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Chelsea felt her husband's gentle hand against her back as she lingered to watch the final moment of evening news. Paul had just arrived home from work. His finely woven ecru shirt, 100 percent cotton, light starch, was etched with the cares and stresses of twelve hours at the office. Chelsea's recently donned black dress belied her jeans-clad day at home, ferrying two boys to school and back, doing laundry, going to the dentist.
"Okay." Chelsea punched the green button on the television remote. The evening news spritzed off the screen. She turned to smile at Paul, taking in his square jaw, the intense blue of his eyes. "You make a mighty fine date tonight, Mr. Adams."
"Not half as fine as you." He pulled her close, lips lingering against her neck.
"And you said we had to leave," she teased, hugging him.
"That we do," he said with an affected sigh. "Business awaits."
Downstairs, the baby-sitter sat at the kitchen table, head bent over a textbook. The boys-Michael, twelve, and Scott, ten-were sprawled on the family room carpet in front of the TV. "I want hugs, both of you," Chelsea demanded with a smile. She had to grab hugs whenever she could; the boys considered themselves far too mature to allow anything of the sort in public. "Bye. I love you." She pushed Michael's hair out of his eyes.
Fifteen minutes later, Paul's Lexus sedan wound its way up Skyline Boulevard toward Bayhill, one of their favorite coat-and-tie restaurants overlooking the San Francisco Peninsula. "Remind me of your candidate's name again?" Chelsea rested a hand on her husband's knee. "It's something different."
"Yeah. Gavil Harrison."
"Gavil." She rolled the name around on her tongue, speculating on its owner.
"He's the one who lives in Haverlon."
Chelsea pictured Gavil Harrison taking the 280 Freeway to Highway 92 and turning west toward Skyline Boulevard. Haverlon was only a ten-minute drive up 280 from their town of Woodside, and just north of Redwood City. "Amazing, isn't it," she commented, "to find a candidate right here in the Bay Area. A lot cheaper than moving someone across the country."
Vice president of sales was a new position at AP Systems, created because of increasing demands upon the four regional sales managers as the company continued to grow. Chelsea knew that Gavil had made it through the initial meeting and call-backs with Paul. He'd also passed muster under the meticulous questioning of Henry Morrow, founder of Morrow and Associates, the well-heeled investment firm in Silicon Valley that backed the six-year-old company.
"Well, we're not sure we've found him yet. You've got to pass him first."
Chelsea patted Paul's knee, masking her disbelief. Paul wanted her to feel as though her opinion counted, and she was grateful for that. But what was left for her to say when he'd practically made up his mind?
"Gavil does seem right for us," Paul said. "But I wonder how well he'll transition to a start-up company after fifteen years with a large, well-established firm."
Chelsea was silent. She knew Paul could answer this kind of question better than she could. Paul understood the needs of AP Systems better than anyone; he'd built the software company from the ground up.
"I think you'll like the guy, Chels," he continued, "though I have heard two things that gave me pause for a while. He did have something about ten years ago-a near breakdown due to job stress and personal matters, he says. But I don't see any signs of a problem now, and his references indicate that it hasn't happened since. And one person mentioned he saw Gavil get really angry at someone over the phone. But it sounded like a personal conversation."
Chelsea reflected on this. "So what does that mean? Does he show a tendency to get mad easily at work?"
"Couldn't find anyone who'd say so. And I pried as much as I could into that area without asking people about it outright."
"Then why would this person who mentioned it bring it up? I mean, everyone gets angry once in a while. There must be something more to it than just-that."
Paul shook his head. "I don't know."
Chelsea focused on the darkened trees along the winding road. "How old is Gavil?"
"No. He's been dating someone for about a year, and I think he just moved in with her. I don't think he's ever been married." The car bounced as they rolled across the entrance into Bayhill. "She's divorced, but I don't think she has kids. Look." Paul pointed with his chin toward the restaurant. "That's him going in now."
The car's headlights washed through fog to light the lean figure of a salt-and-pepper-haired man entering the restaurant. Chelsea caught a glimpse of an angular jaw with a stately Grecian nose. "Nice looking," she commented, reaching for her purse.
Over dinner, Chelsea learned that Gavil was an only child, his parents deceased. He'd moved to Haverlon from San Jose about a month ago to live with Marian, the woman he hoped to marry someday, putting his own townhouse up for rent. Chelsea sensed from the oblique reference to "someday" that Marian wasn't ready to commit yet, much to Gavil's frustration. It lay in the slant of his head, the dropping of his eyes as he made the remark. What was the issue-money, kids, values? Fear? She and Paul also had lived together briefly before marrying. She now saw the value of God's plan: waiting until marriage. Silently, Chelsea prayed for God to work in the lives of Gavil and Marian.
The conversation soon turned to business-new trends in software, sales trends of various Silicon Valley competitors up or down, five-year strategies. The possibilities and pitfalls of going public. Gavil mentioned how busy the next few weeks would be for him as he closed out annual sales figures at his current company.
"... in my meeting with them Friday morning," Paul said, cutting his steak. "They've been dragging their feet, but this just might close the deal."
"What about the glitches in the beta test? The people in Atlanta don't sound very patient."
"I know. We've done two things. First, we revamped the program to ..."
Chelsea's mind wandered as she leaned back to let the maître d' take her plate. "Your server is needed by a large party that has just been seated," he explained to her in a low voice. "I'll be serving your dessert." Chelsea nodded. Their soufflé, a specialty of Bayhill's, had been ordered with their entrée because of the time needed to prepare it. A chill stole over Chelsea, and she unconsciously rubbed her arms. She took a drink of coffee, found it lukewarm, and asked for a refill. The maître d' nodded, slipped away, and returned with a silver coffeepot. Conversation at the table continued, unabated, as he lifted her cup and filled it, eyes checking Paul's and Gavil's cups. Smiling at a comment from Gavil, Chelsea watched steam rise from the dark liquid and gratefully encircled the cup with her hands.
Chelsea's eyes danced from her husband to Gavil, comparing qualities. Gavil seemed articulate and creative, his insights bespeaking a solid understanding of the whys and wherefores of the software business. Artfully, Chelsea interjected questions that focused more on his personal life. Gavil's open answers told Chelsea that he understood why she and Paul were interested in this aspect of his life. Theirs proved a common philosophy: a person who lacked integrity in his personal affairs may lack it in business as well. A couple of times, Chelsea sensed the slightest edge in Gavil's tone as he spoke with her, and she wondered if it hinted at a tendency to anger easily. Or perhaps it came from nervousness over wanting to make a good impression. Watching Paul's animation as they finished dinner, Chelsea knew that, after a long, often disheartening search, her husband believed he'd finally found the right person to hire. Any candidate would have some kind of fault. Even if Gavil did have a tendency toward anger at times, his work experience and knowledge far outweighed it.
The soufflé arrived.
Paul excused himself as dessert was being served, asking the maître d' for directions to the rest room. Chelsea smiled at him as he rose, then lifted both eyebrows in a silent "ooooh" at Gavil as they watched the soufflé being spooned onto their plates.
"I've never had one of these before," Gavil said. "Great suggestion."
As the maître d' moved to serve Gavil, Chelsea opened her mouth to reply, but the only sound she heard was the click of her teeth beginning to chatter. She blinked in surprise. "I'm sorry," she blurted. "I ... I must be coming down with ..." Her voice trailed away, and she shook her head. She felt blankness roll across her face as her sight clouded.
Oh, no, she thought, fighting the familiar sensation. Not here, not now!
"What is it?"
Gavil's voice was there but not there. It echoed in a tunnel, retreating, far away. The sound waves twisted and turned, encasing her in a muffled cocoon, then gradually metamorphosed into another place, another time. Gradually, Chelsea began to hear a different tone, at first faint, then increasing in strength. A harsh, choked whisper.
"I hate you! I've always hated you! Look what you made me do!"
Like a disoriented moth caught in a maelstrom, she stretched out her hands antennae-like and waved them before her. They prickled with heat. Other sensations began to form. She lay on cold, hard ground. Her bare legs throbbed as if they'd been scratched by thorns. Her face hurt as though she'd been beaten. Something trickled into her eyes, and she squeezed them shut in unadulterated terror.
The mental image of a forest faded in. Chelsea sensed trees and wild brush around her. The sweet, aromatic smell of eucalyptus penetrated the air, and a light breeze ruffled the tops of towering sequoias.
Sobs shuddered through her lungs as the voice, inches away from her face, spat out again, throatily, "I hate you!"
"No!" Pleading sprang instinctively from Chelsea's lips as she tried to ward off her tormentor. But he proved too strong. Hands grabbed her shoulders, lifted her upper body off the ground, then threw her back with violent force. Crack! Her neck snapped back like a newborn baby's. An all-encompassing, blinding pain seared through her skull.
"Nnnoo." Weaker this time.
She struggled to open blood-filled eyes, seeing only the fuzzy features of a man with dark hair. Again the hands lifted and dashed her head against the ground. She could feel her arms falling, falling, until at last they lay useless across her chest. "No," she struggled to repeat, but the utterance would not come.
A third lifting. A third crack. And a fourth. She could do nothing. She could not fight. She could not move. With each blow the world, her sense of being, grew darker, and she felt her body shutting down.
So this is what dying is like.
This final sense, this thread of consciousness, wrapped itself around her, weaving, intertwining. The forest began fading; the smell of eucalyptus waned. She lay trapped again in the fuzzy walls of the cocoon, then found herself back in the tunnel. She saw only darkness except for a vague flicker that mesmerized her as it slowly danced into focus, kicking shadows onto a background of white.
Linen on a table. A restaurant. Low lights thrown across polished wood and chintz.
The tunnel disappeared. In its place, Bayhill. But the unmistakable sense of evil still clung to her.
Chelsea found her eyes locked with Gavil's. He gawked at her, as if willing her to move. Jesus, help me, Lord Jesus, help me. Her thoughts were jumbled. God had sent her another vision, far more chilling than all the others put together. But this one felt different. She couldn't explain why, but knew with certainty that this event had already taken place. Still, the others had been much more clear. This time, she didn't know details and found herself scrambling to interpret.
"Are you all right, ma'am?" The maître d' looked ill at ease, as if not certain whether to offer help or withdraw his intruding presence.
Chelsea felt her chest close and sucked in a deep breath. Beads of sweat sprang to her skin. She could hear her heart pumping. Her fingers gripped the table, as if intent on sinking dent marks through the wood.
"What is it, Chelsea?" Gavil asked. "What's wrong?"
Deep within her throat, her vocal cords fought for pliancy. The words scraped her throat as they rose on a woolly blanket of air. "Sometimes I ... see things." She said the words without thinking, then wished she could take them back. How ridiculous they must sound.
The maître d' quietly disappeared.
Gavil frowned, shook his head. Then as Chelsea watched, the creases in his forehead smoothed away and his pupils enlarged. He drew back almost imperceptibly, eyes still locked with hers. Stunned, Chelsea saw abject horror flick across his face, as though he'd caught her gasping at secret revelations in his diary.
The moment hung in the air.
She managed to jerk her gaze away and bent her head, noticing with a shudder the raised hair on her arms. "I ... I'm sorry." She pried her fingers open. "I think I'm coming down with something. I just felt a chill-got dizzy for a moment. That's all."
Gavil gathered himself, feigning nonchalance. "Perhaps we should go soon. When Paul gets back." His voice held an edge.
She nodded, eyes averted. Chelsea couldn't look at him again. When Paul returned they were hovering silently over their chocolate soufflés. Neither had touched a bite.
Excerpted from Eyes of Elisha by Brandilyn Collins Copyright © 2001 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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