No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
by Daniel Whyte III
with Meriqua Whyte
Drawn together by a prayer hundreds of years old, four strangers who have erred and strayed from God’s path are unwittingly united to confess past faults and restore broken relationships. They find that they have more in common than they thought.
START READING: EPISODE #1
We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep…
Twenty-four year old Camille Henderson pulled the oven door open to check on the dish she had prepared from a new recipe when the phone rang.
“Camille, what’s going on? Zena here.”
“Just trying out that new recipe you gave me. It looks good and it smells good; I hope it tastes good. Whoever heard of putting yogurt on beef? Whoever heard of beef goulash? Are you sure this is not one of your concoctions?”
Camille’s best friend, Zena Barber laughed. “You’ll never know until you try it. I sure do miss those crazy college days of trying different things.”
“Yeah, girl,” Camille said. “But things change—”
“Especially after you get married,” Zena finished her statement for her. “Now what’s the problem? Don’t tell me you have not asked Carlton yet.”
“Camille, what are you waiting on? You all are just three months into the marriage; it’s early enough not to cause much of a stir. My philosophy is, ‘nip it in the bud,’ then you’ll have time to heal, get over it, and have more guilt-free times together.”
“Well, my philosophy is, ‘leave well enough alone.’ Why cause a stir when there’s no need to cause a stir?”
“Oh, so you’re just going to sit back, watch money go out of y’alls account and not ask about it? That’s not leaving well enough alone; that’s inviting unrest in your soul because you’ll always have questions, and Carlton will just be living a life of guilt, and you know what? You two will never fulfill your marital roles to the max.”
“Whoa, girl, you sound like a real psychologist,” Camille said.
“I told you I’m serious about pursuing that psychology degree. One more year, then I’ll be kissing Aflac goodbye,” Zena said. “I’m serious about starting my own counseling business. My days of working for others will soon be over.”
“You were always the adventurous one,” Camille said.
“Yes. I love being my own boss. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time securing a man; I’m too independent for them. You are more the submissive, quiet, soft-hearted, ‘anything-you-say-honey’ type. Girl, not me. I move at a certain speed, and if you can’t keep up then we can’t run together,” Zena said in one breath.
Camille could not hold in her laughter. Zena joined in. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
“You’ve been saying that in different ways since high school,” Camille said. “Let me break it down to you. Here’s what you want: You want to be married in name only, but you don’t want to have to alter the way you live your life.”
“You said it. Anyway, on a serious note,” Zena said, “you ought to ask Carlton about it.”
“I know, but no time seems like the right time.”
“Well, say goodbye to large amounts of your money going into child support. That so-called ‘hurting sister’ is not going to sit back quietly for long,” Zena said.
“Well, it won’t be my money. Our accounts are totally separate. That’s something he’s going to have to handle himself. Hold on,” Camille said.
She opened the slow cooker and speared a piece of meat with a fork. “Mmm, this tastes good,” she said.
“I know how to put together a tasty meat dish now,” Zena said.
“I’m not talking about this new concoction of yours. I’m talking about this lamb that’s been cooking in my slow cooker since early this morning. This Italian lady on the job—you know Mrs. Ruggeri—she gave me the recipe. She says the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
“I guess I better get to cooking some tasty meals then,” Zena said with a laugh. “Why don’t you add some candles and some low, soft, romantic music, and put on that two-piece silk lingerie I gave you for your wedding gift under the matching night robe, then while you have him going, ask him gently about his son. That atmosphere should soften him up to hear you out without causing a blow-up.”
Carlton and Camille Henderson had been married for three months. It was at the reception that one of the guests—a beautiful young lady with a dimple in her left cheek—greeted Camille with a hug. The lady had slipped a black envelope into Camille’s hand and had asked her to promise not to open it until the last day of her honeymoon.
“I promise,” Camille said hastily.
With all the excitement and flurry of activities going on around her, Camille did not pay much attention to this hasty exchange, and her only recollection of this attractive lady was her dimple. She had never seen her before.
As she dumped everything out of her cosmetics bag on to the bed in their hotel suite, the forgotten envelope fell out.
What’s this? she thought picking the envelope up. She had never seen a black envelope before. She tried to recall why and when she had placed it in her cosmetic bag. Oh, the lady with the dimple at the wedding. I wonder why she didn’t leave it at the church office as was requested of all the guests? Camille eagerly tore open the envelope thinking it was monetary gift. One could always use some extra cash. Well, no cash here—just a hand written letter.
The letter read:
Camille, I wish you and Carlton all the best as you both embark on your new life together. You do not know me, but I’m a good friend of Carlton. After Carlton announced his decision to marry you, I decided to step aside. I have been battling with one thing ever since he let me know he would be getting married, and have concluded that it is best to get it off my chest. I do not know if Carlton has mentioned this to you or not, but he and I had a son together. Our son, Carl Jr., was born nine months to your wedding date. In fact, Carlton and I were still seeing each other even while you two were making wedding plans. I have asked him more than once if he had told you about our son, and he’s always evaded the question, never giving me a direct answer, but always: I’ll take care of it, so don’t you worry about it. Something keeps telling me he has not said anything to you about our son.
You may be wondering, why I gave you this letter during your wedding—an event that should be the happiest time in your life. I did it for two reasons:
I would like for my son to know his biological father. Whether they have a relationship or not, that would be up to Carlton. This is something I will not hide from my son as he grows older. Personally, out of respect for you, I have stepped out of Carlton’s life so you two can live your lives in peace. I have moved on with my life, so you won’t have to worry about me.
Also, I do not want you to go five, ten, fifteen years or more into your marriage and then find out your husband has a son out there. That would not be fair to you, nor to my son, nor to any children you all may have.
Maybe there’s a third reason, and it is this: I envy you. I have always envisioned me and Carlton getting married, living in a mansion, having more children, with not a care in the world, but now my dream has been shattered. Whether you want to believe this or not, I do wish you and Carlton all the best, and may the good Lord smile upon you both.
A Hurting Sister
Mixed emotions flooded Camille’s soul as she re-read the letter: anger at Carlton for keeping this from her and disappointment in herself for not asking more probing questions. Her mother, Mrs. Lavern Camden, had encouraged her to ask Carlton more questions shortly after they announced their engagement.
“I’m not trying to steal your happiness, nor prevent you from getting married to the love of your life,” Lavern said to her daughter, “but have you probed deep enough into his personal life?”
“What do you mean, Mom?” Camille asked.
“I mean, do you know whether or not he’s been with any other women?”
“He’s already told me he’s had other girlfriends.”
Lavern shook her head. “No, baby. I mean, do you know whether or not he’s had sex with other women? Do you know whether or not he has a child floating around out there somewhere? Or, does he have one on the way, with some other woman? Remember what happened to your cousin, Nicole? She did not ask and she was hurt real bad after finding out through the grapevine. I just don’t want to see the same thing happen to you.”
“Well, that’s because Nicole married a scoundrel,” Camille said in defense of Carlton. “You don’t trust Carlton, do you?”
“Sit down, Camille. Let me really talk to you. It’s not that I do not trust Carlton. He’s never said anything, nor has he acted in any way for me not to trust him, but you want to clear the air of anything that could possibly come up in the future. Trusting someone is being free to ask them anything, and if they really love you and want you to trust them, they will answer any questions without hesitation.”
“Yes, Mother,” Camille said with frustration. “I’m sure he’ll let me know if there is anything like that that he needs to tell me. I’ve been very open with him, and I’m sure he has been open with me and will continue to be open with me. I do understand that there is really no relationship without trust and there is no trust without trustworthiness.”
“It’s easy for you to be open; you’ve led a sheltered life,” Lavern said with a chuckle. “Your father had you on lock-down; you didn’t have time to think about going the foolish route…unless there is something you have been hiding.”
Camille could not help but smile at her mother’s statement. As she had shared with her parents during her second year in college, she appreciated their firmness with her while growing up.
“Camille, I pray God’s blessings upon you and Carlton; just remember, marriage, like any other relationship, when it starts out on the right foot and stays on the right track, can be a beautiful thing.”
“Thank you, Mother. I’ll remember those words.”
Camille also felt sympathy for the “Hurting Sister.” She felt Carlton had not completely closed that chapter of his life as he embarked on this new venture with her.
What a way to end one’s honeymoon and begin married life, Camille thought. She started to refold the letter when she heard the key in the door.
“It’s me, Cammi.”
Camille hurried to remove the safety latch off the hotel door.
“Ready to go?” Carlton asked as he embraced her. “The car’s all gassed up. I want to take you out for a late breakfast before we pull out. Remember, we have two more stops to make before settling down into married life. I can’t wait.”
“I’m all set,” Camille said.
“Let me shower, then we’ll be ready to go.”
Camille picked up his tennis shoes as he took them off and stuffed them in a bag. Carlton always went jogging before taking a long trip. She had his black jeans laid out with a matching dress shirt and a sports jacket to travel in. Camille absentmindedly applied her makeup as she thought about the letter. I do not know if I should bring it up with him. When he stepped out the shower, she had the folded letter in her hand.
“All set?” he asked her as he stepped out of the bathroom into the bedroom area.
“Sure,” Camille said eyeing him suspiciously. She watched him intently as he finished getting dressed and combed his hair.
“You’re looking at me mighty hard,” Carlton said as he caught a glance of her through the mirror. “Like what you see?”
Camille managed a smile as she nodded her head. But I’m not sure anymore. What else have you not told me?
After Carlton took their luggage out to the car, he took her in his arms and gave her a lingering kiss.
“Thanks for a great honeymoon. If you act like you’ve been acting lately we’ll have a great marriage with no regrets,” Carlton said.
“What about if we act this way and not just me?” Camille said matter-of-factly.
“Sorry. I meant we,” Carlton quickly said with a grin. “What’s that in your hand?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just a letter one of the wedding guests slipped into my hand during the reception; she wants God’s blessings to be on us.”
“We are going to need His blessings. Talking about God, we haven’t decided on which church we’re going to go to,” her husband said releasing her from his arms. “My mother would not give me her blessings until I promised her I’d be in church every Sunday.”
“You stay married to me and I’ll have you in church at least every Sunday,” Camille said placing the letter in her cosmetic bag. We’ll discuss this once we return home. No need to spoil the last day of our honeymoon.
Camille threw herself into her job at Aflac Insurance Agency once they settled down into their married life. Her best friend, Zena, was happy to have her back.
“I sure missed you, girl. Married life seems to be treating you well,” Zena said greeting her with a hug.
Camille shared the letter with Zena. “I decided to leave the matter alone for right now and see if he would tell me on his own. I mean, there has got to be a logical explanation as to why he has not said anything to me about it.”
“If I were you, I would have bust him over the head with it as soon as I found out,” Zena said. “Yes, ma’am. I sure would nip it in the bud.”
“But that might break our marriage up,” Camille said. “Who ever heard of a marriage lasting only two weeks, or as the pastor might say in our case, until the honeymoon is over?”
“Girl, you ought to quit,” Zena laughed. “On a serious note though, you ought to ask him about it. Why hold yourself in bondage guessing as to the reason he has not told you? Why keep him in bondage?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Camille sighed.
“So when are you going to ask him about it?”
Zena looked at Camille in disbelief. “You ought to be saying, ‘I am gonna call him and ask him about it right now.’” Then she chuckled. “Or you could make it more dramatic: give him the silent treatment; make him feel uncomfortable; put him on edge; drag it out for a long time; make him feel guilty over he knows not what; let him grovel in the dark for a while; then after he comes whining and crawling on his knees begging you to tell him what has he done wrong, bust him over the head with it real hard. And do not spare for his feelings.”
Camille burst out laughing. “You were always a dramatic person. What if he denies everything, then what do I do?”
“You have the evidence in that letter. He can’t deny the evidence.”
“But the Hurting Sister has no name for me to throw in his face,” Camille said.
“You have a Carl Jr.,” Zena reminded her.
“But that’s so little to go on. He could deny it and say that that child is not his and that the woman is lying on him, and that’s why he didn’t say anything.”
“Or,” Zena said raising her eyebrows with a twinkle in her eyes. “You could go down to the office of vital records and do your own detective work, especially if he denies it. That, my girl, will solve this Mystery of the Unexpected Honeymoon Revelation.”
Camille burst out laughing. “You ought to go into acting,” she said.
“That’s why I am going for my psychology degree. I want to counsel people and help them through their problems,” Zena said. “And if that hurting sister is just a jealous sister, and if you don’t nip it in the bud, she’s going to cause some problems for you—watch and see.”
“The more I think about it, I’m wondering why she’s telling me all this. The gracious and Christian thing to do is to quietly step aside and let me and Carlton go on with our life together. It’s quite obvious he did not want to marry her for whatever reason.”
“Some sisters are just jealous and find it hard to let go of a man. They’ll get pregnant with his child thinking that will entwine his heart with hers, but these brothers are not falling into that trap anymore.”
“Well, she did admit she was envious.”
Zena shrugged her shoulders. Both finished the last of their lunch and hurried back to the job so they wouldn’t be late.
Carlton and Camille arrived in time for the 11 o’clock services at Community Gospel Chapel where Carlton’s parents, Wiley and Alexis Henderson, were also members. Pastor Howell preached another uplifting message from the Word of God. They were dinner guests at the Hendersons home, along with Barry and Cicelia Rubik, who were also members of Community Gospel Chapel.
Barry and Cecilia Rubik were both employed at the community college in Onondaga County, New York. Cecilia headed the Nursing Department and Barry was the president of the college.
“Thank you so much for having us over,” Barry said as they sat down around the dinner table. “So how does it feel to be a married man now, Carlton? It’s a whole different world, isn’t it?”
“It sure is,” Carlton said with a grin, “but I am enjoying it.”
“I hope you don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your new life, but you’re going to have some rough spots. When you do, just remember two things: one, it gets worse before it gets better, but it will get better; and two, never think about divorce; it is not an option,” Barry said to the young couple.
“He’s right, Camille,” Cecilia said. “You’re going to have tension from within and from outside, but God made you one, so through it all, stick together and work it out, and always invite God into the middle.”
“I could not have said it better,” Alexis Henderson said. “I remember once your father and I had a big argument. I can’t even remember what it was about. Anyway, I got so mad at him, I packed my bag and went back home to my parents. Now, my mother, she’s from the old school and she believes in ‘until death do us part.’ She heard me out and she gave me my room and she pampered me that evening and treated me like a queen, but underneath all that, she was putting her own plans into play.”
“I’ll take over,” Wiley Henderson said with a chuckle. “I just love telling this part. She left in a huff saying, ‘if you want me I’ll be at Mother’s.’ Of course, I did not want to talk to her then, but I was glad to know where she would be. Anyway, in less than forty-eight hours, her mother called and told me to come and get her. My mother-in-law said to us both, ‘you decided to get married; you decided to become one, so you’re both going to stay together come hell or high water and solve your own problems.’”
“That’s the best thing she ever did,” Carlton’s mother said with a laugh. “It was not funny then, but whenever I think about it, I have a good laugh. We kid each other about it now.”
“We argued all the way home,” Wiley said as the dinner guests all laughed. “Yes, Carlton and Camille, you’re going to have many bumps in the road, but things will get better. Just hang in there.”
“One thing I’ve learned,” Cecilia said, “and that is that oftentimes pride had a lot to do with our marriage woes. We both wanted to have the last word. I was striving for control of the relationship not realizing that if I just humbled myself, submitted to my husband, loved him, and took care of him, and stop trying to control things, I would have everything I desired.”
“And the husband can maintain his position as head without being harsh and trying to force his wife to submit,” Wiley said.
With dinner over, the men moved to the game room to play pool, while the women cleaned up the kitchen and continued chatting.
“Is there a plan for any grand-babies soon?” Cecilia asked Camille.
“Not right now,” Camille said. “Maybe within another year or two.”
‘I cannot wait,” Alexis said, “to have a Carl Jr. and a little Camille walking around the house.” She gave Camille a hug.
Apparently she does not know that she does have a grandchild out there, Camille thought.
On the ride home, Camille voiced her thoughts to her husband carefully choosing her words.
“Carlton, we’ve never seriously discussed how many grand-children we were going to give your parents and my parents. It would be nice to have a Carl Jr. running around the house.”
“Yes, it would be, but not right now. I don’t plan on us giving our parents any grand-children for a few years yet. They will just have to wait,” her husband said.
“Well, what about us. I’m ready to have a child. I’d love to have a son first—name him Carl Jr, you know, after you,” Camille said turning to look at him.
Carlton did not answer immediately. Camille noticed that he closed his eyes for a few seconds.
“Camille, we’re not having any children right now. My plans are for us to save up as much money as we can, buy a modest house paid for in cash, set up a playground area in the backyard, have an interior decorator come in to decorate the nursery, and then we can have children. Hopefully by then we will know each other well enough and be ready mentally for any children we may have. Remember, Mr. Rubik said it gets worse before it gets better, so let’s save the children for the better years. In the meantime,” Carlton said turning to look at her, “you just continue taking the pill and I’ll continue doing what I have been doing.”
“What? And where did you get all that stuff from?” Camille fired back. “Certainly not Dr. Dobson.”
“No need to get huffy,” Carlton laughed.
“And how many children do you plan on us having?”
“One! I’m talking with me, you already have — ” Camille caught herself in time and ended with “have gone bonkers. What other craziness are you going to come up with when the pressures of marriage kick in?”
“What’s wrong with one child? I was an only child and I don’t think I turned out too badly,” he said with a grin.
Camille wanted to slap the silly grin off his face. How can you grin at a conversation like this. You should be very sober. You’re not too eager to have a child with your own wife, but you wasted no time in producing one with someone you were not even considering marrying, Camille thought holding back the tears.
“Well, for the record, I want more than one. I shared that with you when we casually talked about this before we got married. Don’t you remember?”
“I remember. I also remember just saying we’ll have children, but I never said how many or when,” Carlton said.
“You led me on,” Camille said still upset.
“No, you led yourself on.”
They were both quiet for the rest of the ride home.
I have another thing coming for you, Camille thought. No, I won’t ask you about it directly right now. I’m going to see how long you’re going to take to come clean with me. In the meantime, I’ll be investigating on my own.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…
After the men retired to the pool room and the game was well underway, Wiley asked Barry, “How are sales going with your book?”
“Quite well. It’s slow starting out, but as word gets around the sales will pick up,” Barry said.
“Is there another one on the drawing board?”
“As a matter of fact, there is. This one is going to be on teachers maintaining a professional relationship with their students. Proper classroom management is where a number of teachers are failing. It’s kind of unclear right now, but that’s the direction I’m leaning towards.”
“Sounds interesting. Some of the things we hear happening in the classroom today are beyond my imagination,” Wiley said.
Barry nodded as his mind drifted back to the events surrounding the publishing of his first book.
Barry Rubik was transitioning from being a teacher to the president of Connecticut Central Community College where he had taught for nine years. Before then, he was professor at the local university for four years. He had been married to his wife, Cecilia, for fifteen years. They both had received Christ at a revival meeting a year after they got married. God answered their prayers and Cecilia soon became head over the science department at the college.
Shortly after they became Christians, Barry shared with his wife a recurring thought.
“You know, Cecilia, I keep having this thought that I should be doing some type of ministry work. I’m not quite sure exactly what, but it’s been on my mind for some time now.”
“Do you mean going full time into it and doing nothing else?”
“Yes. I could probably keep my teaching license because that will feed into the ministry; but either way, devote all my time as a pastor, or missionary, or something like that.”
Cecilia thought about what her husband said. “But those types of jobs are not that stable. At least as a teacher you have something steady you can depend on,” she said.
“That’s the only thing that is causing me to delay, plus I love my teaching job. I love interacting with the students. I love to see their eyes light up as their understanding on an issue becomes clearer. I love to see them debate issues. I love to see them learn.”
“I think you should wait a while to be sure because I know I don’t have what it takes to be a pastor’s wife,” Cecilia said. “And I would venture to say that since we’re married, God would probably speak to me as well? With us being husband and wife I’m sure God will want us to work together.”
“I believe you have a point there,” Barry said.
Barry continued to ignore that quiet voice that kept telling him to give up his teaching position and go full-time into the ministry. He had been saved long enough and had been sitting under the uncompromising teaching of the Word of God from Pastor Howell at the Community Gospel Chapel to know that it was the voice of God telling him to move into ministry. Barry loved being settled down in one place as did his wife. The thought of being a missionary did not appeal to him as he did not care much for travelling or for moving to another country. He did not feel he had what it took to be a pastor.
To smother that voice and to lessen his guilt, he and his wife threw their energy into church work. They both joined the choir, both began teaching in Sunday school; they could both be counted on to support their pastor by attending every function at the church or offer help where needed. They were busy working for the Lord. After a few months as teacher at the college, he was called into the president’s office.
“Barry, how are things going?” the president greeted him.
“Quite well, Mr. Greer. I enjoy being a part of the staff here,” Barry replied.
“Barry, I called you in because I received a disturbing letter on yesterday. It stated that some of the contents of the dissertation paper you turned in, which you later had published as a book, were plagiarized. I believe that’s the book you had published about two months ago. The publishers somehow found out you work here and they contacted me. Here’s the letter.”
Barry read the letter in disbelief. After reading it a second time he said, “There is no truth to this. When I turned it in originally, it was accepted at Yale with no problems. All I know is I did the research honestly.”
“I believe you,” Mr. Greer said. “I really do not know why your publisher contacted me–“
“The college is mentioned on the back cover of the book in my bio,” Barry said.
“I see. Well, since they have contacted me, I am faced with making a difficult decision. I could keep quiet about the whole matter, but that would not be right, and I would not feel good in my spirit about it.”
“No, I’m not asking you to do any such thing,” Barry said quickly.
“Unfortunately, I will have to decide whether to suspend you, fire you, or allow you to remain on staff until we get to the bottom of this matter. If it is proven that you produced a paper and thus a book by dishonest means, your teaching license could be revoked.”
“I have not mentioned the contents of this letter to anyone, but negative news like this gets out and travels fast, and once it gets out in the public you are at their mercy,” Mr. Greer said. “If you can prove to your publisher and to the school board that you provided all things honest and gave credit to the appropriate people then you should easily be cleared of this charge. You might want to clear things up as soon as you can before word gets around. This charge of dishonesty could ruin your reputation for life. I don’t want the students and teachers here looking down on you, and besides, our school’s reputation is also at stake.”
Barry received a similar letter in his mailbox that very evening.
“I can’t believe this, Cecilia. It’s been almost fifteen years since I turned in that paper—nothing dishonest was found. And now that I have it published as a book someone is finding something. That just does not make any sense. I thought a part of a publisher’s job was to check out your sources. They would never publish a book that they know has been plagiarized as their name is at stake as well. I’ll have to give Mr. Adin a call first thing in the morning.”
“I don’t know what is going on,” Cecilia said. “I even double checked your sources for you.”
“I don’t think I had anything controversial in the book,” Barry said. “I’ll begin looking over the book along with the original manuscript tonight. We have to get this resolved as soon as possible otherwise I will lose my dream job.”
Barry spent the rest of the evening into the early hours of the next morning comparing the original manuscript with the book. It was titled: How to Effectively Meet the Needs of Minorities in the American Educational System.
Everything seemed to be properly footnoted and proper credit was given where appropriate. He was half-way through with his project before turning in for a few hours of sleep. When he awakened later that morning, Cecilia had already read some pages of the book.
“So far I haven’t seen anything that would be controversial or plagiarized,” she said as she poured him his cup of coffee. “I’ve been thinking though, do you remember you had someone from this proofreading company to do a final reading and minor editing before you submitted it to the publishers. They may have, in error, missed something or made some changes without letting you kno. I remember you strongly asked the publishers to publish as is although they did take the liberty to edit it as they saw fit.”
“Do you think someone may have changed something on purpose?”
“I’d hate to think someone, even a disgruntled employee, would stoop so low to do something like that,” Barry said. “Let me speak with Mr. Adin and see what he has to say.”
As Barry sipped his coffee, Cecilia placed his breakfast plate before him with scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and a few turkey bacon strips. “Let’s eat right now and then head on out to the college for whatever awaits us,” Barry said.
Barry placed a call to Mr. Adin after his first class session. “Mr. Adin, I received this disturbing letter about the book I had published through your company. Exactly what is going on?”
“Yes, Barry. Someone who purchased your book said some of it was plagiarized,” Mr. Adin confirmed. “They mentioned two pages in particular and said the text belonged to someone else. I looked at it myself, and I could not tell. But we need for you to check it out and correct it then we can possibly do a second printing on the book—depending on how things turn out. I’m working on a public statement to give to any inquirers.”
Barry wrote down the page numbers. “I’ll look into it right away and get back in touch with you.”
“The person said you reworded three of those paragraphs and placed them in your text as though they were your own.”
“We are allowed to do that, Mr. Adin, as long as we cite the person who we got the idea from,” Barry said.
“That’s the problem. No one is given credit on those two pages. The person who has brought this accusation against you is also implying that you did that throughout the book.”
“Oh, boy,” Barry sighed. “I do thank you, Mr. Adin. I’ll look into it.”
“You be sure to look into it, but also pray that you don’t get sued. Because if you get sued, we’ll probably get sued as well because we have deeper pockets, and we don’t want that,” Mr. Adin said.
Barry read and reread the two pages in their entirety. He did not see where anything on those pages even hinted at plagiarism. He Googled as many phrases as he could think of, but nothing showed up as being someone else’s work. He asked his wife to double-check behind him. She could find nothing herself.
“Maybe it’s just someone who disagrees with something you wrote,” Cecilia said.
“That’s all I can think,” Barry agreed. “But who?”
“Well, let’s pray about it. We haven’t done that yet,” his wife said.
On Sunday morning the Rubiks were in place for Sunday School where they taught the College and Career Class, ages 18-25. Ironically, the Sunday School lesson for that Sunday was on Jonah, but Barry and Cecilia failed to see themselves in that story.
“God told Jonah to go to Nineveh because God had a job for Jonah to do,” Cecilia explained. “God had an important work for Jonah to do; but rather than obey God and just hop on the ship and go to Nineveh, Jonah decided to break bad and went ‘unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.’ Can you imagine trying to hide from God—the God who is everywhere at the same time and the God who sees everything all at the same time? Jonah thought he could hide from God, and many of us think we can hide from God; we think we can do our own thing.
“As you embark on your career, ask God what college He wants you to attend. Ask God what career field He wants you to pursue. All of us are talented in some field and that talent is in you at birth. The gift is manifested when you receive Christ as Savior. That which you are interested in; that which you have a knack for without breaking a sweat; that which you love to do, you may want to look into that as a career choice.
“Anyway, Jonah tried to hide from God, and in hiding from God, God brought trouble into his life. First, there was a storm at sea. Whenever you disobey God, others will be affected by it. The lives of the sailors on the ship were in danger. Next, he was thrown overboard. Jonah knew why there was a storm. He told the sailors to throw him into the sea ‘for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.’
“But even through all this God is merciful. God sends a great fish to swallow Jonah so Jonah would not drown and to give Jonah a second chance to be obedient. After Jonah repented, God placed him back on land and gave him His original command to go to Nineveh and preach to the people. If you’re familiar with the story, Jonah went, Jonah preached, and the whole city turned to God. Jonah was angry and did the job with an attitude, but at least he was obedient. Next week we’ll talk about doing things with the right attitude as you serve the Lord.”
“Barry!” Wiley called loudly for the third time. “It’s your turn to go at pool. You seem to have gone to Mars for a minute. Are you sure everything is alright with your book?”
“Yeah…yes,” Barry replied. He picked up his pool stick and aimed it. “Everything is just fine.”
We have offended against thy holy laws.
Raina Barrington walked into the teachers’ lounge where she dropped her briefcase case into one of the soft chairs before walking over to the water cooler.
“Hi, Jasmine. I tell you those fourth graders are a handful. You got to have some energy to deal with them. This one little girl told me all her family business and it is not that pretty.”
“Let me guess,” Jasmine Hobbes, one of the fourth grade teachers said. “That little girl is Kimberly.”
“Right,” Raina said taking a sip of water. “I had to quiet her down before all her family business got into the wrong ears. And then there’s this little fellow—you can’t tell him anything. His mentality is: ‘I am here to take up space. I do not want to learn anything so do not even waste your energy trying to make me learn.’ He loves art class and open discussion though. And he is good at debating. He’s a smart kid with a photographic memory; but he just hates to read.”
“Let me guess again. That’s Fabius. He’s something else. I see a future president in him,” Jasmine said again with a laugh. “I had him last year. Hopefully he’s doing better this half.”
“Yes, hopefully. He has a long way to go, but he’ll get there. I just have to keep working with him. I’ve never met a child who hates even reading a picture book. He is interested if you are telling him a story, but he is not interested in reading himself. Would you like some coffee?”
Jasmine nodded. “Black with lots of sugar. So how’s the petition coming along?”
“It’s coming along well. We have about 1300 signatures so far,” Raina said.
Raina was married to Craig Barrington. She was employed at the McAllen Elementary School of the Future in New York county, where she worked as a substitute teacher filling in at several grade levels. She also served on the County School Board. Raina was a driving force behind most of the functions at the school; at least every month she had something going on. For the past month, she, along with several other teachers and a few parents, had been petitioning against the school board’s proposal to allow homosexual teachers into the classroom.
“I sent out emails to as many people as I could in the county. We also notified parents about it at the Parents and Teachers meeting last week. We have another meeting tonight,” Raina said. “Are you going to come out and support us?”
“Sure,” Jasmine assured her. “My husband and my sister will be there as well.”
“This just gets to me. What is our government thinking? What is the School Board thinking? They should not even consider that a subject for discussion. No telling what will happen in that kind of environment!”
“I tell you, there is certainly nothing gay about being a homosexual,” Jasmine chuckled. “There’s a whole lot of politics involved in the School Board’s decision. But you’re doing a good thing and I am behind you one hundred percent. Just let me know where I can help out.”
“No need to get all worked up,” Aaron said pouring himself some coffee before taking a seat on the stool in the lounge around the round table. He had walked in on Jasmine’s last statement. “We’d better do as the government says if we want their financial backing and if we hope to take home a sure paycheck.”
“That’s your problem, Aaron,” Raina said. “You’re a conformist. You just go with the flow as long as it adds to your wallet. You need to get some backbone about you.”
“I got backbone. Plenty of it. I just know when to stand on my own two feet and when to stand on someone else’s feet,” Aaron chuckled. “And, I also know when to leave well enough alone. Plus, when you have a family depending on you, you have to bring in as much money as you can whenever you can.”
“Well, I got to go,” Raina said rinsing her cup out. “My fourth graders are calling me. Say, Aaron, are you coming out to support us this evening? Parents and others in the community are all invited. We need your support.”
“I’ll think about it,” Aaron said. “If I don’t, my wife may come.”
“You can also help by taking a stack of our petition sheets and do a walk in your neighborhood to get people to sign on to ‘Just Say No to Homosexual Teachers in the Classroom.’ Besides,” Raina said sliding out the door, “you could use the exercise.”
Jasmine laughed as she left the lounge behind Raina.
The ‘Just Say No’ meeting went well.
“Better than I expected,” Raina shared with her husband, Craig, as she settled down beside him on the couch after putting their four year old son, Brandon, down for the night.
Craig was employed at Allied Environmental Engineers and had been for the past ten years. He was due a promotion and his job required him to travel a lot. He and Raina had been married for five years and sometimes Raina accompanied him on his travels during the summer months when school was out.
Brandon was in K-4 at the McAllen Kindergarten & Elementary School of the Future. McAllen was one of the twenty schools in the New York county area chosen for the latest educational experimentation. These schools were fully equipped with up-to-date technological equipment, including computer software for all areas of study especially the sciences. Brandon, soon to turn five, proved to be a natural at using computers. He caught on fast to learning new things and knew how to navigate the computer well.
“The meeting went great. I wish you would come with me. This is the third one and you have not been out to any of them. Other husbands and wives come out together. It makes me think you are not supporting me.”
“Baby, you know I’ve had to work late and tonight I’m just tired,” Craig said.
“You could have come even if you came late,” Raina said, “Anyway, the parents are upset and many are threatening to pull their children out of the schools if this proposition goes through. Would you really want a homosexual teaching your son, Brandon? I know I wouldn’t. I’ll pull him out in a minute and put him in a Christian school or homeschool him myself. Excuse me, let me get the phone,” Raina said as the ringing phone interrupted their conversation.
When Raina returned she had a worried expression on her face.
“Who was that?” her husband asked.
“I don’t know. An anonymous caller threatening to hurt me if I did not stop having those meetings.”
Raina, despite the weird phone call, had a peaceful night’s sleep.
“It’s probably some parent who’s upset with some policy of the school,” she shared with her husband the following morning at breakfast. “Don’t forget I substitute for the rest of the week. What time are you leaving for Chicago on Friday and when will you be back?”
“I’m leaving on Friday afternoon around one. Someone from the job will be taking me to the airport so you don’t have to rush home, then I’ll ride back on Tuesday with Gale. Our sister company in Chicago is relocating him up here to New York to work in our company.”
“Did you say Gail?” Raina asked. “I hope that’s not a woman.”
“His real name is Galen, but he goes by Gale — G-a-l-e,” Craig said spelling it out. “Anyway, we’ll be pulling out on Tuesday and won’t make it back in until late Wednesday, maybe even Thursday if we stop over.”
“Does this mean you’ll miss prayer meeting again? This will be your fourth Wednesday in a row missing prayer meeting,” Raina said.
“Sorry, but it comes with the job and the money,” her husband said. “And if you two don’t hurry, you’ll both be late for school.” Turning to Brandon who was finishing off his milk, he said, “Come give Daddy a hug, little dude. Do you still love working with the computers at school?”
“Yes, Daddy. Are you going to come to my birthday party? Mommy says it is going to be at school this time with all my friends.”
“Sure, Brandon. I’ll be there. You save me a huge slice of cake in case I run late.”
“I will. Bye Daddy.”
“Bye, honey,” Raina said giving her husband a kiss.
“Bye, Raina. You have a great day. I’ll be leaving here in about five minutes as soon as I verify directions to this place.”
“So, Jasmine, who do you think may have made that phone call? Has anyone voiced anything negative to you?” Raina asked Jasmine.
“Beats me. But we knew going into it that there would be opposition. Opposition is all over the country. My question is: Are you ready for the fight?”
“What fight?” Aaron asked strolling into the teachers’ lounge.
Raina told him about the mysterious phone call. “That’s why I told you to leave well enough alone,” Aaron sighed. “If you want to start a war, fight against someone else’s cause; but if you want peace, you stay on your side of the fence and they will stay on their side of the fence.”
“Yes, but when you come into the classroom acting like a female and you’re a male, then I have a right to stand up against it because you’re treading on my side of the fence. I don’t want my son seeing that and thinking it is all right for him as a male to act that way,” Raina said.
“So just leave it alone, Raina,” Aaron said. “All they want is equal opportunity. Besides, they can only teach what is in the curriculum.”
“They can also color the curriculum with their opinions and personal experiences,” Raina quickly added.
“Okay, you two, we have some children waiting to be taught what’s in the curriculum,” Jasmine said with a chuckle.
After putting Brandon down for the night, Raina joined her husband on the back patio where they often relaxed in the evenings when the weather permitted. This evening a cool wind was blowing as they made plans for the upcoming summer. “Do you think you’ll be able to get the three weeks off? It would be great if you could. I know Brandon would love it,” Raina said.
“What about you?” Craig asked.
“You already know I would.”
“I should be able to get three weeks off,” Craig said. “How’s the petition coming along?”
“Great! We have almost 2000 already. People from all over the county are sending in their signatures. Have you signed one yet?”
“No. I don’t think I’ll be signing one either.”
Raina looked at her husband in surprise. “What? Why not? Don’t tell me you agree with this new policy, do you? Is that why you have avoided coming to the meetings? Come to think of it, you have been quite reserved about the whole matter.”
“Raina, calm down. I don’t work with the school system. I don’t know all that is involved and I really think you’re making this bigger than it has to be. Just leave people alone. Let them live the way they want to live. It’s their life.”
“But, Craig, they will be in the classroom with our son. Do you want that?” Raina protested.
“You’re talking as though every classroom will have a gay teacher,” her husband said.
“That’s what is going to end up happening. If that happens, I am pulling Brandon out of school and I’ll be quitting my job as a teacher. I’ll get my own thing going and tutor a small group of students in this house if I have to. I am not going for that.”
“I doubt it will ever come to all that and pulling Brandon out of school will have to be our decision,” her husband said. Raina noticed the irritation in his voice.
Raina glared at her husband. “I cannot believe what I am hearing. Are you sympathetic towards these people? Even the Bible says what they are doing is wrong. They’re taking over this country little by little: the military, places of business, and now the school system—and they are trying to force us to accept them.”
“Look, Raina, it’s a lifestyle they have chosen and we can’t stop them–”
“Lifestyle, my foot,” Raina retorted. “I’m going to get me something to drink!”
Raina received a phone call from her husband on Friday shortly after lunch.
“Hey, Raina, just calling to let you know I’m leaving for the airport. Tell Brandon I’ll speak with him later tonight once I settle down in the hotel.”
“I was hoping I would take you to the airport,” Raina said disappointed.
“No need to. I’ll be leaving from the job. In fact, I am in the company car right now on my way to the airport. I’ll be seeing you hopefully on late Wednesday night, but more than likely Thursday, if nothing happens. Love you now.”
“I love you too.”
Raina had a quiet weekend planned. She wouldn’t be needed in the classroom until Tuesday. Saturday evening she received a phone call from her sister, Melissa.
“It’s Mama. She fell and twisted her ankle,” Melissa said. “There is a slight fracture of the bone. The doctors are talking of putting it in a cast. I don’t know what got into her—talking about she was going for a walk up to the little shop around the corner.”
“I’ll be down there Sunday after church,” Raina said. She called her husband to let him know where she would be. “I’ll probably just spend the weekend down there and return home on Sunday after church,” she said. “What’s that sound in the background? Sounds like someone’s singing.”
“Oh, that’s Gale. He’s always singing or humming something,” Craig said signaling to Gale to tone it down.
“I can’t wait to meet him. He must be a happy person to be around,” Raina said.
“He is. Let me speak with Brandon for a second.”
“Does your wife know about me?” Gale asked after Craig got off the phone.
“She knows about you. I told her you’d be relocating to New York. She can’t wait to meet you. She has plans to have you over for dinner for about a week until you get settled in. She’ll be away at her mother’s when we return. Her mother twisted her ankle.”
“Well, the better for us,” Gale said.
“Yeah,” Craig agreed.
Craig and Gale arrived safely back in New York the following week. The house Gale was renting was not quite ready. There was an unexpected water leak and it would not be fixed until the next day.
“You can stay at my place,” Craig told him. “Raina’s probably going to be gone until Sunday.”
Raina decided to surprise her husband by returning Thursday night after a nurse volunteered to stay with her mother until her ankle healed.
“Daddy’s going to be surprised to see us,” she told Brandon as they drove home from the country.
After pulling into their driveway, Raina picked up the sleeping Brandon in her arms and quietly entered the house through the front door. “I’m home!” she called, placing Brandon on the sofa. When she did not get an answer, she went to their bedroom. Craig was not there. She noticed light shining from under the door leading to the spare room which had been converted into a sleeping/recreation room where her husband often took a nap. It was the coolest and quietest part of the house. Raina opened the door softly. She expected to see her husband asleep on the foldaway bed; instead she saw him in a sexual position with a stranger.
“Craig, what in the hell is going on in here?”
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done…
Larron Clarke was caught in the Friday evening rush hour traffic. He looked to his left and then to his right searching for the tiniest opening to squeeze his car into to hopefully make faster progress towards his destination. Thank God for modern technology, he thought as he called home on his cellphone. “Laverne, I’m stuck in traffic again. Make sure everyone’s ready to go when I get there,” he told his wife.
After about an hour fighting traffic, Larron finally made it to his exit and headed straight for home.
“Is everybody all set and ready to go?” Larron called as he stepped through the front door.
“I am,” LaJoi answered slinging her purse over her left shoulder. “Hi, Dad,” she greeted her father.
After greeting his daughter, Larron turned to his son. “All set to go, son?”
“I’m not going, Dad,” Lincoln, his seventeen-year-old, said.
“What do you mean you’re not going?” Larron asked not in the least moved by his son’s words. “Explain yourself.”
“I’m not going. This family night thing is beginning to be a bore, Dad,” Lincoln said.
“And…?” Larron said closing the front door.
“And….I would rather not go.”
“And just what do you plan on doing while we are gone?” Larron asked calmly.
“I’ll be going out with my friends,” Lincoln replied.
“Did you all discuss this?” Larron asked his wife. Laverne nodded.
“Well, son, like I’ve been telling you for the past few months, you won’t appreciate what you have until you lose it. We’ll talk more about this, but for right now, we are going out as a family to Marjorie’s to eat as we have been doing especially for the past three years. You have two minutes to get in the car, and if you still decide you’re not coming, you have two minutes to throw what you can in a bag and leave.”
Larron had been having problems with his son for the past three years. He had made some changes in the family, and Lincoln was not adjusting too well. He wanted to do his own thing.
Lincoln looked at his mother. She shrugged her shoulders and jerked her head toward the door.
Lincoln hurried out the door to the family car. His father pressed the lock button to the car and locked the doors. Lincoln tried to open the back door several times, but was unable to. LaJoi, his fifteen year old sister, stood on the other side facing him.
“Larron, that’s too much,” his wife said as she stepped past him out the door. “Unlock the door so he can get in.”
“I’m trying to teach that boy some valuable life lessons,” he said to his wife. “Just wait until I unlock the door,” Larron called out to his son.
“All you have to do is click the button on the remote and unlock the stupid door,” Lincoln said under his breath.
His sister looked at him trying not to smile. I know how you feel, she thought.
“I’ll be right out,” Larron said. “Laverne, wait right here. Give me about five minutes.”
“I wish he would just hurry up,” Lincoln said staring up at the sky.
“Lincoln, I don’t like it any more than you do, so just quiet down,” his sister whispered. “Play smart and let it be.”
Larron Clarke and his family lived in a modest neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. Larron worked as floor manager at the meat packing plant across town. His wife worked for the Children’s Family Center downtown. Their two teenagers attended the Middlebrooks High School.
Larron unlocked the car doors. Lincoln slammed his door extra loud after getting in and slouched in the back seat with a bored look on his face. LaJoi and Laverne got in. “Sit up, Lincoln,” Larron said. “Your bad attitude won’t change anything here or out in the world. Things are not going to always go your way. Try to make it pleasant for the rest of the family. You don’t have too many more years with us.”
“Oh, Larron, leave the boy alone,” Laverne said. “He’s almost eighteen. He’s old enough to choose how he wants to spend his Friday evenings.”
“Well, I say Fridays in this house are family night, and if he wants to be part of this family, he has to participate,” Larron said. “Since the seminar, I’ve tried to slowly move us into some changes, but you are all bucking against it. I have had to make some major changes as well, especially after what I saw happen to my brother and his family.”
“Larron, this is our family and not your brother’s family,” his wife said.
“Yes, but as I pointed out before, I saw a lack of thankfulness and taking things for granted happening in our family. I let you all twist my arm into doing whatever you wanted to do; we were spending money we did not even have buying things we did not even need; we were living way beyond our means. You were always whining about this and that, and that is just not right.”
“You never said anything about it for fourteen years,” Laverne said.
“No, because I was equally as guilty as you all are. I helped to put us in debt, too. That debt recovery seminar was the best thing your friend, Sara, did for us. For some reason that Christian brother’s message came to my mind again today. We’ll be reading that passage this evening once we return home.”
No one answered. After a few seconds, Lincoln responded. “Dad, we heard the message too. You had us listen to the tape everyday for a week. We don’t need to hear it again, tonight,” Lincoln said. “I’m sure we all remember it.”
“Well, I have news for you. We’ll be reading Psalm 78 this week,” Larron said as he pulled into the parking lot at Marjorie’s. “And I am sure you don’t remember all you heard because your attitude is telling on you.”
“Oh, brother,” the children muttered. Laverne exhaled, rolling her eyes as she pushed the car door open. What other changes are we going to have to endure now? she thought.
The meal time at Marjorie’s was tense. All of Larron’s attempts to make it as pleasant as possible were met with smug remarks, half sentences, and one word responses. But he kept trying.
After returning home, Larron settled down in the family room and started listening to the tape from the seminar. “Discontentment with what we have is one of the reasons we fall into debt,” the speaker said. Larron had his notebook in hand ready to remind the family of the things he had learned from the seminar.
Over three years ago, Sara Missoff, a friend of Laverne’s, had invited them to a debt recovery seminar. Larron took it so seriously that as soon as he returned home he called a family meeting.
“Now, you all are not going to like what I am about to say, but we are going to have to make some serious changes in the family as far as our spending goes. Children, I have not said anything to you about this, but we almost lost this house and we probably are going to lose it if we do not curtail our spending habits. First, we will be selling this house and moving to a smaller one. We definitely do not need a house with a swimming pool.”
“Dad, how will I entertain my friends after our ball games?” Lincoln, who was then fourteen years old, protested.
“And where will I hold my birthday parties?” LaJoi, who was then twelve years old, asked.
Larron ignored their questions as he continued, “Second, we do not need three vehicles. We will be selling the van. And, if it’s any comfort to you, I will not be buying the entertainment system I have spent thousands of dollars renting.”
“As long as you don’t touch my car, and thanks for leading the way,” Laverne said sarcastically.
“Laverne, no more trading in your car every year for the latest model; and you will have to cut back on the money you spend at the mall. You too, LaJoi.”
“Dad, I’m not dressing like Moms Mabley, whoever that is. My friends will laugh at me.”
“If they are true friends, they won’t laugh at you,” her father replied.
“Is there anything else?” Laverne asked in a bored tone.
“Yes, we will start going to church regularly.”
The children moaned.
Larron insisted on everyone doing their part. “This will make things go smoother for the family, and we will all reap benefits from it.” Many Sundays, Larron attended church alone at the Destiny Memorial Chapel not too far from their home. None of the children, especially Lincoln, readily accepted the changes.
“You were never this strict before. I mean, why the sudden change? It’s not my fault we’re going into debt,” Lincoln said. “I think I’ll go live with Uncle Jimmy and Auntie Gina.”
“That will not be happening,” Laverne told him. “Your aunt and uncle are both divorced.”
“She spent him out of his house and everything else they had,” Larron said. “She has no control whatsoever when it comes to spending money. From what Jimmy shared with me, he has been talking with her about it lately, but they were so steep in debt, it was too late to make a recovery. She had been living large and they could not maintain that lifestyle. The sad thing about it is she refuses to see what she has done to her family. She’s blaming Jimmy for everything. That is what I am trying to keep from happening to us. By the way, that day bed you bought on time, you can just take it back. We do not need it.”
“Larron, I’m paying on it as we go. It’s no extra burden,” Laverne said.
“But we do not need it,” Larron said, “so stop paying on it.”
“This is ridiculous,” Laverne said. “Yes, I wanted you to be inspired by that seminar, but not this inspired!”
Laverne talked with her step sister, Denise, shortly after her husband started making changes to how the family spent money.
“I tell you, Denise, it’s downright crazy the changes he’s springing on us. He can live below his means if he wants to, but I can’t live any lower. What’s wrong with a new dress every week?”
“Well, he’s looking out for the family,” Denise replied despondently. “I wish I had someone who cared that much about me.”
“I care about you, Denise. What’s bothering you, now?” Laverne asked Denise.
“Life. It’s so boring.”
Denise Whitaker was not really Laverne’s step sister. Laverne met Denise when she stopped by to visit a widow named Mrs. Whitaker. Mrs. Whitaker took in any child who did not have a place to stay, and allowed the child to live in her house until they decided to leave or until the state came and took them away. Sometimes she had a house full of children; other times she had just one or two. Laverne was sent over by Children’s Services to take Denise and place her in a ‘proper’ foster home. The neighbor who made the call to the Children’s Services claimed Mrs. Whitaker’s house was too noisy.
At twenty-years-old, Denise was mentally unstable and would sometimes get into conversations with herself and withdraw from everyone else. She handled stressful situations by recoiling into her own world. Loud noises scared her and she would withdraw into a corner whenever the noise level was beyond her control. At the extreme, she would scream while covering her ears with both eyes closed. She walked with a limp from a fall she had as a child.
“Denise and I get along just fine,” Mrs. Whitaker told Laverne. “You just have to know how to relate to her.”
As Laverne took note of the special relationship they had, she had to agree with Mrs. Whitaker. Soon, Laverne was stopping by quite often and a special bond developed between her and Denise as well. With her help, Denise even enrolled in the community college taking general study courses.
“Denise, Mrs. Whitaker tells me you haven’t been going to your classes. Where have you been spending your days?” Laverne asked Denise over lunch one day. Denise fidgeted in her seat before answering.
“Oh, I go for walks—long walks—walks that take me all day sometimes.”
“Where do you walk?”
“Sometimes in the park with the birds. They talk to me all day. Sometimes I go to the library. Sometimes I go to the museum. One day I went to the zoo all day and just talked to the animals. Have you ever spoken to the animals? They have a lot to tell you, if you listen and not make fun of them. They tell me they do not like people making fun of them.”
Denise started to pull and twist the hair at the nape of her neck, a habit she had whenever she was nervous.
“Is that so?” Laverne asked.
“One animal at the zoo told me people make fun of me because of my limp; they do it behind my back.”
“But that’s not true. Your limp does not matter to people. It only makes you special. What matters to people is that you smile and have a good heart; and you do have a pretty smile,” Laverne told her.
“No, my limp causes people to laugh at me. They won’t say it, but it does. People make me feel small. That’s why I don’t have people around me; that’s why I do not go to school much. I want to be so small nobody will notice me; nobody will see me; nobody–”
Denise started humming a dreary tune ignoring all attempts of Laverne to get her attention. Laverne knew it was time to leave her alone because once she got into that state, there was no telling how long it would take for her to come out of it.
Carlton was up by five on Saturday morning and in the spare bedroom of their two-bedroom apartment doing his morning workout. After an hour of exercise, he juiced some carrots and went back to the other bedroom to let Camille know he was stepping out for his morning run.
“I’ll have breakfast ready for you when you return,” Camille said sleepily.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me for a good jog? It will get your blood flowing, plus I could use the company,” Carlton said.
“No, you go on ahead. I’m already in shape.” She turned over and went back to sleep.
Carlton decided to go to the park for an extended morning run instead of on the high school track where he had been going lately. He loved running in the park among the trees while listening to the birds chirping away. Today, there was a gentle breeze. Carlton took in some deep breaths as he ran. On his second lap around, another jogger fell in line with him.
“Hi, Carlton. I thought you’d never come by here again.”
Carlton slowed his pace and almost came to a stop.
“What are you doing here, Sara? You’re the last person I expected to see here.”
“I’ve been stopping by here hoping to see you,” Sara said. “I can just about predict your Saturday routine. Have you forgotten?”
“Like I told you, Sara, we can’t continue seeing each other. We had a son together, but I’m married now—happily married—and–”
“And have you told her about us, and about your son?”
“Look, Sara, you don’t need to be concerned about that. I have it under control. I do not know exactly what you want, but Camille is not the kind of girl to stir up trouble, and I don’t want you stirring up trouble for her.”
Carlton increased his jogging pace. Sara Jenkins — of all the people I could have met this morning. “Like I told you, Sara, no contact between us at all. What we had going on between us is a thing of the past; please do not try to revive it. Just let it go.” Carlton cut across the open space and headed towards his car.
Sara kept on running around the track.
I should have never come by here to exercise. I thought we had all that settled.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
“Sara, I’m getting married to this young lady by the name of Camille,” Carlton told Sara shortly after she gave birth to their son.
“What? Who is Camille? Do I know her?”
“No, you do not know her.”
“I thought we had a good thing going on between us—enough of a good thing to get married,” Sara said.
“Look, Sara, you’ve been a good friend. I’ve enjoyed being around you, but as far as marriage goes, I don’t think we’re going to work,” Carlton said.
“You had me thinking you were going to marry me. I just gave birth to your son, and…you’re just going to drop me like that! Oh, no.”
Sara took a couple deep breaths then started to cry.
“Why do you have to start crying?” Carlton asked.
“What else do you want me to do—cartwheels?” Sara leaned back in the seat of the car. Carlton waited for her to stop crying. Sara continued. “Tell me this: why are you marrying her and not me? What is it that she has that I don’t have? Why did you have sex with me knowing you were not going to marry me?”
Carlton felt the screech coming in her voice—a tone that overcame her when she was upset about something. He pulled up into the parking lot of the bank and turned to face her. “Sara, I’m ready to settle down, and to be honest with you, I just don’t see you as the kind of person I’d like to spend the rest of my life with.”
Carlton sighed. “Are you sure you want me to answer that?”
“You owe me an explanation.”
“Okay.” Carlton inhaled and exhaled deeply and slowly before answering. “You are bossy and controlling, and you do not choose your words wisely; you just say what comes to your mind. I think—no, I know I am not going to be able to put up with it.”
“You never said anything about that before,” Sara snapped.
“Correction. I did mention it a couple times, but you ignored me. You kept on talking and running off at the mouth, just saying whatever comes to your mind, and since we were not married, I just let it go; I just let you talk.”
After what seemed like an eternity, Sara said, “I can change. Just give me a chance. Please.”
“Look, Sara, I’m sorry if I led you on, but I can’t risk that because I know we are going to have blow-ups and that wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“Do you plan on taking Carl, Jr. away from me?”
“No. You’re his mother. He needs to stay with you.”
“What if I refuse to keep him and insist that you keep him?”
Carlton looked hard at Sara. I can’t believe she would even say that to try to get me to marry her. “Sara, if you don’t want to keep our son, I’ll keep him; but if I do, you will not have any contact with him at all because my wife will be his mother.”
Sara started to wipe away the tears that began to fall again. Carlton looked away. “I thought having your child would keep us together, but I see I was wrong,” she sobbed.
“I’ll send you money each month to help take care of the baby as long as you stay single. If you get married, my support will cease, and the only reason for that is, I believe, out of respect for your new husband it would be best and it would keep down a whole lot of mess. After I get married we definitely cannot see each other.”
“The money’s not the issue. I want you, Carlton, and Carl, Jr. is going to want to know his father.”
“We’ll take care of that once I talk to Camille,” Carlton said. “I only ask one thing, and that is that you graciously respect and accept my decision and not cause trouble.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .
I can’t believe she’s been trying to keep up with me. I have to stay away from the park, Carlton thought. After stopping by the ATM machine, and after picking up a money order for $510.00, he stopped by the Post Office, where he purchased an envelope and sent the money order off.
“That’s that,” he said as he headed for home.
When he arrived home, the mixed smell of sausage, buttered toast, scrambled eggs, and cheesy grits met him at the door.
“Just in time,” Camille said as he gave her a lingering kiss.
“I love you so much,” he told her.
After breakfast and after a hot shower, Carlton dropped Camille off at the laundromat—a place she did not particularly care to visit.
“We’ll go price the washing machine and dryer after I pick you up,” Carlton told her. He stopped by the FM radio station where he worked as a broadcast engineer to meet with his weekend manager before going to wash his car. She has not badgered me about those appliances so I’ll surprise her with them on next week, he thought as he waxed the outside of the car.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Camille picked up her husband’s sweats out of the hamper to place it in the washing machine. She checked both pockets because he had a bad habit of leaving things in his pockets. Camille pulled out a bit of paper neatly folded. A money order receipt for $510.00 written out to a Sara J. I wonder who that is, she thought.
Camille did not think anymore of the money order receipt as she eagerly picked out her creme colored washing machine with matching dryer. Upon returning home, she cleared out the small washing room that they were using as a temporary storage room.
Sunday morning found them both in church at Community Gospel Chapel. Pastor Howell preached another uplifting message on living the blessed life. They had Sunday dinner at her in-laws. Camille spent the rest of her Sunday evening sewing—her latest hobby—using the sewing machine her mother had given her as a wedding gift. Carlton spent his evening between the television and the internet. He was thinking of starting an internet-based business.
Monday morning, as any other week-day morning, found them both hurrying off to their respective jobs. During her lunch break, Camille took a trip down to the Office of Vital Records.
“Yes, ma’am, I’d like a copy of the birth record for a Carl Henderson, Jr. The father’s name is Carlton Derrick Henderson,” Camille told the lady at the window.
“Do you have the mother’s name?”
“No, I don’t,” Camille said.
The lady, Mrs. Greer, looked at her askance. Camille felt the need to explain herself.
“Mrs. Greer, my husband, Carlton, and I got married not too long ago. He had a son born to him by another woman before we got married, which I did not know of. I’m trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. The baby, Carl, Jr., is a little over a year old. If you can provide me with that information, it would really help clear up some things.”
“Give me a few minutes to get that information for you,” Mrs. Greer said with an understanding smile.
Camille looked at her watch. Twenty-four minutes before it’s time to return to work. Thank God this place is not crowded, she thought as she took a quick survey of the room.
Mrs. Greer returned with the needed information, which she handed to Camille to look over.
“That will be $10.00.”
Camille was eagerly scanning the birth paper and did not acknowledge Mrs. Greer’s words. It’s true. Carl Henderson, Jr., born to mother Sara Lynnette Jenkins and father Carlton Derrick Henderson on 28thday of July at 2:12 a.m. at the Onondaga Medical Center. She furrowed her eyebrows; a darkness overshadowed her eyes. She bit down on her trembling bottom lip. Her worst fears had come true.
Mrs. Greer placed a hand on hers. A cold shiver traveling through Camille’s body brought her back to reality. Forcing a smile, Camille said, “Please forgive me. You know, sometimes, no news is good news. How much is it?”
Camille fished in her purse for the money trying hard not to cry. She handed Mrs. Greer a twenty dollar bill. Sara Jenkins. Sara. I’ve seen that name before, but I can’t say when or where. As she returned the $10.00 change from the $20.00 to her purse, a folded paper caught her attention. She took it out and scanned it. The money order to Sara J! “Thank you,” Camille said to Mrs. Greer as she quickly turned away and hurried out the building to her car. Once seated behind the steering wheel, she looked over the birth paper once again.
Camille returned to her job deep in thought. She stopped by Zena’s office.
“Now, I’m one hurting sister,” she said dropping the envelope on Zena’s desk. “Read this.”
“Ooo, girl. This is all you need. I say, nip it in the bud; nip-it-in-the-bud,” Zena said after looking over the contents of the envelope. “That means he got involved with this Sara Jenkins while you all were planning on getting married and Carl Jr. was born a couple months before you all got married, and he never said a word to you. No offense, Camille, but how low can one go?”
Camille did not know what to say as she dabbed at her tear-filled eyes. Zena pulled some Kleenex out of the box and handed them to Camille.
“Camille, you need to get to the bottom of this now before things get worse. He’s acting like he has nothing in his past; I know he feels guilty every time he looks at you—that is, if he has a conscience. You know the truth and you are suspicious around him—watching and questioning his every move. That is not going to work for too long.”
“How much worse can things get?”
“That hurting sister is going to come seeking child support; she’s going to want to rekindle whatever she and Carlton had going on. She’s already started by sneaking you that letter in a black envelope. The color of the envelope says a lot. Her words were sweet, but she does not mean you well.” Zena handed the birth paper back to Camille.
Camille took the receipt out of her purse and handed it to Zena.
“What’s this?” Zena asked unfolding the paper.
“Written to Sara J,” Camille said.
“Need I say anything more?” Zena said. “You need to kill this thing while it is young. Lies and deceit will not work for long in any marriage or any relationship for that matter.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .
On the way home, Camille placed a call to her mother, Lavern.
“Mom, what advice would you give a friend who is in a close relationship with someone who is practicing lies and deceit?”
“If she knows for sure that the other person is living a lie, then she needs to ask the other person about the situation and try to get the other person to tell the truth.”
“What if the other person refuses to tell the truth?”
“Then just turn that person over to Jesus and leave the matter alone. What we can’t do, God can do,” Lavern said. “You know, it’s a beautiful thing when people tell the truth to each other.”
“What if trying to get the person to tell the truth breaks up the relationship?”
“Camille, it’s a risk you have to take,” her mother said. “Now, honey, you tell the truth. Does this have anything to do with you and Carlton?”
“Maybe,” Camille said. “Thanks, Mom, I’ll talk to you later.” Camille did not want to hear her mother tell her ‘I told you so,’ as she remembered the conversation they had a few weeks before her marriage.
Mother, you were right. I should have probed and asked more questions before I accepted his proposal. Now I have to try and fix this mess, Camille thought as she pressed down on the accelerator. She felt anger and disappointment rising up in her—first at herself for being so trusting and not taking her mother’s advice, and then at Carlton for living a lie.
Just as she was turning off the main road at her exit, her mother called back. “Yes, Mother.”
“Just calling to let you know I just finished praying for you. Let me pray with you now.”
“Amen,” Camille said after the prayer ended. “Bye, Mother. Thanks.”
Camille stepped into the house about thirty minutes before her husband came home. She had a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs with salad and garlic bread, a favorite of her husband, on the table by the time he freshened up and sat down at the dinner table. Conversation was pleasant as they discussed a possible one week vacation at the beginning of September when students were going back to school.
Camille went directly to her sewing machine after supper was over, and stayed at it for the rest of the evening. Sewing helped set her mind at ease and allowed her to think through things. Camille was waiting for the “perfect” time to ask her husband about her newly acquired information.
As they climbed into bed for the night, Carlton reached over to kiss her goodnight.
Camille turned her head away, “Go kiss Sara Jenkins goodnight!”
Carlton tensed up. “Now, what is your problem and what are you talking about?” he asked.
“Are you deaf? Sara Jenkins is your problem. I don’t have a problem,” Camille said. She climbed out of the bed and got her purse from the closet. She pulled out the envelope with the birth paper and the money order receipt and tossed it on the bed before her husband. “Here. This might jar your memory.”
Carlton gingerly picked up the envelope. He glanced at Camille as he unfolded first the receipt and stared at it. Camille eyed him. A grim look came over his face. He pulled the folded paper out the envelope and read its contents.
“You’re taking a mighty long time to scan a one sheet birth record,” Camille said tapping her left foot on the floor.
Carlton let the paper fall from his hand as he fell back onto his pillows looking up at the ceiling fan.
“There’s no divine revelation going to come down from up there,” Camille said. “How could you not tell me something as important as that? You were seeing me and this Sara girl at the same time. You and I were planning on getting married and here you are having sex with her and not only that, she has a son for you and that is not something I needed to know? Why, Carlton?”
“Cammi,” Carlton said climbing out the bed, “come here. I did not tell you because I did not want to hurt you.” He reached out to give her a hug.
Camille side-stepped him. “Don’t touch me. Go hug a tree if you want a hug so badly, or better yet, go hug Sara Jenkins.”
“The truth is, I feared losing you. I thought this would upset you so much you’d call off the wedding,” Carlton continued. “I love you so much, Cammi.”
“I love you so much, Cammi,” Camille said mimicking her husband. “Cut the crap. You don’t lie to someone you genuinely love. You’ve just been busted, that’s all.”
“I didn’t lie to you. If you had asked I would have told you. You do not hear me denying this, do you?”
“Oh, really, you did not lie? That’s because I have the evidence which you cannot deny,” Camille said placing her hands on her hips and turning away from her husband.
“How did you find out about her any way?”
“Definitely not from you. Does it really matter now?” Camille said looking at him through the mirror. “But if that is so important to you,” she added reaching for her cosmetic bag, “this is how I found out.”
Camille pulled out the black envelope with the letter from Sara. She shoved it into her husband’s hand. He shook his head from side to side as he read it in its entirety.
“What do you have to say now? That’s a fine wedding gift, wouldn’t you agree?”
Carlton sighed. “It’s all true, Cammi. I’m sorry I did not tell you earlier, and–”
“You don’t mind having a baby out there, but you don’t want to have one with me—your own wife. You’re paying her $510.00—let me see—it has to be every two weeks at least because can’t nobody take care of a child now-a-days for $510.00 per month. Are you paying her rent too? How much of our money have you already given her? It’s amazing you still have enough to buy your wife a washing machine and dryer–”
“Cammi, it’s over between Sara and me. I could never marry her. She’s–”
“Oh, shut up, Carlton. You’re a liar; that’s what you are. Don’t come near me.” Camille was on the verge of crying. “How can you kiss me goodnight every night, kiss me good morning most mornings, kiss me when I leave for work, hug me and tell me you love me with this on your heart and mind? You don’t have a conscience, Carlton. You don’t have a heart.” Camille burst into tears. “You’re full of lies,” she said between sobs. “If I had not confronted you with it, when would you have told me?”
“I would have told you.”
“No you wouldn’t, and if so, when? The next two years when I overhear you sneaking a phone call to Sara, or would it be the next fifteen or so years when your son turns up at our front door wanting to finally meet his father?”
“Trust me. I would have told you before then.”
“Yeah, right. I don’t believe that, and I don’t know if I should trust you any more, Carlton.” Camille snatched up her pillows and blanket and stormed out of the bedroom.
Carlton lay on the bed staring up into the darkness not knowing what to think—if he should think about anything at all. His worst fear had found him and he was forced to answer a question he had kept blocking from his mind since he had married Camille: What will happen if Camille finds out about Sara and Carl Jr.? Would she leave him or would she accept the situation and remain with him?
Other thoughts and questions came hurtling into his mind: Would Sara cause problems for them? Why would she even give such a letter to Camille behind my back? Why was she even at the park? Apparently she had been going by there hoping I would turn up. Would she pressure me for more money? Why hadn’t I just come clean with Camille knowing that was the right thing to do? I did not grow up living and practicing a life of deception and covering things up. Oh, the things we do in the name of love! “Lord, I cannot even pray right now. I don’t even feel I should ask You to get me out of this mess.”
Carlton fell asleep wondering what the next day would bring.
Camille curled up on the couch with the blanket pulled up to her shoulders. “Lord, I hate to think negatively of my husband, but tonight I have no choice. I kept hoping he would tell me about this portion of his life on his own.” She wiped away the tears trickling down her cheeks onto her pillow. “Lord, I gave him time to tell me. I would have received the news much better back then. Now I do not want to hear it.”
Both were up earlier than normal the next morning.
“Morning, Cammi,” Carlton said tentatively as she walked into the bedroom to get dressed for work. She had just stepped out of the shower.
Carlton had just finished his morning workout and was getting ready to take his shower. Camille pulled her clothes out of the closet. She loosened the strap to her robe—the robe Carlton loved to see her in—and proceeded to get dressed. She noticed him staring at her through the mirror with a provocative smile.
Camille rolled her eyes at him as she bent over to pull on her stockings. She felt her husband’s arms closing around her waist. Camille stiffened. She felt his embrace tighten as he kissed her on her neck and shoulders. She remained in her bent over position for a few seconds before standing up straight.
“Ow!” Carlton said as Camille jabbed him in his stomach with her elbow. “What was that for?” he said doubling over while holding his stomach.
“Oh, ow! You don’t know?” she said. “If you don’t have anything to do, rather than stand there, I have to be at work within an hour, so move out of the way.”
Camille pushed by him and quickly finished getting dressed.
“You’ve never left this early before. Is there something special going on at Aflac?”
“Yes. Today will be an especially special day for us,” she said flatly.
“I’ll get that for you,” Carlton offered taking a step towards her.
“I don’t recall asking for your help,” Camille said as she struggled to pull the zipper up in the back of her dress. “I am quite capable…of…doing it…myself…”
Carlton stopped in his tracks.
“There!” she said with a sense of triumph having successfully pulled the zipper up.
Carlton kicked his sneakers off as his wife pulled her jacket down off the hanger. Slinging her jacket over her right shoulder, she picked up her briefcase and left the room. Assuming she was headed for the kitchen to fix breakfast, Carlton went to take his shower. Burnt bread popped out of the toaster when he entered the kitchen. His wife had already left.
Carlton tried to call his wife. She’s a whole hour early going to the job. Camille noticed his number, but let her voice mail pick up the call. “Cammi, I just want to let you know I love you, and I hope you have a great day today. Give me a call when you get settled in.”
“You showed him, didn’t you?” Zena said with a twinkle in her eyes after Camille told her what happened. “Somewhat gentle, but you showed him.”
“He called me three times already and it’s not even ten o’clock,” Camille said glancing at her watch.
“Let him keep calling. Let him feel the pain. Let him see how disappointed you are in him. By this evening, he’ll be a truly humble person,” Zena said.
If I stay to find out, Camille thought.
Carlton returned home later that evening with a small bouquet of flowers. “Cammi!” he called out as he pushed the door open. “Cammi!” he called entering their bedroom.
What is going on? he thought when he received no answer. His cell phone rang, and he pulled it out of his pocket thinking it was his wife. Without checking the number, he pressed the ‘talk’ button.
“Cammi, is everything all right? Where are you?”
“How about, ‘Hello, Sara, it’s nice of you to call’?”
Carlton heaved a sigh. I don’t need this now, he thought, upset at himself for not checking first to see who was calling.
“Sara, what do you want?” he asked roughly.
“I thought you might want an update on your son,” she said. “I don’t think Camille would mind that, or would she?”
“Look, Sara, I told you not to call me at all. I will initiate any contact we have.”
“Well, you should have changed your number then.”
“I told you I won’t change my number yet for Carl Jr.’s sake—in case there is an emergency concerning him. But you’ll leave me no choice if you continue to call me at all for frivolous things,” Carlton said impatiently.
“Let me guess: either you have not told your wife yet, or you’ve told her and she’s angry,” Sara said. “Is Cammi all right? By the way you answered the phone, let me guess: she’s not home yet; you don’t know where she is, and you’re worried—such a caring husband.”
“Sara, don’t you try to find out what’s going on between me and my wife. Okay? Good bye, Sara.”
Carlton tried calling his wife, but was unsuccessful in reaching her.
He sat on the couch, thinking and praying. “Lord, I did it. I messed up. I will never hide anything from her again. Wherever she is, protect her and bring her back safely.”
Camille had left the job an hour early and had gone home to retrieve some of her belongings. She thought of staying at Zena’s at least for the night, but decided against it. She instead headed for her parents’ home—a thirty minute drive.
“Camille, it’s so good to see you,” her mother greeted her. “What’s with the suitcase? Don’t tell me. You and Carlton are having problems. Come on in. Your bedroom is as you left it.”
After Camille settled in and after a hearty meal with her parents, her father, Eli, said, “Want to tell us what’s going on, Camille?”
Camille told them everything and ended with, “Mother, please don’t say ‘I told you so.’ I am not in the mood to hear that.”
“Well, Camille,” her father said, “I am greatly disappointed in him for his deceit; but, you have a small role in this as well. You should have showed him the letter the minute you read its contents. That might have solved some things then. In a marriage, you can’t cover anything up; you just have to let it all out and let the chips fall where they may.”
“But, Dad, I could not risk it. What if he lied even after I showed him the letter? That would be worse; we would not even have been one week into the marriage.”
“What if he did not lie,” Eli said. “You did not even give him a chance to tell you the truth. You have to risk a lot of things in a marriage and telling the truth and seeking the truth is one such thing.”
“I did give him a chance,” Camille said. “I waited three months for him to come and tell me and he didn’t. We were on our honeymoon. He could have just told me, then I would not have had to find out myself. Better yet, he should have told me before we got married.”
Her father sighed. “I want to have a long talk with both of you, but what I think you should do now is call Carlton and at least let him know where you are.”
“Camille, I understand how you feel. But, I want you to be the mature adult in this situation. It was very irresponsible of him to lead you on to marry him while he was keeping this secret, but as of tonight, you are still legally married. He at least needs to know where you are.”
Camille called Carlton after dinner.
“So you’re coming home?” Carlton asked with eager anticipation.
“No,” Camille said. “I can’t face you right now.”
“Look, Cammi, I am sorry. I should have told you. I don’t know what else I can do now.”
“You can try coming clean from now on. Bye, Carlton.”
“Lord,” Carlton prayed that night, “I know I don’t pray as often as I should. I deserve Camille leaving me. What I did was wrong, but could You please bring her back and give me a fresh start?”
The following evening, Alexis Henderson, Camille’s mother-in-law, gave Camille a call at home.
“Hi, Mom,” Carlton greeted his mother after answering the phone. “She’s at her parents.”
“What time will she be back? I told her I would pick her up so we could go to my ceramics class together. She said she wanted to go with me the next time I went.”
Carlton hesitated to respond.
“Is something wrong, Carlton?”
“Yes, Mom.” Carlton sighed as he told his mother everything that had taken place.
“So you’re telling me you have a son out there that your father and I know nothing about either?” Alexis said. “How long were you planning on keeping quiet about this?”
“I’m ashamed to say it, but, yes, Mother, I have a son out there—Carl Jr. You remember Sara—Sara Jenkins? I got her pregnant, she had the baby, and…I guess I was waiting for the right time to tell all of you…whenever that would be.”
“The right time has come and gone, Carlton.”
Carlton silently agreed.
“You know,” Alexis continued, “it gets harder to confess something the longer you hold on to it; it gets harder to turn away from a sin the more you engage in that sin. I’m not going to condemn you as I’m sure God has been dealing with you about it. Right now, you need to fix things with Camille.”
Alexis put her son on hold. The next voice he heard was his father’s.
“You’re really in deep water, son. How could you do that to Sara and now to Camille?”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I–”
“No need to apologize to me. And don’t you worry about offending me or your mother. We can handle stuff like that. We are greatly disappointed because we trained you in the right way. One of the things we instilled in you was honesty—if you did wrong, just confess it immediately. The guilt and self-condemnation is not worth it. I mean, we put enough Bible in you for you not to make those kinds of mistakes. Lying? Deceit? There’s no excuse for those things, especially from one who claims to be a Christian.”
“You’re right, Dad,” Carlton humbly agreed.
His father continued. “What you did to both women was wrong. You need to apologize to both and make amends with Camille as soon as you can.”
“I’m trying, Dad, but she does not want to hear it.”
“Can you blame her?” his father said.
Carlton received another call from Sara late that night.
“Your mother called me to find out exactly what’s going on,” Sara said. “I can’t believe you did not even tell her or your father about Carl Jr. What were you thinking?”
“Look, Sara, I apologize again for having sex with you out of wedlock and leading you to think I was going to marry you. But like I told you, I will take care of my son—that you can believe.”
“It seems like you and Camille made a mistake getting married. What good is getting married if you’re going to keep secrets from the one you claim you love?”
Carlton did not respond.
“Does this mean you now realize your mistake and there’s still an open door for me to step in? You could use some comforting tonight, I’m sure,” Sara said softly. “I have pen and paper ready for the address.”
“Yeah, right. Get off it, Sara. Good night.” Carlton hung up the phone. He stared at the bouquet he had picked up for his wife earlier that day. It was still laying on the dresser where he had left it.
Carlton stopped by Aflac before going in to work the next morning, but Camille had not yet arrived. He stopped by again a little before noon with some flowers. The receptionist called Camille to let her know her husband was waiting for her.
Camille appeared with Zena. Zena greeted Carlton then stepped off to the side and discreetly engaged in conversation with the receptionist as she waited on Camille.
“I thought you might like these,” Carlton said placing the flowers in her hand. “I came by to take you out for lunch,” he said guiding her by the arm out the double glass doors.
“Flowers and lunch don’t solve months of lying,” Camille snapped. “I have lunch plans with Zena, anyway, and I really do not have time to talk now. I only have an hour’s break for lunch.”
“Camille, I don’t know how else to make it up to you.”
“Well, think real hard,” Camille said. She pushed the flowers back into his hands. “I’m greatly disappointed in you and I just don’t know if I can trust you anymore. What else are you hiding from me waiting for the right time to come clean?” She took Zena by the arm and they returned to their offices.
“Camille, maybe you should have given him a chance,” Zena said to her over lunch. “He’s trying to make up for what he did, but you’re making it harder for him.”
“Well, he made that bed; I’m going to force him to sleep in it a bit longer.”
Zena laughed. “This situation is not funny at all seeing your marriage is at stake; but I never thought you had it in you to be this tough. You were always the merciful kind.”
“Well, situations make you change,” Camille said with a smile. “My question now is: is he still seeing Sara Jenkins? And if he is not seeing her, is he seeing anyone else?”
“Have you asked him?”
“Camille! Don’t you think you should ask him. I mean you not asking him is part of what contributed to this mess. At least ask for your own peace of mind,” Zena said.
“I know I should; but who’s to say he won’t lie.”
“It never hurts to ask,” Zena said.
Carlton received yet another call from Sara that night.
“Carlton, I just spoke with Camille. She said she is through with you and that I can have you back,” Sara said in a steady voice.
“Do you really expect me to believe that? How did you get her number anyway?”
“I have my ways. Your mother–”
“My mother is not stupid like that!” Carlton said cutting her off. “She would never give you Camille’s number without checking with me first or with Camille. Exactly what do you want, Sara?”
“You, and nobody else.”
“That won’t be happening. Anything else?”
“Yes. I’ve waited long enough—waited in a tizzy, hoping that you would realize your mistake in not marrying me. That did not work. Then I started hoping your marriage would be a short one—that seems to be coming to pass. I’ve tried not to contact you and I’ve held out as long as I could. I visited the park most Saturdays hoping to see you—that’s been touch and go since I spoke with you there some weeks back. I can’t seem to get you out of my mind, and I can’t let you go that easily. You’re going to find out real soon just who you are dealing with and that I am the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“Listen, Sara. You’ve got to accept it—all we have is a son together. I am not going to leave my wife for you.”
“Well, she’s left you.”
“It’s only temporary and because of something I did.”
“Are you sure about that? From talking with her, it sounds permanent.”
“Stop it, Sara. You did not talk with Camille.”
“I did. Anyway, Carl Jr.–”
“Are you threatening to use my own son to get to me? Because I’ll do whatever it takes to protect him, even if I have to take him away from you,” Carlton said.
Sara burst out laughing. “No, silly. I was going to say, Carl Jr. is asleep in the bed and I am holding a bottle, no, two bottles of pills, in my hand, which I am getting ready to open and–”
“Sara! Sara!” Carlton quickly dialed her number.
He tried a few more times, but received no response. Not knowing what to make of her last words or what to do, Carlton called his parents and told his father about the conversation he had with Sara.
“She’s probably bluffing as an attempt to get you to come over,” Wiley said.
“That’s what I thought, but I can’t take a chance, Dad. I have to go and at least make sure Carl Jr. is okay.”
“Okay, son. Swing by here and pick us up. We’ll ride with you. It’s a messed up situation; but you might want to consider getting full custody of that boy, especially since you are now married and in a stable situation, and if Sara keeps pestering you.”
The Hendersons and their son arrived at Sara’s apartment to find the door unlocked. That’s strange, Carlton thought. All was quiet on the inside.
“Sara!” Carlton called out as he pushed the door open. “Sara?” he called again as they entered the apartment.
Receiving no response they headed to the bedroom. Carl Jr. was laying next to his mother on the bed. Alexis gently shook Sara.
“What’s this?” Carlton said picking up a bottle off the floor. “Sleeping pills!”
Wiley saw a small white bottle almost hidden between Sara and Carl Jr. He reached for it.
“More pills! Alexis, call 9-1-1,” Wiley said as he shook Sara violently. “She’s unconscious. Looks like she took both bottles.”
Carlton picked up Carl Jr. and shook him. “Thank God, he’s alive,” he said as the baby stirred out of his sleep. He took him into the living room while Alexis spoke with the police dispatcher. Within minutes the ambulance was on its way to the hospital with Sara. The Hendersons hurried to the hospital after Alexis packed a bag for Carl Jr. From the hospital, they called Sara’s parents who arrived quickly.
“You don’t need to say anything to her parents as to what may have brought this on,” Wiley advised his son. “We don’t want to complicate things at the moment. Later, however, they will want to know.”
“Okay, Dad,” Carlton said.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said to them shortly after they arrived at the hospital. “We tried to operate on her, but the pills had already shut down her entire body.”
Carlton and his parents soon headed for their home after picking up most of Carl Jr.’s belongings. Carlton and his son spent that night and the next few days with his parents.
Carlton had a restless night. What have I done? Lord, please forgive me. Please forgive me.
We have followed the devices and desires of our own hearts
It took some time, but Cecelia was finally able to get in touch with Betsy, the person who did the final editing on her husband’s book over twenty years ago. Betsy owned and operated Words of Light Press, now called Scriptureland Publishers. After hearing of the Rubiks’ dilemma and looking into the matter, she was able to give them a viable explanation.
“Thank God we kept all of our correspondence on file,” Betsy said after returning to the phone. “Apparently, your husband quoted quite a bit from a book that had been out of print for some years. He must have had it in his personal library. Another lady, Angie, helped me with Mr. Rubik’s book. Angie’s main job was to check to make sure all quotes were given the proper citations. When she got to those pages with the quotes she could not locate the book to verify the quotes and references, so she just removed the quotation marks and incorporated it into your husband’s text making it seem as though they were his words. According to what she recorded in his files, she sent a letter asking him to send the bibliographic data on the book he was using as his source.”
“I don’t recall receiving such a letter,” Cecelia said. “I’m sure we would have taken care of it if we had. I mean we don’t want to be seen as dishonest.”
“Well, we’ve had some problems with Angie in the area of honesty, and I had to release her a few years ago,” Betsy said. “We’ve had to clear up many negative issues with some of our customers because of her. That’s why we had to change the name of our company. She almost killed the reputation of Words of Light.”
“No wonder I had such a hard time locating you,” Cecelia said. “Anyway, thanks for your help. If you don’t mind, can you put what you told me in writing, and I’ll get my husband to reset the quotes and send you all the information about the book. Then, we’ll probably order another print run. Mr. Adin is waiting to hear from you and us.”
“Sure,” said Betsy. “I’ll get that right over to you.”
“By the way, my husband is working on a second book, so be on the look out for it,” Cecelia said.
After solidifying everything with Betsy and then with Mr. Adin, Cecelia happily related to her husband the good news.
“Thank God, that’s all cleared up,” she said after reading the news release sent out by Mr. Adin explaining the error a week later.
“Yes. Thank God,” Barry said but not with as much joy as Cecelia anticipated.
“Are you okay, Barry?” she asked.
“I think I need to lie down. I’ve been having real bad chest pains lately,” he said.
Cecelia took the liberty to make an appointment with her husband’s doctor knowing he would not do it himself.
“Barry, all your tests have come back negative,” Dr. Larson said when Barry came in for the appointment. “We can’t figure out what the problem is. Your chest X-rays are fine. You are in great health. My guess is it’s just stress.”
Barry shook his head doubtfully. “It’s got to be something. I’ve never been in this much pain before. It just seems to sit there. If I turn a certain way, that makes it worse.”
“I think you just need to get more rest,” Dr. Larson said. “When was the last time you took a vacation from everything?”
“Not anytime recently,” said Barry.
“Well, I suggest you do that,” said Dr. Larson. “Didn’t you mention something about possibly moving to Connecticut to accept the position of president at one of the colleges there? That can be stressful in and of itself.”
“Yes,” Barry said. “In fact, I should be hearing from them quite soon.”
“I think you are overly anxious and stressed out waiting for their decision,” Dr. Larson said. “Learn to relax. Take a vacation before you begin this new venture.”
Barry was given the position as president of Connecticut Central Community College effective September of the new school year.
“We’re going to miss you,” Wiley and Alexis Henderson said to them over Sunday dinner. “I know Community Gospel Chapel is going to miss you as well.”
The Rubiks had a quiet 4th of July. They did some barbecuing at home—just the two of them. After eating, Barry went to lie down. He intended to put out the embers beneath the grill after the fire burned out some. He quickly fell off to sleep, and Cecelia joined him a few minutes later.
That night, Cecelia awakened to strange creaking sounds in the house. She shook her husband awake. “Barry, I think there’s someone in the house,” she said. “Listen to that.”
Barry groggily climbed out of bed. “I’ll check it out,” he said. As he turned the knob on the bedroom door, he wished he owned a gun. I don’t even have a baseball bat, he thought.
Stepping out into the hall, he heard a loud crack. The hallway seemed to vibrate around him. There was another rumble, and the floor buckled under his feet. Not an intruder, he thought as he braced himself against the wall. Maybe an earthquake?
“Barry!” his wife shouted from the bedroom.
“I’m all right. Stay right there,” he called over his shoulder. “Call 9-1-1!” The house shook and groaned around him. Somehow, he could tell he was no longer standing on level ground.
He turned the corner into the living room, yelped, and jumped back just in time. A cavity had opened up in the floor of the living room, and it seemed to be growing larger. The floor buckled again, and was definitely slanted now. Barry watched as the couch, the fake trees, and the entertainment center — TV, speakers, gaming console — everything slowly slid toward the ever-widening hole in the ground.
There was another loud crack, and the front wall of the house split apart. Barry could see the stars and the night sky outside. A sinkhole! he thought. He had read a story about a sinkhole swallowing an entire house in Florida on the internet and remembered thinking how bizarre it seemed. Now, it was happening to him.
Another violent jerk from the ground drew him out of his thoughts. The wall that stood between the living room and the kitchen bulged outward and crumbled into the hole.
“Barry!” his wife screamed again.
“Coming!” Barry called. He turned and sprinted up the hallway to their bedroom. Up because the wood-paneled hallway floor was definitely slanting downward now. He rushed through the bedroom door and slammed it behind him. “We have to get out now!” he told his wife as he grabbed the jeans he had worn earlier that day off the back of a chair.
“What is happening out there?” Cecelia asked. She had jumped out of bed and was pulling a dress out of the closet.
The sound of sirens reached Barry’s ears before he could respond. “You’ll just have to see for yourself.” Barry shook his head as he collected his keys, money, wallet, and IDs from the night stand. Unbelievable.
“I’m ready.” Cecelia pulled on her shoes and headed for the door.
“No!” said Barry. The sound of wood and brick cracking and groaning was even louder now. The ceiling shuddered, and bits of insulation showered Barry and his wife. “Out the window. Go now!”
His wife gave him a bewildered look and then they both climbed out of their bedroom window as law enforcement vehicles and a firetruck sped down the street and pulled up at the curb. Lights were coming on and windows were opening in other houses on the street and their neighbors were coming out to see what the commotion was about.
Barry and Cecelia watched from a neighbor’s yard as the sinkhole widened and the bedroom they had been standing in just moments before crumbled into the ground. The garage and what was left standing of the house stood precariously, as if it, too, could topple at any instant.
Barry offered up a prayer of thanks to God that he and his wife got out alive. Strangely, the Sunday school lesson he had taught a few weeks back on how Jonah tried to run away from God came to his mind. Jonah did not want to go where God told him to go. God had been calling him to full-time ministry, but Barry still was not ready to leave his teaching position. He definitely did not want to give up the new opportunity at Connecticut Central Community College.
The Rubiks settled down in Connecticut a month earlier than planned. Shortly after he took on his new role, Cecelia started feeling nauseated and weak. At first the doctors could find nothing wrong with her. After a thorough examination by her gynecologist she was diagnosed with breast cancer—too advanced to even try to cure with medication or chemotherapy.
The Rubiks began attending New Jerusalem Gospel Chapel where Nathan Smith was the pastor. Pastor Smith led the church with a focus on evangelism. He had been looking for someone to lead a new missionary outreach. The Rubiks transferred their membership and came highly recommended by their former pastor who wrote them a letter of commendation:
Mr. and Mrs. Barry and Cecelia Rubik will be missed by the congregation here at Community Gospel Chapel in upstate New York. As their pastor for several years, I hate to see them go. Both have been very active members and are leaving in excellent standing.
Qualifications/Gifts: Both are trained teachers and led the college and career ministry for over seven years. Mr. Rubik has the gift of evangelism (even though he wouldn’t tell you that himself), and God has used him to lead many to the Lord. He will be an asset to your church and ministry.
Family Life: By all accounts, the Rubiks seem to have a happy marriage. Mrs. Rubik is very supportive of her husband. The Lord has not blessed them with their own children yet, but they have been a father and mother to many.
I highly recommend them as new members of your church and community.
CGC/Onondaga County, NY
“You know,” Pastor Smith said to Barry one Saturday morning when the church met for soul-winning and visitation, “I’ve watched you share the Gospel with people and I believe you have a special gift for evangelism. You know how to make people feel comfortable as you share the Gospel with them.”
“It’s all because of God,” Barry said. “People are hurting and only God can bring them comfort.”
“You’re right,” Pastor Smith said. “I know it’s only been a few weeks since you and your wife joined the church, but I am looking for someone to lead our Evangelism and Missionary ministry. After seeing you in action, I can’t think of anyone better who would be perfect for the job. Would you please pray about helping us out in an official capacity in that ministry?”
“I’ll pray about it, Pastor Smith,” Barry said. “I just started as president of Connecticut Central Community College, and that in and of itself is a full-time job. I don’t want to stretch myself too thin by taking on more tasks than I can handle.”
“I understand, but you make sure you pray about it. I feel that God has a special spiritual plan for your life,” Pastor Smith said.
“Is he asking you to give up your position at the college?” Cecelia asked when Barry shared his conversation with Pastor Smith with her. “You’ve worked so hard toward your dreams and God is now bringing those dreams to pass. Surely God would not bring you this far to have you give up everything He’s allowed you to accomplish especially the $300,000.00 salary. Can’t you serve the Lord on Sunday and keep the great job you have?”
“That’s what I’m thinking, but I’ll just pray about it,” her husband said. Why am I so worried about this if I am already doing God’s will for my life? Barry thought.
Meanwhile, Cecelia began to research everything she could on breast cancer and the best course of action to combat its devastating effects. “Barry, I think I am going to switch to a vegetarian diet to strengthen my immune system to help fight the cancer,” Cecelia shared with her husband.
“Why don’t you just do chemo or have a mastectomy as the doctor is strongly suggesting?” her husband asked.
“Are you crazy, Barry! I’d feel less than a woman without these,” she said motioning towards her breasts with the open palm of her right hand. “This is part of my beauty. This helps define who I am as a woman. You would not understand anyway.”
Barry reached over to hug his wife who was sitting on the sofa beside him. “I do understand. That’s one of the things that attracted me to you physically speaking.”
“Barry?” Cecelia said.
“Will you still find me attractive if I have to…you know…remove them?”
“Remove them? I thought only one was affected with the cancer?”
“No,” Cecelia said quietly. “When I went in for my check-up today, the cancer had spread to the other breast.”
Barry hugged his wife a little tighter and rested his head on hers.
“It’s happening so fast.” Cecelia started to cry.
“Don’t worry, baby. I’ll still love you. I’ve loved you for thirty-two years. I could never love anyone else. You’re my first love and you will always be,” Barry said.
“What about when it comes to sex?”
“Aw, don’t worry about that. I’m sure those intimate moments will be even more precious. Besides, you said you only had cancer in your breast, not everywhere, didn’t you?”
Barry and Cecelia laughed.
Barry laid his head back on the sofa. His chest was still hurting, but he had to be strong for his wife. She needed him right now.
Cecelia decide to have a double mastectomy. “I guess there’s no better way to handle this than to just accept it and go on with my life,” she told her husband tearfully.
“Yes. Like Paul said, ‘whatever state I am in, I have learned to be content,’” Barry agreed.
Unknown to Cecelia, Barry had made several trips to the hospital due to his severe chest pain that seemed to only be getting worse. On the last trip, he was given prescription pain medication, but he did not allow this to hinder him from fulfilling his role as president of the college.
For the first few weeks, Barry walked around campus visiting classrooms, getting to know the teachers, and interacting with the students.
One evening as Barry was preparing to leave, Professor Sanko, who was the head physics teacher, stepped into his office. He showed Barry a letter that had been left on his office desk while he had been teaching his afternoon class. The letter read:
It has been brought to my attention that three students in your advanced physics class are not performing to the required level for graduation. Two students are taking this class for the second time; one of them for the third time. As president of this college, I am authorizing you to give them the minimum passing grade of ‘C’ so they can continue to pursue their goals and aspirations without further delay.
The letter which listed the students’ names and their school-issued IDs was signed Barry Rubik, and was typed on the school’s official letterhead.
“I did not write this,” Barry said. “And I didn’t authorize it to be written.”
“It has your signature,” Professor Sanko replied.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Barry said.
Professor Sanko shook his head. “I don’t have a problem with students failing my class if they don’t put in the time and effort. I failed my own son three times because he did not meet the course requirements. I’d have no problem failing these three.”
“I know,” Barry said suddenly. “These three forged my signature to get you to pass them. Send them to my office tomorrow.”
“Will do,” Professor Sanko said. “And I’ll come with them. I have a class with them tomorrow at 10:00. So, we’ll be here around 10:45.”
The three students denied knowing anything about the letter. Neither Barry nor Professor Sanko believed them, but they re-emphasized to the students that if they didn’t pass the tests, they would not be given a passing grade, and thus would not be able to graduate.
Barry received several threatening phone calls after that. “If you don’t let these students graduate, you’ll be sorry you didn’t,” a message left with his secretary said.
He did not know what to expect with each new day. One evening, the air was let out of his tires. Another evening, someone threw a stone with a sheet of paper tied to it through his office window. On the paper was written the words: ‘C’ passing grade or else. Graffiti was painted over the main door leading to his office on another day.
“Someone desperately wants to graduate,” Barry said to the teachers at a staff meeting. “If you hear or see anything suspicious, please let me know. I’ve asked campus security to increase the number of officers on patrol and to be on the lookout for anything or anyone out of place.”
The threat to boycott that year’s graduation was brought to Barry’s attention if the three students were not allowed to graduate. “Someone may get hurt,” the phone caller warned.
“What do you think I should do?” Barry asked his wife.
“You have to go on with graduation as planned,” Cecelia said. “Don’t let three rascals bully you into doing something unethical.”
“But what if someone gets hurt? What if they carry out their threat? I’m responsible for the safety of these students and the visitors,” Barry said. “If someone is in danger, we have to take it seriously.”
“Graduation day is something the students have all worked hard for,” Cecelia said. “You could let them march, but hold on to their diplomas until they meet all the requirements.”
“I could,” Barry said, “but that would defeat the purpose. They could easily go out after that and claim to have graduated. They could forge their diplomas just like they forged my signature.”
Barry brought up the matter again at the next staff meeting.
“I suggest you contact the city police chief, tell him of the threat, and ask them to provide increased security on graduation day,” one teacher suggested.
“One of the three students just dropped out of the class. I don’t know if he has anything to do with these threats,” Professor Sanko said.
“We can’t put anything past them at this point,” Barry said. “But we will not be known as a college that gives away grades. Each student must earn the grades they get here. We cannot, must not, and will not let these three students intimidate us or the student body. We are going to have a great graduation—the best this college has ever had.”
Raina Barrington took a step back. She blinked thinking her vision was playing tricks on her. She hadn’t expected to come home and see her husband in their spare bedroom with another man. “Craig, what the hell is going on in here?” she shouted.
“Who is this man? What are you doing?”
But she didn’t even wait for an answer. She turned and ran for the master bedroom — the bedroom that she normally shared with her husband.
“Raina, wait!” Craig called out.
Raina locked the bedroom door. She tried to put the image she had just seen out of her mind. I cannot believe this. I refuse to believe this. Her thoughts were interrupted by frantic knocks on the door.
“Raina, open up! Let’s talk,” her husband said. He rapped on the door again. “Open up and let’s talk. I can explain everything.”
“Actions speak a whole lot louder than words, and what I just saw was sure speaking loud,” she said. “Just go away! You’re disgusting! You – you – ugh!”
“Come on out and let’s talk. Please.”
“There’s nothing for us to talk about. Just go away and leave me alone. And get that…that thing out of my house.”
After banging on the door a few more times, Craig stopped. The next voice Raina heard was her son calling her.
“Mom, can I come in, please?”
Raina hesitated. Goodness, I forgot about Brandon! Now I have to open up the door.
“I’m coming, sweetie. Is your father out there with you?”
“Yes,” Brandon replied ignoring his father who was shaking his head fiercely trying to get Brandon to say no.
“Hold on.” Raina opened the door just enough to let her son squeeze through. Craig tried to force himself in, but only got one foot in the door. Reaching through, he managed to get a hold of his wife’s arm.
“Get your filthy hands off me!” Raina jerked away from him.
“Raina, I just want to talk,” Craig said.
“Don’t cause a scene in front of Brandon. You better get your arm out the door before I break it.”
Craig sighed. “We’ll talk in the morning.” He returned downstairs to find Jerome dressed and sitting on the sofa with a quizzical expression on his face.
“Everything’s cool,” Craig said. “She’ll be herself in the morning. She came back earlier than I expected. Let me get you checked into a hotel until I get past this. Your apartment should be ready in a couple days.”
Jerome nodded as he picked up his travel bag. They rode in silence to the hotel.
After they paid for his room, Jerome asked Craig, “Are you coming in for a few minutes?”
Craig shook his head, no. “I’ve got to go deal with things at home.”
“Look, Craig, like I’ve been telling you, you’re going to have to decide which way you are going to go—either all the way with me or no way. I can’t take this in-between mess anymore. I’m tired of playing second fiddle.”
“Give me a little more time, Jerome,” Craig sighed. “We can work it out.”
“I’ve given you a year already,” Jerome said. “Thanks for the room. Let me hear something soon.”
As Craig turned onto the street where he lived, he saw his wife’s car pulling out of the drive. She headed past him as though she didn’t see him. He honked his horn repeatedly as he made a quick U-turn. He followed her as best he could in the late evening traffic.
Realizing her husband was following her, Raina sped up. Checking her rear view mirror as she turned into a hotel parking lot, she thought she had shaken him. She helped Brandon out of his booster seat and they hurried into the hotel lobby to get checked in.
Craig slowed down as he glanced over into the hotel’s main entrance. He was just in time to see them turning away from the front desk. Screeching to a halt in front of the entrance, he jumped out of his car and rushed inside.
“Raina, wait up!” he called out. Raina pulled on Brandon’s hand as she kept walking. Craig caught up with her.
“Raina, please give me a chance to explain,” he pleaded.
“A chance to explain what? WHAT?“ Raina said between gritted teeth. “To explain why you were kissing a stinking man in our house? Are you even a man? I don’t even know who I’ve been married to these past six years!” She came to an abrupt halt in front of her room door.
Brandon tugged at her jacket. “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom,” he said matter-of-factly.
Raina swung around to face her husband as he placed a hand on her arm. “I am going to say this as calmly as I can,” she said. “I am very tired. Brandon is tired, and we both need to go to sleep because I have a job to go to within a few hours. Brandon has school in a few hours. I don’t want a scene, but if a scene is what you want, a scene is what you’ll certainly get. Get your filthy sodomite hands off of me!”
Raina unlocked the room door and let her son in. “Brandon, go ahead on to the restroom and then get in the bed.”
“Come give Daddy a hug,” Craig said reaching out to his son.
Raina gently shoved Brandon into the room. “He has to go to the restroom; be considerate.” Waiting for Brandon to close the bathroom door, Raina said to her husband, “I don’t want you to ever touch him; I don’t want you to defile him with what you were doing. Good night, Craig — or is it Craigette or something now?”
She slammed the door shut. After tucking Brandon in one bed, she got in the other. “Good night, Sweetie. I love you.”
“Mom, why isn’t Dad staying with us?”
Raina swallowed. How do you tell your five-year-old son his father is a homosexual? Do I say, ‘I found your father with another man’? “Brandon, your Daddy did something that made me very angry. And I need some time to figure out what to do about it. Now go ahead on to sleep; you have school in a few hours.”
“Okay. Good night, Mom.”
Raina, relieved that Brandon did not keep up the questions, tried to get some sleep. But sleep did not come easily as her adrenaline coupled with unanswered questions were working overtime. How long has he been this way? And he wants to just sit and talk like this is nothing? Lord, what do I do? And please don’t tell me I need to forgive him.
“Yes, Brandon,” she answered, surprised he was still awake.
“You’ve always told me not to stay angry and to forgive people when they make you angry. Are you going to forgive Dad?” Brandon asked sincerely.
Raina swallowed to steady the tremor in her voice.
“Yes, Brandon. I will have to forgive him. Now go to sleep.”
Forgive him! How can I? What I saw him doing is beyond forgiveness. What if he has AIDS? Worse, yet, what if he’s passed it on to me? How could he do this to me and our son?
Raina made it to school in time for her first and only class that day. After class, she retired to the teacher’s lounge. She planned on helping out for the rest of the day, at least until Brandon got out of school at 3:30. It’s going to be a long day because I am not going home except to pick up some more clothes.
“Good morning, Raina,” Jasmine said as she walked into the teacher’s lounge. “Are you ready for the big meeting Thursday? My husband and I will be in the front row cheering you on.”
“Thank you, Jasmine,” Raina said. “I am still working on a speech. We have over 13,000 signed petitions already.”
“I didn’t sign anything,” Aaron said hurrying into the lounge and picking up a coffee cup. “Black coffee for me with donuts. Today is science day for my class so I have to go rearrange the room. The students will be showing science projects. You are both welcome to join us any time and view their creations. Wish I could talk more, ladies, but I must hurry.”
“All right, Aaron. I may swing by your classroom a little later,” Raina said.
After Jasmine left the lounge, Raina made an appointment with her doctor specifically for an AIDS test. Her doctor said she would see her the next day.
“Raina, I’ve been your doctor for years; but an AIDS test? What’s going on?” Dr. Hahmet asked the next day.
Raina heaved a sigh. “Dr. Hahmet, I just found out my husband is a homosexual,” she said. “I saw him and his partner with my own eyes. And I want to make sure he has not passed on anything to me.”
Dr. Hahmet tried not to show surprise as she waited for her patient to continue.
“I’m scared, Doctor. Where do I go from here? We’ve been married going on six years now and I saw no signs of it. He’s always carried himself like a man. How am I going to relate to him going forward?”
“You know, Raina, sometimes people do things and we can only ask, why? And many times there is no answer to the why. Our immediate response is to protect ourselves and those close to us—and there is nothing wrong with protecting ourselves and those dear to us; but we must be careful not to act rashly because judgments too quickly formed can sometimes prove to be fatal. I think it was Flannery O’Connor who said something to the effect that what falls should at least be given the chance to be restored.”
Raina listened as Dr. Hahmet spoke.
“Give him a chance to share his inner feelings and why he chose that lifestyle; you at least owe him that considering you vowed to stay married to him for better or for worse.”
After her visit to the doctor, Raina checked out of the hotel and stopped by her house to pick up some extra clothes for her and Brandon. She stopped for a few minutes to look at her wedding picture hanging on the wall in the living room. Tears filled her eyes. Who would have thought my marriage would end up like this? God, why me? She hurried out the door.
Raina returned to the school and hung out in the teacher’s lounge to get some projects done, particularly her speech for that night’s “Just Say No” meeting. She did not know exactly where to begin on that. She had a chance to talk with Jasmine before she left for the day.
“Jasmine, I need your advice on something, but you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone—not even your husband.”
“Sure. You have my word. What’s it about?” Jasmine said taking a seat after noticing the serious expression on Raina’s face and her trembling hands.
“I am heading the ‘Just Say No’ campaign against allowing homosexual teachers in the city schools. We have secured over 13,000 signatures on the petition so far, of course with your help and the help of others, and things are going quite well. I’ll be mailing those signed petitions to the school board next week…”
“So, what’s the problem?” Jasmine asked.
“I…I…just found out that Craig is a homosexual.”
Jasmine shook her head slowly from side to side in disbelief. “Are you sure about that?”
“I…I…saw him…and this other…person…in my house doing…” she trailed off and shook her head too. “The more I think about it, Jasmine, the more I feel like throwing up.”
Jasmine remained silent. She laid her hand softly on top of Raina’s.
“As I think about it, there were some signs that I probably should have paid more attention to,” Raina said thoughtfully. “For one, he was not too eager to sign the petition. As his wife and being enthusiastic about this cause, I just assumed he was with me, so I signed the petition for him. We were talking about the meetings one evening and he nonchalantly told me it was a lifestyle some people chose and asked, ‘Who are we to stop them?’ Another time he said some people just struggle with it. I never really paid this any attention, but he has never attended any of the meetings. Of course, he’s never tried to stop me from leading this cause, but he was not gung-ho about it either.”
Jasmine remained silent.
Raina closed her eyes and swallowed.
“How can I continue to fight against this when my own husband is one of them?” Raina asked. “How long was he going to live this double life? I mean, how could he hug me, kiss me, tell me how much he loves me, and have sex with me, and still have a clear conscience—if he has one at all? We’ve been married for six years and he never let on. I never saw any signs of it. I give him credit: he’s been a great father and has always provided for us… Something is way off,” she finished with a tremor in her voice. She was no longer successful in stopping the tears from falling.
Jasmine handed Raina a handful of Kleenex as she laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“I’m going to have to either cancel tonight’s meeting or get somebody to fill in for me; you’re the only person I can think of. Whatever happens, I can’t go on leading this campaign because I have a homosexual enemy in my own house.”
“Oh, no,” Jasmine said after thinking about the situation. “You’re not going to cancel and I’m not going to fill in for you, and neither is anyone else. You’re going to that meeting tonight with your head held up high and you’re going to continue encouraging those people to move forward in this worthy cause. You’ve brought us too far to quit on us now. You have to continue to stand for what is right. We both know the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination in God’s sight and God does not smile upon any sin, and as a Christian, we can’t either—no matter who commits the sin. You don’t have to hate your husband—just hate what he’s doing.”
“I just feel so sick to the stomach when I think about it,” Raina said. “I just can’t seem to shake the image I saw out of my mind. I had to get away from him immediately.”
“Meaning, I spent the last two nights in a hotel and I’ll be heading to my mother’s house in the country as soon as Brandon gets out of school for the summer.”
“I guess you will need some time away from him,” Jasmine said. “Have you spoken with Craig at all since you found out?”
“No. I can’t bring myself to talk with him,” Raina answered.
“How long do you plan on staying at your mother’s?” Jasmine asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe permanently.”
After thinking for a while, Jasmine spoke. “I know it is an unpleasant situation to be in, but you might want to really think it through before you act too rashly.”
“There is nothing to think through. That’s the worst kind of adultery one can get involved in, and according to the Bible I have every right to leave him,” Raina said. “You know, if I had caught him with another woman, I could have handled it better. But a man? No. Oh, no.”
“Do you know how long he’s been this way?”
“I have no idea; but as soon as I found out, I went and got tested for AIDS. My doctor should be calling soon with the results.” Raina sighed deeply. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
The meeting on Thursday was the best one yet. Hundreds of people turned out, and following Jasmine’s advice, Raina put her best foot forward. She felt the support of everyone there.
“I want this meeting to be more personal,” she started out. “So I am going to bring it on home. What do you do if your best friend shares with you that he is a homosexual? What do you do if a family member tells you he is a homosexual? What do you do if your own son tells you that he is a homosexual? What do you do if your own daughter tells you she is a lesbian? Will you still stand for what you believe without compromising? Will you stop communicating with them? I mean, how do you handle such news?” Raina let her own words sink in.
“What if it’s your husband? Men, what if it is your wife? What would your immediate reaction be? What would your long term action be? I would venture to say that most, if not all of you, have never had to answer these questions, and it is my prayer that none of you will ever have to. I want you to take about five minutes to reflect on those questions, then I’ll hear your comments.”
She waited anxiously as the minutes ticked by. Jasmine gave her an encouraging smile.
“You can love them, but not love the way they are living,” one resident said after Raina opened up the floor for their comments.
“I say cut all ties with them,” another said gruffly.
“It’s not an easy decision,” yet another said.
“I’m a Christian pastor, and if we aim to bring them to Jesus we have to have a spirit of forgiveness and love. We have to remember that none of us is perfect; we have our sins, too; they are just more ‘acceptable’ by society, if you’ll allow me to use that word,” one gentleman said.
“You know, you can always take them in for counseling, especially if it’s a spouse and you want to keep your marriage together,” one lady said.
“I don’t know how I would handle it; I especially would not know how I’d tell my children,” a mother said.
“You get through it with much prayer and fasting,” another gentleman who identified himself as Pastor Brigman said. “It’s a demonic spirit that’s causing this, and the Bible says ‘this kind cometh not out but by prayer and fasting.”
One irate lady said, “Children are very impressionable; I just do not want them teaching my children, and I would not want any homosexual relatives around my children.”
Raina was glad to see that she was not the only one who struggled with what to do in such a situation. A great meeting, she thought as she and her son drove to the country. But she still hadn’t decided how she would proceed in her relationship with her husband. Her cell phone ringing interrupted her thoughts.
“Brandon, answer that for me, please. It’s in my purse.”
“Hello…Dad!” Brandon said. “I’m doing fine. Are you going to come to Grandma with us? Mom says we’ll be staying there for a while…Here, Mom. Dad wants to talk with you.”
Raina hesitated. Not now, Lord. You know I’m not ready to talk with him. She reluctantly took the phone. “Hello…What do you want?…We’ll see…That’s your problem…Yes, I’ll be at Mama’s for as long as is necessary and I’ll decide how long that will be…You should have been doing that holy talk all along as well as living it. Look, I am driving so I have to go. Good bye, Craig.”
Raina dropped the phone in the passenger seat.
“Is Dad going to be at Grandma’s?” Brandon asked with a worried look on his face.
“I don’t think so. He has to work and it will be too late for him to come to Grandma’s by the time he gets off. Anyway, we have to check on Grandma to make sure her ankle is healing and that she’s staying off her feet.”
They arrived at Grandma’s house to find her doing much better. Raina gave the house nurse the weekend off until Tuesday.
“Why the suitcase?” her mother asked soon after they settled in. “And how’s Craig doing?”
“Craig’s doing fine. We are here to spend the weekend and to help you get better,” Raina said.
“And?” her mother said.
“And?” Raina asked.
“Yes, and? I spoke with Craig before you arrived. He told me something serious came up between you two, and he’s asking can you and Brandon stay here for as long as is necessary. It’s that bad, huh?”
“Listen, Raina, I’ve seen and I’ve heard of a lot of things happening between married folks in my lifetime, so nothing you say is going to shock me. What’s going on?”
“Well, Mama, I’m pretty sure what I have to say will shock you. You don’t need to worry about me and Craig. It’s our problem.”
“Who says I’m worried. I just cast it all at Jesus’ feet.” Looking her daughter directly in the eyes, she said, “Now stop being so stubborn and tell me what’s going on.”
Raina hesitantly told her mother all that had taken place the past few days.
Her mother gasped. “Lord, help us! Now that one is a shocker. I have never heard such a thing in my life! Anyway, have you prayed about it, and I mean really prayed about it? Only God can bring you through this for sure.”
“No, Mama. I’ve been too angry to pray much.”
“The Bible says, ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.’ I can tell that is exactly what you have been doing. I can see the anger on your face.”
“Can you blame me? He never let on. He deceived me. I never suspected a thing. How do I tell Brandon?”
“You don’t need to tell him anything right now—not until after you’ve given your husband a chance to talk with you about it and to share his heart with you; and not until after he’s gone in for extensive counseling with your pastor or whoever,” her mother said. “I’ve always taught you to trust God in everything. Do you believe God can deliver your husband from this? … You’re hesitating, Raina. Do you believe God can deliver your husband from this? If not, you need to hurry up and get a divorce from this man. I know I would.”
After a grueling day at work and fighting the Friday evening traffic, Larron Clarke would have much rather spent a quiet evening at home and turned in early for the night, but he was committed to keeping the Friday night family tradition that he had started. He thought about his family as he drove home and thanked God that each of them, with the exception of Lincoln, were accepting the changes, however reluctantly, that he was implementing. When he arrived home, his wife and daughter were ready to go. Larron glanced at his watch.
6:22 p.m. Lincoln has not made it home yet, Larron thought.
“Where could that boy be?” Larron muttered to himself as he glanced at his watch again.
“Did he say anything to you, LaJoi? Did you see him at all today?” he asked his daughter.
“I did see him with some of his friends this evening,” LaJoi replied.
“Well, we can’t wait for him any longer. I had plans to go to his favorite place—Pancho’s Mexican Buffet—for a little change,” her father said opening the front door.
“You should have let him keep his cell phone,” his wife said. “Taking his phone from him as punishment is no punishment at all. Now you can’t even get in touch with him. What if he’s in some kind of trouble?”
In spite of Lincoln’s absence, the family had an enjoyable meal at Pancho’s. They returned home expecting Lincoln to be there, but they walked into an empty house. It was around ten when Lincoln came in. He carelessly slammed the front door and then trudged across the tiled floor down the hallway.
“Where have you been?” his father’s voice stopped him short on his way to his bedroom. “And what’s that smell?”
“Out with my friends,” Lincoln said ignoring the last question.
“I said out with my friends.”
“And you all have been smoking?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Lincoln retorted.
“You already know I don’t want you smoking,” Larron said. “I have already explained to you the destructive effects it can have on your body.”
“I never said I was smoking,” Lincoln snapped.
“If I were you,” his father said walking out of the living room into the hallway, “I’d change my tone of voice right now.”
Lincoln remained quiet. His back was still turned to his father.
“I do believe you have something to say to me,” Larron said.
Lincoln shrugged his shoulders. He did not turn around.
“I wouldn’t respond like that,” his father warned him, “and you might want to try showing some respect by facing me. Since you seem not to know what I am talking about, let me help you: how about apologizing for not calling to let us know you would not be home at the time we expected you to come home?”
“I believe you still have my phone,” Lincoln said turning sideways.
“I believe you could have called if you really wanted to.”
An awkward silence followed before Lincoln blurted out, “I already told you family night—going out to eat at Marjorie’s—is not my thing. It should be my decision whether or not to go. I’m old enough to make a simple decision like that.”
“Not when you are irresponsible, when you don’t think of others, when you don’t respect the authority over you. You’re acting like a child.”
Those words struck a sour chord in Lincoln. He and his father had been having more confrontations lately. Every direction he turned, it seemed his father was blocking his path.
“I’m no boy. According to the law, I’m an adult—eighteen, lest you have forgotten.”
“Being eighteen does not make you an adult. In your case, you’re an overgrown, immature child, and you’re acting like one,” Larron said. “Mature adults obey the rules. You can make it easy on yourself by obeying the rules I’ve set for this home, but if you do not want to obey them, then you may want to consider leaving. Whatever your decision is will be fine with me.”
“I’ll just leave then and see how you like that,” Lincoln muttered doing the neckroll while looking his father in the eyes.
His father leaned his head also. “You may want to think long and hard before you make a rash decision. I need an answer tonight because I can no longer put up with your bad attitude, disrespectful ways, and outright defiance.”
A stifling silence engulfed them. With a straight face, Larron looked his son directly in the eyes. Lincoln returned the look, furrowing his eyebrows and reducing his eyes to mere slits, muttering, “I don’t have to take this; I’m leaving.”
“Let me get the door for you,” Larron offered taking the few steps to the front door and pulling it open.
Lincoln strode out the door.
“Won’t you be needing some clothes?” his father asked.
“Nope. I’ll get some.”
“Goodbye, son. I’ll be praying for you,” Larron said, even though deep down he knew their paths would cross again sooner than Lincoln was planning.
“I can’t believe you just let him walk out like that without trying to stop him!” Laverne exclaimed when her husband told her about his encounter with their son the next morning. “You should have let him stay. And did you think to give him his phone back?”
“No. He let me know in no uncertain way that he’s grown and he can do for himself, so if he wants a phone, let him get his own phone.”
“What kind of a father are you?” his wife continued.
“A father who loves his son,” Larron answered. “I would not worry about him. I’ve turned him over to God, and have done so for some months now. He’ll be coming back after a few days—once he finds out how good he had it here and that the world does not love him as much as he thinks it does. Some people have to learn the tough lessons of life from their own experiences rather than play smart and learn from the experiences of others.”
Laverne went about her daily duties with a sorrowful heart. She spent part of her lunch hour driving around town hoping to see her son as they had not seen nor heard from him in two days. She decided to pay Mrs. Whitaker a visit. Since no one answered her knock at the front door, she walked around to the back door. No one answered her knocks on the door. Peeking through the window next to the back door, she could barely make out a form laying on the floor.
“Mrs. Whitaker! Mrs. Whitaker! Denise!” she shouted as she banged on the door. Receiving no response, she called 9-1-1.
The ambulance and police car were there within minutes. The EMTs rushed Mrs. Whitaker off in the ambulance to the hospital as soon as they were able to break the window, climb in the house, unlock the doors, and get her out. Laverne followed the ambulance to the hospital. As soon as she was allowed to, Laverne joined Mrs. Whitaker in her room. Mrs. Whitaker was in a diabetic coma and things looked grim.
“We don’t know how soon or if she’ll pull out of it,” Dr. Shane informed her. “It’s complicated by other health issues. How well do you know Mrs. Whitaker?”
“Quite well,” Laverne said. “But I did not know she was diabetic. What other health issues does she have?”
“Her heart is not doing well—severe atherosclerosis. There’s a lot of fatty deposits lining her heart walls and arteries leaving the heart. It’s a miracle she’s still alive,” Dr. Shane said shaking his head. “I’ve never seen it this bad. We’re looking into a possible heart operation. Do you know whether or not she was on any medication? If so, which ones?”
Laverne shook her head, no. “I can possibly find out. Give me a couple hours to check with her daughter.”
Laverne decided to sit with Mrs. Whitaker for a while. She tried talking with her hoping for some kind of a response, but received nothing. The slight rising and falling of her chest was her only assurance that Mrs. Whitaker was alive. She whispered a prayer for her.
After about an hour, Laverne left the hospital and headed for Mrs. Whitaker’s house. Denise should be home from school by now, she thought. Laverne entered the house and looked around. Everything was in its place. She started to search in the kitchen drawers.
Meds, meds. Where are her pills? She has to have some kind of prescription, or one or two empty bottles or something.
After searching the kitchen drawers, she headed to the bedroom. She took a peek into Denise’s room. Everything was in place.
Laverne searched through Mrs. Whitaker’s dresser and nightstand, finding nothing. She was about to leave when she noticed the partially opened closet door. Pulling the door open, she noticed a box with a lid sitting on the floor. Thumbing through the box, Laverne saw a number of unfilled prescriptions.
Now why would she not get her prescriptions filled? she wondered. And where is Denise? She should have been home by now. Laverne waited another thirty minutes, but Denise did not show up. While she waited she retrieved her laptop from her car and keyed in the name of the prescriptions. Just as I thought. One for her heart and several others for her diabetes; another for stress. Oh, boy. If she had a hard time getting them filled why didn’t she just come to me? We’ve always been close.
Laverne spent the next hour driving around town looking for Denise; she drove around the college campus hoping to spot her, but that proved unsuccessful. She returned to Mrs. Whitaker’s house and waited a while longer before heading home.
“Larron, I’m worried about Denise,” Laverne said to her husband after sharing with him about Mrs. Whitaker. “She was supposed to come home from college; I was over at the house for over two hours and she did not turn up. I asked the neighbors to be on the lookout for her. Can we go back out later on to see if we can locate her?”
“Sure,” Larron said.
That search, too, proved futile. Laverne spent most of the night wondering where Denise could be. First Lincoln, then Mrs. Whitaker, and now, Denise. Lord, who’s going to be next?
During her lunch hour the next day, Laverne stopped by the hospital. Mrs. Whitaker’s condition had stabilized, but she was still being closely monitored. Although she was conscious, she was somewhat disoriented, and her speech was slurred.
“Mrs. Whitaker, how are you feeling?” Laverne asked.
“This is Laverne. I’m sure Denise is fine. Right now you need to get some rest,” Laverne said. “I just found out you have not been taking your medications. I’ll be getting them filled for you.”
Mrs. Whitaker waved her feeble hands slightly barely lifting them from off the bed. Laverne paid close attention as she mouthed the words, “Money…for children…for Denise.”
“Okay. But sometimes you have to take care of yourself so you can be healthy to take care of Denise and the children,” Laverne said.
“Social … Security … not … pay … ‘nough.”
Laverne smiled as she waited for Mrs. Whitaker’s coughing to subside.
“You should have asked me to help you,” she told her. “Anyway, you get some rest. All that talking is not good for you.”
“Denise … good girl … no foster home … no good … no love. Parents … kicked out … ’cause of limp. Care … for … her.” Mrs. Whitaker’s head slumped to the side as uncontrollable coughing shook her frail body.
“Mrs. Whitaker! Mrs. Whitaker!” Laverne cried out as she pressed the call button for the nurse. She breathed a sigh of relief as Mrs. Whitaker moved her hand slightly once the coughing subsided. The nurse hurried in, checked the machines, and offered her patient some water. “I’m afraid she’s expending herself too much. I’ll have to ask you to leave her now so she can get some rest,” she told Laverne.
Laverne nodded. “Bye, Mrs. Whitaker. I’ll be back on tomorrow.”
“Promise … care for … Denise. Promise?”
“I promise,” Laverne said. “I’m going to get Denise now. Don’t talk anymore. You get some rest.”
Laverne left the room, wondering where to search next for Denise.
After leaving the hospital, Laverne stopped by Mrs. Whitaker’s place to see whether or not Denise had come home at all. The Fruit Loops cereal box was on the counter; there was a dirty bowl in the sink; a half glass of cranberry juice was on the table; spilled milk was on the counter. So she did make it home, Laverne thought with a sigh of relief.
“Denise,” Laverne called out. “Denise,” she called again as she walked towards the bedroom. Denise’s bedroom door was ajar. She eagerly pushed it open all the way. The blanket was sloppily thrown across the bed. Laverne checked the bathroom and the spare bedroom. Denise was not in either of those rooms. Laverne checked the back window to see if the repairman had replaced the broken window yet.
Denise does not have classes today, so where could she be? Laverne wondered as she drove around searching for her. She thought about Mrs. Whitaker’s words to her at the hospital. I have to agree; Denise is not a mental case at all; she is just carrying around the hurt caused by her parents’ rejecting her because of a physical defect, and then being thrown from one foster home to another.
Laverne stopped by the library and then by the sandwich shop, two places Denise loved to visit. She was on the verge of calling the police to report Denise as missing when a call came in on her cell phone.
“Mrs. Clarke, this is Harrietta from the hospital, one of Mrs. Whitaker’s nurses.”
“Yes, Harrietta, is everything alright?”
“Well, no, ma’am. I was calling to let you know she passed away about thirty minutes ago.”
Laverne’s heart sank. “I was just there with her,” she started to say.
Nurse Harrietta continued talking. “I was in the room with her; she kept muttering something about the zoo and animals. But she kept uttering the word ‘zoo.’ I thought you would like to know. And I’m sorry we were unable to save her.”
“Thank you, Harrietta. There’s no need to be sorry. It was just her time to go,” Laverne said.
After saying goodbye to the nurse, the thought hit her. Now why didn’t I think of stopping by the zoo. Denise loves to visit the zoo and talk to the animals. That might be where she is right now.
“Dear God, let me find her there. I pray that she is safe,” Laverne prayed as she turned her car around and headed in the direction of the zoo.
Once at the zoo, Laverne bought a ticket and then hurried from one display to another. Thank God there are not too many people here. I have an hour to search for her before they close.
Laverne asked the zoo workers if they had seen Denise. She described Denise as best she could chiding herself for not even thinking of bringing a picture of her. No one recalled seeing her. As she headed to where a lone gorilla was caged, an interesting scene met her: Denise was perched on top of the large rock that was in front of the cage. The gorilla was sitting in front of Denise giving her his full attention. Laverne slowed her steps. Denise made a gesture with her hand every now and then. The gorilla followed her hand gestures with its eyes. Denise stood up once and lifted the leg that caused her to limp. The gorilla acted as though he was getting ready to do the same, but sat back down as Denise took her seat. Laverne stopped close enough to hear what Denise was saying to the gorilla.
“I feel like I’m in a cage sometimes—a cage without bars,” Denise said. “I feel like I’m caged in by people—people who do not care for me; people who do not love me; people who laugh at me because of this.” Denise kicked her bad leg out.
“You feel that way, too? In a cage away from your family—all alone with no one to talk to. Your neighbors have each other to play with,” Denise said pointing to the cage next door filled with monkeys chattering and frolicking with each other. The gorilla turned its head in the direction Denise was pointing, then looked back at her.
“They’re noisy. I know. I like quiet also. That’s why you and I get along so well. That’s why I come here to talk with you; you understand me.” Denise stopped as though listening to the gorilla, then she said, “Is that right? I wouldn’t worry about it. People make me feel small too. That’s why I keep to myself. Oh, I almost forgot. When I went to my house yesterday after I left you, Mrs. Whitaker was gone. I thought she said she would never leave me, but she did—just like my other families; the only difference is, she did not put me out; she put herself out and left me the house. I told you you can’t trust people.”
Laverne’s heart sank. If you only knew, she thought as she approached Denise. “Denise,” she said softly. “I’ve been looking for you.”
Denise chuckled without turning around. “Do you hear that, Boz?” she said to the gorilla. “She’s been looking for me. Nobody ever looks for me ’cause nobody wants me.”
“That’s not true,” Laverne said standing next to Denise. “Mrs. Whitaker was waiting for you to come home, but she had to leave because she got sick and the ambulance had to take her to the hospital. Did you know she was very sick, Denise? Did you know she used her money to buy food and clothes for you and the other children who used to live with her instead of buying medicine for herself?”
“She left without telling me. I came in yesterday and she was gone,” Denise replied.
“You’re not listening to me, Denise,” Laverne said facing Denise. “Mrs. Whitaker fell down on the floor. There was no one to help her. I stopped by for a visit and saw her lying on the floor. I had to call the ambulance and get her to the hospital so they could help her.”
Denise did not respond; she kept staring at the gorilla avoiding Laverne’s eyes.
“She really loves you, Denise. She gave you all she had and she never complained.”
“Say, Boz,” Denise said to the gorilla, “if she loves me so much, how come she’s not here talking to me?”
“That’s because she’s dead,” Laverne said placing a hand on Denise’s shoulder. “The nurse who was tending to her at the hospital just called me and told me she was too sick for them to help her get well. In fact, Mrs. Whitaker’s last words were ‘zoo’ and ‘loves animals.’ On her deathbed, she knew where you were. If it were not for her, I would have never found you. Denise, Mrs. Whitaker loved you very much. She loved you even more than she loved herself.”
Laverne felt Denise’s shoulder slump. She saw a tear fall, then another, and another. Laverne placed her arms around Denise’s shivering shoulders. Turning to the gorilla, she said, “Boz, Denise had someone who truly loved her, and you do too; Denise will always love you.”
Laverne waited patiently for Denise to finish crying.
“Come on. Let’s go home,” she said.
“Home? I don’t have a home. Nobody wants me with my ugly legs—one shorter than the other.”
“That’s not true,” Laverne said. “You have another family that will love you just as much as Mrs. Whitaker did. You’re coming home to live with me.”
Denise looked at Laverne for a long time before moving. “Wait,” she said as she got up. She reached into her bag and pulled out a banana and an apple. After looking around, she tossed the apple into the cage. As Boz went to retrieve the apple, she slipped the banana in between the bars.
Laverne smiled. “We can visit here every week,” she said taking Denise by the hand. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep …
Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou them that are penitent…
Carlton awakened the next morning to loud cheerful laughter coming from the kitchen. It took him a few minutes to remember the events of the previous evening. He smiled when he realized that that innocent laughter was coming from his son. He quickly joined his mother and son in the kitchen.
“Hey, little man,” he said reaching for his son. “Good morning, Mother. How’d he do throughout the night?”
“This little fellow slept like a top,” Alexis said. “Let me get you something to eat. Your father’s already left, and if you don’t hurry, you’ll be late for work.” Setting his breakfast before him, his mother said, “Don’t worry about Carl Jr. I’ll watch over him.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Carlton said. “I’m thinking of calling Camille and letting her know what has taken place. What do you think?”
“Go ahead. She needs to know.”
Carlton stopped by Aflac the next day a few minutes before Camille was scheduled to leave. He waited in the lobby.
“Camille, wait up,” he called out to her as she and Zena made their way into the lobby heading for the exit.
“Go ahead,” Zena told her. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Hi, Carlton. You two have a great evening.”
“Hi, Carlton,” Camille said. She was surprised to see him. She was even more surprised at the sudden rush of emotion she felt for him. She did not realize how much she missed him, but she was not about to let him know.
“Hi, Cammi. How have you been doing?” he said taking her by the arm. “Can we talk in my car? Something unexpected and important came up.”
As they walked to his car an overwhelming feeling for each other came over them both.
“You never did answer my question: how have you been doing?” Carlton asked.
“Quite well,” Camille answered. “And what about you?”
“I know I’ve been missing you,” her husband said.
Zena drove by and tooted her horn. She smiled. From what she observed all seemed well.
“I really wish you’d come back tonight,” Carlton continued.
Once they got to his car, he held the door open for Camille. She hesitated. “Can’t we talk right here? Do I have to get in?”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to keep you against your will. Just listen to what I have to say and then you are free to go.”
“Okay. What’s so important you couldn’t call me?” Camille asked after they were both seated in his car. “And where are we going?” she asked after he turned the key in the car’s ignition.
“I’ll tell you. Right now, I am taking you out to eat; it’s been a while since we’ve done that … and I miss sharing a meal with you. Please don’t fight it; hear me out first.”
Camille settled down as her husband started talking.
“Cammi, I don’t know how to tell you this except to come out with it; I now have Carl Jr. in my custody.”
“So-o-o … he’s going to need a mother,” Carlton said matter-of-factly.
“He already has a mother,” Cammi said with a perplexed look on her face. “Remember, Sara? The Sara who’s the cause of us not being together.”
“He had a mother. Sara is dead. She died two nights ago—overdosed on sleeping pills.”
Camille’s mouth formed the word ‘what,’ but no sound came out.
“By the time my parents and I got to her, called 9-1-1 and the ambulance got her to the hospital, it was too late,” Carlton ended after telling his wife all that had taken place.
“Where’s Carl Jr., now?” she asked in a much softer tone. She saw the inner turmoil he was going through written on his face. She could only imagine what he must be going through.
“He’s with my mother. I tell you, she came in like a champ because I would not know the first thing to do with a baby,” he said. “Do you still want to eat?” he asked slowing down in front of Shoney’s.
“Yeah … I guess … Yes.” Camille was still in shock from the news she just received.
“I need your advice and your help,” Carlton said once they were seated at their table in the restaurant. “Do you think I should tell her parents exactly what happened—you know, her being upset because I did not marry her? That’s what it all boiled down to.”
Carlton was trying hard to remain calm. Even though Camille heard the crack in his voice as he spoke, she spoke cautiously. I am not going to fall into whatever trap he may be trying to set for me, but I’ll play along, she thought.
“It’s an awkward situation,” Camille said eying him suspiciously. “I’m not exactly sure what you should do. What are you going to do about Carl Jr.?
“That’s where you come in,” Carlton said. “I’m hoping you’ll return home and help me take care of him. Right now my mother has him; but I don’t think it is fair for her to have to ‘raise’ him; her child-raising days are over.”
Camille tried to stifle a smile as she spoke. “You and Sara had an argument, didn’t you? She probably said she was not going to take care of the baby anymore because she’s mad you did not marry her, didn’t she? And so you’re scheming to get me to come back to take care of someone else’s child, isn’t that right?”
Carlton sighed. “No, no, and no to all three of your questions. You’re seeing this all wrong.”
“Well, can you blame me?”
Carlton sighed. “Look, Cammi, I don’t blame you for not trusting me after what I did. But I could never make up something like that.”
“Liars can make up anything.”
“Look, if you don’t believe what I just told you, you can call my parents and ask them.”
I just will, she thought. I don’t see how you can make up something like this, but I have to check it out first.
Camille placed a call to her mother-in-law as soon as Carlton took her back to her car.
“Yes, Camille, everything he told you is true,” Alexis said. “So little Carl Jr. is going to need a mother very soon. He’s just as sweet as can be and he’s a happy baby.”
“I can hear him in the background,” Camille said. “When’s the funeral?”
“I’m not sure. Sara’s mother will be contacting us to let us know,” Alexis said. “You know, Camille, you and Carlton really need to sit down and have a long talk with each other. Your marriage is too young for you to go through a separation let alone a divorce. It’s not even a year old. It’s still in its early stages and that’s when a lot of the ugliness comes out. You’re both going through the adjustment period, and that’s when things are going to get worse before they get better; but they will get better if you stick around long enough. Many husbands and wives don’t stick around in their marriage long enough to experience the great days that God has for them, and they lose out on the blessing of sharing their life with someone they care about.”
“How long is this adjustment period?” Camille asked.
“It’s up to the couple how long it will take. There is no set period.”
“Mrs. Henderson, I want the marriage to work. I really do,” Camille said. “I just don’t know if I can trust anything he tells me. Believe it or not, this is why I called you: to verify what he told me about Sara’s death.”
“Camille, as his mother, and with what he’s going through now, believe me, he’s not hiding anything else. He’s blaming himself for Sara’s death, so try to imagine what he’s going through. I can assure you, he will not lie any more. And, Camille, think about Carl Jr.”
Camille thought on her mother-in-law’s words. I wonder if I had stayed would things have turned out differently? She talked with her mother-in-law until Carlton got there, then said good bye. She immediately called Zena.
“I could not wait until tomorrow; I had to call you now,” Camille told Zena after sharing with her all that Carlton told her. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
“That’s sad,” Zena said. “Well, look at it this way: that’s one less trouble in your life.”
“Carlton’s taking it very hard,” Camille said. “What do you think I should do?”
“Go back to your husband.”
“But, Zena, that’s not my child!”
“But that’s your husband,” Zena said. “So what are you going to do? Throw your entire marriage down the drain because your husband made one foolish mistake which he apologized for more than once. He needs you now more than ever, and lest you have not noticed, you miss him too. He’s all you ever talk about. Stop talking about him and go get him before he moves on to some other woman—especially now that he needs a mother for his child, then you’ll be the hurting sister.”
Camille listened quietly. “You’re right, Zena,” she eventually said.
When Carlton visited Sara’s parents, they expressed their feelings to him.
“You killed my daughter—my precious baby. You killed her spirit so much so she had no more will to live. Why couldn’t you have just married her? Was she such a bad person?” Mrs. Jenkins said.
“Mrs. Jenkins, all I can say is I am sorry. Sara was not a bad person; she had a good heart, and…”
“Come now, honey, you can’t really blame Carlton,” her husband said. “It saddens my heart that she saw taking her own life as the only way out. I knew she was crushed that you went on and married someone else, but I didn’t know she had allowed it to affect her so severely.”
Carlton thought it best to remain silent.
“Maybe I should be upset with you,” Mr. Jenkins said, “but as I think about it, I sowed my wild oats during my younger years. I left a lot of girls with broken hearts. It’s only a miracle none of them took it to the extreme as Sara did. Because of that, I warned Sara not to get involved with any man before marriage, but she did not listen. I told her to stay home until she got married, but she chose to go out on her own.” Mr. Jenkins shook his head as he continued. “And now my baby girl is gone.” He tried hard to remain calm.
“What’s going to happen to my grand-baby?” Sara’s mother asked.
“My mother has him,” Carlton said. “My wife and I will be taking care of him. We’ll bring him by once things settle down.”
“You know, Carlton, everything within me is telling me to blame you … but what good would that do? It would not bring her back. Her whole life is wasted … gone.”
Carlton swallowed hard. He looked away as Mr. Jenkins comforted his wife.
Sara’s funeral took place the following week. It was a difficult time for Carlton and he was grateful for his parents’ presence at the funeral. He appreciated the pastor’s message as well.
The preacher said, “You know, sometimes things happen in our lives for which there is no human explanation. And I believe God allows us to go through these experiences to draw us closer to Him. The Bible tells us that no man knows the mind of God. We don’t know why things happen, and we begin to question God: Why, God? Why did this happen to me? But God does not want us to question Him. He just wants us to have faith in Him and to keep on doing what we know we ought to be doing. Paul encourages us to keep moving forward, to press on, no matter the obstacles and setbacks that may stand in our way, some of which we may have brought on ourselves. Paul wants you to have this vision before you to spur you on, and that vision is a picture of you standing before God on the great resurrection day when Christ calls us home, and to hear the words, ‘Well, done, thou good and faithful servant. You fought on to the end.’ Sara would want me to encourage you with these words: do not err nor stray from the ways of God like lost sheep. Keep pressing on no matter what. Don’t let the negativities and the foolishness of life keep you down.”
As the pastor wrapped up his message and the pall bearers took their places by the casket, Camille slipped into the seat beside her husband. He reached over and put his arm around her shoulders.
“Thanks, Cammi,” he said.
After paying their respects to Sara’s parents, Carlton and Camille returned to Carlton’s parents’ home. They both went to his room to talk things over. Carl Jr. was with them.
“He’s so cute. Let me hold him,” Camille said taking Carl Jr. from her husband. She sat on the bed cradling him as though he was her own child.
Carlton took note of Carl Jr’s. response to Camille. She had a smile on her face and Carl Jr. was staring up at her as though studying her. “How are you feeling?” Camille asked.
“I’m still blaming myself. I could have handled it a whole lot better. I kind of dropped her cold. I gave her the news of our marriage without any warning whatsoever. In fact, I was seeing both of you at the same time,” Carlton replied with a grim look on his face. “I should have never gotten involved with her knowing I was not going to marry her.”
“Well, you sure had me fooled,” Camille said. “I had no idea you were seeing someone else, but I won’t get into that now. What’s done is done. What made you not marry her?” she asked. “From what your mother shared with me, it seems Sara was a decent girl.”
“When did you talk with my mother about Sara?” Carlton asked.
“The same evening you told me about her death. I had to check it out for myself to make sure you were not lying in an attempt to get me to come back to you. Can you blame me for doing that?”
Carlton shook his head. “No. I can’t blame you. To answer your question: she’s bossy and sneaky, and I don’t think I could put up with that.” Sighing, he continued, “Maybe if you did not come along, I probably would have taken a chance and married her. I don’t know … but as the pastor said, ‘don’t let life keep you down.’ I have to turn my attention to Carl Jr. now.”
Camille looked down at Carl Jr.
“Seems Sara did a great job taking care of him.”
Carl Jr. started to suck the side of his thumb without shifting his eyes off of Camille.
“Are you trying to figure out who this lady is? I’m your new Mommy,” she said tickling his tummy. Carl Jr. burst out into one of his belly laughs.
Carlton raised his eyebrows at Camille’s words. Searching for the right words, he finally said, “Camille, please forgive me for acting so stupidly. There’s no excuse at all for what I did to you–”
“You don’t have to apologize anymore,” Camille said. “I acted stupidly myself. I should have shown you the letter when I first read it, and everything could have been resolved. I acted rashly by walking out.”
“So do you forgive me?” Carlton asked.
“Yes,” Camille nodded as she asked, “Do you forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive you for. ”
Carl Jr’s eyes slowly closed as he went off to sleep. “You, your daddy, and I will be going home together,” Camille whispered to him.
Carlton reached over and gave his wife a kiss. “I love you so much. I really do,” he said thankfully as it dawned on him that he almost lost the most important person who ever came into his life.
“I love you, too, Carlton,” Camille said. “Why don’t we promise we’ll never keep anything back from each other for as long as we live, and that we’ll have an open, honest relationship? I promise you I’ll do that.”
“I promise you, too. I’ll never hide anything from you again.”
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…
Restore thou them that are penitent…
The school year went by fast and plans for graduation were falling into place at Connecticut Community College. The three students who had been brought to Barry’s attention did not meet graduation requirements in physics and in a couple of other classes. The threat to boycott graduation was still hanging over Barry’s head as he was reminded of it again by a phone message left at his office the day before graduation: It’s not too late to give us a ‘C’, the caller had said.
Barry had asked for plain clothes policemen to be on campus in case things got out of hand. About twenty minutes before commencement, fifteen students including the three students who had failed were silently marching in front of the main auditorium. They held up placards with the words:
Give us a break!
‘C’ or not—graduate!
Rubik, don’t be a prick!
We deserve diplomas too!
A reporter from the local television station, a newspaper journalist, and a photographer were present. About five minutes before the commencement ceremony began, the protesters started chanting: C or not—graduate! C or not—graduate! When asked by the reporter the reason for the protest one of the fifteen said: “We just believe that if a student disciplines himself and attends all of their classes, turns in all assignments, takes all tests, he or she should be given a diploma and be allowed to graduate.”
“What if that student’s grades fall below the minimum ‘C’, should that student be allowed to graduate?” the reporter asked.
“Yes. Definitely. Some people learn by reading the book; others learn best by hand’s on. The important thing is that the student attends classes and participates in all required activities. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college and look how well they turned out.”
“Why didn’t you just drop out then and pursue your dream?” the reporter asked.
“I am going to pursue my dream, but I have been advised to get my diploma as well.”
The graduation ceremony began inside the auditorium without any disruption from the protesters apart from the chanting that sometimes echoed through the closed double doors. The president, the vice-president, the provost, and others took their seats on the podium, and as Barry was about to give the commencement speech before the graduates marched, ten graduates jumped out of their seats, held up placards, and started shouting:
‘C’ or not—graduate; Rubik don’t be a prick!
‘C’ or not—graduate; Rubik don’t be a prick!
“Quiet down!” Barry said. “Let’s have order in here!”
Everyone looked on anxiously waiting to see what would happen next. The reporters were busy scribbling down details and the camera men were snapping photos. As the chanting on the inside increased the chanting on the outside increased as well.
“Let’s have some order, please,” Barry repeated.
The ten protesters ran to the front of the auditorium and started marching across the stage. “’C’ or not—graduate; Rubik don’t be a prick!”
The fifteen protesters from outside barged into the auditorium, chanting as they marched down the aisle, “Hell, no! We won’t go! ‘C’ or not—graduate!”
“I’m asking you all to please leave quietly so we can continue with our commencement ceremony,” Barry said. “Visitors, family, and friends, please be patient with us.”
“Hell, no! We won’t go! ‘C’ or not—graduate,” the protesters chanted even louder. A few returned to their seats, picked up textbooks and started throwing them at Barry and those on the stage.
Barry signaled for the policemen to remove the protestors. Some of the protesters fell on the carpeted floor squirming and kicking at the plain clothes policemen who tried to put a stop to their protest. After one officer was kicked by one of the protestors, the officer sat on top of him and handcuffed him. Three of the protesters ran up and down the aisles to avoid the officers. The police were able to squelch the disturbance within a few minutes and the graduation ceremony proceeded as planned.
“Just a wonderful ceremony!” Barry said to his wife as they drove home later that evening. “I told you this year’s graduation was going to be great; we even had the press there.”
The Rubiks received several phone calls that evening from people expressing how meaningful the ceremony had been.
“All I can say is, praise the Lord,” Barry said to his wife as they watched the local news coverage of the event. “Let’s have a relaxing four weeks of vacation and get rested up in preparation for another great school year.”
While they were ending their third week of vacation, Cecelia started to feel extremely weak, constipated, and experienced pain in her back and legs. She tried to bear it without complaining, but couldn’t hold out for long. They cut their vacation short so she could make an emergency visit to her doctor. The doctor had a grim look on his face as he shared the news with them.
“The cancer has returned at stage three and the tumor has now grown into your uterus. You can do chemo, but my advice would be to remove the entire womb—everything.”
“Everything!” Cecelia said in horror.
She burst into tears as soon as they returned home. “Now all my hopes of having children are gone,” she said sadly. “That has been my heart’s desire ever since we’ve been married. It has been my daily prayer. I could never understand why God gave children to mothers and fathers who only mistreated and neglected them. All those mothers out there killing their children, killing their newborns; and here I am wanting a child to love and take care of, and yet I’m unable to have one. That’s not right, Barry.”
Barry could only hug his wife as she poured out her heart.
With graduation and vacation behind them, and in spite of Cecelia’s deteriorating health, the Rubiks looked forward to an exciting second year at Connecticut Community College. However, it seemed as though one obstacle after another kept blocking their path. Word started spreading around campus that “the new president, Barry Rubik, was discriminating against Hispanic students.” A list of things supporting this charge was sent to the school board, to the vice-president, to the dean of students, and to others who held notable positions at the college. These charges included: harassing Hispanic students about their immigration status; referring to them as ‘wetbacks’; and routinely investigating the citizenship status of students’ parents.
The school board called for a meeting with him to address the charges.
“Mr. Cromwell, I have no idea what you are talking about,” Barry said after the director of the school board read the contents of a letter that he had received. “I have always shown the same respect to all the students and I have never thought about discriminating against Hispanics.”
“Well, who do you think would do this?” Mr. Cromwell asked.
“I have no idea,” Barry said. “Unless the same students who wanted to force me to allow them to pass last year are planting this information to get revenge. That’s the only explanation I can come up with right now.”
“I see,” Mr. Cromwell said. “Now you know these are serious accusations considering this is a federally funded institute of higher learning.”
“Yes, I know,” Barry said. “All I can tell you is they are false accusations. You can ask my wife, the previous colleges I have taught at, my former pastor at the church I used to attend before moving here, and even the pastor of the church I am now attending.”
“I do know you came highly recommended,” Mr. Cromwell said. “But if these accusations keep coming in, I hate to say this, but we’re going to have to give you a temporary leave of absence until we get to the bottom of this matter.”
Barry shook his head in disbelief.
Two days later, while he was going over a few things with his secretary, Barry began to feel dizzy and passed out. After being revived by the college nurse, he called Cecelia to drive him to the hospital. His doctor ran a series of tests and kept him in for overnight observation.
“All the tests came back negative. My best guess is stress. I know being president of a college can be highly stressful, but you must learn to relax. Cut back on your hours.”
Barry began to think that taking a leave of absence of his own will as the board chairman had suggested might not be a bad idea.
Cecelia’s health was not showing any signs of improvement. But she kept her aches and pains to herself not wanting to add any extra stress to her husband. A general tiredness seemed to stay with her no matter how much rest she got. Chemo did not seem to be doing any good.
“Mrs. Rubik, I deal with reality as you well know,” her doctor, Dr. Pritchard, said with a grim look on his face. “I can’t even guess at how much longer you have left to live—maybe three to six months. It is not looking good. As uncomfortable as it is, we’re going to have to increase your chemo if you’re even going to have a chance.”
Cecelia had to leave her job as the chemo left her feeling too sick to do much of anything. To make matters worse, the week Cecelia received the negative news of the returning cancer, Barry received a letter of suspension from the school board.
Barry showed his wife the letter.
“It seems like we’ve had nothing but one obstacle after another since we’ve been here,” Cecelia said. “I’m beginning to believe we made the wrong decision to move.”
“Me too,” Barry replied thoughtfully. “I really do not know what God is trying to tell us,” he said more to himself than to his wife.
“What am I going to do in three to six months?” she said to her husband.
“What can we do, but to number our days and redeem the time as Paul said… and continue to pray for your healing,” Barry sighed.
Barry put in application after application for teaching positions at various schools from elementary to high school to colleges, but nothing opened up and there weren’t signs of anything opening up soon. Out of frustration he walked into the local YMCA after noticing the “now hiring” notice on the marquee. He was hired on the spot.
“I never saw myself working full-time at a YMCA—maybe as a volunteer, but definitely not as my main source of income,” Barry said to his wife.
“Well, at least it involves teaching—something you love to do,” Cecelia said. “Those boys are searching for good role models and for someone to genuinely love them.”
“You have a point there,” Barry said, “even if the pay is way less than what I’m used to. With your medical bills, we’re probably going to have to move into a smaller place.”
One Saturday before church visitation, Barry confided in Pastor Smith about the series of unfortunate events that had taken place since he and his wife had moved to Connecticut.
“You know,” Pastor Smith said after thinking, “I believe God is trying to get your attention.”
“What do you mean?” Barry asked.
“Remember I shared with you that you are a natural soul-winner and you have the gift of evangelism? Your former pastor even said so. I believe God wants you to quit your job and go into full-time work for Him.”
“Mmm,” Barry said.
“Haven’t you felt a calling to go into Christian work? Haven’t you felt a strong urging to go into ministry full-time?”
“I’m not going to deny that,” Barry said. “I’ve felt an urging for some years now and it has gotten stronger recently. I just keep pushing it to the back of my mind.”
“You’re acting like Jonah,” Pastor Smith said. “God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to the people so they could have a chance to get saved. Jonah said, no, and went somewhere else. You’re doing the same thing. God has been calling you to preach the Gospel full-time and you have been running away.”
Barry thought back to the very first time God started to speak to him about leaving his teaching position while back in New York and going into ministry full-time.
“As you know, Jonah tried to hide from God and God caused some unfortunate events to come his way: first the storm, then being thrown into the raging sea, then being swallowed by a great fish, then been spit up on dry land in Nineveh — the very place God told him to go to. God had to bring Jonah to a low point in his life before Jonah surrendered to him. That’s where you are, Barry. God is bringing you to your lowest in hopes that you will surrender to Him. I hate to even think this, but if you don’t respond to God in the way He wants you to, God’s getting ready to take your wife away from you through death.”
“But this is between me and God. Why would God cause my wife to suffer for my disobedience?”
“I think you know the answer,” Pastor Smith said. “God will remove from you that which is dearest to you in order to get your attention. Do you remember Pharaoh? God took his son—the thing dearest to him—to show him He meant business when he told him to let the children of Israel go.”
“We can do what we want, but God has a specific job for each of us to do and we will do that job one way or another—either willingly or by force. Either way is fine with God,” Pastor Smith said. “Right now you’re being forced in the direction of obedience.”
Pastor Smith remained silent to let his words sink in. “There’s a Family Life Seminar coming up at the end of next month. I’ve encouraged all of the members of the church to attend. I’d love for you and your wife, if she’s up to traveling, to join us this year. It will be a blessing to you.”
“We’d love to,” Barry said.
“Come by the office on Monday and pick up two tickets. In the meantime, ask God to help you make the right decision. By the way, the position is still open for our Evangelism Outreach Ministry.”
Barry was in deep thought on his drive home. Examples from the Bible kept coming to his mind. Peter returned to the fishing business, but Jesus came and called him back to be a fisher of men.
God wanted Moses to deliver His people out of bondage, but Moses wanted to do it his way. God had to sit him down until he became humble and learned to do things God’s way.
I have been just like Jonah—knowing what God wants me to do but wanting to do my thing—wanting to keep my career above serving God full-time; not wanting to leave my comfort zone.
“Dear God,” Barry prayed silently, “You have been telling me to go into full-time ministry for You, but I have chosen to ignore Your voice. Now, You have placed me here at New Jerusalem Gospel Chapel with an open position on staff for someone to head their Evangelism and Missionary Outreach Ministry, and I still won’t accept that position. Just as Jonah’s disobedience jeopardized the lives of the sailors and You had him thrown overboard, likewise, my disobedience has jeopardized the life of my wife and everything I’m involved in. We might lose our home; we are constantly having car problems; my health is in jeopardy; I’m about to lose my wife to cancer. There has been nothing but problems since I took over as president at the college. Who ever heard of boycotting a graduation? Lord, forgive me for ignoring Your voice; it has cost me dearly.”
When Barry got home, he shared his thoughts with his wife and was surprised at her response.
“Well, nothing’s holding you back now from filling that position at the church. Hurry up and call Pastor Smith and tell him you accept and let’s get going so that whatever months or weeks I have left, I can use them to win some souls for Jesus.”
Although Cecelia was not feeling well, she insisted on going to the Family Life Seminar. They were blessed. As the seminar speaker shared with the attendees:
“When God calls you to do a job, He wants you to do it and no one else. You can respond to His call in one of two ways: You can hear His voice, listen to His voice, and obey His voice and reap the blessings from doing so. Or, you can break bad by choosing to ignore His voice and be cursed. I always tell people I counsel, when inexplicable bad things begin to happen to them—your new car breaking down, sudden death or ill-health, people hating you for no reason—I always tell them to check their personal life first to see whether or not they are walking in obedience to God. Disobedience to God will bring a world of trouble upon you.”
As the speaker spoke, Barry and his wife were able to see themselves. They knew what they needed to do going forward.
“Welcome aboard!” Pastor Smith congratulated him when Barry shared with him his decision to accept his offer to head the Evangelism and Missionary Outreach Ministry. “God will bless you.”
The next Saturday after Barry made the decision to go full-time, he was out with the church witnessing and inviting people to church. He came upon a group of five teenage boys standing around laughing and joking while listening to some hip-hop music blaring from their music box.
“Hey, guys,” he said as he approached them. “I have some good news for you.”
“Are you going to tell me how I can win a million dollars?” one of the boys said.
“Not quite,” Barry laughed. “My news is better than that, and it begins with these words of Jesus from John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’”
The boys turned the music down and gathered around Barry and listened intently to his words.
“You are in the world, so that means God loves you. It also means He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die for you and for all your sins that you have committed; and we all have sinned. That’s what has separated us from God; but Jesus paid for those sins. All God is asking you to do now is to believe that Jesus Christ has paid for your sins. God wants you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so you can be saved from your sins and from the punishment of sin which is hell, and live with Him forever.”
The boys nodded.
“So all I have to do is believe that Jesus loves me and that He died for all the bad things I’ve done?” Ron asked. “Shoot! That’s easy. I thought it was harder than that.”
“That’s what the devil would have you to believe,” Barry said.
“I know all about the devil,” another one of the boys said laughing. “When I do something wrong, my grandmother always hollers at me ‘the devil is making you do it.’”
Barry and the boys laughed.
“Now which of you are willing to acknowledge that you are a sinner, and are willing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and ask Him to come into your heart and save you from sin and hell? If you do, just bow your heads and pray with me.”
“We gotta pray right here?” another boy asked. “I thought you had to pray in church for God to hear you.”
“Oh, no. Jesus answers your prayers no matter where you are. I asked Jesus to save me at a youth camp in the woods and He did. And He’s answered many of my prayers outside of the church,” Barry shared with them. “Are you willing to pray and ask Jesus to save you right here?”
The boys looked at each other then nodded. “I do,” they all said one after another.
Barry led them in prayer.
“Dear God, I do thank You for loving me enough to send Your Son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sins—past, present, and future. I do believe and I ask You to forgive me of my sins and save me from my sins and from hell. Please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life so I can have everlasting life. In Jesus Christ name I pray. Amen.”
“That is good news, Mr. Barry,” Allen, the quietest of the five boys said.
All five boys visited the church on Sunday.
The following week, Barry took his wife in for her scheduled doctor’s visit to be followed by chemo.
“This is amazing,” Dr. Pritchard, said. “I don’t see any signs of cancer. I’ve double checked all the tests. Everything is gone.”
Barry and Cecelia, although surprised, knew the reason, but did not go into any explanation.
“God will bless you when you obey Him,” was all Barry said as he shook Dr. Pritchard’s hand.
“I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for us,” Cecelia said as they drove home.
We have offended against thy holy laws …
Restore thou them that are penitent;
According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Raina was in the kitchen at her mother’s house preparing a cheesy chicken and wild rice casserole dish—her husband’s favorite meal. I do not even know why I am cooking this, she thought as she threw in the ingredients out of frustration while wiping away a tear. After what he did I do not want to have anything to do with him. He’s been living an abominable lie all along. I vowed to marry him for better or for worse, but this is not going to work going forward. Taking her mother’s advice she made an appointment with her mother’s pastor, Pastor Rocheforde. “At least do it for your own peace of mind,” her mother had told her. “And I would advise you to get Craig in for some counseling although I do not know if there is any hope for him.”
“Why do you say that?” Raina asked her mother.
“Baby, if my interpretation of Scripture is correct, it says in the very first chapter of Romans that God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves. It also says, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient. These kinds of people experience the judgment of God, but they insist on continuing in that sin.”
“So there’s absolutely no hope for Craig?” Raina asked.
“When God chooses to give you over to what you insist on having, then there’s no help for you beyond God.”
Later that evening, Craig stopped by his mother-in-law’s house to speak with Raina. “Mother, she’s my wife; she can’t just shut me off without giving me a chance to explain myself,” he said to his mother-in-law after she greeted him at the door. “She’s not answering my phone calls so I had no choice but to stop by here.”
“I don’t think you fully understand. There’s no explaining in a situation like this,” Raina’s mother said. “Anyway, let me get her.”
Raina reluctantly joined her husband in the living room. The husband whom she once adored was now despicable in her eyes.
“Raina, can we please talk?” Craig asked.
“What is there to talk about? Nothing. No amount of talk can change what I saw and what I now know.”
“Raina, this is something I have been struggling with.”
“Struggling with? For how long? Don’t even answer that,” Raina said. “Whatever the case, you should have never married me if you had this so-called struggle. And if this struggle started after we got married, you owed it to me to let me know and maybe we could have worked it out then.”
“So are you just going to throw away the six years we’ve already invested in this marriage?” Craig said. “Think about Brandon.”
“Believe me, I am thinking about Brandon,” Raina said. “If I do not want a homosexual teaching my son in the classroom, do you really think I want one to be his father? Hell will freeze over before that happens.”
“He’s my son–”
“Correction: he was your son,” Raina snapped. “But you tell me this: What words can I put together to tell him his father is a homosexual? Do you know how embarrassed I was to tell my doctor I needed to take an AIDS test? Thank God it came back negative. I made an appointment to see Pastor Rocheforde, Mama’s pastor, on Wednesday. You are welcome to tag along if you think it will help you.”
“I’ll be there,” Craig said.
“Just don’t expect a miracle. Good bye, Craig,” Raina said walking out the room.
“Craig,” Pastor Rocheforde said after he prayed with the Barringtons, “your wife has already shared with me what’s going on with you two. Now I want you to tell me what happened? Tell me what’s going on in your mind. When did this start? I can’t help you unless I have some idea of how this all came about.”
Craig shifted uneasily in his seat. He cracked his knuckles.
“When I was a boy, a friend of my parents took advantage of me. He had a group of us boys from the church over at his house for a backyard cookout. He told my parents he would take me home. Before he did … he took … advantage of me,” Craig said in a shaky voice.
Raina saw her husband’s hands trembling.
“Did you tell your parents, and if not, why didn’t you tell your parents?” Pastor Rocheforde asked.
“He threatened me. He told me if I told anyone, especially my parents, they would not believe me, and would brand me a liar and they would never believe anything else I told them. He said they would disown me and I would no longer be their son. Those were his very words and they have haunted me to this very day. He said bad things would follow me if I told anyone and that no one would ever love me again for lying on him.”
Craig cracked his knuckles.
“He came back to me two other times … no, maybe three … I don’t know. He told me I must always give in to him, and that he was showing me true love … Something happened and he left the church. I tried to go on with my life as I fought through bouts of depression, feeling low about myself, always feeling I didn’t fit in—just crazy thoughts. I even came close to killing myself at one point. I felt I had to succumb to men who were over me. I lived in fear. In college I joined a fraternity club—some of the guys were practicing gays. I got involved with them. I felt that’s what I was supposed to do to be accepted and loved by them. I felt I had to give in to live a complete life.”
Raina rolled her eyes as she leaned back in her chair. She rested her head in her hand. She did not even look at her husband as he spoke.
“After college I came across a few of my fraternity brothers, and … well … I got involved with them again.”
“Where does this Gale or Jerome or whoever come in?” Raina blurted out. “You know the one you visited on your last trip out of town before all this mess came about. I hate confusion, Craig. I hate …”
Pastor Rocheforde cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows at Raina. She stopped in mid-sentence.
“He was part of the fraternity club in college. We kind of kept in touch, and …”
“You don’t have to explain him,” she quickly said raising her hand. “What I want to know is, why did you marry me knowing you were a homosexual?”
“Raina, I married you because I love you … and because I thought marriage would cure me of this … this…”
“Sin?” Raina blurted out. “And you mean to tell me you were a homosexual before we got married!”
Pastor Rocheforde cleared his throat, but allowed the two to continue.
“And you call that love? No, you didn’t love me. You used me to cover up your sinful life. That’s what you did,” Raina said. “And you just want me to accept it and we go on as though it was nothing? You must be losing your mind … no, you have lost your mind!”
“Raina, let him finish talking,” Pastor Rocheforde said. “How much contact have you and Jerome had?” he asked.
“We kind of lost touch with each other for a while; then we ran into each other on one of my trips out of town and … we … picked up where we left off.” Avoiding eye contact with his wife, he said, “Some of my trips out of town were to visit with him.”
Raina felt like vomiting.
I am going to throw up if I listen to this crap any longer! Raina shuddered. “Pastor Rocheforde, this Jerome person has moved from wherever he used to live and is now living in our town. He and Craig work for the same company. It is strange that he got transferred here. Why don’t you explain that transfer to us, Craig? Did you both arrange for him to get transferred here?” Raina was now sitting on the edge of her seat.
“I’m sorry, Raina,” Craig said as a single tear fell from his eyes. “It’s like there are two forces fighting inside of me … One seems to overpower the other.”
“The wicked evil one?” Raina said. “Oh, just stop talking!”
“Please, Raina,” Pastor Rocheforde said reaching for his Bible.
“He cannot be a Christian, Pastor—at least not in my book.”
“Craig, I have to give it to you straight,” Pastor Rocheforde said. “The demonic spirit of homosexuality has gotten a hold of your life. You have given in to it over and over and I hate to say this, but it seems to have gotten you to that point of no return. I say ‘seems’ because the Bible does say that nothing is impossible with God. The Bible says that that kind of demonic spirit comes out only by much prayer and much fasting. But you must want to be delivered. You must have faith that God can heal you; and again, you must want to be delivered from that demonic spirit. Is it going to be easy? No. It is never easy fighting against the devil. Let me ask you this, Craig: Do you really want help? Do you really want to be delivered from the demonic spirit of homosexuality that has taken up residence in your life?”
Silence filled the room.
There you go, Raina thought looking directly at her husband who averted his eyes. If you really wanted deliverance you would not hesitate to answer, now would you?
“Well, do you?” Pastor Rocheforde asked again.
“Pastor, it is such a struggle. I … I mean, it’s just a lifestyle. ”
“Lifestyle, my foot,” Raina said throwing her hands up in the air and standing to her feet. “No, Pastor, if he really wanted help he would not have hesitated to answer your question, now would he? And he would see this so-called ‘lifestyle’ for what it is—sin … because that’s what it is … an abominable sin. If he really loved me, he would have told me all this before we got married and let it be my decision as to whether or not I wanted to marry him, rather than put my life in jeopardy. And if he really wanted to be delivered from it, he would be having sex with me rather than with some stinking man. Do you know I could have gotten AIDS? Worst yet, you could have passed on the AIDS to Brandon while I was pregnant with him. Something like that you do not hide from your future spouse. How can we be one if you are hiding things from me?”
Slinging her purse over her shoulder, Raina continued, “I do not have time for this. I came to you, Pastor Rocheforde, to sort things out in my mind, and to have someone neutral to speak to, but my mind is already made up—was already made up.”
“Raina, I did not tell you because I did not want to risk losing you,” Craig said.
“That’s a risk you should have taken, but you didn’t and you don’t love me now; you only love yourself,” Raina said. “and have always only loved yourself.”
Reaching out, she shook Pastor Rocheforde’s hand. “Thank you, Pastor, for your time.”
Raina immediately drove to their home to pick up some more clothes for her and Brandon, a few of his toys, and the boxes with the signed petitions. I hope he has not destroyed them, she thought.
Raina pulled out the last box with the signed petitions from the spare room and placed it on the kitchen counter while she went to the den to retrieve Brandon’s toys. She had already placed the other boxes in her car. Upon returning to the kitchen she randomly thumbed through the box glancing at the signatures. Anger and bitterness strangely mixed with a peace she could not explain that she was doing the right thing heading the “Just Say No!” campaign. She was filled with mixed emotions as she thought back on the meeting she had just left. How could he do this to me? That’s not love. It can’t be. But Brandon … he’s going to need a father. For better or for worse … until death do you part. Raina knocked the box off the table. It clattered to the floor and Raina fell on her knees amidst the petitions.
“Dear God,” she sobbed, “how could this be happening? How can I go on as his wife as though nothing has happened. I can’t do it! I just can’t do it! What he did and has been doing is the height of hypocrisy and deceit. Is this how my marriage is going to end? If it is, I accept it.”
Craig had pulled up in the driveway and noticed Raina’s car parked in its regular spot. He hurried out of his car. Well, that’s a good sign, he thought. She may have changed her mind.
He quietly entered the house. As he paused before the front door, he heard sobbing coming from the kitchen. Craig stopped at the entrance leading into the kitchen when he saw his wife on her knees, amidst the petitions, sobbing. He listened as she poured out her heart to God. He felt uncomfortable at hearing her words.
He watched her as she got up from the floor a short while after, with a few of the petitions in her hands. She turned one of the burners on high and held one of the petitions on the glowing burner. Craig approached her and gently took the petition out of her hand. He glanced at the signature on the petition. It read Craig A. Barrington.
Craig’s attempt to place his arms around her failed as she swung around to face him almost knocking him to the ground.
“How could you, Craig? How could you do this to me!” Raina shouted.
“Raina, I need for you to stay with me. I can’t bear the thought of you leaving me at this time when I need you most. Please believe me. Can you please help me? I need for you to stand with me,” he said.
“No, you don’t need me—you only want to save face!” she said. Raina took a deep breath as she faced him. “You want me to help you by accepting you as you are. But it would be going against my Christian convictions to do so. I know I’ve said some harsh things to you, but God has given me peace to leave this marriage.” Pulling her wedding ring off, she set it on the counter. “I forgive you, Craig. I hope you will repent and change and find peace with God.”
Raina picked up the stuff she had come home to get. Entering her car, she drove off to begin her new life.
Restore thou them that are penitent;
According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Lincoln hurried out the door past his father, down the steps, and through the gate. Turning left, he sped past the line of houses not knowing exactly where to go.
One thing I do know, and that is, I am not going back, he muttered to himself as he glanced up at the night sky. I’m a grown man and I can do for myself. I’ll show him I don’t need him now and I won’t be needing him going forward.
Lincoln forced himself not to look back; he knew his father was watching him, and would watch him until he was out of sight. Having reached the end of the housing complex, he stopped by the main street trying to decide which way to go. If I hurry I can make it to the convenience store before it closes and give Bruce a call from there, he thought glancing at his watch. He stepped inside the convenience store just as the attendant was getting ready to lock the door. The attendant was kind enough to allow him to use the store phone.
“Bruce, Lincoln here. Can you come pick me up? I need a place to stay for the night—maybe for the weekend.”
“What do you mean a place to stay? I just dropped you off about an hour ago at your house. Where are you?” Bruce asked.
Lincoln told Bruce what had happened. “I’m just tired of him controlling my life. I want to live my own life now,” Lincoln said as he and Bruce drove to Bruce’s apartment which he shared with one other roommate—Manny.
“You’re welcome to stay here until you decide what you’re going to do,” Bruce offered. “I don’t want to put any ideas into your head, but we have enough space for you to move in with us. We’ve talked before about you moving in with us after graduation.”
Bruce was wrapping up his first year at the Community College majoring in physics. He had graduated from the same high school that Lincoln was attending and the two knew each other quite well having played on the school’s soccer team together. Bruce was able to secure a job at the financial aid office at the college on one of the student work programs to help take care of a portion of his tuition. The other part his parents took care of. Bruce also did volunteer work on the weekends at the hospital.
Manny should have been graduating with Lincoln, but he dropped out of high school and opted to take a job. His family was well off financially, but he had had several run-ins with them as well as with the law stemming from spraying graffiti on the school walls more than once and speaking disrespectfully to some of his teachers. Taking the savings that his father had set up for him, he moved in with Bruce. He started his own lawn business and was doing quite well.
A third friend, Duke, would be moving in with them after graduation. Duke was a prankster and loved to see what he could get away with. Once he walked into Radio Shack, picked up a pair of expensive headphones, and calmly walked out. He later called and spoke with the manager telling him what he had done and told the manager they needed a better security system. He was interested in law enforcement and did volunteer work at the local police station. He was enrolled in the college’s six month training program to work as a security officer.
Lincoln was able to secure a job working the evening shift at the convenience store, stocking shelves, running the register, and cleaning up after closing at one in the morning. It did not pay as much as he would have liked, but it did cover his portion of the apartment expenses with a little change to jiggle around in his pocket.
Three weeks after moving in with Bruce, Manny, and Duke, it was time for Lincoln to graduate. I wonder if they are coming. I mean they have no reason to, he thought as he glanced around hoping to catch a glimpse of his parents sitting among the other attendees at the ceremony.
As soon as the Clarke family took their seats in the auditorium on the evening of the graduation, Laverne scanned the program moving her eyes down to the ‘C’ listing of names. Her heart rejoiced to see her son’s name: Lincoln Benjamin Clarke. She eagerly showed it to her husband. “That’s my son,” she said proudly to the lady sitting next to her when the president called her son’s name for him to receive his diploma. At the end of the graduation ceremony she eagerly made her way toward the graduates.
Feeling a tap on his shoulder, Lincoln swung around to see LaJoi smiling at him. She was standing next to a young lady whom she introduced as Denise. His parents were standing behind them.
“Congratulations, Lincoln,” they all greeted him. His sister and mother gave him a hug, and his father shook his hand. “We’re proud of you. Are you coming home?” Laverne asked her son.
Lincoln’s heart started to soften, but he was determined to show his father that he could make it on his own. “No, Mom. I won’t be coming home. And you do not have to worry about me. I’m making it.”
“Are you sure you won’t be needing anything?” his mother asked. “I mean, you left all your clothes and everything. Are you going to come and get them? Do you have a number where we can reach you in case there is an emergency?”
Lincoln reluctantly gave his mother his number to his new cell phone. He hated that she was caught in the middle of this fiasco with him and his father.
“Well, if you need anything, let us know,” his father said. Pulling an envelope out of his inside jacket pocket, Larron handed it to Lincoln. “We had this set aside as part of your graduation gift. We also wanted to take you down to the car lot and have you pick out your car, but things did not work out for that to happen. Anyway, we hope that this will help.”
Lincoln did not know what to say as he stared at the envelope.
“Do you want to go out to eat with us?” his mother asked. “And I promise it won’t be at Marjorie’s.”
“Sorry, Mom, but I already have plans with my friends. Thanks again,” he said as he quickly walked away.
“You don’t have to act like a stranger,” LaJoi called after him.
“It was so good to see him again,” Laverne said to her husband once they got home and were in the privacy of their bedroom.
Larron saw the hurt in his wife’s eyes. He heard and felt the heaviness in her heart for her son. Giving her a hug, he said, “Don’t worry about him. God is watching over him, and He’s not going to let anything happen to him that is not for his own good. I do not believe God ignores the prayers of parents for their children. Let’s pray for him right now.”
Heavenly Father, we come before You asking that You would answer our many prayers for our son, Lincoln. Lord, You know where he is at this time. You know what’s going on in his heart right now. You know what will happen to him on tomorrow. Whatever life lesson You want him to learn, I pray that You would bring about circumstances in his life to teach him that lesson. And, Lord, I ask You to do it quickly so he will not waste too many of the years of his life wandering around aimlessly and full of bitterness. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Laverne shuddered at her husband’s last request, but knew it was made out of love for their son.
I can’t believe they still want to do things for me. A car? I missed out on a car. My own car. Man, that stinks! Lincoln’s father’s last words to him before he had walked out kept resonating in his ears throughout the evening and dampened his celebration:
You may want to think long and hard before you make a rash decision.
You think you’re ready but you’re not ready especially when you are irresponsible, when you don’t think of others, when you don’t respect authority, and when you’re acting like a child.
You’re an overgrown, immature child and you’re acting like one.
Well, this day was sure to come, Lincoln thought.
The words stung deep within his soul and as much as he tried to block them out of his mind, he was unsuccessful.
“You seem to be a million miles away,” Bruce said slapping Lincoln on the back when they arrived home after ending their graduation celebration at a burger joint. The foursome stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking and discussing their plans for the future. “Does this have something to do with your parents? I saw them talking with you after the ceremony.”
“Yeah. I was surprised they even came—considering my father and I hadn’t been getting along too well. Things just got so bad I walked out. It seemed every direction I turned he was blocking my path. I felt so suffocated I had to remind him that I was no longer a boy and that according to state laws I am a grown man.”
“It’s amazing how soon our parents forget,” Manny said. “I got tired of my mother wrapping her apron strings around me. She was boo-hooing and carrying on when I told her I was getting my own place. She begged me to give her the address, but I know better than to do that; she would be over here every day. I have to control that relationship so I call her when I feel up to it just to let her know I am still in the land of the living. You saw how she was crying at the graduation. Man, that was embarrassing!”
The boys chuckled.
“What’s getting to me is that my father gave me some money — $1500.00,” Lincoln said. “I was not expecting anything. He told me they had already planned on giving it to me as part of my graduation gift and that just because I left that was no reason for them to go back on their original plans.”
“I sure wish I had a father to do that for me,” Duke said matter-of-factly. “Sometimes, I feel a little guilty leaving my mother like that; but I could not take being treated like a little boy anymore.”
“I know that feeling,” Manny said.
“What your parents did for you is true love right there,” Bruce said. “What was the other part of their graduation gift?”
“You guys wouldn’t believe it—a car. He was going to take me down to the dealer and let me pick out my own car.”
“Oh, man, that’s a bummer,” Duke said.
Bruce spoke after a few seconds of silence. “If I were you, I’d go and apologize to your father. You know, make things right. Hear me out first before you cut me off,” Bruce said when Lincoln started to protest. “You don’t have to go back to living with your family, but I think you should apologize to your father; that’s the right thing to do. I know you feel guilty whenever you think about it. What if you need him further down the road?”
“What are you getting at?” Lincoln asked.
“Yes, why would you say something like that? His father was stifling him just like my mother tried to do me,” Manny said. “My mother was stifling me, and now that I walked out she’s reaching out for me. I don’t know how many times she’s apologized to me begging me to come back home.”
“This is different. Take it from me: a father is different,” Bruce said. “I had my run-ins with my father. He gave me the option: get myself together and stay, or not change and leave. My mother took me aside and told me the best thing to do is to get myself together and stay if for no other reason but for the free room and board. She told me that they did want me to go out and learn to live life on my own, to be a man and to take on some responsibilities, but they just wanted me to leave on good terms. She also told me that if I left right and not in anger they would have my back whenever the need arose. One day, I asked my father why he was so hard on me and he told me he did it because he wanted me to be a responsible and disciplined man; he wanted me to be responsible for myself, and if I planned on being a husband and father one day that I needed to begin acting like that now.”
“Well, how did you end up getting your own place?” Duke asked.
“Oh, I shared with my Dad that I wanted to go out on my own to start learning how to be a man like he said. Those words were music to his ears,” Bruce said. “He helped me get in here and he told me if I ever run into any financial problems to just give him a call but only after I’ve looked at all my options. He pretty much told me to act as though I had no family but at the same time to know that he would be there for me as a last resort. He also told me that whatever I decided to do to do it honestly.”
“That’s because you have a good father,” Manny said. “I have no father.”
“Well … I believe you can work with your mother by respecting her,” Bruce said. “I just don’t think any good parent would desire evil for their children. Your parents may handle you differently from how my parents handled me but it all boils down to the same.”
“That sounds like something your father said,” Duke said with a laugh.
“Yep, you got that right,” Bruce said. “Lincoln, you should consider fixing things between you and your father; it will work in your favor in the long run. For them to go ahead and still give you the fifteen hundred dollars says they have no hard feelings toward you and are willing to forgive. The ball’s in your court.”
Lincoln went to bed thinking on Bruce’s words. I appreciate the money, but I just don’t feel I should apologize for anything. I still feel he was being too hard on me. Plus, I got my own life to live. Knowing him, he would probably come dropping by every evening on his way home from work to try to tell me what to do. I’ll just leave things as they are for right now.
Laverne and Denise had a quiet ride home from the zoo.
That’s what life is all about: loving and caring for one another, and not always putting yourself before others, Laverne thought. Lord, just help me to love Denise and help her to feel that love.
The Clarke family welcomed Denise into their home.
“You know,” Laverne’s husband said to her as they climbed into bed that night, “I believe God sent her here to remind us that we need to get out of ourselves and begin thinking of others. When we have to share our things with others, it teaches us to be more appreciative of what we have.”
“You’re right,” Laverne said. “Larron, I’ve been acting like a nut giving you a hard time about the financial and spiritual changes you are leading this family to make. I’m sorry about that. The Lord used Mrs. Whitaker and Denise to show me that life is not all about getting, and neither is it all about me; it is all about God and giving.”
“That’s a lesson we all need to learn,” Larron said. “LaJoi seems to be getting it. I heard her and Denise giggling and carrying on in the room like old friends, and that’s a good sign.”
Laverne smiled. “I guess when God takes someone or something away from you, He replaces it with another person or thing of equal or greater value.”
Larron placed his hand on top of his wife’s hand. “Don’t worry about Lincoln. God is watching over him.”
“I just wish I knew where he was—you know—how he’s doing. I fear for him.”
“We’ll just have to continue praying for him. Sometimes love means letting a person go,” Larron said. “Some of us just have to learn things the hard way.”
The family attended church on Sunday, and everyone was glad they did especially for Denise’s sake. She seemed more cheerful and at peace after hearing Pastor Tourneau’s sermon from Psalm 139.
“If the thought ever crosses your mind that nobody loves you, don’t believe that lie,” Pastor Tourneau said. “If you begin to think that you’re a nobody, don’t believe that lie; if you think that others are out to get you, don’t believe that lie. All those are lies from the devil to make you begin to doubt God’s love for you. The Bible tells us that ‘God is love.’ It goes on to say that ‘the love of God constraineth us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ That is true love. And because Christ died for us we don’t have to believe the devil’s lies.”
Denise’s face lit up at those words. She thought of how Mrs. Whitaker loved her and sacrificed for her; and now, it seemed the Clarke family was showing her that same love. If that is what God’s love is like, then I want it in my life, she thought as she listened to more of the preaching.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Pastor Tourneau continued, “God is always watching over you because He cares for you. He knows all about you. We can say the same words as David: ‘I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!’ God loves you so much that He not only took the time to make us in His image, but He took the time to make each of us a unique individual.”
My substance being yet imperfect…, thought Denise over and over. Yet, He still loves me with my imperfect leg. God still loves me. A cheerfulness that she could not contain seemed to overtake her.
“I believe that Mrs. Whitaker’s God loves me,” she told the Clark family at the dinner table, “and I love Him too. Now I do not have to wish I was like other people. I no longer have to worry about what people are saying about me or even thinking about me.”
And so the Clark family continued with Denise as a joyful new member. They prayed for Lincoln’s safety everyday. Laverne looked around as she drove to and from work hoping to catch a glimpse of her son… hoping today would be the day he would return home.
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life…
To the glory of thy holy Name.
With the thousand dollars he received from his parents and some extra money from his friends, Lincoln purchased a beat-up Honda from a used car lot. “Not the best, but it will hopefully get me from here to work and back,” he said to his friend Phil who had driven him down to the car lot.
“Hopefully is the word,” Phil laughed before getting in his own car.
Lincoln began searching for a day job to supplement the money he made working evenings and nights at the convenience store. It was rough living a hand to mouth existence. He hardly had money to spend beyond what went to the utilities and the rent at the apartment he shared with his friends. Thank God I at least have a roof over my head, he thought after turning in an application at an electronics store.
One night, ten minutes before closing time at the convenience store, Lincoln was getting ready to lock up when a car screeched to a stop out front. The person in the passenger seat jumped out of the car and hurried to the door. “Thank you,” he said to Lincoln as Lincoln cautiously held the door open for him. “I know you’re about ready to close, but I need to get a few things. Give me about five minutes.”
“Uh-huh,” Lincoln said as he reached out to lock the door.
“My friend is coming in,” the man said.
Lincoln let the other man in and locked the door behind him leaving the key in the lock so he could turn it quickly when they were ready to leave. He waited for the customers behind the cash register. Both of them were dressed in jeans and short sleeve shirts with baseball caps pulled down over their eyes. They went to the back of the store and pulled out a couple packs of beer. The first man tucked them under his arm and hurried toward the front of the store. He made as if he were going to the cash register, but made a quick right turn and headed toward the entrance.
“Hey! You haven’t paid for that yet,” Lincoln hollered at him as he jumped from behind the counter. The man paused at the door long enough to turn the key that was dangling from the lock.
Just as Lincoln lunged to grab the robber by his collar, his companion hurried up behind Lincoln and punched him in the jaw. Lincoln staggered backward with his arms flailing about him. He fell, his head slamming onto the metal shelf behind him, and blacked out immediately.
Outside the store, the robbers jumped into their car and sped off. “Count that a success,” the heavy-set one, Lance, said pulling a beer out of the pack and taking a big gulp. “Who are you calling now?” he asked.
“I’m calling 911.”
“J.J., are you crazy! What do you want to do that for? No one was hurt. Are you trying to land us in jail?”
“Look, Lance, that kid was still lying on the floor when we drove off. You must have thrown him harder than you thought. We at least owe him that. I may steal some alcohol, but I’m not into hurting anybody.”
“That’s your problem: you’re too sensitive.”
J.J. spoke with the dispatcher without leaving his name or number while he and Lance headed to their house. He tuned in to the late night and early morning news to see what may have happened to Lincoln.
When the police and the ambulance arrived, Lincoln was still unconscious. Blood trickled from a one-inch gash on the back of his head. The EMTs immediately worked at reviving him while one of the police officers quickly searched his pockets for some form of identification. The other officer searched inside and outside the store. Unable to revive him, he was rushed to the hospital.
The pounding on the door and the persistent ringing of the doorbell awakened Larron. He glanced at the clock as he got out of bed. It was 2:07 A.M. Pulling back the curtains of his bedroom window, he was surprised to see a police car parked in the driveway. His mind immediately went to his son as he hurried to the front door.
Two officers stood on the porch.
“Is this the residence of Larron and Laverne Clarke? Does a Lincoln Clarke reside here?” one of the officers asked.
“Yes. Is something wrong?”
The officers explained to the Clarkes what had transpired at the store from what they gathered from security camera footage. Larron and Lavern headed to the hospital immediately and waited in Lincoln’s room while he slept.
“Isn’t it something that he still had our number and address on him,” Laverne said as she pulled her chair up closer to Lincoln’s bed.
Larron nodded. “I hope this will be a wake up call for him.”
Laverne nodded thoughtfully as she stared at her son.
It was late afternoon the next day when Lincoln started to stir. Larron had left for work earlier, but his wife remained with their son. She pressed the call button to the nurses’ station. Nurse Carla came in with a clipboard and notes on the patient. “How are you feeling?” she asked Lincoln.
“My head hurts badly. Where am I?” he said looking around.
“Welcome back, Lincoln,” his mother said placing a hand on his arm. “We thought we had lost you.”
“Mom? What are you doing here? Oh, man,” he said as he remembered what had taken place.
Nurse Carla gave him some water and medication for his headache. “We want you to rest some more. You still seem weak.”
Later that evening when Lincoln was feeling a little stronger, Officer Graham stopped by to question him about what took place. “Do you feel like talking right now? If not we can give you some more time to rest,” Nurse Carla said.
“I’ll talk with him.”
Larron walked into the room while Lincoln was telling the officer what had taken place at the convenience store.
“We have it on the surveillance tapes, but we need for you to come down to the station to identify the suspects from our picture profiles as soon as you get out of here,” the officer said. “Your description of the robbers matches other descriptions of two men who have been carrying out a series of petty crimes in the area over the past two months. Some homes have been broken into as well.”
The doctor signed for Lincoln to be released the next morning. His friends stopped by later that day. They were glad he was doing well, and they each insisted that he return home until he fully recovered. “Don’t worry. We’ll have your room waiting for you,” Bruce said. “Right now, you need some good home-cooked meals among other things.”
Those words greatly impacted Lincoln and he knew what he had to do. He could have lost his life from the severe concussion to his head and lost the chance to make things right with his father.
As they prepared to leave the hospital room, Lincoln took a deep breath and said, “Dad, I am sorry for disrespecting you like I did when you were only trying to help me and the family. It was dumb of me to respond so negatively. Please forgive me. You were right. Nobody is going to love and care for me like you all do. It’s a cold world out there. And you were also right when you told me I’m not ready to go live on my own yet. I still have a lot to learn. If it’s alright with you, I’d love to come back home for a while longer, and I promise I’ll do better. Is that all right, Dad?”
“Sure, son. Your room is waiting for you just as you left it.”
Camille and Carlton Henderson
Camille and her husband, Carlton, left her in-laws home early the next morning. Carl, Jr. was to remain with his grandparents over the next week while his new parents got things squared away at home making the necessary adjustments to accommodate their new addition. Sarah’s death had left them thinking about how fleeting life was.
“You know,” Camille told her husband on their way to work, “It’s sad how Sarah died, but her death was not all in vain. It has helped me to appreciate life more and to not take those in your life for granted. You never know when a tragedy or a death is going to come knocking at your door.”
“I was up most of the night thinking about if you were to die suddenly, especially with this unresolved issue between us. What if it was Carl Jr.? What if it were any of our parents?” Carlton replied taking her hand in his. “From now on I’ll be open and honest with you and with others for that matter.”
“Me, too,” Camille said. “I made the resolution last night to live every moment of my life to its fullest. I shared that with your mother while we were in the kitchen preparing breakfast, and she told me that I can only live my life to its fullest if I choose to live in complete obedience to God, reading His Word each day and obeying what it says, and putting others before me. God is the giver of life so He should know how we should get the most out of it.”
“She’s right. This situation helped me to realize that my priorities were getting mixed up and that I needed to refocus my life, and also that I need to just trust God going forward no matter the situation,” Carlton said. “I want you to know that I really love you and I appreciate your willingness to adopt Carl Jr. as your own.”
“That’s the least I can do,” Camille said with a smile.
Camille entered her office with an extra skip in her step after kissing her husband good bye and telling him she loved him.
“You are mighty cheerful today,” Zena greeted her. “Must be something good.”
“Yeah, girl. It is sad how the situation with Sarah turned out, but the funeral left me thinking deeply about life in general—how we need to appreciate those around us more, and how we need to stop taking God for granted.”
“I know what you mean,” Zena said. “You never know what people are going through. I would never think a girl in Sarah’s position would be hurting that much to the point of killing herself. Over a man? No, no man’s worth dying for. But that’s what happens when we take our eyes off God and begin placing them on people.”
“People will disappoint you all the time,” Camille agreed.
“So how’s Carl Jr. doing? Are you ready to be a mother without having to go through nine months of morning sickness and labor pains?”
Camille laughed. Carl Jr. is something else, and yes, I am as ready as I can be … I think. Could you come with me to the bookstore and help me pick up some ‘mommy books’?”
Zena laughed. “Only if you promise to name me as his godmother.”
“Signed and sealed,” Camille said smiling.
Barry and Cecelia Rubik
Barry and Cecelia Rubik accepted their call to full-time work in the Gospel ministry. They shared their testimony wherever they went with whoever was willing to listen to them.
“You can run away from God, but you can’t hide from Him,” they would tell those whom they witnessed to.
Even though Barry was wrongfully terminated from his position as President of the Connecticut Community College, he felt it his duty to write an official letter of resignation stating once again that the accusations against him were false. He went to the post office to send the letter certified mail. Since the line was long, he decided to check his box first and then get in line. When he opened his box, he was surprised to see a letter from the school board which read:
Dear Mr. Barry Rubik,
This letter is to inform you that the case that was turned over to the school board citing you for such acts as:
— harassing Hispanic students about their immigration status
— referring to them as wetbacks
— investigating the citizenship of their parents
which led to your termination as president at the Connecticut Community College has been thoroughly reviewed. As of today, you are officially reinstated to your original position as president of Connecticut College.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
We expect to see you at our next board meeting.
Chairman of the Board
Connecticut Community College
Barry read the letter twice. He walked over to the trash can and tore up the letter he was getting ready to send to the school board. “Thank You, Jesus! Thank You so much for clearing my name.”
He gave his wife a call.
“Cecelia, you will not believe what I just took out of the mailbox.”
Cecelia gave a shout of praise when he read the letter to her. “I tell you what: it pays to simply trust and obey God, and not try to live life the way you want to,” she said softly.
After about two weeks in their new role as Director of the Evangelism and Missionary Outreach Ministry at the church, Cecelia brought something to Barry’s attention.
“Barry, it just dawned on me, but you have not been having those fainting spells or feeling weak like you were while teaching at the college.”
“I had not even noticed it,” Barry said. “Thank You, Lord. God has blessed us so much in such a short time I am losing track of those blessings already.”
Barry and Cecelia were used by God to expand and strengthen the soul-winning ministry of the church. The church was known in the area for their concern for the eternal destiny of all people. Under the suggestion of Pastor Smith, Barry wrote a book on sharing the Gospel message the way Jesus did. He was called upon by many churches to teach successful methods of evangelism to their folks through seminars and conferences, as well as preach on some Wednesdays and Sundays at various churches.
“You do things God’s way without seeking any reward, then God will take you to higher heights,” were his parting words after each presentation.
Raina and Craig Barrington
Craig listened as Raina drove off in her car. He sat on the couch thinking. It’s strange, but I don’t believe I am as sorry as I should be. Five years with a wonderful woman down the drain. What will become of Brandon? I can’t just let her take my son away from me without a fight. He’s my son also.
He picked up his cell to call Raina, but stopped to answer an incoming call.
“Hey, Jerome, what’s up? … Right now? … Where are you at? … The hotel? … Okay. Give me about thirty minutes. Bye.”
Craig called Raina.
“Raina, can we please at least talk about Brandon? He’s my son also, and you can’t just walk him out of my life. It would be better for you to come back so both of us can raise him as he should be raised.”
“Oh, cut the crappy talk,” Raina said. “Were you thinking about that when you were meeting up with Jerome, or is it … oh, bother, why am I even trying to remember their names? You do not have to worry about Brandon. He’s in good hands, and don’t you try to have any contact with him without my knowledge. As far as that goes, I am in control of it. You have blown your privileges at having an active and positive role in his life. I am ashamed to tell my son that his father is a homosexual — the very cause I am fighting against. Craig, you just need to go to the church house and get your heart right with God. I’ll be praying for you. Goodbye and don’t try to contact me about anything.”
“Prepare to go to court because I will fight for my son,” Craig replied.
Craig stared at the phone. Yes, I will fight for my son.
After checking himself in the mirror, Craig walked out to his car.
Raina dropped off the petitions at the Onondaga County school board office. Her separation from her husband with a pending divorce only served to propel her forward in her endeavor to prevent homosexual teachers from entering the classrooms, especially at McAllen Elementary School of Tomorrow. Not under my watch, she thought as she exited the school board building.
Although there was a heaviness on her heart that her marriage had to end that way—nothing to even look back on—there was also a song in her heart. She was glad that she had not been married twenty or thirty years or more before finding out about Craig. “Thank You, Lord, I do not have to worry about AIDS, and my son was born healthy. So I still have a lot to be thankful for.”
Raina’s fellow teacher, Jasmine, tried not to pry into Raina’s private life, but since Raina had confided in her about her situation with her husband, she felt some liberty to ask her how things were going.
“It hasn’t been easy these past few weeks,” Raina said. “I tried to justify staying with Craig, at least for Brandon’s sake. I tried to force myself into believing that it was not his fault how he got into that lifestyle considering that a trusted person took advantage of his childhood innocence; but I could not even come up with anything reasonable to stand on.”
Raina shivered. “The thought of it makes me sick. I think what got me more upset was how he kept it a secret for so long. If he had just confided in me before we got married, I probably would’ve believed he was sincere and wanted to get out of it, and I would have done everything to help him out of it. I have no doubt the thought came to him every so often to tell me about it, but he chose not to. The deception carries a heavier weight than anything else.”
“How are you going to talk to Brandon about it? What are you going to tell him when he starts asking why he can’t see his father?”
“I’m already thinking about that,” Raina sighed. “Right now, I really do not know what I’m going to tell him. But one thing I know and that is, Brandon will never be left alone with him. From what I’ve seen, he’s been a great father to Brandon; I give him credit for that. But I really do not know if he has tried anything with Brandon those times I have left them alone. And that thought is scary.”
“I can imagine how scary it is not knowing what to think or believe,” Jasmine said.
“What can be scary?” Aaron said walking into the teacher’s lounge. “Speak quickly. I have an important meeting with the parent of one of my students. A good cup of black coffee will help give me the right frame of mind to deal with their situation. I tell you, children are something else.”
“Your situation is the one that’s scary,” Raina said glancing at Jasmine.
“I would challenge that after comparing it with whatever your scary situation is, but I can’t right now. His parents should be walking up to the classroom door even as I speak,” Aaron said glancing at his watch. “Have a good day, ladies,” he said going out with his cup of black coffee.
Raina and Jasmine laughed.
“I’m glad you decided to keep going forward with the ‘Just Say No’ campaign,” Jasmine said. “You’ll have my support to the end.”
“If I was going to stay married to Craig, I couldn’t justify continuing with this campaign. This is something I have a strong conviction about, so I had to let Craig go,” Raina said. “Life can deal you some hard and unexpected blows, but that’s what makes living interesting and lets you know what you are made of.”
Larron and Laverne Clarke
Larron and Laverne Clarke laid in their bed full of joy and peace that their entire family was safe and all under one roof. Laverne was happy that Denise was happy and that she was finally accepting herself as God had made her.
God, You have been very good to us. You’ve been good to me, Laverne prayed silently. Forgive me for taking You for granted. Thank You so much for bringing Lincoln back to us safely. I trust that he has learned whatever You want him to learn. Help me to reach out to others and to stop thinking of myself. I know if You thought of Yourself You would not have died on the cross for us. Where would we be if that was the case?
“Larron, are you asleep?” she said sliding over closer to her husband.
“I was just about to fall off to sleep. What’s on your mind?”
“Do you think Lincoln has learned his lesson?” Laverne asked.
“I believe so. I believe his apology was sincere considering we did not prompt him to do so.”
“Do you think it will last this time?” Laverne asked. “I mean he’s apologized to you before.”
“Do you know what?” Larron said rolling over. “You worry too much. You must learn to trust God. You prayed for your son’s safe return, and God answered that prayer. Have you forgotten where it says in God’s Word to train up your child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it? That is not to say he may not rebel or be disobedient every now and then. But he will always remember the biblical principles we teach him, and that will serve to guide him in the right way … if he chooses to obey those principles.”
“I guess I can’t help but be concerned as his mother.”
“When I went in to check on him before coming up here, he was reading his Bible.”
“Are you for real?”
“Yes. He said that is what he has been running away from, and that he knew he should be reading it and doing what it says, but he wanted to be bad and do things his way; he wanted to prove something even though he did not know what,” Larron said.
“I guess we all foolishly try to prove something to God—not knowing what we are doing or who we are dealing with because God is no one to play with,” Laverne said.
“That’s a lesson I wish we all could learn from childhood then our adult years would not be filled with so much hardship,” Larron said. “Anyway, let’s just bask in the good things God has done for us, and learn what we need to learn from the difficult times that come our way.”
To the glory of thy holy name. Amen.
Camille and Carlton Henderson
Camille and Carlton Henderson, having made a new commitment to be open with each other, made Carl Jr. their priority. Warmth radiated around Camille each time she held him, but that warmth was often laced with an annoying thought.
“I’ve heard of adopted children getting upset after finding out that one or both of their parents are not their real parents. How will I handle this when he gets older and finds out I’m not his real mother?” Camille confided in Zena. “Any advice?”
Zena laughed. “Don’t you think it’s way too early to be worrying about that? Think positive. That may never come up.”
“But what if it does come up?”
“Then you just tell him the truth. Besides, Carlton is the one you should be discussing this with,” Zena said.
“Yeah. You’re right.”
Later that evening, as Camille and her husband played with Carl Jr., Camille voiced her concern to him.
“I wouldn’t worry about that, but if it bothers you, my best advice to you is to play it by ear; ask God to let you know when to tell him,” Carlton said. “Or we could just go ahead and tell him when he reaches about five or six years old. I think he’ll be able to understand it then.”
“Do you think he’ll reject me once he finds out who his mother is and especially about her death?”
Carlton sighed. “I really believe you’re worrying about nothing. It’s not like Sara is still alive. If you just love him like he’s your own, that thought will never cross his mind. And if he hears it from someone before we tell him, we’ll just have to tell him the truth. Now, what else is bothering you?”
“Good, because Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I want it to be a truly enjoyable day,” Carlton said tickling Carl Jr.
The week before Thanksgiving, Mrs. Jenkins, Sara’s mother, fell into a state of depression mixed with anger.
“What are you so disheartened about?” her husband asked. “This is the Thanksgiving season, your favorite holiday. You can’t be thankful and depressed at the same time. And if you don’t hurry and go shopping all the stores are going to be out of turkeys and cranberry sauce,” he said taking her by the waist and spinning her around.
“They might as well be because I’m not cooking anything special this year,” his wife said despondently.
“Well, why not? I have to eat my turkey, too.” He chuckled, but his wife gave him an I’m-not-playing look.
“Baby, is this about Sara?” he asked embracing her. He slid his hand up and down her back. “Donna, Sara’s gone. She’s dead. We are not going to see her anymore down here on this earth. There won’t be any more holidays with her.”
“I just feel like a part of me went with her to the grave,” Mrs. Jenkins said. “She was my life.”
“I know you loved her,” her husband said tightening his arms around her. “I loved her too, and I miss her. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about her.”
“She was supposed to have spent Thanksgiving with us—her and Carl Jr. I have not even heard from Carlton since the funeral. He doesn’t even have the decency to bring my grand-baby over to visit. That’s all I have left of Sara.”
“Now, now, Donna, don’t go pointing fingers now,” her husband said. “I’m sure he and his wife need time to adjust to having Carl Jr. with them. Remember how much adjusting we had to do when Sara was born. Give them more time.”
“How much more time? It’s been a little over a month now. I want to see my grand-baby.”
“They gave us their number so it’s not like they’re trying to hide from us. Maybe they’re waiting for us to call first. Why don’t you go call them now? They might be open to joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.” Detecting anger in his wife’s silence, Mr. Jenkins said, “On second thought, I’ll call them.”
“I’ve invited them over for Sunday dinner,” her husband said after getting off the phone with Carlton. Receiving no response from his wife, he asked, “What’s the matter now?”
“Is she coming?”
“Yes. His wife.”
“Of course. They’re married, aren’t they?” Sighing deeply, he said, “Donna, we all know you’re hurting, but this is no excuse for you to harbor any negative feelings towards she whose name happens to be Camille. We just have to accept things the way they are now. Be strong for Carl Jr.’s sake. Be nice to Camille; she’s in an awkward position too.”
“Thank you both for coming,” Mr. Jenkins greeted Carlton and Camille. “Come here, big man,” he said taking Carl Jr. “Come to grand-daddy.”
The mealtime was pleasant though a little tense. Mrs. Jenkins held Carl Jr. the entire time. She did not say much but threw scrutinizing glances at Camille every now and then. Camille felt out of place but remained cheerful for her husband’s sake. She did not want to add to an already uncomfortable situation.
After the meal, they went to the living room. Unable to control her emotions any longer, tears started to trickle down Mrs. Jenkins’ cheeks.
“Please excuse my wife,” Mr. Jenkins said, “but this time of the year is difficult for her especially with Sara not here to join us, and –”
Camille nodded as she left her husband’s side to place an arm around Mrs. Jenkins. “You’re more than welcome to visit with Carl Jr. any time,” she said.
Mrs. Jenkins’ shoulders trembled as she looked up at Carlton. “Why couldn’t you have just married Sara? Then she would still be here. Was she that bad of a person? I tried to raise her right.”
Carlton pressed his lips together. He looked from Mr. Jenkins back to Mrs. Jenkins. “I’m sorry for causing you this pain,” he said softly. “I promise you we’ll take good care of Carl Jr, and he will be a part of your life.”
Mr. Jenkins placed his arm around his wife as Camille took the baby from her. He, too, wished Sara was there. But I have to remain strong for my wife’s sake, he consoled himself.
Carlton felt it was time for them to leave.
“Give her more time to accept Sara’s death,” Mr. Jenkins said as he walked them to the door. “I really appreciate you both coming over for dinner.”
After securing Carl Jr. in his car seat, Camille said. “Hold on for a minute.” She hurried back to the Jenkins’ front door where Mr. Jenkins was still waiting to see them off.
“We’ll be having Thanksgiving at Carlton’s parents’ home. My parents will be there as well. You’re both welcome to join us,” Camille said with a smile.
“Thanks so much for the invitation,” Mr. Jenkins said giving Camille a hug. “We will certainly consider it, but if we don’t make it, I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“That was very nice of you,” Carlton said to his wife as they drove off.
“I could have gotten upset at her for blaming you and throwing me in the mix and kept Carl Jr. from her,” Camille said. “But as long as you and I are together, we can face whoever or whatever comes our way, in Christian love.”
Barry and Cecelia Rubik
Barry Rubik with his wife, Cecelia, settled into their new roles as Directors of Evangelism and Missionary Outreach Ministry at his church. They had no doubt that they were in God’s perfect will.
“Here you go,” Cecelia said handing her husband a letter. “Another one. The second in less than two weeks. They need you, Barry; they can’t function without you.”
Barry chuckled. “I don’t even have to open this one up. I guess the college is still without a president,” he said opening the letter up anyway. He let out a low whistle. “Cecelia, they want me back as the school’s president so badly, they are willing to pay me twice what they were paying me before.”
Cecelia chuckled. “Little do they know, more money does not interest us.”
“If they only knew what I went through. You can bet I won’t ignore God again. It’s too high a price to pay.”
Barry continued working at the YMCA four days each week as a volunteer. He tutored the boys under his care helping them to build up their proficiency in English and reading comprehension. He started a Bible study class. A number of the boys stayed behind for the study, but one stood out to him—Carlos Lopez. He took note of the avid interest Carlos showed in the Bible lesson—devouring every word Barry shared with the attendees.
“Carlos, I’m so glad you can come to the Bible class,” he said.
“Mr. Barry,” Carlos said one evening after everyone had left, “if everything you say about this Jesus is true, then I want to be His friend, too.”
Barry gladly shared with Carlos how to be Jesus’ friend. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Carlos stayed behind for the Bible class the following week, but, after that, he disappeared for a month. Not only did he not attend the Bible class, but he did not attend the YMCA meetings. Out of concern, Barry visited the home where Carlos lived with his parents, an older sister, and his baby brother.
“My father won’t allow me to come,” Carlos said. “I was telling my mother how I asked Jesus to be my friend and telling her all that you’ve been teaching, and I guess she told him. They’re both atheists and don’t want me to believe in this. I did not listen to him and came the next week after I asked Jesus to be my friend, and he … well … he slapped me and told me never to go to your studies. Here he comes. I should go inside.”
Barry waited by the front door for Carlos’ father. After introducing himself, the father’s warm greeting turned cold.
“No. I do not want him to go. You teach him wrong,” Mr. Lopez said.
“What wrong have I taught him?” Barry asked. “I have only shared with him how that Jesus died for his sins, but He rose from the dead and is now in Heaven preparing a home for those who believe in Him. Jesus will give you a life of peace if you let Him.”
“Hogwash. God has never done anything but cause me heartache,” Mr. Lopez said. “If He is so good, why did He take away my little girl from me? He did not even give me one month with her. SIDS the doctor told me. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It was sudden. God suddenly took her from me and my wife before we had a chance to enjoy her. I don’t want my son coming to your class anymore.” He entered his house and slammed the door behind him.
Barry returned to his car. He sat a minute just looking at the house. Carlos waved to him from his bedroom window. Barry tooted his horn as he backed out the driveway. Now what words of comfort can one offer to soothe that hurting father and mother?
“We can only pray for them,” Cecelia had told him.
Carlos turned up for YMCA meeting the following week and wanted to stay behind for the Bible class.
“No. I cannot allow you to. That would go against your father’s wishes,” Barry said. He showed Carlos in the Bible where it instructs children to obey their parents. “God will bless you for doing so. I want you to go home and be obedient to your parents, and pray for them, especially your father. Pray that they would receive Jesus as their friend as you have.” Barry gave Carlos a New Testament. “Read this every day and ask God for wisdom. If you have any questions, you can ask me when you come for the regular YMCA meetings. We don’t want to mess up a good thing now.”
“Okay, Mr. Barry,” Carlos said reluctantly.
“I’ll be praying for God to touch your father’s heart.”
“This is what makes delivering the Gospel and sharing God’s Word with others so challenging,” Barry shared with his wife. “You never know who God is going to send your way and what barriers need to be broken down before they call on Jesus.”
Raina and Craig Barrington
A month had passed since Raina last heard from Craig. She threw all her energy into the “Just Say No” campaign taking opportunities to visit stores, malls, and other places of business to make sure no one missed an opportunity to add their names to the petition.
“You should slow down,” her mother said after she came home exhausted late one evening.
“I will get some rest after my meeting with the school board,” Raina said as she sat down to eat. “How did Brandon do this evening?”
“He keeps asking when he can see his father. Have you decided yet when you are going to tell him the reason he cannot see Craig?” her mother asked.
“I’ve been thinking about it and praying about it,” Raina said. “It’s not going to be easy. I mean, how do you tell a six-year-old his father is a homosexual?”
Her mother did not know what to say. After Raina finished eating, she went to check on Brandon. Dear God, You have to bring us both through this. Protect Brandon, please. She bent down and kissed her son on the forehead.
“Mom,” Brandon said stirring in his sleep.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Is Dad with you?”
“Not tonight, Brandon.”
“When can I see him. He’s been gone too long.”
Raina swallowed. “Soon, Brandon.”
On their way to school the following morning, Raina’s phone rang. After seeing who the caller was, she thought not to answer it, but then changed her mind. “Answer that for me, please. It’s a surprise.”
“Dad!” Brandon said after his father identified himself. “I miss you, Dad. Are you coming to Grandma’s this evening? I need you to show me how to do some more stuff on the computer … Okay … I will … I love you, Dad.”
Brandon handed the phone to his mother. “Dad wants to talk with you.”
“Thank you,” Raina said. Her heart winced as she saw the big grin on her son’s face. “Hello, Craig.”
“Hello, Raina. It’s been a while. How have you been doing?”
“Quite fine,” Raina said brusquely. “And you?”
“I’ve been missing you and Brandon. When can I see him?”
“Craig, I want you to see him; I want you to be a father to him, but how can I be sure you won’t lead him into that ungodliness. I would never forgive myself if that were to happen when I could have prevented it.”
“Raina, he’s my son—conceived in marriage. I would never do anything to hurt him. You of all people know that. You’ve been around us and seen me interact with him since his birth.”
“Try to understand my position,” Raina said.
“And you try to understand mine,” Craig said. “I love my son very much, and what happened to me as a boy I would never do to my son. The man who did this to me took the life out of me. He stole my innocence. I lost all desire to live … until I met you. It’s something that’s not easy to get out of once it gets a hold of you.
“I am fighting two battles,” he continued. “I want you and my son back in my life, but at the same time, there is a strong pull toward this other way of living. Please let me at least see my son. You have my word: I will not hurt him. And as long as I can see him regularly, he can stay with you.”
Raina sighed. “Craig, I’m sorry. But you’ve decided not to change your behavior so there is no need for you to keep contacting us. Our divorce is almost finalized and Brandon and I have to move forward with our lives without you. Now if ever you decide to permanently get things right with God, I will be willing to try and work things out between us again; but for now, our relationship is over. Besides that, it’s not just you influencing my son in a negative way; I am concerned about those nasty homosexual people that you hang around.”
Raina ended the call.
“What do you think?” Raina asked Jasmine during their morning break after sharing what she had told Craig.
“I think you did the right thing,” Jasmine said. “You forgave him and gave him a chance to get his life straight and he chose not to do so. You have to move on, and I know God will be with you. By the way, the news just came in that the county school board ruled in your favor.”
“All my hard work was worth it,” Raina said. “Our classrooms at the McAllen Elementary School of the Future will be free of homosexual teachers indoctrinating our children. God made a clear distinction between the male and the female genders—no in-between.”
“He certainly did,” Aaron said whisking into the teachers’ lounge. “Congratulations, Mrs. Raina Barrington.”
Larron and Laverne Clarke
The Clarke family enjoyed a delicious breakfast together the next morning. Laverne left to drop Denise off at the college and LaJoi at the high school. She then headed to the Children and Family Services office full of joy and a peace she could not explain.
“What are your plans going forward?” Larron asked Lincoln as they got ready to leave the house.
“I did a lot of thinking last night,” Lincoln said, “and I think it’s best if I go ahead on to college.”
“What do you want to major in?”
“That I’m not sure of,” Lincoln said. “Maybe take some general courses starting out.”
“Be thinking about it. Since you don’t have your car, let me drop you off at your job and be sure to give me a call if anything comes up. By the way, what were you reading in the Bible last night when I stopped in your room?”
“It’s weird, Dad, but I was reading the book of Proverbs.”
“Why is that weird?” Larron asked.
“You’ve always told us to read Proverbs and you’ve even read portions of it to us. I always stubbornly resisted that book because it convicted me every time I heard it. I wanted to go my own way, but just about every verse tells me not to go my own way.”
“So what are you going to do about the book of Proverbs now?”
“Definitely, obey it. I don’t understand it all, but I’ll do that which I understand.”
“You do that and not only will God bless you, but your mother and I will be proud of you,” Larron said. “Moving forward, do you plan on moving back in with your friends?”
“I really haven’t given it much thought; but I will say this: being on your own makes you grow up real fast—you know—makes you take life more seriously when you know your parents aren’t around to step in.” Lincoln then chuckled. “Living on your own makes you stretch a dollar much farther than you thought it could go.”
Larron laughed. “It sure does, doesn’t it? You take your time. Your mother and I have no problems with you moving out to be on your own. I think you are a little young, but it’s up to you. At the same time, you’re welcome to camp out with us as long as is necessary.”
“I’d love to hang around a bit longer. I don’t think I’m quite ready to take on the world yet.”
Father and son laughed.
Denise had an exceptionally great day.
“Mrs. Clarke, I could not have asked for a more beautiful day—just to know that I am no longer believing the devil’s lie that people will not accept me for me. The greatest joy of all is knowing that God loves me just as I am.”
“We are so happy for you, Denise. Always remember that. He made you this way because He wants you to do a great work for Him that no one else can do,” Laverne shared with her.
Denise thought about Laverne’s words.
“That’s true,” Larron said. “I don’t know how much you know of the prophet Jeremiah, but when he became an adult, God told him He was ready to use him. Jeremiah started to make all kinds of excuses. He told God he could not speak. But God told him, ‘I formed you in your mother’s belly and before you were born I ordained you to be a prophet.’ Then God touched his mouth and told him, ‘You shall speak the very words I will tell you.’”
“What did he mean when he said he could not speak?” LaJoi asked.
“I’m not for sure. Maybe he stuttered. Maybe he was shy. Maybe he was not educated,” Larron said.
“God has a special job set aside for all of us,” Laverne said.
“Mmm. I wonder what my special job may be,” Denise said quietly.
“I know you have a kind heart, and you seem to converse easily with those who have some physical handicap—especially children,” Laverne shared with her. “You’re also great with animals.”
Denise smiled. “That reminds me, I need to go visit Boz at the zoo. He’s probably wondering if I have forgotten him.”
“We can all make it a family day and stop by on Saturday,” Laverne suggested after explaining to the family who Boz was.
“I sure wish Mrs. Whitaker was here. She’d be very happy to know I’m going to work with children just like she did,” Denise said.
“Mom, I think I want to go into social services like you. I think it’s fun helping other people,” LaJoi said.
“There’s no time like now to get started. You can start doing volunteer work with me. You’re welcome to join us, Denise.”
“Don’t leave me out,” Lincoln piped in. “Dad, I’ve thought about this all day. I figured that since I’m good at fixing things, I’m thinking of going into engineering.”
“Wonderful,” Larron said.
As the family finished their meal and each engaged in their own thoughts, Larron said, “You know, God placed us here to make a difference in the lives of others in a positive way. From our conversation tonight, I’d say we’re all on the right path. Amen?”
“Amen!” the others replied in unison.
THE COMMON PRAYER
Almighty and most merciful Father;
We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou them that are penitent;
According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake;
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
To the glory of thy holy Name.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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