PAM--FIRST CHAPTER & REVIEWS



THE WOMEN OF VALLEY VIEW: PAM

Prologue

  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 queensized
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.


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 Outdated hairstyles, long satin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 another pill.


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.


“What…?”


“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?"

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?"


"Yes."


"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 fortyeight
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 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?"

1
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
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."


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 name sent a shudder
up her spine.


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. "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."


"Pam—"


"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 the truth is, Alan has the
right to live anywhere he wants."


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 graceinduced
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?"


"Pam—"


"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. 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 worse than adultery clogged her throat. She
swallowed what she wouldn’t 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."


"What?"


"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 and wished it was just anger she had
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. "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 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 in front 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 rededicated
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."


"Alan—"


"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."


"No."


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."


"But—"


"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
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."


Purchase THE WOMEN OF VALLEY VIEW: PAM
HERE 

PRAISE FOR PAM

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. 
***