Kimberli Buffaloe is a pastor's wife and creator of Carolina Towns and Trails, a blog featuring outdoor destinations around the Carolinas. Her posts have appeared in online newspapers and e-zines via Blogburst. A recent semifinalist in ACFW's Genesis contest, she also writes short stories, several of which have appeared in Christian Fiction Online Magazine.
Clouds gathered in the western sky. Thick, gray puffs that roiled as if the Pale Horse were coming to trample me. No fear iced my veins or stuttered my heart. Given my attitude, I’d half expected to see it.
Water from heaven splattered on the windshield and parched earth as we drove down I-20 toward Dallas. So miffed was I at my husband, I couldn’t even enjoy the unexpected blessing.
Drew flipped on the wipers then squeezed my hand, which he’d held hostage since we left Forney. “You won’t regret this, I promise.”
“You also promised to take me to Hawaii. Look how that turned out.” I bit my tongue when the words, as bitter as old coffee, spilled from my mouth. We’d postponed our long-awaited honeymoon when the pastor asked us to join the mission to Honduras. After a long discussion, we agreed we’d rather spend that time and money helping the sweet people we’d met two years before.
Drew released my hand and gave a deep, slow sigh. “So that’s what this is about. If you didn’t want to go—”
“That’s not what I meant.” The interior of the car grew as dark as the skies. “I don’t want to do this, and I don’t appreciate you pushing me into it.”
“Your old English teacher is dying. The school is trying to get as many of her students at this reunion as they can. You always said you appreciated her encouragement. Do you really want to miss out on saying good-bye?”
I tugged the hem of my dress over my knees. “If those girls are there, yes.” Meaning the three girls who ruined my final years at the Christian academy. The girls who, among other things, greeted me each morning with a soft laugh and an insult disguised as a compliment. Who mispronounced my name and referred to my light brown hair as dirty blonde before offering hints on hair care. Though I tried, I couldn’t fight the anger that erupted when the reunion summons came in the mail.
“We all did stupid things when we were teens, Reenie, and we all hurt others.” Drew slowed for a line of cars bottlenecked at the rainy exit. When he came to a stop, he leaned over and gazed at me with the breathtaking blue eyes that had caught my attention the day we met. “But that was fifteen years ago. We’re older now. And as Christians, we need to forgive. If not for the sake of your witness, then to help you let go of the past. But you need to be there for Mrs. . . .”
I stared at the sign for I-635, the highway that would lead me to two hours of misery. The Pale Horse thundered in the clouds. “Mrs. Daugherty.”
The only teacher with the courage to acknowledge the harassment several of us endured when the rest of the faculty turned a blind eye for fear the girls’ parents would pull their children, and needed donations, from the school. “But it would help if they asked for forgiveness.”
“Maybe they will. But, as Jesus said, ‘the wind blows where it wishes.’ So if they haven’t changed, then do what Christ said and bless those who curse you.”
It was easy for him to say. He wasn’t a Daniel facing a lion’s den. Not that the particular illustration didn’t further convict my heart. But as Drew merged onto the loop, I prayed the trio wouldn’t show.
Hope got drenched like my hair in the rain when I walked into the hotel’s elegant ballroom and saw a placard thanking several donors, including three familiar surnames, for making this night possible. Few could pass on that exposure. I signed the guest registry then pressed through the crowd, waving to people I recognized as I moved toward the table where Mrs. Daugherty sat. A quick hello and thanks for everything she did and I would be out the door.
A cluster of cocktail dresses and suits surrounded the table, obscuring the view of my frail mentor. As I waited, a familiar voice pricked my last thread of obedience.
“Renee, is that you?” Brooke, head of the Chanel gang, came up behind me. I continued to bob to the left and right, trying to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Daugherty. Drew tugged my hand. I ignored him, and anyone who didn’t have the decency to call me by my name.
“Honey,” my honey said. “I think someone wants to see you.”
I slid my gaze toward him then faced . . . America’s next Top Model.
Why me, Lord?
At least she was running solo. “I thought you were addressing someone else.” I smiled at the flawless face and hair an expensive shade of blonde. “I’m Reenie, though you probably don’t know that, since you called me anything but during high school.”
Brooke flinched, and my husband gripped my hand. Outside, the thunder rolled. A horseman racing to block the exit.
Brooke recovered and gave what
she likely supposed to be genuine smile. “Oh, well, it’s good to see
you, Reenie.” She drew out my name just enough to indicate she hadn’t
She lifted her eyes toward Drew. “And this handsome man is your...?”
“Husband.” I resisted the urge to pull Drew closer to my side. If you ignore a spider, they’ll ignore you. “We just celebrated our nine-month anniversary.”
“I’ve been married for six years to an architect.” She extended her left hand, exposing a ring more expensive than her hair. “And what do you do, Reenie’s husband?”
Drew gave her an easy smile. “I’m an assistant pastor.”
“A pastor?” Brooke looked at me with surprise. I couldn’t blame her, since I’d left the Holy Spirit at home. “So . . . you’re a pastor’s wife?”
Drew cradled me in his arms. “A wonderful pastor’s wife and a speech therapist. We’re leaving for Honduras soon. She’ll work with children for three months while I minister to the congregation.”
A mask of insincerity that I recognized from long ago veiled Brooke’s expression. A mask I now realized veiled her heart as well. “How sweet. My husband is on the board at our church. Thanks to him, we were able to renovate the sanctuary.”
She continued extolling the virtue of a man who, if present at the gathering, wasn’t by her side. I tightened my grip on Drew in a silent, thankful hug.
When she finished, I smiled. Somehow, it became easier. “That sounds wonderful. Not to change the subject, but where are Ashley and Elizabeth? I don’t recall a time I saw you without them.” Not that I wanted to see either now, but the crowd around Mrs. Daugherty had thickened. Directions would help me know what areas to avoid.
The practiced smile returned. “Elizabeth is here. I haven’t spoken to Ashley in a year, as I’m sure you know, Ms. Pastor’s Wife.”
She strolled away, wiggling her fingers at several men in a flirty little wave as she passed.
“What was that about?” Drew asked.
I turned in his arms and shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m ready to go home.”
He nodded toward Mrs. Daugherty’s table. “What about her?”
“With as many people crowding her, I doubt she’ll remember talking to me. I’ll see if I can set up a visit next week.” I slid my hands over Drew’s shoulders. “Besides, I did what I needed to, thanks to you.”
Drew dropped a light kiss on my lips and together, we made our way through the ballroom to the hotel’s exit, where we waited while the valet fetched our car.
“Reenie.” Another voice, familiar and unwelcomed, clipped behind me.
With a dread I thought had dissipated, I turned. As the glass doors shushed to a close, an older version of Elizabeth, wearing a red dress, her dark hair styled in a short, smart cut, strode toward me.
“I overheard your conversation with Brooke.” She stopped just out of arm’s reach. “Ignore her. You know how she is. She’s been even uglier since she found Ashley with her husband.”
My heart finally stuttered. So that’s what happened. And Brooke assumed I got my revenge by throwing it in her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“She deserves to get what she gives.”
I glanced at Drew. Isn’t that true for everyone?
“But that isn’t what I came to talk about.” She directed me toward a concrete pillar supporting the overhang. “You’re a speech therapist?”
I nodded. Elizabeth was far more articulate than I could ever be. Why the interest?
“I have a son.” She lowered her voice. “Bailey is only five, but something is . . .” Worried eyes searched mine. “Something isn’t right. My husband won’t allow me to have him evaluated. He thinks Bailey just needs time.”
She straightened. A move that suggested determination, not pride. “But I’m his mother. I don’t know if a speech therapist is what he needs, but if you’re willing, I would appreciate your help.”
Of all the people I knew, Brooke and her gang were the last I expected to seek my assistance. But as Drew—no, Jesus—pointed out, the wind blows where it wishes.
In my silence, despair darkened Elizabeth’s eyes. “But after everything I did, I would understand if you said no.”
“I’d love to help,” slipped from my mouth. Seconds later, my heart agreed. “If I can’t, I know someone who might.”
“Thank you.” She gathered me in a hug then gave me her number. We agreed to meet before I left the country.
After she went inside, I draped Drew’s arm over my shoulder and looked up. The clouds had parted, leaving behind clear skies and, by God’s grace, the distant echo of hoofbeats.