Bane snoozed away while Rue sat curled up next to Joy on the dark suede sofa in her living room. It was early Sunday morning, too early for breakfast, Joy thought as she nursed her second cup of coffee. Rue was quiet but wide awake, despite how much he desperately needed to rest. The discolored lines under his eyes told a story of pain and horror that simply would not allow his mind and body to relax.
Rue shifted around to nestle in a bit more, pulled his legs up, and laid his head back down on Joy’s chest. She squeezed him with her free arm and kissed the top of his head. Sitting on the couch like this reminded Joy of snuggling with her dad on early, cold mornings when everyone else in the house was still asleep. Now she knew something of how her father must have felt with a child curled up next to his side. It was good.
“My…,” Rue began, then changed. “He hates you. He says you’re evil.”
Joy couldn’t help blurting out a stunned laugh. This early in the day such a blunt statement more than caught her off guard, although she knew it was true. What exactly to say in reply eluded her, though, so she opted for the simple, non-committal, “Oh really?”
“Yeah, because you’re a woman and you’re not supposed to be a preacher,” Rue explained. “So he says you’re like Jezebel.”
“Humph! Jezebel was a queen and believe you me, I’m not royalty … good or bad!” Joy sat her coffee cup down on the cappuccino-colored end table next to the couch. “And if … he has a problem with me preaching, then I don’t suppose he would’ve liked those women preachers who preached the first Easter sermon either.”
“Huh?” Rue looked up. “But they weren’t really preachers.”
“You know what ‘preach’ really means, Rue?”
The little boy nodded his head. “It means … giving a sermon.”
“It’s just another word for ‘proclaim,’ and that’s exactly what those women did when they ran back from an empty tomb, remember? They proclaimed, or preached, the good news, which is what ‘gospel’ means – and I know you know that – so … they preached the gospel, which is the same as giving a sermon, which made them women preachers, so … I guess he would have considered them evil, too.” Joy smiled down at Rue.
“I don’t think that; I think you’re great.” Rue scooted onto Joy’s lap. “Can I tell you something?”
“You sure can.”
“You won’t tell anyone?”
“Cross my heart, I won’t.”
“I hate preaching, and I don’t wanna be a preacher… And I don’t wanna go back to church, either. I mean, not your church, but… I hate my school, too… Do we have to go back?”
Joy wrapped both her arms around Rue and gently rubbed his back. Would they have to go back? To Sloughheart’s school? To his abusive church? To his sick, cruel home that wasn’t even really a home? “I’m not sure, Rue, but … not right away. I hope not, sweet boy… I hope and pray not… I’m going to do all I can to help, and you know what?” Rue looked up again. “I don’t blame you for not liking church or preaching, Rue. You’ve every right to feel the way you do.”
“Are we gonna see momma today?” Rue’s eyes pleaded with Joy and she smiled again and stroked his head.
“You bet we are, sweetie. Probably around 10 or 10:30 … before lunch. Then we’ll hop down to the cafeteria – they’ve got some awesome food there, not like most hospitals – and we’ll eat and then go back to visit a little more. Then maybe we’ll go to the park to throw some ball, or maybe the frisbee. And, who knows, maybe even catch a movie this evening. That all sound o.k.?”
“Yeah,” Rue smiled. “Sounds great… How long’s she gonna be in the hospital?”
“I’m not quite sure, but not too long.”
“Then what?” Rue asked matter-of-factly. “Will she come here?” The query was full of hope.
Then what, indeed! Joy pondered the question. Where to from here? God! We’ve got a lot to do and barely any time to breath!