A few days after Pastor Mitchel’s accident, Audrey and her mom browsed through a store, choosing items to fill a gift basket for Maggie Mitchel. Pastor Mitchel had shown little improvement, so Audrey hoped a care package would lift Mrs. Mitchel’s spirits. The cart was filling up fast with a pair of comfy slippers, a crossword puzzle book, Debbie Macomber’s latest novel, and snacks—both healthy and unhealthy.
“That should do it,” Audrey tossed a box of Little Debbie’s into the cart for herself. Her feet were screaming at her to sit down. “Let’s check out.”
“Just one more thing.” Her mom veered in the opposite direction from the registers. “I have a coupon for diapers. We should start stocking up as long as we have a coupon. Diapers are so expensive these days.”
“Seriously, Mom? Isn’t it a little soon to be buying diapers?” Even though the ultrasound had made the whole baby thing seem more real, it was still hard to believe that an actual baby would appear in a few months.
Her mom just kept walking as if she was going to pick up something ordinary like a carton of milk. “The baby will be here before you know it.” She stopped in front of a rack of bibs, receiving blankets, and teething toys. “Oh for cute. Look at this.” Her mom held up a pink bib that read, ‘Grandma loves me’. “Of course, we don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy.” She hung the bib back up on the display. Audrey breathed a sigh of relief. She was already struggling with the idea of purchasing diapers. Bibs were taking it to a whole new level.
“Here we go.” Her mom led the way down an aisle that smelled like baby powder. Audrey’s stomach turned at the powerful scent. “Now I’m getting excited.” Her mom reached for a package of diapers.
A lady pushing a cart with a drooling baby strapped into the seat grabbed a package of the same brand of diapers. “These are the best deal, and they never leak. Well, except for those blow-outs the first few months. Nothing can contain those.” The lady laughed. Then she kept walking.
Audrey failed to see the humor. “What’s a blow-out?” The toddler she nannied for never had a so-called blow-out. All this baby stuff was making her feel that she was in over her head.
Her mom smiled and placed the mom-recommended diapers in the cart. “You’ll find out soon enough. Trust me; ignorance is bliss.”
Audrey rolled her eyes. This moment did not feel like bliss. “Can we please go now?” She turned the corner to a wide aisle where she finally escaped the powder fresh scent. A couple of girls she recognized from Becca’s class were shopping in the junior’s section. They were having fun, holding dresses up in front of mirrors. It reminded her of shopping with Becca or Darcy. She couldn’t wait for this pregnancy to end so she could be carefree like that again.
The cashier was a cheerful woman with silver hair and bifocals dangling from a chain around her neck. When she scanned the diapers, she did a double-take of Audrey’s belly. Then she turned to Audrey’s mom, “Are you the lucky grandma?”
“I sure am.” A smile lit her mom’s face.
“Bless your heart. You don’t look old enough to be a grandmother.”
Her mom didn’t state the obvious fact that her daughter was a teen mom. Instead, she accepted the compliment. “Thank you, dear. This is my first grandchild.”
“Well, you are going to love every minute. You get to spoil the grandkids, you know.” She perched her glasses on her nose and announced the total of the bill.
“Mom, I’ll wait for you in the car. Can I have the keys?” Audrey held out her hand.
“Sure, honey.” Her mom fished her keys out of her purse. “Are you alright?”
Was she alright? Hmm … no. She was a pregnant eighteen-year-old college drop-out who wanted nothing more than to just be a regular girl shopping for dresses with her friends—from the junior’s section, not the maternity department. Meanwhile, her mom was dragging her around the store to find the perfect package of diapers while daydreaming about being a grandma. Not to mention that the person she looked to for advice was in a coma. “I’m fine. I just need to sit down.”
When would the lies stop?
Basket in hand, Audrey tapped on the glass door of room one in the Intensive Care Unit. “Come in.” Mrs. Mitchel’s voice was raspy, as if she’d been sleeping, even though it was mid-afternoon.
Audrey slid open the door and stepped inside, bracing against the shock of what she was about to see. Mrs. Mitchel was curled up in a recliner, wrapped in a thin white hospital-issued blanket. A plush blanket would have been a nice addition to the gift basket. “Hi, Mrs. Mitchel.” Audrey handed her the basket, maintaining her focus on Mrs. Mitchel and off of Pastor Mitchel. The antiseptic smell and beeping machines were unsettling enough. She wasn’t ready to see Pastor Mitchel lying lifeless in the bed. “We brought you something.” She handed Mrs. Mitchel the basket.
Mrs. Mitchel looked over the contents. “I’ll put these to use right away.” She put the slippers on. “Thank you so much.”
Audrey’s mom walked to Pastor Mitchel’s bed. “How is he doing?”
Mrs. Mitchel sighed. “Not much change. They were hoping he would’ve come out of the coma by now. The sooner he does, the better his prognosis.”
Audrey forced herself to look at him. Her gaze followed the tubes and wires up to the machines lit with digital numbers and squiggly lines. She drew in a deep breath and looked at his face. Tears instantly blurred her vision. Pastor Mitchel, a pillar of strength, was now vulnerable and weak—unable to even breathe on his own. A bloody bandage was wrapped around his head, and a tube was literally taped to his mouth.
The world seemed to be spinning off its axis. She’d always believed the world to be good. She had believed that through her unshakable faith in Christ, all things were possible. Live, laugh, love could have been her motto. She used to pride herself as being smart, strong, and brave. She was Audrey the Brave after all.
She had been wrong about all of that. Her faith was shakable. And her new motto was live, cry, and puke. She sat on a couch under the window, her knees feeling wobbly.
Her mom seemed to be holding up okay. “Hi, Andrew. It’s Lydia Chapman. Audrey and I are here to see you.” Her voice was rich and steady. How did that woman stay so calm? Why couldn’t Audrey have inherited that trait? “You look good.” Pffft.
Apparently Audrey had inherited the liar trait. He looked horrible. “We’re praying for you.” She rested her hand on his shoulder and bowed her head. When she looked up again, her eyes were red.
Audrey cued her mom to sit beside her by patting the couch. Her mom sat down, folding her hands in her lap. It was quiet for a few minutes, sadness filling the room like a living, breathing thing.
“We were on the mend.” Mrs. Mitchel spoke softly.
Audrey’s mom nodded as if she understood what Mrs. Mitchel was trying to say.
“Andrew gave me a dozen red roses after the first grade Valentine’s Day program. He does that every year, but this year it meant more after everything that’s happened.”
“Valentine’s Day is a perfect day for a relationship to get a fresh start.” Her mom always knew what to say.
Mrs. Mitchel dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a tissue. “After the program, I got in my car and noticed a sticky note from Andrew on my rearview mirror.” She almost smiled. “He sent me on a scavenger hunt that eventually led me to the Italian restaurant where he’d proposed to me. He could have just said he was sorry. But he went out of his way to make me feel special.” Mrs. Mitchel sniffed. “I took him for granted all that time.”
“You can’t think like that. Every relationship has its ups and downs. You came through it and were stronger for it in the end.”
Audrey sat quietly listening. She had no idea that the Mitchels had been having problems. She felt like an idiot for venting all her problems to Pastor Mitchel while he was having troubles of his own.
“Lydia, I just can’t understand why God would take him from me after bringing us through those hard times. What was the point of all that?”
Her mom fidgeted, twisting her wedding band around her finger. “In the worst case scenario,” she cleared her throat, “you’ll have closure to that difficult time. You loved each other through it. You won’t have any regrets. That sweet scavenger hunt and romantic dinner will be your last memory of him.”
Audrey stiffened. Her mom was implying that Pastor Mitchel might die.
“Or … God plans to heal him and wants all that negativity to be in your past so you can concentrate on the beautiful future the two of you will share.”
Audrey breathed a sigh of relief. “That has to be it.”
Mrs. Mitchel smiled. “I prefer option number two as well.”
Audrey’s mom stood up. “We better not overstay our welcome.” She hugged Mrs. Mitchel, and Audrey followed suit.
“Thank you for coming. It really helps to have visitors. When it’s too quiet, I get all inside my head.”
The visit had been good for Audrey as well. It had helped her to look outside herself. She’d been so focused on herself ever since that party. “Mind if I come back tomorrow? I’ve been spending too much time inside my head too.”
“I’d like that.”
The next evening, when Audrey stepped onto the Intensive Care Unit, there was a bustle of activity at the nurse’s station. Mrs. Mitchel was leaning her elbows on the counter, speaking rapidly to the nurse on the other side. She was wearing the new slippers. Audrey ran to Mrs. Mitchel’s side, trying to grasp what was happening. The nurse didn’t appear concerned.
“I saw his lips move. Like this.” Mrs. Mitchel demonstrated a slight grimace.
The nurse followed Mrs. Mitchel into the room. She studied the monitors and then Pastor Mitchel. “I’m not seeing any changes. Are you sure he moved?”
“Yes.” Her eyes were pleading with the nurse to believe her. She picked up Pastor Mitchel’s hand cradling it in hers. She gasped. “He moved his finger. Did you see that?”
The nurse bent over the bed to get a closer look.
Audrey blinked, focusing so she could see the slightest movement. Her gaze traveled from his hands to his face. His eyelashes made a discreet flutter. “He’s trying to open his eyes.” Her heart danced with hope.
The nurse was underwhelmed. She explained that involuntary movements were common with coma patients. She bent down close to Pastor Mitchel’s face. “Andrew, how are you doing?”
“Can you open your eyes?”
“Andrew, move your fingers if you can hear me.”
The nurse straightened. “I’ll let the doctor know what you saw. We’ll cross our fingers that he does it again. Keep talking to him. He may be able to hear you, and you may be able to coax him out of this coma.” She looked over the monitors again before leaving the room.
Mrs. Mitchel continued to stare at Pastor Mitchel, watching for movements. Audrey was torn between sharing Mrs. Mitchel’s hopefulness and embracing the more realistic speculations of the nurse. She took off her coat and laid it on the couch. It was warm in the hospital room. She pushed up the sleeves of her pink maternity sweater. Then she joined Mrs. Mitchel at the bedside. “I don’t think it was involuntary movements.”
Mrs. Mitchel tore her eyes from her husband to look at Audrey. Her light brown eyes were filled with desperation. “Audrey, will you pray with me?”
“Of course.” Audrey bowed her head.
“Dear Lord,” Mrs. Mitchel began, “Thank you for saving Andrew’s life. Thank you for giving us a second chance at our marriage. Lord, please continue to heal him so that we can live a long life together.” She sniffed. “Please let him remember me.”
Audrey was taken back by Mrs. Mitchel’s prayer. She hadn’t considered the fact that Pastor Mitchel could have amnesia. Overwhelmed by the dire situation, her palms began to sweat. “God, we need a miracle. We beg you to restore Pastor Mitchel to complete health. With his memory intact. His dorky sense of humor intact. And his love for Mrs. Mitchel intact. We trust in you, Lord. You are the divine healer.” As she prayed, her confidence in his recovery increased. God was capable of anything. He created the universe, after all. So healing Pastor Mitchel would be cake. “In Jesus name, amen.”
Mrs. Mitchel giggled, wiping tears from her cheeks with a tissue. “Audrey, you already made me feel better.”
“Sorry I asked for his sense of humor to be restored. I should’ve asked for a less dorky sense of humor.” Audrey was glad they were able to joke a little bit. She sensed Mrs. Mitchel needed the laughter even more than she did. She sat on the couch. It was firm and covered in vinyl or something. Poor Mrs. Mitchel had been sleeping on this.
Mrs. Mitchel sat on the recliner. “Let’s talk about you. How are you doing?”
“I’m good.” She placed a hand on her ever-expanding middle. She felt a little kick from the baby.
“Really?” Mrs. Mitchel opened a bag of chocolate covered pretzels that Audrey had packed in the gift basket. She offered some to Audrey, and she gladly accepted. Then Mrs. Mitchel nibbled at one.
Okay, so Mrs. Mitchel wasn’t just making small talk. She was settling in for a heart to heart conversation. “The baby is healthy. I’m healthy.”
Mrs. Mitchel nodded. “You have that pregnancy glow.”
“I guess that’s a real thing. My hair is extra shiny. I guess that’s a perk of pregnancy. Who knew?”
“Have you been sleeping well?”
Audrey knew she was asking about the nightmares that had been keeping her up at night. Flashbacks of the party would fill her dreams as soon as she’d fall asleep. “Now the baby keeps me awake, kicking as soon as I lay down in my bed. It has its days and nights mixed up.”
“I’ve read that babies do that in the womb. All day when you’re up walking around, the baby is rocked to sleep. When you lie still, the baby wakes up and thinks it’s playtime.”
“That makes sense.”
“How are the nightmares?”
Audrey sighed. “They come less often. I’m hoping that eventually they’ll stop coming altogether. I’ve been talking to Ally at Zoe’s Place about it.”
“I’ve heard good things about Zoe’s Place.” Mrs. Mitchel replaced the bag of pretzels in the basket. “Do you have any leads on who your attacker was?”
She shook her head, dropping her gaze to the floor. She hated thinking that the guy was still out there. “I don’t have the energy to invest in searching for him. I’m just trying to survive this pregnancy for now. I feel guilty knowing he might be doing it to other girls, but—”
“You have nothing to feel guilty about, Audrey. The guilt belongs to the one who violated you.”
“Besides, I know someone who is looking for him as if his life depends on it.”
Audrey snapped her focus back on Mrs. Mitchel. “Who?”
“Trevor Hayes.” Mrs. Mitchel smiled coyly.
“Seriously?” Audrey’s stomach did a little somersault. “What do you mean?”
“He and Jake have been collecting names of everyone at the party. Trevor calls them, asks them for names of kids that were there, and then he questions everyone on the list. The girls too.”
“Wow. I had no idea.” She should’ve known Trevor would do something like that. He was the most caring person she’d ever met.
“He’s been researching date rape drugs and trying to figure out where a kid in Hastings might get them. He’s a good guy to have in your corner fighting for you.”
Heartburn crawled up Audrey’s throat. She wasn’t sure if it was from the chocolate pretzels or the guilt of turning her back on Trevor. Add guilt to her new motto.
There was a rapping on the door, and Jake Preston entered the room. His eyes were red and puffy. “Mrs. Mitchel, I’m so sorry.” He crossed the room and gave her a hug. “I’ve been praying nonstop ever since I heard about the accident, but I just had to come see him. I hope you don’t mind.” He spoke quickly, almost erratically. Fear emanated from his eyes. “Is he going to be okay?”
Audrey’s own heartsickness doubled, seeing her friend so distraught.
“Thank you for coming, Jake. Andrew is … ” Mrs. Mitchel gestured to Pastor Mitchel. “ … still in a coma. We’re waiting for him to come out of it. You can talk to him. He may be able to hear you.”
Jake stepped up to the bed. “Hi, Pastor Mitchel. It’s Jake. I just wanted to let you know that everybody’s praying for you.” His voice was shaky. “You have to get better. I’m not ready to say goodbye.”
Mrs. Mitchel inhaled sharply.
Audrey’s heart broke for Mrs. Mitchel, having to witness people voicing goodbyes to her husband. She hoped there wasn’t a need for goodbyes, yet she understood Jake’s sense of urgency. Andrew’s condition was serious. And although she didn’t want to admit it, there was a chance that Andrew wouldn’t recover, on this side of Heaven.
Jake held a fist to his mouth, stifling a cry between clenched teeth. He released a quiet sob, and then began again. “I need you.” Jake’s voice cracked, and a tear slid down his face, dripping onto the white bed sheet. “You mean more to me than you’ll ever know. Well, I wanted you to know that. That’s why I’m here tonight. I needed to tell you how much you mean to me. And I wanted to thank you for being there for me.”
Jake’s words took Audrey by surprise. Not because she doubted Andrew’s positive influence in each of the youth kids’ lives, but because Jake had seemed resistant to Andrew’s influence. He’d let his grades slip over the year and he’d continued drinking, despite what had happened to Audrey at his party.
Maybe Pastor Mitchel had been mentoring Jake the same way he’d been mentoring her. Pastor Mitchel had a way of making each person feel special, as if that person were his biggest priority. Tonight was proof that Pastor Mitchel had made a big impact on Jake.
The nurse entered the room and logged onto a computer. She entered numbers from the monitors. Then she began listening to Pastor Mitchel with her stethoscope. Audrey put her coat on and hugged Mrs. Mitchel. “I better go now.” She patted Pastor Mitchel’s shoulder. “Bye, Pastor Mitchel. Get better soon.” She gave Jake a hug, and he reciprocated with a hug tight enough to take her breath away. She never would’ve guessed that Jake Preston was such an emotional guy. “He’s going to be okay. We need to have faith that God will heal him. I need him too.”
“He doesn’t look so good,” Jake whispered in her ear. He pulled back from his embrace and sucked in a ragged breath.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Audrey managed a smile.
She walked away with her hope dangling by a thread. Jake had put a voice to her feelings that she was afraid to face, and it was difficult to hear. He was right. Andrew looked awful. Scary awful. Blood had soaked through the bandage on his head, and he had a black eye. His body was unnaturally still, except for the rise and fall of his chest. She wanted so badly to take her own advice and believe that God would heal him, but by the looks of it, only prayer could save him now.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.