Emily was not sure how she made it home that afternoon. Once she got in the door, she slammed it shut and locked it. Then she double and even triple checked to be sure the lock was in place. She was still shaking from the horrible story Abby had told her. How she had the strength to go through something like that Emily didn’t understand.
She thought about the times that Scriptures talked about God giving strength to his people when they needed it. With all that Abby had been through, Emily had no doubt that God was working overtime to strengthen her life.
Emily wanted to call Lorna Davis. She would have liked nothing more at that moment than to tell the older woman everything she had learned from Abby that morning. Maybe that would get her to cut the new girl a little slack.
But she didn’t pick up the phone. She had promised Abby that she would keep it all to herself.
“It isn’t that I’m ashamed or anything,” Abby had said after telling Emily everything that happened to her. “It’s just that I don’t think it is anyone else’s business.”
Emily had asked her friend how she could be so calm about this. Abby had smiled at her and said, “I wish things had happened differently in my life. If I had my way, Jesse would still be alive and we would be awaiting the birth of this baby—of OUR baby—together. But that is not how God planned out my life. He has brought me through all of this. I just have to trust that he knows what he is doing.”
As she settled down at the desk in her home office, Emily found herself shaking her head. She had not met anyone with that kind of faith in years, not since her college days when she first met Shane. And even he had not had a faith as strong as what Abby was showing now.
After hearing Abby talk about her Jesse, Emily vowed to herself and to God that she would never take her own husband for granted again. During their nearly 10 years of marriage, Emily and Shane had faced the in “sickness and in health” and the “For richer, for poorer” aspects of their vows. They had held up pretty well through all the storms that had come along. She didn’t want to think how she would hold up if “till death do us part” came anytime soon.
Emily wiggled the computer mouse to wake up the machine. Before getting to work on plans for the teen girls’ Bible study she was planning to begin soon, she thought she would send a little email to Shane. Just in case he forgot how much she did love him, she wanted to surprise him with a few romantic thoughts.
Instead, when the monitor came to life, Emily was the one who got the surprise.
The images she saw on the screen caused Emily’s stomach to turn. There were women in various stages of undress staring seductively back at her. She tried to think of who had used the computer last. Could Cameron or Candace have found this trash? At age five, Cameron liked to practice typing the words he was learning in kindergarten. It was possible that he could have accidently navigated to this site. Possible though very unlikely, Emily thought.
It was more likely that one of the young men from the youth group had purposely looked for this. There had been a few over the evening before, playing games with Shane. She would have to remember to talk to Shane about this. They needed to make sure the kids in the youth group—boys and girls—understood viewing pornography was not an appropriate thing and would not be tolerated in their home.
Emily quickly closed the window. Then to be sure her kids could not accidently stumble on it, she opened the internet history page. Just as she was about to click “Clear History”, Emily noticed something shocking. She could feel the color drain from her face as she read the names of the sites, almost all with words like voyeur or peep show or panties in them, and then saw the times the computer had logged these sites as being accessed. She double checked that the computer clock was accurate. It was. No way could these sites have been accessed by the kids. Cameron would never have been able to accidently open all of those sites and none of the teens wouldn’t have been at her home at 2 in the morning. That left only two possibilities. Either Emily had looked or Shane had.
She knew she was not the one who had visited those sites. The thought that her husband could be leaving their bed to look at these pictures disgusted her to the point of physical illness. Emily jumped out of her chair and ran for the nearest bathroom, barely bending over the toilet before the contents of her stomach spewed out of her mouth.
When she was sure her stomach was empty, Emily slowly made her way back to the computer. Maybe this was some kind of a terrible practical joke. Perhaps the computer had been hacked into and someone was trying to make it look like Shane was watching pornographic videos.
“That has to be it,” Emily said. “Shane has no need to look at these sites.”
She was very confident in that. They had never had any problems in the bedroom. Emily always attributed that to Shane’s insistence that they save nearly all physical contact for the honeymoon.
That suggestion had seemed very foreign to Emily when Shane first made it. No other man she had ever met, let alone dated, had such standards. With her limited experience, it was odd to think that she was the more experienced of the two.
Emily was a virgin when she met Shane. She had dated at least two boys who would have been happy to change that, and one that had done everything he could think of to change it. Had his family not come home an hour before they were expected, Emily knew that afternoon would have ended differently. As it was, she was topless when her high school boyfriend’s younger sister walked in on them. She had been angry at the time, but later on was grateful she had not gone through with anything she might regret.
She glanced at the computer and shook her head. No way could she believe that sex had now become so important to Shane, such a priority in his life that he would turn to pornographic videos. Emily was not naive enough to think that men never turn to pornography. But a happily married youth pastor? Would a man like that really jeopardize his family, his career with this filth?
With a sigh, Emily moved away from the computer and toward the bookcase. She reached up to the top shelf, her fingers quickly finding the spine of a white satin photo album. She carried the book gingerly to the armchair in the corner of the home office. Shane used that chair for preparing his youth lessons. Situated in front of a large window that faced the open fields in the back of the house, Shane said that view made him feel closer to God and helped him to focus on what he should be teaching the kids of Faith Community Church. Emily settled into the chair, folding her legs, as Cameron would say, cris-cross applesauce beneath her. She opened the photo album across her lap. At that moment, she wanted to feel the peace of being as close as possible to God’s presence.
Emily felt that familiar tingle in her spine as she looked at the carefully arranged photos in her wedding album. The book contained memories from not only their wedding day, but every moment that led up to it. With a smile, Emily leaned against the back of the chair, losing herself in the early memories of their courtship.
Emily’s friends had told her all about freshman orientation weekend at the various colleges and universities they planned to attend. She listened to all their stories with a twinge of jealousy. The beautiful campuses, the clubs her friends wanted to join, the parties they had attended…. It all sounded like part of the perfect college experience that Emily had always dreamed of.
The college experience she knew she was not going to have.
Instead of enjoying a good time, Emily was stuck here, at orientation weekend for the incoming freshman class of Hampton Bible College.
This was so not the school she wanted to go to. Emily’s eyes had been on much bigger schools—the University of Michigan, the Ohio State University, Purdue. She was not real picky about it. All of them offered the communications program she wanted, and all of them came with the possibility of unlimited party time. What they didn’t come with, though, was paid tuition. Her high school grades, though respectable, were not high enough to warrant the kind of scholarships she would need. Grandpa and Grandma Oswald offered to pay her entire school bill, with one stipulation—that they choose the school she would attend.
So though it meant sacrificing four years of partying and meeting who knew how many hot guys, Emily gave up her dreams of an education at a big state school and settled for what she could get—four years of preaching at Hampton.
To her great surprise, Emily found there was a party while she was visiting campus. It was more of an ice cream social, but it was close enough. At least it was more than she had expected. There was music—decent music and not just the annoying hymns her grandparents were always listening to—and boys. Emily was pleasantly surprised to see that some of the boys on the Hampton campus were even good looking. One in particular caught her eye. She had seen him looking at her once or twice, and was glad for the extra time she had taken with her clothing and make up that evening.
She turned to Meghan, the sophomore who had been assigned as Emily’s guide for the weekend. “Who is that?” she asked, motioning toward the sandy haired young man in the corner.
Meghan sighed and smiled. In sort of a dreamy, far away sounding voice, she said, “That’s Shane Hartly. He’ll be a junior this fall.”
“He must have a girlfriend or two,” Emily said, struggling to tear her eyes away from him. “He is just so yummy.”
“That he is,” Meghan agreed. “But as far as I know he is single. Shane is in the ministry training program. He is much more interested in his studies than in dating.”
“What a shame,” Emily said. Silently, she asked herself, Why are the hot ones either gay or Jesus freaks? That somehow didn’t seem to be an appropriate question to ask right then. She took a sip of her punch.
Throughout the evening, Emily found her eyes continually drawn to Shane Hartly. She couldn’t say why. Yeah, OK, so he was good looking. So good looking didn’t seem a strong enough word to describe the way this particular young man looked. His hair was a little on the long side and maybe a bit scraggly, but it was neat at the same time. His eyes, she could tell even from a distance, were an emerald shade of green. He seemed to laugh a lot, causing Emily to assume that he had a good sense of humor. She could almost hear her grandmother telling her, “Good looking, nice sense of humor, loves the Lord. Emmy, this is the one for you.”
Why was it as difficult to ignore Nana’s voice in her head as it was to ignore Nana’s voice in person?
The more she tried to ignore Shane, the more she was drawn to him. Seeing him smile made her heart do this funny little leap. Emily found herself smiling in response to that leap.
At some point in the evening, Emily’s smile caught Shane’s attention. He excused himself from the group he was talking to, walked over to Emily, and said, “Hi, I’m Shane. Welcome to Hampton.”
He held out his hand for Emily to shake. She suppressed a little laugh. That seemed an awfully formal greeting for someone his age. At the same time, it seemed right coming from him. Emily shook his head and said, “Thanks, I’m Emily.”
They talked for a while, getting to know the basics about each other. For a moment, Emily was so lost in the conversation that she forgot there were other people around. She was not sure she liked that feeling. Her mother had talked about that, about how when she first met Emily’s dad she knew he was the one for her because the rest of the world just sort of slipped away. That couldn’t be happening to Emily, not with this Jesus freak.
No matter how hot he was.
As they talked, she purposely let the f-bomb slip once or twice, making sure to stand close enough to Shane that he could smell the cigarette smoke on her breath. She knew that sort of language was against the rules at Hampton and that she would have to work on at least hiding her smoking better. Still, she wanted to see how Shane would react to it. She expected him to run away as fast as he could, but he didn’t. To her surprise Shane didn’t even flinch.
That only increased Emily’s intrigue.
Shane was one of the first people that Emily ran into a few weeks later when she actually moved to campus. He was one of the upperclassmen who had volunteered to help move new students into their dorm room. When he saw Emily, he smiled and immediately headed in her direction. They worked together to get all of her belongings into the tiny room she was sharing with a girl from North Carolina. When they were finished, Shane asked Emily to join him for lunch.
She hesitated with an answer. She remembered what Shane had told her at their first meeting, that he was not interested in dating just anyone. He intended to wait until he met the girl God intended to be his wife. “God has someone special out there for me,” he had said to her. “When I meet her, He will let me know. Until then, I’m focusing on Him and on my studies.” And now he was asking her to lunch. Emily didn’t really understand how Shane could possibly think she was the woman God wanted him to marry, but she knew that was not a possibility she even wanted to consider.
As if he sensed what she was thinking, Shane laughed. “It is no big deal,” he said. “I just had plans with some friends to meet for lunch today. I thought you might like to meet some of them. And it might be helpful to know what is edible in there and what to avoid.”
Emily laughed. “Oh, OK.” She followed Shane to the cafeteria, wondering why in the world she was going. Did she really want to spend her first day on campus hanging out with Shane and the other religious nuts, er, ministry students?
She was pleasantly surprised to learn that not all of Shane’s friends were in the ministry program. They all seemed to have a dedication to God that was similar to Shane’s. But Emily found that easy to overlook when she found out they were also all part of the school’s drama club. As they talked about their project for the fall—a performance of Charlie Brown especially for the young kids in the area—Emily found herself drawn in by their enthusiasm. She was soon so excited about the play that she agreed to help with painting sets for the show.
The friendship between Emily and Shane grew as they worked together on that play. Slowly, she began to see that his faith was not as embarrassing to her as she had first thought. Not that she was really considering making a commitment herself. Religion, faith and God, she decided, were OK for some people, but she was just not into it herself.
That didn’t change until the Tuesday after midterms. Emily returned to her dorm room after her morning class just in time to answer a phone call from her mother. Grandpa Oswald had been taken to the hospital with chest pains that morning. While the doctors were waiting for tests, he had a massive heart attack. Emily was having trouble processing everything her mother was telling her. How could Grandpa be sick? She felt her own heart stop beating for a moment when Mom said, “Honey, he passed away about an hour ago.”
They talked for a while more, though Emily didn’t want to. All she wanted to do was go home. She wanted to be with her family, to hug Nana, to see with her own eyes that this was real and not some cruel joke. Mom promised to call her again after some arrangements had been made. Until then, Emily felt there was nothing to do. She took hold of her book bag and ran out the door. Her college education had been important to both of her grandparents. The best way she could think to honor Grandpa right then was by studying.
She thought briefly about praying, but didn’t know what good that would do. It was too late for Grandpa, and she was sure that the rest of the family was already praying for Nana. God would just laugh at her prayer anyway. He would know Emily was only doing it because it seemed like the “right thing” to do.
Sitting on a bench under an oak tree, Emily found it difficult to concentrate on the words in her chemistry book. Between the falling oak leaves and her own falling tears, it was near impossible to read the text.
She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there, her body shaking with sobs, before a group of her drama friends walked by. They stopped, their concern for her apparent in their faces and the words they spoke. Emily told them everything that had happened that morning, and how desperately she wanted to be with her family. “I have no way to get there,” she sobbed on the shoulder of one of the girls. “It will take at least four hours for someone to get to me and then four hours to get back home, if anyone even comes. Mom does not want me to miss classes, so I don’t know that anyone is going to come get me before the weekend. How I’m supposed to just stay here, doing nothing, for the week? I feel so helpless!”
“I can drive you home,” Shane said.
Emily looked up at her friend, searching his face for some sign that he was joking. She could see none.
Shane knelt on the ground in front of her. “I have a car,” he said. “As soon as you are ready, we can leave, so long as you give me directions.”
“But what about your classes?” she asked. “I don’t want you to miss anything.”
Shane shrugged. “Right now, this more important. I can make up any work that I need to.”
It was settled then. Shane headed to his dorm to pack a bag, while Emily, supported by a couple of the drama girls, went back to her own room. As she packed up a few clothes and her class books, Renee, Beth, and Lesley took out Emily’s class schedule and began calling all of her professors. They explained the family emergency, quickly receiving permission for Emily to miss classes and promises of prayers for the family. “Is there anything more that we can do for you?” the girls asked.
Emily shook her head. “I just have to call home,” she said. “Mom will probably try to talk me out of leaving. I wouldn’t call at all except that she will worry if she calls and I’m not here.”
“I could just stay and wait for her call,” Renee, the petite blonde who was playing Sally in Charlie Brown, offered. “That way, she won’t be able to tell you to stay. I will tell her that you got a ride home and let her know what time you left.”
Emily was touched beyond words by the love and concern these girls were showing. They had only known her for a few weeks, but were doing all they could to make this difficult time a little easier on her. She agreed to Renee’s suggestion. The girls then walked Emily to the lobby of her dorm. Shane was already there, talking to Meghan, the girl who had showed Emily around campus during orientation weekend. She gave Emily a quick hug, and then asked if she could pray for her. Emily nodded. Her new friends joined hands in a circle around her. They prayed that Shane and Emily would have a safe trip and that God would surround Emily and her family with his peace and strength in the coming days. She could say nothing as her friends each hugged her.
Shane took her bag and led her out to his waiting car. He said nothing as they headed for the highway. Emily gave him basic directions to her hometown. She dried her eyes, and then began talking about her grandfather. Four hours later, as they pulled into Emily’s parents’ driveway, she felt like she had shared every possible story of her grandfather with Shane.
When she walked into the house, Emily was not sure if her parents were more surprised to see her or to see her with a young man. She didn’t ask, either. She simply introduced Shane to her family, and then sat down with them to hear what arrangements had been made.
The following Saturday, Shane sat beside Emily during her grandfather’s funeral. She had not expected him to stay the whole week with her, but was so glad that he had. Just having a friend beside her helped her find a strength she didn’t know she had.
The stories she heard about Grandpa Oswald stayed with Emily long after the funeral. She was still thinking about them Sunday evening, as she and Shane drove back to Hampton College. About two hours into their drive, she asked Shane if he was hungry. She knew they would be back too late for dinner, and was beginning to feel hungry herself.
Shane pulled into a Denny’s just off the highway. They each ordered a burger with fries and Cokes. Even after the food was delivered, Emily sat idly stirring the ice around her glass with her straw, a lit cigarette burning in the ash tray beside her.
“You might want to eat that before it gets cold,” Shane suggested after swallowing a bite of his burger.
“What?” Emily said absently. “Oh, yeah, I should eat.” She picked up a fry and took a small bite. Even though she knew she was hungry, she was sort of distracted. She pushed aside her plate and said, “I just can’t stop thinking about Grandpa.”
“That makes sense,” Shane said. “You just want to hang on to those memories.”
Emily shook her head. “It is more than that, Shane. I always thought of him as this old, washed up preacher man. All he did was talk about Jesus this and God that. It felt like he was constantly pushing his beliefs down my throat. I loved him, but at the same time resented that I was not good enough for him. He even tried to force his beliefs on me by forcing me to come to Hampton instead of going to a school that I wanted to go to.”
Shane wisely said nothing. He continued munching on his meal as Emily went on.
“But then I heard what everybody said about him at the funeral. I knew about all the stuff he had done while he was a pastor. But I didn’t know about all that he did after he retired.” She paused to take a sip of her Coke. Emily picked up the cigarette and held it near her lips. She made a bitter face, and then stamped out the burning end, grinding it harder than necessary into the bottom of the ash tray. “Like the things he did for his neighbor. Raking her leaves and shoveling her snow and making sure that she and her kids had enough to eat after he husband left…. He didn’t even do it for the money, just did it because it felt good.” She shook her head slowly. “I never knew that about him.”
“Sometimes we learn more about those we love after they are gone,” Shane said.
“And then it is too late,” Emily said. “After they die, it is too late for what you learn to do any good.”
“Not necessarily,” Shane told her. “If what you are learning about your grandfather makes you love him more, than it is definitely doing something good in your life.”
“It is not just making me love him more,” Emily said, her voice thick from the tears she was fighting. “It is making me want to be more like him.” She reached across the table and gently covered Shane’s hand with her own. “I want to be more like Grandpa and more like you,” she told him. “I want that love you both have, that peace.”
“You know how to get it, right?” Shane asked. Emily nodded. “You know what you have to do?”
“Yes,” she said. “Shane, will you pray with me?”
Shane pulled a chair around the table so that he was sitting right beside Emily instead of across from her. She turned to face him. Clasping hands in that Denny’s dining room, they bowed their heads. Shane said a silent prayer of thanks as he led his friend through a prayer for salvation.
Emily tossed a half-full pack of cigarettes into the trash can as they walked out of the restaurant. If Shane had thought that was just for show, she soon proved him wrong. She was done with smoking and done with swearing. When she was back in her dorm room, the first thing she did was pull out the Bible her grandparents had given her as a graduation gift. She sat crossed-legged on her bed and opened the leather cover. She smiled at the simple inscription, in her grandfather’s often hard to decipher handwriting.
“We pray that this will someday soon become your favorite book. Proverbs 22:6. Love, Grandpa and Nana.”
She quickly turned to the verse he had mentioned. “Grandpa, I may have turned from the right path,” she whispered, “but I have found my way back.”
That Wednesday, she was sitting in the college and career class at the church near campus where Shane was active. She heard someone mention a weekly Bible study especially for the women in the group, and Emily decided to start attending. That Sunday morning, she sat beside Shane for the morning worship service.
Before long, Emily began to think of Shane as more than just a friend. Maybe he was the man God intended for her husband. She didn’t mention that to him, though. If God meant for them to be more than just the best of friends, he was going to have tell Shane.
Shane graduated from Hampton at the end of Emily’s sophomore year. Right after the ceremony, he pulled her aside. Still wearing his cap and gown, Shane knelt on one knee in front of Emily and produced a small black velvet box from his pocket. Shane was barely able to get the proposal out of his mouth before Emily was screaming, “YES!”
As she flipped through the pages of her photo album, Emily felt a single tear fall down her cheek. For the first time, she wondered if there were other secrets that Shane was hiding from her. She didn’t want to believe the porn sites were something he had visited. If she asked him, would he deny it? Would she be able to believe him, no matter what the truth was?
Did she even really want to ask him?
Sex had never been a top priority with Shane. Not that their sex life was nonexistent or anything. Even after eight years of marriage, a time when many of her high school friends had mentioned the physical thrill going out of their marriages, Emily and Shane still felt that strong attraction to each other. Sex was just something that Shane had always said was a gift from God. Even after their engagement, they were careful about showing any sort of physical affection. But once they were married…. Well, Emily thought it was amazing that they only had the two children.
She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t even hear the front door open. Shane was standing in the office doorway, staring at Emily when she finally noticed he was even in the house.
“Hey, Em,” he said. He tilted his head to one side, concern in his eyes. “I was about to ask how your day went,” he told her, stepping closer to her, “but it looks like you’ve had a rough one.”
“You could say that.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Emily said. She closed the photo album and stood up, slipping past her husband without touching him to put it back on the top shelf of the book case. “I don’t really want to talk about it, but I think we should.”
“Sounds pretty serious,” Shane said.
She said nothing to him, just walked over to the computer. Emily wiggled the mouse to wake up the machine, called up the internet browser history, and motioned for Shane to take a look. When he didn’t move, she looked up at him.
Any hope she was still harboring that this was a mistake disappeared when she caught sight of his face. All the color had drained out and he had that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. Emily knew without a doubt that each one of those websites had been visited by her husband.
She had never felt so worthless and unloved in her whole life.