Blaise cut the question time short to allow people to pack up their food items and get on the road. It was still only sprinkling outside, but the wind was getting stronger, obviously blowing in a bigger storm—the death throes of winter.
Max made his way over to the tables where Harper was standing. “I know it’s a bit late, but JR’s outside the door and wondering if he could have a plate of food to take with him?”
“Absolutely! Here, why don’t you load a plate up with what he might like before everyone grabs their stuff, and I’ll fix him a cup of coffee to go. We actually have some lids this time. Yay! Better move quickly before everything goes.” She smiled and headed to the coffee station. She poured a big cup and then tracked down some of the plastic utensils some people had brought. She didn’t have a plastic bag to put the plate in to protect it from the rain, so she grabbed one of her reusable grocery bags. “Here you go, Max. This should give his plate enough protection to get him back to his place. And please tell him again he is welcome to come in the next time. Really.”
“I’ll tell him that. But . . . well, you know how he is.” Max ducked out the back door.
“I’m going to drive Max to the shelter for the night. And that couple over there, Lucy and Lou—I know it sounds like a band name—were going to call an Uber, but their apartment is really close to the shelter, so I offered them a lift, as well. It should only take me about twenty minutes or less, and then I’ll be back to help with the cleanup.” Blaise dug his truck keys out of his jeans pocket.
“No problem. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Promise me you won’t do it all before I get back.”
“I make no promises; but trust me, I’m not that efficient when it comes to cleaning, so there should be plenty to do. Just don’t dilly dally . . . Dilly dally? Do people even say that anymore?” He laughed and gave a little wave as he headed for the door. “Oh, wait! Max’s friend JR was outside a minute ago. Would you have room for him?”
“I asked Max about that because I thought given the storm, we could squeeze everybody in, if not in the cab, at least in the back; but apparently, JR would prefer to walk. Okay, I’ll see you in about twenty. I’m the last one out, so I’ll make sure the door is pushed to. See you in a bit.”
Harper waved and sent him off with a little smile. Silence descended in the room, and she took a deep breath. “This was good, really good,” she said out loud. She felt that she had certainly rounded a corner. The gloom of the last few years was lifting, and she felt a renewed purpose with the fellowship. She still battled occasional romantic feelings for Blaise, but that was coming under control. She made a decision to ask him about the celibacy comment, just to clear the air; but regardless, she was happy for his friendship and wanted nothing more in this moment than to grow in her faith and be useful in Christ’s kingdom. It felt good to have vision again for a future. She seldom raised her hands in worship because, besides making her at times feel self-conscious, it most often made her want to cry; but in this moment, alone and quiet except for the rumblings of the storm, she raised her hands to the Lord: “Thank you for all You have done. Thank You for the new freedom I’m feeling in my soul—and in my mind. I’m Yours, my Lord.” She wiped tears from her eyes and then set to work.
Humming to herself, Harper went through to the shop front and checked to make sure the door was locked. Everything was dark there except for a small light she kept burning on her candy counter desk thingy. She told herself it was for security, but it wouldn’t have deterred any robber, she felt sure. She smiled to herself at how silly that seemed. She had not spent the money to get a security system, though she had contemplated posting a fake sign for one in her window. But she typically had little cash in the drawer. Most people used credit cards now. And she figured if someone was industrious enough to break into a bookstore and steal books, well, then more power to them. She had not seen theft as a big risk.
She walked back into the meeting room and started picking up trash. Most of it had been taken care of, but there were a few pieces lying around under chairs and beside the trashcans. She pulled the two full trash bags out and tied them off, leaving them by the back door for when Blaise would return. She wasn’t about to break down the extra tables by herself, but they all needed a good wash, so she did that. She put her personal food items along with her guitar case and purse over by her mini fridge. That would remind her not to forget the bank pouch with her shop money that she had hid there in a reusable grocery bag.
Harper had done all that she could do by herself, so she sat down in the silence and waited to hear Blaise’s truck drive up. It had already been thirty minutes, so Harper decided before the storm got any worse, she would throw the trash bags in the dumpster situated only a few feet from the back door. She looked through the peep hole that Blaise had installed in the door for safety. There was her little Honda in its space; and besides that, the parking lot looked deserted except for a few leaves and plastic bags blowing past, driven by the wind. Rather than make two trips holding an umbrella, she decided to tough it out and take both bags at once. She would make it really quick! Harper opened the door and placed the wooden block against it so the door would not blow shut and lock her out. She lifted the bags up into the dumpster and immediately regretted not having put on her coat. The rain was still only light, but the air was cold, the wind biting. She hurried back to the shaft of light of the open door.
As she put her foot against the block to kick it out of the way, a shadow fell across the door. She started to turn but felt a searing pain in the back of her head. She wasn’t aware that she was falling till her forehead crushed the asphalt. Her fingers which had instinctively reached for her neck felt something warm and sticky; but somehow, her hand did not feel attached to her body.
Blackness washed over Harper, and thoughts dissolved into unintelligible murmurs as she drifted away.