Can Chris forgive the unforgivable?
If not, is she willing to pay the cost? A cost that may be more than she ever imagined . . .
There's nothing Chris Mc Intyre hates more than child abuse. And now one of the children at Kimberley Square's new gymnasium is showing the signssigns Chris knows all too well. With no evidence to take to the police, the tough-as-nails former soldier knows it's time to take matters into her own hands.
But her anger at the abuser goes deeper than defending an innocent child. Memories haunt Chrismemories of her own childhood and her own father. As these memories locked inside her well up into a rage that threatens to consume her, she finds it impossible to forgive. But how can she continue as a Christian while harboring hatred in her heart?
One remarkable man may hold the answers to help Chris sort through the agonizing secrets of her past. To help her find a road to peace. But the route threatens to take her to a place she thought she'd never again have to goa place she swore she'd die before ever seeing again.
About the Author
Donna Fleisher, like her father and brother, is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Her previous novels include Wounded Healer, Warrior's Heart, and Valiant Hope. She lives on the Oregon Coast and is in a never-ending search for sand dollars. Visit her website at www.donnafleisher.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Donna Fleisher
ZondervanCopyright © 2006 Donna Fleisher
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI don't think I can be a Christian anymore.
The words sliced Chris McIntyre's heart. The Bible in her hands shook.
I'm sorry, Lord. Rinny said to take it slow. But I can't get away from it. I mean, it says it again, right here. If I don't forgive others, You won't forgive me. Jesus, You said it so many times. In so many different ways. In Your prayers. In Your teachings. You said, "If you don't forgive ..."
With Erin's help, Chris had forgiven Rich. With prayer and the passage of time, she had even forgiven Del. But Del was a moron. Sometimes it was easier to forgive morons.
She had even forgiven herself.
It was so much harder to forgive the one she had dared to love, the one whose love for her had caused so much pain.
He did love me once. Didn't he? When I was really young?
The memory of that day returned to haunt her. The day she had climbed on her father's lap and leaned against his chest, then rested her head against his shoulder. His strong arms encircled her and tenderly pulled her against him. He spoke soft words in her ear. Words she would always treasure. His voice, she would never forget. "You're a good girl, Chrissy. You're a good girl."
But, Lord! What did I do? Did I suddenly turn bad? Did I cause him that much grief that he grewto hate me?
Only hate would drive a father to beat his child so viciously.
Chris jumped off her bed and tossed her Bible on the nightstand. Quickly headed for the kitchen. Ran her fingers through her hair as she walked, as she let out a long, deep breath.
Later, Lord. Later.
She grabbed the gallon of milk out of the refrigerator and poured herself a glassful, then quickly lifted the glass for a long drink. She closed her eyes as the milk left a cool, soothing trail from her throat to her stomach. She waited another second, hoping it would soothe the burn there.
If the milk didn't work, she knew something that would. It had been months since she'd taken her last drink of Jack Daniel's whiskey. Since that night at Dandy's Pub. The night that jerk pushed Erin down. The night Chris, for the first time in her life, cried out to Jesus for help.
Her eyes closed as she remembered that night. The night Erin would not let her leave. The night the Lord Jesus Christ heard her cry.
Please hear me again, now. I don't want to hurt You. Help me know what to do.
Well, that was a dumb prayer. She knew exactly what He wanted her to do. The question was, would she do it?
Lord Jesus, I know You're asking me to forgive my dad. If I refuse to forgive him, how can I expect You to help me forget? I know it's true. I need to forgive him.
She took another long drink of milk. Swallowed. Slowly opened her eyes and blinked.
But there is no way.
Her throat tightened. Started to ache.
I'm sorry, Lord, but there is no way I can ever forgive my dad. If You know anything about me, You know I can't.
Tears burned her eyes.
And if You know me, You know that isn't true. It's not that I can't forgive him, it's that I won't. Ever.
She grabbed her keys and left the apartment, slamming the door behind her, leaving her jacket hanging on its peg, her half-empty glass and the gallon of milk on the counter.
* * *
From inside the Kimberley Street Medical Clinic, Erin Mathis heard the door of the apartment above her slam. Chris and Cappy's apartment. One of them stomped down the outside stairs. Angry stomps. She hoped it was Cappy.
Past the front windows of the clinic, Chris McIntyre, Erin's dearest friend, made her way down the long porch. Erin held her breath, hoping Chris would stop at the clinic's door and peek inside to say a quick hello.
The door didn't open.
More angry stomps.
Erin peered out the big front window and waited. Chris, head lowered against the spring rain, walked down the sidewalk, down Kimberley Street, probably toward the new gymnasium. On her way to work.
With a deep sigh, Erin relaxed in her chair, then rubbed the back of her neck. She had never felt so bloated, so positively monstrous. Her weight gain, her bulging belly, her increasing impatience, being pregnant so long, so ready to be over and done with it-
"Are you all right?" Hot breath tickled her ear.
She smiled at her husband's words, then squirmed as his lips nibbled her earlobe.
"Hold still. You taste good."
His hands gently massaged her shoulders as his lips found the side of her neck. Erin squelched her immediate desire to hum with pure delight. Instead, she asked him, "Aren't you supposed to be at the hospital?"
"Yes." More nibbling. "Just wanted a taste before I left."
"You're getting more than a taste." She turned to face him. Gazed into his light brown eyes. Watched the light dance in them.
"You are so beautiful."
She grunted. "Please. I look like I swallowed a beach ball."
Her husband grinned. "Three more weeks, love."
"Two weeks, four days, and hopefully not a minute more." He laughed.
"Don't laugh! You did this to me."
"I'll make it up to you first chance I get."
He knelt in front of her and gently placed his hands on her protruding abdomen, then leaned in to kiss it. "Hello there, little babe. Daddy can't wait to see you. You be good for Mommy today. Try to stay off her bladder, okay? And don't kick too hard." He looked up with laughter in his eyes.
Erin could only smile.
Standing, Scott returned her smile, then moved in to kiss her lips. He pushed back her hair and cupped her cheeks in his hands.
"You're gonna be late." Barely a whisper. Another kiss, this one deeper, lingering. When he kissed her like this, what choice did she have? She could only fall headlong into the joy of his love, the joy of sharing life with her true soul mate, of being Mrs. Scott Mathis. She savored her overwhelming gratitude to the One who had saved them and brought them together.
Scott slowly pulled away. "Okay, you're right. Gotta go. But I'll be home around three." He traced the backs of his fingers down her cheek. Touched the tip of her nose. Then turned, wrapped his jacket around him, and headed for the front door.
Still basking in the moment, Erin's lips and cheek tingled. "We'll be waiting." She rubbed her belly with one hand and returned his wave with the other as he pulled the clinic's door closed behind him. His Mustang roared to life. Then carried him away.
"We'll be waiting, love," Erin whispered into the silence, still rubbing her belly. But then, just for a second, a wave of sadness swept over her. She sighed deeply, shook her head, and returned to her insurance paperwork.
She couldn't concentrate. Slowly looked up. Fat drops of rain splashed off the porch railing. Slapped against the leaves of the azalea bush in the front yard.
Father? I'm worried about Chris. Is she going to be all right?
Constant. Relentless. Splashes of rain.
She wants so much to learn about You. To follow Your Son. She's really struggling right now. And I don't know how to help her.
Tears blurred the splashes of rain. Erin made no effort to blink them away.
I can only pretend to imagine what she's facing. What she's been through. Only You can help her find a way ... to forgive her dad.
Bitter memories flooded her mind. Horrible things she had seen. Things she had heard. The few things Chris had told her.
Please help her, Father. Help her to put everything behind her. Please free her from all of it. For the first time in her life, Lord, please help her to be free.
* * *
Water coursed down her face and dripped off her chin. Dripped from her drenched hair to the back of her shirt. Seeped through to her skin. Chilled her to the bone.
Stupid. Leaving the apartment without her jacket.
Water dripped off her nose and landed at her feet. She glanced down at her sneakers. Wiped them on the mat just inside the door of the new Kimberley Street gymnasium.
The mat had been Isaiah's idea. And it was a good one. The new floor in the gym had fit and settled well, and though it was old and scuffed and secondhand, it suited their needs and budget perfectly. Donated by a local middle school, it had taken three days and the help of fifteen volunteers from the church to lay it out. And so far, there was only one slightly dead spot, over in the far corner, about twenty feet from the basket.
Alaina had found it.
Chris wiped her face with her hand and smiled.
After the floor had been laid and sealed, she told nine-year-old Alaina Walker and her two nine-year-old friends, Jazzy Sadler and Jen White, to dribble their basketballs over every inch of the floor. Chris had followed behind them, dribbling her own. Every time they found a squishy spot in the floor, Chris would mark the spot with a masking tape X to keep track of it, then keep score. The one who found the most squishy spots won a Pepsi. That was the deal.
It took almost a half hour for the four of them to dribble their basketballs over every inch of the new floor. Right after that, Alaina sipped her ice-cold Pepsi as Chris whispered a heartfelt prayer of thanks. Finishing the floor and finding it good-to-go had been the biggest and most rewarding accomplishment of the warehouse-to-gymnasium conversion project.
Seeing Alaina share her Pepsi with Jazzy and Jen had been the sweetest moment of all.
Pushing back her wet hair from her forehead, Chris drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly.
So much had happened in the last five months. She had been ready to end it all. But then, drunk and passed out on her couch, she heard a knock at her door. That moment changed everything. At this moment, standing in this place, off Kimberley Street in Portland, Oregon ... all of it still seemed like a dream.
She was home. The place had become her own. Kimberley Square. And this converted old warehouse. The smell of it, the cavernous depths, the ringing echoes of laughter and bouncing basketballs.
Her smile faded as her heart sank. She turned and walked toward the office.
Something was wrong with Alaina. All this week, especially. She seemed down. Quiet. Even Jazzy seemed concerned.
Chris drew in another long breath to calm the ache in her stomach. She unlocked the office door and walked in, flipped on the light, then tossed her keys on the desk. She walked over to a rack of basketballs and picked one up. Squeezed it in her hands.
Her stomach burned. She closed her eyes.
Of all the kids in the neighborhood, why Alaina? Jazzy's parents were the best. Isaiah Sadler, Chris's good friend and coworker-and Jazzy's grandpa-had seen to that. Jen White's parents were the best too. Every Sunday they sat together as a family, all six of them, up front in the Kimberley Street Community Church.
Alaina had come to church once or twice with her mother. Never with her father.
Chris slammed the basketball back down on the rack.
She had seen the look in Alaina's mother's eyes. Fear. The haunted look of shame. She knew that look. Knew it well. Had seen it in her own family's eyes. Her aunts and uncles, even some of her cousins. Long ago she had turned to them for help, and they had all given her that look, then all but turned their backs on her. They knew what was going on, what she was going through, but were too afraid to stand up to Donovan McIntyre. They were all too afraid to do anything about it.
"I'm not too afraid," Chris whispered aloud. "God, please. When Alaina comes in today, please let her be all right." She picked up one of the towels on the shelf by her desk. Slowly wiped her face and hands with it. Then tried to squeeze some of the water from her hair.
Please, God. That's all I ask. Please just let her be all right.
* * *
Some prayers God seemed to answer quickly. Some He didn't seem to answer at all. And some prayers ... some prayers Chris wished she had never prayed at all. Some things just played out the way they played out. Though she didn't doubt for one second God still knew what He was doing.
At least, in this case, she hoped He knew what He was doing.
At that moment, Alaina Walker looked worse than ever.
The child didn't smile. Her normally bright blue eyes were sullen and dark. She didn't want to play with her friends. Jazzy sat on the floor beside her, leaning back against the wall, just sitting there, both of them, watching the others shoot baskets and goof around.
A tiny smile. Alaina's only response as Kelly's basketball wedged itself between the backboard and the rim. A few of the older boys tried to jump up to dislodge it, but they were about a foot short reaching it. Kelly, red-faced and giggling, asked Chris for a broom or something like that, something long enough to knock it free. But Lissa had saved the day. With a squeal, she launched her own basketball straight up with enough force to nudge Kelly's free. And not only free, but right into the hoop. Loud joyous laughter echoed across the big room.
Alaina only faintly smiled.
Chris turned to find the only other adult in the room, Kay Valleri, gave her a quick nod, then hurried to the gym's double doors and pushed herself through. Outside, the heavy cool air comforted her, then filled her lungs as she drew it in as deeply as she could.
Maybe Alaina was just sick.
Chris almost laughed. Of course, that was it. Nothing happening at home; the girl was just sick. And Chris was just overreacting. Yes, the signs were there, but did that mean Alaina was in danger?
Only one way to find out.
Her teeth clenched as she drew in one more deep breath. Then she turned and headed back inside the gym. She smiled at Kay Valleri.
"Are you all right?" Kay's eyes narrowed.
"Um ... yeah." Chris glanced at her feet. "Needed some fresh air." She tried to give Kay another smile. "I'm glad you're here. Thanks for your help."
"Well, you can't be here every minute, you know." Kay patted Chris's shoulder. "And you can't have all the fun. You've got to share some of it with the rest of us."
Fun? Chris held back a laugh. Fun. Yes. Most of the time. Five and a half days a week she enjoyed supervising the gym's activities. Watching the kids, cleaning up after them. Watching the adults too, sometimes even refereeing their pickup games. But at that moment, what she felt in her stomach and head and heart, she couldn't share with anyone. No one else would understand.
"Why don't you head on home? I'll keep an eye on things."
Chris glanced up at the clock across the gym. It was almost lunchtime. Her workweek was almost complete. "Yeah. Think I will. Thanks, Kay. I mean it."
"I know you do. And you're very welcome. See you at church tomorrow."
Excerpted from Valiant Hope by Donna Fleisher Copyright ©2006 by Donna Fleisher. Excerpted by permission.
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