Jack and Emma Lynn say good bye to best friends, Emma Lynn remembers their shared grief
|Jack awoke early that Sunday, his first day off in weeks. After watching a half hour of the death, disaster, and government propaganda which had come to be known as news, he began to get ready for church.
“Honey, we’ve gotta’ leave in ten minutes!” she yelled up to him from the kitchen. He had not really heard what she said over the bathroom fan and running water, but he got the message.
“I’m almost ready!” He sped up the pace of his shaving and, with the other hand, reached for the toothpaste. “What color shirt should I wear?” he asked her through the door. She had entered the bedroom, and was putting her earrings in.
“You don’t even know what you’re wearing yet? If we are late today, I’m going to kill you. Pastor said Bob and Sue are leaving before the service, but they would be at the church to say good bye to everyone. I don’t want to miss them. Also, I have to give Sue back the books I borrowed. Shipping them to her instead would cost a small fortune. Now, hurry up!” She opened the closet and grabbed the first shirt which caught her eye. It was the pink oxford with the quarter-sized emblem on the left pocket. He hated that shirt, but she wasn’t going to let him take the time to pick another. “Pink.”
“You know I can’t stand that shirt.” he said, knowing it made no difference. “When your mother dies, I’m going to put it in her casket.”
“She would never have bought it for you if she didn’t love you.” Emma Lynn was on her way to the boys’ room to check on their progress.
Jack drained the sink and wiped it with a towel from the hamper. He opened the door, a crack, to peek through. Seeing the room was empty, he entered and, as quickly as a man can, put his socks, pants and t-shirt on. The pink shirt was laid out on the bed. He grudgingly slipped it on without buttoning it. He pulled his brown shoes from under the bureau and stuck his feet into them. He turned to face the mirror. “I look like some kind of girly-guy hair dresser.” he mumbled.
“Look, if it makes you feel any better, I knew a girly-guy lumber jack, when I was in high school.” He hadn’t heard her coming down the hall. “I think the shirt looks fine.” That was her way of saying, “If you start to look for another one, you’re going to wish you hadn’t.”
He put his belt through the loops on his pants and, while tucking in the shirt, started walking down the hall toward the stairs. “Boys!” he shouted, to gather the troops.
At the bottom of the stairs, the boys, Bruce, 8, and J J, 6, were standing in the entry way, dressed and ready to go. They had put a DVD into the player, and were watching, with rapt attention, as a cartoon lizard rode a motorcycle through the streets of some pretend city.
“Let’s go.” Jack barked as he passed by them. “Shut all that stuff off, and get in the car.”
“Yes, Pa.” they said, in unison. Bruce shut the electronics off while J J scrambled to find some sort of toy to play with during the service. Having found a small action figure, he followed Bruce out the front door and to the car. Jack, who was standing outside the driver’s door finishing straightening his shirt and buckling his belt, paused briefly to open the back door. The boys clambered in and fastened their seat belts. “Em?” which is what he called her, most of the time, “I’m ready!” Jack shouted to the house, with a certain sense of accomplishment.
“Jack, you forgot to grab the box of books!” she was coming through the door, Bible in hand.
“You borrowed them.” He said weakly, as he walked past her, on his way to the den to get the box. She fastened her seat belt and watched as Jack, box held close with two hands, awkwardly closed the door with his foot and checked to be sure it was locked with a couple fingers. Just as he arrived at the trunk, she leaned over and pressed the button to open it. Box inside, trunk closed, and they were on their way.
“Please take the short route today.” she said.
“You know that’s not a good idea. Pastor said it wouldn't be wise to take the same route twice in a row. The Novus Council has made it clear that church goers are suspect, and that they’re going to be watched.” They rode to church in silence. The entire way, Jack looked about, nervously, for anything out of the ordinary. He was not happy about her insisting on going to church. If he had not liked Bob so much, he might have put his foot down on the matter that day.
The parking lot, if one could call it that, was teaming with activity when Jack and Emma Lynn arrived. The van belonging to Bob and Sue Peloquin was parked on the east side, opposite the driveway. There was a crowd, about fifty in number, gathered around it. Bob had accepted a senior pastorship in Crosby, North Dakota, and he and his wife, Sue, were leaving that morning.
The area where they were going to live had been devastated by tornadoes and floods. Many of the once fertile farms had been reduced to vast muddy swamps, and the food supply was dwindling. Men, whose farms had once fed much of the world and who had provided good lives for their families, were committing suicide. United States soldiers, directed by the Novus Council, were commandeering the farms and the equipment which was still functional. The owners of the farms were removed from their properties… forcefully, if need be, and were given a nominal sum of money.
The Peloquins had four days until they were expected to be there and, at two thousand miles, driving would take most of it. Bob insisted on leaving prior to the worship service, because he did not want to distract the congregation from the worship, teaching, and preaching that morning. His plan backfired, however, because he was so well liked everyone's thoughts were stuck on him anyway. Emma Lynn had Jack bring the box of books to Sue, who had him put it in their van. Jack found himself at a loss for words as he shook Bob's hand and looked him in the eye.
"Jack, it has been a pleasure getting to know you and your family, and I'm sure we will be in touch. Take care of that beautiful wife of yours. I expect that, when we see each other again, the boys will be all grown." Bob spoke first, having sensed the trouble Jack was having expressing himself.
"You've been a good and true friend to me and my family and I wish nothing but the best for you guys. I... I... I'm gonna' miss you." A lump was developing in Jack's throat, but there was more. "You have been one of the only true friends I've ever had. I'm sorry that I waited 'til now to tell you this, but... I love you. We will do our best to keep in touch with you guys. I'm sure you'll be an excellent pastor. If you need anything, I'll walk through hell and back to get it for you." That was all he could muster. He reached over and hugged Bob just as the first tears fell from his eyes.
"I love you too." Bob said. "Hey, it’s not like we're never going to see each other again. Whether here, or in the promised land, we'll get together." The words tore through Jack's heart like a raging, angry tornado. "Emma Lynn, you and your husband have blessed us more ways than we could ever tell you. Take care of my buddy here. I expect him to be fat and happy when I see him next." A wry smile broke across Bob's face. He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. During the good bye's Sue had been standing by, quietly crying.
Practically lunging, she moved in and hugged Emma Lynn. They both sobbed a bit before, holding each other’s hands, they separated. Sue looked deep into her friend's eyes. "Em, I've never known a more faithful sister. I can't thank you enough for the prayers, the listening, the laughter..." She was losing the ability to get her words out for the lump in her throat. "Well, I'll write as soon as we get settled. I love you." She turned and hurried into the passenger seat of their van.
Bob said, "Good bye, everybody!", and waved an all inclusive wave, as he joined his bride in the van, and turned the key. Like the Red Sea, the crowd parted to let them drive through. Everyone was waving and yelling after them as the van turned right out of the parking lot and started away. Sue was staring straight ahead, but she turned, briefly, and made eye contact with Emma Lynn. They both half raised their hands and waved softly with their fingers. Sue turned forward again and the van disappeared around the bend.
Bob and Sue Peloquin had come from Plymouth, Vermont. It was a small town, about three and a half hours north and west of Boston. Its claim to fame was that it was the birth place of Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of The United States. It was home to the Coolidge Homestead Museum, and the Plymouth Cheese Factory. The Peloquins moved from there, three years before, after Bob was laid off from his job at a near by marble quarry. They settled in Brookfield, Massachusetts, where Bob found work as an elevator repair man. Ironically, Brookfield was, at least at one time, known to have the highest density of elevator repairmen, per capita, in the entire country. The Peloquins were devout Born-Again Christians, and joined a local church right away. Bob and Sue knew the Bible inside and out, and began holding a Bible study in their home. Emma Lynn had been fellowshipping at that church when the Peloquins arrived, and she and Sue hit it off from the start.
After a few invites to dinner at the Peloquins', Jack began attending church services with Emma Lynn. He got involved within the church, helping with building maintenance and yard work, until six months before, when the building was taken by the local chapter of the Novus Council. The Council had declared all church buildings, nation-wide, had become property of the Council, and would be used by it for "Civil Protection", to keep society safe from the dangerous elements which commonly lurked in churches. Christians were the main target, but there were also a number of free-thinkers out there who did not agree with the Council, and were considered a threat. The church buildings had become stations for monitoring activities like communications, associations, and travel. Having a church service was declared illegal, punishable by up to five years in prison. There was no age stipulation. All ages were to be arrested and jailed.
Jack had become quite friendly with the Pastor, Frank Gould, and spent many an hour in his study, just talking with him. Pastor Frank was an older gentleman, seventy or so, who was born and raised in the Worcester, Massachusetts area. He was a tall man, six feet, five inches, with a thin rim of white hair, which went from ear to ear, around the back of an otherwise bald head. He was `skinny' by anyone's standard, weighing a mere one hundred sixty pounds. He had a calm yet firm demeanor which, coupled with the wisdom which seemed to just ooze from his pores, made Jack enjoy his company.
“Everyone!” Pastor Frank shouted, and the crowd became silent. “We should get on with the service. I have a lot to share with you this morning. It is more critical than ever that we do not lengthen our meeting today. If everyone would please come inside, I’d appreciate it.” The group began filing through the door of the old auto repair shop which was serving as a church building. The room was set up like a church-proper, with pews, twelve of them, and an alter area. The pews were made from eight-foot lengths of two by twelve lumber. Each board was supported by three cinder blocks, one under each end, and one under the middle. There were no seat backs. They were comfortable enough and, although not very showy, the pastor liked them because it was exceedingly difficult for his flock to fall asleep while sitting on them. They had emptied out the rest of the garage. The walls were painted a light, mauve color, and the floor was a dark tan. Neither color was a first choice, but the price had been right and, at least, the room appeared clean and neat. The windows, all of them, were left just they way they had always been. They were dirty and helped to keep the building’s appearance, from the outside, of being unoccupied.
“Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for this beautiful day, and for the opportunity to gather in the name of our Lord, Jesus. We pray that you protect us from the enemy this day. Father, we ask that you guide and protect Bob and Sue Peloquin as they travel to North Dakota, and that even now, you are preparing the hearts of the flock they will be shepherding to receive and love them. We thank you for the time we had with them, and for their faithfulness to you and us. Please, bless your word as it goes forth this morning, and teach, encourage, and comfort us with it. We ask for wisdom according to your promise that whoever asks for it will receive it. Thank you, Lord. In the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen. After the message this morning, I have some very import matters to discuss with you all. Please do not leave early today. If you will, please open with me to Matthew chapter twenty four, verse one.”
Emma Lynn was finding it hard to pay attention to the preacher. Her mind was still reeling from the departure of her very best friend. She, half-heartedly, opened her bible and began in search of Matthew, chapter 24. After flipping a few pages, she let her hand, and the book it was holding, flop into her lap. She stared in the direction of one of the side windows, and drifted into a daydream. The memories were flooding her mind.
She and Sue had belonged to a women's fellowship, which would frequently arrange field trips for all of the children. A few of the mothers would go on the trip, while the others had quality time together. It was an arrangement that worked well. Everyone took turns taking the children places. They went to the zoo, the car museum, the science museum, parks... many different places. One Saturday, two years ago, the children took a bus into New Hampshire, to do some hiking. Jennifer Hollisten and Kathy McArthur were the mothers in charge that day. Sue's daughter Penny, and Emma's daughter Audrey, both eight years old, were the best of friends. Penny had slept over, and Emma Lynn drove the girls to the church, where the rented school bus was waiting. She had made each of the girls a rather fancy lunch, and had bought them matching red bonnets, so they would be spotted easily, by both the chaperones, and each other. "You two look adorable!” she said as she pulled them both in for a hug. "Now, you girls stay together, and do whatever Mrs. Hollisten and Mrs. McArthur say... OK?"
"Yes, Ma'am", was their simultaneous reply, as they started toward the bus.
"Audrey, Penny!” she beckoned from behind the camera which she had taken out of her purse. Both girls half turned, and looked back at her over their right shoulders. "Say `Cheese!'", and they did. Click. With the camera in one hand and waving with the other, "Have fun girls. I'll be here, at seven thirty, to pick you up. I love you!" She shouted after them as they boarded the bus.
The women's meeting ended early, around five, when the hostess complained of nausea. Emma Lynn and Sue had traveled together, in Emma Lynn's Subaru wagon, and they decided to go to Emma Lynn's house to wait until seven, when they would both go to pick up the girls. They made some tea and snacked on chocolate chip cookies, while they talked.
It was five forty five when the phone rang. “Jack! Can you get that?" He was in the cellar, working on the lawn mower.
"I got it!”
"He's so good to me." Emma Lynn quipped, with a hint of sarcasm. Both Ladies chuckled lightly.
"Noooooo!" Jack shouted at the top of his lungs. The women jumped in their seats, and rose quickly to their feet. Emma Lynn ran to the cellar door.
"Honey?" she shouted down the stairs. "What's wrong?” Jack had begun slowly climbing the stairs. As he rounded the corner, Emma Lynn could see his face was ashen.
"There's been a terrible accident."
"Oh no! No, no, no, no, no, no!" Emma Lynn just knew it was the girls. Sue let out a scream, and began sobbing.
"What's happened?" Sue pleaded with Jack.
"That was the New Hampshire State Police. A tractor-trailer lost its brakes and crashed into the bus. Two children were killed. They think that it was Audrey and Penny." Emma Lynn and Sue wailed in unison, and leaned into one another to keep from falling over. "They're sending someone to get us. They need us to identify the bodies." Jack was now sobbing. "Someone else will be bringing Bob. He will meet us there." The three of them, crying, hugged for few minutes, until the phone rang.
Jack raced to it, hoping to hear Audrey's voice on the other end. "Hello!" Then he listened for about a minute, during which he said some “yes”’s, “no”'s and a few "I understand"'s. "Bye." His voice trailed off as he hung up the phone.
Emma Lynn was crying, mourning the losses of the girls and her best friend when she, consciously, rejoined the proceedings.