July is gone, and what have we accomplished this month?

Well, let’s see. Two major accomplishments in the world of Lydia Hope are the publication of Family Affair on July 1st, and this here website on the 31st. So, yay, me.

To be honest, the website gave me as much, if not more, heartburn than producing a full length novel. Writing concisely and to a point is hard!

But since it’s been a Family Affair month, I’d like to ruminate a little on this work, the latest of my babies. Interestingly enough, this story was conceived a long-long time ago, and it was the first manuscript I ever completed. For several years it collected dust, and the story underwent numerous revisions along the way, but there you have it, it was my first finished work as an author. Publishing it meant a lot to me.

The first draft, as is often the case, ended up being much longer than the finished version and needed trimming. There were several scenes that had to be cut out, and I figured I’d post something here for entertainment value. For those of you who have read Family Affair and are familiar with the story line, this scene takes place after the 4th of July party. Yay, Cade.

On Sunday, Cade went to church.

He hadn’t planned to. Hadn’t known he’d go until the morning of. Faith didn’t drive him there. The sins of his past didn’t push him in that direction demanding abolition. Nor was it a sentimental longing to visit the place of worship from his childhood.

He simply woke up early in the morning and knew that he would go. 

He dressed with care in his Sunday best, the feel on the sharp clothes both odd and familiar. Thrown a little off balance by his own well dressed image, he turned away from the mirror and left the house.

The red brick First Baptist sat at the corner of two busy streets, its white columns and stained glass windows majestic and imposing, just like Cade remembered. He parked and walked down a short walkway, blending into the unhurried procession of similarly well-dressed people who were trickling into the doors for the service. 

Inside the church, time stood still in that special smell of candles, old books, and dusty silk flowers. The organ pipes belted out the deep notes of the hymns Cade used to know by heart. 

He found an empty seat and sat down, his eyes trained on the podium where the preacher took stand.  

Reverend Ward Williamson, who led his congregation to light for as long as Cade had been alive, only added to the air of timelessness. As if mummified, he looked forever fifty-five, lean, neat, and his voice was still the same, pleasant, strong, and too sexy for a preacher. 

This voice, his unchangeable face, the familiar church evoked memories that were deeply disturbing. 

He’d come to Atlanta to right a wrong. He was finally ready to let go of the lies that dominated his life for too damn long. He was guilty as sin, having created those lies, but he figured if the last seventeen years didn’t clear him of all wrongdoing, they at least earned him a measure of peace. 

That’s what he was after. Peace. He wanted to keep no more secrets. Simple, in theory. 

And so impossibly complicated in real life.

Ward got the ball rolling with his usual expertise. The subject of the sermon was ironically apropos: Why can’t we all get along?

“Why do we have to act like each other’s enemies?” Ward intoned in a voice that carried. “The answer to that is simple: because we want to get our own way, and we think there is no room for any other way but ours. We live cynically and suspiciously. We live with so little joy.” 

Cade fought the need to rotate his head to loosen his suddenly stiff neck. He was cynical, suspicious, and often morose. Check, check, and check. Ward always targeted his audience well. 

The realization wound him tight and made him angry. He deserved his peace, dammit, whatever the price. He didn’t care. 

Alex’s slumped shoulders and pleading eyes rose in stark detail in his mind’s eye. 

Chasing the image away, he focused again on the sermon. But instead of achieving religious nirvana, he was sinking in the quicksand of his old memories, some shameful, some painful, some merely nostalgic. 

There was him, aged nine, wrestling in the men’s restroom of this very church with an older boy named Roy for the right to possess a cool green rock that Roy had claimed came from outer space. Intent on winning at all costs, he had thrown a metal trash can at Roy just as the door opened to let in a parishioner in a dire need of a urinal. Roy ducked. The can, aimed too high, twisted in flight and made a dynamic contact with the bridge of the parishioner’s nose. 

The service got interrupted. Ward inquired from the pulpit who the offending child belonged to. His father, red faced and tightlipped, stood up in front of all and sundry and dragged his sorry ass away to the mother of all timeouts. 

“But what if there was another way to live?” Ward’s words brought Cade’s attention back to the present. “Apostle Paul explains why so many miss the joy – because they are focused entirely on themselves.” 

Yes, he was focused entirely on himself. Was it selfish of him to seek the truth? Yep. But it was also right.

Williamson took a sip of water, and Cade threw a glance at the people around him. Everyone hung on Ward’s every word.

He remembered the same rapt expression on his mother’s face when she had sat as a buffer between him and Ross while he was busy trying to hit Ross’s ear in a spitting contest behind her back. 

“Paul speaks of those who ‘put confidence in the flesh.’” The sermon was gaining speed. “Paul sees them as people who are focused on filling their stomachs and acquiring material things.”

Did he ever care about wealth? Not really, beyond the reasonable desire for a decent standard of living. Of course, growing up privileged had made it easy to disdain other people’s thirst for money. But Cade had realized a long time ago money wasn’t what motivated him.

He rotated his head trying to work the kinks out of his stiff neck as a fresh onslaught of memories assaulted him.

At seventeen, attending church had been a chore. He recalled one particular Sunday when he had sat slumped among his family, nursing a raging hangover from the night before and daydreaming about a shapely girl he’d been trying to woo away from her boyfriend. The fantasy of the girl’s naked breasts comprised the only point of concentration his pickled brain had been able to maintain, and not for long. He had fallen asleep in the middle of the service and pitched forward, slicing his forehead open on the hard back of the pew in front of him. 

He had learned then that head wounds bled a lot. The pain and smell of so much blood turned over his already upset stomach, and he had thrown up in a spectacular whiskey-flavored torrent. He still cringed remembering how the lady in the front pew shrieked when her pale blue cardigan soaked up first his blood and then his vomit. 

Even Ward had gotten angry.

“We can well imagine those atheists and other non-believers. But wait! Paul wrote his letter to Christians, to people like you and me! In it, he reminds us that joy comes to our lives through Jesus.”

A curious thought occurred to Cade. If God looked down on him at this very moment, what would He think of him? Was it too late for his salvation? Had it been too late for too long?

The last time he had set foot in church was for Frank’s funeral service. God, he had hurt then, and hated, and screamed on the inside from the injustice of death. Lost in the gray world of guilt, he had nearly drowned in his own misery while Ward was conducting the service, his voice still the same, strong and somber, bouncing off the walls. 

The deep sorrow still lingered, and regrets bred like bunnies. 

“Can we achieve peace?” The preacher’s vehement voice drew his attention. He focused on Ward’s slight form and slowly moved his eyes to his face. Suddenly, Ward looked at him across the rows of people separating them. Their eyes connected. “Yes! In the Bible, Paul and Silas say: ‘Believe! Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household.’”

“Amen, fucker,” Cade muttered. 

He stood up and walked out of the door into the hot, moist morning. He hadn’t found peace he was looking for inside the church, but he had found his answer. 

He couldn’t do it.

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