Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Living in Victory," Chapter 23

Copyright 2006 Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved

Chapter 23
Kelly soon learned Greg didn’t share his reticence about getting involved with the girls at the church. In fact, he spent a great deal of time with the more attractive ones, thought Kelly.
But the act that forever divided Kelly and Greg was when Kent and Lucy invited Greg to stay in their home on weekends.
Kelly remembered the night he and Grace had spent listening to The Who and he didn’t like it one bit that Greg would be spending weekend evening with Grace in her home.
Kelly visited Grace more and more often through the winter. It wasn’t exactly courting, but he enjoyed the beautiful girl’s company and, he thought, she enjoyed his.
Then, one day, a week before the church’s annual pre-Easter revival, Grace laid a bombshell on him.
“Kelly, I’ve decided to go to Indianapolis University,” she said.
“Well, I don’t blame you,” he said. “That’s a good school and not far away. You can get home every weekend to see you parents.”
“There’s more,” she said. “I’ve been seeing someone.”
Kelly felt his nerves stand at attention. This was not going to be good news.
“I – I know you enjoy coming over and I enjoy talking with you, too,” she said.
She looked him in the eye.
“I have lots of friends, you know. And, you and I –.”
“We’re good friends,” he said.
“You’re my minister,” she said. “You know I don’t believe the Bible exactly as you do, but I have my own faith. But, my parents love you and you are our minister.”
For the first time, Kelly hated that title. For the first time it seemed it would cost him dearly and he hated having the title attached to his name.
He wanted to spit it out. To throw it away. To tromp on it, if possible.
It was keeping him from one he dearly wanted, maybe even loved.
Grace watched him for signs of acceptance, for rejection, for anger – anything. But could see nothing behind those nonplused eyes.
Why couldn’t he fight for her? Why couldn’t he break into song or poetry or express some way that he wanted her. Even if he committed himself by taking her in his arms.
But he just sat there, looking at her and looking at the floor of their sitting room.
“Do I know him?” he asked.
The Indianapolis University ploy had been a calculated risk. She needed to know where they stood and she was afraid his refusal to move explained all too well how he felt.
She was a conquest to him, all right. She was someone to convert.
She had known people like him all her life. She knew all too well the story of how she was born in Frank Zellers’ store room, how her mother died, how no one knew if she her parents were even married.
All the people in the community had been good to her, but she was still that girl, that missionary project.
At times, she thought even her adopted parents felt that way about her.
How dare they! What kind of God was their God anyway? Did He look at her as a project, too?
She had hoped Kelly was different. He had ideals and goals to become a great journalist, not a pulpit pounder.
But, evidently, he too just saw her as a religious project. Someone to convert to his brand of religion.
Grace hadn’t lied about their being someone else. What she hadn’t said was that there were many other guys. Every boy she met seemed to be attracted to her.
Her mother had told her she mustn’t use those boys’ affections to selfish ends, but it was hard to do when they tried to use her for their selfish interests.
Mark had been different. They had been friends when they were young. But when they reached their teen years, he became withdrawn and seemed to be always wrapped up in himself. She missed him. Oh, how she missed her friend.
Now, it appeared, as Kelly sat a few inches from her, silently, that she was about to lose someone else, too.
“You know him,” she said. “It’s Greg.”
Kelly felt the blood pounding in his body. He couldn’t think. He just sat there until she broke the moment.
“Well, I have things to do,” she said. “See you around?”
Kelly mumbled something in reply, though he knew it had to be incoherent. And he left.
March was exciting on several fronts. Kelly would soon be graduating from college. He had been too busy to think beyond graduation, but his friends were confident about their futures – why shouldn’t he be?
One day he was talking to his friend, Allen Campbell, about plans for the future.
“So, how will it feel, leaving Victory?” Allen asked.
The two were in Kelly’s room. Allen sat backward, straddling a kitchen chair with his chin resting on his crossed hands. The chair had no matches and there was no table; the orphan chair served Kelly well, though, as a place for guests to sit when they came calling.
The window was open, an incoming breeze blowing cool and carrying the scent of trees and flowers as well.
“Well, I don’t know,” Kelly said. “I plan to stay in touch. I suppose I should help them find a minister to take my place.”
Allen started laughing.
“No one can take YOUR place,” he said.
Kelly reached back and grabbed a pillow from his unmade bed to throw.
“What about that girl?” Allen asked.
“Which one? Grace?”
“Yes,” Allen said, standing, stretching his long lean legs. “Grace from Victory.”
Kelly hadn’t seen Grace much since that talk months earlier. She had occasionally come to church. When she was there, Kelly stumbled through his sermon, not able to even read his sermon from his written script. She felt the tension, too, and started attending a church in Crawfordsville.
He missed their chats and wondered if she opened up to Greg as she had opened up to him. Then, since she obviously had a romantic interest in him, she undoubtedly was.
“Yeah, Grace,” Kelly told Allen after a pause.
He, too, stood as Allen made his way toward the door.
“Well, good luck, friend,” Allen said, clasping Kelly's hand in an unexpected way.
“Yeah, God bless you, too.”
Kelly didn’t like to think about telling the church he was leaving. He didn’t want to say anything until after the revival, not even to Betty.
Betty. She had looked really tired the last time he saw her. He wondered if she were all right.
Coincidentally, he got a phone call from Kent Rogers after he returned to his room after supper.
“Where have you been?” Kent asked. Kelly thought he could hear Rogers smiling through the phone.
“Out. What’s up?”
“I don’t know if you noticed or not, but Betty hasn’t been too well.”
Rogers waited for Kelly to respond.
“Are you there?”
“Um, yeah.”
“Well, they took her to the hospital this morning. It doesn’t look good, Kelly.”
Cora had found her slumped over the railing around her back porch. The two women usually talked each morning and walked to the church for the Ladies Aid meeting each week. But Betty hadn’t called and Cora walked over to see how she was doing.
It had taken a few minutes for Cora to return home and find the ambulance number in the telephone book. Then it took even longer for the dispatcher to determine exactly where Betty lived, that it was in Victory and not New Market, though Cora didn’t understand how the two towns could be confused.
“Should I come over tonight?”
The phone was silent. This time it was Kent Rogers who listened, not knowing what to say.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can make it,” Kelly said.
“Stop by the house and I’ll go into town with you,” Kent said.
Shortly after Kelly left town, he realized he had schoolwork left undone. With some careful planning over the next three hours, he was able to decide how he could finish his work and submit it to his professors in order to graduate.
Then his attention turned to Betty.
Betty.
If he had one true friend in this world, it had to be her, he decided.
She probably never realized what it meant to him that she opened her home and treated him as one of her own.
“Just like one of my kids,” she had said.
Only she didn’t have any kids.
Betty’s husband was dead.
As she had told Kelly the story one night as they sat quietly in her living room, her husband had been a drunk.
“He even kept a bottle under the seat of the car when he came to call on me,” she said. “And I never knew it, until after we were married.”
Betty didn’t go into details, but Kelly gathered he beat her when drinking, which was regularly.
“If my Dad would have found out, he would have killed him,” she said. “So I never told my parents. But I also avoided getting pregnant. I wasn’t going to raise a child in those conditions.”
She went on to answer Kelly’s unspoken question.
“In those days you just didn’t get a divorce. Besides, there was no place to hide and I didn’t want to involve my parents.
“So, I ‘hung in there’ and finally …” her voice trailed off.
“ … he died,” Kelly finished the sentence for her.
She nodded her head.
The next morning had dawned bright and clear. Betty didn’t mention her husband and the subject was never brought up again.
“Betty, Betty, Betty. Do you know how many people love you and how much?” he said aloud as his car zoomed down the highway.

+ + +

“She would have been glad to know you came,” Kent told Kelly.
They were sharing a cup of coffee in the Rogers’ living room, next to the wood burning stove.
“She really thought a lot of you, you know,” Lucy said. “Just about every week, I could count on Betty to call and ask if I thought you would like this or that to eat while you were here.”
“She thought of you as one of her own,” Kent said.
“I know,” was all Kelly said and then took another sip of the hot coffee. “Well, I guess I’d better get back to school. Big day tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you stay the night?” Kent asked, looking to his wife for permission.
“We have lots of room,” Lucy said. “You can get up early and then go back.”
Kelly was about to agree when he heard Greg’s voice in the kitchen. Greg and Grace were laughing, coming in together.
“Hi, Greg,” Kelly said. Even if he had taken his girl, there was a professional relationship to maintain.
“Kelly,” Greg said without stopping as he made his way up the stairs to the bedroom he used on weekends.
Grace said nothing and refused to look at Kelly as she walked through the living room.
“Grace!” Kent said.
She turned.
“Hi, dad,” was all she said, still ignoring Kelly.
“How did it go tonight?”
“OK,” she said. “Goodnight.” And went upstairs,
“Presumably, hopefully, to her own room,” Kelly thought and shook his head.
“Grace has been helping out with the younger children at her new church,” Kent explained.
“Yeah, OK,” Kelly said. “I think I’d better be getting back to campus. Thanks for everything.”
Unexpectedly, both Kent and Lucy hugged him before he left the house.

+ + +

Betty was surprised by her transformation, as Mark Wilkins had been.
One instant, she felt faintness and felt herself falling as she shook out a throw rug while standing on her back porch. The next instant she was standing in her garden in her back yard.
The first thing that got her attention were the plants. They were large and lush and heavy with flowers and vegetables. Then she saw the soil, it was dry and it was fine black powder, as fine as she could imagine in any woman’s make-up compact.
There were no weeds. It was the most incredible harvest she had ever seen – far better than her garden had been able to produce to date.
“Hey, you!” a voice came from behind her. Without turning around, she recognized it instantly, though she hadn’t heard it in years.
“Dad!”
But, turn she did and was shocked at the sight that awaited her.
“Surprised?”
“Dad, you look – “
“Young?”
“Yes. And, healthy! Is that really you? It can’t be!”
“It’s me all right,” he said.
“My look at you. Aren’t you a fine sight! Your mama – we’re all waiting for you over at the church.
“Rev. Pinckus had a fine sermon today and we’re ready for the ice cream social. Somebody donated a watermelon and we have it all chilled down.
“Come on girl! I’ll race you!”
Without thinking, Betty stepped off and had run out of her yard and across the street before remembering she was tool old to run. She stopped.
“What’s the matter?” Dad asked, running back to catch up with her. “Think I’m too old for such foolishness or that you’re too old?”
“I, don’t – understand – any of this.”
“Here, sit down,” her father said, taking her hand and pulling her to the pavement.
“Is it safe?” she asked, remembering how the teenagers like to race down the town’s streets.
“What can they do to us? He asked in return, laughing. “Oh, honey, you don’t get it, do you? This is what Rev. Pinckus told us about, what the Bible was talking about.”
“But, he’s dead!”
Instead of an expected response, her father just laughed. It was a long, good laugh, that she was sure could be heard all over Victory. But then, he always did have a big laugh and people used to like to hear him laugh.
“Yes; yes, he is,” Dad said, wiping a tear from his eyes. “But, so am I.”
“Me too?” she said, as if finishing his thought.
“Honey, you’ve come to the good place. And, there is a certain young man excited that you’re here.”
“Kelly? Is Kelly dead, too?”
“Come on! I’ll race you!”
And the two ran to the church without getting tired or winded.
At the door were Mark Wilkins and his dog, Maverick.
“Hi, Betty!” Mark said with the happiest smile she had ever seen him wear. “I’m so glad to see you! And, I wanted to tell you, I’m so sorry about scaring Miss Cory last night … or whenever it happened.”
“Say, you look really nice!” he said admiring her. He looked so long, she wondered if she should blush.
“You’re so young!” he said.
“She ran inside the church to the look in the mirror that hung in the cloakroom.
“That can’t be me!” she thought, but knew it was. The image looking back at her was a young woman. This woman had smooth, tight skin that didn’t sag, that wasn’t wrinkled. It was – herself – as she looked in her 30s.
Mark and Maverick followed Betty and her Dad into the church.
She turned to look at the pet and back at Mark.
“It’s OK, Betty, really it is!” Mark said. “Mav is welcome to come into the church any time. Rev. Pinckus told me!
“Want some ice cream and watermelon?”
He took her by the hand and pulled her down the stairs to the church basement.

+ + +

Betty’s funeral went better for Mark than had Mark Wilkins’ funeral.
This time, he managed to separate himself from the thought of how much the deceased had meant to him in life.
Somehow, though, the mood had changed. Kelly felt sure some people didn’t think he had done a better job preaching Betty’s funeral. It was almost as if they felt his detachment and, maybe, they were offended by it.
Kelly filed away that thought for future reference and hoped some day he could better understand what was going on.
Three weeks after the funeral, Kelly was in for another surprise. This time he was summoned to a Crawfordsville attorney’s office.
“You wanted to see me?” Kelly asked, after he was shown into the lawyer’s office on Washington Street.
He had trouble finding the location – it was on the second floor of a shoe store, next to an alley.
Then, Kelly had trouble finding a parking space until he realized he could park in the parking lot of a grocery store behind the building where the attorney kept his office. He walked down the alley and up the narrow stairs to the door marked “Allman, Attorney-at-Law”.
“I hope I’m in the right place,” Kelly said, wondering what the summons was about.
“Yes, have a seat,” the attorney said. “I’m Greg Allman. I was Betty’s attorney for the last several years of her life. My father handled her business before that.
“By the way, I’m no relation to the singer.”
Kelly had to laugh and so relaxed.
“I don’t know what this is about,” Kelly said. “But I considered Betty my friend; I was not just her minister.”
“Yes, I know. She thought a lot of you, too, Reverend,” the attorney said.
Kelly couldn’t help but notice his well-groomed gray hair and mustache. It went well with his maroon sport coat with the wide lapels. Kelly noticed his hair was fashionably long, just overlapping his collar, and his hair was thick and parted on the side.
“Kelly, you are a very lucky young man,” the attorney said. “I have some papers for you to sign. If you have an attorney, I would be happy to let him look them over. I assure you all is in order.”
“No – I have no attorney. What is this about, anyway? Am I in trouble?”
Allman laughed, sitting on the corner of the big walnut desk.
“Kelly, Betty Largent left you a great deal.”
“Great,” he said, but he thought, “I’m sure she didn’t have any money. What am I going to do with a house in Victory?”
“What exactly is ‘everything’? What does that mean?” Kelly asked aloud.
“Betty was very well off,” the attorney said. “Oh, I know her lifestyle didn’t show it, but she was very frugal with her money and her husband had a family inheritance. When he died, it all went to his widow.
“Now, in death, she has been very generous with the Victory Christian Church … and, with the pastor.”
With that, the lawyer handed Kelly a check drawn on the law firm and noted it was to the account of Betty Largent. It was made out to Kelly for the amount of $500,000.
Kelly was glad to be seated when he looked at the amount, for he was certain his legs would have buckled if he had been standing.
“She certainly was generous,” Kelly said. “How can I thank you? Wow.”
“No need for that,” the attorney said, waving his hand, as if to brush away the idea. “I’m just carrying out her wishes, my legal duty as her attorney.
“There’s more. Betty also left you her house and a letter to be given to you today.”

“Dear Kelly,
“If you are reading this, I hope you will realize how much you meant to me. Our visits were very special and very precious.
“You and I shared some secrets, didn’t we?
“I guess my last will and testament was something I didn’t share with you. I am sorry about that, but I was afraid money might make you uncomfortable.
“I know you have big plans and I don’t want to interfere, but always think of Victory as your home, won’t you?”

The letter was simply signed, “Betty”.
When Kelly finished reading, he looked up at the attorney, his head still swimming, wondering what it all would mean.
“As I say, I would be happy to help you with the paperwork on Betty’s house – your house, now,” Allman said. “There will be no charge – my last gift to a very dear friend as well as client.”
“Yes, thank you. That would be much appreciated,” Kelly mumbled.
But he was thinking of a certain red-haired friend named Grace, wishing she would share his new house with him and hoping beyond hope, knowing that was highly unlikely.
Kelly soon learned the annual pre-Easter revival was a really big deal around the little church. A carnival-like atmosphere permeated the congregation.
First was the selection of a preacher. Kelly was both amused and delighted when the board asked him to find someone. Only one person came to mind, particularly at that late date: Allen Campbell, the boy who told Kelly about the church when Kelly was only looking for some part-time income. It seemed so long ago to Kelly, but it couldn’t have been, really.
“I wonder if I’ve changed since that first day I drove to Victory?” he mused as he shaved one day.
He now spent his weekends in Betty’s house. He couldn’t bring himself to call it his own. Sometimes he thought about making changes to the house, making it more masculine; but he liked to keep Betty’s memory alive and he was afraid that if he made too many changes, he might lose what he remembered of her and their talks together.
One thing was true: Home ownership made him more responsible. He even started making his bed each morning, even in his room at school, which had amused Allen to no end when he stopped by one day.
With spring on the way, Kelly didn’t have to worry about shoveling snow at Betty’s place, at least not that particular year, but he did make arrangements to pay one of the church kids to mow the yard “as it needed it” when the grass started growing again.
Kelly didn’t know how often that would be, but he trusted the boy’s father to know and that was good enough.
Of course, the inheritance was carefully salted away in Crawfordsville banks at the urging of Mr. Altman. Altman had suggested Kelly put the money in long-term interest bearing accounts, but that bothered the fiscally conservative Kelly who rarely had two nickels to rub together. He thought about the FDIC commercials for banks and decided to be sure his money was insured against loss, even if it didn’t draw much interest.
Mr. Altman proved a good choice for financial advisor. After offering his opinion, he was happy to acquiesce to Kelly’s desires.
Kelly decided to keep $1,000 in a checking account. He decided that money would be “pretty safe” and he did need a means to pay utilities.
Financially, Kelly was in good shape. His college expenses had averaged $2,000 per year. “At that rate, I could go to school …”
He didn’t have paper and pen at hand and math had never been his strong point, so he was content to say, “ … a long time!”
That was another reason Betty had taken him in, he thought. She never seemed to pity him but she did mention once how each of them were all alone in the world.
Kelly found the church board very agreeable to his revival ideas – even allowing him to check advertising costs at the Crawfordsville radio station. He quickly decided the revival would be aimed at the people of Victory, not the area towns, so he decided to spend $300 on flyers he would distribute to the homes in Victory.
He had thought 500 copies would be too many, but then learned the congregation was more than happy to pass them out to their friends and family.
Other members of the church took it upon themselves to arrange special music each night.
By the time all the plans were in place, Kelly was caught up in the revival and eagerly looked forward to participating in it.
Palm Sunday came and brought with it the beginning of the church’s annual pre-Easter revival meeting.
On Palm Sunday night, a pitch-in dinner was planned followed by a gospel music concert performed a local group.
The Windsors had been doing the pre-Easter revival-meeting concert at Victory for several years. They were a comfortable group. Little changed over the years. They told the same jokes, sang the same songs, lost their places in the same spots and got out of it all by joking.
And, the congregation also laughed and applauded in the same spots each year. The Windsors were comfortable – the church knew what to expect from them and they were never disappointed.
Allen Campbell didn’t bother to drive to Victory until Monday. There were no preaching services on Palm Sunday night and he had his own responsibilities to consider, he told Kelly.
But, sure enough, when Monday noon came around, Allen showed up at Betty’s house in time to go to lunch.
Kelly was excited to find his old friend standing on the front porch when he answered the knock.
“Allen!” he said. “Come on in.”
“So this is the famous Betty’s house!” Allen said, checking out the walls and taking in the living room.
“Yeah, let me show you around. It won’t take long.
“This is the living room – there’s the kitchen. Your room will be over there. I’m sleeping in the master bedroom tonight. Haven’t been able to do that, but after I changed the sheets and did a little re-arranging, I think I’ll be OK with it.”
“What’s out there?”
“There?” Kelly laughed. “You mean out back? That’s my back yard.”
“Looks like you had a garden.”
“Yeah, Betty was quite the gardener. Only see how shaded it is? She said that was the reason it didn’t produce much.
“I haven’t decided what I’ll do with it. I don’t have time to garden, so I may just have it plowed under and plant grass.”
The Ladies Aid had worked out a schedule; Kelly and Allen would eat lunch and supper at a different home each day of the revival, Monday through Friday.
On Thursday night, the congregation would re-enact the Last Supper in the church basement. As a tape played music and a man’s voice read appropriate Scripture about the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, the congregation dined in candlelight. The fare included roast lamb, bitter herbs (horseradish), and other foods likely to have been served at the Last Supper in the upper room. Flat tortillas substituted for the unleavened bread.
Following preaching, a candlelight communion service was conducted each year.
In addition, the song leader (who doubled as the Sunday school Superintendent) scheduled special music from the congregation and area churches.
On Monday night, Kelly’s dread came true: Grace arrived shortly with her “special friend” before the congregation began singing. Kelly thought that was a euphemism for boyfriend, but after church, he heard her speak about Greg to members of the church as her “special friend.”
“I wonder if they are sleeping together?” Kelly thought bitterly, and then regretted even thinking such a thing. It was none of his business and he should leave it alone, he told himself.
After the revival was over and everyone had left, Kelly made sure all the lights were turned off. It was a warm night and there was no air conditioning, so he also made sure each of the doors and windows were closed before he and Allen walked over to Betty’s house.
After watching TV for a couple hours, it was time for bed.
After the lights were turned out, Kelly learned his friend wanted to continue visiting.
Since neither of them had anywhere to be before lunch the next day, Kelly welcomed the company.
“So, did your girlfriend make it tonight?” Allen asked. “I didn’t see you with anyone?”
“Who?”
“You know – that young lady you told me about. The redhead.”
“You’re half right,” Kelly said. “She was there with her boyfriend, but he isn’t me.”
“She has someone else?”
“Yeah.”
He paused for effect and then said, “Our youth minister.”
There was silence for a few minutes.
“I don’t think she is dating that guy she was with, if she is the redhead I am thinking of,” Allen said.
“Well, I think she is …” Kelly said, as if Allen was teasing him and he didn’t like it.
“Where are we eating tomorrow?” Allen asked.
“Rogerses. Her family. You’re not hungry already, are you?”
“No. Good night, brother.”
“‘Night, Bro.,” Kelly said and that was that.
When the guys drove up the drive at the Rogers home shortly before Noon the next, day, Kelly groaned aloud before he realized it.
“Problem?” Allen asked.
“No,” Kelly muttered, noticing Grace’s parked in the drive.
He determined to get his act together before entering the Rogers’ home.
“Hi, guys,” Lucy said, while working at the kitchen counter. “Kelly, you know your way around. Show Allen where the bathroom is. Kent will be home shortly and then we’ll serve lunch. GRACE!”
The girl appeared within seconds of Lucy’s call.
“Here, Mom,” she said.
“Set the table, please.”
Grace did her mother’s bidding while Kelly led Allen to the bathroom upstairs.
When the guys returned to the large, spacious farmhouse kitchen, they found Kent seated at the table.
Kelly looked to see Allen reading two signs hung over the kitchen counter: “Where Dad sits is the head of the table” and “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.
“And that’s right, too,” Lucy said, after noticing Allen’s attention to the matching signs.
She quickly placed a steaming glass dish on the table. The dish contained a chicken and rice casserole.
“All right, let’s pray,” Lucy said. “Allen, would you do the honors?”
Allen blessed the food and everyone dove in.
“Lucy, I’m going to have to go on a diet if we eat like this all week,” Kelly said, savoring the food.
“He always says things like that,” Lucy told Allen. “He knows I made it just for him.”
After the casserole and side dishes, everyone was ready for Lucy’s famous sugar cream pie.
“Oh, you know what? My pie server isn’t here,” Lucy paused, thinking about where she might have put it.
“Grace, did you bring it back from the cabin after that party Saturday night?”
“I don’t think so,” Grace said, looking a little bewildered, Kelly thought.
“Well, we’ll make do,” Lucy said.
“You have a cabin?” Kelly asked. “Is it near here?”
“I thought you knew about that,” Lucy said. “Grace, why don’t you take the guys up to the cabin after we eat?”
She dished up the pie, served with Schwan’s ice cream followed by hot coffee.
“Would you like to see the cabin?” Grace asked Allen.
“How about it, Kelly?”
“Sure,” Kelly said, then Allen remembered something.
“You know, I better not,” Allen said. “I still have some studying to do before services. But, you two go ahead.”
“I--,” Kelly hesitated and then looked at Grace. He decided she wouldn’t bite.
“OK,” Kelly shrugged. “But, how are you going to get back to Victory?”
“It’s what? A mile? I need to walk off this fine dinner. I’ll see you at your place, Kelly.”
The three soon parted company, after politely offering to do dishes. Offer refused. After thanking the Rogers for their hospitality. Thanks accepted.
Allen walked down the drive as Grace led Kelly the opposite direction, toward the cabin and the creek.
“So, tell me about this cabin,” Kelly asked as they walked along a trail consisting of tractor tire ruts with tall weeds and other growth on either side.
“Well, Grandpa Rogers built it for the Boy Scouts about 50 years ago,” she began. Then she stopped walking and grabbed Kelly by the wrist.
“Kelly, we need to talk.”
“Is that the cabin, right ahead?” he asked, trying to avoid her entreaty.
“That’s just like you,” she said, obviously angry. “Always have to dominate, always have to be in control.”
“That’s not me!”
“Yes, it is!” she insisted.
“Well, sometimes I think I have to be that way because –“
“Because you’re the Minister,” she said. “The high and holy reverend who comes to bless us with his presence from time to time!
“You seem to think you’re not human, that you’re, you’re – Aslan!”
“You mean I’m spectacular like a lion?”
“No, I said you think you’re special, like God’s sons, like Aslan in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re talking about.”
They walked a few more yards in silence.
“Look, you don’t know me,” he said. “I’m an o—“
“She just looked at him, as if to say, “Don’t pull that ‘I’m an orphan’ line on me.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I forgot, Grace.”
Then he became angry at apologizing to her.
“Look, you’re the one who has everything! You’ve got parents, friends, especially a boyfriend!”
Back at the house, Kent stopped short. He was walking to his car to go back to work when he heard Kelly shouting.
Kent grinned, took his keys out of his pocket, and got into the car, whistling.
“Yeah, well, at least Greg doesn’t act as if he comes down from Heaven each week. He’s human and he knows it,” she said.
Soon they were inside the cabin, an oblong boxy-looking building.
It wasn’t much to look at, Kelly thought. Old lumber and a few logs had been thrown together. The original roof had been replaced with scraps of modern roofing material nailed to patch obvious leaks. The new roof was of various colors and textures as it was made of scraps left over from various roofing jobs.
Inside, Kelly saw a wood-burning stove at one end of the cabin. In front ot it was an old kitchen table. The surface was yellow and chrome had once trimmed it. Now the chrome was worn and rusty. Chairs that never matched the table were next to it.
Antique chairs, Kelly guessed.
At the other end of the cabin were bunk beds, also made of scrap lumber nailed together.
Near the top of the walls were openings to let in some light (and make sure no one was asphyxiated by the stove, Kelly guessed). The holes were big enough to dimly light the cabin and small enough to protect the inside from rain. The windows were cut close to the overhanging roofline.
“I found it!” Grace said, holding up her mother’s pie server.
“Are you ready to go back?” Kelly asked.
Just then, the cabin door slammed shut, making both of them jump.
“What?” Kelly asked. He went over to the door but found he could not budge it. “It’s stuck!”
“You’re kidding!” Grace said, pushing on it, as if not believing Kelly. “Now what do we do?”
“Well, your Mom and Dad and Allen all know we’re here. Surely, your Mom will come looking for us.”
“Maybe not. At least, not for a while. She was planning to go shopping in Indianapolis this afternoon. She promised to take Miss Cory and some other ladies from the church.”
“When were they leaving?”
“She was leaving right after lunch,” Grace said.
“Great!” Kelly slammed his shoulder into the door but found it to be more sturdy than it appeared. It did not give.
He slid down the door to the floor, scratching his back on a sharp corner.
“It will be all right,” Grace said. “Besides –”
“Yeah, we need to talk,” Kelly said. “I know, I heard you the first time.”
“Oh,” she grunted. “You are so stubborn! I’m trying to tell you something, and as usual, you aren’t listening!”
“I always listen,” Kelly said. When she advanced on him, he saw the anger in her eyes and though she might beat him.
“OK, you’ve got my undivided attention.”
“I miss you,” she said.
He waited for the rest of the story.
“That’s it,” she said. “I miss you.”
“Yeah? What about Greg? I saw you with him last night. I’ll bet he takes your mind off me and everything else!”
“You are so insecure!” she said, and then decided to change her tact. “I miss those conversations we used to have. Remember?”
Kelly looked at her face, as she stood above him, feeling very uncomfortable and not knowing what to say.
Finally, words came.
“Look, you know I think you’re great,” he said. “You’re smart, beautiful –”
“You really think I’m beautiful?” she asked, her voice full of hope.
Tired of the disadvantage, Kelly stood.
“But, I’ve got a lot going on,” he said. “You’re seeing someone and I may be gone after graduation.”
“Where are you going?”
“I hope to get a job with a newspaper,” he said. “I took this as a part-time job and soon found I was in over my head.
“I don’t belong in the ministry, Grace. That’s for guys like Allen and others. I just stumble around.”
“What are you talking about? You were great when Mark died and when Betty died.”
“Do you forget Mark was camping with me the night he died? I should have heard him get up. I should not have slept while he started his car and started driving away from the camp. Instead, I slept through it and he died! His parents should blame me because he died.”
“He died in their driveway,” she said. “And they don’t blame you. They blame themselves.”
Kelly paused to think about that. Could it be that Mark’s parents were as guilt-ridden as he?
“How do you know?”
“When they quit coming to church, I went with Dad to see them. They told us.”
“Well, you’re still attached,” he said.
“No,” she said. “No, I’m not. You just saw what you wanted to see.
“Greg had been teaching me. Then I was baptized last week.”
“You were baptized?”
“Yes. Kelly, I accepted the Lord and it was largely because of our talks – yours and mine.”
“But Greg was with you at church.”
“Yes, I wanted everyone – especially you – to know about my conversion,” she said, touching Kelly’s forearm. “But you seemed to be avoiding me … avoiding us.”
“Well … I was pretty busy,” Kelly said, grinning this time. “I guess we could talk sometimes.”
“I want more than that,” she murmured, lifting her lips to his.
It was half an hour later that Kelly saw Grace was rubbing her arms. The door was still jammed shut.
“Cold?” he asked.
She nodded.
“There is some firewood in that box by the stove,” she said. “And, we keep some matches there over the table.”
Kelly found the wood, some newspapers and used his pocketknife to cut a piece of wood into slivers for kindling. Soon he had a fire going and the two sat – very close to one another -- on the floor.
They had talked through the afternoon and evening soon came upon them.
“I hope your Mom and Dad find us, soon,” Kelly said.
“They may not come home until after church,” Grace told him. “Dad had to work late and I’m not sure how long the ladies were going to be shopping.”
“Somehow, I don’t mind,” Kelly said with a smile and gave her a squeeze.
Two hours later, they hear voices approaching the cabin.
“Hey, are you two all right?” It was Kent’s voice that greeted them from outside the cabin. Soon, the door opened.
“What are you two doing here?” he asked. “Everybody at church was worried sick about you.”
“The door is stuck,” Kelly said; then realized Kent had no trouble opening it at all.
“Well, that story might play some places, but I’ve never had any problem with this door before. And it isn’t stuck now.
“Come on up to the house. Lucy has some leftovers – son.”
Kelly knew things had changed between himself and Grace – permanently. Yet, he could not know the extent of those changes.
Still, he and Grace exchanged knowing glances with one another at church the next night and the next.
On Thursday night, the church met before the revival service to celebrate the Passover and the Lord’s Supper by eating foods the disciples would have eaten the night they took the last supper with Jesus – unleavened loaves, represented by pita bread, roast lamb, bitter herbs (horseradish), etc.
Grace sat with Kelly in the basement during the candlelit meal while music and recorded scriptures played in the background.
That night, following the sermon, when Allen extended the invitation, Kelly was not surprised when Grace stood and met the two ministers at the front of the sanctuary.
“I’d like to say something,” she told Kelly as the last notes of the invitation hymn died out.
“Most of you know me,” she turned and told the congregation. Then, looking at Allen, she said, “But some don’t know me at all.
“I was brought to this community by my biological mother, who died shortly after she gave me life.
“Then you all gave me a great life, as you accepted me and Mom and Dad decided to raise me as their own.
“Now, I am accepting new life in Christ.”
Different people could be heard sobbing around the sanctuary. As Kelly looked around, he could see there was not a dry eye to be found.
“I want to make the good confession,” she said. “And I do believe Jesus is the Son of God with my whole heart.”
Now she was looking deep into Kelly’s eyes and he remembered some of the theological discussions the two had concerning a higher power.
Following the congregation rededicated themselves with a candle light communion service.