They drove for some time in silence, and Joshua wondered if Sarah was sleeping. He himself was feeling quite tired.
He thought of their wedding, several hours earlier. The Justice of the Peace showed the effects of some early holiday cheer, as did his wife and brother-in-law, who served as witnesses. But they were all sufficiently sober to perform the ceremony and sign the register.
Sarah, he thought, looked lovely in the second-hand maternity dress. She’d be beautiful to him in an old sack; what she wore didn’t matter.
He glanced over as she stirred slightly in the seat beside him.
Smiling, he took her hand, and spoke. “How is my wife feeling?”
She squeezed his hand and responded. “Your wife is fine. So happy to be ‘your wife’.”
“It was a nice wedding,” he said thoughtfully. “But I kind of wish at rabbi had married us.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, still holding his hand. “If God’s out there somewhere, he doesn’t care if a rabbi, judge or preacher married us. He’s smiling down on us anyway.”
They continued in silence, broken only occasionally when Sarah looked at a map to assure they were heading in the right direction. Cleveland was a long way from Baltimore, but an acquaintance of Joshua’s said he’d give him a job there, and there were no jobs to be had in Baltimore. Even if he’d graduated high school, it wouldn’t have made a difference. And with the baby on the way, employment was more important than finishing high school.
“You think I’ll be a good mother?” Sarah asked shyly, after several miles of silence.
He looked over at her. “Sarah, you will be the most wonderful mother ever.”
“Well, you know, we never had very good examples.”
“We learned everything not to do.” He smiled at her. “We’ll do just fine.”
In central Pennsylvania they drove into some light snow, and the strong winds pelted it against the small car. Sarah wrapped the sleeping bag tighter around her. Joshua glanced over at her.
“You’re cold. We’d better stop for the night.”
“I’m not cold. This sleeping bag is warm as anything.”
He saw a sign for ‘Lodging, next exit,’ and took it.
“We’re in luck. We’ve been driving for a long time without seeing anything.”
They drove off the highway and down the small, country road for several miles, before seeing a small, rundown motel advertising a vacancy. Joshua pulled into the lot.
“I’ll just be a minute.” He jumped out of the car into the cold and hurried into the motel office.
True to his word, he came out quickly. He sighed deeply before speaking.
“One hundred and twenty dollars a night. Sarah, we just don’t have that kind of money.”
“Of course we don’t.” She smiled. “Maybe we ought to buy ourselves a motel and charge $120.00 a night for a room.”
It was just before 6:00 p.m., but Joshua was tired. They’d been driving since 8:00, stopping briefly to get married, and then for meals and gas. He started the car and followed the signs leading back to the highway. Before he’d gone a mile, he spotted an old barn. He slowed the car, stopped, and hesitated before speaking. Sarah spoke first.
He sighed. “No, nothing’s wrong, but we need to get warm. Without any heat in this car, my fingers are getting numb.” He forced a grin. “What do you think about winter camping?” He looked over at the barn.
“Sounds fine to me,” she said, smiling.
Joshua pulled the car into the overgrown driveway leading to the barn, and stopped.
“I’ll go take a look around; you wait here.”
He returned in a few minutes. “Looks okay. And the walls are solid; you can’t feel the wind at all in there.”
She climbed out of the car, and he moved it around to the back, so it wouldn’t be seen from the road. Then they went into the barn, stopping for a moment so their eyes could adjust to the dim light.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve always seen pictures of that baby Jesus they say was born in a little barn. I wonder if it was like this one.”
“Well, our baby won’t be born in a barn. We’ll be in Cleveland tomorrow, and you’ve still got a few days.”
Joshua retrieved sleeping bags and blankets from the car, and, in an old cow stall, arranged as comfortable sleeping arrangements as were possible. They snuggled close, the only smells remaining in the barn those of straw, making it not unpleasant.
After a short time, Joshua spoke. “Sarah, Honey, I’m real sorry about this.” She turned to look at him, her face showing her puzzlement.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, look at us here. Newlyweds, sleeping our first night in an old barn.” He looked away, but she reached up and gently turned his face toward hers.
“We’re in this together, husband and wife. We’re warm and safe, and I need to tell you,” she said, looking deep into his eyes, “I have everything in life I want. All I’ve ever wanted since the day we met was you. Now we’re married.”
He smiled at her. “We’re together for the rest of our lives,” he said, pulling her close and wrapping his arms around her.
She was quiet for a moment, before responding. “Joshua, do you think there’s anything that comes after? I mean, ‘the rest of our lives.’ Is that the end?”
“I don’t know. I never thought about it much.” He looked directly at her. “What do you think?”
She paused for a moment, then turned to look at him directly again. “Well, I think there’s a God out there somewhere, and he never made a man as good as you just to throw him away in sixty or seventy years. I just can’t think of a time when you will never be.” She paused, and then continued. “Sometimes I think there never was a time when we weren’t, you know what I mean?” She put a hand on her stomach. “Do you think this baby just never was before we got together? I mean, I can’t really explain it, but I just think there’s something bigger than all of us.”
A few miles away, Bishop Wilson left work, and drove the short distance home. Approaching his house, he hit the button to open the garage door, and slid the car into the garage. Three days to Christmas, and tonight was the Stake Youth Dance. His daughter had talked of nothing else for weeks; she’d just turned 16, and Kyle, the stake heartthrob, had asked her to the dance. He smiled as he walked into the house, appreciating the elaborate decorations, and smelling the roast beef. He entered the kitchen where Carol, his wife, was preparing dinner. Sounds of laughter and conversation – the typical sounds of a family of six – came from all directions in the house.
“Hey,” he said, giving her a quick kiss.
“Hey, yourself. Did you remember to get the straw for the manger outside? Jenna says that’s the last thing needed, and she wants everything perfect when Kyle arrives.” She rolled her eyes as she said this.
“Oh, I forgot the straw. I suppose she can’t do without it?”
“Of course she can.” Carol smirked at him. “I’m just not sure the doting daddy can do without getting it for her.”
He grinned. “How soon until we eat?”
“Half an hour. But where on earth are you going to get straw at this hour?”
“I’ll get some from the barn. It’s not scheduled for demolition until the 29th.”
She made a face. “Just make sure you don’t bring back any rodents in it.”
He kissed her again and returned to his car, backed out of the driveway and headed down the road.
Driving to the barn, he thought of the investment he’d made. He and a few others had purchased a tract of land, and construction would start on the townhouse development in January, if the weather cooperated. The several acres had just a few old buildings on them, and he remembered seeing straw in the barn when he’d walked over the property with the realtor. He’d grab a few handfuls, sufficient for the outdoor manger on their lawn, and be back in time for supper.
Joshua and Sarah finished the sandwiches they’d bought at a sub shop earlier, and she dozed off and on while he held her. It had grown dark; although only about 6:30, with the cloudy sky, and the lateness of the year, it seemed much later. They’d get a good night’s sleep and start early in the morning, Joshua thought, and arrive in Cleveland by mid-afternoon.
He saw the headlights before he heard the car. Perhaps it was just someone turning around. But no, the car pulled in and stopped by the barn. He nudged Sarah. “Someone’s here. Could be cops.”
“We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“We’re trespassing.” He spoke tensely. “Just be very still. Maybe they won’t see us.”
They crouched together as closely as possible, and peered out to the main part of the barn through a crack in the wall of the cow stall.
Bishop Wilson pushed in the door, which creaked loudly. He’d grabbed a leaf bag before leaving the house, and now he switched on his flashlight, reached over and picked up a few handfuls of straw and stuffed them into the bag. When the bag was full, he stood up.
There was something he couldn’t quite define, but he knew he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t afraid, and wondered if he should be. There could be no good reason for someone to be lurking in this barn, yet he had no feeling of fear.
“Who’s here?” he called out. Silence. He shone the flashlight around the barn, up to the loft, but saw nothing. “I’m not going to hurt you. Where are you?” Still no response. “Please don’t make me walk all over this barn; I’m not dressed for it.” He shone the light around again, very slowly this time, and as it passed the wall of the stall behind which Joshua and Sarah hid, their frightened eyes reflected the light. Bishop Wilson slowly walked toward them.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he repeated. “I’m a clergyman. I just needed some straw for a Christmas display.” He walked toward them. When he was still several feet from the stall, Joshua stood up.
“We’re not here to hurt anything. We just needed a place to stay for the night.” His voice cracked, showing his nervousness. “We’ll leave now if you want us to.” Sarah slowly stood up beside him.
In the light of the flashlight, Bishop Wilson saw a teenaged couple, the girl very pregnant, and both of them scared and vulnerable. He thought quickly that there was a reason he’d forgotten to get the straw earlier.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“We’re moving to Cleveland; I got a job there. We’re from Baltimore.”
The bishop couldn’t imagine what kind of job this young man thought he had in Cleveland, but that was not his immediate concern; that could be dealt with later.
“We didn’t hurt anything,” Joshua continued. “We just got here a while ago. If this is your barn, we’re sorry, and we’ll leave right away. Our car is parked in the back.”
“No, please, you don’t have to leave. I mean, you do, and yes, it is my barn. But you can’t stay out here. It’s too cold. Come home with me, stay the night and you can be on your way tomorrow.”
“No, thank you,” Sarah said, stooping to pick up a blanket. “We’ll just be on our way.”
“Please, you don’t have to be on your way, and you don’t have to stay here. I live just a few miles away; we can be there in 15 minutes.”
Joshua looked as Sarah; he hated to have her sleep in a barn, didn’t know where they’d go if they left, and thought that this man seemed sincere. He had his arm around here, and pulled her a little closer as he spoke.
“That’s very nice of you. It is kind of cold, and as you see, my wife is due in a few days. I hate to have her sleeping in a barn, but, well, money-“
“Just come with me,” Bishop Wilson said, smiling. He extended his hand to Joshua. “I’m Bishop Wilson.”
“Nice to meet you,” Joshua said, shaking hands.” I’m Joshua Feinburg, and this is my wife, Sarah.” The bishop and Sarah shook hands.
They quickly gathered up the sleeping bags and blankets, and tossed them into the trunk. “What about our car?” Sarah asked.
“It‘ll be safe here,” Bishop Wilson said. “Do you need anything from it tonight?”
Not needing anything but the blankets and sleeping bags, they climbed into Bishop Wilson’s car and were soon home.
They entered the kitchen, now empty, and the bishop called out. “Anyone home? We have company.”
Carol came into the room, smiling, and greeted them. “Hello,” she said warmly.
Introductions were made, and Carol and the bishop quickly moved dishes, opened the table to add a leaf, and quickly reset it. He then called the others to dinner.
The younger children weren’t even mildly curious; they greeted the guests politely, but were more concerned with finishing dinner and getting back to their other activities, then they were with Joshua and Sarah. Jenna, dressed for the formal dance, sat and chatted, but ate nothing.
“Jenna, darling, you have to eat something,” her mother pleaded.
“I can’t, Mother, I might spill something on my dress.”
They conversed about nothing in particular, finishing dinner. The three younger children excused themselves, and the rest sat at the table. They were still there when the doorbell rang.
“It’s him! Daddy, will you answer it. I need to check my hair!” Jenna stood and ran to the nearest bathroom, as her father went to answer the door.
A moment later, the bishop re-entered the dining room, accompanied by a handsome young man, dressed in a dark suit. Introductions were made, and Kyle sat down to wait for Jenna. She entered the room and heard Kyle saying, “My father’s an ob-gyn; why don’t you ask the bishop to give him a call? I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”
Kyle stood when he saw her, a broad grin lighting his handsome face.
“Sorry, to keep you waiting, Kyle,” she said, smiling.
After a few more minutes of conversation, Kyle and Jenna left, walking into the cold night, down the front path to Kyle’s car.
“Jenna, you’re beautiful,” Kyle said softly, opening the door for her.
“Thank you,” she said, hoping that the darkness prevented him from seeing her blush.
He went around and slid in behind the steering wheel, started the car and drove off.
“I like those friends of your dad’s.”
“Yeah, they seem real nice.”
They drove a few minutes in silence. Then Jenna spoke abruptly. “Kyle, I don’t think we should go to the dance.”
He pulled over and stopped the car, then looked at her in amazement.
“Jenna, you look beautiful. This is the biggest dance of the year.” He paused and looked straight out the windshield. He spoke softly. “Are you sorry you said you’d go with me?”
“Oh, Kyle, no!” She took his arm and looked directly into his face. “But I just can’t get Joshua and Sarah out of my mind! They never had a chance to do any of the things we do. Do you know what she said at dinner? She said something about ‘that baby Jesus,’ like she doesn’t even know who he is! She doesn’t even know who Jesus is! Let alone ever going to a Church dance, or Young Women’s camp, or Seminary or anything.” She rushed on. “They’re no different than us in some ways, but we know so much more than they do. Do you know, they didn’t even finish high school! And here we are, in our fancy clothes, and your dad’s fancy car, off to a dance, when they don’t even know if there’s a God! I just think we need to talk to them. “ She repositioned in the seat slightly, looking out the windshield, then back at Kyle.
“I’m sorry, Kyle, but we need to go back. I want to be with you tonight. Please come home with me. You’ve been out with the missionaries a lot. You can teach them the first discussion, can’t you? Please?”
“Jenna,” he said, laughing, “Let me get a word in edgewise, please. Yes, we’ll skip the dance. They seem like real nice people, and as you said, we have plenty of dances.” He paused for a minute. “One condition, though.”
“You have to come with me to the next dance.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s a date!”
He started the car and did a u-turn, and headed back to her house.
4 thoughts on “30 The Least of These”
I Vote for this one.
A little disappointed at the abrupt ending with two minor characters. Started out a rich filling meal, but without any dessert.
I wonder if this would be stronger if you had fewer than 3 POV characters–a lot for a short story.
A poignant situation, but needs some tightening up. I'd like to hear more from the young couple.
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