Luke had been deeply hurt by Brittany’s accusations. What hurt most was that he knew she was at least partially right.
He had grown up watching his parents take in neighborhood strays, coaching ball, teaching Sunday School and the like. He had never seen himself in any of those roles. He could not imagine why he would ever want to do that...take care of other people's snotty-nosed kids. Gross!
His life had been frozen in a state of suspended animation, trapped in a state of late adolescence. He could hardly credited the possibility that that the underlying angst and ennui that shaded every part of his life was due to the fact that he had overstayed adolescence and that his unhappiness was his subconscious goading his ego into restarting growth. And yet that is exactly what Brittany had thrown in his face.
Luke walked for four hours.
There was nobody he felt he comfortable talking with. He walked past houses he had passed a hundred times while growing up. Some were blackened foundations, the owners succumbing to Ebola and the homes torched to immolate the bodies and their load of lethal virus. Others were simply dark. No electricity. No lights. Nearly every person sleeping at 9:30 at night. It hammered home that he was living in a new reality.
Luke ran into the Curfew Enforcement officer a couple of times. Luke greeted him.
When asked his business, Luke said he had a fight with his girlfriend and he just needed to get out of the house.
The watchman grunted and Luke could see him nod in the moonlight. To Luke’s surprise, the watchman said “Been there. Done that. Much better to go for a walk that to hit her. Take as much time as you need.”
The second time they passed the watchman said, "God has a sense of humor, doesn't he?"
Luke had been lost in thought and answered "Pardon? I didn't quite catch that."
The watchman repeated. "God has a sense of humor."
"How do you figure?" Luke asked.
"Men and women. Different enough to be different species. But somehow it all works out." the watchman said, flipping his cigarette but into the ditch beside the road.
"Does it always work out?" Luke asked.
"I wouldn't have said this before Ebola," the watchman confided "but I came to realize that as long as I had Eileen, she is my wife, the clothes on my back and my pocket knife, everything was going to work out."
"Without Eileen...well, I would have given up long ago." he finished.
Brittany had dinner on the stove when Luke came back.
Luke hated conflict. It twisted his stomach in a knot. He did not think he was going to be able to eat a bite until he came through the door and the smell of chicken-and-biscuits assailed him.
One happy artifact of Pray Store citizens rapidly ramping up the number of laying chickens was that half of the new chicks grew up into roosters. There was an abundance of young roasting chickens and customers were eager to trade them for Luke’s merchandise.
Brittany had reinforced the chicken fricasee with shredded carrots to deepen the color and she had added mashed potatoes to make the gravy.
Brittany apologized. “The kids woke up with the yelling and were hungry so I fed them.” Clearly she had waited up for him.
She slid a cookie sheet with biscuit dough into the oven of the wood-stove. Not liking the heat she opened the fire door and looked at the bed of coals appraisingly. She was still getting the hang of cooking in a wood stove. Brittany raked the coals around a little bit and added a bit more draft, more to avoid having to look Luke in the eyes than due to any deficiency of the heat.
Luke mumbled his thanks for the food. They went to bed together and slept, snuggling spoons style. Nothing was ever said again about sleeping arrangements.
Carson and Brittany’s baby boy was born a week later. As Brittany’s third, it was a much easier labor and delivery than her first. Nyssa was there and Nyssa was thankful that it was quick and easy.
Luke sent for Pastor James. Pastor James, fearing the worst hustled over.
Luke asked Pastor James to baptize the baby.
Pastor James said, “My demonination does not believe in infant baptism.”
“Mine does.” Luke said.
Pastor James had to think a minute. “You know that any Christian can baptize a person, don’t you?”
Luke said “Yes. I know that.”
Pastor James said “I don’t have an objection to you baptizing your own baby, and then I can record the event in our church book.”
“What name shall I put in the book?” Pastor James asked.
Luke looked over at Brittany.
Brittany looked timidly over at Luke. “If you don’t mind, I want to name him Luke Salazar.”
Luke surprised, nodded his agreement. He had never thought to ask Brittany what she wanted to name her child...their child, he corrected himself.
Pastor James looked down at the two other children. “And what are their names? I might as well enter their names at the same time.
Luke Salazar cleared his throat and firmly stated “Caleb Tulloch Salazar and Carla-with-a-C Tulloch Salazar.” Brittany was surprised, and touched, that Luke had taken the trouble to learn and remember her maiden name.