Thanksgiving had come, and Mom requested the turkey be ready to slow roast in the horno after the bread was done baking. But, unlike other folks anticipating the upcoming holiday, I had to go out and catch our turkey.
The gobbler had become a formidable fellow, now in his prime. In the Spring he'd been a rather homely little chick, but in five months he'd become a strutting, blue-headed, red-bearded wonder.
I found him posturing up and down outside the chicken run. There were no female turkeys around, so Gobbler strutted in vain. He held his wings out away from his body, stiff and arched around himself, to double his size. The longest feathers on his wing tips scraped the dirt for added effect.
“You never saw anything as big and bad as me,” Gobbler said with every slow and dramatic turn in his egotistical display. In the Spring, I'd recommended Mom just let me shoot a wild turkey for Thanksgiving. However, she wanted a fat, young turkey, not a tough, old one.
“Gobbler, tomorrow is Turkey Day—and you know what that means,” I announced, careful to not look at him.
A bird always looks at your eyes, to see what you're after. In this way, they can judge whether or not they're in danger. I realized this one day when I was trying to catch a certain hen, and the rooster kept getting between us, protecting her. He could tell I was looking at that hen.
So on this day, I knew better than to glance at Mr. Gobbler. I spread a lasso loop made of baling string out on the ground and sprinkled some scratch corn in the middle of it. Then I retreated a distance away, holding the rope-end of my trap. I looked away and hummed a tune. Without hesitation, the young, fat gobbler sauntered over into the lasso on the ground and began pecking at the corn. I pulled the rope quickly, catching him around the feet.
And so Thanksgiving dinner became a possibility with the demise of an arrogant male turkey.
The plucked and dressed turkey was cooling in the well house sometime in early afternoon when I stopped to check the phone messages for no reason in particular. I wasn't expecting any calls, but apparently Jeremy had called only minutes before I went out to the truck. The message was unclear, but he sounded worried.
I sat in the truck and called him back.
He answered immediately,“Will! It's a bad news.”
“What is it, Jeremy? Is Molly all right?” I had to relax my hand around the phone, lest I damage it from squeezing too hard.
“You guessed it, my friend; she's in trouble. The second paper was published. Dr. Meir was fired and it seems like they will not let Molly graduate.”
I waited for the rest of the story, expecting to hear Molly was in danger of going to prison or being sued, but Jeremy did not say anything else.
“Are you there, Will?” he asked.
“I'm here. Sorry,” I said. “Is that all? She's not in trouble other than that?”
Jeremy laughed on the other end of the phone. “I guess it's not so bad to you. Molly's education means a lot to her, and to her family. Her dad is not happy.”
“He can't hurt her though, can he?” I asked, realizing it was pretty terrible news for Molly.
“She's talking to him right now on her phone. He won't let her come back to her home. She has to leave the dorm, and the school property. They told Molly. . . well, it's a long story. She feels like she needs to leave right away.”
“Just like that?” I asked, running my fingers through my hair in consternation. “Can't she fight it?”
“Molly said they've hinted that if she retracts her research, and says she was wrong, they might give her a degree. But you know Molly. Her dad says she has to obey the school, and he's really angry. She doesn't have anywhere to go.”
“Oh,” I said, realizing the implications of Jeremy's story.
“Is she okay?” I asked, stalling for time.
“She's angry about it,” Jeremy assured me. “But I think, also scared. Can you come?”
I didn't know what to say to this. I hate being forced into a move. I like to plan everything and make proactive decisions—not reactive decisions. However, I was beginning to realize that, like it or not, life is going to have a few desperate moments when there is no time to plan or prepare beyond the choices I've already made.
“Okay,” I replied to Jeremy. “I'll call her. Thanks for letting me know.”
Before calling Molly, I went to Dad's office, and told him what Jeremy had said. He turned his back to the computer, and leaned back in the chair with his arms behind his head.
“We're part of this,” he said when I had finished recounting what Jeremy had told me. “We made ourselves a part of Molly's research and Mike's recovery.”
“She might never have done it without us encouraging her,” I agreed, nodding my head.
“Oh, I'm pretty sure she would have,” Dad chuckled. “She's got courage in spades. But we helped her. We're part of where she's at now. I think you should go get her. She can stay with us, if she wants to.”
So I returned to the truck and called Molly. The phone rang and rang and she never answered.
What should I do? I wondered, dialing her number again. Still no answer.
I cranked up the truck and drove out onto the forest road. Dad would tell the others where I'd gone. Now that I'd made up my mind, I felt a surge of impatience, willing the distance behind me. I glanced at my rearview mirror and had to adjust the angle; Anna had been playing in the truck cab again. I caught a glimpse of my own face; I looked worried and tense. I willfully relaxed my brow, and relaxed my grip on the steering wheel.
Two hours later I topped Nine Mile Hill and looked down on the city of Albuquerque. Evening was falling and the lights of the city sparkled against the Sandias. The thought occurred to me that I had no idea where Molly would be, or where I should go. So I called Jeremy again. He was outside Molly's dorm building.
“I'm praying,” he announced, sounding breathless. “I can't help. If I went in there, her dad would freak out more.”
“Is that him I hear in the background?” I asked, hoping Jeremy would say no.
“He's shouting at her,” Jeremy affirmed. “If he hits her, I'm going to go in there and carry him out. Her mom is just as bad; she's giving Molly a guilt vacation.”
“You mean, a guilt trip,” I said, too worried to laugh.
“That's it,” Jeremy agreed. “It is a bad mess for Molly. Where are you?”
I told him where I was, and he gave me directions. I resisted the urge to ignore the speed limits in my haste. Thankfully, rush hour was over.
As I drove up outside a large, old college dormitory, I saw Jeremy pacing down the sidewalk out front. He appeared to be talking to himself, and his gestures were animated. There were tears in his eyes. In spite of my worry for Molly, I smiled. I'd seen Dad look just like that when he was praying. I was glad Molly had a friend like Jeremy watching out for her.
“Thank God, you're here!” he exclaimed when I parked the truck and jumped out. From where we stood, I could hear both of Molly's parents talking and Molly crying. “I can't stand to hear her crying,” Jeremy said in a low voice.
“Molly,” I heard Billy Flynn announce firmly, “they say the Irish are lucky. But I'm telling you lass—it's perseverance and the will to fight that makes us lucky. It's never giving up, it's fighting until we win—that's Irish luck. Make me proud, Molly. If you give up now, it'll shame us all.”
“Stop!” I heard Molly beg. “Just—stop. Doesn't it mean anything to you that I'm your daughter?”
“You're too young to understand the consequences of what you're doing,” Molly's mom answered. “It's not fair of you to only consider yourself in this decision. Think about how this will effect your father and I. We were so proud of you, and now, I won't be able to look my friends in the face anymore.”
“You've got no place to go but here, Mol,” her dad interjected loudly, trying a different tactic. “As your father, I'm ordering you to submit to your authorities. The Dean let me know, in a round about way, that if you make a public retraction of your paper, he will consider letting you graduate. You can't throw away all the money I've invested in you, Molly. I won't allow it.”
“You haven't spent a cent on me!” Molly shouted in reply. “I've made it all the way on scholarships and part-time jobs. You sent me out on my own when I was seventeen and now you're pretending like I can't come back to the home I don't have anyway!”
Mr. Flynn roared in anger and I heard something crash and break. I jumped in alarm and ran up the steps and opened the door without knocking.
A broken wooden chair lay on the floor of the entry room, and Molly stood barricaded behind a pile of suitcases and a guitar.
“Will!” she exclaimed. Her eyes burned like the light of a blue star in her white face.
Mrs. Flynn stood in the middle of the room between Molly and her father with her hands outstretched as though to keep Mr. Flynn from passing her to get to Molly. Mr. Flynn's face was as red as Molly's was white. He was panting in fury with his arms flexed and his hands clenched in fists. He reminded me of the male turkey, and for a moment I almost smiled. All three of them stared at me in surprise. The room was silent except for the sound of Mr. Flynn's heavy breathing.
I glanced around the room briefly and nodded cordially toward Molly's parents. Then I turned to Molly and picked up her two largest suitcases.
“Are you ready?” I asked cheerfully. “Let's go.” Then I headed back through the door, glancing over my shoulder to encourage Molly with my glance.
Molly's mouth was open in shock, but she reached for her guitar and a small bag and followed me out the door, throwing a worried look over her shoulder as she hurried down the steps.
We were on the sidewalk when Mr. Flynn started shouting at us. I ignored his profanity and loaded Molly's suitcases into the back of the truck. In the corner of my eye I saw Jeremy watching us at a distance, and felt reassured that if it came to blows, he'd be there to help me. Mr. Flynn, in his rage, was not a man I wanted to tangle with.
“Molly! You can't do this to us!” Mrs. Flynn sobbed hysterically, wringing her hands together before sagging against the front steps as though she would faint. “How can you do this to your own parents? You're throwing away everything we've worked for!”
“No,” Molly said, swinging her bag into the back of the truck. She turned to look at her parents and her gaze was compassionate, but firm. Her back was straight and confident. She lifted her chin and looked at her parents for a moment and both of them fell silent, waiting for her reply.
“I'm throwing away a lie—a lie that you have swallowed without a second thought. I've tried to tell you a hundred times, but you don't care. And if you don't love me more than your own pride, then there is nothing left for me here.”
The Flynns stood with their mouths ajar, watching as Molly turned toward me and began to walk down the length of the truck. Neither of them had asked who I was, or where she was going. I felt invisible, standing there watching the scene unfold.
As Molly walked past her Dad, he reached out to grab her. I saw that the veins in his face were standing out with rage. Molly screamed and ran, leaving her jacket in her father's hands as she fled. He continued to reach for her and with a feeling of dread, I stepped into his path. At all costs, Molly should not be manhandled.
Molly stopped running and watched us wide-eyed from the passenger side of the truck.
“Will!” she sobbed. “Don't! He'll kill you.”
“I'll kill you!” Mr. Flynn roared. In slow motion, I watched his left fist coming toward my face. I noticed he wore a ring with a setting, like a class ring.
There was plenty of time to dodge it, but in my mind I heard a voice say, “Take the blow. Roll with it, but take the blow.”
I don't know if it was my own mind, reasoning that someone had to pay a price, or if it was God revealing the way of wisdom to my inexperienced mind. I saw the red, angry face of William Flynn, twisted and glistening with sweat, his powerful shoulders pushing his left fist toward my face, and his large belly swaying to one side as his momentum threw him toward me. All of these things were burned into my mind just like I burn names and addresses into the cedar wood plaques I sell at the flea market.
Then his fist reached my face. I turned slightly, and the blow glanced off my right cheek bone, the impact still forceful enough to leave me feeling dazed. The ring on his finger cut through the skin, and I felt the sting of the cool evening air in the open wound.
I heard Molly and Mrs. Flynn scream as blood gushed from my cheek and ran down my chin, dripping onto my shirt. I fell backward, and caught myself on the closed tailgate of the truck. Mr. Flynn staggered with the momentum of his punch, the weight of his belly, and fell over on the sidewalk.
I saw Jeremy running toward me from behind Mrs. Flynn and I shook my head “no” at him. He came to a stop, watching me questioningly. I bent over to pick up Molly's jacket, which lay on the asphalt. I held it away from me to keep the blood dripping from my face from staining it. Then I walked around the truck to the driver's side door.
Mrs. Flynn crouched beside her husband on the sidewalk, where they both stared at me with something akin to fear and awe. I'm not sure why; maybe it was all the blood, maybe it was my own fearless and resolute reaction. I glanced across the truck at Molly who was looking at me with tears running down her face.
“It's all right Molly. Get in the truck, please,” I said gently, smiling at her. Wordlessly, she opened the door and climbed into the truck.
I glanced back at the Flynns and said calmly, “My name is Will Morgan. Molly is safe with me.” Then I got into the truck and pulled away from the curb.
Jeremy stood by the road, a broad grin spread across his face. He lifted his arms like a soccer referee announcing a goal. In spite of the tension and sorrow of the moment, I laughed and waved as we drove past him.
We stopped at a drugstore and bought butterfly bandages and peroxide. Back in the the truck, under the lights of the drugstore, Molly tried to clean me up and apply the bandages. We were both shaking so much it was hard to get the little winged bandaids on straight. Molly kept laughing and crying at the same time.
“I can't believe he hit you,” she said again and again. “I can't believe you let him hit you. Oh, what a nasty cut! You're going to have a scar. He has a terrible temper. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Will!”
Tears coursed down her face as she dabbed the blood off of mine with a wet wipe held in her shaking right hand. I reached up and captured her hand.
“I'm okay,” I told her. She finally quieted down enough to look at me. “Breathe,” I said. “Just breathe and relax for a minute. My cut doesn't hurt at all, and I don't care if it scars. How are you? Are you okay?”
Molly sat still, looking down at my hand, surrounding hers. A small smile quivered on the edges of her mouth and I realized how personal the moment had become. But I didn't let go of her hand.
“I think so,” she answered. “I think I'm in a bit of shock.” She looked up. “I can't graduate after all,” she said in a small voice. “I was so close.”
“You can still graduate,” I answered. “You can have your transcripts transferred to another college and have that third article printed that you and Dr. Meir worked on. It's not over, it's just getting started. Believe me. You're going to be famous, Molly.”
“What school would accept me, after this?” Molly trembled. “And what good would it do?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, resisting the urge to wipe a tear off of her cheek with my free hand.
“The system is so corrupt. I knew there was corruption, but I thought it was minor or avoidable. . . but it's everywhere. It goes to the top. The things I've read lately—Will, you can't imagine how dirty it gets.”
“I can imagine,” I said. “That's why we live the way we do. Who can make war with the beast?”
“Is that a quote?” Molly asked.
“Yeah, by a guy imprisoned for political crimes33. Let's get home.” I let go of her hand and backed out of the parking lot.
“Home,” Molly repeated and the tears began to roll down her face again.
“Never mind, honey,” I said softly, “Just rest a while.”
It was completely dark. The headlights of the truck lit up the interstate ahead of me and the road was clear of traffic. I wanted to call Mom and Dad, but I'd taken the phone with me, so there was no talking to them until we got home. I knew part of Molly's tears were due to being completely worn out. We were scarcely out of the city when her head sagged forward and I knew she'd fallen asleep. I put my arm around her and pulled her head over onto my shoulder.
I drove home in silence, thanking God for Jeremy and his loyalty to Molly and our family. He was a good man. I hoped he would not have any trouble.