A Penetrating Question
The dusky March sunshine flooding through the narrow kitchen windows tempered the light-yellow walls and white cabinets with a peachy hue as Rosa Espinosa plunked onto a wooden chair. “Mom! I gotta read this to you. It’s from Myra, and some of it’s just so awful.” She tossed her black mid-back-length hair over one shoulder, and it settled across her back as she waggled a sheet of notebook paper to catch Audra’s attention.
Audra looked up from stacking slices of buttered French bread along aluminum foil, but Rosa didn’t wait for her to comment.
“She says, ‘Dear Rosa. Thanks for the birthday tee you sent. It’s so Gucci!’” Tipping her face up, she grinned. “That part’s okay. In her last letter, she told me Gucci means cool.” Her gaze dropped back to the letter. “So, then she says, ‘I love the way the tee looks like a pair of overalls with a cute kitten peeking out of the pocket. When I wear it with my jeans, it looks like I’m really wearing long overalls. But it was almost lost. Well, not lost. Stolen! Remember when I told you about that girl named Shelly who always calls me Myra Mouse instead of Myra Moss?’”
Glancing up, Rosa noticed Audra’s furrowed forehead. She’s going to feel worse when I read the next part. Rosa swallowed before continuing. “‘I held the tee up so everyone could see it, and Shelly laughed real loud and said, “Mouse has a cat!” Then she grabbed my new shirt and ran into her room with it. She kept it for two days, and then I had to do her kitchen duty before she’d give it back to me.’”
Rosa flopped the paper on the table and rubbed her abdomen. Reading the letter out loud made her stomach feel tight like somebody was squeezing it. “Mom, I feel so sorry for her. That Shelly is mean to all the girls, but especially to Myra.”
Audra set the bread in the oven, washed her hands, and sat across from Rosa. A grimace pulled at her pink lips, and she shook her head. “I don’t understand. Don’t Mr. and Mrs. Fogerty know what’s going on? They appeared to be so on top of everything when we were at the children’s home. But of course, that was two years ago last Christmas. Where has the time gone?”
“It just flew. And when we were there, Myra was still downstairs with the little girls.” Rosa leaned across the table and hushed her voice. “They moved her upstairs when she started her periods—and she was only eleven.” She shrugged. “Well, really close to twelve, but still—they wouldn’t let her stay down with the younger girls anymore because that’s the rule. But the big girls didn’t want her upstairs. She didn’t tell me all that until I shared with her when I started my periods.” Resting her elbow on the table, she cupped her chin in her hand.
“Anyway, the only thing Myra has said is that, if the girls tattle, Shelly makes things worse, so they keep their mouths shut.” Rosa sighed and flipped the sheet of paper over. “Right at the end, she says, ‘Sometimes I feel so sad because I don’t think I’ll ever be adopted, and I’ll have to live in this place until I’m eighteen. And Shelly still has another year to live here.’” Her gaze fastened on Audra’s face. “Mom, I pray and pray for her every day, but sometimes, it feels like either God doesn’t hear me or he doesn’t care.”
Audra sucked in a breath as though she was going to add something, but the telephone interrupted. Rosa refolded the notebook sheet as Audra stood.
“I’m going to put the letter in my room, and I’ll come back and set the table.” Rosa slipped past her mother and was through the doorway before Audra picked up the phone.
* * * *
At Bernadette Martinez’s greeting, Audra pulled a chair from the table and sank onto it.
“Hey! What’s up?”
“I’m not sure.”
Audra sat straighter as her eyebrows drew together. Bernadette had never sounded timid.
“It’s Ruby Brown. I don’t know if anything’s wrong, but something’s kind of funny.… She was voted back in as treasurer of the Band Parents’ Association, but she won’t tell me the amount in the band’s account—and I’m the president!”
Audra chewed the inside of her lip and twisted the phone cord at the way Bernadette huffed air through her nose.
Another soft whiff of breath came through before Bernadette spoke. “Almost two weeks ago, I called Ruby to see what was in the band fund. I was curious because the end-of-school party for the kids is coming up, and Dann’s already alerted us he’s planning on the band performing in the Band in the Park program this summer. I reminded her Dann wants more of the town to hear the kids play and he wants the kids to have short-sleeved polos for it. I was wondering how much money we had to work with. When I told her that, she hesitated and got real quiet. She said she wasn’t sure and she’d call me back.”
A long silence followed. Audra moved to the doorway and ran one hand through her hair as she leaned against the jamb. “Are you still there?”
Another sigh. “Yeah. I don’t want to get Ruby in trouble—and maybe nothing is going on. But she never called me. The second time I called, she said she forgot to look. She still didn’t call back.”
Audra’s throat choked as she pressed her lips together. Oh, Bernadette, this could turn into gossip so easily. I hope you’re aware it could ruin Ruby.
Bernadette continued. “So, I called a third time, and she still gave me the runaround. She started chattering on about how busy she was with Netta and Marvin, but she sounded all flighty and said she had to run. She hung up without telling me anything about the money. That’s just not like her.”
“No, it isn’t.” Audra paced from the doorway to the table and back again. Why is she telling me this instead of Dann? Sitting in on the board meetings doesn’t give me the power to do anything. She pushed her shoulder harder against the woodwork. “We need to keep this quiet. But do you have any idea what you’ll do?”
She absentmindedly lifted the phone cord, and Rosa ducked under and began setting the table.
“I guess I just needed your support.…”
“But shouldn’t it be between the two of you? I’m sort of a third party.”
“Can’t you just feel her out and see if she’ll tell you how much money there is?”
“I’ll talk to Dann and see what he says, but I won’t do anything until after this weekend. Tomorrow is his birthday, but his folks are taking us out to dinner on Saturday evening.” She straightened and faced the wall phone. “It’s only the end of March. There’s plenty of time before we need to plan a party for the kids. But, hey, my dinner’s ready to serve. Can I call you back next week?” After Bernadette agreed, Audra hung up and pivoted from the phone.
Rosa was staring at her, her eyes wide. “What’s wrong? Is there a problem with the band?”
I can’t lie, but the band kids don’t need to know anything about this. Audra shrugged. “Bernadette just had a concern. But I don’t think it will be a problem.” She opened the oven and touched her fingers to the foil-wrapped bread. Good, it heated nicely. “Could you please run downstairs and tell Dad dinner’s ready?”
* * * *
At bedtime, Audra curled into the curve of Dann’s shoulder and let her arm drape across his chest. Feeling safe in his arms was always relaxing at the end of the day, and she needed a few minutes of quiet beside him before she tackled what was on her mind.
“You seemed quiet this evening. Something bothering you?” He smoothed his hand across her cheek.
Well, so much for the relaxing. “Two things. I wanted to talk earlier, but Rosa suggested cribbage. So, I had to put it off. But my thoughts kept drifting away, and I was scrutinizing a couple of problems from every angle.” She tipped her face up. “Are you ready?”
“I thought things were pretty calm around here, but go ahead, lay it on me.”
She snuggled closer and inhaled the lingering aroma of aftershave. “Silly! It’s not about us. Everything’s good here. Rosa got a letter from Myra today. She loved the tee shirt we sent, but she’s being bullied.”
“Bad enough to make her feel rejected and hopeless. Myra said the bully girl has one more year at the home, so she must be seventeen. She knows how to manipulate, and she seems to have found an easy target in Myra. It hit Rosa kind of hard. She’s never quit worrying over Myra since they met.”
Dann slid his free hand under his head. He didn’t comment, but from the stillness of his body, he was mulling it over. He whooshed air through his nose. “So, what’s the other thing?”
“Bernadette called before dinner. She’s been trying to find out from Ruby how much is in the band fund so they can start planning events, but Ruby’s evading her question. Bernadette didn’t come right out and accuse Ruby of taking any money, but she was hinting it. She wants me to talk to Ruby. It’s not my place, but I will if I have to. However, I feel there’s only one way I can do it.”
“If you not only give your permission but also tell me to call or go see her.”
“Okay. Talk to her and tell her I need to know how much money there is because I’ll have to order those shirts soon if we’re going to do it.” He yawned.
Straightening her legs, she eased herself onto her back beside him. She’d let the important things spill out, but something still snagged in her emotions and wouldn’t let go. Dann’s body jerked.
He’s falling asleep, but if I don’t get this out, I’ll lose courage. Lord, please help me say the words. She took a deep breath. “Hon?”
“Hmm?” Drowsiness was about to overtake him.
“There is one other thing. Have you… ever considered… having Myra come and live with us?”
Absolute silence followed. Could he have fallen asleep? Then he groaned. Turning on his side, he scooped her close and nuzzled her neck. “Do you want the truth?” he whispered in her ear. “The thought came to me once after we saw her in Milwaukee, and it scared me so bad I stuffed it as deep and as fast as I could. Why? Have you thought it?”
“Not before this afternoon. It scared me, too. I don’t even want to think that’s what the Lord might require of us. We are committed up to our ears. Where would we find time? But…” The thought hung there unfinished. She inched her body away from his and pulled the blanket over her shoulders. Is this one of those things the Lord is working, and ultimately, we’re going to have to let him have his way?
Lord, please, no. I’m not ready!
It took a long time to fall asleep.