If you have not read The BACK STORY, EPICENTER, & A KIND GESTURE before reading about the Encounter.

Martina’s fingers played over the carved leather edges on the Bible as she opened it to the ribbon in the center.  Psalm 43:5 stared back at her:

Why so downcast, Oh my soul…
My hope is in God and I will yet praise Him my hope and my countenance is my God.

She pulled the business card for Mr. Phelps out of her sweater pocket.  She tapped it and smiled.  The Lord had been with her today.  Imagine.  That. 

She picked up the phone and dialed the ten numbers scrawled out on the back.  She had anticipation in her heart for the first time in her life.

One-Two-Three rings.  After a long pause the voice of an elderly woman swept through the earpiece of the phone.  “Martina?”

“Um… Yes.  This is Martina.  Is this Mrs. Phelps?”

“Why yes, dear, it is.  Did you get the things my Donny left for you today?”

“Yes, Ma’am.  I did. I’d like to thank you for the beautiful Bible and well, for the groceries.  Cat and I ate our last can of tuna this morning.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

“Well, I’m grateful you came in to see Donny.  His last day before retirement was a difficult one, but for some reason your case touched his heart.”

“I had no idea.  I really appreciate everything…. Uh…. The other reason I called is…. Well, Mr. Phelps invited me to come to church with you tomorrow. Is that still an option?”

“Why yes…yes.  Hold on and I’ll tell Donny.”

Martina felt a tinge of embarrassment creep into her cheeks.  The sweet muffled voice was speaking in excited tones. “Martina?”

“I’m here.”

“Donny and I will be by to pick you up promptly at 6:00 PM.  And, Martina?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t you dare eat dinner.  We’re going to take you out.”

“You don’t have to….”

“Not another word there, dear. We will be there at six sharp and we are going out to dinner.  Do you hear me?”

Martina suppressed her amusement with a smile. “Yes, ma’am.  I’ll be ready.”

“See you then.  Have a good evening.”

“I will.”

Martina stood up and shuffled her feet in the direction of the kitchen for a can of warm soup and some crackers.  Her heart did a few somersaults as she considered all she had experienced.  She saw the white, wax wrapper of the hot dog she had stuffed in her coat peeking out at her.  She walked over, plucked the carefully wrapped entree from her pocket.  She smiled down at Cat.  “Mr. and Mrs. Phelps saved our scrawny necks from this paltry hot dog in favor of a feast. What do you say Cat?”

Cat mewed softly and nudged Martina’s legs gently as he looked up out of large emerald eyes. “I think we’re darn lucky to have met Mr. Phelps, that’s what I think.”

Martina tossed and turned in the night.  Memories wrestled around in her head. She sat up with a a start before falling back onto the flat, stale pillow on her bed.
She closed her eyes praying for sleep to come again.  Her hip was radiating a sharp, stabbing pan as she tossed herself over and over hoping to find a spot of relief.
She felt the pain ease a bit before settling on her back again and closing her bleary eyes.
The visions she saw this time were strikingly real.  Her father standing at the corner after ordering her to go home. That’s when she saw him.  The man in the white shirt and jeans standing beside her.  He was the same age as her father and his long dark hair blew wildly in the breeze.  He looked down at her and smiled.  Something about his dark eyes seemed to light up her insides.  The gaze demonstrated a deep knowing. Something deeper…Love.
He extended his hand to her and she took it.  She skipped back toward the brownstone where her mother lay weeping in the floor.  Just as they rounded the corner, he hoisted her up onto his shoulder and she giggled with delight.  “Let’s play!”
He jogged down to the park on the corner and pushed her on the swings before taking her back to the steel safety door just outside the stairwell.  “See you tomorrow, Tina?”
“Who are you?”  The tiny voice sounded familiar. 

“My name is Joshua.  I’d like to be your friend.”
“See you tomorrow, Joshua.”
The bleating alarm clock next to her head startled her awake.  “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Tina.”
The voice she heard now was exactly the same as in her dream. “Joshua?”

“Yes, beloved.  It is me.”
“Why have you come to see me now?”
“I told you yesterday that I never left you.”

“Yes, Tina, I’m here.”
“If you’ve been here all along why can’t I see you?”
“Because, Tina, you stopped believing in me that day at the doctor’s office. But, I have never left you.  I’m still here.”
“Joshua, why did you tell me you are my father?”

“Because I am.  I’m your Friend.  My name means salvation and it is also…”
The sharp buzzer of her doorbell startled her back to reality.  
She hustled up out of the bed and slid her trembling arms into her robe. She checked her bed-head look in the mirror before grabbing the brush on her bureau and placing her feet in the warm, fuzzy slippers beside her bedroom door.  
She cautiously peered out the peep-hole and unbolted the door and opening it as far as the chain would reach.  “Hello?”
“Are you Martina Duncan?”
“Yes, sir.”  The delivery man was dressed in brown.  He held a large golden envelope in his hand.  “Can I help you?”
“I have an express package for you.  I need you to sign for it.”
Martina exhaled heavily and tried to stem the tide of rattling nerves she felt coursing through her veins.  “Hold on.”
She shut the door back and removed the chain from its perch on the door.  Once she opened it again she realized the gentleman was from a local messenger service.  
“Here you go, ma’am.”
Martina took the stylus and did her best to scribble her signature on the touch pad in front of her.  The messenger smiled and handed her the package.  She smiled weakly and retreated to her chair to see what awaited her inside.
She sat on the edge of the recliner’s seat and rocked back and forth as she read the name of the law firm printed in embossed lettering on the back of the envelope.  She turned it over once more and discovered that the package was indeed addressed to her.
She pulled at the flap that was sealed in the back and pulled out the finest linen paper she’d ever seen in her life.  The same embossed lettering graced the top of a well written letter in an elegant font.
Dear Miss Duncan,
This letter comes to you with our deepest sympathies for the loss of your father.  He has been one of our clients for the last 20 years and asked us to forward the enclosed letter upon his death.  Please accept this letter with our condolences.  

We also need to close out your father’s business with our firm.  Would you please call the number at the top of this letter and schedule a time when we can read his will and dispose of his earthly possessions?

Again, we are deeply sorry for the loss you’ve suffered.  Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require our assistance in any way.

With warmest regards,

Signed, Andrew Lovett, 
Attorney at Law.

Martina felt a pain in her heart that left her a little confused. Her father had died.  And, he knew where she lived.  She looked at the plain manilla envelope she held in her hands.  It had her name written in her father’s hand.  
She felt the striking of her heart against her chest as she slid her finger beneath the flap and gently loosed the envelopes seal.  A handful of sheets of yellow legal paper were folded neatly inside.  She pulled it out and felt that familiar sting of rejection that had haunted her since that day on the sidewalk when she was a little girl.
Dear Tina,
I’m writing to you today because the doctors tell me that I have weeks to live.  A number of tumors have consumed my brain and my spinal cord. I could not leave this world without writing to you and asking you to do one thing. Please, Tina, forgive me for leaving you and your mom all those years ago.  
I was a confused and broken man.  I didn’t know what would make me happy then, and I could never have known the deepest regret of my heart would be found in leaving you both behind.  I realized it too late.  When I came back for you and your mom, she told me that you were better off without me and she wanted me to stay out of your life.   She said that the pain you had suffered almost had driven you crazy and she asked me to leave.  
I did.  I left that day more broken than when I arrived. I threw myself into my job at my father’s company.  He had hired me to work there after I left your mom.  He had never approved of my marrying a Native American girl and had only hired me because I agreed to leave her and disown you to find his favor.  I had no idea what that would cost me, Tina.  I had no idea what that would cost you.
I’ve stayed close to you all these years.  I was at your high school graduation and again when you completed college.  I was at the restaurant the night you celebrated your engagement to Chad.  I even stopped by the hospital the day you had sweet little Jessica.  You were sleeping so peacefully when I came into the room that I couldn’t bear to wake you.  I’ve loved from afar all these years my darling girl.  I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through.  
Then, after the accident, I wanted to come to you, but your mother once again told me that your fragile mental state would not be able to handle seeing me again.  I went away from the hospital praying that somehow you would have known I was there for you.  I asked the nurse at the information desk to make sure you got my number.  I can only assume that your mother was right.  I understand.  I do.
I was at the funeral that day.  In the back of the church, I stood silently and ached for your loss.  To lose your husband and daughter in one fell swoop that way must have torn you apart.  I watched as you crumpled into a weeping lump on the floor.  My heart ached to run to you, to scoop you up and take you away from all of that.  But, I knew that my presence would only make things worse. I left before they closed the coffins. I’ve loved you, Tina, all these years.  I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.  I’m so sorry that my decisions hurt you and cost you so much.  Please, beloved, please forgive me.
I stayed with my father’s company and built it into a Fortune 500 company.  Throwing my life into my work seemed to be the only thing that helped to ease my suffering at never having been a part of your life.  He died a few days after your 18th birthday.   He never knew you – but, you my girl.  You are going to run the company that he gave me upon his death.  I pray it gives you a comfortable life and meets your every need.  I could not do that as you grew up, but I can do it now.  I pray you will take the company and do with it as you please.  Whatever you wish to do… It is now yours.  
Andrew has the papers.  You need only to meet with him and sign them.  My heart aches as I write these words.  I wish I had defied your mother and came to you.  Loved you all these years and stood with you through all your trials.  I’m so sorry love.  I love you. 
Your Father. 
Tina wadded the yellow-lined paper and dropped it to the floor. She wrapped her robe tightly around her middle and rocked back and forth in the chair while the tear of loss and regret fell free once again.  “Why Daddy, why?”
Come back on Monday to learn more about Tina’s story.

(c) 2010 Michelle Bentham, All Rights Reserved.  This story is fiction.  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is not intentional.

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