Rachel Prouge is seventeen in 1944 when things in her life fall apart. Her best friend, Kimberly, is madly in love with her boyfriend. Meanwhile Rachel meets Russell, a handsome military man, and is instantly charmed. Yet both girls are naïve, and soon disaster strikes.
Kim ends up pregnant, and Rachel’s father, a strict fundamentalist preacher, requires her to confess her sins to the entire congregation. Soon afterward, Rachel discovers that she too is expecting a child. Unwilling to face the shame of their daughter’s sin, Rachel’s parents kick her out of their home and tell her they never want to see her again.
Forced to grow up fast, Rachel is met with hard choices that lead to regrettable decisions. Hope and prayer sustain her in her quest to find the future of her dreams.
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HOPE AND PRAYER ARE HERS
By Helen Allee Breedlove
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Helen Allee Breedlove
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRachel sat trembling with tears ready to spill from her eyes. Her heart was racing, and she had trouble breathing on this October Sunday with the autumn breeze blowing through the open windows of the small church. She could barely look at her best friend of more than five years—ever since their seventh-grade year.
With downcast eyes and slumped shoulders, Kimberly sat on the mourners' bench, where she had been instructed to position herself during reverend Sherman Prouge's lengthy sermon. Her hands were clasped tightly, nervously, in her lap and tears streamed down her pale face.
After the last chorus of the invitational call for sinners to come forward and repent, the tall, lanky reverend stretched his arms to heaven and, with a pathetically pious demeanor, announced solemnly, "My fellow Christians, it is my humble duty to make an announcement regarding one of our young members. She has committed a grave sin and must confess it before you and before Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, to avoid God's wrath." He paused to exude an element of prayerful suspense. "Kimberly Browning, please stand up, come forward, and ask for forgiveness."
With ashen face, swollen eyes, and trembling legs, Kimberly arose and stood by the preacher. Her eyes focused on her wringing hands. A gasp escaped her lips. She whimpered hesitantly forcing out each word. "I have sinned. I'm expecting a baby without the Lord's blessing of marriage. I have brought disgrace to this church. I ask you to forgive me, and I pray for God's forgiveness." She broke down crying in great sobs.
The reverend raised his arms once again and with his loud, quivering voice prayed, "Lord, purge this wayward youth of her sins." After directing the congregation to turn to page 166 in the hymnal, he said, "now, let us sing, 'I Lay My Sins on Jesus.'"
As the congregation sang the hymn, Rachel glanced at Kimberly's parents and two brothers seated stiffly in a pew across from her. She tried to read their grim expressions. Kimberly's mother sat stoically, her lips set in a thin line. With her strong religious beliefs, she, along with her husband, had insisted that their daughter must make her confession before God and the church. They believed that doing otherwise would result in eternal damnation. Kim's father and brothers mouthed the words of the hymn.
The song neared its end with the words "I bring my guilt to Jesus, To wash my crimson stain White in his blood most precious, Till not a stain remains." Rachel breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time, she questioned her own religious beliefs—those that had been taught since she could remember by her own father, the reverend Prouge. She wondered how he could do this to her friend—a girl he had known since he assumed the pastorate of this extremely hardcore fundamentalist church five years earlier.
She stood waiting for Kimberly to make her way up the aisle and didn't care that her father would disapprove of the hug she gave her. Now that she had been purged of her sin, perhaps he wouldn't mind. After all, forgiveness was an important part of his preaching. "Meet me at the park after dinner," Rachel whispered in Kim's ear.
On her way back to the parsonage in the family's '38 Ford with her parents, Rachel listened as her father muttered that Kim's experience should serve as a lesson to all young people—that it would prevent other transgressions. Afterwards, everyone in the car became silent. Grateful for the lull, Rachel had time to reflect on the deep friendship that had grown with Kim since her family had come to this small town between Sedalia and Knob Noster, Missouri. She and Kim had shared so much—school events, grades, church activities, and especially crushes on boys.
Now, in 1944, at the beginning of their senior year of high school, Kim was forced to quit school. A pregnancy meant automatic expulsion. Although Rachel had a slight edge on Kim when it came to grades, they competed with good humor to make the best scores in their small class. It had become a challenge to outdo the other. Now Rachel would face no such competition, an unwelcome prospect without Kim.
Rachel thought about Kim and Ted Trivett. They made a striking couple with their dark hair, dark eyes, and athletic builds, and they shared so many interests and even laughed at the same things. This handsome couple had been dating for nearly a year and were madly in love, anyway as much as two seventeen-year-olds could be.
Ted, whose family attended the Methodist Church, wanted to marry Kim and begged his parents to give their permission and sign the necessary forms, but his parents were adamantly opposed to any such thing. Despite Ted's pleas, they remained unrelenting in their insistence that marriage would ruin his life and any hope for a successful future. It didn't matter what it did to Kim's life. In Missouri, he couldn't marry without their permission until he turned twenty-one, but he vowed that he would somehow marry her before that time. Meanwhile, he would help with the baby as much as he could and finish high school. Expectant fathers didn't face the same stigma nor fate as expectant mothers.
Rachel reflected back on all that she had shared with Kim and Ted. Kim had urged Rachel to find a nice boy to date so they could double date even though they were thoughtful enough to include Rachel in many of their activities. This was unlike several girls who had abandoned their best friend as soon as they started dating a particular boy. The three went to ballgames, swam in a nearby creek, and went to movies which included any news about World War II on Movietone News.
One night in particular, just four months ago, had been special. While attending a small carnival in town, the three had been enthralled by all the festivities: the bright lights, the music, the crowds, the rides, and the hawkers beckoning people to come try their luck. It was a warm, magical June evening—the kind that seizes the imagination and makes young people think that this gaiety will last forever.
Ted had decided to try his luck at shooting a cork gun, but there was already someone shooting at the pop-up targets. That someone was Russell Swansen, a handsome uniformed twenty-one-year-old Air Corps soldier stationed at Sedalia Glider Base. His uniformed buddy laughed each time he missed, but soon the shooter successfully nailed the target three consecutive times. "Soldier, you've just won your pick of the prizes on the second row," the swarthy, scruffy-looking carnival worker behind the stand announced.
The man in uniform turned to Rachel, smiled brightly, touched her on the elbow, and said, "Let this pretty young thing make the selection. What will it be, pretty lady with the blue eyes? It's all yours."
"Really? You mean it?" Surprised that he even noticed her, Rachel was taken aback.
"Sure I mean it. What will it be?"
Rachel's eyes shifted from the tall, charming stranger with the smooth voice and looked at the prizes. She chose a small brown teddy bear.
At seventeen, she was immediately smitten by this tall, handsome man in uniform.
There was something about an army air Corps uniform that was so captivating. Even without the uniform, he would have been an imposing figure. She was exuberant, and the rest of the evening was spent riding rides, eating hotdogs, and laughing with him. She had never had such a splendid evening, nor had her emotions been so electrified.
She loved hearing Russell tell about his work as a mechanic on C-46 and C-47 transport planes. He held Rachel spellbound as he described gliders being towed behind the transport aircrafts and landing on fields not equipped for larger aircraft. He emphasized how important his job was for the war effort because the base served as a training site for glider tactics and paratroopers. She could hardly believe that this war hero was interested in her.
Kim was the only person with whom Rachel shared her feelings and her deep love for this man with blue eyes and hair the color of ripened wheat. After he came to church with Rachel a few times and dropped a little money in the collection plate, even her parents didn't object to her dating a patriotic man in uniform who was contributing to bringing this awful war to an end. Besides, Russell could look her dad in the eyes, tell him how wonderfully inspiring his sermons were, and hang on to every word of wisdom the reverend imparted.
Kim and Ted often doubled dated with Rachel and Russell in a '36 Chevy, one that Russell borrowed from a civilian worker on base. He had so much charisma that he could talk his way into or out of almost anything. All Russell had to do was put his hand on someone's shoulder, look him in the eyes, and magically convince the recipient of all this attention that he was the most important guy in the world. Borrowing this civilian's car became an easy feat, and soon the two couples had become an inseparable foursome.
Russell constantly told Rachel that he loved her with all his heart—the love of his life, as he put it. Rachel was intrigued by the way he smoothed her light brown hair, cupped her face in his hands, peered into her blue eyes, and whispered, "I could kiss your full, luscious lips forever. I don't ever want to let you go."
Now, on the way home from church, Rachel thought of how much the carefree magic of youth had been lost with Kim's future looking so bleak. She dreaded going back to school without Kim, but no way would she ever forsake her friend. She vowed to visit her every day after school and keep her posted on anything new that happened.
But school wasn't her greatest concern. She knew that she could have very well been up there in front of the church with Kim. With a feeling of overwhelming guilt, she recalled the night she lost her virginity. That night after much foreplay, she had finally succumbed to Russell's insistence that if she really loved him, she'd let him "do it." He had convinced her that men needed sex and he'd have to go elsewhere if he didn't get it from her.
After a glum Sunday dinner was over for the Prouge family, the two friends met at the park, which consisted of no more than a shaded area just off the road with two dirty picnic tables. Solemn-faced, they hugged each other and then sat down. "Oh, I don't know how I'm going to do this. If it weren't for you and Ted, I could just lie down and die," Kim wailed.
"Shh, don't even talk like that. Ted loves you so much, and you know I'll stand by you, no matter what. And after the baby comes, I'll help you all I can. I don't know much about babies, but we can learn together. I can keep it while you and Ted have some time to yourselves. I don't figure your mom will be willing to give you much help. She sure enough won't do anything to make it possible for you to see Ted alone. But you and Ted will love this baby together. That's the important thing." She reached across the table to take Kim's hand.
"Oh, Rachel, isn't love wonderful. But isn't it awful?"
Rachel knew what she meant and said, "I'm so sorry my dad gave you such a terrible time. He made it all sound so awful and that if you didn't confess, you'd be condemned to hell. We both know that isn't true. I guess he really believes that. I don't know, but it makes me wonder if parents, especially religious ones, were ever young. I could hardly breathe when you were up there, and it made me question my own faith. I don't know how you ever did it, but I'm proud of you for getting it all over and done with. I doubt that I could have done it without collapsing on the spot."
"Oh, Rachel, I don't know what I'd do without you for my friend. Isn't it just awful that Ted's nearly old enough to fight in this war, but not nearly old enough to get married, or even vote. This world is all messed up."
* * *
Rachel continued her relationship with her handsome soldier, but by the middle of December, a dreadful fear was growing inside her, one that she had tried her best to deny. She had skipped her last period, and she had never been late before. By Christmastime, she awoke sick and vomiting. Real fear gripped her when the sickness continued the following morning. She tried her best to hide her illness from her mother, who insisted that she quit spending so much time in the bathroom by saying, "It's sinful to primp that much."
After she and Russell exchanged Christmas gifts in the borrowed car and Russell was smothering her with kisses, Rachel blurted out, "Russell, I'm scared. I'm real scared. I think I'm pregnant."
He instantly pushed her out of his arms. "no! You can't be! I was too careful for that to happen."
"But I'm even having morning sickness. It can't be anything else. We'll have to get married." She waited for him to speak. "We can, can't we?"
He shook his head. "No. No, we can't." He paused in deep thought. "We really can't. I've still got my tour of duty to finish."
"There's nothing to keep a twenty-one-year-old enlisted man from getting married, is there?" There was a desperate plea in her voice.
"But you don't understand." Again, he hesitated. "To be right honest, I've got a girlfriend back in Tennessee, and we're going to get married as soon as I get back home."
Shocked by this revelation, Rachel couldn't believe what she was hearing. Surely he didn't mean this. She looked at Russell. He was dead serious! She began to cry. How could she have been such a fool? "But you told me you loved me, only me! and all this time, you were planning to marry someone else!" Her pathetic words came out between sobs.
"Now don't cry, Rachel. You make me feel like a heel, but we'll work something out. Just give me time to think about it, and I'll have a solution by next Saturday night."
However, the solution wasn't what Rachel expected. Russell insisted that she have an abortion. He had talked to some buddies who gave him the name of a doctor, a back-alley abortionist, who would perform the illegal abortion for one hundred dollars.
"But that's murder!" She shook her head fiercely. "And besides, I could die. No, I won't do it! I simply won't do it. It's out of the question."
"Then what else do you think you'll do? What do you think your mom and especially the righteous reverend Prouge will say? What will they do—make you confess before the church the way Kim had to? How would that look with the preacher calling on his own daughter to confess her sins? and what would you do with a baby?"
"Oh, how could I have been so gullible! How could I have swallowed all those lies you fed me. Oh, I'm such a fool, and I let you ruin my life. But I refuse to have an abortion. It's just not right. This poor innocent baby didn't do anything wrong. We're the ones that did that."
"Well, you think about it. You might just change your mind when you consider the alternative. Believe me, it's the only solution to your problem." With deep sadness Rachel thought of his callousness. Her problem? It apparently posed no problem for him, except for the one hundred dollars for the cost of an abortion. Otherwise, it was no problem at all.
By the next Saturday, Rachel's morning sickness had become more severe, and it was increasingly more difficult to hide it from her mother. After much sleeplessness, many tears, and much agony, she told Russell she would agree to having an abortion. Although she felt, just as she had always been taught, that she would be committing murder, she could think of no other option. She tried to convince herself that in dire circumstances beyond one's control, even killing was sometimes justified. She confided to Kim about her pregnancy and what she had decided to do. "I just hope it's the right decision," Kim whispered sorrowfully.
Rachel put her arms around her staunch friend and asked, "do you suppose there's ever a right decision or a right answer?"
"You know I'll stand by you, no matter what. And you can tell your folks you're spending the night with me after the ... well ... you know. That would give you a chance for the bleeding to stop and for you to get back on your feet before you went home."
"Oh, Kim. We've been through a lot together, haven't we?" They both cried.
* * *
Russell made the arrangements the following week and drove Rachel to an isolated place out of town. With her heart pounding and her heart full of guilt, Rachel let Russell lead her up the steps of a small dilapidated building with only a few windows with the shades pulled down. Inside the dark, dingy shack, a middle-aged man with a sour face, big ears, and bushy eyebrows mumbled, "I see you're on time. I like punctuality. I assume you have the money." Russell got out his wallet and handed him five twenty-dollar bills. Rachel glanced about and thought surely this wasn't the man's permanent residence. The none-too-professional-looking man then turned to Rachel and told her to change into a gown in the next room. "You can wait here," he said to Russell. "This won't take long."
Rachel entered the room, looked at an examining table that was stained with blood, presumably from a previous abortion, and her stomach churned. She almost threw up. She looked at the so-called surgical instruments and bolted out the door. As she rushed out the front door, she yelled, "I've changed my mind!"
Excerpted from HOPE AND PRAYER ARE HERS by Helen Allee Breedlove Copyright © 2012 by Helen Allee Breedlove. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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