A Light in the Darkness, Ch. 19 & 20

Chapter 19

 

“Do you mind if I borrow your car?” Holly asked Luke as he sat reading the newspaper in the sitting room.  She’d formulated a plan, but she needed transportation.

 

“My car?  I can call Rio.”

 

“No.”  The thought of a limo pulling up at Gabriel’s made her shake her head. “I’m going to visit a friend.”

 

“A friend.” He nodded.  “Ah. That’s different.  The keys are in the garage.”

 

She smiled at how nice this felt. “Thanks, Luke.”

 

“Tell Gabriel I said hi.”

 

Embarrassment climbed into her cheeks.  Oh, well.  So he knew.  He wasn’t protesting and throwing a hissy fit like everyone else did.  Quickly she went to the front door and slipped out into the bright sunshine.  In long strides she ran down to the carriage house.  He needed it, and if he wasn’t going to come here to get it, then she was going to bring it to him.

***

Vaguely Gabe heard the tires outside.  Maybe his mom was back already.  He rolled over, trying to get back to sleep.  After all, it was only ten o’clock.  He didn’t have to be up for another 24 hours.  However, the knock on the door pushed concern into him.  Who would be here that didn’t have a key?  Maybe they would go away.  He snuggled deeper into the covers, pushing the world away.  The knock sounded again, louder this time. “Ugh. Go away.”

 

But the knock came again.

 

He ripped the covers from his legs.  “I said go away.”  But he only said it to the darkened room.  The knocking continued, and anger snapped into him.  “Fine. I’m coming.  I’m coming. Hold your horses.”  He reached for the ratty old bathrobe.  Whoever it was would take one look at him and run away screaming.

 

“I’m coming,” he said again as he went through the kitchen.  He tried to look outside to see who it was through the kitchen window, but the sunshine was mind-numbingly bright.  Three more knocks and he yanked the door open.  “What?”

 

The screen was between them, but he could see the determination scrawled across her face regardless.  All at once concern hit him.  “Holly?  What’s wrong?”

 

She took one long look at him and scowled.  “You.  Get dressed.”

 

He looked down at himself, wondering how she could just show up here like this. His fingers raked through his hair in frustration with life in general.  “I’m going to bed.”  With his hand he pushed the door to close it, but like lightning she was through the screen door blocking his ability to close the main one.

 

“Okay.  I get it.  You don’t want me around.  That’s fine, but you are scaring your mother to death, and that is not fine.”  She stepped into his house, and Gabe backed up at the onslaught.  “So, like it or not, you are getting out of this house and coming with me.”

 

He was having trouble deciphering so many words at once.  “Where are we going?”

 

She planted her hands on her hips, a movement he was coming to know really well. “Out.  Now go get dressed.”

***

As he changed, Gabe asked himself over and over what he was doing.  He should tell her to get lost, but with the mood she was in, she’d probably hog tie him and pitch him in the trunk.  Holding the misery to him like a badge, he stepped out.  He hadn’t bothered to take a shower or to shave.  He didn’t care. It was either too much trouble or the thought that being scruffy had a real chance of scaring her off—either of which was a good enough excuse for him.

 

Down the hall he trudged on lead feet.  In the kitchen he found her sitting at the table, and the morning they went to church together drifted through him.  He batted it away, but in seconds it was back.  It seemed like eons ago.  “I hope this doesn’t require a suit and tie.”

 

Holly looked up at him, and there was a mix of emotions in her eyes he couldn’t fully read.  “That’s fine.” She stood.  “You ready?”

 

His laugh was more of a sigh. “Like I have a choice.”

***

Ever since she’d thought about this excursion, Holly had been praying.  If this was up to her, they were all sunk.  So she stepped back and let God take control.  This was God’s garden, and He was going to have to plant it.  All she was capable of was being available.  They walked outside.

 

“Nice wheels,” he said when he saw the black BMW, and she heard the dig.

 

“It’s Luke’s.”  She got in and unlocked his side.  It wasn’t hard to notice how hesitant he was.  Once in the car he sat there, stick straight, eyes fixed ahead of him.  “Seat belt?” she said in reminder.

 

“Oh.”  It was like programming a robot.  He reached back and pulled it on.

 

Holly started the car.  “I brought you this.”  She held up the True Power & Real Peace book.  “I’ve been reading it. It’s really good.”

 

His gaze barely grazed it and then went back out the front window.

 

She laid it between them, backed out, and drove onto the highway.  California stretched before them.

 

He shifted uncomfortably in the seat. “Where’re we going anyway?”

 

Her glance at him was small for her heart’s sake. He looked so sad, lonely, and scared. “Where do you want to go?”

 

Anger punched through his voice. “I thought you said we were going some place.”

 

“We are.”

 

“Where?”

 

“Not here.”

***

At first Gabe thought she was kidding, but as they drove farther and farther, it occurred to him that she might in fact be serious.  “There are laws about kidnapping, you know.”

 

Holly glanced over to him, the clip in her hair making it turn with her.  “Oh, yeah.  How do you know that?  You ever kidnapped anybody?”

 

“No.”

 

She shrugged. “I’ll take my chances.”

 

On and on they drove.  They were now hugging the coastline, the waters of the Pacific spread out beyond his window.  Gabe remembered years before. On days like today, he’d be out with his friends riding those waves.  That seemed so long ago as to be a different lifetime.  “I hope you’ve got enough gas money to get back.”

 

“What happens if I don’t?”

 

Fight leaped into him. “Well, then I hope you’re good at washing dishes because I don’t really want to hitchhike back.”

 

“I can do dishes, enough for me anyway.  But you’re on your own.”  Her smirk was the only signal that she wasn’t totally serious.

 

“Kidnapping and abandonment?  The charges are piling up here.”  He let his hand fall to beside him, and it landed on the book.  He sucked a hard knot of air in and yanked his hand back.  “Are we planning to be back for church tomorrow?”

 

“Depends.”

 

“On what?”

 

“On how long this takes.”

 

“How long what takes?”

 

“This.”

 

She said no more. She was making no sense, talking in circles.  He fought not to care as he let his gaze drift out the window to the surfers.  He’d always loved that feeling, being out on the waves, letting them challenge his ability and his body.  It was a rush.  He glanced over at her.  If he was here, and he was a prisoner, the least she could do was talk to him.

 

“How’s things going up on the hill?”  He meant the dig, but she didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Now that I’m not climbing ladders, pretty good.”  She laughed. “Tim banned me from them.”

 

“Yeah, I heard something about that.  What happened anyway?”

 

“Oh, I was my usual graceful self.  Don’t worry. I’m almost healed.”  She pulled the light windbreaker up at the cuff to show him a jagged scab that went right up her wrist.

 

Concern whacked into him.  If it was still that bad after this much time, it must’ve been really bad when she did it.  “Holly…”

 

“Oh, yeah. That’s nothing.  You should’ve seen my face.  Darius wanted me to go to Hollywood and try out for the new Batman villain.”

 

Life slid back to him. “What were you doing out there anyway?  You didn’t have to be doing that.”

 

She laughed.  “Like I had anything else to do.  It was okay though.  It let me meet the guys.  They’re really nice.  Bad medics but really nice.”

 

Guilt for not being there for her knocked into him.  “I guess… The garden’s probably in shambles by now, huh?”

 

“It’s not too bad.  Me and my morning coffee are trying anyway.”

 

The understanding that she hadn’t quit going when he did wafted over his battered spirit.  The white caps out in the surf grabbed his attention again, and he let his gaze go that direction.  It really was beautiful out there.  The waves stretched as far as the eye could see.  He breathed in the sight, glad for having witnessed it.

 

“So, we’re really not going anywhere?”

 

She glanced at him.  “No.  We’re just driving.”

 

Just driving.  It was weird how comforting that sounded.  “You got lunch, or are you going to starve your prisoner too?”

 

“We can stop.  You hungry?”

 

“A little.”

 

Without another word, she pulled into the next town and over to a McDonald’s.  “How’s this?”

 

French fries suddenly sounded like heaven as she parked.

 

She shut off the car and unlatched her seat belt.  “Now, no making a break for it. Got it? I’d hate to have to use the handcuffs.”

 

Gabe nodded in bewilderment as he got out of the car, wondering if there really were handcuffs somewhere.  The sunshine hit him full-on, and he breathed in the salty sea air.  He let his eyes go closed as he took one more breath and then he crossed to the back of the car where she was waiting.  “You’re paying, right?”

 

“Either that or we’re both doing dishes.”

 

Funny how that suddenly sounded like a lot of fun.

***

Holly could see the light coming back into his eyes, and she hoped that was a good sign.  If nothing else, he wouldn’t starve any time soon.  Two burgers, large fries, and a Coke the size of a small truck were inhaled at the pace of a motor speedway.  She was in awe that he could eat that much and still move.  For her part, she ate pieces of a small salad.  Her nerves about doing what God was telling her left no room for food.

 

“That was great.”  Gabriel sat back, stretching.  “Can’t beat a Big Mac.”

 

“Or two,” she said, taking a sip of her water.

 

“Or two,” he agreed, and for the first time there was the smallest hint of a smile.  He glanced over at her salad.  “Are you going to eat those cucumbers?”

 

She scrunched her nose.  “Slimy little green things?  I don’t think so.”

 

Without asking he reached over and snagged the two of them from her tray.  He inhaled them as well.  “So, are we getting ice cream?”

 

Holly’s eyes went wide.

 

He looked at her.  “What?  Ice cream sounds good.”

 

She only hoped she’d brought enough money.  She might not have enough for tuition at this rate.

***

“Are we going back?” Gabe asked when they got out to the car.

 

She glanced over at him. “Only if you want to.”

 

Gratefulness drifted through him. “Not yet.”

 

With a nod, they were headed south, going nowhere.  It was the best ride of his life.

***

It was only when the sun hit a 45 degree angle to the sea that Holly knew they had gone as long as they could.  She didn’t want Luke to worry about the car, and she didn’t want Gabe’s mother worried either.  That wouldn’t help anything. “We’d better go back.”  She angled the car into the little filling station and turned around.

 

When they were again headed north, Gabe glanced over at her. “So when do you go back to school?”

 

The thought jabbed into her.  “Two weeks on the 12th. It’s a Saturday.”

 

He nodded.  “So, who am I going to get to replace you weeding everyday?” The question was soft, gentle like a breeze.

 

The memory of his mother’s words drifted through her.  “Won’t they be replacing both of us?”

 

He fell silent.

 

She fought the urge to say something, to tell him he was making a huge mistake, that his mother was worried sick.  “You are going back, right?”

 

Slowly he shook his head.  “I don’t know.”

 

“Don’t know what?”

 

Again he shook his head, his gaze on his fingers. “How can I just leave her like that?  She needs me.”

 

“She needs you, Gabriel.  The real you, not the you that you think you have to be to make everybody else happy.  Can you honestly tell me that you want to be a groundskeeper forever?  Can you?  Is that really what you want to do?”

 

His shrug was hardly there. “It’s where I am.”

 

“But you don’t have to stay there.  Look at me.  I was a drunk-suicide waiting to happen.”

 

He started to protest.

 

“Was.  I said, ‘Was.’  That’s not who I am anymore.  Yes, I still have moments when I don’t see how any of this could ever work, but thinking I have to have all the answers, letting people run over me because I don’t, that’s not me anymore.  The question is not who you were or even who you are.  The question is who do you want to be, and more to the point, who did God make you to be?”

 

He thought about that and then sighed.  “I don’t know.  There’s so many things in the way.”

 

“There always will be.” She glanced at him.  “Don’t you get that?  There are always obstacles.  That’s how we grow, how we step into who God made us to be by doing it anyway.  Yes, it’s hard.  You do it anyway.  Might you fail?  Yes.  But you do it anyway.  Otherwise, you sit in your room, and you take yourself out of the game.  I’m sure Satan just loves that.”

 

The conviction of her words ran deep.  They weren’t just words, they were her.  “God didn’t give up on you, Gabriel.  Why did you give up on Him?”

***

It was what he had felt since that casket had closed. That he was here alone, that God had somehow forgotten he was alive.  Gabe’s gaze fell to his hands.  “Why?  Why now?  Why him?”

 

She looked over at him.  “Your dad?”

 

He nodded as the pain took a swipe at him.  “We needed him.  Why would God do that to us?”

 

The question hung for a long moment.  “Well, maybe He’s giving you the chance to stand on your own, to see what you can do.”

 

The futility of life collapsed on him. “That’s just it. I can’t do it like this. I can’t, and he knew it.”

 

“God or your dad?”

 

His gaze slid down.  “Both.”

 

“Why? Did they know you couldn’t?”

 

How they had gotten here, Gabriel couldn’t quite tell.  He’d been so proud of himself for shielding her from the gory details of his life for so long, and now here they were.  He could tell her, and she would surely be gone.  But then again, that’s what he wanted, right?  There was no good answer to that question.

 

Her gaze called to his. “Gabriel?”

 

Without looking at her, he let the words whisper from him. “When you let someone down as much as I did, they don’t ever really trust you again.”

 

She glanced over at him, longer this time.  He felt it.  “How’d you let them down?”

 

Nothing in him wanted to go back there, to those feelings, to that night.  Outside the sun was dipping into the ocean.  The sky was lit by colors he couldn’t even name, and yet in minutes they would be gone.  Overtaken by the darkness.  “It was a long time ago.”

 

“How long?”

 

“Back in high school.”  He couldn’t believe he was saying these words out loud, to her.  It occurred to him that he’d never actually said them to anyone who didn’t already know.  “I was a freshman.  There were these kids at school.  They were my friends… I guess.”  He wondered now at his loose definition of friends back then. “There was this one guy, Taran Ortega.  He was the coolest thing on two legs, or so I thought.  All the girls wanted him, all the guys wanted to be him.  He didn’t take nothing off of nobody.”

 

He could smell the high school hallways. “My dad knew he was trouble from a mile away, but more than anything I wanted to be in that circle.  If I could just get there, you know?  Then I’d really be somebody.  I’d always wanted to play football like my dad, but when it came time to sign up in the summer, Dad said I could pick anything else.  Anything but what I really wanted to do.”

 

Holly looked across at him. “You don’t look like any football player I’ve ever met.”

 

He couldn’t tell if that was a compliment or not.  “I wanted to play quarterback, and I was good.  In middle school I could out throw anybody, and I had hands.”  He lifted them into view as if to remind himself.  “But Dad… he wouldn’t back down.  He had a real stubborn streak, and you didn’t cross him.

 

“He wouldn’t sign the paper saying I could play, so I couldn’t.”  Gabe fell into the memories, forgetting for a moment that she was there.  “That’s why Dad got me a job at the mansion—to keep me busy so I wouldn’t have time to think about it.  Pool boy.  Big deal.  I hated it.  They’d have parties at the mansion, big parties with lots of rich snobs who had no need for a dumpy little kid like me.  That was before Whitaker died, before Mr. Teracini took over.  There was so much money running through there, they could’ve swum in the champagne.  Whitaker was like Mr. Teracini only more so.  The more you did and the less he saw you, the better.

 

“Dad kept telling me to keep my chin up, that other people couldn’t determine who I was.  But I was 15.  What 15-year-old bases their opinion on anything except what other people think?  Anyway, a few weeks into school Taran called one night.  He was drunk as usual, and he wanted me to meet him at a liquor store where we used to get our stuff.”  There. That was an admission, but it was just a small one.

 

“Dad was mad because I’d been slacking off with work.  I didn’t care.  The football games had started, and I wasn’t out there because of him. I thought it served him right that he was getting yelled at for stuff I didn’t do.  Anyway, we got in a big fight, and I told him I was leaving and that I was going to meet Taran.  Dad told me I couldn’t go, that Taran was trouble coming and going, but I was so mad, ‘don’t go’ wasn’t in my vocabulary.  I told him he couldn’t run my whole life, and I stormed out and took the car.  Man, I remember that drive.”  The words became hollow and distant as the memories overtook him.  “I drove into town, and I wasn’t coming back.  I wasn’t.  I don’t know what my plan was, just that I wasn’t going home. I was 15, and I thought I knew everything.”

 

He closed his eyes as the snaking terror of that night slipped into his spirit.  “I drove up to the liquor store.  I was just supposed to meet him there, that’s what he said.  But when I got out, he came running out, screaming at me to get in and drive.  I didn’t understand.” Gabe narrowed his eyes trying to see that night as it was rather than only as he now remembered it. “I stood just there, asking him what was going on, trying to get him to tell me what was happening.  He was out of his mind, like he was high or something.  I couldn’t get him to calm down.  And then I heard the sirens, the police.” His breath struggled to get out. “Man, I can still hear those sirens.

 

“Everything started happening in like in double speed.  Taran was cussing me out. He took off running, but I was still standing there by the car, trying to figure out what was going on.  I remember weird things.  The lights. I remember the lights.  And the blinking Coors Light sign in the window.  That’s a weird thing to remember.”  Images, singly and all at once streamed into him.

 

“And I remember the ambulance.  I thought they were coming for Taran.  They hauled him back to the parking lot from where he had run. He was spitting at people and fighting the officers who were holding him.  Everyone was yelling and running around.  Everyone except me. I just kept thinking this must be some horrible nightmare.  And then, they were telling me my rights. I kept asking what I’d done wrong, but they just kept reading.  I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew whatever it was, it was bad.  They put me in the police car, handcuffs and all.” He shivered at that memory, the helplessness, the confusion, the fear slithering through him once again. “It wasn’t until I was at the station that they told me I was being charged with first degree murder.”

 

Chapter 20

 

“Murder?” Holly breathed the word, the world closing in on her as the darkness outside fell in earnest.

 

Gabe breathed, seemingly relieved now that the word had come out of him. “I knew there were things about Taran’s life that weren’t great, but that night his dad came home and found him doing drugs.  They had it out.  He left, just like I did.  Except he had a gun and a death wish.”

 

Holly was having trouble holding onto life. “But you told them.  You told them, right?  That you didn’t do it.  That you weren’t there.”

 

“I tried, but I spent three days in jail before they put all the pieces together enough to figure out I was telling the truth.  The surveillance video finally proved I never actually went in the store, but the truth is… I was there.  I went, and I went with the intention of making someone pay.”

 

“But you didn’t.” Her voice was as panicked as her insides were trying not to be. “You never actually went in though.”

 

“No, but had I gotten there five minutes earlier, I probably would have.  Taran had a way of talking me into stupid stuff, stuff I knew was wrong but that I’d do just to hack Dad off.  We spray-painted the football field, shoplifted for the fun of it, and beat kids up at school because they looked at Taran wrong.  And then I would go to church with my folks on Sunday and feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world.”

 

Holly heard it, but it was difficult to see the guy sitting next to her now as the messed up kid he was describing.  “So what happened?  How’d you turn it around?”

 

He took in a long, slow breath.  “I wish I could take credit for that, but it wasn’t really me. When they let me out, I was called to testify.  Taran sat there staring at me, and I knew if he’d had a gun or a good run at me, he would’ve killed me on the spot.  I was having nightmares every night.  School was horrible.  I was in detention for fighting, and my grades were in the toilet. I was in real trouble, not from the law but from the demons that wouldn’t leave me alone.  They had me.  I know that now.  They had me, and they knew it.

 

“Mom and Dad were at the end of their ropes with me.  Dad wouldn’t even speak to me, and Mom was so scared and hurt, she didn’t know what to do.” He shook his head, and Holly knew how bad he felt about the grief he’d caused his parents.  It was palpable.  “I was the promised child, the one they had prayed so hard for.  Mom was almost 40 years old when I was born, and they’d basically given up on ever having kids. Then I came along, and now here I was in trouble with the law, drinking all the time, and paranoid out of my mind. I would wake up with sweats. I started skipping school and getting into all kinds of trouble. I’m sure they wondered what the heck they ever did to deserve me.”

 

What he was describing was an outright nightmare compared with the idyllic existence she had assumed he grew up under.  “But you’re so different now.  The anger, the fear.  That’s like… not you.”

 

He nodded.  “At the bottom of the bottom, they went to the priest at the time and asked him for the name of a counselor—somebody who might be able to help me.  That was the last thing I wanted.  What I really wanted was a gun to blow my brains out, but they loaded me up and took me to a rehab place down south.  I withdrew from school and for a month I sat in sessions at the clinic trying to make it look good. But I’m a really bad actor.

 

“And then Marvin took over, and everything changed.”

 

Holly snagged on the name. “Marvin?”

 

“He was the chaplain at the clinic.  Cool guy.  Only about 30 from what I remember.  I don’t know why really but he and I clicked.  He was kind of like Taran, only in a positive way.  He started with challenging me to a basketball game and ended up changing my life.”

 

“Basketball?”

 

“Horse.” Gabe laughed. “Only I’d never played Horse like that.  For every letter he won, I had to tell him one secret that I’d never told anyone else.  For every letter I won, I got to ask him one question.  We’d play for hours, long after his clock time was over.  When he figured out I was pretty much a natural athlete, he took me out, and we started weight training and running at his gym.  He was like the big brother I never had.”

 

“And when you got out?”

 

“It was tough.  I had to learn a new way to be around Mom and Dad and at school. I’d call Marvin a couple times a week, just to talk.  He suggested I go out for the soccer team because it was spring.  I couldn’t play much because my grades were so bad, but I liked it.  I was good at it. From sophomore year on, I played basketball and soccer every year.”

 

“You never did play football?”

 

“No.”

 

“And your dad?”

 

Gabriel sat for a long, long moment before he said anything.  “Dad was Dad.  He always kind of knew I would be a failure like he thought he was, and I don’t think he ever really trusted that I’d changed.  He was always kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop, for me to mess up and destroy everything again.”

 

“What happened to Taran?”

 

This answer took even longer.  “They charged him as an adult.  He’s serving life—armed robbery, first degree murder, drug possession, possession of a stolen firearm…  It got to be a long list.”

 

Holly took that in, thanking God for the delay of Gabriel getting to the store and for anchoring his feet to the ground when he did get there.  Had he gotten in that car and driven…  She shook those thoughts away.  “What about Marvin?  Do you still talk to him?”

 

Gabriel exhaled slowly.  “I haven’t talked to him in almost three years, since I started college.”  He reached down and picked up the book.  “He sent me this a couple months ago, but that’s the last I’ve heard from him.”

 

“Do you think you could call him now?  Just to talk?”

 

He nodded.  “Yeah, I think so.”

***

It was almost 10:30 when they got back to his house.  The stop for gas and snacks hadn’t filled either the tank or them up very much.

 

“You want to come in?” Gabriel asked, knowing he could never, ever repay her for today.  His spirit was tired but not flailing anymore. “I could make us some sandwiches.”

 

She didn’t say anything for a moment.  Then her gaze trailed across the tiny yard to the house beyond. “No, I’d better get home.  I don’t want Luke to worry.”

 

“Oh. Okay.”  Gabe let his gaze stay on his fingers for a long moment.  “Thank you.”  He glanced at her.  “For coming today.  I know how hard that was.”

 

Her smile was only halfway.  “Hard doesn’t matter as long as it helped.”

 

When he smiled at her, it came from his heart.  “It did.”  He reached for the door handle and slid out.

 

“Oh,” Holly said, picking up the book and holding it out to him. “Don’t forget this.”

 

Gabe took it from her, knowing the gift God had given him when she’d come into his life.  “I’ll see you Monday?”

 

She smiled.  “Bright and early.”

 

With that, he waved, and she backed out.  No, he would never be able to repay her.  He turned and walked into the house.  He was in the kitchen getting a drink when his mother walked in.

 

“Oh, Gabriel!  Thank God.  I was so worried. Where were you?”

 

His gaze found hers, and he knew they needed to lay out new ground rules about who he could date and who made the decisions of his life.  “Mama, we need to talk.”

***

Holly was still praying for him, praying for every step he took as she walked into the mansion from the garage.  Sitting at the breakfast table, Luke and her mother looked up.

 

“It’s about time you get here,” her mother said, standing.  “Where have you been?”

 

She shrugged although one part of her was readying her shield. “I went for a drive.  It took longer than I thought it would.”

 

“It is hardly appropriate for you to take someone else’s car and be gone the entire day without so much as calling to let us know where you were.  Luke was worried sick.”

 

Luke stood, not looking particularly worried about the car.  “How’s Gabe?”

 

Holly’s gaze fell, knowing her mother was about to go ballistic.  “Better, I think.”

 

“Gabe?  You were out with Gabe all day?”  She looked at Luke.  “You didn’t tell me that.  You knew she was out with that boy, and you didn’t tell me?”

 

“It would’ve served no purpose.”  Luke looked at Holly.  “How are you?”

 

She nodded.

 

“Of course she’s all right.  She’s been out spending our money with a guy who will take whatever he can get from her or anybody else.”

 

“Mom,” Holly said in horror, “Gabe’s not like that, and you know it.”

 

“Oh, I do, do I?  Why would he be any different than all the others?  Huh?  Look at you, Holly. You’ll give yourself to any guy who walks by.”

 

“Linda!” The name was sharp, and Luke’s expression dropped into a harsh scowl.

 

“What?” She turned on her husband with all the venom she’d been aiming at her daughter for three months.  “Do you not see that she’s using you, Luke? She’s using all of us.”  Seeing she was getting nowhere in her argument with him, she threw her hands up in the air.  “This is so typical. Fine.  Let her walk all over you.  See if I care.”  And she stomped out.

 

After the torrent of emotions of the day, Holly’s spirit absorbed the blows, each landing square and true, right in the soft spots.  When her mother was gone, she expected Luke to start yelling as well or to look betrayed and hurt.  Instead he stood gazing at her for a long time.

 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he finally asked.

 

Holly’s gaze lifted to meet his, and tears stung her eyes.  “I will be.”

 

He smiled slightly.  “Good.  Why don’t you get on to bed?  You’ve had a rough day.”

 

He had no idea.

***

It hadn’t been easy, but Gabriel knew this was a new start between his mother and him.  She still wasn’t convinced about Holly, but owing to Holly’s daring rescue, she was now willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  He went to his room and shut the door.  One look in the mirror and it was clear that whatever had motivated Holly to the day’s actions, it wasn’t his looks.  He looked like the crypt keeper. He needed a shower and a shave, badly.  But there would be time for that.

 

He flipped the covers back and forward, trying to get them at least a bit untangled.  His room looked like a bomb site.  The damage a couple weeks could do was unbelievable.  Shaking his head, he vowed to get it cleaned up tomorrow.  Tonight, however, he wanted to reconnect.  It felt like it had been forever.  He grabbed the book and opened it to no page in particular.  It didn’t matter.  He didn’t remember where he was before anyway.

 

Trials will come to shake our peace, to convince us that God is not enough, to convince us that we are on our own. The nature of a trial is such that it has the capacity to take our eyes from Christ and put them on the storm, on the wind, on the waves.  When we look not at Christ, but at the storm, we, like Peter, will sink.  When hope fades and our faith proves not enough, we will sink. When we stop relying on Christ and start relying on our own knowledge, our own resources, our own strength, we will sink.

It would take absolutely perfect faith for even a rich soul to withstand the temptation to look down, to see the storm, and to become afraid.  But the rich soul knows that he does not have to have perfect faith himself because the moment he begins to sink, the moment he lets the wind and the waves overtake him, a hand reaches out through the storm to snag his descent. In whatever guise—a book, a reading, a song, a friend—God arrives to pull you back up, to bring the lost sheep back to into the fold.

It is this knowledge that we do not even have to be faithful, that all we must do is fall into the ever-faithfulness of the Great I Am, which brings the breath of Real Peace to our lives.  When we do that, when we stop relying on our faith and begin to trust only His, we begin to understand how close Real Peace is at every moment.  Real Peace comes from never putting any worth into our own faith.  Our faith is weak.  Even the richest soul who ever lived had but a drop of faith in comparison with the faith God exhibits every day in the lives of His children.  It is not the rich soul’s faith at work in his life that is so incredible, but that he relies only on God’s faith at every turn, at every moment.

The point is not that you never sink, but that you know He is always there to lift you back up. Each time this happens, the rich soul learns a little more about God’s faithfulness, a little more about God’s love, and a little more about God’s ability to reach out even in the roughest of storms and pull His child back to the safety of His embrace.

As St. Paul said, “I boast only in my weakness for in my weakness, His strength is made manifest.”  Therefore, you do not have to be perfectly strong, you do not have to walk on the waves perfectly.  All that is required of a rich soul is the willingness to step out, knowing that God’s faith will always be enough, that He will be there to lift us up even in our darkest hour.  Real Peace comes from knowing this and trusting your whole life to it.

 

Gabe laid the book on his chest.  “Those waves were pretty fierce, God.”  He closed his eyes, feeling himself pulled up, born on a strength he knew was not his own.  “I really thought I was going down there, but I should have known You were here all along.”  It was a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget.

***

The center of her heart floated right away at the sight of Gabriel digging in the bushes Monday morning.  Holly stepped down the walk and right behind him.  “Morning.” She took a sip of her coffee.  It tasted much better today.

 

Gabriel turned, pivoting on his knee to look up at her.  “Morning.”  Even his smile was back.  He looked much better today.  Shaved, showered, clean clothes.  It was definitely an improvement.  “Are you just going to stand there, or are you helping?”

 

She set her coffee on the walk and joined him.  “You haven’t forgotten how to do this?”

 

With one more long look at her, he dove into the bush.  “It’s like riding a bicycle.  Once you know how, you never forget.”

 

As she gazed at him, she knew the truth of those words.

***

The loft had never felt so right.  Gabriel glanced over his book at her lying on the armrest opposite the side he sat on.  Slowly he shook his head.  How he had ever gotten so lucky, he would never be able to tell.  Suddenly she looked up and caught him staring.

 

“What?” she asked with some concern.

 

His smile came from his heart.  “You.”

 

At first she tried to fight it, but in increments her smile slipped to her lips. “I’m just reading.”

 

“What are you reading?”

 

She readjusted her head on the armrest so she wasn’t on her side but looking at him.  “About how God has a plan for my life.”  Her eyes fell into thoughtfulness.  “It’s weird.  I never thought I had a future, you know?  That there was a plan for me.  I makes me wonder if I can live up to that… if I’m ready for whatever He has planned.”

 

Gabe couldn’t have torn his gaze from hers had he tried.  “That’s just it though.  That’s what He’s shown me through all of this.  When I freaked out about my dad and school and my mom and everything, He’s shown me that I don’t have to know everything.  I don’t have to have it all figured out.  All I have to do is take this step, the one He’s asking me to take right here, right now.  If I do that, I know He will take me where I’m supposed to be.”

 

With a push Holly sat up.  “But doesn’t it scare you sometimes?  The future I mean?  There are so many things that could go wrong.”

 

“And so many things that could go right.”

 

She looked like she wanted to argue.  “That’s not what I meant.  I mean how do I know that this step is going to lead where I want to go?  I don’t even know where I want to go.”

 

“But He knows how He made you, what He made you to do.  It’s like I read in a book a long time ago about how a potter carefully chooses the clay he will use based on the type of pot he wants to make.  I didn’t know a lot about pottery, but the gist of it was that if you wanted a smooth pot, you used one kind of clay.  If you wanted a tall pot, you used a different kind.  God knows what kind of pot you are supposed to be, so that’s the kind of clay He used when He made you.”

 

Holly nodded slowly.  “That’s why He says He knows what plans He has for me.”

 

“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you,” Gabe finished.  It was a promise he knew he would need the day she was no longer in this loft and he was 100 miles away living a life he could only imagine right now.

 

“You trust Him, huh?” she asked although he couldn’t clearly understand why.

 

“Yeah.  Probably now more than ever.”

 

She thought about that a moment. “Does your new apartment have a telephone?”

 

His eyebrows arched to the ceiling above.  “At school? Yeah.  Why?”

 

“Because I’m thinking I may have to burn up the lines from Boston back here.”

***

The next two weeks were like a dream Holly never wanted to end.  In the morning they weeded, in the evenings they read, in between he was never far from her thoughts.  Even as she packed the three suitcases of clothes to take back with her to Boston, she wondered how she would ever be able to get on that plane.  Yes, it felt like the move she was supposed to make.  He had his life here with his school starting in just a few weeks. In fact, he would be packing soon as well.

 

However, nothing in her wanted to let this summer go—this magical, life-changing summer.  The thought that it would never be the same again dogged her.  What if he found someone else?  What if they never found their way back here?  What if after tomorrow she woke up from this dream to find a reality she didn’t want to live staring back at her?

 

The cell phone on her table beeped, and she snatched it up, hoping it would be him.  “Hello?”

 

“Holly-girl!  It’s Rebecca.  How’s packing?”  She sounded so happy.

 

Holly let the worry out in a sigh as she plopped onto the bed.  “Lovely.  You want to come help?”

 

“Come to Napa Valley?  I’d love to. When does my flight leave?”

 

Oh, if it were that easy.  She sighed again.  “Is my bed ready?”

 

“It looks lonely without you.  What time are you getting in?”

 

“I’m supposed to be there about eight.”

 

“Do you need a ride?”

 

“I can get a cab.”

 

“A cab?” Rebecca made it sound like that was the worst suggestion in all of suggestion-hood.  “I don’t think so.  We’ll be there to get you.  What airline is it?”

 

“American.”  Holly wanted to protest, but she also knew she would need every drop of support from her friends that she could get.

 

“Cool.  So eight o’clock it is then.”  Rebecca paused.  “How’s Gabriel?”

 

“Good, I guess.  I think he’s taking this a lot better than I am.”

 

“Holly…”

 

“No, Becca.  This is for the best.  It is.  I just have to find a way to get myself to do it.”

 

“You know, Em says all the time that she doesn’t do it, she lets the Holy Spirit do it.  So don’t do it.  Let Him do it.”

 

Holly almost smiled.  “Okay.  I’ll do that.”  She glanced over at the partially full suitcase.  “I’d better get this stuff packed.  I’m supposed to be on the plane at 8:20 in the morning.”  The thought of that cross-country trip was enough to buckle her courage.

 

“K.  I’ll see you when you get here, and Holly?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It’s going to be okay.”

***

Somehow Gabe had never really thought this night would come, this last night.  Him.  Her.  In the loft, together for the last time.  Somehow that had never seemed like an actual possibility.  Now it was here, and he was in an all-out battle with his heart to keep from begging her to stay.  His thoughts went round and round about what if he just asked her to marry him right now?  What if he could convince her not to go back?

 

But he knew he couldn’t do that.  She was going back.  She’d made that decision, and he didn’t want to make it any harder on her than it already was.  Still, the thought of her leaving stabbed machetes into his heart every time he looked at her.  Tomorrow night he would be here without her, and there was no guarantee that they would ever be here in this space together again.  He knew he couldn’t ask her to stay, but something in him said he needed to tell her, tell her how much she meant to him, how much she had changed his life, how he would never forget her nor regret their time together.  It was just so much, he didn’t know where to start or how.

 

Behind the guise of reading, which he wasn’t, he closed his eyes.  “Holy Spirit, help.  I don’t want to mess this up.  Please help.”  The prayer was a mere breath.

 

“Say it,” the voice seemed to whisper to him.  “Just say it.”

 

He cleared his throat having no idea if any words would come when he opened his mouth.  “So, tell me about these friends of yours—Rebecca and…?”

 

Holly sat up as if waking from a dream.  “Emily?”  She laid her book on her lap.  “They’re great.  They’ve come through for me more than once.  I just hope…”

 

Concern skidded across him at the look on her face.  “Hope?”

 

She glanced at him, and her gaze fell.  “I’ve really pulled them through the wringer.”  The thoughts overtook the words.  “I did some really dumb things my first semester there.  Things I’m not proud of, and I know they didn’t judge me or anything, but I so want this to be a new start for us, for them to see that I’ve really changed, that I’m not the same person I was when I left.”

 

The opening of her heart pulled him to her.  He wrapped his arms over her, and she leaned into him.

 

She sniffed softly. “I just… what if I can’t do this when I get back there?”

 

“Do what?”  He loved the smell of her hair, the feel of her shoulder under his arm.  It felt so right, so natural.

 

“This.  Trust.  Be with Him.  What if I go back to being the old Holly?”

 

“Do you want to go back to being the old Holly?”

 

Slowly she shook her head.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because she made stupid decisions about guys and drinking and trying to be someone everybody else wanted to be around.”

 

“And the new Holly?”

 

He felt the smile that crossed through her.

 

“Let’s just say she’s learning.”

 

Gabe nodded.  “Do you know what the number one thing God says over and over in the Bible is?”

 

“What?”

 

“Do not be afraid.  Have courage.  Fear not.  I am with you.  366 times He says that in the Bible.”

 

“Really?  366, huh?”  She let the thought settle.  “One for every day.”

 

“And leap year just in case.”

 

Again she nodded.  “And old Holly?”

 

Peace washed through him at the memory of those first few moments together.  “Bless her.  Let her be what teaches you to take others where they are.  You don’t have to change them, just love them where they are, and let God do the rest.”

 

“Bless her?  I would’ve never thought to do that.”

 

“It’s like me.  So many nights I cursed that night at the liquor store.  Then one night Marvin pointed out to me that without that night, I would probably be in huge trouble or dead by now.  So now I bless that night for what it taught me.  It wasn’t the way I wished I’d learned it, but I’m still glad I learned it.”

 

The sniff wafted up to him, and his heart broke that she was struggling so much.  He reached down and with his finger lifted her chin so her gaze met his.  “It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

 

Vulnerable, shaky trust met his gaze.  “God has a plan?”

 

He nodded. “God has a plan.” And though he knew it might crack his own resolve in two, he leaned toward her.  This kiss was at once sad and grateful.  His hand came around her waist, and suddenly forever wouldn’t have been enough.

 

Before his sanity and hands got away from him, she pulled back.  He was glad because he would’ve never been able to walk away from her if it had gone too far.  One tiny smile, and she snuggled into him.  He tightened his grip on her.  “God has a plan. God has a plan.”  It was the only way he could ever hope to let her go.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007

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About Staci Stallings

Staci Stallings shares her heart for God with her novels, articles, and conversations. She loves making new friends, writing, and playing piano and guitar.
This entry was posted in A Light in the Darkness, Novels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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