Courting Catastrophe, a true story, won second place in last year’s NTCW Conference for Adult Novel/Short Story. My baby bump will be turning 18 in January!
The gun was small and black. It looked plastic.
A party raged in the apartment next door—music blared, people laughed. Oblivious to the nightmare transpiring in my living room. My mind sprinted forward, sorting through the possibilities of how the next few minutes could play out, while my body melted into the couch, overloaded with the mental pictures my mind produced.
I should yell. Run. Do something.
Instead, I froze—acutely aware of each hammer of my heart, each prolonged breath. My hands slid down the soft terrycloth robe to cradle the small, round bump over my stomach.
Lord, please, protect this baby.
“Get on the floor!”
Kevin—if that really was his name—staggered forward, nothing like the man we’d chatted with this afternoon. His hand trembled, but at close range, he probably wouldn’t miss.
My husband, Pat, sat on my left and our friend, Judy, on my right. A TV mini-series played in the background. Next door, the music cranked up a notch, loud enough to drown out gunshots. Laughter floated through our screen door as people came and went from the party. If any of them came close enough, they would have a clear view. Of us. Of Kevin. Of the gun.
But no one did.
How long had Kevin been here? Minutes? Hours? Days?
Lord, please, protect this baby.
Pat moved off the couch to stand in front of me. Kevin lunged forward, smacking the gun against Pat’s head hard enough to send him to his knees. I slid off the couch beside him and locked my panicked eyes with his.
Kevin knelt, placed his knee on Pat’s neck and grabbed my left hand. Diamonds sparkled under the light and I understood why Kevin had come back.
My finger, already swollen from the pregnancy, throbbed in his rough grasp as he tried to wrench the ring over my knuckle. When it got stuck, he rocked back on his heels and shoved his glasses back up his nose. Sweat dotted his forehead. He wiped his face against his shirt and pushed the gun into my cheek. It was cold and hard and didn’t feel at all like plastic.
“Please.” My voice shook as I held my hand up. “I can get it off.”
Kevin pulled the gun back a few inches and stared at me with unfocused large black pupils.
I licked my finger then twisted and pulled until the ring finally slipped free.
Kevin snatched it from my hand, stood and backed toward the door. Hesitated and shifted his feet. Brought the gun back up. “Down on the floor! Face first.”
Judy and I obeyed. Pat grabbed my hand and squeezed. Afraid to rest on my stomach, I rolled slightly to the side.
Why had we put the ad in the paper about the moving sale? Why had we let Kevin in our apartment hours earlier to look at our furniture?
We invited death to our door.
Would he kill Pat first and work his way down the line? What would it sound like? Would I feel it or just slip away? Would this baby be with me in Heaven right away?
Lord, please, protect this baby.
There were so many things to wrestle out, but no time to work them through. Half curled into a fetal position, I waited, wanting it to be over.
I glanced up, careful not to move my head. Kevin rummaged through my purse, pocketed my wallet. I stared at his shoes—black sneakers, white laces, Nike stripes—watched him walk closer, the gun hanging at his side.
I closed my eyes again, entirely powerless to save my child.
Lord, please, protect this baby
The Nikes shuffled back a step. “Get up. Lock yourselves in the bathroom. Come out, you’re dead.”
Pat quickly pulled me up, pushing me into the bathroom, locking the door after all three of us were inside. I slumped onto the edge of the bathtub. Dizziness spun around my head and my legs went numb.
The screen door slammed and after a moment, Pat carefully turned the door handle and peeked out. Kevin had disappeared.
It was over.
Hours later, my heart had yet to settle into a regular beat. My stomach tightened and rolled. Tea wasn’t helping. Neither was rocking back and forth on the edge of Judy’s bed, but I was grateful she asked us to stay with her tonight. I was never going back into that apartment again.
Our seminary friend, Brent, sat in the rocking chair across the room.
“I’m not ever going back inside the apartment.” The teacup wavered in my hands. I put it down on the nightstand.
“It’s okay if you don’t.” Brent rocked a moment, his hands on his knees. “But later, when you can breathe again, remember that you weren’t alone tonight. Jesus was with you.”
“Was He?” I hadn’t felt Him there.
The rocking chair scraped along the floor as Brent dragged it closer to the bed. “He was. I’ll show you. Picture yourself back in your living room.”
I shook my head. “I can’t.”
Brent leaned forward and pulled my hands into his. “Close your eyes.”
After a few deep breaths, I closed my eyes. I was back in the apartment. I watched Kevin pull open the screen door, reach into his black jacket and pull out the gun.
My eyes snapped open. “It’s too real. I’m still there. I’m trying to forget this day, not relive it.”
“Close your eyes and look behind Kevin. Jesus is standing there—completely in control. He’s whispering in Kevin’s ear. ‘You can wave that gun around, but I won’t let you hurt them. They’re mine, not yours.’”
I closed my eyes and tried to see Jesus.
But all I saw was Kevin.
Six weeks later sun streamed through the glass window in our hotel room, bathing me in a rectangular glow. After stretching along the large, soft bed, I looked at the clock—9:00 am. Moving day was tomorrow.
These last six weeks, the hotel had been my safe haven—a gift from God, complete with maid service and a breakfast buffet. Miraculously, we were moving to Colorado! Pat received his transfer papers the day after the incident. As part of his relocation package, the company agreed to put us up in a hotel on this end of the move, rather than on the Colorado side. I hadn’t set foot in the apartment since that night.
Dressed in jeans and his favorite Packer’s sweatshirt, Pat stood by the bed. “We need to go back and get anything that’s important to you because the mover’s are putting our stuff into storage.”
I rolled away from him, burying my face in the pillow. “You pack.”
The bed dipped and his hand rested on my arm. “Lori, please. Just walk in, pick up what you want and then we’ll leave.”
I was safe here in the hotel. I didn’t want to go back.
Pat rubbed my back through the covers, leaned over, and kissed my neck. “Get dressed. Ride with me.”
I shook my head.
He whispered in my ear. “You can wait in the car and boss me around through the window.”
The mental picture made me smile. “Fine. But I’m not going in.”
Pat parked in front of the apartment, kissed my cheek, and disappeared through our front door. The police had never caught Kevin—I wasn’t sure they’d ever really looked for him—and in the back of my mind I wondered if he would come back. Suddenly, being in the car alone didn’t feel safe. I opened the door and heaved my pregnant body off the seat.
I only got as far as the sidewalk before I congealed on the concrete.
Birds sung. The sun shone. And sweat trickled down my back. Staring at the front door stole my breath. My hands flew to my belly. The baby kicked, pulling me out of paralysis.
My foot slid forward and pushed against the screen door. The TV remote lay on the floor where Judy dropped it. Pillows were piled on the couch. My slippers peeked out from under the glass end table. Everything was the same—as if we walked away and hadn’t come back—exactly like we had.
How many times had I begged that night—Lord, please protect this baby? And He had. But I was still afraid.
My ring finger tingled. It felt naked without my ring.
I inched forward and paused where Kevin had stood. What had he been thinking that night? Had he come here to rob and kill us and then changed his mind? Had there been a plan at all? Or was he too high to think anything through? What drove someone to do what he had done—meeting with us earlier, sharing about his fiancée, fabricating such an intricate story? Had there been any truth to his words?
My legs trembled. Before they gave out, I made it to the edge of the couch and closed my eyes. I could still see Kevin in front of the door—gun lifted, black jacket hanging open, greasy ponytail. My breathing quickened. I squeezed my hands into fists and thought about what Brent had said.
Jesus was standing behind Kevin. Jesus was the one in control.
And then suddenly I could see Him behind Kevin—glowing and full of power, filling the room with warmth and peace. Tears slid down my cheeks.
My hand flattened on the couch, the fabric soft against my palm. The other hand rested on my stomach.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
I erased Kevin from the picture and left Jesus standing there alone.
The fear wound into a tight little ball, growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared. “Thank you for protecting this baby.”
My eyes flew open and fell on the front door where the sun entered and brightened the room. Grateful for the baby’s life, all our lives, and for the peace in my heart, I smiled.
I pushed off the couch and went to help Pat pack in the bedroom.