The bite of Alan’s betrayal was lethal. The venom spread through Pam’s system as poisonous as a rattlesnake coiled in the Oklahoma dust.
She sat cross-legged in the middle of her queen- sized bed, a bottle of prescription sleeping pills in her lap, memories in the form of photo albums and loose pictures scattered around her on the hunter green comforter. With shaking hands, she tucked her hair behind her ears and fanned a stack of photos out before her. One snapshot in particular caught her eye. Pam picked it up by a corner, not afraid of damaging the picture, but bracing herself for the damage the picture would do to her.
High school, sophomore year. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, braces glinting in the light of the camera flash. Alan stood next to her, his arm tossed negligently across her shoulders, his muddy football uniform a sharp contrast to her white cheerleader sweater. Their first picture together, the beginning of their life with each other.
Pam stroked the picture and the present melted into the past. Her gaze narrowed to Alan’s face, his high cheekbones, cleft chin, and the wild mop of his sandy hair. Even then she could see the future she wanted for herself in his brown eyes. Alan Archer, her first and only love.
She swallowed two of the pills and chased them with a gulp of bottled water. Just two at a time, I can always change my mind.
Pam steeled herself against the ache in her heart and sorted through more pictures. Homecomings and proms. His and hers. Outdated hairstyles, long satin gowns decorated with lace, sequins, and bows. Rented tuxedos, his ties and cummerbunds coordinated to match her dress. Flowers for her, wing tipped collars for him. High school graduations. His from college. She scrambled over to the window, open to catch the early summer breeze, and tilted the picture in the midday sunlight. If she squinted she could just make out the gold of her new engagement ring. She forced her eyes down to her left hand. No gold there anymore. Just the pathetic imprint of what used to be. That’s all her heart held this morning, a sad, hollow image of the past.
Two more pills joined the toxic mixture brewing in her stomach. She closed her eyes. Let it be quick. A prayer? She shrugged away the thought.
Returning to the bed, she pulled a large white album into her lap. Tears dotted the closed cover as she hugged the book to her chest. The promise of their wedding day. A future waiting to be written. Cake and friends and vows to love each other forever. How could it be forever already? She swallowed two more pills.
Pam closed her eyes against a wave of dizziness. She really did want to pray, but nothing came from her soul except overwhelming guilt and failure. Oh God. I did everything I knew to do. How could You take my life way from me like this? What did I do? Where did I go wrong? A million times asked, a million times unanswered.
More pictures and albums. She traced her finger across Alan’s features. His image laughed up at her.
He seemed happy. Where had that gone?
She held her fisted hands to her ears in an effort to block out the insults she’d lived with for the last year. Stupid, fat, worthless, frigid slob. The haunting, hurtful words ran together, mixing with Alan’s laughter as she walked into his office and saw...
She moved her hands from her ears to her eyes. Pam rubbed, trying to erase the image of Alan and his secretary lying together on the sofa in his office. She failed. The echoed words from that moment still made her flinch.
“Don’t be stupid, Pam. When are you going to understand that you were never woman enough for me?”
Oh, she understood. She emptied the rest of the pills into her hand, popped them into her mouth, and swallowed them before she lost her nerve.
She blinked rapidly, her system fighting the sleep and relief the pills promised. With time running out, Pam gathered up images of holidays and family vacations. This was her life, her world. All she’d ever wanted remained forever frozen in these little slices of time. Moments of love and happiness reduced to the devastation of failure with one phrase. Five little words she could barely bring herself to think, much less speak aloud.
My divorce is final today.
Her lawyer, Harrison Lake, had been a pillar of strength throughout the whole process. He kept trying to convince her that this was not the end, but a fresh beginning. He’d held her hand while she cried. He’d gone to battle with Alan in her stead. His phone call last night assured her that it would be over today.
Pam took one last look at the pictures displayed around the room. A hundred pieces of her broken heart fractured into a thousand more. She wanted to burn them all, but Jeremy and Megan would want them later. Jeremy and Megan. My babies. The knowledge that she’d failed at motherhood as certainly as she’d failed at marriage stole the last bit of her resistance. They were safely tucked away for the summer in Wyoming with her parents and better off without her.
A fresh wave of drug-induced vertigo. She laid her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. The empty bottle of sleeping pills slipped from her limp fingers. Harrison was right. It would be over today.

Hot. Pam shifted her legs under the sheets, looking for a cool spot to relieve the uncomfortable warmth surrounding her. The next sensation to penetrate the fog of sleep was thirst. She swallowed and released a sharp groan of pain. Why was her throat so sore?
Pam turned toward the voice and struggled to open her eyes. Harrison...what is he...? Memory flooded back like a returning tide. She gave up trying to get her eyes open. Instead, she turned her back to him and surrendered, again, to the weeping that had plagued her for days. Failure. Her life was nothing but a failure. She felt a hand on her shoulder and shrugged it away. “Leave me alone.” Her request came out as little more than a croak.
Harrison’s answer came in a single clipped word. “No.”
Pam heard his footsteps as he circled the bed. The mattress shifted under his weight when he sat beside her. He took her hand.
She jerked it out of his grasp. “Go away.”
”What were you thinking?”
”You’re a lawyer.” Bitterness tinged her words. “Figure it out.”
”Pam, why? The worst is over. After today you could’ve begun rebuilding your life.”
Pam flipped onto her back and covered her eyes with her arm. “What life? My life ended when I walked into Alan’s office and saw—”
“That’s not true.”
She held her tongue. If she refused to acknowledge him, maybe he’d go away.
“Do you really want me to leave?”
”Then tell me who to call.”
Pam lowered her arm. “No one. I want to be alone.”
Harrison shook his head. “Not possible.”
She glared at him.
”You’re on suicide watch. When I leave, they’ll take you up to the psych ward and put you into a private room with a large observation window and video cameras. You won’t be alone for the next forty-eight hours.” Harrison pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket. “You’re allowed two visitors at a time. I need to know who to call. Parents, friends, your pastor, someone who can keep an eye on you once I leave.”
Pam stared at him. Her restless hand smoothed the worn thermal weave of the hospital blanket. Her fingers picked at the lint balls left behind by repeated washings. What she’d just tried to do would destroy her mom and dad. Her friends, Callie, Terri, Karla, even Pastor Gordon. How could she make them understand? She couldn’t tell anyone about this, not today, not ever. Pam realized the corner she’d painted herself into. “There’s no one to call.” The words were a whisper, forced around her constricted throat. Tears rolled from the corners of her eyes and ran down her cheeks.
Harrison put the notebook away and pulled out a clean handkerchief. “I have an alternate option, if you’re willing to listen.” Pam nodded and accepted the square of linen he pressed into her hand. “I made some calls before you woke up. There’s a counseling center I’ve heard good things about. It’s run by Christian counselors. They’re very discreet.” He took an index card from his pocket and laid it on the bedside table. “I talked to them and to your doctor. They’re willing to take you as a patient, and your doctor has agreed to release you into my custody for transportation. I can drive you down tonight, if that’s what you want.” His tapping finger drew her eyes to the card. “They’re waiting to hear from you.”
Pam bit her lip and held out her hand. She blinked moisture from her eyes and tried to focus on the words. “Brookside?”
Harrison nodded. “That or the psych ward.”
Pam closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. Suicide... ”Oh, dear Jesus. What have I done?”


Four years later
A fall storm system hovered over Garfield, Oklahoma. Rain fell in sheets. A vicious wind whipped acorns from the trees and skipped them across the roof with the sound of rapid gunfire. Pam Lake paced her shadowed living room. The tempest in her spirit rivaled the one outside. If Alan Archer thinks I’ll take this lying down...
The Old Testament prescribed death by stoning for individuals caught in adultery. That was a punishment Pam could stand behind. God must have known that if cheating ex-spouses were dead, they couldn’t resurface four years later to rip your soul out a second time and threaten your newfound happiness.
The rational part of her brain shifted her troubled thoughts into neutral. You need to stop. You’re giving him too much control over your life. What would Dr. Sylvester say? Pam stopped her pacing. Her counselor had warned her about this four years ago.
Pam could still see Dr. Sylvester, hands clasped on her desk blotter as she leaned forward. “Pam, there are a whole bunch of fancy words I could use for the scars and trauma caused by the emotional abuse you’ve suffered. If you don’t start learning how to deal with it, it’s going to eat you from the inside out.”
“I am dealing with it. I know Alan’s behavior wasn’t my fault. I’ve accepted that our marriage is over.”
“You aren’t eating, you aren’t sleeping, and you’re skipping the daily Bible studies. Your physical and spiritual well-being do not speak of improvement. You’re dealing with classic post-traumatic stress disorder. You can lie to yourself; you can convince me that you’re ready to go home, but the deeper you bury the hurt, the uglier it’s going to be when it surfaces. If you take nothing home with you from your time here at Brookside, remember this. Any time you bury an emotion, you bury it alive. The only way to kill it is to face it.”
Pam’s snort echoed off the walls. Psychobabble garbage. There were no emotions left alive in her heart where Alan was concerned. She’d buried them deep and suffocated them under layers of indifference and a better life. God had moved her beyond the hurt of betrayal. He’d forgiven her for the attempted suicide. Four years after her month-long stay at Brookside, she was happy. She had Harrison and the kids. They’d made a family out of the pieces Alan had left behind. There was no need to face anything. All she needed to continue on with her life was for Alan Archer to stay in Kansas City!
Her son’s casual remark rang in her ears. “You don’t need to pick us up. Dad and Kate are moving into their new house today.”
Alan Archer was moving back to Garfield. How could she not know this until now?
Stupid, fat, worthless, frigid slob. Her throat went dry, and her heart pounded against her ribcage. The taste of fear coated her tongue, and she layered anger over it, desperate to conquer the panic. I won’t live with those words ever again. She looked up, eyes blurred with tears. “Why now, God? My insides are in knots, and I don’t understand it. Alan means nothing to me anymore. You gave me Harrison, and I love him.”
As if conjured from her thoughts, a car door slammed in the driveway. She blinked away the tears and allowed the warmth of Harrison’s faithful love to sooth the newly exposed ache in her heart. He came. I called, and he dropped what he was doing to be with me. Always my knight. While she watched, her husband of almost three years sprinted for the house, briefcase clutched to his chest with one arm, fighting a useless umbrella with the other. His feet gained the steps a second before a sharp gust turned his umbrella inside out. Pam sank into the window seat, the corners of her mouth twitching in a melancholy smile. He’ll never know how much I love him. Leave it to Alan Archer... The mere thought of her ex-husband’s sent bile churning in her stomach.
Pam drew up her knees and propped her chin on her crossed arms as fresh tears tracked the path of the old ones. She jerked at the loud crack of thunder that followed the next burst of lightning. Her head came up when she heard her husband in the doorway.
Harrison set down his briefcase, brushed some of the rain from the shoulders of his jacket, and crossed the room to sit beside her. He gathered her into his arms.
She relaxed against him, soaking up the comfort he offered.
He kissed the top of her head. “Sweetheart, you’re blowing this all out of proportion.”
“How can you say that?” Her voice was hoarse from her recent tears. “He destroyed me.” She pulled out of her husband’s embrace and rose to pace in front of him. “He purposely reduced me to nothing. The divorce, the embarrassment of being openly cheated on. The depression and the pills. How am I supposed to handle those memories when I run into him at the bank or the store?” Her hands shook as she raked hair away from her face, her voice a panicked whisper when she continued. “The pills. Harrison, no one knows. What if the kids, or my parents, or my friends find out? They can never understand how I felt then, much less how I feel now, ‘cause they can never know the truth.” She lifted her eyes to her husband. “I’m so scared.”
Harrison drew a ragged breath of his own. “You’re scared? I was there, remember?” He reached out and pulled her icy hands into his, trying to rub some warmth into them. “If I’d been fifteen minutes later…But you beat him, darlin’. You aren’t the cowed, lost woman he left behind. He can’t hurt you anymore. Everything he said to you, everything he tried to make you believe, was a lie. Doesn’t our happiness put some perspective on that?”
Pam jerked her hands from his grasp and paced the length of the room. Renewed anger colored her words. “I had plenty of perspective as long as he lived on his planet and I lived on mine.” Her entire body shook with nervous energy. “What is he thinking?” She turned, hands fisted on her hips, and answered her own question. “Oh, I forgot. This is Alan ‘No-Brain’ Archer we’re talking about. He doesn’t think. He just plows ahead with whatever piece of stupidity that feels good to him at the moment.”
“Moving back here, dragging all this back to the surface, rubbing my face in his infidelities.”
“Kate isn’t one of his infidelities. They’ve been married for almost a year now. You liked her fine when we met her a couple of months ago.” Harrison held out his hand, dropping it when she ignored it. “I understand how you feel, but that doesn’t change the truth. Alan has the right to live anywhere he wants, including Garfield.”
Pam’s temper flashed along with the lightening outside. “Whose side are you on?” She swept out of the room, her angry question left to hang in the air between them.

Pam retreated to the solitude of the bedroom. Unable to find any solace there, she continued to pace. Her arguments grew more vehement with every step she took. She wasn’t sure who she was arguing with, herself or God, but the muttered one-sided conversation was a heated one regardless.
“I can’t do this. He can’t do this. I’m so far beyond angry right now, I don’t have words to define it. How is it possible to have this kind of hatred for someone I loved so much? I wouldn’t even have called it hate before today. I would have called my feelings grace- induced indifference. I truly don’t care what Alan does, or whom he does it with so long as he does it somewhere other than Garfield.” Her thoughts came full circle. “He cannot do this.”
A light knock on the door interrupted her tirade. She glanced at the clock beside the bed. Had the kids come home early? Pam swiped at her face with a damp tissue and pasted on a smile before she opened the door. The sight of Karla Black standing in the hall crumbled the fragile seawall surrounding her churning emotions.
Pam stumbled into her friend’s outstretched arms. “Oh, Karla.”
“I know, honey,” Karla soothed, stepping into the room and closing the door. “The kids were sharing their news at the party. I can only imagine how upset you must be. What can I do to help?”
“Do you know a good hit man?”
”I’m serious, Karla.” Pam pushed away from her friend. “Right now, all I want to do is wring his neck. I’m almost certain there’s a clause in our divorce settlement prohibiting him from living in the same town as me. Violation punishable by death.”
“That’s a pretty strong statement. It’s been four years since your divorce. How can you be so angry after all this time?”
Pam’s frustration bubbled over. “What difference does time make? Have you all forgotten what he did to me? Fifteen years of marriage and I caught the man, in the act, with his secretary. That’s not a memory...” Memories far worse than adultery clogged her throat. She swallowed what she could never share. “That’s not a memory I want to look in the eye every day. Why is everyone taking his side?”
“Pam, we all know how hurt—”
“What?” Pam whirled on her friend. Fermented pain burst from her heart like a cork released from a champagne bottle. “What do you guys think you know?” She threw her hands up in frustration. “He staged it, Karla, and then laughed in my face.”
“Never knew that, did you? I called him. He knew I was stopping by the office that afternoon. When I walked in and found them...” Pam’s voice broke, and she pressed her lips together in an effort to stem the tears. “He laughed at me, Karla, and told me how stupid I was. The abuse wasn’t enough for him—”
Karla’s mouth formed a shocked O as red crept up her neck. “He hit you?”
Pam shuddered and made another effort to control her runaway emotions. Be careful, you’re going to share too much. “Not all abuse is physical.” Stupid, fat, worthless, frigid slob. Pam slammed the lid down on the voices still alive in the dark corners of her heart. “None of you has any idea what it’s like to be hurt the way Alan hurt me.”
Pam hugged her arms around her chest and met Karla’s concerned green eyes with a frown. “You and Mitch have the happily-ever-after marriage most people only dream of. Callie’s got Benton, quite possibly the most perfect man in the world since he got saved, and Terri and Steve are still basking in some”— she waved a hand for lack of words—”some newlywed glow that a one-year-old and another pregnancy can’t dull.”
Karla sat on the edge of the bed, crossed her arms, and looked at Pam over her glasses.
“You three are all snug and cozy in your perfect little worlds. Someday one of you needs to take a step down from that pedestal you’re living on and join the rest of us here in the real world.” Pam’s hand flew to her mouth. “I’m sorry...I’m sorry. Karla, please tell me you know I didn’t mean a single word of that.”
Karla tilted her head and patted the mattress next to her. “Come sit.”
Pam sat beside her friend, head bowed over her clenched fist. I wish I could tell them, I wish I could make them understand what he did to me. “Oh, Karla, I’m so sorry.”
Karla put an arm around Pam’s shoulders. “We all knew something was desperately wrong that last year of your marriage, but you never mentioned abuse. Can you talk about it?”
”I...” Pam shook her head. “I can’t.” Her breath shuddered as she filled her lungs. “I’m sorry I blew up at you. It just seems like everyone is taking Alan’s side.”
Karla gave her a little shake. “You know that isn’t true. We love you. If it ever comes down to taking sides, you know where we’ll fall. Alan hurt you, but you’ve got to let the anger go. You’ve moved on. You have Harrison and two terrific kids. Focus on the here and now.”
Pam nodded. It would be so easy if the anger was all I have to deal with. She closed her eyes. The specter hanging over her head and living in her heart went so much deeper than anger. The urge to bare her soul to this woman shook Pam to the core. She forced it aside and repeated what was fast becoming her mantra. No one can ever know the truth.
“Megan and Jeremy are obviously excited that Alan will be closer.”
Pam slumped into Karla’s embrace. “I’m sure they’re thrilled. Alan never had a problem being a good father. As much as the kids love Harrison, they’re obviously happy about the opportunity to see their dad more often. He’s picking them up after the party and taking them to lunch.” Pam’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Karla, I don’t know if I can put a happy face on this, even for them. I’ve done my best to keep the negative remarks and feelings to a minimum over the years. Megan and Jeremy were both old enough to understand what Alan did, but I’ve worked hard not to rub their faces in it. That was so much easier to do when I was just putting them on a plane three or four times a year. I haven’t been face-to-face with Alan Archer since the divorce. I liked it that way.”
”Alan remarried a few months ago, didn’t he?”
Pam nodded. “Kate.”
”Have you met her?”
”Yes. Alan was sick or something when the kids were there for their summer visit.” The word sick dripped with sarcasm. “Instead of going through the hassle of trying to change their airline tickets, she just drove the kids home for him. They dragged her into the house for introductions.”
Karla didn’t say anything for several seconds.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Pam finally said. “I was polite when they introduced her.”
“What’s she like?”
“Nice enough, I guess. The kids both like her. I know she’s managed to get Alan back in church, but Kate isn’t the problem here.” Pam leaned her head on Karla’s shoulder. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t think straight. I’m taking pot shots at you. I snapped at Harrison earlier. I’ve been trying to pray, but all my prayers keep turning into arguments.”
“Do you want me to pray with you?”
”Would you?”
”How do you want to pray?”
”I don’t even know. I just know I need more strength than I have on my own right now.”
Karla put both arms around Pam. “Jesus, thank You for loving us. Your word promised that You would never leave us alone, that we would never have to face the hard times by ourselves. Please help Pam find comfort in those promises. Help her find the wisdom to lean on You and the courage to go where You’re taking her right now. Her heart is hurting. Help her find the healing she needs in You.”
Pam swiped at her nose with a crumpled tissue. “Thanks, Karla.”
”Will you be all right now?”
Pam’s response was both honest and melancholy. “I don’t know. I’m calmer though. That’s an improvement.”
“Good.” Karla stood up and straightened to her full five-foot-two. “Now, go downstairs, find that man of yours, and give him a hug. He’s worried about you and feeling a little helpless right now. I’ll see you both at church tomorrow.”
Pam stopped Karla at the door. “Karla, one more thing. Would you call Callie and Terri for me?”
“They know, hon. We’re all three praying for you.”
“You guys are the best friends in the world. I’ll walk down with you.”
“I know the way out. You stay up here and fix your face.”
Pam nodded. “Thanks for coming by. I’m sorry—”
“Hush,” Karla told her. “We all love you, and we’re all here for you if you need us.”
The door snapped shut behind the older woman, and Pam realized she did feel better. Karla was such a good friend.
Pam closed her eyes and slumped back on the bed. Where had those horrible things she’d said come from? Her friends had plenty of old hurts in their lives. But nothing like... Pam pushed the little voice aside and embraced the knowledge that her three best friends were praying about the situation. Maybe she’d been overreacting. Alan had that effect on her. Garfield wasn’t a metropolis, but it wasn’t a Podunk either. Surely there wouldn’t be that many opportunities for her to run into her ex-husband.

Alan Archer turned his car into the parking lot of Valley View Church. He shut off the ignition and sat while the engine ticked and pinged in its cool-down phase. The storm continued to rage, making rivers out of drainage ditches and turning shallow places into puddles. It was a miserable day to be outside, but he was anxious to put this conversation behind him. He looked at the only other car in the lot. When he’d asked for this meeting, he’d been adamant about seeking the privacy of the pastor’s office. Pastor Gordon had granted his request. Might as well get it over with. He held the door tight against the swirling gusts of wind, slammed it closed, and sprinted for the overhanging roof of the church. A fit of coughing almost doubled him over as he reached the double glass doors. He stopped under the dripping eve, closed his eyes, and concentrated on a few normal breaths. The tightness in his chest loosened. When would he learn?
He took a deep breath to satisfy himself that he could and pulled open the door. One step inside the familiar hallway transported him back in time. The building was quiet and empty now, but his ears remembered the noise of boisterous kids heading off to various Sunday school classes. His nose recalled the scents of numerous potluck dinners enjoyed in the fellowship hall at the end of the corridor. Light spilled from an open office on his right and caused his heart to stumble over his most recent memories of this place. A dozen counseling sessions and Pam’s tears of confusion during each of them. He did his best to shake it off as he continued to the open door. Jesus, I’m sorry. I know You’ve forgiven me. Help me complete what You’ve sent me to do. Alan peeked around the framework of the office door. “Pastor?”
Pastor Gordon stood and gripped Alan’s extended hand in a firm handshake. “Alan, come in.” He motioned to a chair. “It’s good to see you. I’ve made fresh coffee, if you’re interested. I’m afraid this late in the afternoon, its decaf, but the new blends aren’t so bad. I’ll fix you a cup if you like.”
Alan brushed at the front of his soaked shirt, grateful that he wouldn’t have to offer a decaf only explanation. “It’s a monsoon out there. Hot coffee would be great.”
The preacher poured two cups of the steaming liquid. “I made it in just ahead of the downpour.” He nodded to the basket of creamer, sugar, and sweetener. “Name your poison.”
“Black works. Thanks.”
The elderly preacher passed a brimming cup across his desk and returned to his seat. The silence stretched as the men sipped their drinks. Alan studied his former pastor with open interest. He found more age, less hair, new glasses, and deeper lines carved around the elder man’s eyes. Alan squirmed a bit with the realization that he was being scrutinized just as intently.
The pastor set his cup aside, clasped his hands together on the desk, and leaned forward. “You’re looking good Alan, but I must confess to some curiosity about what brings you back to Garfield—and my office—after all these years.”
Alan nodded, overcome with a sudden need to stall. He looked around the room. Bookcases filled with well-worn books lined one wall. An old-fashioned monitor blinked the date and time on the corner of the desk. Alan took a breath and caught the familiar scent of roses wafting from a small bowl of potpourri. Sister Gordon’s contribution to her husband’s office. Little had changed since his last visit. The tension in his shoulders relaxed a bit. “This was always a peaceful port in a storm, Pastor, even during those last few months when life was everything but. It’s nice to see it hasn’t changed.”
“I’m a man of habit. I’ve found my congregation appreciates continuity as well. Coming to the pastor’s office can be a little like visiting the principal’s office. It’s a little less intimidating if the surroundings are familiar.” He sat back in his chair and reclaimed his cup. “You wanted to talk. The floor is yours.”
Alan bowed his head and stared at the floor for a few seconds. Get on with it. He looked up and jumped in with both feet. “I’ve moved back to Garfield.” His statement hung in the air for a few seconds. “I know I made some serious mistakes a few years ago. I understand my decision to come back won’t be greeted with much enthusiasm. I’ve remarried, and I’ve re-dedicated my life to Christ. I’d like to put some of those mistakes behind me, if possible.”
He met Pastor Gordon’s eyes. “Kate and I decided that we wanted to live closer to my children. I’m missing too much of their lives living in Kansas City. Garfield is home.” He took a deep breath. “We’d like your permission to attend church here, at Valley View.”
A frown gathered between the preacher’s brows. The only sounds in the room were the squeak of his leather chair and the echo of the thunder outside. “Alan, I appreciate the courtesy you’ve extended by coming to discuss this with me. You don’t need my permission to attend service here. It’s a public place. But since you’ve asked, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think—”
“I’m dying.”
The old pastor blinked. “What did you say?”
”I’m dying, Pastor. I’m sorry for blurting it out like that, but it’s not an easy thing for me to say.” Alan stirred his coffee. His insides twisted despite the times he’d rehearsed this conversation. “Before you tell me how healthy I look, let me assure that, in this case, those looks are deceiving. I’ve been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I’m in the end-stages of the disease. I came back here to spend the time I have left with my children.”
“Ahh...Alan.” The preacher closed his eyes, pushed his glasses up to his forehead, while he rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “I’m a pastor, not a doctor. What, exactly, is hyper...tro...phic cardio...what?”
“Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The disease isn’t particularly uncommon, but my doctor’s diagnosis puts me in the unlucky three percent. I could bury you in medical jargon, but what it boils down to is a gradual thickening of my heart muscle. One of the oddities of the disease is looking good, right to the end. That also makes it hard to diagnose.” Alan laid his cup on the edge of the pastor’s desk.
“There’s no way to tell how long I’ve had it,” he continued. “Some of the milder symptoms have become so commonplace, I stopped paying attention to them a long time ago. Shortness of breath, tiredness, even palpitations and being lightheaded. I wrote them all off as occasional over-exertion or stress. When I passed out in my office a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to get a doctor in the ER who’d had an uncle with the same symptoms.” Alan scraped a hand through his hair before he continued. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital several times for testing. My doctor tells me I’m currently in the remodeling stage of the disease. The thickened heart muscle is finally beginning to break down.” His shrug was resigned. “The end result will be heart failure.”
Pastor Gordon pursed his lips. “How long?”
Alan looked away to prevent the discerning pastor from seeing the lie in his eyes. Is wishful thinking a lie? “Six weeks, six months.” You know it’s weeks, not months. “Not long enough. The good news is, I’ll make a handsome corpse.”
“Sorry,” he apologized. “I’m working on acceptance. I’m told morbid humor is a common defense mechanism.”
Alan took a sip of the cooling liquid before he continued. “Brother Gordon, there’s no excuse for the way I behaved four years ago. I can’t explain it to you because I still can’t explain it to myself. I know I hurt a lot of people. I sat in this office and lied to your face.” He swallowed back the irony of then and now. “Trust is going to be a major issue for you and everyone else. God’s forgiven me. Can you?”
“Here and now, Alan. Consider yourself forgiven, but there’s—”
“I know this is just the first step in a long process, but I have to start somewhere. Do I have your permission to attend services?”
“Under the circumstances, of course. I’ll go with you to talk to Pam.”
Pastor Gordon tilted his head in obvious confusion. “Excuse me.”
“No. I don’t want Pam or my kids to know about this. My wife and stepson know, and now you know, but that’s as far as this information goes.”
“No,” Alan repeated the third time. “Consider yourself sworn to secrecy. I’ve made my peace with God, but I have other things I need to make right and a limited amount of time to get it done. I don’t want anyone’s pity, and I don’t want those things made right out of a feeling of obligation. I certainly don’t want Jeremy and Megan to know about this yet. I won’t have them spending the little time we have left with each other sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for me to take my last breath.”
“Alan, this is a bad idea, at least share your illness with Pam. She can help you prepare the children without giving them all the details.”
Alan shook his head. “I’ll tell them when the time is right. Do I have your word?”
Pastor Gordon sat back in his seat with a heavy breath and closed eyes. Finally he nodded. “Of course. Would you be uncomfortable if I shared this with my wife? There aren’t many secrets between us. She can add her prayers to mine. She’s a powerful prayer warrior. God might grant us a miracle.”
Alan raised his hands. “I know I’m placing you in a difficult position. Believe me, I wish things were different. You have my permission to tell your wife, if you’re positive she can keep it from Pam and her friends. As far as miracles go, you two won’t be praying any harder than I am.” He stood and offered his hand across the desk. Pastor Gordon shook it, grasping it in both of his.
“Thanks for your time and your understanding, Pastor. Kate and I are both looking forward to being in service with you in the morning.”


This is the third book in Sharon Srock's "Women of Valley View" series and in my opinion it is the best.

More than in her previous books the characters seem real. They have character flaws that come out through the story. These flaws drive much of the conflict. In addition there are scenes which show our church-going women are not perfect Christians, but human beings who sometimes need to be reminded on how they should behave.

This story does not end with everything tied up in a neat bow, but then life rarely ends with neat conclusions. And while we are left with unanswered questions, they are the sort that need to remain unanswered. At least until the next book comes out to allow us to revisit these men and women.
 Sharon Srock has a way of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. I have read all of her Women of Valley View stories to date and have been thoroughly enraptured with each one. Ms. Srock takes a painful situation and turns it into a beautiful story of forgiveness. Twists and turns take the reader to unexpected places. Pam is simply lovely and oh, so powerful. I highly recommend this book as well as each of the Women of Valley View stories. 
 Sharon Srock has done it again with this book. What I love about these Valley View books is that the women depicted are all normal women. They're flawed and funny and angry and everything else you can think of. They're like the kinds of women I'd like to be friends with. Heck, they're like my own friends. And yet they do extraordinary things, and in this book, Pam does an amazing thing. All divorce is hard, but in this case, she has the right to be angry--and to stay angry forever. Watching Pam go from devastated to...well, I won't give it away, but let's just stay, it's a story you don't want to miss. 
  I loved the story. The book kept me glued to it there was no putting it down. Wonderful characters.