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TITLE: Beauty for Ashes Ch23
By Michelle Massaro
05/29/10
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I'm posting from the middle of my story. Hopefully this chapter stands well enough on its own without a lot of setup from me.

PLEASE be blunt and critical. Anything that can be improved I want to hear about, whatever it is- big or small. Thank you!
When John, my fiancé, showed up at Just Juice, I couldn’t wait to fly into his arms. He pointed at the door to let me know he’d be waiting outside for me. I finished up the orders I was working on and then hung up my apron to take my break.

Once outside, I flung myself at him and kissed him. I was so happy it was ridiculous.

“Hey! I wasn’t expecting you today!”

“I know. Listen…” he pulled my arms from around his neck and held both my hands. “What time are you off today?”

“Five… why? Are we going out tonight?”

He licked his lips. “Can you meet me at the park after work? By our pond?” I noticed then how pale he looked.

“Sure. Everything OK?”

“I just need to talk to you is all.” He kissed my hands. “So… our pond, around a quarter after 5?”

“Sure” I said weakly. I couldn’t decipher the mood that hung in the air around him but I was sure I didn’t like it.

He gave me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. Then he took me in his arms and kissed me deeply. This kiss was full of emotion, yet unlike any of the other kisses we’d shared.

He leaned his forehead against mine and placed his palm on the side of my face. “I love you.” He whispered. And then he got back in his car.

It wasn’t till I was back in the shop that I realized what was different about our kiss. It was sad.

----

When I walked over the hill toward the duck pond, I saw John already sitting on the bench, waiting. His shoulders were slumped and he looked broken. My heart sped up as my trepidation grew. I forced my feet to carry me forward. He didn’t hear me approach, so I placed my hand on his shoulder. When he looked up at me, his eyes held a myriad of emotions.

“Hey” I said. I sat down next to him and held his hands. He looked so scared, so hurt. I rubbed his back like I was soothing a child.

“Jenni… don’t. Don’t do that.” He sighed.

I was stunned. “What’s wrong?”

“Jenni, I have something to tell you and you’re not going to want to hear it.” His eyes filled with tears.

“John, whatever it is, you can tell me. I love you.”

“You might change your mind.” He said.

“Never. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Jenni I never told you everything that happened after the fire. For a long time I was really messed up- angry at God for letting it happen. I ran away from home. I started drinking…” He looked up over the pond and cleared his throat, unable to go on.

“John, it’s ok. That’s all in the past. You’re not the same man today.” I tried to comfort him.

“There’s more.”

“John, wait. You don’t have to tell me every detail. I know you messed up- big time. And I know that you’ve been washed clean. Just because we’re engaged now doesn’t mean you have to wade through every wrong choice you’ve made.”

He was shaking his head, a pained expression on his face.

“You need to know this.” He insisted. “Please… just listen. And then you can tell me if it doesn’t matter.” He took a deep breath, the struggle within him evident.

“Jenni when I was in Las Vegas I spent every night in the bar and every day sleeping off a hangover or wallowing in my pain. I couldn’t see anything other than that Hannah and Katy were gone. Months had passed and the pain was even worse than it had been in the beginning. I had nightmares almost every night where I would see them both in the flames, calling me.”

I shut my eyes against the image, a tear slipping down my cheek.

“I had decided to end my life.” He said it matter-of-factly and it startled me. I stared at him, waiting to hear more and wondering why he felt it so necessary to share this with me now.

“But instead…” he trailed off, his face contorting with shame. “I ended up in a woman’s bed.” He forced the words out of clenched teeth. The revelation was a shock, but not one that I couldn’t handle. I placed my hand gently on his.

“It gets worse. So much worse.” He hung his head and I saw two tears drop to the ground.

What could be worse?

He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. Then he looked up at the sky and blew out the air from his lungs.

“Jenni… she was a prostitute.” The words hit me like a Mac Truck. My mind was reeling. I was not expecting that. “I didn’t know it at first, but by the time she… named her price… I didn’t refuse. When I woke up it took me a minute to remember what I’d done. I thought the fire had just been a bad dream and I had awoken next to Hannah.”

I couldn’t imagine John as the kind of guy who would pay for sex. The thought was repulsive, and I recoiled. He was watching for my reaction. Was he waiting for me to say something? What could I say to that?

“Jenni, there’s more.”

More? How could there be more? I just blinked.

The pain I saw on his face made my heart hurt. His features contorted and twisted till he looked like a little boy. His shoulders heaved and he hunched over, looking at the ground and sobbing silently. I was in too much shock to do anything other than breathe.

When he was finally able to speak, his words were like daggers piercing my heart and cutting it into tiny pieces.

“She’s pregnant Jenni. And… she’s here. She showed up today, tracked me down somehow, I don’t know, but she’s here. And she’s pregnant. And she says I’m the father.”

My stomach twisted up into a sickening knot. I couldn’t breathe.

“And… you believe her?” My voice sounded foreign to my own ears.

“Enough to not turn her away. All day I’ve been sick over this, struggling with what to do…” He sighed heavily. “I realize I risk losing you over this.” He whispered, looking down at my hands. “And the shame I’ll have to endure at church is…” I felt a twinge of empathy but it didn’t take root.

“But I finally arrived at the truth.” He looked at me then and said very confidently, “Jesus wouldn’t send her away.” My mind rebelled against his words, screamed inside my head.

“She doesn’t look well, I think she might be sick. And she’s worried about the baby-” I held up my hand to cut him off, squeezing my eyes shut.

“Please... Don’t. Don’t say that word. I can’t…” My world was falling down around me. I felt I would be crushed by the weight of it all.

“John I just can’t listen to any more right now.” I still hadn’t cried, just felt my breathing change and heard my heart pounding loudly in my ears.

“I understand.” He said quietly.

“I need to go home now.” I felt like I was disconnected from my body- I was watching things happen like an observer rather than a participant. I stood up and John grabbed my hand. He looked up at me with pleading eyes.

“Jenni… I love you. I…” He searched my face for the words and came up empty. He let go of my hand and held his head. “I’m so sorry.”

He was in such obvious agony that I touched his shoulder gently before turning away.

“Will you call?” he asked.

I stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Eventually.” I heard myself say.

I left him there… sitting on the bleached park bench, head in his hands… hurting. Emotions were pulling me in so many directions that I felt I would be torn apart by them at any moment. I drove home, still in shock, thankful that my mom would be out with work friends tonight.

When I walked in the door, even my house looked different. Nothing felt real, familiar. I drifted down the hall to my room and closed my door. And then I surrendered to the storm.

Waves of emotion rushed down on me from every side. Disbelief and Denial flew at me from one side, while Betrayal came at me from the other. How could he do this? Why?

I felt cheated. Robbed. This was supposed to be the happiest time of my life! I was supposed to be planning a wedding- not a delivery!

My stomach twisted. I opened my mouth to cry but no sound came out. Just the silent screams of my heart. Lying on the floor of my room, my whole body convulsed. I could hardly take in enough air between sobs. My ribs ached and my chest burned for lack of oxygen.

A new emotion loomed above me, and a powerful wave of Anger crashed down on me. It wasn’t fair! I hadn’t done anything wrong! Why should I show mercy? I hadn’t gone to bed with a prostitute. I hadn’t ruined everything! He did!

I never knew it was possible to feel so much pain. I never knew I could cry so hard for so long. Even when I was out of tears, I kept sobbing. My heart felt like it was bursting. I was sure it had.

Oh God, why? Why did You let this happen? Did you give me all this just to take it away? For what purpose? Why why why?!

------

I must have fallen asleep still crying because I woke up a few hours later on my floor. I was slightly disoriented. But the memory was still clear in my mind.

My eyes felt very swollen. I didn’t want to know what I looked like. I got up and checked the clock- it was one a.m. My chest and stomach were sore, my whole face felt puffy, and my shoulders were tense and aching.

I went to the bathroom and turned on the shower, purposely not looking in the mirror. My current state of mind would not be helped by seeing my reflection right now.

As the hot water pounded away at my tense muscles, I felt the dull ache in the pit of my stomach stirring again into a fresh wave of tears. I stood there a moment with the water and my tears both streaming down my face, until the tears gave way to sobs and I doubled over in agony.

Would the pain never end?

I sat down and pulled my knees up to my chest, waiting for the crying to subside. Sitting there like that, water pouring over me, pain searing through me, I noticed my razor and snatched at it without even thinking.

It’s not a big deal…

You aren’t going to actually hurt yourself…

It will just help you get a handle on the pain…

If nobody knows, they won’t have to worry…

You have good reason…

Stop worrying so much, just do it…

It will feel good…

I placed the razor lightly against the skin on the inside of my arm. My hand was shaking. The tears had stopped. My breathing was shallow.

I pressed down slowly, watching the skin turn white around the pressure of the blade. All I had to do was slide it across. It was a new razor. It was sharp. I would bleed. It would be a relief.

I pressed down harder and registered a very faint stinging sensation.

Jenni!

The pleading in my spirit was unmistakable.

Let go!

“Why? Why should I?”

Old things are passed away.

“It will help!”

No.

“Yes it will! It will feel good. I need to!”

I AM all you need.

“It hurts!”

By My stripes you are healed.

“Everything is falling apart!”

I AM the master builder.

“My life doesn’t make sense anymore!”

Your life is hid in Me.

“I can’t do this! It’s too much!”

I will carry you.

“I’m too weak.”

I AM your strength.

“He hurt me.”

He still loves you.

I looked down at my hand, my knuckles white, pressing the razor against my skin. I couldn’t release it.

“Help me!”

Let go.

The razor dropped to the floor.

My arm held two faint stripes, but no broken skin. My arm wasn’t bleeding, but my heart still was. I stayed huddled on the shower floor, crying, for several minutes. But this time I felt the arms of my Comforter around me.

I slept fitfully the rest of the night, tossing and turning. I woke up with my twisted blankets clutched in my fists. The pain was still there; deep, throbbing, pain.

“Jesus” I whispered.

I felt His presence wash over me, His comforting arms around me once again. I didn’t know how I would ever make it through this, but I knew He’d be with me.
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