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When the West Sets in the East

By Danielle Maxwell

 

The bell above the entrance to Whit's End jingled. Few customers noticed as a white, balding, older man stepped in, pale brown eyes looking towards the front counter. John Avery Whittaker stepped from the kitchen, a hand towel in his hands, Eugene Meltsner chatting in his ear.

 

"The simple ramifications that could improve your dishwasher, Mr. Whittaker, would improve efficiency and save you much more time and money," Eugene said, a look of glee in his eyes, a twinkle shining bright.

 

"Hello Tom," Whit called, walking to the end of the counter that Tom Riley stepped up to, a gentle smile on both of their withering faces.

 

"Salutations, Mr. Riley," Eugene nodded, standing beside Whit.

 

"Howdy, Whit, Eugene; I bring news."

 

"Running for mayor again, Mr. Riley?" Eugene questioned jokingly.

 

"Very funny, Eugene. No, I'm selling the Timothy Center."

 

"You're WHAT?"

 

Whit gave a sad smile to Tom, nodding. They had discussed the option three weeks before. Tom had been praying and thinking about the decision for some time. It had finally come to giving up the old farm and work he'd created and nourished for so many years for God.

 

Eugene stood shell-shocked, not believing his ears.

 

"And Richard?" Whit asked with realization dawning on his face about the one person who would be affected the most apart from Tom.

 

Tom's face fell, a mournful look overtaking the smile. He slowly shook his head.

 

"I don't know how to tell that poor boy I've decided to move on. I don't think he's even hinted to the suspicion of the selling of my beloved farm. I can't just tell him and move on though. He's in a rough patch as it is."

 

Whit could tell Tom was torn. He was old and couldn't handle the center's demands as well anymore by himself ever since the Shepherds had moved to Pennsylvania. It was time to hand it over to someone who could work it better and more fully, be more productive.

 

But there was also the trouble and worry of Richard Maxwell. He couldn't kick the young man out. He had nowhere else to go; and to top it all off, he was in the midst of a bad diagnosis of MS.

 

"Wait, Richard doesn't know?" Eugene snapped out of it, staring unbelieving at Tom.

 

"No. And I'm struggling to figure out how to tell him."

 

"The truth and a hand to hold might be a good start," Whit offered.

 

Tom was silent. Was it really that easy?

 

Richard Maxwell walked along the creek, kicking stones, with hands deep inside his pant's pockets.

 

Things were grim. At age 25, MS had surfaced. One year was now down. One year beating down an enemy that was continuously at the forefront of the battle, attacking and not relenting. He had suffered small attacks occasionally, fighting back with corticosteroid treatments every other week. MS was unyielding, unfortunately. Richard could only partially hear out his left ear and his right foot was numb from dawn to dusk. It made the tasks he performed daily around the farm and center difficult, but he pushed on.

 

He'd been given a room by Tom Riley when he'd escaped Chicago, and his horrid diagnosis, back to Odyssey. He had no money, since he'd used it to find out what was wrong with him. Tom had graciously given up a room for help. The next few months held surprise after scary surprise as Richard met up with skilled doctors to handle his disease and still give him the freedom to live a normal life.

 

Now things just didn't seem to fit anymore. While his disease was under control, he'd happened upon news he wished he hadn't heard. Tom was selling the farm.

 

Richard stopped walking, standing still, the creek faint in his left ear, the world slowing in his right. He closed his eyes, taking in his surroundings by memory. The trees stood tall, the water cold and swift, and the ground below his feet was warm from the sun that shone between small drifting clouds in the blue sky. The world almost seemed perfect. But from what Richard had experienced and what was to come, it held far greater evil than it seemed possible in the scene he stood immersed in.

 

"Now what is going to happen to me?" Richard wondered out loud, slowly opening his eyes.

 

Nature had no answer for him.

 

That night, while the horses dozed, the chickens clucked around, and the wolves howled in the distance, Tom lay awake, his mind ceasing to let go of his ongoing dilemma.

 

Richard, I've got something to tell you. No, no, no... My friend, I'm getting old? No, that sounds all wrong too. Why is this so hard? How bad can it really be telling him I'm selling this place?

 

It was as if God decided to answer that question at just the right moment. The wind seemed to come out of nowhere, rushing by the window and whistling through the cracks. Tom sat up, taking a deep breath.

 

Okay, bad enough. I feel so sorry for him though. He has MS and he has no place to stay. Oh, God, what will I do?

 

God didn't send wind again. There was no immediate answer.

 

Tom sighed. He slipped out from between the sheet and blankets, slipped his feet into his slippers and stood up. He had decided to take a walk around the farm.

 

What will happen when I tell him? I'm scared he may give up on his will to live. There is nowhere to turn for him.

 

He started with the barn. Rachel and Leah, Tom's beloved horses, neighed softly as he neared with carrots in his hands for each of them. Little Joe wanted one too, neighing louder than his two barn mates.

 

What if I don't tell him? No, I can't do that. I'm not heartless. He's a part of this farm, this family for the time being. This is happening now, not later. I have to tell him.

 

Tom gave the horses their treats, rubbing their necks as they chewed happily. If only life was as simple as they seemed to make it out to be. But with life, decisions came every day, and it just happened this one decision was making Tom weary.

 

God, I'm at a loss. Where do I find the courage, let alone the words, to give this news?

 

The quiet of the morning gave new rise to Richard's spirit. He didn't know when Tom would break the news, but he would be ready regardless. As he walked down the stairs to breakfast that morning, calm washed over him. Yeah, things didn't look absolutely great, but he was alive, still walking, and, for the time being, had a place to stay.

 

Tom stood making breakfast when he heard feet on the stairs. After a long night awake and wandering the farm, Tom had still not resolved his trouble. The only thing he'd managed to do was successfully discover a way to keep Richard out of the street. But then there was the trouble of there being a part of him that wanted to just tell him the absolute truth and hold his hand, as Whit had suggested. But there was another part that told him he had to find another way. But what other way was there? Tom sure was puzzled as to how he should resolve his predicament.

 

Richard entered the kitchen, quiet as usual. He went to the cupboard to get down two bowls, two plates, two cups, and then fetch two sets of utensils. As he set the table, he let go of his difficulties. He figured he could just forget he even had MS; not to mention, his soon eviction.

 

Tom brought breakfast to the table and sat down, realizing it was now or never to spill the truth. "Richard?"

 

Richard finished setting the table and sat. "Yes?"

 

Tom noticed that Richard was calm, a trait he hadn't observed in the young man before. Was it possible it was just God's perfect timing?

 

Tom inhaled slowly, letting the words flow, "I've come to a decision that I have been thinking about a lot lately. As you can tell, we're a little short-staffed around here and it's not easy running a full center with just three people. So I have come to the decision of selling the farm and center to a respectable group that have offered a good deal of money and have promised to keep the Timothy Center up and running so that the work I started here would still continue. As I can only see fit, part of the money given by the company for these lands should go to you. Not only will you have the ability to find a home, but if any further medical needs come up or the continuing need gets worse, there would be money left over to help in either case."

 

Richard stared at Tom. He had known the farm was being sold, but part of the money going to him? That was unexpected.

 

"I? I don't know what to say, Mr. Riley."

 

"I know it is sudden. You've only been here a year. But I'm not getting any younger, and things can change in an instant for either one of us regarding our medical needs."

 

"No, no, it's not that? The money? I don't know if I can take that, Mr. Riley," Richard said slowly, letting it all sink in. Was this real?

 

"It'll be of more help than you just sitting here working off your room and board. Don't worry about any of it. Money is only a tool in this process. You don't seem so shocked about my announcement about selling though," Tom said off, wondering why it wasn't a surprise.

 

"Truth be told, I already knew. I just didn't know when you'd bring it up to me. Someone from H&S had shown up, wanting to see the farm. They mentioned you were debating about their offer of selling the farm and center. I didn't know if you'd say yes or no though."

 

Tom smiled, shaking his head. "Should have guessed. Just don't worry about the money. I certainly don't need all of it. You're in more need than I am."

 

Richard nodded, feeling better about his situation. He wasn't out in the cold anymore. He would find another place and live on with life. MS couldn't stop him.

 

Tom offered Richard breakfast. The two chatted about the center and the farm as they ate, two friends having fun as Tom's heart felt a burden lift. Problem solved.


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