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One Prayer Away
By Kendra Norman-Bellamy
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 Kendra Norman-Bellamy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt had been a long morning at the office, and the incomplete files he'd left on his desk promised to make it an even longer afternoon. Mitchell Andrews was happy for the much-needed break that brought him and his business partner, Christopher Jackson, to their favorite eatery.
The air in Bob's Steak & Chop House was thick with the combined smells of soups, steaks, and potatoes. As he unconsciously closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, Mitchell was almost certain that he caught a whiff of the fried calamari that the couple at the table nearest them shared as an appetizer. Or maybe it was all just a figment of his imagination conjured by the rumble in his stomach. He'd missed breakfast this morning, something his grandmother would have scolded him for if she were still alive. Hearing footsteps approaching and assuming it was their waitress finally delivering their ordered meals, Mitchell opened his eyes.
"Virtue!" Gasping, Mitchell stood suddenly from his chair, causing it to hit the uncarpeted floor with such force that the resounding thud made him the center of attention.
She was a slightly older but more beautiful copy of the woman he had fallen in love with years before. It was a decade ago that Mitchell had first seen eyes like hers, hair like hers, and teethlike hers. On that mid-August day of their initial meeting, she had unknowingly teased him with her eyelashes, and she owned a smile that qualified her orthodontist for a medal of excellence. It was a direct contrast to the look of horror she now directed toward the man whose outburst had startled her. Apparently having come in to enjoy a quiet afternoon of dining alone, she took several steps backward and pulled her purse close to her body as if fearful that in a restaurant full of dining patrons, Mitchell would dare to rob her.
"Mitch, man, what's wrong with you?" Chris stood and grabbed Mitchell's arm before turning to the woman who was still paralyzed with fear. "I'm sorry, ma'am." It was all Chris could say in his friend's defense. "I'm sorry."
Whatever plans the woman had for lunch were immediately changed. With Mitchell unable to take his eyes away in spite of Chris's tugging, she backed away and rushed to exit the front door. The bizarre mayhem had ended, but the eyes from neighboring tables repeatedly glanced in the men's direction long after Mitchell managed to lower himself back into the chair that Chris had brought to an upright position.
"Man, what was that?" Chris whispered, trying to mask his embarrassment behind sips of water. "You got the whole restaurant thinking you're on crack or something."
Taking a quick look around, Mitchell realized that his partner was only mildly overstating the facts. Every table that he saw seemed to have at least one occupant who looked in his direction as though he needed an exorcist. Closing his eyes, Mitchell took slow, deep breaths like he was taught to do during his tenure at the Betty Ford Center in California. His days of alcoholism had ended nearly three years ago, but his heart hadn't raced at this pace since his first week there when he had found himself in actual tears, begging and literally fighting for a taste of vodka.
"Let's go," Mitchell said, his voice steady but pleading. The stares that were coming from all directions were burning into his skin.
"We haven't even gotten our meals yet, man. Didn't you just say a few minutes ago that you were starving? What's wrong with you?" Chris had gotten no answer to that question the first time he had asked.
It would be a three-mile trek back to the office, and Dallas's unusually low November temperatures would make it seem twice as long, but he'd take his chances. Standing, Mitchell grabbed his wool coat from the empty chair beside him and stood to slip his arms in the sleeves.
"What are you doing?" Utter confusion could be seen on Chris's face as he spoke. "Where are you going?"
"Back to the office." Mitchell held out his hand to stop Chris from rising from his seat. "The walk will be good for me. I need to clear my head. See you later."
Chapter TwoFriday morning Mitchell stood at the window of his office, staring out at nothing in particular. Not able to go back to sleep after awaking before the sun had even come up, he'd gotten up and ultimately arrived at work two hours earlier than normal. The snapshot in his mind of seeing Virtue three weeks ago hadn't yet faded and showed no indication that it would any time soon. Mitchell's daytime hours had been spent wrestling with renewed guilt, and his nighttime dreams were haunted by the memories that had been responsible for riddling him with the unforgettable shame of it all. Forgiveness ... that's what Chris had assured Mitchell that God had granted him three years ago when he responded to the altar call at his new church home. But Chris didn't know about Virtue, and all of a sudden, ever since Mitchell had seen her fear and panic, he didn't feel that the sins that involved her had been included in the forgiveness package. He felt as though the monster that had taken up residence in him all those years ago had returned with the intention to own him in a whole new way.
Back then, in the days that birthed the madness, Detroit, Michigan, had been Mitchell's home. With the blessings of his lifetime guardians, he'd relocated there permanently after acquiring his associate degree in business administration from Lewis College of Business, where he had majored in accounting. On the weekends, he had begun spending much of his time nearly two hundred miles away in Kollen Hall at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, wooing one of the school's few black female dance majors.
Grandma Kate, the only mother Mitchell had ever known, had wanted him to pursue higher education at a school closer to their Dallas home, but she had eventually conceded. After their youngest daughter died in child-birth, Isaac and Kate Andrews had taken custody of their then-infant grandson and raised Mitchell as their own. Her oldest son, Kent, lived in Detroit. He'd promised to keep an eye on Mitchell during college and make sure that he had everything he needed.
It was in late November after Thanksgiving when Isaac Andrews made the trip to Detroit at his grandson's request to help Mitchell and Virtue move from what had been a bachelor pad into a new two-bedroom apartment that would more easily accommodate his new bride and the family they were already making plans for. It had been a wonderful four-day bonding period that Mitchell would never forget. It was the week that the Detroit Lions played the visiting Dallas Cowboys, and Grandpa Isaac earned bragging rights when Dallas easily walked away with the win. Mitchell and his uncle Kent thought they'd never hear the last of his elation.
As Grandpa Isaac's time in Detroit neared its end, the unexpected happened. Back in Dallas, while carrying a load of laundry from one room to another, Grandma Kate fell and broke her hip. When Mitchell and his grandfather got the call from Parkland Hospital about her accident, they immediately began searching for earlier flights. Kate had told her husband to keep his current flight schedule, which would bring him back home the following day. She told him that she would be fine until he got there, but Mitchell urged his grandfather to leave earlier anyway. Grandma Kate had always put the well-being of others before her own. She'd never wanted to feel like a burden, and Mitchell knew that she was encouraging her husband to stay only because she didn't want to live with the thought that Isaac's visit with his grandson had been shortened because of her fall.
Isaac had taken his grandson's advice, but the flight he booked never made it to its destination. Mitchell still remembered his disbelief when he'd heard the Delta flight number announced on the evening news. He called the airline in hopes that an error had been made, and then for two solid hours he cried, wondering how he was going to break the news to his grandmother, it was a task that he never had the chance to carry out. Before he could call the hospital, the hospital called him. Kate's son, Kent, had watched the news too, and he called Dallas before Mitchell could. The devastating news that her husband of fifty-two years was dead was more than Kate's heart could take. Hospital officials said she went into cardiac arrest ten minutes after ending her call from Kent, and attempts to revive her had been unsuccessful. Five days later, Mitchell was attending a double funeral with a photo standing in for Grandpa Isaac's charred remains. Virtue had tried to be a source of strength for him, but Mitchell proved to be inconsolable.
Life after his grandparents' death had been brutal, causing Mitchell to go through a series of changes that ultimately destroyed his entire existence as he'd known it. First, when he needed them the most, the remaining Andrews family members alienated him, blaming Mitchell for their loved ones' untimely demise. Isaac and Kate both had been in their early seventies, but they had been in good physical and mental condition. Kent said they would have easily lived another ten years had Mitchell not gone against his mother's wishes and put his father on the plane. Kent took no blame for making the call that triggered his mother's heart failure. He said she would have had to find out sooner or later, and however she learned of her husband's fate, it would have killed her. Her death and the death of Isaac Andrews was nobody's fault but Mitchell's.
In the year that followed, family situations worsened. Mitchell's grandparents had willed their home to him, sparking more hatred from their offspring. The four biological children had equally shared the $250,000 life insurance payout, but that wasn't enough for them. They wanted the home too, but Mitchell fought them to the bitter end. The house was all he had left of his grandparents. He wasn't going to allow them to strip him of it. The year-long legal battle ended with the courts honoring the wording in the will. The rejection by his family gradually took its toll on Mitchell, leading to depression.
Two years after his grandparents died, his bout of depression worsened. In the end, it led to the loss of his job at a prestigious financial firm. The bottle became his best friend, and what began as a periodic means of taking the edge off of life became a daily habit that Mitchell couldn't shake on his own. For three years, it ruled his total existence and drove him to lash out at everyone, including those who loved him and tried to help him.
Finally, after driving away everybody, including the woman he loved, and up to his knees in debt from his lack of viable income, Mitchell had sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous. The meetings proved that he couldn't shake the habit, even with the help of professionals. He re-enrolled in the program so often that he grew tired of hearing himself admit that he had a problem. The Betty Ford Center in California was his desperate last recourse. It was there, through God's divine grace, that Mitchell killed the habit before it killed him. But during that month he'd lived at the center, he lost almost everything he had because of the numerous months he'd avoided paying his bills to finance his habit. In the year that followed, his attempts to find gainful employment failed, and he had no choice but to move back to Dallas into the home that his grandparents had left him six years earlier. It was the best thing he could have done for himself.
The last three years had been a dramatic time of healing and rebirth. Three months after Mitchell settled in Dallas, he landed a new job with an accounting firm, now named Jackson, Jackson & Andrews, CPA. He had seen the advertisement in the newspaper and had gone to the firm, then called Jackson & Son, CPA. That's where his life began to change on more than just a physical level. After leaving the initial interview that had been scheduled for a Thursday morning, Mitchell felt confident that he would be called back for a follow-up. He and Christopher Jackson seemed to connect immediately upon introductions. Even though his attempts at finding employment in Detroit had produced nothing, Mitchell took on a new positive attitude as he sat in Chris's spacious office, answering questions about his professional background. Numbers were Mitchell's specialty, and he was born to be an accountant. In his prime, he had been the best at what he did, and there wasn't a question that Chris asked that broke Mitchell's skilled eye contact or made him fumble over his knowledgeable words. Mitchell's confidence had not been misplaced. By the end of the business day on Thursday, he'd gotten the call that he was to be among a select group of three who would be interviewed for a final time before the decision was made on who would get the offered position.
But by the time the Saturday interview was over, Mitchell was just as sure that he wouldn't be the one hired as he was sure that he would be one of those called back after the initial conference. During the final interview, questions that he was less confident about were asked, and Mitchell squirmed in his seat, searching for a roundabout way to answer them. He had prepared an answer for the question of why he'd left his former job, but Chris had already done his homework, and Mitchell hadn't prepared for that. His less-than-honest answer that he'd left his job in Detroit to make the move to Dallas was quickly challenged.
"Is that so? Well, your employer tells me that you were fired due to substance abuse several months before the date that you gave me for your relocation. He says that you're an alcoholic. Would you like to elaborate on that?"
No! That was the answer that Mitchell screamed in his head, but he knew he had to say something. He couldn't let this job opportunity slip away without a fight. He'd come too far to allow everything to fall apart now. Mitchell was trapped, and there was nothing left to do other than tell the truth. It was painful and shameful, but he did it anyway. Mitchell was shocked when Chris didn't immediately dismiss him, and he was even more surprised when Chris revealed his own personal story of pain. Having recently lost his father to a massive stroke, Chris could relate to Mitchell's sense of loss. Chris's father had also been his best friend, and he too had gone through a period of depression after his father's death. The elder Mr. Jackson's demise was the reason Chris needed help keeping the business afloat.
"How'd you get through it, man?" Mitchell asked him after Chris shared the story of Willie James Jackson Jr.
"Sometimes I'm tempted to ask myself the same question," Chris responded. He let out a small chuckle, but his face showed no amusement. "Dad's been gone now for eighteen months," he continued. "At first I told myself that I wasn't going to replace him. It seemed almost disrespectful to his memory. But the workload is way too heavy for one person to try to handle, and the way I see it, if I lose the business that my father struggled to make successful, that would be an even bigger disrespect.
"How'd I get through it?" he reverted back to the question that Mitchell had asked earlier. "I had to stop trying to do it by myself. I had shut everybody out of my life, basically. I was being selfish and not even considering the fact that my mother and my baby sister needed me to help them get through it too. I wasn't the only one who Dad's death affected, but it felt like it.
"I'll never forget the Sunday morning my mother and Ursula came to my house and just about physically pulled me out of my pool of sorrow. I was wallowing hard, man," Chris continued with another laugh. "I didn't know how pitiful I'd become until I took a real good look in the mirror that day. I was a mess on the inside, and it was beginning to show real hard on the outside.
Excerpted from One Prayer Away by Kendra Norman-Bellamy Copyright © 2006 by Kendra Norman-Bellamy. Excerpted by permission.
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