Sara applied her make-up with painstaking care; her movement methodical. She had chosen charcoal gray for the eye shadow ; she had always been told that it brought out the gold flecks in her dark brown eyes and made them look bigger than their normal size. She needed to look her best because she would be facing the people she had run out four years ago. Twenty seemed a hundred years ago and she felt like she had grown up so much in those years. Next, she applied the rose lip gloss, which highlighted her full pouty lips. She passed a hand over her short cropped hair, sometimes it felt so strange to her not to have the familiar curls brushing against her shoulders but she had acquired this look when she had been in the big city and it suited her small heart shaped face. Apart from looking a little thin she guessed she looked all right, not the worst for wear, she thought grimly.
There was a discreet knock on her room door which was partially open. It was her father and he looked at her gently, good old Dad, or Deacon Williams as he was known fondly to those at church – no judgment dad as he was known to her. “Ready to face the cavalry?” he asked teasingly. He was already dressed in his old fashioned tweed suit and broad red tie; his salt and pepper hair brushed ruthlessly back from his lined chocolate colored face.
She had wanted to stay home and bury herself in self-pity but her father had told her gently but firmly that she was going to have to face people sooner or later and sooner sounded a lot better. He had told her that our mistakes do not define who we are and as long as we learn from them, then we are on our way. “Not quite,” she told him wryly, “But I am hoping to garner strength along the way,” She stood up and brushed down her black and white dress with the flared waist; a red belt cinched in her small waist.
“That’s the spirit and you always look beautiful, can’t get used to your hair being so short though,” he told her with a little frown.
“You’ll get used to it,” she told him cheerfully, walking over to him, red earrings dangling at her lobes. “Let’s go,” she looped her hand on his arm and they went downstairs together. The house was old but charming and had been in the Williams’ family for three generations. Her Dad had added a porch, complete with a swing and had done little renovations here and there. He had moved out of the master bedroom when her mother had left them when she was only seven years old and had taken a smaller bedroom several doors down from hers.
They went in his old Chevrolet that had seen better days. Her car was a little red sport car and was not appropriate, nor the right fit for her father anyway. She was going back to church where she had been so active before she left; a Sunday school teacher and an organizer of the youth department and she had left her friends and church family without even saying goodbye; now she was back home to face them and she was quaking inside. They were all going to witness how much she had failed; not quite the success she had thought she was going to be.
“Don’t worry, my dear, people can be very forgiving,” her father said kindly, reaching over to give her hand a pat. “Soon they will be welcoming you back inside the fold.”
Sara smiled but did not respond.
When they reached the church, people were milling outside, getting ready to go but as was the usual procedure; they had to catch up on what had happened since the last time they met. This was what had annoyed her before she left and it was what she had come to miss when she was away. How ironic life was, she thought wryly. She knew that practically everyone knew she was back home even though she was only home from Friday. She had seen the elderly Sister Thorpe who did housework for her dad and she was the church’s grapevine.
She found herself searching; ignoring the eyes on her as her father took her hand and they walked through the yard; greeting people politely but not stopping to engage in conversation; time enough for that later. She did not see him; at least not until she had gotten inside the building and her heart turned right over in her chest. There he was; on the pulpit with the other choristers; he was director of the choir now; her father had told her. David Graham; the man she had left broken hearted on her quest to seek something better for her life. He was still so achingly handsome and as Sara stared at him furtively she saw him laugh at something Holly McKenzie said to him; his white smile flashing. She looked away quickly; not wanting him to notice her staring; she had moved on and she was sure he had too.
She sat in the back seat, near to the exit – it was a small church and everyone knew each other. Parents came out with their children and the tradition continued so the familiarity was kept constant. That was what she had wanted to escape – she had wanted anonymity – for a while.
The service was conducted by the same Pastor, Leroy Phillips and he was still going strong even though he had to be close to seventy now. Her father had gone on up front to sit near the pulpit in case he was needed. She remembered days gone by when she had been so eager to reach church; not only to be with David but also to meet up with her friends and how in love with Jesus she had been. Her best friend then had been Callie and looking up front she saw her – she was married to Brother Paul Blake now and have a son. She had not kept in touch with her either and Sara knew there was a lot of hurt there; and fences that needed mending; but not now; first she had to concentrate on her own healing.
The message was ironically about the prodigal son and Sara was sure the whole congregation was staring at her; she wanted to flee but resolutely stayed and listened; her eyes glued to the Pastor. He spoke about accepting those who had gone astray and welcoming them back with open arms, as our Father in heaven does to us.
Then it was time for the choir to sing. Sara stared mesmerized as David took the lead; his clear baritone ringing out the first verse. He had always been a magnificent singer but seemed to have honed the skill over the years. He sounded like an angel.
She was the first one to exit the church as soon as the service ended; swiftly going over to the car to wait for her father. That was where Callie found her. She was by herself and Sara saw that her husband and son were talking with a group of people.
“Hi Sara,” Callie’s voice was cool and remote as if she was speaking to a stranger. The girl had put on a little weight but was still wholesomely pretty with curly shoulder length hair and large dark eyes; her caramel colored skin smooth and unlined.
“Hi Callie,” Sara ventured a smile. “I see you have started a family.”
“Yes,” she looked over to where they were, a smile on her face which vanished instantly as she turned to face her one time friend. “I never expected you to come back.”
“I never expected to,” Sara shrugged, her eyes moving past her friend to look aimlessly around. She was not ready for this; it was too soon. “I did a lot of things I am sorry for and I know maybe you won’t believe me but I am so sorry,”
“I will get over it,” she told her; looking at her critically. “I am sure you have learnt from your mistake and if the good Lord can forgive you who am I not to?”
Sara stared at her in amusement, “I see you are rearing to take over from Pastor Phillips,” she teased. “When did you become so preachy?”
Callie laughed ruefully, the mood lightening. “Since I have become a wife and mother,” she admitted sheepishly. “Welcome back,” she gave Sara a surprise hug and after a brief hesitation Sara returned it with relief – at least she had two people in her corner, her father and Callie.
Her father was approaching and with him was Pastor Phillips. Sara’s heart sank; she just wanted to leave and she was regretting not driving her car. “Give them time,” Callie told her softly, giving her hand a squeeze, “By the way, you look sensational,” she added. “I will call you,” she went on her way greeting Deacon Williams and Pastor Phillips.
“My dear it is so good to see you,” Pastor Phillips enveloped her in a big hug, smelling as usual of peppermint and assurance. “Happy to have you back and if there’s anything you need to talk about, you know my door is always open.”
“Thanks Pastor,” she told him quietly as he released her. It was as if he had opened the way for the others; by the time he had finished talking to her, several people came over and welcomed her back; saying they were glad to see her.
Sara escaped shortly after, her heart racing, wondering if any minute she would see David at her side and she did not know quite what to say to him. Her father gently told them they had to leave and they drove away without seeing him.
“I told you it wouldn’t be so bad,” he smiled at her as they made their way home.
“And you were right,” Sara said, settling back against the faded leather seat with a sigh. “When are you going to get rid of this gas guzzler dad?”
“Old Betsy is here to stay young lady,” he told her with a twinkle in his eyes. “And I am sure she does not appreciate you referring to her as a gas guzzler.”
Sara laughed and for the first time since she had been back; she felt as if things were going to work out.
They had dinner in the small living room. Her father had made his famous fried chicken and potato salad and she ate with gusto. “Are you trying to fatten me up?” she teased as he put some more potato salad on her plate.
“You could do with a little more meat on those bones,” he told her looking at her speculatively.
“Dad,” she protested halfheartedly, putting some of the delicious salad into her mouth. “I would have you know that this is an ideal weight for my height.”
“Nonsense,” he waved a hand at her. “A little more flesh won’t kill you.”
They finished eating in companionable silence and Sara cleared the table and told him she would do the washing up. He retired to his study to read his Bible and maybe to pray. Sara took the opportunity to go and finish the unpacking and sort out her room. He had left the room the same way since she had been away; not moving anything but making sure it was neat and tidy. She had changed out all her girlish furniture when she turned eighteen and had gone with a bold design – splashes of red and blue everywhere. She wandered over to the dressing table where there was still a photo of her and David that had been taken at the fair; the summer before she left.
Her hair had been shoulder length then and the breeze had whipped it around his face and she had been looking up at him and him staring down at her. They had looked so happy together until she had decided that she wanted more for herself. How wrong she had been.
She was about to place the photo back on the dresser but she put it in a drawer instead – she needed no reminders of her past; even though she was right back in the middle it.
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Monday morning dawned bright and with it the promise of a new start. She had decided to accept her father’s offer and help him run the bookstore. She had worked there every summer when she was a teenager and helped him set up the internet café as well; he had been so pleased that she had shown an interest in the ‘family business’ as he referred to it until she had left; telling him that working in a bookstore was not her life’s dream.
He had left right after breakfast; telling her that he had some books to sort out and she should take her time. He had prepared pancakes and eggs but she had shuddered at the heaping of syrup and whipped cream and decided she would have black coffee and a plain bagel. Her father looked as if he was making good on his desire to fatten her up, she thought wryly. She sat in the small homely kitchen sipping her coffee thoughtfully. There was still some evidence of her mother around. The coffee maker she had bought on one of her visits in town; the garish table cloth on the kitchen table and the marble counter top she had replaced the Formica one for. Thinking about her mother had gotten less and less depressing as the years went by and the pain of her abandonment had dulled considerably; the sense of betrayal remained though and she wondered how her father managed to keep it together all these years.
Shaking her head as if to get rid of the troubling thoughts, she stood and washed out her coffee cup – her father was not very tolerant when it came to dirty sinks. She had dressed for her first day back in cream pants and a teal cotton blouse; the time was a little nippy even though it was the middle of summer; so she had added a black lightweight jacket as well. Gold knobs winked at her ear lobes and she had put on matching bracelets. She got there at a quarter to nine and her father was already busy with customers. He looked up with a smile and waved her over. Sara hurriedly went inside the small office and put away her pocket book and the coffee she had carried with her; before going out to join her father.
He left at noon and said he had a meeting with a bookseller and he would be gone for at least an hour.
The bookstore was empty when he came in. She had just sat down to drink her warmed up coffee when she heard the tinkle of the doorbell. It was David and she felt as if she was glued to the chair; it was him and her heart was thundering so much inside her that she hardly heard the greeting.
“Sara,” his voice; that deep husky baritone that always had the power to weaken her. He was dressed in faded jeans and a black T-shirt that exposed his tanned hairy arms.
“David,” she murmured, standing at last on legs that threatened to betray her.
“I wanted to see your dad, is he here? I don’t see his car out front.” He slowly came towards her.
“He – he went to a meeting,” she cursed herself for the uncertainty in her voice.
“I didn’t get a chance to welcome you back yesterday at church, by the time I came out you were already gone.” He stood a few feet away from her. “How are you?”
“I am doing great.” she said with bravado.
“You’ve changed your hair, it suits you,” he smiled at her slightly.
“Thanks,” she placed an unconscious over her short cropped hair. “How have you been?”
“Very well thank you,” he told her soberly.
“David I am –“ she began but he held up a hand to stop her.
“You did what you had to do Sara,” he told her a little grimly.
“Yes I did,” her pointed chin lifted and she squared her shoulders. If he did not want her apology then to hell with him.
He stared at her searchingly for a minute and then he said in a cool remote voice. “Please tell your father to call me, thanks.” Without waiting for her to respond, he turned and left.
She stood there feeling as if the earth had just been dragged from under her and she was floating with nowhere to stop and nothing to anchor her. She did not blame him hating her. He had expressed his love for her so many times over the years and she had told him to give her time and he had done that and she had gone ahead and left him with barely a goodbye. She remembered the day quite clearly as if it was yesterday.
She had called him over to the house and told him it was urgent and she did not want to speak about it over the phone.
At 22, David had been on the lanky side; his dark hair having a tendency to curl. She had often teased him that he looked more like a girl than she did with that head of beautiful hair and long lashes.
He had been at church, rehearsing but had left to rush over to see her.
“Hey what’s up?” he had asked as soon as she let him inside. Her father was at the bookstore and she had pretended to be ill so she didn’t have to go in. She had finished college and had gotten a degree in literature and had pondered on teaching but the enthusiasm was not there so her father had asked her to help him out until she decided what she needed to do.
She had been pacing the whole time till he got there and she still had no idea how to tell him. She had been secretly sending out head shots to the big city and had gotten a response. An agent was interested and wanted to sign her on. She had been a good Christian girl to please all around her and she was done with it – it was time to think about her for a change.
“I got an offer,” she blurted out.
“An offer for what?” he asked her puzzled. He had been about to pull her into his arms and she evaded him. They had had sex for the first time for both of them when she turned eighteen and he considered her to be his girl.
“From a modeling agency, I want to be a model.” She told him shakily. He stood there staring at her as if she had taken leave of her senses.
“What about us? About church? About your father?” he asked her bewildered.
“I will deal with my father later and church will always be there.” She took a deep breath. “I have to do this David and if you love me you will be happy for me.”
“Don’t do that,” he told her heatedly, advancing towards her. “I love you and I want to spend my life with you so don’t expect me to be happy that you want to go.”
“You don’t know what love really is,” she cried out in frustration, pulling away from him. “I don’t want to stay in this backwater town for the rest of my life. I want to see what’s out there and I want you to be happy for me.”
There was silence for so long that Sara wondered if he was ever going to respond. Then he did. Reaching out he pulled her into his arms and took her lips with his; bruising her with his intensity. She dragged herself away from him; her breathing ragged. “I am going,” she told him shakily. “So deal with it.”
“I love you Sara but if you leave don’t expect me to be here waiting for you.” He told her quietly and slammed out of the house. She had cried herself to sleep; almost going after him but she had made up her mind; she had to escape and no one was going to talk her out of it. Now she was back and she had seen him and she realized with a dull thud of her heart that she still had feelings for him. How was she going to go around this small town without bumping into him? And what if he was seeing someone, how was she going to deal with it?
With a shudder, she gulped back tears and wished she had never come back.
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