The week between Christmas and New Year’s was a busy one. Blaise returned from up north and called Harper to ask if perhaps he could start using the back room right after New Year’s. She saw no problem with that except for the cleanup required. An empty room that is in disuse has its own gravitational pull, and all sorts of odds and ends seem to make a way there to start filling up the space. She had stored some older used books with the intent of eventually going through them to cull out the discards. But it had been months. She had new stock in boxes that had not even been opened. Then there were the big box store packages of paper towels and toilet paper that she would of course never go through in a million years at the store, particularly since her small bathroom was not even open to the public unless there happened to be a toddler emergency and a pleading mother. But it was also the stash she pulled from for home use—and better stored here than in her small duplex. And when did she buy that many canisters of coffee beans! The place also needed a good scrubbing. Blaise had promised to come help, but he was running a bit late, so she started the job herself. She left the door open to the main part of the shop so she could hear if a customer came in. How did I ever let things pile up! My creative quotient has definitely surpassed my cook and clean quotient. She was irritated slightly with herself, but organizing the space somehow felt like a good and productive way to start the day.
She had only been working for about a half hour when the bell tinkled over the front door, and she peaked out to see who had come in. It was Blaise with a big smile and a wave. “Harper, hello! So sorry I’m late. I have no excuse that would sell except that I enjoyed my coffee and quiet time this morning much too much.” He gave her a big hug, which from anyone else would have made Harper cringe. But it was genuine and comfortable with her friend and no strings attached. “It’s so good to see you, Harper. I hope things are going well.”
“Very well, thanks. So how was your trip to see your mum? Is she doing okay?” Harper talked as she continued to work.
Diving right in with a broom and dustpan, Blaise gave a play by play of his visit. “It was good—well, kind of good—but also conflicting. Mum has diminished even more these last couple of months, and I am not convinced the board and care is the right place for her. I know the workers are trying their best with several inmates to care for.” He smiled at his own joke. “But she is not getting the stimulation I think is best for her. I am praying about moving her down here. When I was not visiting her, it appeared she was left alone in front of a TV, only to be interrupted by hurried, not-so-nutritious meals. I am in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. I need to make some decisions.”
“When you say diminished, what do you mean? Is she struggling physically? Mentally? I think you said once before that she could still out arm wrestle you.”
“And that is true.” He laughed. “Good Irish stock. She is very strong and not really a great fall risk as much as I can tell. I mean, for an eighty-nine-year-old you would expect some fragility, but she really is strong for her years. It is her mind that is more of a problem. She didn’t know me much of the time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That must have been disheartening.” Harper stopped her sorting to look at Blaise. It surprised her when she saw a glint of a smile.
“Sad, but funny, too; though I feel guilty saying so. When she thought I was a nice stranger, she acted like a school girl, flirting shamelessly. But when she recognized me as her son, she was kind of normal, complimenting and chastising me interchangeably. I spoke to her doctor when I was there, and he said she is experiencing some frontal lobe disintegration, and that is where her fixation with flirting and ‘all things sex’ is coming from. It was kind of sad to see one who has had such a strong mind unable to not only recognize her own son, but not even be able to carry on a real conversation unless it had to do with me taking her out on a hot date.”
Harper thought about what it might look like to find herself in that position. It was a scary thought. She could remember a time when an older cousin got married at twenty-five, and she thought that was old. Then when she herself hit her thirties, forty started looking really old. Now in her fifties, elder care did not seem as distant a prospect, and that was a bit terrifying. But she kept her thoughts to herself as she made a mental note to go back to the gym.
Blaise took a bunch of boxes to the utility closet and then arranged the few folding chairs in the room in a circle. Harper counted the chairs. “Hmm, eight. I don’t remember what happened to the rest of the chairs. We had about twenty-five, I think, when I was doing the book club. I may have loaned—or given—them away to the church. I’m not sure.”
“That’s no problem. I will pick up a few more, and we will add as is necessary.”
“How many people do you expect. And it’s Friday, right?”
“Yes, I was hoping to start this first Friday after New Year’s. The group agreed that we didn’t want to do Sunday so local churches would not think we were trying to replace them.”
“But, well, aren’t you? In a way?”
“Maybe. But we don’t want it to look that way.” Blaise smiled. “No, not really. The way I see it is that those who want to make our meeting their ‘home’ will be embraced with open arms; and those who want to come and learn and have fellowship with us as more of a life group supplemental to their church involvement will also be welcomed with open arms. I want the Lord to grow this community as He sees fit. It is not my desire to sheep steal or manipulate those who seek to be a part, whatever that looks like. I guess we will see how it works out one step at a time, but what I do envision is a certain level of accountability from those who become what I might call the core of the group. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, I think so. How many people do you have so far?
“There have been eleven consistently meeting with me at the coffee shop. Four single college age guys and gals, two married couples, one which just arrived from the East Coast and hasn’t gotten plugged in anywhere, a homeless gentleman named Max, and an older single lady and her gentleman friend. There have been a few others here and there who have come occasionally, including Ava. So, you can see that number, though small, is really too large for the coffee shop environment. I brought my guitar one night to lead some worship music, and the management shut me down. Now I don’t know whether that was so as not to disturb the other folks in the shop or whether my singing was so bad he wanted to stop the pain.” Blaise laughed out loud. “Probably the latter. I think I am a better teacher than singer.” Harper smiled at that. She almost told him she might be willing to play and sing for them, but the words caught in her throat. She still was not sure whether she would feel safe yet in the group. “At any rate,” he continued on, “it really is time for this venue, and I can’t thank you enough for making it available.”
“No, problem. You know I only agreed so as to give me an excuse to clean up the room, right?”
“Right!” He gave her a big toothy grin. Blaise and Harper looked around the room, satisfied that it looked pretty good. It really hadn’t taken that long to get ready with both of them at it. “So, are you ready for some lunch? I think I have the vegan café’s menu memorized by now, so I could go out and bring something back, if you don’t want to leave the shop.”
“No, I think we have worked hard enough for a lunch out. Let’s try that new Mexican restaurant down on 5th. I checked the menu out on-line, and it looks like they have some good vegie choices.”
“Sounds great! And I will treat.”
“And I accept!” Harper turned the Out to Lunch sign with the smiley face around and locked the front door.