Quietly, so he wouldn’t wake her, he slipped back the cover and swung his legs over his side of the bed, feeling for his slippers. He felt his heart breaking when he surveyed her shape beneath the quilt, one bare arm on top reaching toward the lingering imprint of his body on the sheets. He kissed her as he gently pulled the cover up to cover her shoulders. How could he do this to her? It wasn’t fair to tear her world apart.
She would have become someone’s wife, too.
Silently he made his way down the hall toward the staircase. He paused at the other, partly open, bedroom door. Through the opening he could see a pile of covers, pillows and stuffed animals. Somewhere in there was little Rachel, sleeping securely, blissfully unaware of the evil men could do. A shock of unbearable pain drove him to his knees. Only four years old, she adored her daddy. How selfish to destroy her like this. He nearly convinced himself to go back to bed and to the nice life he had made for himself and his family.
She was once someone’s little girl, just like this.
He felt the accusation in the eyes of his family as he passed their pictures on the stairwell. Those framed photos preserved moments of domestic joy under glass forever. He despised himself for the pain he would soon cause them, the jagged hole he would rip in their lives. Already he saw the vacant spaces in the pictures, places that belonged to him and his comfortable life.
Another family’s joy was stolen forever.
And now how could he change that? Could a life be restored, evil undone? Must his own family now be destroyed because of his one long-ago incomprehensibly evil act?
“It isn’t fair to them and no one has to know. No one ever suspected me and the trail has gone impossibly cold.” he prayed urgently.
You know, and I know. Trust me.
He fell on his face on the dining room floor, sobbing into the braided rug. He started when he felt her hand on his shoulder. He looked into her face, concern evident in her questioning eyes and the slightly parted lips.
“Does this have anything to do with what you met Pastor about today?” she asked.
“You don’t know the evil I’ve done,” he started.
“I know all about your drug days,” she reminded him. “That was before Jesus.”
“It’s far worse than you know. You’ll hate me forever,” The whole story spilled out in wrenching sobs. So different had his life become he couldn’t imagine being the monster he had been back then. Angry at a breakup, his lurid fantasies fueled by amphetamines, he had started carrying a hunting knife and stalking women.
“One night,” he confessed to his wife, “I saw a young woman walking by herself in a dark parking lot. As if in some sick dream, I grabbed her and dragged her behind some dumpsters. Afterwards I slept for three days. When I awoke and read the papers and watched the news I threw up, then went out and got high again. Her name was Meredith Wilson. She was nineteen and studying to be a pediatrician.”
He watched the subtle interplay of emotions in his wife’s face. Hatred, fear, revulsion all warred for supremacy. Finally, to his surprise, compassion won out. He almost preferred the hatred. It would be easier to bear. “What good will it do now?” she asked, “all these years later. You’re not the same person. You have a family to take care of. Think of Rachel.”
“I think of nothing else but you and Rachel!” he cried. “But she was loved too. And I can’t bring her back and I can’t heal her family. But He is truth and I have to honor Him.”
Detective Jim Broadnax of the Denver police was surprised by the phone call. It was the coldest of his cases.
The judge was astonished but his duty was clear.
Some days the oppressive weight of heavy doors and the pervasive smoldering menace among the population all but overcome him. But there was peace in the chapel as he opened his Bible. The page was marked with a card from Rachel, now in high school, proclaiming, “I love you daddy!”
“Blessed are they that mourn,” he began. The word Jesus used actually means happy.”
And he never felt more free.
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