Chapter 6


 Sunday, July 31

When Phil Shannon smiled at her, Bobbi dropped her eyes, wanting to avoid another round of tears. Chuck hadn’t come for Bible study and he had yet to appear in the worship service. He failed the first test of his sincerity and commitment. Counseling was going to be a sham. Chuck would go through all the motions, make a good show, and then they would split. He would walk away without any guilt. He tried, after all.
Stop thinking about Chuck! I’m here for worship. Concentrate.
But he told her about the confession. He said he would do anything, whatever Phil said. Maybe after she kicked him out of the house, he didn’t feel free to come to church anymore. She hadn’t meant that at all.
She flinched when Joel touched her and asked for a pen. She fished one out of her purse, then slipped an arm around her son. Joel talked with Chuck yesterday afternoon, but he hadn’t relayed the details to her. Had it gone badly? Maybe Chuck wanted to speak to Brad privately before risking a public encounter with his son.
Bobbi mumbled her way through the first hymn, then settled back in the pew. She already deflected several questions about where Chuck was this morning. ‘He was in Kansas City this week,’ she said, which was the truth, just not the whole truth.
The truth is, I’m in church. It’s not going to do me any good if I’m zoned out through the whole service.
Pastor Phil Shannon stepped into the pulpit and welcomed everyone. He smiled at her when he passed. Maybe he knew how awkward it would be for her, so he had cautioned Chuck to stay out of sight.
Did Chuck even have church clothes? Was he still living out of his suitcase? Suddenly, she felt harsh and coldhearted for not letting him get his things yesterday. She should at least call him this afternoon and arrange a time when he could do that. Monday would work. She’d be at school all day Monday.
As the ushers stepped up to collect the offering, she thought she caught sight of her husband out of the corner of her eye. She turned to double check, but it wasn’t Chuck. She tried to visualize him at the front of the church, admitting to everyone that he’d been unfaithful. It made the heat rise on the back of her neck. If he confessed, did she have to sit through it?
Late Saturday afternoon, Chuck secured a furnished apartment, and now he needed his things. Bobbi left for church right on time, so Chuck had the house to himself. He gathered up clothes, toiletries, a few books and files from the study, and his Bible. He grabbed a couple of sturdy boxes from the attic and began carrying things to his car. He hoped, for Bobbi’s sake, none of the neighbors drew the inevitable conclusion.
He had one last box to load when his cell phone rang. He answered it without checking the ID.
“Don’t hang up, Chuck. I got your message, and I didn’t want that to be goodbye.”
Tracy. All at once, shame burned through his chest. It felt so good to hear her voice. A thousand images flashed through his mind. He could smell her perfume, her shampoo, even the air freshener in her house.
Chuck switched his phone to his left hand and wiped his palm on his pants. “Tracy, uh, this is not good idea.”
“I won’t take much time, but I think I have a right to be heard.”
“I’m listening.”
“I would have never gotten involved with you if you hadn’t given off some strong signals that you were interested. You invited me to lunch. You stopped by my office. You came to my house.”
Gavin’s words roared back at him. The ugly truth is that you wanted this to happen, and you allowed a situation to develop that made it possible. “I shouldn’t have. That was wrong.”
“No, having an extramarital affair, cheating on your wife, that was wrong. This has been very hard on her, I’m sure, especially since she’s not back at school yet. These empty days must be especially difficult.”
“How did you—?”
“Then having to tell Brad and Joel—a mother’s worst nightmare.”
“You knew all along.” A sucker punch in the kidney would have been easier to take. Tracy wasn’t interested in him at all. She played him.
“Of course I knew,” she laughed. “You know, I would have given anything to have seen your face Thursday morning.”
“Where is all this hostility coming from? I never—”
“You don’t deserve this? Is that your point? You don’t deserve to have your reputation self-destruct because you can’t control your ego or your impulses? You’re a liar, and in your limitless arrogance, you’ve convinced yourself that everyone around you is too stupid to figure that out. I’m sure your wife would agree with me. She and I should have a cup of coffee sometime.”
“You wouldn’t.”
“Why not? You want to be completely truthful with her now, don’t you?”
“Wait just a minute! You’re going to tell me about being truthful? After that phone message? After the ‘scorned lover’ act?”
“Lover? Is that what you thought? Chuck, I’m touched.”
“But you said—”
“Exactly what you wanted to hear. I am not the wicked woman who led you astray. You had both eyes wide open, and I am not taking the blame.”
“I know. It was my fault.” How could she deceive him, turn on him this way?
“If you ever figure out what you’re looking for, call me. Your wife is still the same woman she was when you lost interest in her.” The line went dead.
Chuck sunk into the living room armchair and waited for his heart rate to return to normal. The back of his neck heated and sweat beaded across his lip. His marriage was in ruins because he primed himself to believe every line she fed him. Every single line.
Chuck dragged the last box to the door, then left a note for Bobbi on the console table explaining that he’d stopped by. He included a crude map to his apartment and hoped that hint would be enough to prompt her to change her mind. Making one last sweep of the house before leaving, he opened his top dresser drawer and found the box containing his wedding band. He carefully took the ring out and tried to slip it on his finger. It still didn’t fit.
A lump rose in his throat as he read the inscription, MRP to CJM, For Always. He couldn’t remember the inscription in his wife’s ring. I’m such a jerk. He returned the ring to its box and dropped it into his pocket.
The hall clock chimed eleven. Now it was too late to slip into church, so he opted for lunch, and an afternoon of preparing to face everyone tonight.
Chuck slipped into a pew in the back as the last chorus of the evening praise music swelled through the auditorium. He hoped folks didn’t notice, didn’t realize that he wasn’t with Bobbi. She was here and that was all that mattered. He only needed to touch her heart tonight. Bobbi knew he was doing this for her.
All afternoon he went over the things Phil told him. “Keep it to three S’s,” Phil said, “simple, short and sincere. Nobody needs details, just name it, renounce it, and promise to make things right.”
As the praise band moved off the podium, Phil stepped up for the opening prayer. He made eye contact with Chuck and gave him the subtlest nod. Chuck never heard the prayer or the songs that followed. His pulse pounded in his neck and a wave of heat rose across his chest. God, I’m going to do the right thing, I promise.
 “All right, folks,” Phil began the evening sermon. “We’ll pick up where we left off last week in Matthew, chapter five, looking at the Beatitudes. We’ve covered the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Tonight, we want to consider the pure in heart.”
As Phil spoke of pure motives and an inner man cleansed from any corruption and hypocrisy, Chuck’s chest tightened with the weight of guilt. He wasn’t just an adulterer, he was a liar and a fraud besides. His face flushed, and sweat beaded across his forehead. He dropped his head and hoped no one noticed him squirming.
God, I get the message. My motives, my heart … they’re not pure. He swallowed hard, and wiped his eyes. I told Phil what I had to in order to get him to help me, and I planned to say whatever Bobbi needed to hear. God, I’m so scared … I’m scared I’m going to lose her. Please, don’t let her leave me. Please.
The invitation music began and Chuck raised his head. Phil’s eyes pulled at him. He wanted to move, but the nerve impulses died somewhere between his brain and his feet. With blood thundering in his ears, Chuck took a deep breath and screamed within himself, Go!
Phil Shannon met him with extended arms and drew him into a hug. “I’m proud of you. It’ll be okay, I promise.” He directed Chuck to the front pew.
When the music stopped, Phil stood and spoke in measured, somber tones. “Please be seated for a moment. My friends, it is fitting that the Bible often refers to believers as a family. Families face trials that strain the very relationships that bind them together. I want each of you to hear Chuck out so that we can help him and his family as they face perhaps the greatest of trials.” With a subtle wave, Phil signaled Chuck and stepped out of the way.
Chuck stood and faced the congregation in time to see Donna Shannon leave. A check to his right confirmed the reason. Bobbi was gone. Fighting the impulse to run after her, he looked out at the people he’d gone to church with for years. He caught the eyes of his parents’ closest friends, Jack and Gloria Bond. He graduated with their son, Marty. Mary Ellen Cantrell, Joel’s Sunday school teacher, sat four rows behind Joel. If she saw Bobbi leave, she could piece together what he was about to say. Lorraine Kinney sat down front, almost close enough for him to touch. Everyone knew her husband had run off with his secretary, leaving her with a mortgage and three children.
Before his resolve wavered any further, he wiped his eyes, cleared his throat, and addressed his church.
“I, uh … well, the Bible says in James to confess your faults to one another, and I need to confess to you, not just a fault, but a sin, a gross sin.” Tears threatened to choke the words off, but he took a deep breath and fought them back. “I sinned against God, my wife and family, and you, my church. I broke my marriage vows and had an affair with another woman.”
A gasp, then a murmur filtered through the crowd. “I had the capacity and responsibility to overcome the temptation, but I made the conscious decision to give in. I am sorry beyond my ability to express it. I have repented before God, asked for, and I believe, received God’s forgiveness. I am asking for yours as well.”
Chuck swallowed hard, thankful no one but Phil Shannon could see the tremor in the back of his pant leg as he spoke. “I don’t want you to see this as trying to get you to ‘take my side.’ There is no ‘side.’ I am completely wrong. Bobbi is entirely innocent. I hope for your understanding and support, and for your prayers for God’s help to put my family and my marriage back together.”
Nobody spoke, nobody moved.
After a long moment, Chuck saw Joel slip up to the pew with his aunt, Rita. She put her arm around his shoulder and gave him a little squeeze.
Chuck glanced at Phil, looking for a cue. Now what? Should he sit down? Across the aisle from him, the front pew creaked as George McLaughlin pulled himself to his feet. The old man embraced Chuck, without ever saying a word, and the other deacons followed his lead. Last in line, Gavin smiled at Chuck, and whispered, “God’s going to honor this. Hang in there, and see this through to the end.”
Chuck relaxed his shoulders. He’d gotten past the deacons. Now, it had to be over. The floor appeared to tilt away from him, so he took a step to sit down, but Lorraine Kinney moved. He forgot to breathe as she eased out into the aisle toward him. Here it comes. She stood before him, her head held high. In the stillness, she said, “If Dean had done what you just did, I would have taken him back.”
The simple statement electrified the congregation. Tears flowed as Preston Road Community Church came together as a family. In the blur of faces and hugs, Chuck heard ‘Bless you,’ and ‘that took a lot of courage,’ and ‘we’ll be praying.’
Rita Heatley remained planted in her spot, with Joel at her side, watching Chuck. Even when Gavin returned to the seat beside her, she never took her eyes off him.
Gavin whispered to her, and she shook her head, pointing in Chuck’s direction. Finally, Gavin nodded toward Joel and she rolled her eyes. She took Joel by the shoulders and ushered him into the aisle. The boy threaded his way through everyone to get to his father. When Joel hugged him, Chuck smiled for the first time.
Then Rita stepped closer and his smile withered. Chuck squeezed Joel’s shoulder and sent his son back to his seat. “I meant what I said, Rita. I am sorry, and I—”
Rita took his hand and leaned in close, her eyes bored into his, her voice tight. “You may have fooled everyone in this building, even Phil Shannon, but I’m not buying it. You don’t deserve Bobbi. You … never … have.”
As she marched away, Phil Shannon strode to the center aisle. “This has been an extraordinary worship service,” he said, with a nod toward her. “Before we close, I want to caution you on two things. Bobbi chose not to be here. Don’t read anything into her decision. This is very painful for her. She deserves this same love and compassion from you, just respect her privacy.”
Rita nodded, glancing around the sanctuary.
“Second,” the pastor continued, “bad news travels fast enough. Don’t help it along. This is a family matter and I want us to keep it that way.” He surveyed the congregation one last time, and then slipped his arm around Chuck’s shoulder. “Let’s pray,” he said, and bowed his head. “Father,” he began, letting a long sigh escape, “we praise You for Your spirit with us. Thank You for letting us be a part of Your grace. Thank You for Chuck’s obedience to Your Word as he made his confession before his brothers and sisters. As You are the God of reconciliation, bring this family back together. Heal their pain, and help them be a powerful testimony to Your power to redeem broken lives and marriages through Your great grace. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.”
Heavy emotional and physical exhaustion seemed to settle on Phil. “Tomorrow morning, nine o’clock, my office,” he said, before he let Chuck walk away. “And don’t go after Bobbi right now.”
“But Phil—”
He raised a finger. “I mean it. Don’t press her.”
Chuck’s stance relaxed. “I lived,” he said. “Thanks for your help.”
“That’s what I’m here for. Get some sleep. You’ve had a hard day.”
Bobbi jammed her car in reverse, but as she turned to check the passenger mirror, she caught sight of Donna Shannon. Donna motioned for her to roll down the passenger window. “Can I go with you?” she asked.
Bobbi turned off the car and unlocked the passenger door. “I don’t even know where I was going. I can’t leave. The boys are still inside.”
Donna sat down in the passenger seat. “We can just sit, but if you want to talk, I’d be glad to listen.”
Bobbi slid her hands down to the bottom of the steering wheel and leaned her head back against the headrest. “Donna, I couldn’t sit through it. Not only did Chuck take something intimate and sacred and give it to another woman, but now he’s thrown it out there for anybody who’s interested. I feel so violated. It’s humiliating.” Her voice trailed to a whisper and tears began to run from the corners of her eyes.
Donna turned in the seat so she could face Bobbi. “Honey, Phil advised Chuck to go before the church.”
“I know,” Bobbi answered, sniffling and wiping her eyes. “I know it was the right thing to do. It was going to get out anyway.” Bobbi sighed. “Brad is so angry. So bitter. Cooper took him to lunch today, and Brad’s only concern is making sure his dad pays. He’s lost all respect for his dad, and if I forgive Chuck, Brad won’t respect me either. I’m afraid we’ll lose him.”
“Lose him how?”
“I’m afraid he’ll turn into some rebellious punk who throws away his future just because I did the right thing and forgave his dad.”
“You’ve already forgiven Chuck, then?”
“I love him. What else can I do?”
“Honey, you could do any number of things—hate him forever, divorce him, run over him with your car …” Bobbi managed a slight smile. “But the fact that you’ve chosen, and it is a choice, to love and forgive is a great thing. I admire you for it.”
“Thanks, but it doesn’t help with the pain. It hurts … so … much.”
“I know it does,” Donna said, taking Bobbi’s hand. “I’m afraid it will for a long time, but you are doing the right things … and so is Chuck.”
Bobbi closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. “I wonder … how many times has Chuck cried over this?”
“Not as many as he’s going to, I’m sure.” They sat for several minutes before Donna spoke again. “Honey, can I pray with you real quick? Then I promise I’ll leave you alone.” She winked and squeezed Bobbi’s hand.
Bobbi sat up straighter in her seat and bowed her head. If God heard anybody, He heard Donna Shannon.
“Dear Jesus, I know I don’t have to tell You anything about Bobbi. She’s Yours and You know all about her, including this crisis. Honor her decision to follow Your word and Your example of love and forgiveness, and Jesus, be her big brother. Defend her from anyone who would add to her burdens right now, from that other woman, and guard her thoughts so her imagination doesn’t get the best of her. Help us, help me, know how to support her. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.” Donna patted Bobbi’s arm. “I’ll send the boys out so you don’t have to go hunt them.”
“Thank you. For everything.”
“You bet,” Donna said with another wink, while opening the car door. She disappeared inside the church building, and within a few moments, Bobbi’s sons made their exit.
Bobbi watched them walk down the sidewalk. Joel bounded toward the car, while Brad shuffled along, his hands shoved in his jeans pockets.
Joel reached the car first and jumped in the front seat, “Mom! You missed it! Dad told everybody!”
Squashing Joel’s enthusiasm, Bobbi said, “I know. That’s why I walked out.”
“You walked out of church, Mom?” Brad asked from the backseat.
“Yeah, Dad told everybody about the affair,” Joel answered.
“Joel, I think I can take it from here,” Bobbi said. “Your dad went before the church tonight to confess what he did, and it’s a little too painful for me to hear again, so yes, I walked out of church.” Bobbi started her car and pulled out of the parking lot.
“Hasn’t he done enough damage?” Brad snarled.
“Brad, it’s Biblical to confess things that way. Dad did the right thing, and he was following what Pastor Phil counseled him to do—”
“Mom! It doesn’t change anything. He can make a thousand confessions, but it doesn’t change the fact that he had the affair!”
“No, but you can’t have forgivenessuntil you have confession.”
“He better not ask me for forgiveness.”
As soon as Chuck walked through the front door at Benton, Davis, & Molinsky he spotted the redhead in Walter Davis’ office. No surprise the old man was handling her case personally.
“Mr. Molinsky, Mr. Davis wants to see you.” Christine Gardner nodded toward the office.
“Now? He’s in with a client.”
“Not a client. New attorney.”
“He didn’t tell me …” Chuck knocked on Walter’s door before easing it open. “Christine said you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, come in. Chuck, this is Tracy Ravenna. I’ve hired her to take some of your load off.”
She uncrossed her long legs, and stood to shake Chuck’s hand. “I’m pleased to meet you.” She locked her eyes on his and shook his hand with firm confidence. Her eyes, almost the same deep, dark brown as Bobbi’s, danced when she smiled.
“Tracy comes to us from Anheuser-Busch by way of University of Virginia.” Walter slid a folder toward Chuck. “She has tremendous credentials.”
“What made you leave Busch?” Chuck flipped through the papers in the folder.
“I love business law, but frankly, I got tired of the beer industry. I wanted some variety.”
“We don’t do anything on that scale.”
“No, but this firm has an excellent reputation, and I like new challenges.” She smiled and sat down again, smoothing her skirt across her lap. Her suit, what Bobbi called winter white, perfectly complemented her hair. He caught himself before his eyes drifted to that hint of a curve in her tailored suit jacket.
“Chuck, I want Tracy to work with you on the Beckham case to orient her to our system.”
“Sure. Let me get settled, and I’ll brief you.”
“I look forward to it.” She pushed her hair behind her ear and flashed that smile again.
Chuck walked to his office. Was she flirting with him? Of course not. Professionals didn’t flirt.
Chuck knocked on the doorframe of Tracy’s office and she looked up and smiled. “Finally, a friendly face.”
“Bad day?”
“Just dealing with idiots all day. What’s up?”
“Thought you’d like to see these.” He crossed to her desk and handed her a folder. “Beckham’s resolved. The cease and desist was enough. Your instincts were right.”
“They usually are.” She scanned the pages, then straightened them, and flipped the folder closed. “We make a good team.”
“I’d like to take you to lunch, you know, to celebrate. If you’re free.”
“I’d like that. Give me about twenty minutes to wrap up a couple of things.”
Exactly twenty minutes later, she stood in the doorway of Chuck’s office, pulling her coat on. He grabbed his suit jacket and followed her through the lobby. He waved to the receptionist on his way out the door. “Christine, we’re gonna grab some lunch. I’ve got my cell.”
He led Tracy around to his gleaming black Lincoln Navigator and unlocked her door. “I’m surprised,” she said as she climbed inside.
“Why’s that?”
“I would’ve figured you for something sporty, a convertible even.”
“Funny you should say that. I’m looking to trade, just waiting on a deal.” He pushed her door closed and walked around to the driver’s side. Bobbi would kill him for trading a year-old car.
“What are you in the mood for?” he asked as he started the car.
She blinked slowly and smiled. “For lunch? How about Mexican?”
“So, you’re not from St. Louis. How long have you been here?”
“I worked at a firm in Charlottesville until I passed the Virginia bar, then I took the job with Anheuser-Busch.”
“You’re from Virginia, then?”
“No, just went to school there. But you’re a local boy, right?”
“Yeah. Went to Missouri, then law school at Northwestern like my dad.”
“The founding partner?”
“One of three. Dad, Walter, and Jim Benton started the firm. They could see St. Louis growing as a business center and realized very few companies could afford a legal department. No one ever questioned that I’d follow him.”
“I think it’s your calling.”
“How so?”
“You get this … intensity whenever you talk about anything to do with law. Even saying ‘my dad started the firm,’ your voice changes, you sit up straighter.”
“I do not.”
“You do. I bet you’d make an incredible trial attorney.”
“No desire. Crooks are enough for me. No real criminals, thanks.”
“You don’t work for crooks, do you?”
“Not on purpose.”
“I was going to say …”
Inside the restaurant, he held her chair for her before taking his seat. “Listen, I don’t drink, but if you want a margarita or whatever, feel free.”
“Not on a work day,” she said, flipping the menu open. “Want to split this fajita deal?”
“Sure, that’ll simplify things.”
She laid her menu aside and took a long sip from her water. “So, I bought my first house.”
“That’s exciting.”
“And frustrating.”
For the next hour, all through the meal, they talked about tile and wainscoting, skylights and countertops. It reminded him of the easy, no-pressure conversation he used to have with Bobbi. The third time the waiter asked to take their plates, Chuck pushed away from the table. “I guess I should take the hint.”
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed lunch.” Tracy held out her hand and Chuck reached to shake it. Her fingers folded around his and she looked into his eyes just as she had that first day. That was no business handshake. He hadn’t imagined it. She was interested in being much more than a colleague.

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