Jill Davis lives in Oregon with her husband and her cat, Muggles. She has lived in many parts of the country and served as a stringer for various newspapers in those areas. She also freelanced for Word Publishing and appeared in The Upper Room magazine. Jill writes poetry and some of her poems have been published in literary magazines. In her spare time, Jill uses rubber stamps to create greeting cards and memory books, and enjoys visiting with neighbors. This is her first, but hopefully not her last, piece of fiction.
“Jeri Byrd prefers you to me,” Melissa told her husband, Lloyd, as she brushed her long, black hair. “Haven’t you noticed how she excludes me from conversations? It’s so obvious she likes you better.”
“I think you’re wrong, hon.” Lloyd tried playing peacemaker. “Don’t you remember those cookies she brought over?”
“Those cookies were for you! I just ate a few of them.”
Newlyweds Melissa and Lloyd Baker had recently settled in Carpinteria, California. They couldn’t have found a better place to spend their first years as a married couple. Life was one continuous honeymoon with the ocean and mountains as romantic backdrops. No wonder the people who resided in the little beach town called it Paradise!
And so it was. At least until Jeri Byrd introduced herself. She lived in the condo next door and had macular degeneration. She had once been a very fastidious lady, but because she had trouble seeing, she now appeared in public with unsightly stains on the sweats she always wore. Although she was legally blind, she saw plenty, or so it seemed to Melissa. Jeri often commented how she’d spot Lloyd coming home from work, and at those times, the old lady dropped in unannounced for visits.
“What do you want me to do?” Lloyd questioned. “Quit being nice to her?”
Melissa heaved a sigh. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t make her like me, but I feel so unworthy when she’s around. Like I’m just another speck of dust on the floor she can’t see.”
“You’re taking this way too hard, Melissa. Cut her some slack.”
But Melissa couldn’t let go of the feeling that Jeri didn’t care for her. She tossed and turned that night. Unable to sleep, she stumbled into the living room and peered across the courtyard to Jeri Byrd’s condo.
“Lord, I know everyone isn’t going to like me. But I genuinely want to be this woman’s friend. Show me how I can help her. After all, she’s ninety-three years old and won’t be around forever.”
The following day, Jeri Byrd knocked on Melissa and Lloyd’s door. Melissa jumped to the conclusion that her prayer was about to be answered.
“Do you suppose Lloyd might take me to the grocery store?” Jeri asked.
“He’s not home, but I’d be glad to take you,” Melissa said brightly.
“No, I’d rather Lloyd take me. Will you send him over when he gets home?”
Melissa sent Jeri on her way, wishing she’d had the nerve to slam the door behind her. But a lone tear snagged on an eyelash instead. Jeri Byrd just didn’t like her.
A few weeks later, Melissa and Lloyd received an early morning phone call. It was Jeri. She sounded out of breath and very frightened.
“Melissa, I’ve been up half the night bleeding. I thought I could stop it, but I couldn’t. Would you take me to the hospital? I’m afraid I’ve lost a lot of blood.”
“I’ll be right over.” Melissa hung up the phone, grabbing her purse and keys.
When Melissa entered Jeri Byrd’s home, she wasn’t prepared for what she saw. It looked like a bloodbath. Apparently, Jeri had been bleeding from the nose and, in fact, was still bleeding. The house was a mess: sheets, blankets, rugs, and even the shower curtain were covered in red. Because of her poor eyesight, Jeri had even smeared blood on the walls and fixtures.
“Oh, Jeri! Let me take you to the emergency room. Do you feel faint?”
“I’m able to walk, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then let’s go. You need medical attention right away.”
On the way to the hospital, Jeri explained she had been taking Coumadin, a blood thinner, and it gave her a nosebleed. The staff at the emergency room rushed Jeri into a treatment room and eventually stopped the blood flow. They then made an adjustment to her medication and told her to see her physician within three days.
The drive home was quiet and uneventful. Jeri looked spent, like a limp dollar bill. Once inside the condo, Melissa rolled up her sleeves, pulled on some rubber gloves, and began the clean-up process.
“What are you doing?” Jeri protested.
“I’m cleaning the rugs. There’s blood all over the house.”
“Oh, you don’t need to do that.”
“Sure, I do,” Melissa said sweetly. “We’ve gotta get this up or your carpets will be ruined.”
Jeri seemed embarrassed, but allowed Melissa to clean up the mess. The old woman appeared to become painfully aware of her limitations.
Bur Melissa never gave the job a second thought. All she could think about was helping Jeri. Even if Jeri didn’t particularly care for her, she thought about what Jesus would do under similar circumstances. After loads of laundry and lots of scrubbing, all evidence of Jeri’s bleeding crisis had been removed. The condo looked nice and clean again.
Because Jeri was on a fixed income, Melissa turned down Jeri’s offer to pay her for the good deed. She squeezed Jeri’s arm. “I’m just glad you’re okay. That’s payment enough.”
Jeri caught Melissa in a grip that was surprisingly strong for someone who had just lost so much blood.
A few days later, Jeri knocked on Melissa and Lloyd’s door. “Looking for Lloyd?” Melissa asked.
“No, I came to see you. I’d like you to take me to the store, so I can get some yarn. I want to knit you a sweater as a thank-you for helping me.”
Melissa’s eyes misted over. “Oh, you don’t need to do that.”
“Oh, yes, I do. Since I can’t see, I can only imagine how my house must have looked.”
So, Melissa took Jeri shopping and asked if she could help with the sweater in some way. For two weeks, the women worked together. Jeri did the knitting while Melissa helped with the yarn and checked stitches in the event Jeri miscounted. The garment’s intricate cable knit turned out beautiful.
In those two weeks, Jeri and Melissa bonded like knit-one–purl-two stitches. Jeri discussed what it was like growing up in the early 1900s then shared stories from her life as a seamstress. She also revealed that her mother had been distant toward her while she was growing up. She admitted it affected her ability to befriend women throughout her life. That explained her seeming preference for Lloyd. Had Jeri not had her nosebleed, Melissa would have never known the truth.
A year later, Jeri suffered a heart attack and died in the middle of the night. After attending the funeral, Melissa tried to convey her feelings about Jeri Byrd to her husband. “In the last year, it’s been like we were knit together by friendship. Because of my bad attitude, I missed out on loving her for too long.”
Melissa absentmindedly pulled on her sweater. It was gorgeous and warm. “I’ll always remember Jeri fondly. Who would’ve thought I could put away my hurtful feelings like a knitting project?”
“Wearing the sweater will make you feel Jeri’s arms around you,” Lloyd said. “It was a strange way to answer prayer, but God knew Jeri Byrd wasn’t the only person who needed His help.”