Two days after Jan's resignation, Reverend Charlotte Robinson received a phone call from Dr. Hamilton Davis, perhaps the most respected member of the Almond Springs community. Doc Davis asked if he could meet with her later that day at the cottage on Little Lake. "I bet you didn't know that I go up there too," he said, making reference to Charlotte's weekly trips up to the lake to write her sermons. "It is an ideal place to reflect and pray," Charlotte said, "What do you want to talk about?" "I need to ask a pastoral favor of you," Doc responded playfully, "You'll see."
As Charlotte drove up to the lake, she speculated about what Doc had in mind. Doc Davis was not only a leader in her congregation, but he was also one of the two Town Council members backing a housing development project called Almond Glen. Charlotte had too much respect for Doc to think he wanted simply to lobby her. "It must be that he wants to get me to speak freely outside the public eye," she concluded.
Charlotte found two cars parked out in front of the cabin: Doc's beat-up blue Bronco and another familiar car that she could not place. She went inside, deposited her purse on a table and walked out back. There she saw Doc sitting at the picnic table with Hazel Moore even though the temperature had dipped into the thirties.
Hazel was a hidden gem on the Church Board. Charlotte noticed that the Board often followed Hazel's advice without actually paying attention to Hazel herself. Her counsel rarely had an immediate impact. But twenty minutes after she spoke, the Board often ended up right where Hazel had said they should be. Charlotte decided that Hazel and Doc would make a formidable team if they were on the same side of an issue.
As Charlotte approached the picnic table, Hazel and Doc were looking over the frosty lake and talking in hushed tones. Charlotte shook hands all around and then sat on the bench with her back to the lake. Doc began almost before Charlotte could settle herself.
"I want to tell you a story," Doc said, while Hazel shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "The week after Vic Vargo's death, Hazel called me at the office. It was Thursday because that's the day that I send my nurse Velma home early." He paused and took a breath. "Hazel came into the office and sat on one of the examination tables. 'How do you feel today?' I said. She was staring at the floor. She said, 'Something has been going on for a long time that you need to know about.' Then she looked right at me and said, 'I feel the same way you do.' There were tears in her eyes. I stood there with my mouth open. And then I started to tear up. So I sat down. Then she put her hand on my knee and I started sobbing."
"You see, for a long time I have had a special fondness for Hazel," Doc continued, "I was sure no one else knew. I admired the way that she helped her husband through his problems and the way that she raised the girls after he died. And then the last few years I watched her care for people when she thought no one was looking. I told myself that if I could ever marry again, I'd want someone like Hazel. Then a couple of things happened. I found out last summer that my ex-wife had died a few years ago. (You did not know I had been married. That's OK, no one in town knew. I was very young.) And then when Vic died, I took it pretty hard. But Hazel sat next to me at the service. I thought at the time it was a coincidence. But, of course, I was wrong. We talked for awhile. But I did not dwell on it. I'd been fond of her for a long time. I had no idea that she had figured me out. Then she came to my office that day. We've been spending time together since then. And now we are planning to be married in February and we want you to marry us."
Charlotte was speechless for a moment, her mind racing to make all the connections that Doc described. 'Hazel and Doc want to marry,' she thought to herself, 'There aren't any ecclesiastical issues involved because both of their spouses have died. But how do you do pre-marital counseling when two of the wisest people you know decide to marry each other?' Charlotte realized she had to say something. "I am so happy for you. I will, of course, do whatever I can to help. And I'd be honored to perform the service. May I ask who else knows about this."
"We'd like you to announce it on Sunday during church," Doc Davis said. "Right now no one besides Hazel's children know. I should probably tell Louis - but he is too much of a showman to keep a secret. Hazel's children know -- oh, I said that -- but none of them live nearby." Tears formed in Hazel's eyes, and she said softly, "I wanted to say something for a very long time. But I did not think he needed me. I thought I was the only one who felt the loneliness. But then Vic died. I saw a look in Doc's eyes and I knew the time was right.." By then everyone was teary. Doc looked hesitantly at Hazel and then said, "May I tell her about the first night?" His fiance nodded.
"Don't tell anyone what I'm gonna tell you because they might not understand. But that first night we had dinner together and then we went home to my house. And she spent the night with me. Now I'm not talking about hanky-panky. We simply held each other. She knew what I needed. How could she know when I didn't know? And then, you know what really got me? In the morning after I made breakfast, she picked out a suit and tie and said, 'This has always been one of my favorites.' That's when I lost it. I had to sit down I was so overcome with emotion. She knew. She knew me. That's when I asked her to marry me." They were all silent for a few moments. And then Charlotte said, "You two will be very happy together."
"I finally have someone to share my sense of responsibility," Doc said. Charlotte was a bit puzzled. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You probably don't know why I am in favor of the housing project," he said. "I think of it as a health issue. I see in my office each day the debilitating effects of economic decay on our community. The best thing I can do to make this town healthy again is to bring back the jobs. And if it means sacrificing a little land to do that, so be it. Hazel understands that sense of responsibility for the community. And she feels it too."
The three talked some more. And then Doc said he had to get back to his patients. Everyone headed for their cars. But Charlotte had a hard time focusing on the road as she drove down the mountain.
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