’ story and asking ourselves what it might look like in today’s culture to share His message with our friends and community. That’s why we started City Reach.”

“Cool!” Ramona said. “At first I thought you were just doing something to feel good about yourself; you know, giving back to the poor people. But I didn’t realize you had a deeper reason. I guess that makes sense. I remember now about Eben, the guy I met my first time here. That is cool, Becky. I like the idea of serving the poor so you can share His love.”

“Yep! After all, He did feed a bunch of them as He told them stories about God and His Kingdom.”

As Mr. Beckett lay there, he thought about the guy in the bed next to him. Anger crept up on his dark side. He was conflicted about how to bring up the topic but believed it was his parental duty to confront Paul.

Paul stirred; Beckett took this as an opening.

“So you know my daughter, Ramona, huh?”

Paul shot a nervous glance his way.

“I’ve met her, yes.”

“She said you’ve more than met. Are you prepared to be a father?”

“WHAT?” Paul reeled from this sudden revelation. “Whaaat?” he stammered again. “Damn, damn, damn!”

“Yeah, you will be,” Beckett returned, “if you don’t own up.”

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 15

A look of fear and guilt pushed Paul’s eyes to maximum width. A deed of pure selfishness and utter wrong resurfaced in his mind. If it were other circumstances, he may have charmed his way out of the girl’s certain confrontation. But he could do nothing but lay there in captive submission to whatever she surely was about to unleash on him.

Ramona was so stunned no words came. An awkward awareness of the situation crept up into her brain along with the flush on her face. Paul, or at least that guy; the guy she had spent that evening with in the roadhouse and then . . . and then, well the awful hours and days that followed.

“Paul?” She whispered. “What . . . what happened to you?” She realized the immediate circumstances obviously dominated the initial conversation.

“I . . . I was going to call you.” He stammered out in a weak, muffled voice. “I . . . I’m sorry I . . . ”

“Mister, Paul, or whoever you are, don’t even.” Ramona said in a measured but strong, quiet voice. “I asked you what happened, that’s all. Can you at least give me enough respect to answer me with a little straight truth?” She was gaining confidence with every syllable.

“I’m sorry: yes, I can.” He started to really grasp the vulnerability of his position in this unexpected encounter. There was no way to run even if he wanted to.

“Well, I was walking across the street in an unlighted crosswalk and got hit by some idiot’s truck.”

“Hmmmm.” Ramona breathed. Her mind went to all sorts of responses she could have spat out, like, “Yeah, I did too,” or, “I think the idiot was in the crosswalk,” but to her surprise, she restrained herself.

“Is anything broken?” She kept it practical.

“Well, my chest hurts, my head is wrapped as you can see, and my left leg is in some sort of a cast, I think.”

“Ramona.”

Mr. Beckett called softly from the next bed. “Ramona, could you step over here for a minute?”

Ramona moved around the curtain again to face her father.

“Dad, that is the guy,” she whispered. “The guy I met before . . . I mean, he’s the guy who attacked me. What do I do?”

“Serious? You mean he’s the baby’s father?” Beckett whispered too.

“Yes,” she whispered back. “I know it’s him. What should I do?”

“Well,” he started, “well he’s not going anyplace soon, that’s for sure. We have time to figure it out.”

That was one thing about her father she really respected. He was wise about things. She knew he could analyze and process things very well and he always seemed to come to good decisions about hard situations. Well, except for that irrational outburst in the mercantile store. That was really so unlike his regular demeanor. Church stuff made him act irrational too, though. She had to say that.

“Ramona?” Now the other bed was calling. “Ramona, I . . . I really am sorry. I hope we can have a conversation when I get better. I want to, I mean I’ve been thinking, I mean before this accident, that I need some help. I have been messed up and something has to change. Would you . . . be willing to talk to me, I mean in spite of what I did to you?”

“Mister, I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. But you aren’t going anywhere soon and I know where you are and I intend to have a short conversation with you, along with somebody like Officer Riley.”

“Really? You would really do that? I know I deserve it. Never mind; just never mind. I mean, please, can’t we just talk first?

“Well, mister, the last time we talked you charmed my pants right off me and that will never happen again!” She spat this out with a venomous edge to her voice now.

“I know, and the drug was totally wrong, too. But that’s what I want to talk about. I . . . well, I need you to know that I wish I could do that night differently. You are such a great girl and I so took advantage of you, I’m . . . I’m such a toad.”

This last sentence seemed to take a great effort to get out of Paul. He looked drained. The whole shock of seeing Ramona in this context and him in such a vulnerable position weakened him physically and emotionally.

Ramona looked at him with a truck load of skepticism. “I will be back. You can be sure of that,” and moved back to the other side. Her father had drifted off to sleep again so she sat down in the worn, plastic overstuffed chair to think. It was 8:25 pm.

Becky had quickly closed the coffee bar. The whole bizarre narrative that Ramona had reeled off earlier has occupied her mind all evening. Fact is, she had to remake a few drinks because she didn’t seem to be able to focus.

What a story! The whole part about the Edith angel, though a strange tale, was entirely in the realm of God activity. After all, hadn’t she and Jeremy prayed for an intervention no matter what or how?

Locking up, she hurried down the street toward the hospital. It was possible Ramona was still visiting her father and she wanted to be there for her.

And what about that guy in the next bed? She wanted to tell Ramona about him, too; that she thought she had encountered him in her coffee store.

The hospital elevator was so slow! But after an eternity and a stop on the second floor to let on an entire entourage of family from the second floor maternity ward, the elevator groaned to a stop on the third.

Confusion from the family about having gotten on the “Up” elevator when it should have been the “Down” caused the doors to open and shut several times before she could wriggle out through the crowd.

“Excuse me, I need to get out. Thank you.” Finally free, she hurried down the corridor to 314.

“Ramona? Oh, good, you’re still here.”

“Hey Becky, guess what? I have to tell you something!”

“Well, I have to tell you something,” Becky insisted.

“The guy in the next bed . . . ,” they both said at once.