Alex - Chapter 21 




Promptly, at one forty-five Pastor Berger came into the guy’s dressing room to pray with us. He was smiling a relaxed, confident, heart-warming smile. I was smiling the kind of nervous smile that left one wondering if I had gas.




“It’s nearly show time gentlemen. I trust you’ve all used the men’s room, and are ready to witness one of the most beautiful miracles on earth – when a man and a woman are united to become one flesh.”


Phil shook his head, like he still couldn’t believe what he was about to see.


“Let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father…”




At ten minutes to two, we all made our way to the ante-room door where we would make our entrance at two o’clock sharp. I stood for a minute, and then suddenly decided that I’d better use the men’s room one more. Phil told me when I returned, that he thought I had chickened out, and was just getting ready to come and drag me back to the church, even if it meant hog tying me.


He was still rubbing his arm where I punched him, as we walked through the doorway and stood before a hundred and fifty-three guests.


I forced a nervous smile onto my face as I watched the bridesmaids slowly promenade down the center aisle of the church.


The song ended, and the praise band began to play Household of Faith. That was the song Bill and Dottie Henderson had used for their own wedding almost twenty years ago, and the one that Beth Ann and I had chosen to make a statement about our commitment to each other.




“Here we are at the start committing to each other…”




The sight of Beth Ann as she entered the sanctuary with everyone in the room standing to their feet, made me feel dizzy. My dad told me after the wedding, that when she stepped into my view, all his doubts about us were erased in an instant. He said he had never before seen me smile like that.


“By His word and from our hearts
We will be a family in a house that will be a home
And with faith we'll build it strong…
“We'll build a household of faith
That together we can make
And when the strong winds blow it won't fall down…”




Beth Ann, now standing in front of Pastor Berger, caught my eye when the band sang those words. We knew there would be strong winds that would try – in fact, if no cure was found, would knock us off our feet, one day, but we were ready to face life together – as friends – as life partners – as two people committed to honoring and respecting each other until…


We had debated whether or not we would use the words “until death do us part.” I felt like it was a morbid reminder of what lay ahead for us. But she insisted that that was part of the package. “No one knows when they’ll breathe their last breath,” she had said. “What if I get cancer and you’re the one who has to take care of the baby and me,” she emphasized. “I want to know that you’ve committed to taking care of me to the end.


“And besides, what if your tests come back negative? You don’t know that you even have it for sure.”


“As one in Him we'll grow and the whole world will know,
We are a household of faith”



She was every bit as stunning in her white gown as I had imagined she would be.


“Who gives this woman,” Pastor Berger asked, looking at Beth Ann’s dad, “to wed this man?”


“I and her mother do.”


I glanced over at Beth Ann’s mom. She was clutching her “significant other’s” hand as her ex spoke those words. She hadn’t wanted us to even invite him. And then when we told her that we had asked him to give away the bride, she had threatened that she wouldn’t even come to the wedding.


I looked at mom, sitting with Cecil, and staring at dad and Donna, like she was jealous of her. I prayed that Beth Ann and I would never experience the pain that our parents had felt when their marriages fell apart. I prayed too that we would be able to raise our child without loading him or her down with all the extra baggage that the two of us seemed to have brought with us into this marriage.




The entire ceremony seemed surreal. At least up until the point where Pastor Berger told me “you may now kiss the bride.”


I realized I had been nervously thinking about tonight when everyone suddenly got quiet, like they were waiting for something.


Alex,” he whispered again, “kiss Beth Ann.”


I think that’s when I woke up to what I had done. Beth Ann saved the moment by reaching up, cupping her hand behind my head, and pulling my face toward her waiting lips. They were soft and moist. I guess I sort of got carried away, because next thing I knew, some people began snickering, and I heard the padre whisper “save some for later, you two,” while he turned us toward the gathered witnesses.


“Lady’s and gentlemen, I present to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Daniel Harper.




The next several hours were a whirlwind of activity. Greeting guests, photos, a ride in a limo to a park for more photos, the meal, more photos, more greetings, and finally we were off to a hotel for our first time together since I fathered our child.


After a lot of discussion about what we would do if the tests came back positive, we had decided to use urethane condoms. Supposedly, they were more durable, as well as more dense, reducing the chance of the virus reaching her body. Still, I was scared – so scared in fact, that we didn’t need any protection that night. We were both disappointed.


Miss Sally had paid for our wedding trip as her “little gift” to us. She had been so pleased with herself when she figured out that I actually was the “Allen” that she had been praying for. She was sure that her prayers and hard work had saved the pervert, who had tried to rape a fourteen year old kid right there in her church, from a life of sin – and now that I was marrying a girl, she just had to celebrate God’s answer to her prayers in a special way. She also gave us “a little” spending money to go along with the trip tickets. What a blessing she is to us.




The next day we flew to the Caribbean, and checked into our hotel room. Let me just say that I was over my nervousness, and much relieved that what had happened our wedding night had nothing to do with the fact that Beth Ann was a woman. I had no idea I could enjoy being in bed with someone of the opposite sex as much as I did that week. Her love was totally different than any of my previous experiences – more gentle, and surprisingly to me, very satisfying. She was a great kisser and liked to snuggle, which is something I also loved to do. Even on the beach, we lay next to each other and let everyone around us know that we were in love. Amazingly, no one gave us those disgusted looks, like they had given me and Caleb the time we went to the shore for our senior class “outing.” That was kind of cool.




Too soon, it was time to fly back to California, and begin the rest of our life – the one where we live happily-ever-after. Beth Ann and I had rented a small apartment near school, so I could finish my senior year, while she stayed home with the baby. I was told that the first year of marriage, a couple can live on love. I certainly hope that’s the case, because aside from some school loans, I had no idea how my part time editing job, and any odds and ends jobs that Beth Ann could managed to pick up, would pay our bills.


Monday, I anxiously headed for the campus mailroom to pick up our mail. The letter from Dr. Grogan’s office felt like a leaden weight in my hands. I waited until I got back to our apartment to open it. Beth Ann and I prayed and asked for God’s grace before we opened the letter. Not that he would make the results magically say what we wanted them to, although, that’s what we were both hoping for, but rather that we would be strong enough to do his will no matter what the results were. The letter simply said that my test results were back, and that I should schedule an appointment at the clinic to review them. It was Monday, and the earliest they could see me was Thursday afternoon.


“Why can’t they just tell me the results in the letter,” I pined to my sweetheart.


“We’ll have to be patient, sunshine. Maybe they’re negative, so there’s no reason to rush you in.”


I wanted to believe her, but since the beginning of the honeymoon, I had had a growing sense of uneasiness in me, like I knew the answer to the question before it was asked. Beth Ann noticed my angst, and took my hand in hers.


“Hey there, fella.” I looked up at her. “It’s gonna be alright. We’re in this together – forever. Remember?”


I sighed, and went into the bedroom to get ready to go to work.




Thursday finally arrived. First Pastor Berger, and then Bill Henderson called to pray with us over the phone before we went to the infirmary. Beth Ann had scheduled her monthly check up for the same day, and so before I got my news, we watched our baby doing summersaults in Beth Ann’s belly. It sure looked like a girl in there. But then, that’s what they had told mom when they were watching me twenty-one years ago. I was so not going to make the same mistake that she had. Our child was not going to go through the same things that I went through, just because of an ultrasound photo. But she really did look like a girl.


We were still smiling when we got to Dr. Grogan’s suite. Beth Ann grabbed hold of my hand with a viselike grip when she noticed Dr. Grogan’s dour mood.


“Have a seat Mr. and… Mrs. Harper?” he said noticing the shiny new wedding bands we were wearing.


“Yes sir. Saturday’ll be our two week anniversary.”


His serious expression betrayed his kindly congratulations, as he opened my chart.


“Alex, I’m afraid I have some rather bad news for the two of you.”


I felt the room begin to spin out of control as he began to explain to us the fight that I was up against. About the only ray of hope that he could give me, was that with proper exercise, diet, and medication, there was a very good chance that I would see my child reach adulthood – and that with any luck, there would be a breakthrough in the research, and a cure would be found.


“Make no mistakes about it, though, Mr. Harper, you and your wife are in for a tough journey.” Then turning to Beth Ann, he asked, “I trust, you’ve been tested?”


He asked us if we attended a church, and when we told him that we did, he said that although he himself didn’t hold to any religious beliefs, new studies were indicating that people who pray, and have others praying for them, seem to respond better to medical intervention. Then he spent the next fifteen minutes discussing treatment options, exercise regimens, healthy diets, and behaviors and habits to avoid. Basically, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, and don’t have sex – for sure, at least not unprotected sex. Aside from that we could have all the fun we wanted.




It was unfortunate that we met Phoenix as we were leaving the infirmary. I say unfortunate, because after receiving the news that I had just received, I didn’t need another bomb dropped in my lap. He looked like he was half stoned. He had lost a noticeable amount of weight over the past few months. I stopped him, to say hi, while Beth Ann drifted across the path to chat with someone she knew.


His eyes were unfocused as he stared at me.


“Phoenix, what’s goin’ on?” I asked him.


“Nothin,’” he stated rather dreamily.


“You’re not lookin’ too well, man, you’d better take better care of yourself,” I told him, for lack of anything better to say.


“What for? I don’t give a rip about anything anymore. After I got the bug, Shawn got scared and left me. He was so afraid that I’d infect him. …and then when I found out I gave it to you, I quit caring about anything. I hate God for doin’ this to me. I may as well get stoned, and let a wave take me out… at least I’d be happy when I go.”


“What are you talking about? What do you mean you gave it to me? I thought you told me before, that Shawn gave it to you. …and besides, I didn’t get it from…” but before I could finish telling him what I thought, it dawned on me that Eddie had told me that he was negative – and even though his words hadn’t registered in my brain before now, I was sure that that was what he had said. I didn’t know what to say, but finally asked him how he could possibly have given it to me – I mean I didn’t think you were supposed to be able to get it by just doing oral, unless you had an open sore in your mouth – which I hadn’t, the night he and Shawn talked me into joining them.


“It wasn’t Shawn,” Phoenix meekly whispered. He’s not even positive.”


I raised my eyebrows, wondering what he would tell me next.


“Even when I was with Shawn, I used to think about the semester we lived together. I know we never talked about it, but I needed you. I knew all along that you didn’t want it to be happening like that, so after you moved out, I tried to forget about you by using Shawn. It never worked very well. We both got a little bit of what we needed, but neither of us was happy. Over the holiday break, I got invited to a party, and Shawn and I had a big fight. I asked one of the guys if they had anything that could make me feel better.


“I borrowed a rig and shot up.”


“But how could you have given it to me?”


Phoenix plopped himself down onto the green grass and buried his face in his hands.


“You were totally wasted. I knew that you didn’t know what I was asking you, but you didn’t tell me no. I didn’t have a raincoat in my pocket, so I barebacked you. I found out later that the guy I borrowed the needle from was positive. I can’t live with myself knowing what I’ve done to you.”


I turned, in a stupor, and stumbled towards where my new bride was waiting for me.


“Alex, what? What’s wrong?”


When I didn’t answer her, she grabbed hold of me, and laid her head on my shoulder. I felt her hands pull me tight to her body, and begin to caress my back. She didn’t know about Phoenix – I had never told her that Eddie wasn’t the only one. …and now, to find out that I got the infection because I was raped by a friend while I was too drunk to know what was happening, was too much for me to handle. I began to weep on her shoulder as Phoenix disappeared from my view. The words from a recent sermon ringing in my head: “Do not become drunk with much wine, for in that, you will surely find trouble.”