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Helen Blows Up
Helen spun around in her seat, and got up on her knees, peering over the back of her seat. There was only one nondescript car behind them, and it was slowing down to take an exit they were just passing.
“They blew out your back window, and just left!”
Cody continued to drive on, staring at the road, thinking hard. Helen was staring at him. “What are you going to do?”
“I haven’t an earthly,” he said. “Find another windshield repair place probably. We have another two hours to Annapolis, which leaves us plenty of time.”
The car was silent for a moment, except for the sound of rushing wind past the back window. Cody’s phone suddenly chirruped loudly. He pulled it out of his jacket pocket, and handed it to Helen. “What’s it say?”
She fumbled for a few moments, trying to get to his texts, but when she got there, she looked up in amazement. “It just says, ‘Pull the article.’ That blast was a warning for you.”
Cody was scratching his chin, muttering to himself. What he was muttering was “not Sommerville.” He had always considered his boss to be an irascible and unreasonable human being, but he did think of him as a human being. And he also thought of him as a convinced Christian of some order. “Not Sommerville,” he said again.
Helen was glaring at him. Finally she said, “How do you rate?” Cody looked over in surprise. “What?” he said.
“I said, ‘How do you rate?’”
“What do you mean?” He was genuinely startled.
“I mean that threatening you by blowing out your windshield is the lamest thing ever. Over what? Over how many thees and thous were in the original book of Ephesians?”
Cody shook his head, and started to take the bait. “Well, that is a gross simplification of what my article was saying, in the first place . . .”
Helen interrupted him. “And simplified or not, what would it matter?”
Cody’s eyes widened some more, and they had already been wide. “Why, you’re jealous,” he said.
“Am not,” she retorted. “Ridiculous. What would I be jealous of?”
Cody laughed out loud. Everything came into focus. “You’re jealous because you were the one that somebody was trying to kill, and now I have caught up with you. Now somebody has threatened to kill me, and this has radically leveled the playing field. The score is now tied.”
Helen swore at him, and he laughed again, which made her angrier.
“Getting shot at is not some kind of contest, you dope. What kind of sense would that make?”
“It makes no sense at all,” he replied. “It shouldn’t be a contest. So why are you jealous? I was not arguing that it made any kind of sense. I was just saying that you were jealous.”
Helen sputtered for a moment, and then said, “I’m not talking to you anymore. Makes no sense to talk with you if you are going to be like that.”
And so they drove in silence for the next forty-five minutes. Helen was furious for the first ten minutes or so of that forty-five, and then in a state of absolute emotional churn for the thirty minutes after that. She had grown up with three younger brothers who all adored her, and she had a doting father on top of that. And so she had figured out, very early on in her life, that outbursts of temper were the best way to steer things in directions more to her liking. Her mother saw what she was doing, but really didn’t have the wherewithal to stop it. Her father and brothers didn’t have any idea of what was going on. And no one in the family had connected their indulgence of her fits and tempers with the fact that she had walked away from the faith, not to mention the Fremont Bible Chapel, in her first year away at college. She had told herself that it was the rigors of scientific inquiry that did her faith in, but it was actually the fact that she was looking for a wider scope for her passions and piques. She thought her loss of faith was intellectual, but it was almost entirely emotional.
Cody just drove on in silence, eyes on the road. He didn’t seem angry or upset at her at all. He was just driving along, eyes on the road.
When her churn started to subside, she finally—after some hesitation—broke the silence. “No need to fight,” she said.
“I agree,” he replied. “No need.”
“I am sorry for my outburst,” she said after another moment. “Apology accepted, and thank you,” he said.
Another mile marker flashed by.
“Aren’t you going to say you’re sorry?” She asked. This is what had always happened with her brothers. When her behavior had been so egregious that she knew that an apology was needed, she would offer it, and then level things up again afterwards by getting her brothers to apologize also. And they always did. The male Greenes were a species that valued keeping the peace in the household very highly.
Cody, on the other hand, had only done that one time in his life. He had been ten years old, and had gotten into a skirmish with one of the neighbor boys. It was the other kid’s fault entirely, but afterward, the boy had provoked Cody into apologizing also, as a way of settling their peace treaty. Cody’s brother had been a witness to the whole debacle, and when the story came out that night at the dinner table, Cody—to his great astonishment at the time—found himself taken down to the basement and switched. For lying to the neighbor kid.
After the whole thing was over, his father, a gruff concrete worker who went by Hank, took him by both shoulders, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Son, I don’t want you to ever apologize to somebody just because they say to. If you owe them one, don’t make them ask. You should be there ahead of them. And if you don’t owe them one, then your apology is not anything with them. It is trying to put things back together on the foundation of a lie. And lies always collapse under any weight you try to put on them.”
Cody had never forgotten that, and it had become one of the guiding principles of his life. He didn’t know it, but it was the reason why he had refused to pull his article. The roots from that tree his father had planted for him were all over his front yard. And this is why, when Helen asked him if he was going to apologize to her, he shook his head no. “No,” he said. “I don’t think I wronged you in any way. I would be happy to consider whether I did though. I will think and pray about it.”
Helen turned away with a little exclamation, and stared out the window for a time. She felt something going on inside her that mystified and scared her. She was appalled by, and powerfully attracted to, something.