"Darling.” Ted dashed to her side. "Are you all right?”

"I’ve just been struck by a runaway vehicle,” she raged. "How do you expect me to feel?”

"Would you like me to call a medic?” Joy asked, wanting to do what she could to help.

"Don’t be ridiculous.”

"I think maybe you should sit down a moment,” Ted suggested, leading Blythe safely inside the retirement center. Once she was seated in the foyer, Ted knelt in front of her.

Blythe held herself stiff and stared angrily at Joy, as if Joy had intentionally rammed her car into Ted’s. "Exactly what were you trying to do? Kill me?”

"No-o-o,” Joy said quickly, stammering in her rush to reassure the woman. "I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I don’t know what came over Edith. I had the car keys in my hand. See?” She held them up for Blythe’s inspection. "How Edith’s engine could have started up on her own that way is beyond me.”

"Do you always refer to your car as Edith?” Blythe made the practice sound juvenile and silly.

"She’s like a friend, you see.”

"Friend or not, you’re going have to pay for this,” Blythe insisted, her voice high and hysterical.

"Of course. There was never any question of that,” Joy was quick to assure her. She didn’t want to think what this small accident would do to her insurance premiums, but she had no choice. Edith was responsible.

"That was my car you slammed into.”

"Blythe,” Ted said, his voice calm and reasonable, "settle down. The important thing is that no one was injured.”

"What about my car?” Blythe screeched in a most unladylike fashion. "It’s only been out of the showroom two months. I knew we should have taken your car.”

Ted pinched his lips together. "I’ll check the damage myself.”

"I’m going with you,” Joy said, and followed Ted, unwilling to be left alone with Blythe, who no doubt would find more reasons to lambaste her.

Outside, the two vehicles were parked perpendicular to each other. Edith’s nose rested gently against the driver’s side, as lightly as if she were giving the highly polished red door a peck on the cheek. Joy noticed her car’s engine had stopped as mysteriously as it had started.

"I’ll back Edith away from your vehicle,” she volunteered, "but she wouldn’t start earlier. That’s why I was headed back to my office. I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t explain what happened.”

"Don’t worry about it. These crazy things sometimes happen.”

Joy hopped inside her car and inserted the key in the ignition. To her complete and utter puzzlement, the engine purred to life like a spoiled, cream-fed kitten.

As soon as she’d pulled away and parked her antique car, she hurried over to view the extent of the damage. Her chest was tight with anticipation.

Ted knelt in front of the driver’s door and ran his fingertips over the sports car’s slick finish. From what Joy could see, there didn’t seem to be so much as a single scratch.

"That’s amazing,” she whispered, so relieved it took restraint not to leap off the ground and cheer. "I don’t see any damage. Of course, you’ll want to check it again when the light’s better.” She wrote down the pertinent information regarding her insurance company, plus her name and address, and gave these to Ted.

"I’ll have my mechanic look at it as well,” Blythe announced sternly from the sidewalk. "As well as a friend who owns a body shop.”

"Of course,” Joy said. "Please do. As I said earlier, I fully intend to pay for your trouble.”

"You’re damn right you will.”

"Blythe,” Ted said softly, "I know you’re upset, but there’s nothing to worry about. The car doesn’t even seem scratched. Let it go for now, and I’ll take care of everything in the morning.”

Blythe nodded and sagged as though the weight of the world were pressed upon her delicate shoulders. "The crazy thing is I found my handbag. The trip back wasn’t even necessary. It was in the backseat, but I was sure I left it in your grandmother’s apartment.”

"It doesn’t matter.” Ted placed his arm protectively around her shoulders and led her around to the passenger side of the car. He held the door open for her and helped her inside.

"You’ll get back to me about any damage?” Joy asked.

Ted nodded. "You might have your car checked out as well. Clearly something’s wrong for it to take off on its own like that.”

Joy folded her arms. "Thank you for your help.”

Ted hesitated. "Do I know you?”

"I don’t believe we’ve formally met. I’m Joy Palmer, the resident service director.”

"Joy Palmer.” He repeated the name as if that would jar his memory.

"I know your grandmother quite well. She might have mentioned me.”

"Ted,” Blythe called from inside the car, "are we going to dinner or not?”

Ted rubbed his hand along the side of his jaw, as if he would have liked nothing better than to forget the whole thing. "It’s nice to meet you, Joy. I’m sorry it had to be under these circumstances.”

"I’m sorry, too.”

"Ted!”

"I’ll let you know about the car as soon as possible.”

"I’d appreciate that.” She watched as he drove away, before returning to her own vehicle. Then she slipped onto the driver’s seat and closed her hands around the steering wheel. It took a full minute for her to relax.

"Honestly, Edith, I should park you overnight in a bad neighborhood for that little trick. You couldn’t have rammed someone else’s car?” Muttering to herself, Joy put the car in reverse and pulled out of the space.

She shook her head in wonder. She couldn’t remember a time Edith had run better.

"What am I going to do with you?” Shirley asked from the brick fence that ran along the property line of Wilshire Grove Retirement Center.

"Do with me about what?”

"You know darn good and well,” Shirley insisted.

"Are you asking about that little trick with Joy’s car?” Mercy said, grinning gleefully.

Shirley wore an injured, disappointed look. "You know Gabriel wants me to keep an eye on you two. I’m older and more mature, and I just don’t know what I am going to tell him.”

"You worry too much. I didn’t have anything to do with Joy’s car moving. Gravity did.”

"Gravity?”

"Sure. If Goodness can whip shopping carts around parking lots and call it gravity, then a little thing like a slow-moving car shouldn’t be any big concern.”

"That’s it,” Shirley said with great finality. "I can’t take it any longer. I simply can’t put up with this kind of mischief from you and Goodness. As far as I’m concerned, from here on out, you two are on your own.” She brushed her hands together to illustrate her point.

"You’re leaving us?” Mercy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. "But we’re a team.”

"Did you or did you not promise Gabriel you wouldn’t pull any of your tricks?”

"I did, but this was such a little thing. I really didn’t think anyone would care. Edith helped introduce Joy to Catherine’s grandson, didn’t she?”

"A car is not a person,” Shirley reminded her with limitless patience.

"Not normally, but in this case it’s as if the car has her own personality. Joy treats her like a friend, and if she’s sensitive to inanimate objects, just imagine how caring she is toward real people.”

"Yes, but…”

"Don’t you understand, Shirl? Joy’s the woman Ted Griffin should be marrying, not a cold fish like Blythe Holmes.”

"Maybe,” Shirley agreed reluctantly. "Is he going to see her again?”

Mercy grinned, feeling downright smug about the answer to that. "I wouldn’t doubt it, especially since one of them is about to win two tickets to the next Lakers game.”

"One of them?”

"Yup. I just haven’t decided who.”

"Mercy,” Shirley muttered, "you’re incorrigible.”

"Yeah, I know, but you’ll forgive me, won’t you?”

"I don’t know.”

"Just think, you can tell Gabriel how good I’ve been. I haven’t so much as stepped on a single escalator the way I did last year.”

"Congratulations, Joe and Annie,” Paul said, forcing a happiness he didn’t feel into his voice. He walked over to the young woman standing next to his son and held out his hand. "Welcome to out family, Annie.”

She was a pretty thing. Small, with dark hair and deep blue eyes. Paul could see she was nervous by the way her hand trembled in his.

"Thank you, Reverend Morris.”

"Now tell me when all this happened,” Paul said, leading the way into the living room so they could sit down. Vaguely he could remember Joe saying something now and again about another student he was dating, but he hadn’t thought his son was this serious.

"Annie and I’ve known each other four years now.”

"We met as freshmen,” Annie explained shyly.

"In the last couple of years we’ve been dating each other exclusively,” Joe went on to explain.

Now that his son mentioned it, Paul could remember Joe making a fair number of long-distance calls last summer to a certain Oregon phone number.

"With us both graduating this June, we decided it was time to make plans for our future together.” Joe looked to Annie, and the two gazed longingly at each other.

It hadn’t been so many years that Paul had forgotten what it was like to be deeply in love. When he’d first fallen for Barbara, every minute they were apart had been too much to bear.

"I realize we’re springing the news on you,” Annie said, glancing nervously in Paul’s direction, "but Joe thought it best if we announced our engagement this way. I hope you don’t mind my staying a few days.”

"Of course I don’t mind. You couldn’t be more welcome.”

"We wanted to spend time with you first,” Joe explained, "then drive to Eugene and let Annie’s family know.”

Paul nodded, although he was fairly certain neither one sought his approval. "And Christmas?” The words had a difficult time leaving his lips. He knew the answer even before he asked the question. His son would spend the day with his fiancée and her family.

"We thought we’d spend the day with Annie’s family,” Joe said, studying his father. "You don’t mind, do you? I mean, we’ll be here for several days. I want you to get to know Annie, since she’ll soon be your daughter-in-law.”

"Then you’ve decided on your wedding date?”

"Oh, yes, that was one of the first things we did,” Annie explained. "I guess I’m a fairly traditional bride because I want a summer wedding.”

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