Love Never Fails
Jenny inhaled and exhaled forcefully as she worked up her nerve. She had never done anything like this before, but that insistent nudging in her heart convinced her she must follow this through. She gripped the photo album in her right arm and raised her other hand to knock on the door.
Good, no one is there. She poised to turn back down the carpeted hall to make a silent escape.
“Come in.” The voice sounded so feeble that she almost missed it. She gulped and gently pushed open the heavy wooden door.
The old woman sat in her wheelchair, her head tipped slightly forward as though her neck muscles had little strength. One corner of her mouth drooped.
“Hi, Mrs. Turner. My name is Jenny.” There was no turning back now. Her words rushed out in a flurry. “You don’t know me, but I feel like I’ve known you for a long time. May I sit and visit with you for a little while?”
The woman seemed to struggle as she nodded her head. With gnarled fingers, she motioned for Jenny to sit in an upholstered chair close by.
Jenny tried to smile as she eased herself into the chair. She clutched the worn photo album and forced her breathing to slow. Unsure where to begin, she stared at her scuffed sneakers for several minutes.
“Why are you here, dear?” The woman’s crooked mouth gave her the appearance of frowning and her words slurred, making her speech hard to understand.
Jenny looked up from the floor into her faded blue eyes. “Nadine asked me to come…” She hesitated as she noticed a tear forming in the old woman’s eyes. “I mean, before she died, she asked me to return this album to you.”
When the woman didn’t respond, she scooted her chair closer to the wheelchair. “Nadine loved you very much. She planned to come and tell you herself, but before she could get away, the accident…” She reached for a tissue on the windowsill and blotted the tears from her cheeks. She retrieved another and handed it to the old woman. “Let me start at the beginning.”
Mrs. Turner nodded.
“I met Nadine at the diner where she worked. I was a scared kid. I had run away from home and only had a few bucks left. There was nowhere to turn except maybe to become a… well, you know. I had to support myself somehow.” She nearly choked on the words. Heat rose in her cheeks.
“I sat way back in the corner booth so nobody would see me.” She fiddled with a button on her sweater as she studied the floor again.
“Nadine waited on me that day. She got my lunch, then took her break and sat with me – asked if I wanted to talk.” She gave a half-hearted laugh before continuing. “She said she knew I was hungry by the way I stuffed my face. Then she shoved her sandwich over for me to eat too. As I ate, she told me she had run away from home when she was fifteen.”
A groan from the woman startled Jenny out of her reverie. “Hey, are you okay? Do you need a nurse or something?”
The old woman shook her head. “Just water please.”
Jenny got up and fumbled with the wrapper on the plastic tumbler, and poured water from the pitcher on the bedside stand. Poking a straw into it, she held out the cup. “Want some ice? I could … ”
Mrs. Turner took the glass in her right hand, shaking as she took a sip. She handed the glass back to Jenny. “Please sit. Tell me more.”
“You loved Nadine, didn’t you? She told me you loved her a lot.”
“She told you that?” A hint of wonder lifted the old woman’s voice.
“Yeah.” The tightness between the girl’s shoulders eased. “She said the two of you fought the day she left home. She said you begged her to come home, but she left anyway. Said it was the dumbest thing she ever did.”
A tear trickled down the leathery cheek. “Did she tell you I followed her to the city, to try to make her come home?”
Jenny nodded. “Nadine cried when she told me that. She said she was so scared about being on her own, but she was too stubborn to let you know.” She opened the photo album, holding it for the old woman to see. “Nadine showed me the pictures of the two of you together when she was a kid. By that time I was really missing my mom. Nadine told me I was a lot like her; you know, stubborn. Too proud to give in.”
With her good hand, Mrs. Turner stroked the photo of seven-year old Nadine in her Easter dress. “We used to go to Sunday school. My Nadine was such a good girl. She loved Jesus so much. I just don’t know what happened.”
“Yeah. She told me about that too.” She reached over and patted the old woman’s hand. “She said she got in with the wrong kids and started drinking. She didn’t want to go to church anymore. Then she met Billy. They started messing around and she got pregnant.”
“No!” The hand that held the cup trembled. Her voice was an agonizing whisper. “I didn’t know. My poor Nadine. She never told me.”
“She was afraid to tell you. That’s why she ran away. She was afraid you’d be so disappointed that you’d stop loving her. She ran away and had her baby but gave it up for adoption.”
The woman’s head drooped. Tears slipped to the album pages. “I could never stop loving her. Love never fails…”
“Here.” Jenny lifted the woman’s chin and dried her wrinkled cheeks. “Nadine read me that chapter about love in First Corinthians. She told me about Jesus. Did you know she started going back to church just a few months ago? Said she needed Jesus back in her life, because she just couldn’t live without love anymore. She missed her daughter and you so bad. She figured you probably never stopped praying for her.”
The woman’s eyes lost some of their dullness. “She did?”
The young girl grinned. “Yup. She showed me how to know Jesus’ love too. That’s how I know it was real for her.”
The right side of the woman’s mouth tilted up into a smile.
“After she got to know Jesus, she wanted to come home,” Jenny said. “Before she came, though, she wanted to find her daughter and tell her all about her grandmother.” She turned the page and showed Mrs. Turner an old photo of Nadine with her newborn baby girl, then one of the baby by herself. “She called her Gracie, after you.”
As Mrs. Turner gazed at her newfound granddaughter, joy and grief played across her face. Reaching out, Jenny laid her hand on the old woman’s arm. “Gracie is twenty-three years old now. Nadine found her and went to see her a week before the accident. They made plans to come and visit you together. She was going to call you the day she met me in the restaurant. She invited me home to her apartment because she didn’t want me to end up scared and alone like she did.”
“Why didn’t she call?” Her voice trembled.
“She never got the chance. We talked all that evening and into the next day. By that time we were both hungry so she went out to get something for us to eat. She crossed the street in front of the house and was hit by a drunk driver.” Jenny grasped the old woman’s hand and held it to her tear-stained cheek. “I’m so sorry. I feel like it’s my fault. She was going to the store to take care of me when it happened.”
The woman covered her hand with a strong grip. Jenny stood and stumbled into her embrace. They wept together. When she sat down again, she reached for two fresh tissues and handed one to Mrs. Turner.
“I rode in the ambulance with her. Before she died, she made me promise to bring you this album. Gracie’s picture and phone number are here in the back. Tour granddaughter loves Jesus too and wants to come and see you – if you want her to.” The girl’s heart pounded as she waited for the woman’s response.
“Thank you.” Tears of joy glistened in the older woman’s eyes.
Jenny rose to leave, wanting to give the woman time to digest the news.
“Jenny, what about you?”
A smile trembled on the girl’s lips. “I stopped here to see you on my way home. Mom’s waiting in the car for me. She said she loves me and never stopped praying for me…”
Mrs. Turner smiled her crooked half-smile as she caressed the photo of her granddaughter. “Love never fails…”
© 2006 by Bonnie Winters