The police ram pounding on the door makes me hesitate. I’m not sure what I should do. Tim, stop second-guessing your decisions. I steady my nerves and look at the old version of me.
He had appealed to Mercy; he had appealed to the Bible. What he asks is not unreasonable… well, except for the whole portal question.
Then I remember.
It was his arm that had gone through the portal, or started to. He must have been trying to rescue Jamie. So only his arm was affected. Which means… flipping the switch won’t debond my molecules.
I hear a crack at the door.
I need to choose. Lord, should I trust him?
I’m not waiting for an answer, I’m waiting for confidence. For peace. I am a believer, living for God’s glory. If my priorities are on-target, I can only follow the wise counsel of my spirit. God knows I’m trying to do right by him, right by my family, right by my job. I have to free Old Tim from his trap. He’s right. We locked up the bad guys, the evidence is in place, everything has its answer. I walk over to the control panel and put my hand on the switch. Lord, please make this be the right decision.
Snap! I move the lever to its lower position, then swing around to see what happens.
All that is on the circle—the crate, the bag of vault treasures, the two devices, and Old Tim—disappear, fading out and ghosting away.
Just like that.
My eyes stare at the emptiness of the room. With a snap, the lights go out and my brain begins to ache.
All I hear is pounding on the door. “Tim? Tim? You in there?”
The darkness is palpable. Suffocating, like a tent on a muggy summer night. Inky like the ocean depths beyond the twilight zone. I open my mouth to draw enough air to breathe. The hammering continues with the doorknob rattling.
I reach out and feel my way to the exit, the tips of my fingers sliding across the wall then the door until I sense the bolt—but it’s not where I expect it to be, and it’s not as large as I thought it was. I quickly decipher the sliding lock in that darkness. I turn the knob and hear unsnapping of the handle lock. With an overwhelming sense of relief, I pull on the door. It doesn’t open.
A heavy thump on the other side of the door cracks the frame and the door swings open.
Bright lights cut my vision, ratcheting up my headache. I gasp in cool air and blink to adjust my eyes. Air. Finally. Phew. A crowd of people step aside and I take a few steps forward. I look around, suddenly blanking.
“Are you okay?” The speaker’s voice sounds familiar. Her face is one I know. But who is she?
“Whew! What is that smell?” she asks, putting her arm around me and steadying me by the elbow.
I grab onto her and glance back. The light from where I stand shines back to show a shiny white floor, tall privacy walls, and three porcelain sinks. I was in a bathroom? “Where am I” How come I don’t remember?
“Smells horrible in there. Must be a gas leak?” Someone behind me says. “Call maintenance.” I hear the bathroom door snap shut.
The woman takes me to a wooden chair near a nurse’s station I recognize.
“What happened?” I ask. “My memory’s a little foggy.”
I don’t remember going into the bathroom. But now I recognize I’m on Sophie’s floor in the hospital.
“You got stuck in the bathroom during an earthquake. The electricity was out. What happened to your face, honey?” The woman strokes my cheek with her finger, then runs her fingers through my hair.
“Mercy?” I ask. Why should I ask? Of course it’s my wife.
A nurse puts a portable oxygen tank on the floor next to the chair and pulls its mask over my mouth and nose, shifting the strap around a wound I can see peripherally on my cheek. “This should help you be able to breathe.” A few seconds later, she taps my wound with a piece of medicated cotton. The sting shoots through me. I strain to remember. Did I fall?
“How’d you get cut?” It’s my wife who asks. I know her, and with that, things start to come back to me.
We’re in the hospital to visit Sophie. Except how’d I get hurt? “I have no idea.”
The nurse harrumphs. “There must be something sharp in there.” She directs an orderly to keep patients out of the bathroom until they find the danger.
I squeeze Mercy’s hand to offset the pain on my face. The sensations streak to my brain, pulsing and squeezing.
“It wasn’t that long of an earthquake, but it shifted the building enough to jam the door. You don’t look so good.”
“I’m okay. Just disoriented. I don’t remember going in there. Maybe I did hit my head.”
“Or it could be the gas.” Mercy asks for a doctor, and a few minutes later he is peering into my eyes with a light. “It doesn’t seem like a concussion.” He presses on my scalp. Only my headache hurts. “It might just be inhalation of that sulfur gas—or whatever it was.” He says the oxygen should sort me out, but he can send me for a CT-scan.
I decline. “Keep an eye on him and don’t let him sleep for several hours,” he tells Mercy. Then he gets me to promise to come back tomorrow for a check-up.
“It’s probably nothing,” I say. But feel I’m supposed to be somewhere. After he leaves, I double-check with Mercy. “Am I on a case or something?”
“With the department? No. You’re on a leave of absence, remember?”
When she says it, I actually do remember. I’d taken an indefinite leave when Sophie was diagnosed. It’s been three months.
“How’s Sophie? Is she okay?”
Without warning, my brain ache multiplies like it’s in a vice. I squeeze my forehead right above my eyes. “Maybe I should have that CT-scan.”
We decide to swing in to see Sophie. First things first.
Her pale face brightens when we come in. “Daddy!”
I drag a chair up close to her and kiss her cheek. “How you doing, precious?”
“What’s this?” She pulls a paper out of my chest pocket. “Is it for me?” It’s a piece of binder paper, folded into quarters.
“I don’t know. Let me see.” On the outside I’ve written the words, “Trust me. Follow my lead.”
“What’s that about?” Mercy says.
“I’m not sure,” I say. It’s my writing, so I must have written it. I unfold it to find I’ve written a verse from Psalms.
Mercy pulls it out of my hand and reads aloud,
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
There is a time for everything and those things work together for good.
“Amen,” says Mercy, handing the note back to me. “It’s a good thing to remember.”
I fold it up and stick it back into my pocket. Yes, good to remember. But ironically, I can’t even remember writing it.
“Is it for me, Daddy?”
I nod, more to avoid the answer than as an answer.
My wife comes to the rescue. “It is about you, and me, and Daddy,” she says. “Everything we live through—even your sickness in a way we don’t understand—is part of God’s precious thoughts for us. Right, Tim?”
I nod again.
“And we’re supposed to trust God and follow his leading,” Sophie adds. “Is Daddy okay?”
“He’s a bit disoriented.” Mercy pats my leg.
“I feel like I should be on a case,” I mumble.
“Always the work-a-holic, Tim. Too bad we can’t clone you, then you’d be able to rest and work simultaneously.”
I shiver at the idea.
“Oh!” Sophie pulls a flyer off of her bedside table. “Please tell me you’re still going the art museum tonight,” she asks. “You promised we’d Facetime so I can see it.”
“Sure.” I scan the flyer.
Together For the First Time Ever: Starry Nights Above Mona Lisa. The Master Collaboration.
I look over the other pieces that will be on display: a dozen Monet, DaVinci, and VanGogh masterpieces all in one show, one night only. The detective in me wonders what they’re doing for security. The insurance for this night must be in the billions.
“I wish I could go, too.” Deep behind Sophie’s eyes I see it, that scared fear of the future, worried about herself and sickness and death. I should talk with her more about that verse.
“We’ll keep praying God will bring you a marrow donor, sweetie-pie,” my wife says, just as someone knocks on the door.
We turn to see a young woman wearing a long white coat standing at the threshold. She’s young for a doctor, so I assume she’s an intern. “That’s me,” my wife says.
The intern’s long brown hair is braided to the sides and coiled into buns, Mercy glances at me and winks. I know what she’s thinking. Princess Leia.
“May I speak with you for a moment, ma’am?” she asks, thumbing behind her to the hall. When my wife follows her out the door, I notice the intern’s coat has a hood on the back. Maybe she’s not an intern. A few seconds later, a whiff of sulfur wafts into the room.
An inexplicable worry floods over me. A dark foreboding. Something is not right.
“Daddy? Daddy?” Sophie reaches for me.
I lean forward for what I think is a hug, but instead she takes the paper from my pocket. “Read me the verse again.” Her smile is hopeful. In spite of her fear, she still trusts our care. Because she’s not alone. Like the verse says. When I awake, I’m still with you.
And yet, Mercy is still not back. Maybe I should go find Mercy.
Should I go find Mercy or stay here and read the verse to Sophie?
I’ll read the verse to Sophie.
I pull it out again and read it all. When I get to the end, I kiss the back of her hand. I’m glad I took a leave of absence. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll soak in the rest I need. Plus, time off fine-tunes my priorities.
“Honey, this verse means you… we… don’t need to be afraid. Everything will turn out. It’s all in God’s hands. He makes the plans, and he makes the promises. And God doesn’t lie. So if he promises, he has to be able to make it all right in the end.”
I focus on the last line.
There is a time for everything and those things work together for good.
“No matter what we do, if we are those who love God and are called to his purpose, we are his people, so it will all work out. Remember the song we sing at church? He Knows My Name? That’s from this verse.”
“I like that song.”
“Want to sing it?”
“I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And He hears me when I call
I have a Father
He calls me His own
He’ll never leave me
No matter where I go…”
When the song finishes, Sophie is asleep again.
My sweet daughter.
Lord, help me treasure her for what she is, for how long I have her. Enable me to be the daddy she needs today. Give me strength to face today.
With a whoosh, the door opens. Mercy rushes in, her hair a bit bedraggled, but eyes wide and smiling. “I’m back!”
She wasn’t gone long, so I’m glad I stayed with Sophie. They still haven’t fixed the sulfur leak outside, and its odor puffs in behind her.
She throws her arms around me and squeals. Then she looks into my face, eyes burning with exhilaration. “You will never believe where I’ve been!”