The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2016 Matthew Templar
Thanks again to RCN for his editing wizardry. It makes for a smoother read.

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyrighted by Matthew Templar, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

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Chapter sixty-eight

Dr. Malhotra walked into Ray's room to see his patient.

"And how are we this fine day, young Raymond?"

"Well, I can only speak for myself, really."

His dad was standing next to his son, who was sitting on the side of the bed. Ray, Sr.'s eyes rolled to the back of his head as he shook his head slowly.

"Yes, then speak of how it is you are, Raymond," asked the doctor again with a heavy East Indian accent.

"Well, I'm really tired all the time, a little dizzy and sometimes I feel like throwing up. Is that normal, doctor?"

"Yes, it is, Raymond, for someone who has been having treatments for some time. Fortunately, you haven't started yours yet, except for a weak dose last week. I think someone is trying to . . . ." He paused to get the right saying, holding his index finger up. "Yes, how do I say it so, ah, to have my eyes covered by the wool pulled over them."

He said it so matter-of-factly that Ray couldn't help but laugh.

"Raymond! That's a bit rude, son," said his dad, who was trying to keep his cool as well.

"But, Dad," started Ray.

"Raymond," said Dr. Malhotra with absolutely no accent, "I've been lucky enough to have been born and raised in the United States. I studied at Harvard, got my doctorate from there and went on to do my residency at John Hopkins. So, if you want to engage with me, you'd better be boning up on your humor. I will give you a run for your money."

Ray's mouth hung open and his eyes almost dropped out of their sockets. His dad started laughing and so did Dr. Malhotra.

"Hey! That's not fair. I'm the sick one here."

"Oh, I think that we will quickly conquer your illness, young man. You won't be sick for too long."

"Wait! You don't even have an accent," Ray noticed.

"No, only when I've been back to India for a while, visiting." He quickly changed back into a very thick accent again. "Then, it is all I can do to be understood by my colleagues and nurses, you see. It is a difficult habit with which to be breaking."

"Raymond, I think you've met your match, son," said his father while trying to control his laughter.

"Okay, I'm afraid we do need to get serious, though."

Dr. Molhotra spent the next hour going over the next phase of treatments with the Carltons. He did say that, except in rare cases if Ray is too weak or there is need for an especially long treatment, they could go home each weekend, at least until his immune system was affected negatively.

"Doctor," asked Ray's dad, "Is there any way to guesstimate how long until he's in remission?"

"Certainly. But Mr. Carlton and Ray," he said patting Ray's hand, "We won't really be able to make an intelligent estimate until we have some information on how Ray's body will respond to the treatments. That could take weeks or even months."

"Um, months?" asked a nervous boy.

"Hopefully, after our first round of treatments we'll know much more than we do now. But Ray, even after you're in remission, you'll probably undergo treatments at certain intervals to make sure we got everything. That could mean a year or more, but it certainly won't be anything like what we're about to start today."

"Oh boy," Ray said softly.

"Oh, come on. You're strong. You'll do just fine. You may be a bit tired some days and even a little nauseous at times, but you'll do just fine."

"Double 'oh boy'," Ray said, arms crossed and settling back into his bed.

"Okay. Let's begin. Get up and put this johnny on," he said, tossing the piece of cloth at him that would cover up the boy's front, at least.

"Oh, Mr. Carlton, did I mention that it would be fine with us if you brought Ray's pajamas along for him to wear from now on?"

"What!?" said the boy.

When I was in the service, there was nothing as important or as satisfying as... Mail Call! Well, it was satisfying if you got something. I was fortunate enough to have a wife that loved to correspond. She'd set up a writing desk and had some fancy paper and envelopes. I thought it was pretty silly until I received my first letter from her when I was stationed in Iraq. She'd write me about three times a week. Of course, I loved reading them, but I wasn't writing to her. After the first week with no replies, she sent me stationary and a pen. By the end of the second week she'd inserted a page with several questions listed, under each of which were several multiple choice answers with a check box next to them. Things like, 'How are your meals? One, Yuck! Two, Okay, I guess. Three, pretty good. Four, Fantastic!'

I laughed and laughed at that. Of course, I filled it all out and, before putting it in the self-addressed, stamped envelope she sent, I even wrote to her on the back of it. Then, I was pretty good about writing to her once a week or so.

So, I was fortunate to get frequent letters at Mail Call. I could see the hurt on those guys that got few, if any, during our stay. Some of the guys didn't even stick around to hear names being called, until . . .

I mentioned it once to Vivian and in the next letter she asked me their names. I thought that was strange until they started arriving. From then on, at least once a week, each person in my squad got a letter from someone. It was usually someone different each time, but it didn't matter to the men. I found out from Vivian that she gathered a group of ladies from her church and they'd pass out names and each would write to their 'name' about what was happening in their home, the USA. As time went on, Vivian would ask me for more information, like when they had birthdays, where they were from; things like that. I had my corporal, Jason, send her the information. He thought it was a great idea.

Okay, I told you that so I could explain 'Mail Call' at the McGill residence. We always got a ton of coupons and veterans mailings, requests from charities, and endless ads, oh, and bills, of course. Rarely did we get anything of any great importance or interest. Well, wait. Elliot sent away for a periodical of some kind that was filled with trivia and scientific information that, as far as I was concerned, didn't do a thing to make us any better off than we were. But he enjoyed it.

So, when six letters came, each addressed to one of the boys, in a handwriting that was almost discernable, we were all as curious as could be. It was Elliot that opened his first and read the names at the bottom of each of two pages. They were signed by Paco and Louis, who we knew as Lica. My boys had received letters from the two little brothers that had run away from their home in Guatemala and who we found hiding at the campgrounds several weeks before.

The boys couldn't have been happier. The fact that they were completely in Spanish didn't seem to faze them in the least.

Elliot looked up at me and whined, "Pop, could we go over to Enrique's and get him to translate them to us?"

"Yeah, Dad. I don't get any of these words," said AJ.

"That's 'cause they're in Mexican, dufuss," squawked Jeffy, the know-it-all, it seemed just then.

"That's Spanish, Brainiac," retorted Elliot, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Elliot, while that's a good idea, may I make a suggestion?"

"Of course, Pop."

"Well, why don't you invite both Enrique and Jose over and have pencil and paper ready so you can write down what they translate so you'll always have it. Then, maybe they will translate your letters back to the boys. Oh, I think Matias may like to be included since he was so instrumental in helping the boys."

"I like it, Pop. I'll go over and ask, okay?" Elliot replied, standing up.

As I was nodding my approval, the other two boys stood up and asked to go too. They were off like rockets before I had the words out of my mouth.

"Sure you ca . . ."

Lewis wanted to go too but he wasn't too good about jumping up to his feet yet, or at all.

Instead, Lewis and I got out a selection of canned sodas and some snacks for the guys when they returned. I just assumed they would bring our neighbors back with them. It was early enough in the day that it shouldn't conflict with a meal. I also got out several sheets of computer paper and some pens so they could write, both the translations and their letters back. Then I got out more paper because Lewis grabbed up the first batch and what wasn't slobbered on was pretty well wrinkled.

"Pop, Matias is still at work, but Jose and Enrique are on their way," explained Elliot when my boys returned, unaccompanied.

"Yeah, and Dad, they have letters too! Isn't that neat?"

"That certainly was thoughtful of those two little ones, wasn't it?"

Very soon, in walked Enrique and his brother, Jose, with big grins on their faces and similar envelopes in their hands. They all moved to the dining room table and Jose, the oldest among them, took the lead.

"If yours are like ours, you'll see that they are very similar. But they're so cute to have done this, it was so sweet of them. So, first let's read one out loud and you can write its meaning as I translate."

Each letter was written on wide lined paper with pencil. One of them, Paco's, was several sentences, while Lica's was only about two printed sentences long.

"Yes, they are very similar," said Jose, scanning Elliot's letters.

"Yes, so is Jeffy's, Jose, except ours have a few extra sentences, thanking us for translating for them at the camp," said Enrique, looking up from the paper he held.

"But, what's it say?" asked AJ, my patient one . . . Not!

"Yeah, guys, what's it say?" asked Jeffy.

"Ha! Well, they say it's good where they are and stuff. Wait, let me read it," said Jose, smoothing out the letter in front of him.

All the guys started to gather around him until he and Enrique looked up and smiled at them, making them realize that they couldn't understand anyway by looking over their shoulders. They sat back down, except for AJ, who would have just fidgeted anyway.

"Yeah, okay," admitted Elliot. "Um, go ahead. We're listening."

"Okay. Oh, Enrique and I will write out the translations and give you guys a copy later. 'Kay?" asked Jose.

"Perfect. Thanks," said a smiling Elliot.

"Okay, Paco writes, 'Dear amigos, um, friends, do you remember us? You helped at that camping place many days ago. I am Paco and one of the oldest. Lica is my brother and a little guy. We want to write to thank you for how you took good care of us. You fed us and bought many wonderful things, like shoes for Lica when his feet hurt. Your papa helped his feet to heel. He feels real good now.

"'We live with Martha and Senor Bernie. They take care of us and are very nice. A lady named Barbara comes to visit often to see how we are doing. She found Martha and Senor Bernie for us. We have many new clothes and even some toys, but mostly for Lica. I'm older.

"'So, thank you so much for your grateful help. Please hug your papa for me. He gave me a hug and then I got many more from everyone. It was my best day.

"'Adios for now. Oh, here is our address. Write us too. Oh, how are Cesar and Humberto and Cristian doing? We miss them the most and also you.'

"Then it's signed by Paco," finished Jose.

"Wow!" sighed AJ. "I'm really, really glad that they have neat parents now. I mean adult people they live with, but it sure makes me miss 'em."

"Yes, they were sure cute back then," said Elliot.

"Okay, okay, what's Lica's say," asked AJ.

"Well, his is short, of course, but cute like him," said Enrique. "He says, 'Hi, I am Louis or Lica. Remember me? Thank you for taking care of me and my brother and my friends when we came to the USA. We are real good and happy, but I miss my mama and my papa. Paco will say more. Bye for now, Louis or Lica.'"

"Very cute," agreed Elliot.

"Hey, they aren't that far away. Well, okay, over in the next state. Maybe we could get Pop to drive us and visit sometime?" said Jeffy, looking over at me, standing in the doorway with Lewis.

"Hey, yeah, Dad. Can we?"

"I suppose. I think we need to write back so we can contact his hosts and ask them for permission. I think it was very nice of them to let the boys write to you so soon."

"Why?" asked AJ.

"Well, it takes time for a family to come together and feel comfortable with each other. Think about it, AJ. It seemed like months before we could even hug each other."

"Ha! True. So?"

"So, to be able to have the security of their relationship with one another to be able to let them write is a very good sign that they are settling in well."

"O-o-oh," said Jeffy. "I get it. They aren't scared or anything that they'll lose 'em. Huh?"

"Or just make it harder to bond together. I think it speaks highly for their new family."

"Wow, Pop. I sure am happy for the boys. I hope the other three found just as much happiness," said Elliot.

I left the boys to talk some more and write their letters to send back. I looked at the envelopes and found that the one from Lica had a printed return address from Bernard and Martha Hargrave. I decided to include a note to ask if we could visit sometime when it seemed appropriate to the Hargraves. I also wanted to thank them for their willingness to take in the two brothers. Paco had written out their return address. He was older, you know.

It seemed like a while since the two Fuentes boys arrived that they all walked out of the dining room with big smiles on their faces. Lewis and I had moved back into the living room.

"Pop, could we have some envelopes to mail our letters to the boys?" asked Elliot.

"Sure. Second drawer on the right in my desk, Elliot. Elliot, please get me one too. I want to write to their hosts and ask when a good time would be to come."

"Oh, wow!" shouted AJ, jumping into my lap. "Thanks, bunches, Dad. That's so neat!"

"Umph! Well, it won't be soon, I can tell you that."


"I have to recover from your enthusiasm. You're not getting any smaller, young man."


"Ya mean, young pipsqueak. Huh?" added Jeffy.

"Um, Pop, what about contacting the rest of the group to see if they received letters as well?" asked Elliot.

"That's a fine idea, Elliot. Do you want me to do that or should you guys decide how to go about it?"

"I think we can handle a few phone calls, Pop. Though we may need help to arrange translators, maybe."

"Good point. Let me know how I can help. The phone book is in the drawer in the kitchen under the wall phone."

Almost immediately AJ jumped up and ran to the phone.

"I'll call the Perkins! 'Kay?"

"Okay, pipsqueak. You yell any louder and you won't need the phone," laughed Jeffy.


As AJ was dialing he looked into the phone with a strange face.

"Hey, Dad, I think someone's using our phone. I hear someone like . . . Denver?"

AJ had evidently picked up the receiver to call out just as it should have been ringing. And there was Denver listening to AJ dialing in his ear.

"Wo-ow! That was so weird, Denver. Guess what happened. Oh, you do? Oh, yeah. Anyway, I called to say . . . Hey! Why'd you call me?"

AJ finally got a little quieter and was soon walking back into the living room to report. Denver and Melvin had indeed received letters from the boys and were a bit frustrated at not being able to read them. AJ had mentioned Enrique's and Jose's help and said I would call and make arrangements with Dan or Ralph to get them translated.

One of the funniest things was watching Lewis trying his darndest to follow AJ into the kitchen. He'd roll onto his back then continue onto his tummy. Then you could see his determination as he tried to raise himself onto his hands and knees. He made good progress too. He was well off his blanket and would have gotten farther if he hadn't run into the coffee table. We were all rooting for him and I only had to tell Jeffy once to let him try on his own. That was fine until he met with the coffee table. He had words with it that, luckily, we couldn't repeat, but we sure did laugh.

Soon each of the boys had made their calls to various boys from the campout. Several had also received letters by then. The rest received them in the next day or two. That was sure special for the little guys to go to all that trouble.

Ray returned from the hospital with his dad late Friday and the boys insisted on being there when they drove up. Frankly, we were all a bit shocked when we saw him get out of the car. He looked pretty ashen and seemed to struggle just to stand up. I overheard Ray, Sr. tell Imogene that this session really took a toll on the boy. I also saw tears roll down Ray's mother's cheeks.

"Wow! Nice, guys. A welcoming committee. I was only gone the week, ya know."

"Yeah, but we figured you'd need our help gettin' around since ya had all that juice and stuff dumped inta ya," answered Jeffy.

"Probably," said Ray. I think he was really struggling to keep his cool in front of his friends. I can guess that he didn't realize how much this first session took out of him, at least in appearance.

"I'm glad it went well, Ray," said Elliot, moving to grasp Ray under his arm. "I know it must have been hard, but I'm sort of glad. Maybe it will make it go faster."

"Let's hope so. By the end of the week session I was pretty well wasted. Ha! Only another year ta go!" he said, shoving a fist into the air, though with very little strength.

Besides knocking him a bit off balance, we all gasped when we heard one year.

"Okay, that's for the whole course of treatment, Raymond," his dad explained. "Some of that year will be follow up exams and some will be preventative sessions, just to make sure they got everything. And there's no guarantee that a year will do everything. We won't know for several weeks or even months. Actually, Dr. Malhotra said he was doing very well."

Both Imogene and I looked at Ray, Sr. with some disbelief, considering it was only his first real session and far too early to tell anything if they even bothered to do any tests after his treatment.

Ray, Sr. nodded to us as though he knew what we were thinking. Then looked over at his son and smiled, though weakly.

The boys helped Ray into the house. Not because he couldn't do it by himself, but because they were being silly and made a big deal out of it all. They were all laughing so hard by the time they got into the house that I was afraid they'd all fall down and hurt Ray.

"Tim," said Imogene Carlton, stopping to take in the sight of those goof balls, "I still can't get over how your boys can restore life in our Raymond. He does so well around them."

"But, honey, we need to be sure that he doesn't overexert himself. He needs to proceed slowly or he'll get sicker."

"I agree," I added. "I'll call off the gang and we can have that talk with them. They'd feel horrible if they caused Ray to have a setback."

Still, the sound of their laughter that permeated the inside of the house, as we entered behind them, was almost infectious.

The summer rain had been persistent. It started right after breakfast and had lasted much of the morning, so far. The boys were primed for water, only the pool kind, not the rain kind. So, in my living room were four boys and a baby dressed for the pool. All of them had on just their swim suits, with towels stacked close by. The weather was hot but they weren't allowed to go out in the rain. I'd heard some thunder earlier and forbid them to go out until the rain stopped. They were, to say the least, of one stubborn mind as they waited out the storm.

Lewis was on a blanket and Jeffy was trying to keep him on it. The little guy had learned how to turn over and was very proficient with his newly acquired talent. Jeffy and AJ were laughing at him as he'd try and then plop over, almost scaring him each time. Then he'd let out one of his cutest laughs at how well he did.

Enrique and Elliot were seated on the couch with a chess board between them and only looked up from their game when they heard the boys laugh at Lewis.

I sat peacefully enjoying my newspaper, thinking of all the gardening I couldn't get to because of Mother Nature's mean streak. I secretly thanked Mother for getting me out of my least favorite chore.

I'd just read an article about some exotic vacation site and thought that maybe the boys would enjoy a trip somewhere, say Disneyland, Universal Studios or Dairy Queen. So I asked them.

"How would you guys like to go on a trip, like our camping trip, but somewhere with better rooms and places to eat and fun things to do?"

"Whaddya mean, like to another state or somethin'?" asked Jeffy.

"I think he means like maybe a hotel that's near something fun like an ocean or an amusement park. Right, Pop?"

"Exactly, Elliot. Have you ever thought of such a trip?"

"Wow, Dad, that'd be so cool. Where would we go? Is there something like that we can go to?"

Now, surely, I thought, these boys would have seen advertisements about Disneyland and such places. I knew there was a water park near the big city north of us, the one where Ray's treatments were being performed. So I was a little confused that they acted like it was totally foreign to them.

"Um, Tim, my family once went to a park that had many rides and things, not unlike the fair, but these were fancier and were there all the time," Enrique offered. "I remember we stayed with my uncle to save money and we only rode a few rides. But it was fun. I'll ask Papa where that was if you like."

"Wow, Enrique, could you?" asked AJ, becoming excited.

"Thank you, Enrique. Maybe we could . . ."

"Wait!" said Elliot. "I don't want to go."

"What?" exclaimed Jeffy, sitting up quickly. "You don't even know where it would be and . . . O-o-o-oh, you don't want to leave your lover behind. Right?"

There was a sudden heat wave emanating from the couch. Both boys were a bright red and neither head moved from a sudden need to concentrate on the chess game. As the moment passed, and I'm sure it seemed like an eternity to the two, Elliot finally answered his brother.

"No, smart mouth, that's not at all what I meant."

"It isn't?" asked the other three boys in unison, though his concern was the way Enrique almost whined it.

"Well, no, it isn't that it's . . . Listen, I don't want to go because Ray is too sick to go and I don't think we should get to go galloping all over the country having fun while he's miserable and in the hospital. We're supposed to be supporting him."

Did I ever mention how proud I am of my boys, especially when they put others before them?

"Oh, well then, yeah, Pop, I agree with El. Maybe we could wait until he's feeling better and we could take him with us."

"Hm-m-m. I see what you mean, Elliot. That's very kind of you. Jeffy, I'm afraid that his treatments will make Ray so sick and weak that he won't be able to go anywhere until the treatments are over, he's in remission and several weeks, if not months have passed until his immune system has recovered. That could literally take a year or more."

"Wo-ow," said my pipsqueak with a tear rolling down his cheek.

"Okay, we knew that would happen. And I'm sure that Ray would be overwhelmed by that kindness from you boys, but given Ray's background, I'll bet he's been to places you guys don't even know exist."

"Ya mean like the hospital he's at?" asked Jeffy.

"Well, no. I was thinking more like Disneyland or something. But I get your point, Jeffy."

We all were quiet for a few minutes. Even Lewis got quiet for that length of time.

"I'll tell you what boys, let me think about this. Maybe we can do something to combine a trip to visit Ray up north and do something like that water park up there. I'll just bet that if he knew you boys, after all you've been through in your short lives, were giving up a fun time that none of you have ever experienced, he would be pretty upset. Frankly, you've spent a lifetime earning such a trip, a vacation."

As one, I got smiles from all my boys. When Enrique saw the change in them, he smiled as well. Lewis let out a laugh and rolled back onto his tummy, then squawked at his accomplishment.

A serendipity happened just then that lightened and brightened the day for all of us. Mother Nature pulled back her curtain and the sun came pouring down. As soon as the boys noticed, I was sitting in the living room alone. They even took Lewis. I went to my room to change into my swim suit.

"Joshua, the heads of our church might have a conniption if they found out you were about to become an assistant pastor at another church, not our own."

"Oh," said a dejected young man, the phone to his ear sliding down his cheek.

He was on the phone with his mentor and professor, Rev. Dr. Alfred Carmichael. He called him to find out what the church's reaction would be to him helping at Pastor Gooding's church. But his mentor was almost like a father to him. He was always there to encourage him. So, he had a hard time believing that he would get in the way for Joshua to . . .

"But, sir," he started.

"Listen closely to me, Joshua. You were placed in a situation that was impossible for you to continue with. And, frankly, I'm glad that it worked out that way. You got a taste of what it meant for a church body to be totally devoid of reason or faith in one's God, instead, working toward their own agenda, while seeing that having such a faith as yours could work miracles."

"I did? I mean, I did."

"Ha! Yes, you did. So, I don't think we should worry about a group in offices so many miles away that are bound by the rules they've concocted about what it means to be a part of our religious organization. I think we should be concerned about what the Lord wants for your life, quite frankly, the lives of those that will be touched by your ministry to them."

"Huh? Really? I, I, um . . ."

"Well said, my young friend. I will call your new pastor and have a talk with him, but I see nothing wrong with you assisting him. You must know that you will no longer be eligible for the church's benefits and insurance. But I'm sure Pastor Gooding has answers for those questions. I wish you God's increased blessings as you finally are gifted with the work that you were meant to enjoy and to be a blessing to others as well."

Joshua had a hard time getting out the words to say good bye. He was choked up and had tears running down his cheeks when he walked into the living room of Jeb's house.

"Well, my boy, it got real quiet for a spell in there," said Jeb before he looked up at his house guest. "Hey! Did that there preacher teacher hurt my boy? What are those tears for, hangin' off'n your cheekbones, Joshua?"

Joshua didn't say anything. He just stood there long enough to begin to smile, which led to his face giving off a radiance that was impossible to ignore.

"A-a-ah. Well, it's about time you got to do some good work for this community. I see great things coming from your new church before too long."

"Thank you, sir. I, uh, I need to call Pastor Gooding."

Church the next Sunday couldn't have been more glorious. Not only did we get to sit with the Carltons, all three of them, but the Perkins clan and the two Cottingtons made a showing as well. Even Enrique was asked to accompany his boyfriend. Of course, there was no way that Jeb and Joshua would miss that day.

No one really missed Joshua after we walked into the sanctuary. He just seemed to have disappeared, we realized, when we were going in to sit. We almost made up three pews on our own. There was quite the murmuring and smiles from several of the members and many pats on shoulders and welcoming comments to all of us. I also think several people, including the organist, were expectant of Elliot's and AJ's singing abilities as well.

Still, we couldn't have been prouder when, after a jubilant prelude to prepare for the service, two robed pastors made their appearance in front of everyone.

"Dad! Look!" said AJ, a bit too loud, when he noticed who that second fellow was in his brilliant white alb and stole.

"My good friends and church family, and to all of our visitors this fine morning, welcome. I take great joy in introducing my new colleague, Pastor Joshua Christiansen. He comes to us from another church organization, but his beliefs are those of ours in a loving and gracious God and Savior, Who has gifted us with such a wonderful blessing as Pastor Joshua.

"Now, without further ado, let us begin with our opening hymn."

It took AJ at least one verse to get comfortable with the tune, but when he was up to speed, both he and Elliot held their own over much of the rest of the church. Heads turned, including the Perkins, the Cottingtons and the two Carlton men, who weren't at the previous service. As usual, there were many grateful people who came to rain their praise on both of my boys after the service.

When we walked up to both pastors at the doors, it was difficult to get to them, there were so many people gathered around their new pastor. By the time we got to Joshua and Pastor Gooding I think the smile on Joshua's face was engraved for all eternity. I happened to glance over at Jeb as we stood waiting to talk to them and he was beaming as proudly as if Joshua were truly his own son. That made it a little difficult for me to see anything until Lewis helped me by wiping the tears from one eye. Then he gave me a big hug.

"What a glorious day, my friends," said Pastor Gooding, his arm around the waist of Joshua.

"But Pastor, you didn't have him do the talking part, the . . .," said AJ, looking to Elliot for an answer.

"Sermon or homily," Elliot whispered.

"Yeah, that part."

"Well, I think we need to give our new pastor a while to become comfortable and to have time to collect his own thoughts. Besides, I wasn't going to waste the sermon I'd prepared, now was I?" he said, laughing.

"Pastor Gooding," said Ray, Sr. "First of all, thank you for leading the prayer for Raymond's healing. Second, I'm inviting all of our friends here and you and, of course, our new pastor, to our house for brunch."

"Please say you'll all come," pleaded Imogene Carlton, looking at all of us. "It would mean a great deal to us and be a nice send off for Raymond for his next week of treatments."

"Ugh," said Ray, looking at his shined shoes.

To a person, we were all on our way to their house for continued fellowship. The Perkins and the Cottingtons came as well.

Of course, I was dying to hear what Tyler thought about his first church service.

End of chapter sixty-eight

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