Hank opened his eyes, feeling dizzy. He looked around – he was in his truck. Cold. Fierce headache. He recognized the remnants of an airbag in front of him. He tried to look out the trunk windows but all he saw was white. Fog? No. Snow. Falling sideways? He shook his head to clear it but that only intensified the pain. His ears were ringing and there was some kind of rushing noise outside. He just couldn’t think very clearly.
“Lord,” he said out loud. “I think I’m in big trouble here.”
He took a deep breath and put a gloved hand up to his head to try to ease the pain. What’s the last thing he remembered? His parents’ house. No, wait. He left there. Going home. Storm moving in. Couldn’t see –
But he couldn’t remember anything past that. He looked down at the remains of the airbag. Must have been in an accident. He caught sight of the hand he had lowered. There was blood on the glove. “I’m in really big trouble,” he amended, his voice slurring.
A wave of dizziness caught him by surprise and he sagged back against the seat, helpless against the intense headache that overwhelmed him.
After a while, the pain seemed to ebb and the ringing in his ears wasn’t quite as bad. The truck was rocking back and forth and he now was able to hear the wind howling around the truck. Blizzard, he thought, still a little dazed. He must be out in the blizzard.
Callie. Where was Callie? He sat up instantly and pain arced through his head and chest. He ignored it. Callie. She was coming home from Daniel’s office. Did she make it?
He thought about getting out of the truck to try to get to her, but it was only an impulse. He didn’t know where she was, he didn’t know where he was, and he couldn’t see an inch past the truck window. He’d best stay put. God, Jesus, please keep her safe! he implored.
Something seemed to vibrate against his chest. His hand went to the place and touched something hard. He tugged at it and realized it was his phone. The screen showed Callie had tried to call him.
He was so relieved he almost wept. “Thank You,” he whispered. “Thank You.”
It took a few tries, after he realized he had to take off his gloves, to get a message typed in. He had trouble coordinating his fingers. But finally he got it sent. U ok?
Callie looked down when her phone chirped and she almost fell out of her chair. “It’s Hank!” she cried.
Grandpa and Gramma hurried to her and looked over her shoulder. Callie said, disappointed, “That’s all it says.”
Her fingers flew over the phone screen. Safe at farmhouse, you ok?
She waited impatiently, but there was nothing further. Please God, please God, please God, she said over and over. But there was nothing more.
Hank saw Callie’s message and sighed in relief. That caused a sharp pain in his chest.
He was starting to feel cold. His winter coat helped, and he had Callie’s scarf around his neck. But his legs weren’t so protected.
Blanket, he’d thrown a blanket on the floor in front of the passenger seat. He tried to lean over and the pain made him yell out loud. But he knew he had to get it, so he tried again in spite of the knifing pain in his chest and managed to snag a corner of the blanket. He worked it closer until he could pull it up over his legs. Not much better, but some, he sighed.
A sharp surge of anguish cut into him. He knew that feeling, it was the same one that had driven him out of his bed in May to get to Callie. He fumbled for his phone. He couldn’t get to her now. What could he say to her that would help? Lord, what do I say?
After a moment, the emotional pain he sensed seemed to fade. Thank You, God, he sighed in relief.
He was getting tired. One more thing to do … he picked up the phone and tried to dial 911. His fingers, without the glove, were so cold and it was hard to touch the right numbers. But finally he managed it.
He heard a voice and struggled to pay attention. “What is your emergency?”
“Accident,” Hank managed. His headache was back and his strength was fading.
“What is your location, sir?”
He was feeling so sleepy. “Ware … Kansas …County Road 647 ... I think … on way home … off Dairy … Road …”
“Stay with me, sir,” the voice said sharply. “What is your name?”
“Hank … McDonald …”
“Mr. McDonald, no matter what, remember to leave your phone on. Do you understand?”
“Leave … on …” Hank fought hard to not slip away into the insistent darkness.
“Sir, what are your injuries? Sir? Mr. McDonald?”
But Hank had lost his battle to stay awake.
Hank stirred. His head hurt less than before, but he felt an intense pain in his chest each time he moved. And he felt bitterly cold. At least the truck had stopped shaking.
Breathing was painful, so he tried to keep as still as possible. He wondered how long it would be before they got to him. He wondered how long it had been since the accident. He felt so cold …
Suddenly he heard thumping noises outside and bright lights flashed over the windows. His door opened and frigid air flowed in. He heard a voice say, “Don’t worry, Hank, we got you now.” But he was so, so tired. He sighed and let sleep overwhelm him again.
When he awakened, he was in a hospital room with all sorts of things attached to him. His clothes were all gone – he was in a hospital gown and covered with a heated blanket.
Something was missing. Something important.
He tried to remember, but it kept eluding him, right at the edge of his memory. His headache started to return.
Then he remembered. Callie’s scarf. He fumbled around for a call button.
The nurse came bustling in. He recognized Kayley from their high school days. She smiled and asked what he needed.
“Scarf,” he said hoarsely.
“Oh yes,” she nodded. “It’s right here.” She went to a bank of cupboards and took out the scarf from one of them. “It was a mess, so we cleaned it for you. We had to wait until you were sedated though,” she added with a smile. “You refused to let us have it. That must be some special kind of scarf.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled, taking the scarf from the nurse. His mouth curved into a smile as he felt the soft wool and counted the colors, counted the things he had managed to do right for Callie.
As Kayley was leaving, he raised his hand and croaked, “Phone?”
“I think the police still have it, I’ll check. Anything else?”
He shook his head, smiling. Her expression softened before she turned to leave.
He decided there was nothing more he could do, and he let sleep claim him again.
He was sitting outside on the front porch of the farmhouse, a warm summer day, and Callie was holding his hand. She was safe. Oh thank You, Lord, he breathed.
He could hear the smile in her voice. “I love you so much, Hank.”
“Love you,” he told her. He felt her kiss and he smiled. Life is just about perfect.
Callie gently touched Hank’s face. The cuts had been left to heal in the open air and the bruises had darkened. A bandage covered the deep laceration on his head. Oh, Hank… Behind her, she heard Daniel say, “I guess he’ll be out of it for a while.”
She turned around. “Thanks for getting me here.”
Daniel shrugged with a lopsided smile, stuffing his hands in his pockets and looking over at Hank. “He would have done the same for me.”
She told him with an answering smile, “I’m still grateful.”
“Can I get you anything? Coffee or soda?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m fine, thanks.”
“Then I’ll go call Mina,” he decided. “I’ll be in the waiting area if you need anything.’’
She touched his arm as he passed by. “Thanks, Daniel.”
He patted the hand she’d placed on his arm. “You’re welcome, sis.”
She glowed – it was the first time Daniel had called her that, and she loved it.
Hank shifted in his bed and she turned back to him, taking his hand in a firm grip. She looked around and saw a chair behind her – she pulled it toward her with her free hand and sat down.
Callie closed her eyes and began praying again.
By afternoon, Hank was more alert and asking about his parents and grandparents. Callie assured him they were all fine. His parents had told her they would be able to get to the hospital the next day. His grandparents thought it was best they stay at the farmhouse.
She smiled at the scarf he was clutching in one hand. “You know, I’m going to have to add another stripe to your scarf.”
He looked at her in confusion. “Why?”
“Just your looking out after me again,” she shrugged, one corner of her mouth turning up. “Do you remember calling me while I was still at Daniel’s office?” He nodded. “If you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have made it to the farmhouse in time.”
He smiled, that slow warm smile that made her heart stop. “I was so happy when you told me you were safe at the farmhouse.”
She sobered and looked away as she remembered waiting for him to respond to his text. His hand squeezed hers. “What is it, Callie?”
She raised her eyes to his. “Remember what I told you the blue stripe was for?”
“Yes, you said it was for leading you to Christ.” He raised one eyebrow. “You never did explain that.”
“It didn’t matter at the time, but I think you need to know now.” She took a deep breath. “It was the day I stayed at the church to pray while everyone else went over to your parents’ house.”
He looked down at the scarf. “Well … almost everyone.”
“You were still there?”
“Yeah, I – well, I knew you were troubled about something. I didn’t want to just leave you there.”
“I was troubled about you,” Callie confessed. “You had become more distant, and I didn’t know why.”
“Every day,” he said slowly, “I was loving you more, and every day, I thought we were getting closer to the day you left. I was trying to be ready.”
Callie felt her heart drop down to her stomach. She suddenly saw herself from his perspective. How painful that must have been! And yet he never failed to put her first. Willingly. Without question.
He waited while she thought it through.
“All that time …” she said in awe.
“Don’t make me into something I’m not,” he chuckled, and winced at the twinge from his broken rib. “I just loved you, that’s all.”
“But there was more, wasn’t there?” she wondered. “The way you knew when I was in trouble … the way I could sense when you were. The way I needed you, had to be near you.”
He shook his head. “I never questioned it. To me it was all part of the same thing.” He looked at her curiously. “So you could tell when I was in trouble. I wondered if it went both ways.”
“It did,” she nodded. “And that’s why the distance I felt really bothered me. I felt – I don’t know, cut off.” She looked down. “Alone.”
“Oh, Callie –“ he pulled her toward him and wrapped an arm around her to hold her close.
“Your rib –“
“Shhhh.” He kissed her hair and held her tight.
She allowed herself a moment of comfort, then pulled back. “We’ll have plenty of time for that later,” she smiled. “You need to heal up first.”
He stopped himself from laughing and answered, “I don’t think I can wait that long.”
“We’ll figure it out,” she promised with an impish smile. Then she turned serious again. “Back to my story.”
He gave in without much effort. “Okay. You were in the church, asking God why I felt so distant to you.”
Callie nodded. “Then, when I finished, I realized Mr. Toscopoulos was behind me. He said he thought I was troubled about something and wanted to help. So we sat and talked for a while. I told you about that part when we were at the river.”
She sat back down, never letting go of his hand. “After he left, I thought about what he said and I started to understand. That’s when I left to go to my prayer room.”
“And I went on to my parents’ house. You seemed to be okay.”
“So you were waiting for me to talk first,” she teased him.
“I tried to,” he smiled wryly. “But finally I couldn’t stand it.”
“I’m so glad you didn’t wait!” she exclaimed. “That’s when I knew we still had that connection. But I didn’t get your message until later, so let me get back to my story.
“I was down in my prayer room. I was thinking about what Mr. Toscopoulos said, and I thought, I love both you and God. So why do I trust you and not God? The answer was fear. I loved you so much that I trusted you completely, and so I wasn’t afraid.
“That’s why there’s a blue stripe in your scarf. Because without you, I wouldn’t have seen what was keeping me from being closer to God.” She looked back down at her lap.
She said softly, “You need to know this too. I also asked Mr. Toscopoulos what I should do if a close friend became distant. Should I just leave the friend alone, give them space? He said, it is never good to be alone. He said, you know this – you know what you needed. He said, perhaps the friend is no different.” She looked up to see him watching her intently.
“I knew what I needed when I felt alone,” she replied quietly, “I needed you. I didn’t feel alone when I was with you. I felt complete.” She gazed at him steadily. “That’s when I realized what was missing in my relationship with God. It was love. I had to love Him with my whole heart, with all my soul. So, it was because of you that I didn’t just know what was keeping me from God, I understood how I could fix it. And that’s the whole story of the blue stripe.”