The church parking lot was empty when Abigail Coleman parked her car in an empty spot near the door. Not that she had expected anything different. Saturday morning seemed an odd time to have a Bible study, especially for ladies who worked all week long and probably looked forward to a little quality time with their children. But Abby knew she had the day and time right. She had checked and double checked so often that the church secretary probably thought she was a stalker or something.
Abby checked her watch. She was about 20 minutes early. That was not a bad thing, was it? Her parents had always said, “On-time is late and late is unacceptable”. Though it most likely stemmed from her father’s pet peeve of anyone interrupting one of his sermons by walking in late, the phrase had always stuck with her. Abby was rarely anything but early to any event.
Being the first one there also gave Abby a little time to think and remember. It had been ten years since her father had pastored here at Faith Community Church. When the family moved on, Abby was 13. Though they had not left the church under the best of circumstances, she had always thought of this as her home church. No other place felt the same, not even the church she was married in. And after Jesse’s funeral, she knew there was no way she could go back there anyway.
She climbed out of the car, shaking her head to clear away the sad thoughts. As she did, Abby nearly fell forward, off balance from the bulging belly that she couldn’t quite get used to. She grabbed the steering wheel with her right hand and the open car door with her left. The last thing she needed to do was fall and be unable to get herself up off the ground.
What an impression that would make on the other ladies.
When she felt steady enough on her feet, Abby picked up her leather Bible and her purse from the front seat of the car. She stood up straight and closed the door, reaching her left hand behind her to rub her lower back as she did. “Six more weeks,” she whispered. “Just six more weeks and this will be over.”
She began to waddle slowly toward the parsonage beside the church. A smile spread across her face when she saw that the old swing set was still standing. She remembered all too well the fights her father had with the church board and some of the congregation about that swing set. Abby never really understood what the big deal about that set was. Some wanted it, some didn’t. Abby just thought they should concentrate on what God wanted, and leave it at that. Today, though, she was very grateful that her father had fought to have it erected. Situated halfway between the back door of the church and the front door of parsonage, the sturdy wooden swing set provided a perfect spot for a pregnant woman to rest her feet.
At least it would have been perfect if there was such a thing as a perfect spot for an eight month pregnant woman to sit.
A sigh escaped her lips as Abby lowered herself onto one of the empty swings. She couldn’t have walked more than fifty yards, yet she was out of breath and her feet ached already. That was something else Abby couldn’t get used to. The awkwardness of her growing and ever shifting belly was something that she had been prepared for. But she had not expected the fatigue. Abby had been a state champion runner in high school. For the first six months of her pregnancy, until the weight of the baby made it impossible for her to keep up the schedule, she had run, jogged, or walked every morning and every evening, for at least a mile each time. Everyone had told her that being physically active would make the pregnancy easier.
“If this is easy,” she muttered with a smile, rubbing her belly in response to the kicking she felt, “I would hate to see what other women go through.”
She sat for a moment, swinging gently. Though Abby didn’t really mind being the first to arrive, she was unsure if she wanted to be the first one to walk into the Bible study. The secretary had told her that the women took turns hosting the weekly study. This week the hostess was Lorna Davis, the pastor’s wife. Abby had met her the previous Sunday. She didn’t have a very good first impression of the woman. She told herself that Lorna was just rushed that morning. Abby remembered her mother being the same way on Sundays and assumed that was normal for the wife of the senior pastor. Still, she had the feeling the older woman was not really as pleased to meet her as she let on.
“It is just your imagination,” Abby told herself, brushing the strands of her long black hair out of eyes as the swing moved slowly forward and backward. Sure, Mrs. Davis had been pleasant. She said all the right words, even giving Abby a stiff hug. But it was the look in her eyes that concerned the younger woman. Abby couldn’t help but notice the smile never quite made it to Mrs. Davis’ eyes.
Abby had spent much of the week wondering what she might have done to upset the pastor’s wife. She had even talked to her mother about her worries. Her mother laughed her off.
“Oh, Abby! We told you that Faith Community is going through a very difficult time right now. Lorna is a wonderful, lovely woman. She is just under a lot of stress right now.”
Abby was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear another car pull into the parking lot. It was not until a cheerful voice called out, “Oh, hello there!” that Abby knew she was no longer alone. She looked to the parking lot and smiled. Walking toward her was the young blonde woman who had first invited Abby to this Bible study. Abby waved at Emily and stood up.
“It is good to see you,” Emily said with a smile. A smile, Abby noted, that looked genuinely heartfelt. “I was really hoping you would make it.”
“I was a little unsure at first,” Abby admitted. “I didn’t want to intrude or anything.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Emily said. She shifted the load in her arms, which consisted of her Bible, a large black bag, and a wicker basket. “The more the merrier.”
“Can I help you with that?” Abby asked, reaching a hand out.
“If you could just take the Bible,” Emily said. She eyed Abby’s protruding belly and added, “It looks like you are already carrying enough of a load without taking on mine. Your due date must be coming up.”
“Just a month and a half away,” she said.
“Is this your first?”
Emily smiled wider. “Oh, I remember that excitement. Shane, my husband, got more nervous the closer we came to the due date with our first one. When I went into labor, he actually asked if there was a way to stop it because he was not ready yet.”
Another strong kick had Abby again rubbing her belly. “I’m ready to have her now,” she said. “I don’t want to be pregnant a moment longer than necessary.” She felt another kick. “Ugh. Why do some women do this more than once?”
Emily threw her head back and laughed. Abby felt the smile on her own face widen. For the first time, she knew she had made the right choice in coming back to Jackson for her fresh start in life. She had some memories, but most of the people she had known had moved on. And all of them were older now. Abby was suddenly certain that this could be home, that she could make friends, and that her past did not have to define her future.