The storm hit suddenly, furiously. It sucked light from the sky and rain pelted the windshield like an angry animal clawing to get in. Lightning, then a clap of thunder made me flinch.
After twenty-five years, I’d returned to Ridgevale, my soul dark and tempestuous like the storm. I’d left town at eighteen, determined to leave behind the frightened, broken girl I’d been. I never wanted to see my alcoholic father again, or my cowering mother who never lifted a hand or uttered a word against the fury of my father’s fists. I never wanted to return to a town that shunned, ridiculed, and gossiped about us.
But that wounded child I was in Ridgevale continued to live inside me.
My escape as a child was reading books, curled up on a beanbag in Hanson’s Bookstore. It was my love for books and my dark, brooding nature that lead me to write novels about vampires, werewolves, and zombies. I became a famous YA novelist, and some of my books were made into movies.
Fame and wealth didn’t make me happy. The rumor mongers continued to hound me. Misery led to three failed marriages, drugs, alcohol, and stints in rehab. My twenty-year-old daughter refuses to talk to me. My name is continually dredged up by the gossip mill.
The media kept reporting on my bad behavior, so I kept giving them plenty to report on. After landing in jail for a drunken barroom incident, my counselor said it was time to confront my past.
I could only do that in Ridgevale.
I’d refused to attend Dad’s funeral when he died ten years ago. Mom kept calling to tell me she’d “found Jesus.” I guess she expected me to turn cartwheels. All her apologies and pleas for forgiveness meant nothing to me.
Where was Jesus when Dad beat us? When kids at school made fun of me? When adults whispered about me behind their hands?
But, I’ve been home a week and I’ll admit Mom does seem happy and at peace. We’ve talked and talked, and cried a lot. My inner walls started to crumble.
I stopped in the bookstore to thank Mr. Hanson for allowing me spend hours as a child in his store. He seemed genuinely glad to see me. “I stock all your books, Kellyn,” he said with a smile. “Sure popular with the teens.”
“Thanks for being so kind to me, Mr. Hanson. I’m sure I was a pest.”
His face reflected fondness mingled with sadness. “Lots of people cared, Kellyn.”
As the bitterness in my heart began to dissipate, I thought of what Mr. Hanson said. I remembered teachers who tried to reach out to me, but I spewed such anger, they backed away. I remembered the neighbors who kept inviting me to church, but I refused to go.
Why did I allow gossipers and haters to have such influence over me? As I asked myself that question, I thought of Ruth. She always treated me with kindness, often inviting me on her porch to share her homemade cookies.
Ruth and Charlie were scandalous. An interracial couple in our town was unheard of, and unforgiveable. Even as a little girl, I felt a kinship with Ruth. “Why do people hate us, Ruth? They say mean things about my parents, and about you and Charlie.”
“Baby girl, pay no mind to what people say and think. It’s only ignorance. What’s important is what God and the people who love us thinks and says. Only those opinions matter. Don’t forget that, Kellyn.”
“Why’d you marry Charlie? People say it ain’t right.”
“There you go, baby girl, thinking those opinions matter. They don’t. Charlie and I didn’t mean to fall in love, but we did.”
I remember the day Ruth told me they were moving. “We’re having a baby. Charlie wants to live where it won’t be hard for our kids. I’ll sure miss you, Kellyn.”
We both cried then. “Always remember what I said about whose opinions matter.”
Mom told me Charlie and Ruth moved back to Ridgevale when their kids were grown. I was going to see her when the storm hit. By the time I reached her house, the storm abated, and just a gentle sprinkling remained.
Stepping out of the car, I turned my face heavenward. Gentle drops caressed my face as Ruth’s words rang in my mind, “What’s important is what God and the people who love us thinks and says.”
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