Escondido – Los Angeles, California
The bleeding wouldn’t stop. Dawn clasped his hand in hers as life drained from her body as if to blunt the inevitable blow. The automobile accident caused too much trauma to her internal organs; all the doctors could do now was keep her comfortable before she slipped away into the night. David, normally stoic, trembled as tears that had not stained his cheeks since boyhood. They flowed unabated off of his face and onto her hand as he raised it to his lips. There was a tranquil resignation in her eyes that terrified him as she reached out with her gaze to comfort him. A gentle smile curled at the edges of her mouth as she struggled for the strength to ease the pain she knew awaited David .
“You have to let me go David. I’m going home.”
He knew he could not and might not ever. His childhood friend, high school sweetheart, his wife, was slipping away and taking his world with her.
As she drew her final breath, David rose to kiss her forehead and brush back her blonde curls and said, “I love you,” one last time.
Darkness descended on him as the light in her eyes ran out. He would carry the shadow of Dawn’s passing his whole life. Regardless of how much he threw himself into the work of the ministry and the congregational life of Bethel Presbyterian, Rev. David Brandt was alone.
It had been two years since Dawn died, and David’s friends seemed eager, if not nervous, to see him married again. David had no such anxieties; loneliness was a garment he wore well. But, nothing makes a group of Protestants more nervous than a single pastor. He had a measure of success in rebuffing their sincere efforts to set him up with friends, friends of friends, and , even the occasional visitor who wandered in. This all changed in October when he was asked to fill a pulpit for Hope Presbyterian in Bel Air. The pastor of Hope, Allen Stuart, was a good friend of David’s, and he was going to be laid up for two months after back surgery. David handed the pastoral responsibilities to one of the elders on his session, Daniel DeVaux, a professor at the new seminary in Escondido. A couple of months in Bel Air would be a nice break for him, since his only responsibility was to preach on the Lord’s Day.
On the Sunday of his third sermon, he saw a beautiful young woman enter the sanctuary. David had never struggled to preach; it seemed like the one thing in his life that came with ease, especially since Dawn had passed. The only time David could ever be accused of boldness was in the eloquent passion and conviction with which he preached. Usually his eyes ranged back and forth over the congregation as he delivered his sermon, but that Sunday he found it almost impossible to keep his eyes fixed on anyone but her. This made him feel a kind of discomfort he had not felt from the pulpit. Every word felt like ashes on his tongue. He was sure that he was leading the congregation toward disaster as his delivery was full of stunted pauses and stammering that were beyond embarrassing. After he finished, he left the sanctuary to greet anyone in the congregation who wished to speak with him afterward.
The half dozen congregants that came to speak with him had dwindled to the last one, and David was looking forward to the opportunity to return to the office to gather himself. However, she approached, with a young child in tow to speak with him. The boy had a shocking intensity and a disarming playfulness in his amber eyes that left an air of mystery about him, even though he looked no older than three. He hid behind his mother’s knee-length skirt and peeked out at David in alternating intervals. David almost forgot to greet the elderly woman in front of him, distracted by this wild and child with intelligent eyes. After he said his goodbyes, the woman approached him and shook his hand. When she did, an electric shock shot through him that he hadn’t felt since he kissed Dawn for the first time when he was sixteen. It frightened him; he had no desire to ever feel again the way he felt for Dawn.
“Hello erend Brandt,” said the woman, “I just wanted to say how much I appreciated the sermon this morning.”
“Well, uh, thanks,” he said, “honestly it was hard for me to get through for some reason. Anyway, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Serafina,” she said, “and this is my son, Malachi.”
As she was speaking he looked down with a sly glance to her left hand and saw no ring.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you,” he said as he stooped down to the boy’s level, “And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Malachi.”
Malachi responded by kicking his shin and proceeded to run laps around Serafina and David.
“Malachi Elias! Say you’re sorry to Brandt this instant.”
“Sowwy Wevwand,” Malachi said, in a careless tone that communicated how sorry he wasn’t.
“That’s okay, kiddo,” David said while he mussed Malachi’s hair, knowing that instant that he was taken by this boy, maybe more so than his mother. “Uh, do you mind me asking, where is his father?”
“I don’t mind at all,” she said with a soft smile, “He passed away before Malachi was born in the civil war in Lebanon. After he died, I stayed with my parents in Tel Aviv.”
“I see. I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve been there as well,” he said feeling awkward for sharing too much with a virtual stranger, “What brings you out to California?”
“I came to get my master’s degree in English literature at UCLA. I’d like to teach someday. Anyhow, it is a pleasure to meet you. But I need to get going, this guy is getting restless.”
“I can see that. It was a pleasure to meet you, too, Serafina. Please come talk to me again,” he said, kicking himself inside as the words came before he had the chance to think about them.
“I’d like that,” she said, as she caught eyes with David for a long moment that made him all the more uncomfortable, “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” he said feeling his cheeks go flush as she turned away and left with Malachi.
Flummoxed, he left for the office to gain his composure. The events of the morning had the effect of being blindsided by an oncoming bus. It took the better part of an hour before his pulse slowed. His heart had always belonged to Dawn. As beautiful as Serafina was and as much as he felt pulled into her orbit, even after one brief exchange, something in him pulled back. He wasn’t sure how he could ever be attracted to someone else again. He picked up the phone and dialed Allen Stuart’s home.
“Hey Allen, don’t tell me you had me cover your pulpit just so I could meet her.”
Allen chuckled, “Meet who?”
“You know exactly who. Serafina.”
“I would never do such a thing,” Allen said, “But did you like her?”
“Allen, I could wring your neck. And yes, I think I do like her.”
“It just so happens that I am well enough to sit up, so how about I invite her and you over for dinner one night this week? Say, Friday?”
“I…I don’t think I’m ready for something like that.”
“Nonsense!” said Allen, “Betsy and I’ve already told her all about you. I’m sure she would love to meet you. You’re coming over this Friday, no questions asked.”
“Well, all ,” said an apprehensive David, “but do me a favor, beyond Friday, no more matchmaking efforts. If something develops between us, let it happen in its own time. I don’t think I’m ready to move fast on anything.”
David was wrong on that account. He spent most of his Fridays in Los Angeles. That evening was the beginning a whirlwind romance that he felt sucked into, in spite of his misgivings and the sorrow that still hung heavy on him since Dawn’s passing. Where Dawn was known for her unremitting sweetness, Serafina was a fireball of perpetual motion and uncanny strength. She knew, even in the early stages of their romance, that Malachi was the glue that held them together and that there was still something unresolved in David. But, she loved him nonetheless and assumed his apprehension would pass someday. They were married the next summer when Serafina had completed her master’s.
Before the couple could settle into married life, and ten months later, they had a son. Jacob David was marked, even as a baby, by a tenderness that seemed to be the mirror opposite of Malachi’s tenacious approach to living. Malachi loved Jacob with an uncommon ferocity, and the affection between the boys only grew as they got older. But, this was not the case between David and Serafina. All of the heat from their initial romance seemed to flicker out as Serafina raised the boys and David poured long hours in at the church. There was always a great respect between the two, but they lived as strangers who happened to know each other. This was not what Serafina had hoped, figuring that David could change with time. Time, however, marched on relentlessly, as it always does, and, in spite of her prayers, they were never able to bridge the gap that grew ever wider between them. They lived separate lives under the same roof, tending well to Malachi and Jacob’s upbringing. When Jacob reached school-age, Serafina began teaching English at one of the local high schools. She found some solace in sharing her passion for the written word, not only with her students, but her sons, as well. David found his only peace in his pastoral duties, hiding, as many clergymen do, in the work of ministry. The result was the cold outline of a marriage, mechanically sound, with little love and no passion. David’s unresolved grief poisoned him over the years, leaving him a lonely stranger in his own home.