Women who have faced pain, loss and heartache. They know the score and never back down. Women who aren’t afraid to love with all their passion and all their strength, who risk everything for their own little piece of heaven…
Men who live their lives on the blade’s edge. Knights in black armor. The only thing more dangerous than crossing these men is loving them…
Jessie Nelson has been telling herself she doesn’t deserve or believe in second chances, especially when it comes to love…until her white rainbow appears in a corporate pirate who conquers her, heart and soul.
GENRE: Inspirational Women’s Fiction ISBN: 978-1-922233-49-3 ASIN: 1329065549 Word Count: 67, 437
Part I: REVELATIONS
January 2, 2009
Snowy sleet fell, making the afternoon more than a little overcast. From the cozy interior of his black sports car, Flint Jackson watched the graveside procession huddled under umbrellas. He’d parked far enough away that, until the mourners scattered, no one would spot him. Later, his sister Jodi would demand to know why he hadn’t attended their father’s funeral. But she’d understand. More so than anyone else had ever tried–especially the old man–Jodi would understand that he felt no sadness at all. No grief. Just fury.
Flint’s anger had been growing throughout his father’s brief illness. In the months since the old man’s heart attack, his health had deteriorated steadily. Finally got what he deserved. A ruthless, crippling strike–out of a clear blue sky. Some might say an appropriate end to mirror a lifetime of deliberately dealing out evil to everyone else around him.
The fury inside Flint had been metastasizing for almost three decades. Since his father decided to start his own business and uproot his family from everything they’d ever known. I never forgave him for that.
Oh, but Flint had retaliated. Just when his father thought he was set, secure, untouchable, thought he’d be passing on the family business to his son, Flint stole it right from under his nose. His father never recovered from that blow either.
Flint let out a low chuckle. Didn’t feel so good, being on the receiving end of the screw for the first time in his worthless life.
The wipers scraped across the windshield. Fat drops of wet snow flooded the glass again a moment later, only to be flicked away once more. Through the downpour, Flint thought he saw one of the mourners turn and peer from under the umbrella. Jodi.
Flint knew exactly what she’d say to him when she finally caught up with him. “I know Dad was…” What polite terms could she use?
“You should have come anyway, Flint. How could you stay away? He’s dead now. He can’t hurt you anymore.” Only Jodi would have the guts to ask the question Flint could spit out a thousand excuses for: Why did you stay away when it was finally over?
Because he didn’t owe the old man anything. As far as he was concerned, his father had only begun paying for his sins with his years of grief over the loss of his beloved business, his merciless illness, and now his death. I stayed away because of what he did to our family. But his sister would never see anything Flint’s way.
While attending college, Jodi had gone in a direction Flint couldn’t imagine ever following her in. She got religion there, spent all her time spouting off about Christ, redemption and forgiveness. Now she was married to a fellow Jesus freak, and the two had conceived a passel of angels. And she thinks I need the same. Hah! She thinks I need the whole Christian package.
Flint clenched his teeth, mirroring his hands gripping the steering wheel. I don’t need anything.
Grimacing in disgust, he shifted into drive and silently drove out of the cemetery. Only at the exit did he press on the gas hard to send back a mix of mud and wet snow in a final, bitter farewell to his father–the man he believed set off the initial domino that succeeded in destroying his life. Since that first piece toppled, his life had been worthless.
Flint found himself steering toward his office at Parlay. The business name had been his father’s idea of a joke. He’d considered himself a ruthless pirate in the corporate raiding business. If his old man was Captain William Kidd, Flint was Blackbeard, the most notorious of the black-hearted pirates. The old man didn’t even come close. I’m the one they call the black knight–with fear in their eyes.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror as he roared down Chicago’s slushy streets. If he’d ever been attractive, he couldn’t see it now. In the gloomy late afternoon, his face was shadowed and contorted with hate…and something else that, disturbingly, resembled self-revulsion.
What do I have to be sorry for? his mind whispered as he rode up to his Parlay office suite in the skyscraper. With so few options early in his life, he’d only done what was necessary to survive. So why was his sister happy while he was miserable? Why did his misery seem to be growing?
Nothing gave him pleasure anymore. Not the sex, drugs and booze he used to block out the emptiness he felt when he wasn’t destroying lives with barely legal hostile takeovers. Not even the once satisfactory bloodshed in his unflinching business transactions. He’d grown to despise his wife of two decades, Elizabeth, passionately. All she ever talked about lately was having kids, wanting more of the expensive, invasive treatments she’d endured twice already in his usual absence. She never bothered to ask him what he wanted.
Flint leaned the back of his head against the steel walls of the elevator as it soared upwards. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone home, or even contacted his wife.
Why did I marry her? Where once he’d seen Elizabeth as intoxicatingly gorgeous, more than capable of handling his ravenous sexual appetite, he now saw her as weak. Clingy. She’d driven him away with her own endless needs. Never once had he experienced the slightest guilt about cheating on her throughout their marriage. Women were nothing more to him than black holes he could disappear into for a short time. He’d long since forgotten why he’d believed he wanted a permanent relationship with any of them.
His assistant was on the phone in his outer office and stopped his conversation abruptly, a look of mild alarm in his steely gaze. Gard put his hand over the receiver and said, “How was the burial?”
“Cold and wet.”
Gard raised an eyebrow. “Yet you’re dry.”
Flint said nothing and turned away from the concerned expression in the man’s lined face. Gard qualified as more of a father to Flint than his old man ever had been to him. But he didn’t need caretaking right now.
He went into his office, closed the door and sat behind his desk. When he shut his eyes, the image of his wife came to him. For all her flaws, Elizabeth was heartbreakingly beautiful. Voluptuous figure and auburn hair with the face of an angel. But she was just another substitute for the only woman…girl…he’d ever cared about. “Jessie Nelson,” he murmured, never expecting the sharp stab of pain that struck his chest. Her name came to him too easily for the thirty-some years she’d been absent from his life.
The bolt of lightning brought about a revelation. He’d married Elizabeth because of her superficial resemblance to the girl his father forced him to leave behind when he was eleven years old. In fact, all the women he’d been involved with, however briefly, had those same basic traits: Voluptuous figure and auburn hair with the face of an angel.
The depths of his soul stung, and he retaliated the way he always did. With violent thoughts and actions.
Like hell he needed to stay married to Elizabeth. He’d get rid of her. With his money, he could do it razor-quick and lose little in the transaction. A sneer twisted his mouth. Never again would he have to put up with her pathetic discontent. Whatever he needed, he could find elsewhere, no strings attached.
Flint leaned forward and grabbed the phone from its cradle. He’d tell his assistant to start the divorce proceedings immediately. Today. He paid his lawyer plenty to get service anytime he requested it, even late on a Friday afternoon.
When he pressed a button on the phone, he recalled the alarmed look on Gard’s face upon seeing him. Why had the man been so surprised, presumably because of his unexpected presence? Flint had told him he wouldn’t be coming to the office today. The ex-Marine knew him better than he knew himself sometimes. He couldn’t have been surprised that Flint returned early from the funeral.
A vaguely familiar voice shouted through the phone line Flint put to his ear, “–is Flint’s daughter. Damn you. We had an agreement, Gard. If you want to keep this from him, then I need more deposited in the account per month. It isn’t easy to make ends meet with a pre-teen.”
Gard’s voice sounded hushed. “You’re putting me an in awkward position. If you keep demanding more each month, eventually Flint will start to notice. And then you’ll have broken your end of the agreement. Is that what you really want, Victoria?”
“It’s not my problem.”
Flint searched his mind for the name. Victoria. Had Victoria been the name of that professional whore he’d had recommended to him in Seattle? She’d charged him three thousand dollars for an hour of… An hour I still remember, even with all the powder I snorted that night.
No. The whore’s name had been something made-up like Venice. Paris. Victoria… Victoria who? Victoria–the woman he’d had an affair with during a takeover in Arizona nine years ago? He’d stopped seeing her as soon as he’d broken up the company and sold off its very lucrative assets. A phone call to say sayonara hadn’t seemed necessary to him, since she had to know as well as he did that their convenient affair would end as soon as his business concluded.
Flint’s mind raced, remembering the first words he’d overheard of Gard’s phone conversation. Daughter? “If you want to keep this from him, then I need more deposited in the account per month. It isn’t easy to make ends meet with a pre-teen.” Victoria had gotten pregnant, and she’d been bribing Gard for almost ten years–including the pregnancy–to keep the kid’s existence from him.
“How much more do you need?” Gard said softly, obviously conceding.
Furious, Flint dropped the receiver and stalked to his office door. He yanked it open, drawing Gard’s surprised attention. His glare level, Flint approached his assistant’s desk and leaned close to him. “It ends now. Victoria and her kid won’t get another penny from me.”
Gard put his hand over the receiver, shaking his head. “Flint, listen to me. What I’ve done, I’ve done for your benefit. She’ll take it to the courts. Paying her is the only way to pacify her.”
“Only if that kid is mine. And she isn’t.”
Rising to his full height of six-three, Gard spoke in a pacifying way. “Victoria will insist on a paternity test, and the court will grant her that right. What if this girl is your daughter, Flint? Then you’ll have no choice but to pay.”
No. Never. I’m the black knight. Nobody threatens me and gets away with it. Flint yanked the phone out his assistant’s hand. “Bring it on, Victoria.”
There was a soft gasp in the background, then she hissed, “You won’t get away with this, Flint. She is your daughter. I never would have had her in the first place if Gard hadn’t agreed to pay for all of it. And keep paying. She’s your responsibility.”
“Pay for all of it and then some, right?” he spat. “You’ve gotten all you’ll ever get out of me, b*h.”
He slammed down the phone, resisting the urge to destroy everything in his path. The sting of his humiliation was almost more than he could bear. Ten years he’d been made a fool of behind his back. His own money had funded the deception.
He looked at the man who’d agreed to the betrayal. “Why, Gard? Why would you do that?”
As usual, Gard didn’t look in the least bit repentant. “It was the only way to protect you. You may not have any problems with your conscience now, but someday you will have regrets. Perhaps less than you might have if Victoria had aborted the child, the way she wanted to.”
“And you think you can lessen my regrets by agreeing to her blackmail?” Feeling like he couldn’t deal with the fires blazing to life inside him, Flint shook his head again. “I don’t owe her. I don’t owe anyone. I’m divorcing Elizabeth. Take care of it. Today. Make sure she gets nothing more than a pittance.”
“I’m tired of all this dead weight in my life. I’m chained to it. And they all want more, always more. Well, I’ve got nothing left to give anybody else.”
They didn’t care about him. He knew that for certain. No one did. No one but Jodi–and why did she bother? Even Gard had betrayed him under the familiar guise of looking out for his best interests. Conscience? Regrets? Gard knew him better than anyone else but Jodi, so how could he suggest that Flint could subscribe to such ludicrous, outdated concepts?
With his assistant’s pleas for understanding following him, he stalked out of the office. Instinctively, he drove to the apartment he kept in the city. The penthouse suite bore all the marks of extreme wealth that should have made him feel like a king. Instead, they enraged him further. He had everything. He had nothing. After thirty-nine years of pulling himself link by link up the chain his old man had stranded him on, he found himself with a life that meant nothing at all. To anyone.
His cell phone rang, a hollow sound that echoed around the empty black-marbled foyer of the front hall. His movements tightly controlled, he pulled the device out, expecting to see Gard’s number. Jodi’s filled the LCD screen. Flint shook his head. Not now. He dropped the phone on the front entry table and strode into the living room.
He hated the fiery churning of emotion in his gut. He didn’t want to feel. Everything he did was to block out the need to face those emotions inside him. He’d tried to slaughter them…twenty-eight years ago, when I was eleven… But no matter what he did, they always returned to torment him.
I don’t have to face them. I can forget. He knew exactly what to do.
The cocaine and whiskey allowed the strain inside him to relax. In a blissful state of disassociated numbness, he wondered without concern how his life had turned out this way. Whether he should have gone in the same direction as his sister. Flint laughed out loud. Became a Jesus freak, found a purpose in life that wasn’t pure evil, searched for peace instead of destruction on all levels. Including my own destruction. Forever bliss. Forever unfeeling.
Sitting forward, he pulled open the drawer of the steel and glass coffee table. He set down his drink and lifted the loaded gun he kept there. So easy to end it now. Never feel anything again. Father and son laid to rest on the same day. The perfect irony. I love it.
Stroking the cold muzzle of the gun against his forehead, he lay back on the sofa. The image of Jessie Nelson filled his mind. He was eleven years old, living in Milwaukee. Jessie was his best friend, the girl he loved. Violently loved. Lived for her. Died without her.
They’d been wrapped around each other in his twin bed…
His mouth had felt bruised from the hour or more they’d been kissing, but he hadn’t cared anymore than she did. As always with Jess she’d gone from hot to cold. “I’m going to California for the summer,” she announced as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.
Flint went through the first stages of grief in seconds. Shaking his head wildly, he bounced to sitting up on the mattress.
“No way. You’re not going. You can’t. There’s no way I’ll let you go.”
She laughed at him. He looked behind him to see her smiling. Smiling! “It’s only a few months,” she said without concern.
“How can you? Why would you do this to me? Did I do something wrong? I don’t want you to go, Jessie. Right now a few months feels like a lifetime.”
“It is. Go for a week. Or, better yet, I’ll talk to my parents. I can go with you.”
She laughed again. “They’ll never let you go! You’ll find other things to do, Flint. We’ll call each other.”
He shook his head, turning back to her armed with a ruthless expression. “It’s not enough.” He grabbed her hard, hard enough to leave marks, but she only giggled and kissed him.
Kissing Jessie, man, kissing her was everything. The few hours they spent not making out, he thought about her. After a lifetime together not realizing how they could feel for each other, they’d discovered the most important thing in the world. Being together like this. Jessie filled his every waking moment, all his dreams. Kissing her…
No, he couldn’t go months without her. He’d rather die. A phone call could never equal the closeness they shared every single day. He cradled her against him tenderly, but his tone was anything but gentle when he spoke. “Don’t go. I love you. Marry me, Jessie. Never leave me. Never forget me.”
She smiled softly, her fingers tracing the sharp lines of his face. “Flint, you’re going nuts. We’re eleven years old! It feels…intense… But I’ve never been anywhere else but Milwaukee. All Mom and Dad care about is the company, and Tommie watches me like I’m his prisoner. I need to get away from here. I wanna go somewhere different for a while. Three months isn’t forever.”
Flint groaned. Three months. Ninety days. Two thousand and…whatever…hours apart. “You’ll find someone else,” he accused.
She’d squished closer to him. “I won’t even look. I love you, only you, Flint. I’ll be spending the summer with my aunt and uncle, not patrolling the beaches for hot guys. But…” She’d pressed her forehead against his until they shared the same intoxicating air. “…ask me to marry you again in about ten, twenty years, okay…?”
Jessie had acted like the separation would be no big deal. Neither of them could have known his father would announce, within hours of her departure, that they were relocating to Chicago. The old man was starting his own business there, with a few key investors.
Within months of the devastating move, Flint’s mother had filed for divorce. Not long after the law granted her demand, she’d remarried and had children with her new husband. Flint and Jodi flitted between their parents, never belonging with one or the other. After they left Milwaukee, they’d never belonged anywhere.
Flint had never forgiven his father for destroying everything he’d wanted in life. Not even in death could he offer pardon. And he’d never truly forgotten that Jessie Nelson had made a choice. She’d wanted to leave him, wanted to get out of the daily grind, experience freedom. Without him. She’d told him she was coming back, insisted she loved him, sincerely loved him, but instead she’d left him just when he needed her most.
Flint rested the gun against his cheek, closing his eyes.
I got my revenge against the old man. Took away the only thing he ever loved.
I’ll divorce Elizabeth. Let her fend for herself for once in her life.
Victoria won’t win–she’ll be the one who pays for her years of manipulation.
He opened his eyes, his mind strangely clear. After all these years, her family’s company, Nelson Cosmetics, was still going strong. From time to time, he’d looked in on it–his only connection with her. Jessie hadn’t been involved in the business most of her life. Inexplicably, her parents had given her controlling stock a few years ago. And she’d gone to work there, becoming a willing player in her parents’ legacy.
The corner of his mouth twitched. He could take the company away from her. Simplicity itself. In the next year or two, he could disable the business, break it up and sell the assets for a huge profit, tearing down what Jessie and her family had worked a lifetime to build.
She would pay for abandoning him. They would all pay for their betrayals. Their destruction would make his life worth living.
Flint turned the gun toward the framed photograph Jodi had given him years ago. Their family had gone on vacation in Florida when he was ten. His sister had hung the picture taken there on his wall, claiming the good memories still existed–when he cared to remember them–even if their family didn’t anymore.
He aimed and fired. The glass shattered. The frame slid off the wall and crashed to the floor. Rare pleasure erupted inside him and spilled out in manic laughter.
* * * *
July 12, 2010
Jessie Nelson fought her way to groggy consciousness. Her entire body hurt, she realized as she blinked in the half-light. Dead or alive? Do I care either way? An antiseptic stench burned her nostrils and told her what she didn’t want to know. She was in a hospital bed.
“What happened?” she said, her mouth as dry as cotton, when she turned her head, winced, and saw her old friend Gregg Stevens sitting in the chair beside the bed.
As she always did when she looked at him, she marveled that a man as drop-dead gorgeous as he was could actually be a Christian. Ridiculous, of course, that looks had anything to do with the state of anyone’s soul, but she couldn’t help thinking it anyway when she looked at him.
He’d been her brother’s best friend, but then Tommie had died far too young and Gregg’s self-destructive grief had taken him through more addictions than one man could face. Miraculously, during that time, the dreams he’d worked for all his life had also come true. Yet his fame only added to his problems. Long years ago, he’d walked away from his thriving career. He’d given up his vices and committed himself to the Christian life he’d spent years running from. He now ran a shelter called Wayward Angels for troubled teenage boys who struggled with the same problems he’d broken away from. Gregg had found his calling, and he’d made it his mission in life to see to it that she did the same.
“What happened?” he repeated back at her without any of the fury she deserved. “You tell me.”
I screwed up. Again. It seems to be my destiny.
Jessie closed her eyes against the tidal wave of emotion rising inside her. She’d fought with her daughter. That she remembered. Val had left. Jessie had gone to bed.
As soon as the dark, contorted faces emerged, her eyes snapped open. Okay, I remember that, too. The nightmare came back.
Like endless times before, she couldn’t function after the dream. She had to bury it. The only way she knew how to block out the images in her head…
Panting, Jessie reached up and touched her throbbing head. She met with bandages. What happened this time? What did I do? She had no memory of how she’d gotten from her condominium to a hospital, but she could easily guess. She understood without the specifics why her entire body, inside and out, felt violated and brutally battered. She’d done it to herself, too. This time, every time, it’d been her choice.
She shook her head, disgusted that her crisis had pulled him away from his family. “You should be at home with Stormie and Melody.” Gregg, the ultimate playboy, had shocked all his closest friends when he’d finally settled down a few years ago with Stormie Knight, another “impossible” Christian. He and his bipolar wife had a five-year-old daughter. No small feat. Their lives were a daily struggle, but Gregg consistently found time to stick his nose in everyone else’s business along with his own. And what would I do without him?
“They’ve been here off and on since we got the call,” Gregg told her. “I sent them home with your parents around midnight.”
Jessie closed her eyes, drawing another tattered breath. She’d become the pity case she hated to be, but it was her own fault. Unbelievably, after all the hell she’d put her friends and family through, they continued to love her and be there for her, even when she didn’t want them to. Countless times she’d wondered what exactly she had to do to alienate them permanently. Surely she’d filled her lifetime forgiveness quota long, long ago.
Ten years before… Has it really been that much time? Gregg had started talking to her about Christ, and she’d been punched straight between the eyes with her own need of salvation, the redemption only the God of the universe could provide. But for a long time after she accepted His gift, she’d treated her savior like a crutch she only took up when she was already on the ground and had no other way to stand. In all the time since, she’d experienced little or no growth. When the nightmare started, there was nothing she wouldn’t do but try to block it out. So she fell back into her old, self-destructive habits that should have killed her any one of the hundred times she’d collapsed on them.
“Do I dare ask what day it is?” she said, her throat tight enough to hurt.
It’s been two days since that fight with Val.
“You’re wondering what happened,” Gregg said. He rose to his feet. She could see how exhausted he was by the dark circles under his eyes. Jessie realized he’d been there since “they got the call”. Idiot! Why do you keep coming back, Gregg? I’m not worth it. I never was.
“I can tell you what we were told. You were found in a back alley by a homeless guy. Believed to be dead. He went inside a business a few blocks away and told them to call 911. When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they were able to revive you.”
Gregg took the few steps to her bedside. She closed her eyes again, unable to face the look in his dark eyes. He’s disappointed, too. Why wouldn’t he be? I’m supposed to be a Christian now. A new creature in Christ. Jessie clenched her teeth, seeking out the defenses she’d erected long ago. Excuses, maybe. But he doesn’t know about the nightmare. No one does. I can’t handle the dream. So I block it out. In any way I can. I don’t remember two days of my life, and this isn’t the first time. But was running from the images in her head worth it? How many times could she backtrack before she accepted she’d never change and there was no reason to keep living?
“Jessie, look at me.”
Tears burned behind her eyes. That was what she’d hated most about giving her life to God. The fact that, after all these years, she could feel everything she’d worked so hard to become numb to. The numbness was better than having to experience pain, regret, horror, terror, self-disgust… “I can’t look at you, Gregg. I can’t look at myself anymore.”
She felt him lean across the bed toward her, but kept her eyes closed, her head turned away. In a husky voice, he said, “You died, Jess. You were dead. That homeless guy felt for a pulse and there wasn’t one. The paramedics said you shouldn’t be here today. But, against all odds, you’re back. You’ve got another chance.”
Frantically, she shook her head. “Don’t deserve this one any more than the previous million. I’m a forty-one-year-old child who’ll never grow up. Give up on me, Gregg. I did a long time ago.”
“Tommie wouldn’t have wanted this for you, Jess, any more than the Lord does.”
Gregg’s fingers eased her chin in his direction, and her eyes opened instinctively. Sobs slammed to the surface at the memory he evoked. Tommie’s final words to her surfaced in tandem with the agony of her failure. “Don’t punish yourself anymore, Jess. The only thing you can change is the here and now. Your own decisions. And I know you won’t give yourself permission, so I’ll give it to you. Permission to get on with your life. Don’t grieve anymore, Jess. Don’t feel guilty. Forgive yourself. Stop punishing yourself with the things you do. Let people love you. Don’t push them away so you won’t have to feel, because you’re afraid they’ll reject you. You deserve love, Jess. From now on, take it when it’s offered.”
No one could possibly understand what she ran from. “I don’t know how to lead a productive life, Gregg. I don’t know how to live by myself. I have no purpose–what is that? I can’t even define it. I try to be normal and I end up even more insane. I don’t know how to take advice. All I know is how to walk the same blind path that puts me right here, back at the beginning of a life unformed, unlived, unfinished and worthless. I live in a void somewhere between life and death. You of all people should understand that.”
“And I do. I’ve been there. But you said it yourself, Jess. I think that’s exactly what it is. Your life is unformed and unlived. You don’t know who you are. The person you’ve been…” He shrugged in a helpless way. “…is a pale reflection of someone else. A paper doll. Maybe it’s time for you to figure out who you were meant to be.”
Jessie swallowed, confused and afraid, yet intrigued by what he said. “What do you mean?”
“Deep inside, you’re not the person who’s done all these crazy things for as long as we can both remember. Do you remember who you were before all this insanity started?”
A glimpse of memory came and went, damnably fleeting when she needed the answers it might provide. That recollection was so long ago. She’d been little more than a child. Before the nightmare, who was I?
Tears slipped from her eyes, and she shook her head. No, the glimpse was gone. She couldn’t remember being anyone but the screw-up she was and always would be.
Gregg reached over and used his thumbs to wipe away her tears. “Look, I know where you’ve been, baby. I understand the rut you’re in. It’s the same one I never knew how to get out of. You know what I figured out when I decided I couldn’t stay there, that I couldn’t run away from God anymore?”
“That He made a mistake, coming after us?”
He refocused her gaze on him. “No. I realized that every decision I’d ever made was wrong. Everything I did was the wrong choice. So I stripped my life of everything I’d made of myself. I gave up my music career and all the vices associated with it because it always led to the darkness. I refused to see the people I thought were friends but really were nothing more than drug and party acquaintances. I did everything opposite of the way I had been doing it. Every time I came to a path I’d been down before, I turned my back on it and went the unfamiliar way. I filled my every waking moment with what most people considered productive jobs. I helped other people. And, for the first time, I let them help me. I didn’t push them away. I couldn’t have come this far without my true friends, those who really love me and want to see me happy.”
His words sounded crazy. Maybe just crazy enough to work. But what does it mean for me? How do I do the opposite? “You’re saying I should get involved in church stuff? Spend twenty-four hours in church, like a nun?”
Despite the dead seriousness in her own tone, Gregg laughed out loud. “No. I don’t mean that at all–though I’m not discouraging you to get involved there in a wider capacity. You can attend regular church services and maybe even get in with a small Bible study, where you’ll meet people who care about you and share your new values. You could also volunteer at Wayward Angels. That’ll fill quite a few hours. Think about spending time with your real friends, your family, your kids. Exercise regularly. Take a class. Go to work eight hours a day. Fill your life with positive things to do. Make it so full you don’t have any time left over for getting into trouble. It’s been wisely said that we suffer because we don’t suffer enough. Boredom really does account for most of the stupid things we do.”
He grinned, and Jessie felt that strange mix of fear and curiosity again. Is there hope for me? How could there possibly be any left?
“I’m telling you, Jess, you fill your life with productive stuff and you’ll go to bed so exhausted at night, you won’t dream. You won’t wish for anything more than what you have–anything more that’s actually less. I honestly don’t think I slept more than a couple hours after I gave my life to Christ. And it was like that for years. But filling my life to capacity was the only way I could think of to break out of the rut of self-destructive habits. I no longer lived for myself. I lived outside myself, I guess you could say.”
She knew Gregg had gone through many of the same things she had. He’d shared the same addictions. She also knew he hadn’t had an easy time of getting out of the hole he’d almost buried himself in. “How many times can I do this?” she cried when she actually started considering his words.
He grinned. “As many times as it takes, babe. Get back on course. There’s something else I want to suggest. I started a new group, kind of unofficial right now, but I think it’s working for those involved. It’s for recovering addicts who’ve become Christians. Most of the people doing this have had the same vices you’re struggling with: drugs, sex, alcohol. Basically, you pair up with someone and try to stay accountable to each other.”
Jessie almost laughed out loud at the word. Accountable. I really hate that word. I’ve spent my life failing everyone, especially myself. I can’t be accountable to anyone. I’ve proven that over and over.
But she also knew she couldn’t go on the way she had been. She needed help. She needed to do the things Gregg suggested to break free. I have to get my head out of my vices so I can remember who I was before the nightmare became my whole life. Maybe I can find the person I was meant to be again. Maybe I’ll like being her enough to keep myself on the straight and narrow permanently.
Gregg reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a necklace. He looked down at it. “My old man gave me this after I started my life with the Lord and was reconciled with my family. I never knew it, but he said he’d gone through a lot of the same rebellions I had when he was younger. A Christ-rehabilitated uncle gave him this, and Dad passed it on to me. It’s been passed down for a long time now, from one struggling Christian to another. I know I’m supposed to pass it on to you.” The small rainbow pendant on the long chain resembled frosted stained glass. “This is a white rainbow and it symbolizes second chances. Wear it to remind yourself that you can get back up and start again. No matter how many times you fall, you’ll always be given another chance.”
Jessie shifted her gaze from the necklace, humbled by the weighty legacy it’d carried to one of her oldest friends–one who’d never given up on her.
I died. Against all the odds, I was brought back to life.
Maybe this was her white rainbow.