Frankie felt like a new woman.
After talking to Claudia on Saturday afternoon, she spent a lot of time in prayer. For the longest time, all she could do was cry and hum some of the old hymns and choruses she had learned in church as a child. She was still on her knees by the couch, her Bible open on the cushion in front of her when Richie and Clay come home. Her tears had stopped, but her face showed the effects. Richie at first saw only the puffy, red eyes and the tear streaked cheeks.
“Frankie, honey, what happened?” he asked, the concern obvious in his voice. “Is everything all right?”
Frankie laughed and smiled all at once. She stood up, kissed her husband’s cheek, and then picked up her son. “Everything is perfect!” she squealed, spinning Clay around in the air. The sound of his giggles only made her laugh harder. “God is here, He loves me, and life is wonderful.”
Over dinner that evening, Clay chattered on and on about all that he had done that day. Frankie smiled, nodded, and laughed when appropriate, but said little about her own day until after the boy had fallen asleep. Only then did she sit on her bed, and, snuggling closely to Richie’s side, tell her husband all that happened that day. From the Bible study passage to the time of prayer the ladies shared to the conversation she’d had with Claudia, Frankie didn’t leave out any detail.
“A part of me wanted to laugh,” she told Richie, “when Lorna dropped her coffee cup. I wanted to tell everyone there about Claudia’s baby and the way her parents have treated her.”
“Frankie, you didn’t.”
She shook her head. “No, I just asked Abby for a broom and mop, and cleaned up the mess. As much as I wanted to see her humiliated in front of those women who think she is so perfect, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s not what Claudia would want me to do.”
Richie sat stroking her hair as Frankie told him about the verses she and Claudia had read together. “It’s like something finally woke up inside of me,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “I haven’t felt God’s presence so strongly in a very long time. He was so real right then, as real as your touch is now. I don’t know how I lived so long without noticing that.”
The next morning, they were a little late getting to Sunday worship. Frankie was still smiling, still feeling like God was walking right beside her as she and Richie signed Clay into his Sunday School class and headed to the sanctuary. She was surprised at first to see that her mother was sitting in an almost empty pew. It was the first time she’d ever seen her mother in church without being at her father’s side. She knew she would have to get used to it, but she wasn’t sure she liked the look of the empty seat.
It did seem odd to her that only one woman was sitting beside her mom. As she walked closer, Frankie realized it was Abby sitting there. She had a flashback to when she was about 12 years old and Pastor Rollins was preaching. Abby didn’t like to sit in the very front with her mother, and would often sit with Frankie and her family. She smiled now, thinking how right it seemed for Abby to again be sitting in the Lawson family pew.
As she made her way to where her mother sat, Frankie was aware of the stares and whispers around her. She didn’t know what anyone was staring at until one of the older women reached a hand out to her. “I heard about your parents,” the woman said, moving closer to her husband so there was empty space beside her. “Would you like to sit here with us today?”
So that’s what had happened. People knew her dad was gone, and they were making the assumption that Morgan was somehow at fault for it. A few days before, and that would have been enough to push her over the edge. Frankie would have struggled to keep from shouting at the woman that she needed to mind her own business and asking her how she could be so sure her own husband wasn’t having an affair as well. Instead, she just smiled and said, “No thanks. I’ll sit with Mom.”
When she slid into the pew beside her mother, she reached over Morgan’s lap to give Abby’s hand a squeeze. She knew she would never be able to thank her for showing friendship to her Mom.
Frankie, Richie, and Clay spent Sunday afternoon with her mother. As Clay played outside, Richie made a phone call to Wyatt, allowing the women time to talk.
“You need to get a lawyer, Mom,” Frankie said. “You can’t just let Dad take everything away from you.”
“He can’t take everything,” Morgan told her daughter. “I’ll always have you and Wyatt.”
“But you have no career,” Frankie pointed out. “Dad would never let you have a job. The love Wyatt and I give you is not likely to pay your bills.”
“The house is paid for,” Morgan said. “So is the car, and I do have a little bit of savings of my own. That will get me by until I get a job.”
“What good will a paid off car and mortgage-free home be if Dad takes it all?”
“I don’t think he would do that, do you?”
“Mom, I didn’t think he would leave you,” Frankie said. She sighed and covered her mother’s hand with her own. “I am just worried about you, Mom. He has walked over you for so long. I don’t want to see him do that anymore.”
Morgan patted Frankie’s hand. “I know, honey. I don’t plan to be taken advantage of again. But I am not going to find a lawyer. I don’t need one just yet.”
“Mom,” Frankie said slowly. “You sound like you would forgive him if he asked. I love him—he is my Daddy—but I don’t think taking him back would be smart.”
“Oh, I don’t plan on doing that,” Morgan said. “I hope to forgive him someday, but I cannot imagine ever living with him again. Still, I am not going to make it easy for him to get out of this marriage. If he wants out, he has to do all the work. I will hire a lawyer only after I know he has. Frankie, I am not going to fight to stay married, but I am going to fight for my fair share of things.”
“Wyatt says he will be home next weekend,” Richie said, walking into the room. He placed the cordless phone on the table and sat beside his wife. “He is upset that no one called him sooner, though.”
“Maybe I should have,” Morgan said with a sigh. “I just did not want to upset you kids. You both have your own lives to worry about. I hate dragging you into my drama.”
“I just hate that there is any drama,” Richie said. “If he was a real man, Don would have told you in person what he was doing.”
Frankie had never in her life been so thankful for a Monday as she was that week. She couldn’t wait to get to work, to get on the phones, and try solving the problems of others. Normally, Frankie had little compassion for the customers who called her department. They waited too long to ask for help on paying their electric bills. By the time the calls reached Frankie, there was very little she could do to help prevent shut-off. But after spending the weekend with her mother, discussing a problem she couldn’t solve, she was happy for the chance to be able to at least try to help others.
Only something seemed strange. Frankie couldn’t get Claudia out of her mind. She drove past her friend’s house on her way into work. Claudia’s little blue sedan was parked out front, but there was no answer at her door. Frankie grabbed a fast food napkin off the floor of her van and jotted down a quick note which she placed under the windshield wiper. As she drove away, Frankie prayed for her friend. She smiled as she did so, thinking how this was the first time she had prayed for Claudia’s situation and really believed that her prayer was being heard.
Even the prayer didn’t ease her mind any. She had this nagging feeling that something was wrong. Frankie noticed that Shane wasn’t at work that morning. When she asked about him, she was told that an emergency had come up with his other job and he’d taken a few days off. No one seemed to know the nature of the emergency, though. Frankie could only assume it had something to do with the families of one of the teens. The cell phone in her pocket vibrated more than once, and Frankie badly wanted to answer it, or at least see where the calls were coming from. She didn’t want to risk her job, though. Instead, she started to pray between calls for the church, asking God to be with whoever it was that was struggling.
Frankie intended to spend her 15 minute break resting as far from the phones as she could get. She took her cell phone from her pocket to check the calls and was surprised at what she saw. Three from her husband, two from her mother, calls from Emily Hartly and Abby Coleman, and most surprising of all, a call from Lorna Davis. Nothing from Claudia. Pressing in the code for her voicemail, Frankie felt her beating faster. She could think of only two reasons Lorna would try to get in touch with her. Either she wanted to talk about Frankie’s parents or about Claudia. Because of the other calls, Frankie had a feeling it had nothing to do with her parents.
But she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what was happening with Claudia and her baby.
Not everyone who had called her left a voice mail message. The ones that were left, though, sounded very similar. “Call me, Frankie. I can’t leave this in a message.”
With each one, she felt her heart beating faster and faster. “God, help me,” she whispered. “I am too scared to call anyone.”
Her prayer was answered by the slight vibrations that came from the phone. Frankie flipped it open without even checking the caller ID first. She said hello, then held her breath, scared of whose voice she was going to hear.
“Oh, Frankie, thank goodness,” Richie said.
“I can’t answer my phone at work,” she said. “You know that.”
“I know,” her husband said. “I just hoped if I called often enough, you would see me on the ID and take an earlier break. I was about to call your supervisor.”
“Why?” she asked him. “What happened? Is Clay OK?”
“He’s fine,” Richie assured her. “Clay is fine, I am fine, your mom is fine.”
For just a moment, it was easier to breath. But only for a moment. As soon as Richie said, “It’s Claudia, honey,” Frankie’s head began spinning. “Her baby was born last night.”
“No,” Frankie gasped. Her hand fluttered to her throat. “It’s too early, Richie.”
“It is,” Richie said calmly, “but he is strong. He’s on a ventilator and a feeding tube right now, but the doctor’s think he will make it.”
“Poor Claudia,” Frankie said. “It must be killing her to not hold him and feed him herself.”
Richie said nothing. His silence scared Frankie more than anything else had. “What, Richie?” she asked slowly. “there is something you are not telling me.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I don’t know how to tell you this, but Claudia doesn’t even know she’s had him.”
“How can she not know?”
“There were complications,” he said.
“Complications?” Frankie repeated. “No, Richie. She’s not…. No, she can’t be!”
“She’s alive,” he told her. “But she is in some kind of a coma. Her blood pressure got very high, and that caused a stroke”
“That’s not funny, Richard McKeehan,” Frankie said sternly. “She is too young to have a stroke.”
“I’m sorry, Frankie.” For the first time, Richie’s voice sounded close to tears. “You need to get to her as soon as you can.”
“But my shift isn’t over for almost three hours,” she said. “I don’t know if I can leave.”
“Honey,” he said slowly. “I don’t care about the job. I’d rather have you be fired than miss out on saying good-bye to your best friend.”
“Good-bye?” Frankie barely choked out the words. “It’s not that bad, is it? Richie, tell me it’s not that bad.”
“Just get to the hospital as soon as you can,” Richie told her. “Claudia needs you.”
Frankie shoved her phone back into her pocket. Wiping away tears as she walked, she headed back to her cubicle on the call center floor. She picked up her personal belongings, logged off the phone system, and walked to her supervisor desk. “I have to leave,” she said, fighting to keep control of her voice. “There is a family emergency, and I have to go.”
Frankie didn’t wait for a response before walking out. She didn’t care if she would have a job to come back to the next morning. “God,” she said as she walked, not caring who might hear her, “help us all. Help Claudia. She loves You. I know she is ready to go if You are calling, but I am not ready to lose her. Please don’t take my friend, God. Please.”