Joel and a Patient

This scene existed SOLELY to set up a book I may never write. And the mother is WAY too calm. (It was a first draft. That's the way it goes.)  Soooo… it's here and not in Precedent. Besides, I can't have any characters names Cullen after Twilight.



Tuesday, December 16

“I hate this part of my job,” Joel Molinsky thought to himself as he scanned a set of test results, before slipping them in the patient’s file. Turning to Janet Newton, the nurse he worked with most often, he asked, “Brandi’s here, isn’t she?”

“Yes, in room seven,” the nurse answered, pointing to the exam room.

“This one may take a few extra minutes,” he said.

“You need some back-up?”

“I might, after I drop this bomb,” he said holding up the patient file. He took a deep breath, with his hand on the exam room doorknob, then he swung the door open. Fifteen-year-old Brandi Cullen and her mother seemed to snap to attention. “Brandi, how are you doing today?”

“I’m okay,” the girl answered. Brandi was an average teenager in every sense of the word. Nothing about her grades, her looks, or her demeanor would cause her to stand out in a crowd. Today she was dressed in an over-sized sweatshirt, with her light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her nails recently chewed down almost to the quick. “What did you find out?” Her mother, seated next to her, leaned forward.

“Several things,” Joel said. He pulled up a stool to sit on and laid the folder open on the counter. “This is going to be tough to hear for both of you, but I need you to listen to all of it.” He turned and looked Brandi in the eyes. “You tested positive for three sexually transmitted diseases.” Mrs. Cullen gasped and Brandi dropped her eyes. “Brandi, keep listening to me. Two of them we can treat and get rid of.”

“What about the third one?” Mrs. Cullen asked.

“It’s viral. It will never go away. We can only treat the symptoms.”

“A virus? Like AIDS?” Brandi asked, her eyes wide with panic.

“It’s not AIDS, and it won’t kill you. It’ll mess with your life, though, and it will impact your marriage someday.”

“Married? How can I get married now?” The teenager started to cry. “I’m ruined.”

“You’re not ruined,” her mother said, gently, taking her daughter’s hand.

“Brandi, keep listening. I’m not through talking to you. Tell me about your boyfriend.”

“Well, he’s nineteen…  He’s in college.”

“What about girlfriends? Has he had a lot of them?”

“I’m sure. He’s really cute.” She sat up a little straighter.

“How’d you meet him?” Joel asked.

“Online, one of those friend of a friend deals.”

“Did any of your friends date him before you?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because she probably has the same things you have, and she needs to see a doctor. This guy needs to, too.”

“I can’t tell him this!” Brandi protested. “He’ll dump me!”

“Maybe not. How long have you been dating him?”

“Three months.”

“And how long before you had sex with him? I mean real sex.”

“About three weeks.”

Joel shook his head. “How did he convince you?”

“He said that’s what people do when they love each other.”

“Do you love him?”

Brandi glanced at her mother, then looked away. “No,” she said quietly.

“Then why did you…?” her mother began.

“I didn’t really want to…  He just…  I don’t know.” Brandi wiped a tear away. “This is embarrassing.”

“I’m sure it is,” Joel said softly. He watched Brandi’s eyes dart back and forth, waiting until she looked at him again. “Brandi, did he rape you?”

“I don’t think so. He just…” Brandi paused and stared off across the room once again. She pulled the sleeves of her shirt down over her hands, then she sighed. “Yeah… he did.” Mrs. Cullen knelt down in front of Brandi and hugged her tightly, both of them crying quietly.

Joel made a note on her chart, and said a silent prayer for the teenager. “Mrs. Cullen, do you want me to get a police officer in here?”

“You can do that?”

“Yes ma’am,” Joel said. “Brandi, this is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but you need to go after this guy. He’s a slime and he doesn’t love you. He took advantage of you, but you can stop him from hurting anyone else. You’ve got solid testimony and you have a doctor who will go to court and back you up.”

“You’d do that?”

“You bet. Don’t let him get away with this.” He took a prescription pad down, and began writing, filling out four slips altogether. “These two are antibiotics,” he said handing her the first two slips. “This one we’ll talk more about in just a second.” He handed her the third slip, and held the last one up. “This one, give to the girls out front. When do you get out for Christmas?”

“Thursday’s our last day.”

“Nope,” Joel said. “It was yesterday.” He handed her the last slip. “They’ll write you an official doctor’s note. I think you need some time to absorb all this.” He flipped the folder closed. “I’m going to go call one of the police officers we work with. You’ll like her. She’s not as scary as I am.” He smiled at Brandi. “Then I’ll come back and we’ll talk more about this diagnosis and the treatments.”

“Thanks,” Brandi said. “You’re not scary. You made it easier to talk about.”

“You need to tell that to my wife,” Joel said with a grin as he opened the exam room door. “She says I’m really scary.”


Chuck Meets Gavin for Breakfast

Again, more talking from Chuck. Gavin gives him some good counsel and it set up the rest of his day, but … the action came to stop. 


Gavin Heatley glanced at his watch and checked the door of the diner once more. Chuck was rarely late and with the urgency in his voice last night, Gavin was surprised when he had arrived first. Chuck had promised that there were no new developments or crises, but Gavin couldn’t help but be concerned. His brother-in-law didn’t ask for help unless and until he was completely beaten down. Now he wasn’t showing. It didn’t make sense. Gavin hoped the chest pains weren’t an issue again. Surely, Bobbi would have called him if some thing like that had come up.

At last, Chuck came in the small restaurant and quickly found Gavin. “Thanks for meeting me,” Chuck said extending his hand. “Sorry I’m late.”

“I was beginning to wonder,” Gavin admitted.

“My car,” Chuck said, as he motioned toward a waitress. “All the years I’ve owned a car, and this morning, of all mornings, I got to experience having a dead battery.”

“What’d you do?” Gavin asked, but before Chuck could answer, the waitress stepped up to their table. She warmed Gavin’s coffee, and poured a cup for Chuck. She wrote down their orders and slipped away. “I didn’t think you were supposed to eat bacon anymore,” Gavin teased.

“I’m not,” Chuck confessed. “Anyway, I had to get Bobbi up, and jumpstart the car.”

“How is Bobbi?”

“She’s good. Better every day.” Chuck emptied a packet of sweetener into his coffee and stirred it. “I think she’ll get everything resolved soon.”

“If it’s not Bobbi,” Gavin said, “it must be Shannon.”

“Yeah,” Chuck said, glancing away. “I found out…  I know why she’s not coming home.” He gave Gavin the details of Shannon’s contacts with Dylan and his own confrontation with him, including the discovery of the internet pictures.

“Chuck, I’m sorry. I’ve got girls, granddaughters, I can’t imagine what that must have been like… seeing those pictures.”

“Gavin, what if she’s still with him? He’s a psychopath. He has no remorse, no shame…” He stared out across the diner. “I sat up last night for hours thinking about this. He punched Jack… how long before he gets violent with a girl who won’t give in to him? What if he already has? What if he hurt Shannon?”

“Don’t do this to yourself,” Gavin said gently. “You can’t dwell on these things.”

“How can I not? This is my baby girl.” Tears began to form in Chuck’s eyes.

“But if you get caught in a loop of ‘what-ifs’, you will go insane.”

“I think that’s what’s killing me. There’s so much I don’t know, that I can’t do anything about.” Chuck sighed, and asked, “Am I a control freak?”

Gavin smiled. “You have to ask?”

“I’m serious, Gavin. Glen tells me I need to quit trying to bring Shannon home. At least through my own efforts anyway.”

“I don’t think he expects you to sit around.”

“No, but do you think I’m trusting in myself more that I’m trusting in God?”

“I can’t answer that, Chuck. You’re the only one who can say where your trust lies.” Chuck frowned slightly. “However, I think you’re asking me because you know the answer and you hope you’re wrong.”

“I, uh… I read these verses in Jeremiah last night. ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man,’ it said. I always took that to mean trusting in others, but I’m cursed if I trust in myself, too, right?”

“Without reading the verses for myself, yes. If you are depending on yourself to do whatever it takes to bring Shannon home, and you’re just informing God of your progress, then you probably fall under that.”

“Great,” Chuck said sarcastically. “How do I let go? Those verses talked about trusting God and being like a tree in the heat and drought. I think we’re in those hard times…”

“That’s an understatement,” Gavin interrupted.

“How do I change, Gavin? If I thought God was holding Shannon away because I was so hardheaded…”

“Don’t go there,” Gavin said, shaking his head. “You can’t say what God is doing or why, exactly. Ultimately, His goal is to use all this to make you more Christ-like. Right now, this is a faith issue for you.”

“How so?”

“You’re not sure God is going to work this all out to your liking, or on your timetable, so you’d rather do it yourself.”

“This was too big for me to trust Him with it,” Chuck admitted, and Gavin nodded slowly. “And God let me go… until I had completely failed.”

“You haven’t completely failed,” Gavin said. “You’re finally ready to listen. Now He can work.”

“So what do I do in the meantime?”

“Stop ‘doing’ for once. God’s working on this, I promise. Do you think it’s an accident that you had a dead battery this morning, of all mornings?”

“You don’t think it was just one of those things?”

“Everything happens for a reason, for a purpose. I think your car battery was dead so God could let you know He has even the smallest details of your life in His hand. Now, do you want to let Him be God for a change?”


“Chuck, do you know where Shannon is?”

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here.”

“God does know where she is, and He has a plan to bring her home in His time.”

“You know this is real easy for you to say. It’s not your daughter.”

“No, but she is my niece,” Gavin said gently. “I pray for her every single day, and I wish I could tell you why God seems to be letting this drag on, but I don’t know.” He took a long drink from his coffee cup, then said with a slight smile. “You know, all these years, it’s always Bobbi that had to do these impossible faith-stretching things. It’s about time you got your turn.”

“If do half as well with it as she’s done with hers, I’ll be set.”

“Chuck, I’m going to be praying that God will show you, somehow, that He hasn’t forgotten about you, and that He’s working even though you’re not seeing a lot of evidence of it.”


Chuck and Glen Talk after Church

Chuck did a lot of talking in those early drafts. (He's a lawyer, after all.) Most of it got cut.


Chuck hadn’t avoided Glen Dillard necessarily, but he was anxious to get home to give Rita some relief. He should be the one staying with Bobbi, taking care of her. Rita had been so eager to stay, though. He hoped that meant she had an idea of what she could say to jolt his wife, and bring her back to herself.

“Chuck!” Glen called just as Chuck reached the side door. “Got a minute?”

“Sure,” Chuck answered, suddenly feeling guilty.

Glen closed the distance between them before he spoke. “How’s Bobbi?”

“That is a complicated question. We drove out to Dixson Lake yesterday…”

“A good thing,” Glen said.

“That’s what I thought, too. She told me she’s not treating her cancer. She wants to let it kill her.”

Glen’s shoulders dropped and he couldn’t hide the shock on his face. “Chuck… what did you do? What did you say to her?”

“Nothing that made any difference. I talked to Rita, Gavin and Joel last night. We’re staying with her round the clock, and trying to get God’s word in front of her as much as we can. She won’t read on her own, and I haven’t been able to get her to come with me.”

“Chuck, we’ve been friends for years now…”

“Go ahead and say it, what ever it is.”

“I think this is more than you can fix.”

“I know that,” Chuck protested.

“Then stop,” Glen said. “Shannon told you this was all your fault, and you haven’t gotten over it. You are trying to make everything right. Bobbi’s not getting better, and it’s killing you. I can see it on your face.”

Chuck looked away as tears formed. “I have to do something, Glen.”

“I’m not saying you should go home and sit around.” He snapped his fingers. “Remember what you told me about when things started turning around while you and Bobbi were separated?”

Chuck sighed deeply. “It was when my mom told me to go to Psalm 37, and I quit trying to force the reconciliation. I just waited for God to bring it all together.”

“Did He?”

“Yes,” Chuck rolled his eyes, then he said softly, “I need to read that psalm some more.”

“It might help.” He reached in his coat pocket and took out a business card. Pulling a pen from his shirt pocket, he wrote “Jeremiah 17:5-8” and handed the card to Chuck. “Try those with Psalm 37.” Chuck put the card in his Bible. “Do you think Bobbi would talk to me if Laurie and I came over?”

“No, and she’ll be furious with me for having you stop by.”

“Can I try it anyway?”

“You’re welcome to try.”

“Thank you. We’ll set up a time after you talk to her.” He shook Chuck’s hand and started to walk away.

“Glen, thank you. I mean that.”

“My pleasure. I wish I could do more than just talk.”

“You and me both.”

Chuck at Church


In order to keep things moving, we cut this scene and summarized it a single sentence.


Sunday, July 27

Chuck and Jack Molinsky sat together in the morning worship service, but their hearts and minds could not have been further apart. Jack was anxious to hear from God, to get confirmation of his calling. He sang all the songs with passion, and Chuck had to smile when he saw Jack pull a notebook out during Glen’s sermon. Brad took notes, so naturally Jack had to, too.

 Chuck couldn’t get Bobbi off his mind. He had tried once again to get her to come with him, but she had turned him down. He offered to come in late and leave early, or just come for the sermon if the music was too much, but once more, she said she wasn’t up to it. He never realized what a special blessing it was to be in church with his wife. Now he wondered if he would ever get to enjoy that again.

“You’re wallowing again,” he thought to himself. “God gave you that little boost Friday night. He is listening. Hang onto that.” He wished he could find the same kind of boost for Bobbi. “Sermon, Chuck. Focus.” He glanced down at his Bible. He wasn’t even in the right book.

When the service ended, Jack asked, “Do you care if I talk to Glen for a minute? I want to tell him about law school.”

“Sure,” Chuck said. “Take your time.”

“Aren’t you coming? It’s not a big secret or anything?”

“I’ll be right there,” Chuck said. He made his way to the front pew and sat for several minutes, trying to clear his mind. Then he took a deep breath and began to pray, “Lord God in heaven, she can’t handle this. And she won’t ask for help. Is there anything I can do?” Chuck felt a hand on his shoulder, and raised his to see Glen Dillard.

“Can I pray with you, Chuck?”

“Always. Bobbi had a biopsy Friday. The doctor is almost certain it’s breast cancer.”

“Oh no,” Glen whispered. “How is she?”

“About the same. I’m not sure it’s really sunk in with her.” Chuck glanced around behind them. “She didn’t want us to tell anyone outside the family.”

“I won’t say anything,” Glen assured him.

“I’m not worried about that. I’ve already told my secretary. Bobbi needs people praying for her more than she realizes, but she would die before she would ask for help.”

“Have you heard from Shannon?”

“No. That’s wearing on her, too.”

“No doubt. You know Laurie and I will do anything we can. We’re available day or night.”

“Thank you Glen, but I honestly don’t know what you can do.”

“Bobbi may not even know what she needs right now.”

“That’s a real possibility. Hey, Jack wanted to talk to you.”

“Well, he told me I should come up here and talk to you first.”

“He’s a good kid,” Chuck said.

“He’s something special. Keep an eye on him.”

Chuck at the Office


For the final draft, we decided to cut this in favor of Chuck dropping a bombshell on Chad and Christine when he decides to leave. Much more effective.


“Hey Chad, come on in,” Chuck said, motioning his coworker  to one of his office chairs. Chad Mitchell was about ten years younger than Chuck and had been at the firm over twenty-five years. He had been a rising star, then when Chuck took over, Chad became Chuck’s go-to guy. Now he was poised to take things over when Chuck retired.

For years, Chad believed he had unwittingly blown open Chuck’s affair with Tracy Ravenna. However, the way Chuck responded when Chad admitted his role, and Chuck’s single-minded pursuit of restoration with his wife made a deep impression on Chad. The skeptical agnostic began to ask questions, and Chuck answered them all with honesty and humility.

 After months of dialogue, Chad met Chuck at his office door one morning, grinning broadly. “I did it!” he exclaimed. “And Michelle, too!” Chad was a tremendous apologist now, able to reason with anyone the logic and simplicity of the Gospel. There were other Christians at the law firm, but Chad and Christine were special gifts, Chuck believed.

“Did you want Christine, too?” Chad asked before he sat down.

“Yes,” Chuck said, waving across the lobby at his secretary.

“How’s Bobbi?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Chuck said. He took his glasses off and laid them on his desk. He still hated the things even after all these years.

“Mr. Molinsky, what did you find out?” Christine asked as she slipped in, closing the door behind her.

“Not much yet,” Chuck said. “When we get the results back, we’ll go from there. I just want to prepare you both. If this is bad, I’m through here.”

“I think that’s a little premature,” Chad said. “They can do a lot for cancer these days.”

“I realize that,” Chuck said, “but I need to feel like I have a plan in place. It helps me feel like I can respond, you know?”

“How is Mrs. Molinsky taking it?” Christine asked.

“Bobbi’s very calm. I think she’s in crisis mode again, but Joel’s concerned it may be something else. She and I haven’t had much time to talk.”

“Did she retire, Chuck?” Chad asked.

“Yeah, she did. The school board approved it a couple of weeks ago, so it’s official.”

“What can we do?” Christine asked.

“Pray, and keep making excuses to my clients,” Chuck answered.

Chuck Ponders the Prodigal Son


All of this got distilled into a couple of sentences in the final draft.

Chuck shifted in the pew, crossing his legs. He could tell that Jack wasn’t listening to anything going on in the service. Of course, he wasn’t doing much better. He did hear Glen give the Scripture reference for his sermon, Luke chapter sixteen, the rich man and Lazarus. Across the page, though, in chapter fifteen was the story of the prodigal son. Chuck began to read through the story carefully, and in the white spaces of the church bulletin, he began to make notes. The son left because he was tired of living under his father’s authority. The father, however, let him go, didn’t plead with him to stay, didn’t make any promises to change. The father never went searching for the boy, either. As much as he longed for his son to come home, he simply waited.

Chuck wasn’t so sure he could follow that example. He was even less sure he could get Bobbi to go along with it. Then there was the older brother in the story. He was less than gracious when the prodigal returned. Would Jack be that way? Or, perhaps more detrimental, would he see it as giving Shannon a break because she was the ‘legitimate’ child?

The one part of the story he could clearly identify with was the clean slate the son received when he returned. The father welcomed him with open arms, restored him to his position in the family and never brought up those missing months or the events that precipitated them. He would be more than willing to do all that if Shannon would just come home.

When the service was over and the dismissal prayer offered, Chuck turned to his son. “I’m going to talk to Glen for a minute. Are you going to hang around or head home?”

“I’ve got something I need to do, and then I’ll be home.”

Jack turned to leave, but Chuck called to him. “Jack, I love you. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Jack said, nodding slightly. “I love you, too. See you at home.”

Jack’s Discovery


I decided to go a different route and keep most of Jack's plan a secret.


Jack jumped up from his chair and met his dad in the doorway of the study. “You’re back!  What’d they say?”

“It was no big deal. They’re going to make me do a stress test, and I got a couple of prescriptions.” Chuck reached over to shake Gavin’s hand.

“That’s a relief,” Jack said.

“Yeah. Listen, thank you guys for taking the lead on this thing with Shannon. I was kind of out of it today.”

“Glad to do it,” Gavin said. “Since you’re back, and none the worse for wear apparently, I’m going to get Rita and get out of here. You guys need some peace.”

“What I need is something to eat,” Chuck said. “Jack, you coming?”

“I’ll be right there, Dad.” Jack watched his father and uncle walk out of the study, then turning back to the computer, he pulled up the cell phone calls for his sister’s line. The last call was from five-thirty this morning. He typed in the number on the site’s reverse look-up directory. The number belonged to Dylan Snider. He had been Shannon’s accomplice.

Jack sighed. If he hadn’t pulled the spark plug wires from Shannon’s car, she wouldn’t have called that slimeball for help. He had taken a bad situation and made it worse, all because he wanted an apology. Why didn’t she call Katelyn or somebody, anybody else? Hearing voices in the entry hall, he closed the browser down. He’d at least let his dad get a night’s sleep before he told him about Dylan.

Chuck at Brad’s Apartment


This scene ended up being unnecessary and the POV is indistinct. Bad writer. Bad.

Chuck Molinsky had spent most of the week settling his son’s affairs. Brad didn’t have much, just his stuff, his car and an insurance policy. He had closed Brad’s bank account, scheduled the utilities to be shut off at the end of the month, and terminated his lease. Until his final bills arrived, the only things left were Brad’s personal things, his Bible and books, and his car.

Chuck was busy boxing up books at Brad’s apartment when his phone rang. “Hey Joel, thanks for calling me back. I need an opinion.”


“I was going to give you first choice with Brad’s things except for his car. I figured I’d give it to Jack.”

“You can give it all to Jack as far as I’m concerned, Dad. I don’t want anything of Brad’s.”

“Some of this you probably gave him. I just figured you might want it for memory’s sake, you know?”

Joel could hear the weariness in his dad’s voice. This had been a long difficult week for him, taking on all these tasks alone. “Dad, you need some help?”

There was a long pause. “It gives me something to do, Joel. Something to focus on.”

“Do you want me to come by there and look through things?”

“Maybe it would be better, for Mom’s sake, if I didn’t carry all this into the house.”

“Sure thing,” Joel answered. “Go ahead and give Jack the car. What about Shannon?”

“She and Jack were sharing a car. She can just have that one outright. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, Dad,” Joel answered, trying to give his dad whatever reassurance he could. “How’s Mom? I haven’t talked to her in a couple of days.”

“Quiet. She hasn’t tried to do too much this week. I’m not worried about her yet.”

“I’ll let Abby know, and stop by on my way home. Is that too late?”

“No, I’ll be here.” Chuck said goodbye and dropped his phone back in his pocket. 

Relaying the News


In this scene, Chuck takes a phone call from the mission's assistant director and has to tell him what happened to Brad. It didn't move the plot forward so it got the axe.


Chuck was pulling the car around to pick Bobbi up so they could go home when his cell phone rang. “This is Chuck.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, Chuck. This is Ron Moore. Brad’s not in yet, and I can’t get him at home.”

Chuck took a deep breath. “Ron, I’m sorry. Brad was uh… Brad was killed last night a couple of blocks from the mission.”

“Sweet mercy,” Ron whispered. “Chuck, I don’t know what to say…”

“It was a drive-by. He got caught in the crossfire. Jack was with him.”

“I knew something was up. This place was unlocked, and all the lights were on.” Then Ron seemed to regain his composure. “What can we do to help you and your family?”

“We’re okay. Ron, it’s all you now. You gotta keep that place open.”

“Sure, we intend to. Jack’s welcome down here anytime.”

“Thanks, Ron. I don’t know if he can handle that right now. He was pretty torn up last night. Feels like it was his fault somehow.”

“Jack’s a good kid, Chuck. I hate this for him.”

“He’ll be all right. We’ll let you know about arrangements as soon as we have them.”

“Thanks. We’ll be praying for you.”

The Original Opening


This was the opening of the book. It gives a little more background and you get to see some family interactions but it lacks tension. 



Thursday, June 12

                Bobbi Molinsky pulled a pan of hot rolls from the oven and set them on the hot pad on the counter.  Everything was going to finish right on time.  Now if only Brad were here on time.  Her oldest son had turned thirty-five last week, and she had finally pinned him down, got him to commit to a birthday dinner tonight.  She had spent the day in the kitchen, making everything from scratch, including rolls, and peach pie.  The chicken was fried, the potatoes mashed, the corn buttered.  All that was lacking was her perpetually late son.

                It was a rare thing to pull Brad away from work.  Most days he put in sixteen hours at Gateway Mission.  As soon as he had finished seminary, he returned home and opened the mission to reach out to the people in downtown St. Louis that he believed were being overlooked by the mainstream churches.  He had taken thousands of dollars of his own money, money she and Chuck had put aside for Brad’s law school tuition, to get the mission started and it was his life now.  Admittedly, Bobbi worried about the hours he worked, and the fact that he seemed content to be alone, but she couldn’t deny the passion he had for his ministry and the genuine love and concern he carried for his neighborhood.

                Bobbi stepped into the doorway of the family room.  Shannon, you want to set the table?” 

                “Is Brad here?” Shannon asked.

                “Late as usual,” Bobbi replied. 

                “Oh, I need you and Dad to pick a day when we can go to Mizzou,” Shannon said, picking silverware from the drawer.

                “Whenever your dad wants to go.  I’m free all summer.  After this year, I’ll be free forever.”  Bobbi had taught school for twenty-one years, and had decided that the upcoming year would be her last.  She would turn sixty next spring, and in her mind that was a good enough reason to retire.  Sixty was plenty young enough to enjoy retirement, and with Chuck already grooming Chad Mitchell to take over the law firm, they were both looking forward to next year.

                This fall, Shannon would join her brother Jack at the University of Missouri, and Bobbi and Chuck would finally be empty-nesters.  The thirty-eight years they had been married had passed in the blink of an eye, it seemed.  There were a few times in those thirty-eight years, when she seriously doubted if they would make it.  Years ago, twenty years ago this July, Bobbi had discovered Chuck was having an affair with a coworker.  Because of Chuck’s willingness to repent and make changes, they had pulled their marriage back together after a six month separation.  Shannon had been born the year after they reconciled, and in Chuck’s mind, she was confirmation that he had been completely forgiven by God and by his wife.

                Six years later, their marriage was tested again when the woman with whom Chuck had had the affair, Tracy Ravenna, resurfaced.  Only now, she had a son, Jack.  They soon learned that Jack was Chuck’s son, and Tracy had returned to hide Jack with Chuck.  Tracy’s father was paroled after serving twenty-eight years for second-degree murder in the beating death of his wife.  He had threatened Tracy, and she had lived in mortal terror of him her entire life.  The day after his parole, Tracy wrecked her car and died from the injuries. 

                Soon afterward, Bobbi had Chuck file formal adoption papers for Jack, and they changed his last name to Molinsky.  Bobbi never wanted the Jack to wonder if he was on equal footing with Brad, Joel and Shannon.  Jack had been in awe of Brad since the first day he met him.  At first it was because Brad had played football, but then a deep bond was forged between them the night Brad led Jack to Christ.  Since then, Jack had patterned his life after Brad’s, playing baseball and football just like his brother.  Jack was crushed to find out that since he was shorter and stockier, like Joel, he wasn’t built to be a wide receiver like Brad had been.  Brad assured him that defensive end was a great position, and Jack went on to set a school record for sacks by a defensive end.  Jack also depended on Brad’s advice.  He helped at the mission as much as he could between work and school and planned to follow his brother to seminary after he got his degree.

                “Mom!” Brad called from the entry hall.  “I’m here!  And I’m only ten minutes late!” 

                Bobbi smiled and went to meet him.  She hugged him, and Brad leaned over so she could kiss his cheek.  “It’s so good to see you!  Happy birthday!”

                “Thanks.  Everything smells great.  Joel’s not coming, is he?”

                “No.  He traded on call weeks so he could be here when Danny was home, and, naturally, he got called.”  Joel Molinsky was in his first year of private practice in pediatrics.  His hours were much more flexible than during his residency, but he couldn’t escape being on call.

                “Yes!  The pie is mine!” Brad said.  Bobbi shook her head and walked back toward the kitchen.  “So has Danny left yet?” Brad asked, following his mother.  “I haven’t talked to him since last week.”

                “Rita said they were supposed to leave San Diego this morning, and he’s not due in Norfolk until July first, so they should have a good visit.”  Lt. Commander Danny Heatley, Rita’s youngest, had chosen the Navy as his career.  A year older than Brad, the two were best friends growing up and they even let Joel tag along most times.

                “Dad’s home, isn’t he?”

                “He’s here somewhere.  Maybe the garage.  He and Jack were going to rotate tires or something.”  Bobbi began transferring the mashed potatoes to a serving bowl.  “You know, he barely gets his forty hours in anymore.”  She smiled broadly.  “How different is that from when you and Joel were growing up?”

                “Dad’s come a long way,” Brad admitted.

Shannon had returned from the dining room for her next assignment.  “Hey Brat!”  She went to her brother and threw her arms around his neck.  “How does it feel to be middle-aged?”

“I hardly think thirty-five is middle-aged.”

“Sure, whatever you say,” Shannon teased.  “Ask your insurance man.  He’ll tell you.”  Shannon and Brad looked the most alike of the four Molinksy children, inheriting their mother’s dark hair and eyes.  With the age spread between them, Shannon could easily pass for Brad’s daughter.  Brad had lived away from home for as long as Shannon could remember, but that gave him an extra “coolness” when she was little.  She was the only kid in her kindergarten class with a brother who had graduated college already and had his own apartment. 

Even so, she felt closer to Joel since he had been around all through her preschool years.  Shannon and Jack had a love-hate relationship that was a natural result of their mere thirteen-month age difference.  Inseparable as children, their teenage years were marked by an uneasy balance of cooperation and competition.  That was destined to continue through college.  Shannon hadn’t declared a major yet, but she was certain it would be as far away from Jack’s religion major as she could stand.

Just then, Chuck and Jack came in from the garage.  “Honey, why didn’t you tell me Brad was here already,” Chuck said as he kissed his wife lightly on the cheek.  “We were just goofing around, killing time.”  Chuck crossed the room and shook his son’s hand.  “Brad, how are things?”

“Great.  You remember the board meeting next week, don’t you?”

“Sure.  I’ll be there.”  Chuck served on the board of directors for Gateway Mission, and not surprisingly, his law firm was one of the mission’s biggest benefactors.

“You going back to work tonight?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, I’ve got some paperwork to do.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Jack, I really don’t feel good about you driving home from there that late,” Bobbi said.  “Sorry Brad, but your mission is a very bad neighborhood.”

“I know, but not too many poor folks live out here,” Brad winked.  “Jack can stay with me tonight and come home in the morning.”

“Fair enough,” Bobbi conceded.  “I think we’re ready to eat.”  The Molinskys settled in the dining room and after Brad asked a quick blessing, they their filled plates and enjoyed nonstop conversation over dinner.  As Bobbi listened to them, she couldn’t help but think, “This is what it’s supposed to be like.  If only Joel’s were here, it would be perfect.”

After dinner and dessert, Brad finally said, “I’ve got to get going or I’ll be up all night.  Mom, that was the best meal I’ve had in a long time.  Thank you.”  He hugged her and kissed her cheek.  “Is everybody gonna be at Rita’s Saturday?”

“As far as I know,” Bobbi answered.  “I’ll get you the particulars as soon as she tells me.”

“Jack?  You ready?”

“Can you bring me back tomorrow?  Or you want me to drive?”

“I’ll drop you at Dad’s office.  That way I don’t have to drive all the way out here.”

Jack picked up the gym bag he had packed, and kissed his mother.  “See you tomorrow, Mom.”

“Be careful,” Bobbi admonished.  “Both of you.”