Mrs. Jewel was cleaning the nursery that day. She lifted the bag of diapers from the diaper genie and as she tied the plastic in a tight knot, she peered out the window to see Angela exiting Pastor Jason’s office. Quickly, she picked up her phone and pushed record, filming the scene from the darkened nursery window. Jason had his hand on Angela’s shoulder and pulled her around, wrapping his arms around her, hugging her so tightly she was lifted from the floor. “I love you, okay? That isn’t going to change”, the pastor said. Angela walked down the hallway, wiping her face and patting it lightly as she made her way out of the building.
Push pause. Push stop. Push send.
Angela had been sitting on my couch for an hour now and I was finally adjusting to her news. I had pulled out the Kleenex box after I had recovered from the initial shock and found myself weeping with her. Her whole world was crashing down around her. She was losing everything in this moment. I could offer no words of wisdom to console her and when we had finally been able to take several deep breaths we began talking about practical issues. Did she know what she would do with the baby? Where would she go? What would she do for a job? Money? Neither of us had answers and I told her that it was okay if she didn’t yet. I patted her gently, trying to conjure my maternal side.
My cell phone rang from the kitchen and I ran to see if it was anyone important. Mrs. Jewel. Damnit, Mrs. Jewel. I let the call go to voicemail. Ping. Text message from Mrs. Jewel.
Julie, hello. I’m sorry to interrupt you but we need you at the church. Emergency meeting. Please come.
I’m kind of in an emergency at home right now. Are you sure this can’t wait?
Unless it’s life or death, I think you need to come right away.
I bit my bottom lip and my eyes momentarily scanned the room considering my options, finally walking back into the living room.
“Ang. I’m so sorry but Rylan is napping and she’ll probably be down for another hour, at least. Would you mind just sitting here in case she wakes up?”
“Of course. I mean, I might need the practice,” she forced a goofy smile, patting her belly. “Is everything okay?”
“Probably. It’s Mrs. Jewel. She said they are having an emergency meeting. I’ve never actually known her to go quite this far,” I know my face displayed my displeasure at this interruption. Angie and I exchanged a suspicious but knowing look and I gathered my things and opened the door.
Jason and Julie were both silent at first as they made their way home. They had sat around the long rectangular conference table with the twelve orange rolling chairs they found at an auction after another church had closed its doors. Julie walked into the room to see Jason already there with his board of elders, all of them wearing grim expressions, except for Jason, whose ears were red and head hung. A laptop sat in the middle of the table for all to see. They had just watched a video of what they said was evidence of the pastor’s infidelity; of a scene too intimate and inappropriate for a pastor to be having with a single woman. Rich had agreed with the elders. They decided Jason needed to take a leave of absence until a full investigation had taken place. Rich, his best friend. His compadre, acting like he didn’t know Jason at all.
Jason was incredulous, “Angie and I are just friends. That’s clearly just a friendly hug. She’s like a sister to me!” Julie watched as his face became the same color as the eggshell conference room walls. She knew that look. It wasn’t a look of anger but defeat. He was tired of trying. He was tired of having to defend himself. He was tired of misunderstanding and betrayal and deception. He had given up. She had never seen him entirely give up and she wasn’t sure she would be able to talk him back into fighting again.
Afterward, they drove in separate cars. She had called him on the drive hom, “I believe you. I do believe you. This is all nonsense. You would have never sent Angela to see me if… I know you are good friends. You’re right. You’re like a brother to her.” Jason was silent. Julie continued, “I’m gonna come pick Rylan up and take her to stay with Melody. I don’t think she needs to be around this right now. I think it needs to just be us.”
Jason’s response was barely audible. “That’s fine. I’ll be ok.”
After Julie had left for the hour and half drive to Denver, to drop Rylan at the home of an old college friend, Jason found himself pacing the knotted pine floors again. Angela had left. Julie had left. His pace quickened rapidly as the dark thoughts increased in intensity. He could save everybody from himself. Everywhere he went bad things happened. People said bad things about him. No one believed good things. God was nowhere near. God was distant. God was silent. He was no defender. He did not come to his defense. They were going to kill him. Kill him. Kill him. They wanted to kill him and they wouldn’t give up until they did. He wanted to die because they wanted to kill him. He wanted to give in. So many reasons why this was a good thing. So many. Julie, Rylan, so much suffering with him.
He knelt on the knotted floor and pulled a long, black case from the darkness under his bed. Reaching up, he retrieved a small key from the nightstand and opened the case to expose his 7mm-08 Remington. This time he didn’t run his fingers along the smooth black barrel with pride as he usually did. He loaded the magazine hastily, not allowing any other thoughts to penetrate his currently clear head. In fact, he didn’t do any thinking at all. Sitting on the bed, he propped the end of the barrell on his forehead. It felt cool to the touch. It felt nice. Like relief. It all felt like a relief.
There was a spray of red on the wall above the headboard but his body slumped to the right, out of the bed and onto the pine floor where blood pooled into the grooves and knots of the pine slats, staining them the deepest crimson.
I sat in the car in my friend’s driveway in Denver and felt calm. I didn’t understand why I felt calm. This was the time I would usually pick up my phone and make the sing-song sound with the buttons. But I didn’t do this. I had gripped the steering wheel with the absolute terror on the way to Denver. I had never felt such terror, even when Jason had broken our engagement. And this situation, whatever it was, was the most terrifying of them all.
But after I had kissed Rylan’s soft cheek goodbye, I couldn’t seem to leave the driveway for some time. Instead of dialing my phone or giving my steering wheel a tight deathgrip, I instead placed my hands, palms up, uncurled fingers on my lap. And when I had done that for a moment, I drove home.