House lights flickered in the distance through sheets of warm rain shimmering in the wind. Runoff smeared the oily pavement. Coated with thick darkness except for flashlights, two figures stood at the shoulder.
Chris scratched his stubble and panned his light left through the mist ricocheting off the road. Climbing this tree was risky, but the fruit was worth it. "You ready?"
Light blinded him briefly then dropped, and Beca shuffled toward him, head down, scraping the muddy gravel with her red tennis shoes. "Yeah, I guess." Her auburn hair hung forward. "Do we really wanna do this? We could go to church with him, ask again. He might still--"
"No. We're doin' this. Sure he'll be sleepin'?"
"Yeah, but he could still catch us! I just think--"
"Shut up! You're eighteen now. He don't have a say, and I ain't waitin' anymore."
Chris loped to the ditch, through wet cattails and tall grass and into the square-acre corn field without looking back. Her heart whispered. The familiar dense odor of the stalks filled her nostrils. After a minute, she bit her lip and followed.
Ten minutes later, she crept out the other side but didn't see him. The blue house was thirty yards ahead, illuminated by that old light from the barn to her left. She called out and felt a strong hand grip her arm from behind. She yelped as her light was doused. Twisting around to pull free, she glimpsed Chris's face before coarse fingers cut off her air. Eyes widening in shock, she passed out.
Creaking wood woke the man to a dull, pulsing headache. With a groan, he opened his eyes to stairs barely visible to his right. Propped up against a paneled wall, he breathed musty air. The basement. A silhouette moved on the stairs.
"Your head's gonna hurt for awhile. Hers too." The silhouette dropped down a step and gestured to the girl lying against the opposite wall. "Could say sorry, but I'm not. You did this."
He recognized Chris's voice and a surge of anger intensified the throbbing. "I don't understand. You claim to love my daughter. But look what you're doin'!"
Chris leapt down the last three steps and bent threateningly, two feet away. His breath smelled like burned coffee and beer. "Shut up!"
Beca groaned, waking. "Maybe I did love her, but you messed it up." Eyes darkening, Chris added smugly, "You didn't wanna help with her little 'problem', so now it's all yours. But them stones are mine!"
"There's no 'maybe' in love, son."
"What?" Their captor glared at him and blinked, slightly shaken. "Whatever old man."
"You can still change your mind." He nodded at Chris. "Jesus is still callin' you. Answer Him."
Chris shook his head, closed his eyes for a moment, then sneered at him. "Nice try, but I ain't passin' up your old lady's diamonds! Your girl told me where." He chuckled at the obvious grief his words wrought and bounced up the stairs, refocused. "You did this," was repeated through the closing door.
A block-glass window above his daughter glowed dimly. She sat up.
"Daddy?" Her eyes were adjusting, and she crawled to his side, but didn't touch him. "I'm so sorry. He said we'd just take enough to go and...take care of it." She sobbed.
"He hurt you?"
"No, I guess I'm okay. I can't believe he's doing this. He said he loved me!" He put his arm around her and she sagged against his cotton field coat. "I'm so stupid."
"No, you're not, Honey. Just young. I wish you would've trusted me." He bit his tongue. "But we're here now, and I love you. Both o' you."
Her anxious eyes found his. "Dad, I'm really scared."
"I know," he murmured, kissing her hair. "When I saw him outside from the barn, the Lord just put it in my mind what he was plannin'. Went out to stop him but he plowed me over." They heard stomping upstairs, and the front door slammed. She noticed his expression sadden.
"Dad...I'm sorry I told him about Mom's jewelry."
"It's not that." He squeezed her tightly, sighing. "Remember your Sunday School lessons?" She shrugged. "God can bring good outta bad, but we reap what we sow. I know you're scared of what's comin', but I'm gonna help you. God's givin' you hope, Bec." His eyes grew sad again. "But the only fruit Chris'll find is darkness."
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