He was rather alarmed when Sarah started to cry when he tried to leave her in the ‘babies’ section of the Sunday School. She usually enjoyed playing with the other children and singing the songs about Jesus. But today she had gripped onto his hand and had refused to stay with the teacher. So, he took her into the main building with him and she stayed quietly by his side, close to the back of the little church where Brad and his family always sat. Throughout the service she clung to his hand. When he stood, she did too, but she gazed at the floor, her fingers in her mouth.
After the service Brad joined the rest of the congregation for coffee in the little hall. The twins tried to take Sarah outside where the youth group had set up a stand with cool drink and doughnuts for the youngsters, but she refused to go with them, clinging onto Brad’s leg.
“I go park with Daddy!” she yelled.
“Not if you scream like that!” Brad said firmly, pulling her away from his leg, and she promptly burst into tears.
For a child who was usually so happy and well-behaved, her disobedience was somewhat embarrassing, but Brad picked her up, saying quietly, “Sarah, stop it! Or we go straight home and no park!”
The child wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing.
He patted her gently. “Hey, come on. What happened to my smiling princess? Hush, my baby. Daddy’s not cross. No more crying.”
He held her tightly, ignoring the sympathetic looks from members of the congregation, and the shocked faces of his family. Sarah gripped onto his shirt and kept her face hidden in his shoulder, even when the crying had diminished somewhat.
“She’s just confused,” Irene whispered as she and Edmund joined them at the coffee bar. “She misses her mommy, and is frightened her daddy’s going to leave her too!”
“I know,” Brad replied softly. “My fault, but I was so worried about Carrie. But Sarah and I are going to the park just now for some daddy/daughter time. Are you going up to the house straight from here?”
It was Edmund who replied. “Just popping into the shopping centre quickly first. But don’t rush back from the park. You and Sarah need some time together.” He patted Sarah fondly on her back. “Got a kiss for your granddad, poppet?”
Sarah lifted her head, sniffing. She gave both Edmund and Irene a quick peck on their cheeks, but she didn’t let go of her father’s shirt. If anything, her grip tightened. And she mumbled, “I stay with daddy.”
Brad shrugged, pulling a face. He fumbled in his jeans pocket for his handkerchief and wiped the child’s nose. “Yes, Sarah. You’re staying with me. We’re going to feed the ducks. Say goodbye now.”
She wouldn’t let him put her down and he had to carry her to the car. He strapped her firmly into the passenger seat instead of her usual booster seat at the back, as the park was just around the corner. But she didn’t say a single word on the journey, and sat with her head down, not even looking out of the window.
Brad parked the car close to the gates of the park where the duck pond was, and turned in his seat to look at her. “Sarah, what’s the matter? You’re not happy today, are you?”
She swallowed and pouted, and tears filled her eyes again. Then she looked directly at him and wailed. “Jesus take my mommy! I not want mommy go with Jesus!”
Brad was speechless! For a second, he just sat and stared at her. Then he exploded! What was his child saying?
“What? Where did you hear that nonsense? Who on earth told you something like that?” He released the seat-belt and gathered her into his arms as she began to sob again. “No, my darling. Your mommy is not going anywhere! Why would you think that Jesus is taking her? Who said that to you?”
He didn’t quite understand from Sarah’s limited vocabulary, and her sobbing, exactly what she had heard the two ladies gossiping about while she had been using the toilet. She had been very quiet and pale when she had emerged and joined him outside the Ladies bathroom at church. But it was only when they were at the door of the Babies section of the Sunday School, that she had started to cry and would not leave his side.
Now he held her tight and tried to reassure her, but he wasn’t sure that she believed him. Even when he told her that her mommy was coming home. He was furious! How could people gossip about something they knew nothing about, with no regard to who might overhear? And it had been his little daughter who had overheard. Now she thought her mother was leaving her for good!
They took the bread that Nanny had put in a plastic bag, and fed the greedy ducks, and Brad pushed the child on the swings for a short time. But he could tell from her quietness that she was not enjoying it. When he suggested going back home, she agreed immediately.
He parked the Mercedes in the wide driveway, and took the child back into his arms. “Sarah, your uncle Mark will be here now and Grandpa Max. They’ll both tell you that Mommy is not going anywhere. Those ladies were just silly.
Sarah merely gazed back at him, and said nothing. He carried her into the mansion, and Nanny came through into the entrance hall to meet them. She took one look at the scowl on Brad’s face, and raised her eyebrows.
“What is it? Did you go to the park?”
He nodded solemnly. “We did. Where’s Max? And is Mark here yet?”
“In the lounge,” Nanny replied. “Has Sarah hurt herself?” She saw the tear stains on Sarah’s face and was all concern. Brad put the child down, keeping her little hand in his.
“No, she’s fine. I’m just angry that some fine Christian women were discussing my wife’s illness and upset my baby girl. I need Max to explain ..........”
He saw Max come through, and continued “.... I need you to confirm that Sarah’s mommy is going to be okay.”
Max frowned, seeing Sarah’s woebegone face, noting the redness around her eyes. “What? Of course, she’s going to be okay. Didn’t you tell her that her mommy is coming home later?”
“I tried. But someone’s gossiping has made her believe her mommy is dying!”
“Jesus not taking mommy away?” Sarah whispered.
Both Nanny and Max stared, then Max took the little girl’s hand. “No one is taking your mommy anywhere, sweetie. Come with me. We’ll go talk to Uncle Mark.”
He led her to the couch at the far side of the lounge, calling Mark over to join them. Mark handed his baby daughter to Julie, and went towards them, listening carefully as Max whispered to him. Then he squatted down in front of Sarah on the couch, smiling at her.
They spoke softly, and at first Sarah just gazed solemnly at them. Brad, watching from the other side of the room, could not tell if what was being said had any impact on the child. He was really angry as he tried to explain what Sarah had told him to Nanny, and the others. They were equally as shocked. But Jessica, always the peacemaker, said quietly, “They probably didn’t realise that Sarah was there. Most of the tots her age can’t take themselves to the toilet. I don’t think they would have wanted her to think that her mother was going to die! And, in any case, it was what we all thought at first. It was a major operation on her brain, and she’s still very ill.”
Brad took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and nodded. “Maybe I was so angry because my baby girl was hurt. And because I’m really to blame that she’s so insecure. I didn’t even think that Sarah would be as affected by this as I was! Now the poor child thinks she’s going to lose her mommy, and her daddy just sent her off to her grandparents to get her out of the way.”
“So, as usual, you’re going to start blaming yourself now!” Nanny scolded. “Really, Brad. Stop it right now. Carrie is coming home. She’ll need you to be cheerful and positive around her, not self-loathing! You are not responsible for every bad thing that ever happens. You don’t have that much power!”
Brad blinked in shock, then suddenly he smiled. “Thank you, Nanny! You always manage to put things in perspective.”
He slumped in a chair and kept an eye on Sarah, sitting so quietly, listening to what Mark was saying to her, and he relaxed as he saw her nod and smile. She looked across at him then, and wriggled off the couch. She gave both Max and Mark a hug, then ran over to him.
“Mommy coming home,” she announced. She put her arms around his neck and pulled his head down to her, planting a kiss on his lips. “I love you, Daddy,” she said softly.
He hugged her. “And I love you too, my sweetheart. And if you ever hear anything that makes you sad like that, you come and talk to me, ok?”
The child hesitated a moment, then gave a little smile. “Ok Daddy. Uncle Mark say Mommy come home. I look after my Mommy.” Again, that emphasis on the ‘my’, as if she was claiming her mother as exclusively hers.
“I’m sure you will.” He smiled. “Granddad and Granny Irene will be here soon. Why don’t we go and wait for them? Maybe you and I could pick some flowers to put in Mommy’s bedroom for when she comes home?”
Nanny smiled as the child squealed with enthusiasm. “We have some lovely vases,” she said. “and you can arrange the flowers yourself. Mommy will like that!”
She took Sarah through to the kitchens and gave her a basket for the flowers and brought Brad a pair of secateurs, smiling as she watched the two of them go off into the gardens.
Brad enjoyed seeing his daughter happy and smiling again. He let her choose all the flowers. By the time Edmund and Irene’s car pulled up in the driveway the basket was almost full of colourful blooms. Sarah took Irene’s hand and led her inside, chattering all the time, while the two men followed, more slowly.
“She looks happier than she did in church,” Edmund said. “Did you two have a nice time at the park?”
“Not really,” Brad replied, and proceeded to tell him what Sarah had heard.
Edmund scowled but he said, “I think she was bewildered when she had to stay with us. We tried to explain about her mother, but it’s a lot for a three-year-old to absorb, and she kept asking us if you were coming to fetch her. Although Ian came by a few times and he took her to the equestrian centre with him. You know he’s teaching her to ride?”
“I hear so! A surprise for her mother, she says!”
Edmund stopped walking towards the mansion and turned to face Brad. “There’s something else that you should know. Sarah asked us if she grew in her mommy’s tummy like the babies her Auntie Vicki is having. We didn’t quite know what to tell her.”
Brad swallowed. “I see. What - what did you say?”
“I - we actually changed the subject, drew her attention to some birds that were in the park. I think she forgot about it. But I wasn’t sure what to say. She’s a bit young to be told that - well, to be told the truth.”
“That her real mother is dead and that no one knows who her father is,” Brad said bitterly. He sighed. “I suppose I knew that this day was coming. Maybe I didn’t think it would be quite so soon.”
"You are her father, Brad, - at least on her birth certificate!” Edmund said gently. “And just because she didn’t give birth to her doesn’t make Carrie any less her mother! Sarah is the luckiest little girl alive to have you both as her parents!”
For a moment Brad was silent, then he said, “There’s bound to be gossip. I know that there must be people on the estate who believe that I had some illicit affair and foisted my love-child on my wife! I don’t want either Sarah or Carrie to be hurt by rumours.”
“Carrie knows exactly what the truth is, so it’s highly unlikely that any rumours can hurt her. And Sarah knows how much you all - we all - love her. Rumours are just that - rumours!” He smiled. “With a family as famous as yours, there are bound to be speculations and stories about all sorts of things.”
Brad scowled. “Hmm. Like my wife was about to die! And Sarah heard that!” He groaned. “Mind you, I thought so myself for a while! I thought God had forsaken me and was going to take her away from me to teach me a lesson.”
Edmund raised his eyebrows. “Goodness! What lesson do you need to learn?”
“Maybe that He has to have first place in my life. I have to love Him even if He takes Carrie from me! I - I lost every scrap of faith for a while, I’m sure! That mountain would have been immovable! And if anyone has a reason to trust Him, it’s me! My whole life is a miracle!”
“Your faith is strong, Brad. And you are grateful for every single thing you have. I don’t believe you’ll ever lose that faith, even if God tests you through the fire.”
“He did, and I failed! I turned my back on my family, my daughter, - and I suppose even on Him! All I cared about was Carrie!”
Edmund smiled. “Well I believe you’re too hard on yourself! You didn’t turn your back on your family. You knew that they would all be okay. Sarah was with us, and even if she had been here, she would have been fine. And I know you certainly didn’t turn your back on God.”
He would have said more, but Sarah had come out again and was standing on the doorstep with her basket of flowers. “Come Granddad. Daddy, you help put flowers in bowl?”
Brad grinned. “Nanny and Granny Irene will help you, Sarah. I’m no good at arranging flowers!”
“I show you. Daddy. We make it pretty for Mommy.”
Brad shrugged, and pulled a face, but they went inside. Between Brad, Sarah, Irene and Nanny the flowers were put into a tall vase and Jessica took Sarah upstairs to put them in the main bedroom, and helped her write out a little card.
Sarah was talkative and happy at lunchtime, and afterwards went off quite willingly with Nanny to have an afternoon nap. Brad and some of the others congregated in the lounge. Max and Mark explained to them that when Carrie came home, she would need a lot of rest and help, that she probably wouldn’t be able to walk or even sit for long periods, and that she would most likely be tearful and even angry at times. They suggested that the family try to be as cheerful around her as possible and comply with her wishes as much as possible.
“She will want everything to be as normal as it always was,” Max said. “It will worry her that she can’t play with Sarah, or do the things she’s used to, and that may cause depression. I want you all to be ready for her tears and frustration, but don’t mollycoddle her either. Let her try to do things for herself, even encourage her to try. She’ll be very weak and will need help, but the sooner she starts trying, the better she’ll feel.”
“She’ll have whatever she needs,” Brad said. “Will she have a lot of pain? Is it going to hurt her if I sleep next to her?”
Mark gave a short laugh. “She’s not going to allow you to sleep anywhere but next to her! Her hip is badly bruised, but it doesn’t seem to be causing her too much distress. The nurses will change the dressings on her scalp twice a day, and see to her medication. She will probably sleep a great deal, which is good, but she needs you to be with her when she’s awake.”
“I’ll be there! I need her to be with me, too!” He smiled. “You all know how much she means to me.”
“We certainly do,” Vicki responded. “I hope Carrie is going to be well by the time my babies are born.”
Max looked at her. “It is going to be a long time before she is completely well. It’s amazing that she got out of that car alive! But Carrie is a survivor, - like your brother!”
“I think it’s best if no one asks her any questions about the accident,” Mark put in. “She has a complete memory loss about it and that causes her a great deal of distress. It’s possible that she may never remember it. She doesn’t even remember taking Sarah to you, Edmund.”
“We couldn’t persuade her to stay for tea,” Edmund said thoughtfully. “If she’d stayed, perhaps....”
“No use speculating,” Brad put in quickly. “Apparently the guy who was driving the other car had his three children with him. He was slowing down for the stop-street, but the crash was hard enough to send Carrie's Golf spinning out of control and hitting that tree.” He sighed. “If he hadn’t hit the Golf, he would have hit the trees and maybe he and his kids would have been badly hurt too!”
“As it was,” Max said quietly, “he just had a gash on the head and slight concussion, and his children weren’t hurt at all, except for a few minor bruises. The police believe it wasn't his speed that sent Carrie’s little car into the spin, but the steel bumpers on his 4x4.”
“In any case,” Brad said, “whatever it was, it happened! And Carrie is alive! I’m very grateful for that! Another thing for which to thank God, I suppose.”