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Afterward, Chad took the teenager aside and showed her his extensive catalogue of desert plants which he had carefully pressed between wax paper and labeled with the proper scientific names. His enthusiasm for the Mojave Desert was something Charlie marveled at. To her, it looked like a barren stretch of nothingness, intermittently spotted with dull sagebrush and weeds covered with thorns. To Chad, however, it was full of wonder and beauty. He showed her photos he had taken of various wildlife, and explained to her what she was looking at.

"This picture is really special," prefaced the nine-year-old, handing her a photo of a rather large, uninteresting looking turtle. "This is the desert tortoise. It's on the endangered species list," said Chad.

"That is an endangered species?" asked Charlie, incredulously. "Who'd want to hurt this?"

"Its land is being encroached upon," replied Chad, sadly.

"It's happening everywhere," replied Charlie, indignantly.

"Uncle Adam says it's moral insanity to treat the planet the way we do," replied Chad, taking back his picture.

"I can agree with that!" said Charlie.

"I'm going on a wildlife trek next Saturday, if you want to come," invited Chad.

"Sorry, I can't," said Charlie. "I'm needed at home."

"That's O.K.," the boy replied, "I'll ask again some other time."

"It's not likely to be too soon," warned Charlie. Chad flashed a typical Garner smile and carried his collection back indoors.

From her vantage, Charlie observed Mike and Sandra Weston exchange loving glances across the lawn. They weren't sitting together, but the fact that Mike and Sandra were so obviously trying not to be seen together made Charlie think twice. As Donna used to say, "Where there's smoke, there's fire."

"Are you enjoying yourself?" asked Adam, sitting down in the lawn chair Chad had been occupying.

"Sure," replied Charlie, rather surprised that the plumber was walking away from the rest of the guests to talk to her.

"Did Chad show you his catalogue?"

"Yes, he did."

"Hmmm," replied Adam. He opened his mouth to say something, but upon reflection, closed it again.

"What did you think of it?" he asked.

"It was very informative," replied Charlie, discerning that there was obviously something else on his mind.

"Mmm-hmmm," replied Adam. Charlie smiled. "What are you grinning at?" he asked.

"You look so grave and somber," she replied. "Surely, you didn't come over here to ask me my opinion of Chad's collection."

"It's true, I do have something on my mind," admitted Adam. "Excuse my bluntness, but I have to know. Have you been all right? And this time, don't shrug off the question the way you did earlier. I know that when someone is new in Christ, there's a lot of questions and issues that need to be resolved. I also realize no two people are the same, but you haven't been pulling me away from the store, nor have you been calling me every few hours."

"Is that what this is about?" asked Charlie. "I don't call you often enough?"

"That's not what I meant."

"Then, what do you mean?"

"When your father was saved," explained Adam, "I saw him in my store, constantly. He had questions and needed a lot of support. I don't see that from you, and I wanted to be certain that everything was all right. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yes, I think so," answered Charlie.

"Well?" asked Adam.

"Well, what?"

"Are you all right?"

"I confess there's been times when it would have been nice to talk to someone with more understanding about certain issues, but all in all, I'm doing good."

"Can you talk to your father?" asked Adam. "Is he well enough for that?"

"I found out recently that emotional and physical stress can quicken Alzheimer's progression, so I'm not about to risk it," replied Charlie.

"I know our pastor isn't always readily available, so if you need someone to talk to, or to answer your questions, you can always call me. I can see what you're going through isn't easy. God only knows the way I'd react, were I in your situation."

"I think I have a pretty good guess," replied Charlie.

"Well, it's almost four. Are you ready to go home?" asked Adam.

"Just let me say thank you to Mrs. Garner, first," replied Charlie, getting up.

The return drive home was more friendlier, thanks to Charlie's realization that she did indeed have a friend in Adam. The day of Mike's birthday closed to the content satisfaction of everyone concerned.

"A [girl] that hath friends must shew [her]self friendly: and there is a Friend [Jesus] that sticketh closer than a brother."
~ Proverbs 18:24 ~

"Delight thyself also in the LORD; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
~ Psalms 37:4 ~

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