Amber stared balefully at the door of the Beach Diner and swallowed her pride deep down. There was no room for it in the story of a prodigal returning home, and she was certain nobody would slay a fatted calf on her account.
With any luck her sister would be on time, and Amber wouldn’t have to face the entire town fresh off the bus. Heaving a deep sigh of soul-bracing sea air, Amber opened the door to the diner and pulled her suitcase through the foyer.
It was worse than she expected. Having every eye in her hometown’s favorite eatery trained on her would have been an ordeal; to be ignored was a gut-wrenching shock.
They must have known when Chloe was meeting her there, and arranged a solid wall of disapproval to welcome her home. Amber sighed, dismissing the urge to take offense. She deserved such treatment and more besides.
Maybe she should write a letter, a nice, long, detailed apology, replete with contrition and regret. An addendum detailing her repentance and new devotion to Jesus would help. Amber scripted it in her mind while being collectively ignored by the residents of Fernandina Beach.
Who was she kidding? Nobody would read it.
The door opened behind Amber, sending a rush of humid air against her back. She turned and saw her sister’s familiar and friendly face.
“Sorry,” Chloe said with a smile. “Mom and Dad ambushed me, trying to talk me out of… you know.”
Amber sighed. “Yep, I know. I’m surprised they even let you talk to me. Can we get going before everyone in here dies from a lack of curiosity?”
Throwing a glance at the crowded room, Chloe picked up Amber’s suitcase and backed out the door. The subdued sisters walked down the busy main street to the car.
“So, does he know I’m back in town?”
Amber exhaled, trying to expunge her anxiety but not succeeding. “Have you seen him?”
Chloe kept her eyes focused ahead. “Yes, but it’s been a few days. He was… not friendly. Don’t expect much in the way of mercy, Amber.”
A sharp wind and disappearing sun signified an upcoming squall. Apparently the town's inhabitants had their hand in the weather as well.
As they neared Chloe’s minivan a chill rippled across Amber’s shoulders and settled in her stomach. A familiar man leaned against the driver’s door.
He was good-looking, or he had been five years ago. The intervening time had etched lines in his face, left his brown eyes bloodshot and tired. Amber found it difficult to breathe. This was too soon.
“Uh-oh,” Chloe muttered, hanging back while Amber trudged forward. She stopped before him, her hands hanging limply at her sides.
Ryan looked towards Amber but not at her. His hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of his jeans. “So you’re out, then?”
Amber nodded. “Five years, goes by quickly.”
He snorted. “Lucky you.” The wind picked up, lifting Ryan’s sandy hair and whipping it skyward. “Why did you come home?”
Amber wanted to touch his arm, but didn’t dare. “Where else would I go?” Ryan looked towards the ocean and didn’t answer.
She drew a deep breath and rushed through her prepared speech.
“Ryan, I know that you’ll probably never forgive me. I am so, so sorry about your sister. But I want you to know that I’m different now. I found God while I was in prison. And while I know that he has forgiven what I did to Julia, I know that I owe a lifetime of repentance to your family.”
Ryan finally looked into her face. The storm arrived, the raindrops mingling with the tears on his weather-beaten cheeks.
“I don’t know about God,” he said quietly, “but I will never forgive you. Don’t come near me or my family, ever.”
He turned and strode away, leaning forward against the squall. Amber’s shoulders slumped as she watched him go.
Chloe approached and unlocked the car door. “That went well.”
Amber shrugged. “Can’t expect much more.”
As the van pulled away, Amber prayed for fortitude. She knew Ryan would have a wall of anger built against her. Although she was a new creation in Christ, there were mistakes that needed healing. Forgiven wasn’t forgotten.
The comforting voice of the Spirit reminded her of her Abba and propelled her forward, leaving the past firmly behind.
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