Monday Fiction: Unforgivable Pt. 5
This week, I'm continuing my 5 part serial for Monday Fiction. This is final installment. (You're welcome Audrey and Veronica - you know who you are)
If you haven't read the first installments, you can find them here:
I hope you love it!
(this work belongs to Brynn Paulin and cannot be duplicated without permission)
I worried about Ben, but I figured he’d moved to another church. Pastors go where God leads them. As a matter of fact, the minister at the church I now attended was about to retire. Retirement wouldn’t mean fishing and bouncing his grandchildren, though. He was going on mission to South America. Though I thought it might be a sin, I prayed Ben hadn’t been called to the mission field and that he was safe.
Tina’s husband, Greg, was on the board at church that was in charge of finding a new senior pastor. Tina called me one Saturday after I’d been back in town for a little over a year to tell me she thought the board had found the guy. He’d be preaching in a few weeks and the church would vote that afternoon. If the man accepted the money offered, we’d have a new pastor. Tina told me the only sticking point was that he was young and wasn’t married. The board had been looking for someone more established. When I asked the man’s name, she couldn’t remember, but promised to find out. She promptly forgot which is a very Tina thing to do and something that endears her to me. I didn’t ask her again. But a feeling of trepidation began to grow in me. What if it was Ben? What were the chances? We’d talked about Michigan before. He was from here.
It couldn’t be him.
Fate was working against me. I was sick the week before the guest minister would be speaking and I didn’t hear the announcement of who it would be. And of course, Tina was out of town that week, so she couldn’t tell me. I supposed I’d find out who it was when I got to service. I actually considered not going, but quickly told myself that was awfully dumb. When Tina and Greg arrived for me—I wasn’t driving yet—I dutifully marched out to the car. Granted my march was that of someone going to execution, but I went.
As soon as I was seat belted in I knew my fear had come to fruition. Greg was talking about the pastor. Ben Martin. I was worried, but even more so I was excited. That—surprised me, but the closer we got to church, the more I realized, I liked the person I’d become, and even if things hadn’t worked out between Ben and I, I wanted him to see that person.
Telling Tina and Greg that I’d see them after service, I sat in the back. Somehow, I knew if Ben saw me, it would distract him. I wanted to see him, but I didn’t want to mess up his chances for this job. I didn’t consider the consequences of what would happen if he were hired. I’d work that out later—I just knew this congregation would be lucky to have him.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him when he sat down up on the platform and I couldn’t shove how it had been in his arms from my thoughts either. The past year had aged him a little. His hair was cut differently—I liked it. There were new lines around his eyes. And when he started to speak…
The sound of his voice wove tightly around me. I don’t remember what he preached on. I was wrapped up in other thoughts. I loved him. Period. This was not mistakenly assigned emotion. I loved him. I was ready for that. I’d finally forgiven myself—not for the accident which wasn’t my fault, but for living. It was time to really start living again. I wanted that life to be with Ben.
Toward the end of his sermon, he broke off halfway through a sentence, his eyes glued on me. Then he looked away and picked up as if nothing had transpired. He didn’t glance my direction again.
My newly discovered love was hit hard. He didn’t feel the way I did. I was merely a bad memory from his past. Still, I knew I needed to speak to him. Somehow. At least, with him preaching here, Greg could get Ben’s contact information. I had to tell Ben thank you. I had to apologize. After that, I’d try to move on. I’d weathered pain before, I could do it again. This wasn’t death, it was only my heart.
Afterward, I hovered around outside the sanctuary while people greeted and talked to Ben. I wanted to soak in the sound of his voice a little longer. Maybe I could slip into a break of people and speak to him, tell him I wanted to talk to him.
“There you are,” Greg greeted me in his usual jovial manner, slinging an arm around my shoulder. It wasn’t an unusual gesture. He’d been doing it since tree-house days when we were eight. I glanced over my shoulder at Ben and saw him looking at me with a hint of pain in his eyes. He thought I was with Greg. “Have you met, Pastor Martin?” Greg asked, following my gaze. “I think he’s the one.” Ignoring my protests, he steered me over to Ben. “Pastor, good sermon,” he told him.
“Thank you,” Ben said. He smiled but still managed to look sad. Maybe I was the only one to notice. Greg didn’t. He gave me a one-armed squeeze. “I’d like to introduce you to Gaia Bell. She’s one of our Wednesday night teachers.”
Ben raised an eyebrow. “Really? How interesting. What are you teaching?”
Heat flooded over me. I wondered if he’d remember what I’d said to him before when I was anti-church. Greg wandered away to catch one of the board members, leaving me alone with Ben. Well, as alone as we could be with a room full of people clamoring to meet him. I thought to follow Greg, but Ben still waited for my reply. “A character study on Mary Magdalene,” I finally answered.
One side of his mouth briefly turned up, then fell. He did remember, but obviously didn’t want to. “A good choice. Well, Ms. Bell, I’m pleased to meet you.” His hands enveloped mine and my stomach clenched. He released my fingers and looked over my shoulder to the person standing behind me. I was effectively dismissed. What had I expected?
Normally, I go to dinner after church with Greg and Tina, but I begged off with a headache. Because of that, I was home when the knock came on my door. Ben. He didn’t let me speak. “If the congregation votes to hire me, will you run off again? Or maybe I should ask, how are you voting? To get me out of Dodge as fast as possible?”
“Please don’t be so bitter, Ben.” I pulled him inside and into the living room.
“How am I supposed to be?” he demanded. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw you out there today. I left the other church because of how they treated you—how I knew they’d treat others like you. I’d prayed to be able to talk to you again, make some sense out of what had happened between us. But when I saw you, all I could feel was the pain you dealt me before and the knowledge you didn’t want me in your life. For half a second, I wondered if I shouldn’t just stop speaking and walk out. If you don’t want me here, I won’t stay. I don’t want you to destroy my peace again.”
I hadn’t considered what I’d done to him. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. I couldn’t breathe. In protecting myself and in thinking I was protecting him, I’d hurt him more than I could imagine.
“Sorry?” he muttered in disbelief.
“Yes. I’m sorry. Can’t you give me some of the forgiveness and understanding you preach?”
It wouldn’t be so easy. He glared at me and turned to leave. I caught his arm. “Ben, wait.”
“Like you waited for me?” he snapped.
“That’s not fair. I left for you.” Guilt welled inside me. Yes, I’d left to save his reputation, but I’d been selfish, too.
“You left for me?” he scoffed. “I told you I loved you. I told you I wanted to marry you and you disappeared.”
I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t. There could be no more excuses and he knew I was sorry. He could never know how sorry. He turned to leave again, and I realized he must have thought I wanted him to go while in reality, I was warring with my pride. I had to tell him how I felt, but I was afraid of it being thrown back at me. I caught his arm again.
“Ben,” I choked out, looking at him with all the love I felt. “I’d vote…to keep you here. And,” I took a deep breath. “I’d stay.”
He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what I was saying. “Why? What’s different now?”
“I am. I’m not unforgivable—”
“You never were,” he interrupted.
“– and I love you.”
His eyes closed as if he breathed a prayer. Suddenly, he caught me up against him and kissed me the way I so loved, the way that stole my thoughts, the way that turned my knees to gelatin. One thought managed to get through as he dropped kisses on my face and told me how much he loved me and how thankful he was to finally be with me. “You have to go!” I managed to get out between kisses.
He pulled away and stared at me in disbelief. “What? But—”
“I don’t want anything—even love—to jeopardize your chances of getting this job.” But I knew if he wasn’t hired, it would be okay. I’d go with him wherever he went.
Ben did get the job, and to the delight and surprise of the congregation, he immediately introduced me as his fiancée. We were married a respectable six months later. Our congregation is very much our family. Like doting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, they’re eagerly awaiting the birth of our first child.
I’m scared. I’m so afraid all my happiness will be snatched away again. That’s just one of my demons, but Ben’s helping me face all those—including finally driving again. As hard as it is to get over my past, I know I’m blessed. All I have to do is look at my husband or feel my baby kick and I know it.