Gwen drenched herself in tomato juice and then showered quickly. She locked the guest room door and slept for twelve hours. When she awoke, the house was quiet. She found her few belongings laundered and folded outside the bedroom door, along with a ball of white socks, an extra pair of jeans and a white dress shirt. She took the pile of clothes back to the bed, locked the door again, and got dressed in the jeans and T she’d taken from the shelter.
There was a note on the refrigerator: “Ms. Pearl has taken ill. I’ve gone to the hospital. Fix whatever you want to eat, I’ll be late. Atticus.”
The thought of food made her feel queasy, so she wandered around the cottage. It was clean but worn. A hand-crocheted granny square afghan covered a small sofa. The maple coffee table was dented and stained; one of its legs had been broken and re-glued. Prints were scattered on the walls, each depicting pastoral scenes of lambs, trees and wagons. The curtains were muslin tie-backs. She moved into the hallway. The pastor’s bedroom was on the other side of the bathroom from the guest room. The double bed was covered in another afghan – a ripple design in maroon, hunter green and navy blue. Green cotton curtains covered the large window looking out on the backyard. There was a dresser covered with river stones, feathers and unusually shaped leaves. A golden wedding ring hung on a tarnished sterling chain from the corner of the dresser’s mirror.
The room had a pleasant odor, like the smell of warm flesh and sunscreen lotion. Gwen felt safe in that room.
A small TV rested on a book shelf, but it only crackled with snow when she turned it on. Next to the TV was a calendar. Today was the first Tuesday in May. The date niggled at her memory. It had been the last Thursday in March when she’d been driven from her home. She lost herself in memories of the ukera in the moonlight, the lightener masks on the soldiers, the sound of Sanchor’s voice. The feel of him touching her, inside her. She felt warm and dizzy. Then a coldness swept up from her stomach and flamed in her throat: she hadn’t had a period since the first week of March.
Her hands pressed against her belly in panic. She was pregnant. She knew it with a certainty that bordered faith. She was carrying Sanchor’s child. Terror vied with joy. She counted the months on her fingers; the baby would be born in December.
Her feet led her to the church across the yard from the parsonage. She unlocked the doors and knelt at the altar.
She prayed for strength. She prayed for this child whom she’d been given. She prayed for Sanchor. She prayed that he would somehow find out he was this child’s father and the joy of that news would turn him away from the Darkness. Then she became ashamed of such wistfulness, and prayed that God’s will be done.
Her prayers dwindled away as she knelt, listening for the voice of God. It wasn’t a corporeal voice, not like the pastor’s angel. It was a stillness, a peace which filled her, strengthened her, calmed her.
The church doors burst open and Atticus strode in. His face was masked in fury. She jumped to her feet in alarm. He saw her and stopped. Anger fought surprise, then his face reddened in embarrassment. “I thought you’d gone,” he explained.
She blinked. Pastor looked so sweet now, when seconds earlier he’d looked like a Strategia Oscuro in battle.
“How’s the woman in the hospital?” Gwen balanced her weight, wary.
“She’ll be fine. She let her sugar get out of control. But she’ll be just fine.” He stopped at the first pew. “Thank you for asking. Were you praying for her?”
“No.” Gwen pressed her hands on her abdomen, possessively.
He sported a cocky grin, “Were you praying about me?”
Gwen pursed her lips and scowled. “My prayers are private.”
The grin slid off his face and he reddened again. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“I didn’t mean to snap.” She nodded. “I’m sorry. It’s just – you act like you know me. Like I’m supposed to know you.”
“You don’t like it when someone tries to get close to you.”
She couldn’t deny it, but she didn’t want to admit it.
He held out his hand, “Would you pray with me?”
She meant to turn and walk away, but found she had taken his outstretched hand. He reached for and took her other hand, too, and bowed his head.
The peace she’d sought earlier flooded through her, spreading like living warmth from her hands, through her arms to her stomach and from there up to her head and down to her toes. She gasped and opened her eyes. He was looking at her. His lips were open but gently smiling. She felt herself drawn into his eyes, drowning in his soul.
“Amen,” he whispered.
“Amen,” she replied, reluctant to release his hands.
That cocky grin returned, “So what’s for dinner?”
She laughed. “I didn’t look.”
“Well, I’m hungry, and you haven’t eaten since last night. What do you feel like eating?”
“Something simple, but very filling.”
“Eggs, bacon, grits, and biscuits?” He kept hold of one hand and walked with her down the aisle to the church yard.
“I can make that happen.” He released her hand to lock the doors.
“How are you going to explain me to your parishioners?”
“I don’t have to. They all knew you were coming. The Elders do, at any rate. That’s all that matters.”
“Does your angel talk to them, too?”
“No, just to me. But I’ve been preaching about you for a year now. About the war and the warrior.”
Comes the Warrior
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.