The click of the door latch shattered his dreams. Through sleep-filled eyes he watched the shadowy figure slip through the door.
Quickly Bill dressed and followed. Cold air brushed his face as he stepped outside. Far away the highway traffic droned and nearby a lonely cricket chirruped repeatedly for its mate.
Peering down the road, he dimly saw the figure striding purposefully towards town.
Why was Jason sneaking out well after midnight? Alarm and disappointment arose amidst the questions. Bill thought they had a firm relationship of trust. Ever since Mary left, they had pulled together, becoming more like friends than father and son.
I hope he's not turning out like his mother. Memories flooded back of bottles hidden in the kitchen and bedroom. Then pills, and finally needles. He winced, recalling the fruitless fights with someone with an addled mind and a debased spirit. Then finally, "The Big One"; the fight to end all fights with his shouting at her to get out and never come back.
She took him at his word and just disappeared. He never tried too hard to find her.
Was Jason going the same way? Why else would he head into town at midnight? With a pounding heart he watched him enter a nightclub and emerge with a shadowy form. A dealer? A prostitute? What was his son up to? They moved quickly from under the streetlight and sat on a bench. Bill kept in the shadows, creeping closer.
They were talking earnestly, as if negotiating something. A flurry of cold wind sent Jason's words to his ears, something about "... what price..." and Bill shuddered with foreboding. If he could make it to that clump of trees he could listen in.
A car droned in the distance. Soon the lights appeared sweeping along the road. As it passed, Bill made a dash for the trees, the car's noise muffling his footsteps.
He listened with surprise. Jason was talking about Jesus.
"No. Jesus understands. He doesn't want perfection from you. He just wants a heart of devotion. No need to be afraid. I'm sure it will work out. The Bible says that perfect love drives out all fear. Jesus, in perfect love, will give you the courage you need."
The lights of a passing car lit them momentarily. Bill saw a gaunt face with sunken eyes. He stepped out from the trees and Jason jumped up with a start before relaxing in recognition. "Dad? Is that you? Praise Jesus. It is all coming together."
The woman looked away; then slowly turned to him, her lids lowered. He saw an old face torn and ravaged with disease and abuse. Yet through it was the ghost of a young girl, shy and beautiful; the girl he had knelt before as he asked her to marry him.
"Oh, Bill, I'm so ashamed. All the years I've wasted. I've been to the depths of hell. But there, at rock bottom, I met Jesus. He touched me on the inside and healed me. It's been a hard road, but the cravings are gone. I'm sick, Bill. I don't know if my body will recover from all the abuse, but my spirit is free. I so wanted to come back, but was too ashamed."
Now she looked directly at him. Her eyes were shining.
"Then I heard Jason had also met Jesus and wondered if you had, too. I got a job at the night club and contacted him. He has been trying to persuade me to face you and now here you are."
Pain, anger, confusion and guilt swirled inside Bill like a hurricane; but overarching it all was an inexplicable tenderness for the beautiful girl that he glimpsed behind the destruction of the years. Is this how Jesus sees us? Does He look behind the scars of sin to see the person He created?
Bill moved to Mary, taking both her hands in his. "Come home, my darling. Come home. As much as possible, with God's help, we will restore the years the locusts have eaten." Lifting her from the bench he led her through the night.
Jason watched them for while before he started behind them with a quiet prayer that said so much. "Thank you, Jesus."
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