Here's one more excerpt from my upcoming novel The Former Things, which is a Christian fiction story told from the perspective of an atheist.
I don’t feel like heading straight home. Between everything that’s happened so far today, I’m agitated and restless. I need to clear my head. I’m not far from a park, maybe a few blocks. I hope it wasn’t too damaged by the storm.
It takes me about ten minutes to get there. I see a large white tent set up on one side of the grounds next to some large dogwood trees with vibrant white flowers. I see some people going in and out of the tent, but I can’t tell what they’re doing. Curious, I walk closer for a better view.
Of course, I think bitterly as I come to a halt. It’s a Christian group. The Hopes & Prayers Relief Organization. It figures. One crisis arises and they swoop in like vultures under the guise of “helping.” I start to feel a little queasy at the thought. But as I turn around, I almost bump into someone.
Our eyes meet and there’s instant recognition. Of all people, it’s her.
“Jennie, is that you?” I ask, not believing my eyes.
She’s with a young woman I don’t know. But Jennie Lou Harris looks as stunned as I feel. After a few seconds, she remembers how to smile.
“Yes. Yes, it’s me,” she replies. “This is . . . quite a surprise. How are you?”
Her companion, a short Asian woman in a white t-shirt and khaki skirt, wisely stays silent. She’s probably waiting for Jennie to introduce us. Part of me hoped I’d never see Jennie Lou again. And another part is thrilled that she’s here. She hasn’t changed much, except cutting her hair to shoulder-length. She and her friend are wearing Hopes & Prayers t-shirts, which sport ocean blue lettering on a white background. Jennie Lou is wearing blue jeans with hers. She always liked blue jeans.
I almost wish she wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered. I nearly don’t comprehend what she says, I’m so absorbed in her appearance.
“Did you not hear me, Sean? I asked how you’re doing.”
My verbal recovery is less than stellar.
“Uh, I—um, I’m fine, thanks,” I manage to say. “You’re here with them?” I point at her t-shirt.
She smiles uneasily. “Yes. We’re here to help the community recover from the tornado.”
I start tensing up. Don’t say anything. It won’t make any difference. And it will mess up any chance of--
The word is out of my mouth before I can contain it. And it’s filled with contempt.
Both of them stiffen and go quiet. Jennie’s friend frowns and Jennie’s brow furrows. I need to fix my blunder.
I clear my throat. “I mean, what service is the organization providing?”
That seems to diffuse some of their alarm, especially Jennie Lou. She considers my question.
“Hopes & Prayers has a mobile hospital,” Jennie Lou replied. “Since yesterday, the city’s hospitals have been pushed to capacity. This organization has medical professionals who volunteer their time and services. They can help treat those who can’t afford medical treatment.”
Jennie Lou’s friend steps forward and offers her hand. “Hi, I’m Lynn Wilson. I’m a volunteer like Jennie.”
I accept her handshake and give her a polite smile.
“We also have a musical group that will be giving a free concert,” Lynn continues. “Some of our volunteers are licensed counselors. And we’re providing free food for those who need it.”
That all sounds good. Those are all valuable services. Except they’re leaving one out.
“And spiritual counseling?” I ask, looking directly at Jennie Lou. I consciously remove as much negativity from my voice as I can.
Jennie Lou keeps a straight face, but I can see the confidence in her eyes. It’s just short of defiance.
“Of course, for those who are seeking it,” she replies.
“Of course,” I repeat, holding my own emotions in check.
More awkward silence.
“I suppose Lynn and I should get back,” she suggests. “It was good to see you, Sean. You’re looking well.”
I nod and start to walk away. I hear their steps on the grass as they head in the opposite direction. Then I stop.
“I’m not well!”
I couldn’t help it. Those words erupted from me loud and clear. My feet dig into the ground and won’t let me proceed.
“I was there!” I continue. “I was in the building across the street from the twister. I heard it roar and scream and destroy while we cowered in the dark next to our desks! We—thought we were going to die.”
Having said all that, I turn to face them again. Lynn is further away than Jennie. I can’t read her expression from here, but she’s frozen in a half-turn. Jennie Lou is maybe ten feet from me with eyes wide and mouth open. She heard everything I said.
The Former Things is available for preorder on Amazon. It will be published by Ambassador International on July 12, 2022.
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian. Happily interracially married since 1995 and the proud father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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