Harper woke the next morning with the most clarity yet. A nurse came in to get her up for some chair time and remarked, “I’m surprised your man isn’t here yet. He has barely left your side.”
“Oh, he’s not ‘my man.’ Just a friend.”
“Ah, well, he’s a very good one, if you ask me. You get to eat some solids this morning, Ms. Carville, so plain oatmeal is on tap and should be arriving shortly.” As she left, Blaise walked in with a smile and a “Good morning” to both the nurse and to Harper.
“You have a lot more color today. That’s great! And the desk said you get to eat. I was going to try and bring something contraband, but I decided to wait till you have more of an appetite. How are you feeling?”
“Well, I get to sit up, and I never thought sitting in a chair would be such a big deal, but . . . well, it is. The nurse said you’ve been here a lot. What about your job? You know your regular paying job?”
“My employer gave me some time off, which was nice of him. Would’ve been nice with pay, but no biggie.” He smiled and arranged another chair opposite Harper’s. “I’ve gotten a lot of study and sermon prep done, and my prayer life has flourished with my #1 parishioner in need.”
“I appreciate that, but I wouldn’t want to be a burden. What about your mum and aunt? Are they okay?
“Yes, and no. Elise has taken up cat burgling on the side.”
“I know I’m not quite with it yet, but I think you lost me.” Harper seemed genuinely confused.
“I’m sorry, I’m just so happy to see you up and talking, I’m slipping back into my clever but nuanced jokes.” He grinned widely.
“Okay, you got me. Well, if you’re up for another story, I have one for you. Since your purse was gone—before JR was arrested, that is—and we had no house keys, we were trying to figure out how to get in to feed Clutch for you. The fence is totally down, so there was no obstacle there, of course. And it’s good we didn’t put up another, then Elise would’ve had to hop a fence to break in. As it was, she just walked over to your yard, squeezed her tiny frame through the rather large and non-secure doggie door, found the dogfood, and the spare house key, which had not been returned to its clever hiding place. (I had already checked.) And she and Mum took over the care of your dog. It was actually a real blessing for Mum. They brought him to their place, and she spent hours petting and grooming him, seemingly genuinely happy.”
“My dog or your mum?”
“Both, actually. He spent more time in her place than yours. Against Mum’s wishes, Elise insisted he sleep at your place so he could access the doggie door if he needed to go out in the middle of the night. You will be interested to know Mum never forgot Clutch’s name once and was very happy to do it for that poor neighbor Karen, who was in the hospital.” Blaise shrugged and smiled. “What are you going to do?” Harper smiled, too. She was relieved to know Clutch had been cared for.
“There is more to the story, but I will save that for another time.” Blaise pulled up a chair next to Harper’s, avoiding for the moment her curious gaze. “About the shop . . .”
“Yes, did you happen to find my bank deposit?”
“I did. Funny you should ask. I went back to the shop after the police had done their bit, and I made as thorough a search as I could, even though I wouldn’t really know everything that might be out of place like you would. But there were some reusable grocery bags beside the little fridge in the office. As I was straightening them up, one seemed heavier than the rest; and there inside was your bank pouch with the week’s receipts. I thought about going on a spending spree, but opted to make your deposit instead.”
“That wasn’t really funny enough to make me laugh, but be careful: I’ve had a head injury, you know.” Blaise winked at her and was clearly relieved and enjoying his friend’s turnaround.
Harper’s mood shifted as she started to think again about the attack. “Did he say why he did it? I mean, I’ve never officially met JR. Max asks for coffee and food on his behalf, so I knew about him; but until a few days ago—or whenever that was—I hadn’t even seen his face. I bought a muffin and a coffee for a man begging outside a coffee shop uptown, but I didn’t really speak much to him. And to be honest, since his hair was hanging down in his face, even then, I can’t say I saw it. Not enough to recognize him. But I heard the owner call him JR when I was getting into my car. I didn’t know it was Max’s JR till he confirmed it for me Friday night at fellowship. And I’m sure he wouldn’t have known who I was . . . at least, I can’t imagine he did. I don’t understand why he would be angry with me. Was he? Why . . .”
“He doesn’t know why he did it, Harper. He has some mental issues; and with this violent act, he will be committed in a prison for the criminally insane. Until this event, all his run-ins with the police were petty theft, public urination, and other misdemeanors. This certainly bumped it up a notch. I just feel bad about the whole situation. If I had not left you alone, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“It’s not your fault. If I’d waited to take the trash out, it wouldn’t have happened either; but it’s all over. I’m just glad to be back in the land of the living.”
“And me, too. I couldn’t bear to . . .”
“Oatmeal! Are you excited?” An all too jovial Type A aid waltzed in with breakfast, arranging it on a tray in front of her.
“What, no coffee?” Harper wriggled up her nose. “Wait, is Easter over? I gave coffee up for Lent.”
“Easter is just around the corner. Water and runny oatmeal are all you get, according to your chart. If you’re good, you get applesauce for lunch.”
“Yay,” Blaise and Harper said in chorus. The aid exited, and Harper sampled her meal. It was pretty mushy and tasteless with no soy milk or sweetener—not allowed, she was told—but after no food by mouth for so long, it might have just as well been a gourmet feast.
Harper ate a few bites, and they sat mostly in silence. Then the nurse came in to help her back to bed. Blaise rose to go. “I need to leave for a bit; it’s my turn at the shop.”
“What? I didn’t even think about that! So, have you been keeping it open the whole time?”
“We shortened the afternoon hours, closing at four; but between Tia, Ava, Elise, and I, we’ve kept the shop going. We probably made a lot of mistakes, but we looked so pathetic doing it, I’m sure people had mercy on us. The whole community got wind of the attack, and I don’t know what is typical, but it seems you have had a lot more customers than usual.
“Wow, that’s amazing! Thank you so much. I don’t know what to say.” Harper’s eyes misted over.
“And your freezer at home is full of casseroles.”
“Vegan?” she managed a smile.
“Absolutely not! But I’m thinking food bank or another potluck!” Harper sunk back deep into her pillows, obviously fatigued by all the outlay of energy.
“I’ll be back later this evening to check up on you. Get some rest.” He turned and walked to the door where he stopped as if frozen. He paused a few seconds then spun on his heel and quickly walked back to the bed. He placed his hands softly on Harper’s cheeks and looked into her eyes. “I thought I’d lost you. I thought . . .” He bent down and put a lingering kiss on her forehead.
Harper had no words. They stuck in her throat, her heart pounding.
He turned to go again, took a few steps, but abruptly returned again and kissed her softly on the lips. “I couldn’t bear to lose you.” His cheeks were wet as he walked quickly to the door and left. Harper touched her lips, closed her eyes, and wept.