Authors: Frank Peretti
THE DRIVER OF
the car was Claire, a wonderful friend and counselor for not only Lucy, but many people of all walks of life around the town. She was a beautiful woman with blonde hair arranged neatly around her head and adorned with combs and pins that twinkled and shined. Her blouse and long skirt, both of beautifully woven natural fibers, draped about her like regal robes, and in Lucy’s eyes Claire
a real queen. She and her architect male friend Jon were the perfect couple, constantly growing together in self-realization and harmony and becoming an enduring example to all their friends.
As Lucy climbed in, Claire leaned over and gave her a hug. “And how are you, Lucy?”
“Oh . . . coping,” she answered, finding her seat belt.
Claire pulled out of the Post Office parking lot and headed down Front Street.
“And how is Amber?” she asked.
“She’s doing all right. I didn’t tell her we’d be coming by today. I didn’t want to cause any alarm before we had to.”
“I’m going to take her back to the elementary school on Monday and see if I can get her worked into her classes there again. Miss Brewer doesn’t think she’ll have too much trouble catching up and just finishing out the year.”
“Oh, no, not Amber, and it’s so close to the end of the year anyway.”
They drove through town and then turned onto 187th, commonly called Pond Road because it passed by a large and popular cattailed
pond some two miles west. Along with the street sign naming the road was another sign pointing the direction to the Good Shepherd Community Church and the Good Shepherd Academy.
“I think John and Paula will be there today,” said Claire. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“I guess not. I haven’t even met them yet.”
“Well, you’ll find they’re wonderful people. I’m glad we’ll be working with them on this thing. Reporters aren’t always as courteous as they are.”
Lucy was quiet for a moment, just watching the farmlands and small forests go by.
Finally she said, “Why did we have to bring in the press?”
“Oh, it’s very simple. In a case like this, public opinion is important. It’s the public mind that eventually creates the laws we all have to live by. You see, we fight our battles at two levels: in the courts and in the public arena. A lot of the cases we win today came about because of public opinion that was molded years ago. What we do now to mold public opinion will have a positive effect on legal cases that arise in the future. It’s a process.”
“I just don’t know if Amber can go through it.”
Claire smiled with confidence. “Oh, Amber’s a strong little soldier. She can do it. I was impressed with how she spoke right up and told everything to our staff, and Dr. Mandanhi, and even Mrs. Bledsoe.”
Lucy was bitter. “
You mean ‘Amethyst,’ don’t you?”
Claire smiled and nodded. “Yes, you’re right. But that doesn’t matter. It’s still Amber, really. Amethyst is a good friend for Amber because she bears the burden of what happened and speaks so freely, something Amber could never do as herself.”
Lucy smiled a nervous smile. “But you know . . . I don’t think I like Amethyst.”
Lucy laughed too, hoping that statement would not be taken as seriously as she meant it. “I mean . . . Amethyst is just so brash and disrespectful . . . And I think Amber’s getting away with a lot by blaming it on Amethyst.”
“Well, you should put a stop to that, of course.”
“But you see what I’m worried about? I think I would trust Amber
to tell the truth . . . and I would know what she was thinking and feeling. But I just don’t know about Amethyst. I never know what she’ll say next!” Lucy shook her head to think she was even having such a conversation. “I need a set of reins for that little critter!”
Claire only laughed again. “Oh, don’t be afraid of Amethyst. Inner guides are always trustworthy, and Amber needs that support and fellowship for what’s ahead.”
“Oh, I can see that.”
But Lucy didn’t feel any better, and Claire noticed.
“What else?” Claire asked.
“Since we’re talking about Amethyst . . .”
“Did you see that other article in the paper, about Sally Roe?”
Claire knew about it. “Lucy, really that’s no concern of yours. You shouldn’t even think such a thing!”
Lucy was close to tears. “But how can I help it?”
Claire stole several looks at Lucy as she drove. “Listen to me. It’s not Amber’s fault. I had some friends check out Sally Roe the moment you told me what happened in the Post Office. From what I’ve heard, Sally Roe was a deeply disturbed individual. She was tormented with self-doubt and guilt, and she could never break through . . . She was a karmic mess! Amber had nothing to do with her killing herself. She would have done it anyway.”
Lucy shook her head and stared out the window. “But if you could have been there . . . if you could have seen that woman’s face when . . . when
just tore into her. And I couldn’t get her to stop. Amber just wouldn’t snap out of it.”
Claire patted Lucy’s hand. “Let it go. Sally Roe is gone, fulfilling her own path wherever it takes her. You have your own, and so does Amber. You need to be thinking about that.”
Lucy finally nodded. They were getting close to the Christian school, and she was feeling nervous. “I just hope this whole thing goes all right. I hope we know what we’re doing.”
Claire was firm. “I think it’s something we must do. Religious bigotry is everyone’s enemy. I think we would be denying our responsibility not to do anything.”
There wasn’t time to say any more. Claire was slowing the car down
and signaling for a turn. There, on the left, stood the Good Shepherd Community Church, a simple brick building with gabled roof, traditional arched windows, and a bell tower. It was a landmark around Bacon’s Corner, the home of several different congregations over the years; some had died out, some had moved on and new groups had come in, but it remained through it all for almost a century, a steadfast monument to tenacious Christianity. This latest congregation seemed to be setting a new record for endurance; it had been there in the church for almost fifteen years, and the current pastor had hung on for at least eight.
Claire pulled into the parking lot between the church and the Good Shepherd Academy, a simple, shed-roofed portable sitting on posts and piers. There were four vehicles parked in the lot at the moment. Two must have belonged to the school staff; the station wagon belonged to John Ziegler and Paula the photographer, and the large white van was clearly marked, “KBZT Channel Seven News.”
crew?” asked Lucy in surprise.
“Oh, right,” said Claire. “I didn’t tell you about that. The people from Channel Seven thought this would make a good news story.”
The two men from Channel Seven were already prepared for Claire and Lucy’s arrival, and bolted from the van as soon as their car pulled in. The cameraman set the camera on his shoulder and started watching the news with one eye. The other man, a young, athletic sort with suit and tie above the waist and jeans below, stepped up and greeted Claire as she got out of the car.
“Hey, right on time!” he said, shaking her hand.
“Hi, Chad. Good to see you again.”
“This is Roberto.”
Roberto smiled back, looking at her through the camera.
Lucy got out of the car a little hesitantly.
Claire introduced her. “Chad and Roberto, this is Lucy Brandon, the mother.”
“Hi there. Chad Davis. This is Roberto Gutierrez.”
“Are they going to take my picture?”
“Do you mind?” asked Chad.
“It’ll be all right,” Claire assured her.
Lucy just shrugged.
John Ziegler and Paula were there, ready to go. Claire greeted them, and Lucy just smiled.
The door to the portable opened, and a man looked out. At the sight of this band of people gathered in the parking lot, his face went pale; he looked sick.
He was, of course, Tom Harris.
Claire raised her hand in greeting, said, “Oh, hello there,” and started walking toward the portable, the others following close behind.
No, Lord, no . . .
If I could just close this door and never come out
, Tom thought.
If I could just call down fire from Heaven to clear these people out of my life, to make them go away . . . Haven’t they done enough to me?
Tom had been on the telephone most of the morning, riding the carousel of state bureaucracy while trying to teach his classes, and he still had not found his children. The last word he got was from the CPD, and they were emphatically refusing to tell him of the children’s whereabouts. Pastor Howard still wasn’t back, everyone else was at work, and nothing was happening fast enough.
Lord, I just wish these people would go away. I wish this day would end.
Tom looked back inside. Two kids, one third-grade, one fourth, were getting curious.
“Hey . . . TV!” said the little girl.
Tom was being recorded on camera this very moment. At least addressing the child would give him a chance to turn his back.
“Sammie, go sit down—this is none of your concern. Clay, are you finished? Well, put it on my desk and start the next page. I’ll check it right after lunch, all right?”
“Mr. Harris?” said Claire, coming up the wooden steps.
“My name is Claire Johanson. I’m a legal assistant for Ames, Jefferson, and Morris. I’m here representing Mrs. Lucy Brandon, whom you know. May we speak with you briefly?”
“This has been a very difficult day for me, Mrs. Johanson . . .”
“I have nothing to say to any more reporters. I’ve had quite enough.”
“This is a legal matter, Mr. Harris.”
Oh terrific. What more could go wrong?
Tom knew better than to embark on any conversation in the presence of big-eared reporters and a television camera. “Why don’t you come inside?” Then he made it clear. “You and Mrs. Brandon. These others can wait out here.”
He stepped aside and let the two women come in, then closed the door against the reporters.
They were standing in a common lunchroom/coat room/library between two classrooms. Tom poked his head into the classroom on the right. A first- and second-grade class of about ten children was puttering away at some low worktables, coloring, pasting, and keeping the level of noise just below their teacher’s established limit.
A plump, middle-aged woman stepped out of the classroom. Her cheeks were rosy and her hair tightly permed. Her eyes immediately showed alarm at the sight of Lucy Brandon and this officious-looking woman beside her.
“We have some important visitors,” Tom explained quietly. “Could you please oversee my class for a few minutes?”
“Certainly,” said Mrs. Fields, unable to take her eyes off the two women.
“They’re doing their reading assignments right now, and should be finished by 10. Clay’s on a special project I gave him; just make sure he puts it on my desk.”
She nodded and crossed over to look in on the third- through sixth-graders.
“Let’s step into the office,” said Tom, and led the way to a small cubicle in the back of the building containing one desk, a computer, a copy machine, and two file cabinets. There was hardly room for three people to sit down. Tom offered the ladies the only two chairs and chose to stand, leaning against the file cabinets.
Claire wasted no time. “Mr. Harris, we’re here to remove Amber from the school. We’d like to have all her academic records.”
Tom kept cool and businesslike. “I’ll check with our secretary and have those prepared for you. You understand that all tuition payments must be current before the records can be released.”
Claire looked at Lucy as she said, “All the payments will be taken
care of. We’d like to process this as soon as possible.”
“Certainly.” Tom looked at Lucy. “I’m sorry that we weren’t able to discuss this . . .”
Claire interjected, “There is nothing to discuss.” With that, she rose, and Lucy did the same. “Now if you’ll let Amber know we’re here . . .”
The two women went out into the common room, and Tom followed.
Tom just wasn’t satisfied. “Uh, this is a bit of a surprise. I take it we weren’t able to resolve things to your satisfaction?”
Claire began to answer, “No, Mr. Harris—”
“The question was addressed to Mrs. Brandon,” Tom said politely but firmly. He looked at Lucy. “It’s been a month since we had that little problem. We talked it through, and I thought everything was settled. If you still had some doubts or misgivings, I certainly would have welcomed another meeting with you.”
“Would you call Amber, please?” said Claire.
Tom poked his head in the door of the classroom and quietly called, “Amber? Your mother is here. Better get your coat and your things.”
There were eighteen third- through sixth-graders in the classroom, each seated at a small desk, and all the desks were arranged in neat rows. Posters of nature, astronomy, the alphabet, and tips on cleanliness adorned the walls. Against one wall a large aquarium gurgled, and nearby a donated telescope stood poised to probe the heavens. There were pots of pea plants all lined up and labeled on a table, and next to them a family of hamsters in a large, activity-filled cage.
At the second from the last desk, fourth now, was Amber Brandon, a bright, clever, slightly mischievous fourth-grader with a full, often wild head of blonde hair and large blue eyes. She was wearing a purple jumpsuit and pink tennis shoes, and on her shoulder, a little pin of a toy horse.
She was surprised to hear that her mother had come, but also a bit excited. She hurriedly closed her workbook, gathered up her textbooks and her pencil box, and came to the door.