Welcome to the 2012 Summer Reading Trail. My release party for The Sentence is long over with, but I hope you enjoy the pictures and excerpt anyway. Scroll down and you'll come to my free read, the prologue and the entire first chapter of The Sentence. To get back to the trail home page go to http://summertreadingtrail.weebly.com/index.html
Hello, and welcome to my release party for The Sentence. Rachel, the heroine from The Sentence found a beautiful place for the party. How do you like this little blue cottage?
She thought they’d have the party inside, but the back yard is so beautiful she decided to have the party there.
She selected a number of beautiful desserts for her guests to sample, so don’t be shy. Sample as many as you’d like.
Rachel also wanted a new dress to wear for the party. I love this one. I think it matches the romantic theme she picked for the party.
Rachel decided that she’d like to share the first part of her and Clint’s story with you, so I’ve posted the prologue and the first chapter. Both Rachel and I sure hope you like them. She also agreed to donate three copies of her story to some lucky readers. If you’d like to win a copy of The Sentence leave a comment for us. Rachel and I will check in periodically through the day to answer any questions you may have for us.
The Sterling Weekly
Judge Shocks Community
by Thomas Bell, Staff Writer
Controversial Judge Marion Lowe shocked every person in his packed court last Wednesday when he passed sentence in the Clint Hayes case. Hayes, twenty seven, who works for Bud Parsons at Bud’s Private Club, was found guilty of burning Saved By Grace Community Church last April.
Originally, Hayes was arrested for arson. His fingerprints were found on a beer bottle in the church parking lot the night the church burned, but a sheriff’s investigation revealed the fire was caused by a cigarette that Hayes threw into an azalea bed. Authorities believe the cigarette caused the dry mulch around the bushes to catch fire, and the flames spread to the church. The building was a total loss.
After consultation with Reverend Neal Amos, the pastor of Saved By Grace, Judge Lowe sentenced Hayes to six months in the care of Reverend Amos, who in effect will be his jailor.
“The verdict was a surprise,” admitted Rachel Amos, twenty four, the minister’s daughter. “My father discussed the situation with my mothe and me, but to be honest, we never dreamed the judge would go along with it.”
Several members of Saved By Grace have expressed their support for Reverend Amos’s decision, but they admit there are some who want nothing to do with Hayes.
Local civil rights groups have announced their intention to get the verdict overthrown, but so far Hayes says he wants the sentence to stand.
Until the new church is constructed, Saved By Grace is meeting at Sterling High School. Sunday School is at ten o’clock followed by worship at eleven. Anyone wishing to make a donation to Saved By Grace’s building fund may do so at People’s National Bank.
Rachel Amos sighed as her best friend Christina Dean inspected herself in the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the bedroom door. “Christina, you’ve stared at that mirror ever since I got here. Why won’t you believe me? Your new capri pants look great.”
Christina rolled her eyes. “You don’t understand. You can’t because you’re a size two. When you’re a fourteen like me…well…you don’t understand, that’s all.”
“What does size matter? Paul must think you look okay, or he wouldn’t be spending every free minute with you.”
Christina smiled and sat on the pretty, white-washed pine chest at the end of her bed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right about that.”
“See? Now stop worrying. You look great, but you do need a different necklace with that tee-shirt. Something a little longer.”
“But what?” Christina wailed. “This is the best I have.”
“We can run over to my house,” Rachel offered. “Josh gave me a coral necklace for my birthday that’ll be dynamite with your turquoise capris.”
“Uh, what time is Clint Hayes supposed to get there?”
“Around five, I think. Why?” Rachel asked as she pulled her new denim jacket on.
Christina flushed. “Well, he’s a criminal, Rachel. He smokes and drinks, and he burned the church, which is, by the way, the place I planned on getting married one day. Think how many nice people were hurt by his actions. I don’t know if I want to go anywhere near him.”
“I don’t like it either,” Rachel admitted. A little line appeared between her eyebrows. “But I’m praying about it, and you should be, too. Isn’t this man’s soul more important than our feelings?” Rachel kept telling herself that it was, but she wasn’t sure if she believed it herself.
“But nothing.” Rachel grabbed Christina’s arm. “Let’s drive over to my house to get the necklace.”
Christina chatted away as they drove across town, but Rachel didn’t hear much of what she was saying. She was busy praying for the strength to forgive Clint Hayes because she knew her father was right. God loved Clint no matter what he had done.
But oh, it was so hard to see past the hurt he had caused the entire congregation. Saved By Grace had held services in their little white church for a hundred years, and in one night of drinking and debauchery Hayes had taken their church home away. She knew her father was right when he said the church was the people not the building, but her memories ran too deep to ignore.
All of the hard work and loving care that had been lavished on the church had erupted into thick, black smoke that was borne away on the hot winds of the fire. It broke Rachel’s heart to think of all the wonderful fellowship the old building had seen. She’d been in Christmas plays, attended Bible School, gone to dinners, made a profession of faith, and been baptized by her father in that little building. It didn’t matter what the new church looked like. No new structure would ever, could ever, take the place of the old one.
Rachel poked her lip out. Yes, she wanted God to save Clint, but he could have been saved without bringing him into their home. What had her father been thinking? He had even lectured her on how he expected her to behave around Hayes!
“You’re pretty, Rachel,” he’d said. “It would be easy for you to tempt Clint because you’ll come in close contact each day. I expect you to conduct yourself like a lady. Put your day clothes on before you come to the breakfast table. No more robes and pajama pants. Speak pleasantly to him, but don’t flirt with him. None of those little smiles and glances out of the corner of your eyes like I’ve seen you give your boyfriend. Don’t be alone with him either. We know nothing about this man, and until we do, stay away from him.”
Rachel’s face flushed when she remembered that conversation. “You’re young, honey,” her mother had joined in. “You may not totally understand, but trust your father and me. Be smart about Clint Hayes.”
Rachel remembered how she had laughed at them. How could her parents think she’d be attracted to a man who’d taken away something she loved so dearly? Didn’t they know how much she disliked Hayes? She had seen her mother and father break down and cry when the church roof crashed to the ground! Still, her feelings didn’t matter. Whether she liked it or not, she’d keep praying that she’d want to forgive Clint, and that God would use this chance to save his soul.
She glanced at her watch. Only a few more minutes until Hayes arrived.
Clint Hayes parked his car in the minister’s driveway and sighed. Six long, dreary months stretched like an eternity in front of him. Reverend Amos would probably make him go to church every time the doors opened, but what did the man intend to do with him the rest of the time? As far as he knew, they only had church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Did the Reverend want help raking his leaves or splitting firewood? Maybe the house needed painting.
Actually, the house didn’t need painting. Its pristine white paint gleamed in the crisp, autumn air. Clint sort of liked the red shutters and the big front porch that ran from one end of the house to the other. The maple trees strewn around the yard blazed in shades of green, gold, and red and made the white house look like a picture in a calendar.
A dog barked in the distance, jerking him back to reality. Sitting in his car wasn’t getting the job done. Sighing, he got out and made his way to the front porch where he rang the doorbell. In a moment, Reverend Amos opened the door.
“Hello, Clint. Won’t you come in?”
Reverend Amos stood an inch or so taller than Clint and outweighed him by probably forty pounds. He had dark hair and brown eyes that made Clint uneasy. The preacher didn’t stare at him or anything, but Clint feared Reverend Amos saw right past the front a man presented to the world and looked into his heart—a place Clint had kept private for years.
The preacher stood aside, allowing Clint to enter the lion’s den. He indicated a room on the right. “This is our living room. Come on in.”
The living room looked downright cozy. A fireplace occupied centerstage while a brown leather sofa sat in front of a big, picture window on the opposite wall. Colorful easy chairs in shades of brown, coral, and green were scattered around the room. A baby grand piano was positioned against the far corner.
A middle-aged woman with brown hair and plain features rose from the sofa to greet him. “Hello, Clint. I’m Cynthia Amos.” She held out her hand for him to shake. It made Clint uncomfortable because he never had liked shaking hands with women. With a guy, you could give a nice firm shake and be done with it. With a woman, you never knew what to expect. Some of them acted like shaking hands was a contest of strength, while some held your hand a little bit too long. However, he knew he didn’t have any choice in the matter.
Reverend Amos and his wife took a seat on the sofa. The preacher nodded toward a chair and said, “Have a seat, Clint. I thought we should clarify our expectations for you.”
Clint clenched his fists. Here it came. The huge, long list of rules and regulations that he’d dreaded for weeks now. “Yes, sir.”
Reverend Amos didn’t look angry with him like he’d expected. He didn’t hear any condemnation in the man’s voice either. The serious expression on the preacher’s face told Clint he meant what he said, but he wasn’t trying to bully anyone or throw his weight around.
“First of all, you’ll be living in the garage apartment,” Reverend Amos said. “It’s very nice, so it should present no hardship to you. You’ll have all your meals with us except for Sunday morning. We always have cereal on Sunday so we can hurry to church. Mrs. Amos put some cereal and milk in your apartment for you.
“Every morning I’ll set you a task for the day. You won’t wear an ankle monitor until after dinner. At that time, I’ll escort you back to your apartment, where you’ll put it on and set it. Naturally, there’ll be no drinking, drugs, cursing, or pornography on my property. If you violate these rules our agreement is off which means you can pass the holiday season in jail.” Reverend Amos clasped his hands and leaned forward, his eyes boring into Clint’s. “Do we understand each other?”
Clint let out the breath he hadn’t been aware of holding. “Yes, sir, we do.” He had expected so much worse.
“Good. Let’s take your things to the apartment.”
Clint watched Reverend Amos out of the corner of his eye as he took his bag out of his car. The preacher was studying his bumper sticker. No wonder. It was a cool sticker. A little confederate soldier brandished several big guns beneath a caption that read, “Forget? Hell no!”
“That has to come off before dinner,” Amos said, his brown eyes trained on Clint with no hint whatsoever of a smile on his face.
Clint’s lips thinned. He really liked that sticker, but he knew better than to argue. He guessed preachers didn’t like stuff like that even though the guys at the club got a good laugh out of it. “Yes, sir. I’ll take it off.”
“I’d also like to search your car, Clint. I want to make sure you don’t have any alcohol hidden away.”
Clint shrugged. “It’s under the spare tire.” Lucky thing this guy was a preacher. No man did a thing like this to him and got away with it. He learned a long time ago not to take crap off anybody. It irked him to know that if he said anything now he’d go to jail. Amos removed the whiskey and checked the rest of the car. “Is that all of it?”
The preacher uncapped the bottle and poured that nice expensive whiskey onto the ground. “Tell me something.”
Clint sighed. “Yes, sir?”
“Why did you agree to come here?”
Clint would have thought that was pretty obvious. As much as he wanted to, he didn’t say so though. “I agreed to do this because I didn’t want to go to jail.”
“Is that all?”
He shook his head. “No, it isn’t. I feel bad about burning your church, so I thought you deserved a piece of me if you wanted it.”
The preacher looked as if this answer had somehow pleased him. “I just wondered.”
They climbed the garage stairs to the apartment where Reverend Amos unlocked the door. He waved Clint inside. “Here we are.”
What a neat place! Golden oak floors gleamed in the sunshine, making the bright space even more inviting. A red sofa with several matching chairs in crisp stripes clustered around a TV. A green rug with touches of red anchored the area, while a white bookcase filled with books occupied the far wall.
A small kitchenette took up one corner of the room. Opposite a glass-topped table, a door led to what he guessed was the bedroom. Amos pointed toward the door. “Let’s take your bag into the bedroom. I’m afraid I have to check it too.”
The bedroom had an oak dresser and a queen-sized bed covered by a red comforter. Clint saw a door that led to a tiny bathroom which was done in black and white tile. There was plenty of space for one person, even if it was small. He and Bud shared a bathroom about seven-by-eight at the club. Tight, but plenty of room to get clean.
A wave of homesickness flooded him. Bud was more than just his employer. Bud was his best friend, the man who took him in when he had no place to go. If he hadn’t thrown that stupid cigarette into dry mulch, the two of them would be working at the club right now. They’d maybe be playing a little pool or having a cool one.
As soon as he flung his bag on the bed, Amos went through it and confiscated his cigarettes. “Sorry. No smoking either.”
Clint answered back on this one. “I’ve been smoking since I was twelve. Nicotine withdrawal’s going to be rough.”
The preacher pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “Dr. Dean is a member of my congregation. I’ll get a prescription for you.”
“A prescription?” Not the response he’d hoped was coming.
“Yes. To help you through the withdrawal symptoms.” Amos checked his watch. “Dinner’s in one hour. Ring the bell and come on in.”
After Amos left, Clint wandered back into the living room to watch TV. No smoking and nothing to drink. He had congratulated himself on avoiding jail, but maybe he’d been a little premature with that. At least in jail Bud would have brought him some cigarettes.
Flipping through the TV channels didn’t help either. Nothing looked good to him. Maybe they had something to read on the bookshelf. He had always liked to read, even if his stepfather had mocked him for it.
He inspected the books on the shelf, but he didn’t like any of the titles. Reverend Amos had a lot of religious books, women’s magazines, and things like Tom Sawyer. Frowning, he pulled a Good Housekeeping off the shelf but tossed it aside when he heard the sound of feminine laughter outside his window. Taking care not to be seen, he peeked through the mini-blinds at the two young women getting out of a white onvertible.
The smiling red-haired girl didn’t appeal to him, redheads never had, but the other one…Oh! She made his mouth water. Even from this distance he saw how beautiful she was. Her dark hair hung down her back in pretty, springy, black curls, while her fair skin glowed with a delicate, pink color that gave her an air of innocence or…or something. Happiness, maybe? She wore a pair of jeans and a blue sweater—mmm. And what a great figure. From this distance he had no idea what color her eyes were, but he hoped they might be blue.
He grunted. It didn’t matter what color her eyes were. The preacher hadn’t brought him here to flirt. Anyway, a girl who hung out at a preacher’s house probably wouldn’t be interested in a guy like him. If he wanted a girl, he’d pick one who hung out at Bud’s Club. Someone like Darlene. The two of them had had some good times together.
The young women went into the house. Minutes later the red-haired girl came out by herself and drove off. Since the coast was clear, Clint decided he might as well get that bumper sticker off. By the time he finished, the hour the preacher had told him to wait had passed. He wiped his hands on the seat of his pants, rang the doorbell, and went on in.
Amos met him in the living room. “Good, you’re on time. I hope you’re hungry. Cynthia has a treat for dinner.”
“Uh, I probably need to wash my hands. I just took the bumper sticker off my car.”
“The bathroom is the first door on the right, just down the hall.”
Clint went into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. It wasn’t very big. Someone, probably Mrs. Amos, had painted it pink and put up a white shower curtain scattered with hot pink flowers. Why did women have a thing for pink? He couldn’t stand it. Give him a bold red any day.
He washed his hands, but he dried them on his pants. The lacy, pink towel on the towel bar didn’t look like the kind of thing anyone would really use. Taking a deep breath, he went into the kitchen. “Come into the dining room,” Mrs. Amos called.
Clint stared at the table. They were using place mats even though it wasn’t a holiday. Oh, and look at the leaves. Someone had brought in some red leaves and made an arrangement in a glass vase. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Why hadn’t they let him fix a plate to eat in his apartment? There weren’t any placemats there to drop food on. Amos indicated a chair across from the dark-haired girl he had seen on the porch. “This is our daughter, Rachel. Rachel, this is Clint Hayes.”
Rachel didn’t want him here Her blue eyes flashed even as she offered her hand to him. She had a firm handshake, but she let go as quickly as possible. Her lip pooched out as she shot a quick look at her hand. Go ahead. Wipe it off, sweetheart. I couldn’t care less. “Let’s join hands while we say grace,” the preacher said.
Clint gawked at him. They expected him to hold hands with another man? If anyone at the club ever found out about this…Everyone stared at him, so he took the preacher’s hand and that of Mrs. Amos. He bowed his head like everyone else, but he didn’t close his eyes.
“Lord, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies, and our bodies to your service. Amen.”
Mrs. Amos removed a lid from a big china tureen sitting in the center of the table. “We’re having vegetable soup and cornbread, Clint. If I do say so, I make a dynamite vegetable soup.”
Vegetable soup and cornbread! Man! He hadn’t eaten that stuff since his stepfather kicked him out at age fourteen.
“Oh, I forgot the milk,” Mrs. Amos exclaimed.
“I’ll get it, Mama.” Rachel jumped up and returned with four big glasses of milk on a wooden tray, the cheap ones like they sold at the discount store in Sterling.
Milk. For dinner last night, his last night of freedom for six months, he had cooked himself a thick steak he bought at the grocery store and eaten it with a bottle of beer. Now the preacher expected him to eat soup, cornbread, and milk.
Resigned, he took a big bite of his soup. It was delicious. It reminded him of the soup his mother had cooked when he was little. Truthfully, though, Mrs. Amos’s soup was better because it had more ingredients.
She must have noticed he liked it because she said, “Eat up, Clint. There’s plenty more in the kitchen.”
Clint did. They probably wouldn’t give him any snacks to keep in his room, and he hated to sit around hungry all evening.
After they finished dinner, the preacher and his daughter carried their dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher. Without being asked, Clint did the same. No use in behaving like a guest because he wasn’t.
Mrs. Amos favored him with a smile. “Thank you, Clint.”
For some reason, it made Clint glad that he’d pleased her. She acted as if he’d made her day even though it was only a little thing.
“You’ll need to be ready to leave at nine-thirty tomorrow,” Amos said.
Oh, yeah. Tomorrow is Sunday. “I don’t have a dress shirt or a tie to wear. I don’t have anything except jeans and tee-shirts.”
The preacher didn’t seem concerned about his clothes. “Oh, that’s fine. Not everybody dresses up. As long as your clothes are clean and don’t have objectionable slogans on them, you’re fine.”
Okay, he thought. Guess I can’t wear my new tee-shirt. He stifled a grin when he thought of the slogan on the front. It said, I’m not as dumb as you look. A new thought made him feel guilty. “Uh, where are you holding services, Reverend?”
“At the local high school. You’ll ride with us, so don’t be late.”
Rachel thrust a blue and gold tin at him. “Mama made you some cookies to snack on.”
The slight frown on Rachel’s face told him what she thought of that nice gesture. He turned to Mrs. Amos and said, “Thank you, ma’am. That was nice of you.”
Mrs. Amos gently patted his shoulder, which drew his attention to her hands. They were large with short fingernails polished with clear polish. Most of the women he knew had artificial nails they’d painted in some bold color. Some of them had flowers or rhinestones too.
“You’re very welcome, Clint. Neal, I mean Reverend Amos, can’t get through an evening without a little snack. I thought you’d probably need one, too.”
“Let’s get you settled in,” the preacher said.
He accompanied Clint back to his apartment and took an electronic ankle monitor out of his pocket. “Let’s get this on you. Would you sit down and fasten it around your leg, please?”
A burning resentment consumed Clint as he took a seat on the red sofa. He didn’t deserve to be treated like some kind of wild animal. Even the police knew he hadn’t burned the church on purpose. Nevertheless, he put the thing around his ankle. Maybe he did deserve it. After all, he was the one who’d been dumb enough to drive while he was drinking; he was the one who made the decision to stop in the churchyard that night.
“Do you know how this works?” the preacher asked.
“That square, black thing on the ankle bracelet is a transmitter. It sends a signal to a monitoring unit, which is a small box connected to a power supply and a telephone outlet. When you connected the strap, you armed the transmitter which will stay armed until seven o’clock tomorrow morning. Then you can take the transmitter off. If you try to take the transmitter off or unplug the telephone or the power to the monitoring unit, we know you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be. You can’t go out of range of the monitoring unit either.”
Clint’s lips compressed into a thin line. “How far can I go?”
“Just inside the apartment.”
Great. Talk about being a prisoner. He hadn’t escaped jail at all.
“Let’s pray before I go, Clint.”
Clint’s head snapped up. Pray? Nobody said anything about praying before he came here. Guess he should have realized the preacher would make him pray. He decided not to make a fuss about it. Spending the holidays in jail didn’t sound super appealing. “That’s okay. I can pray by myself.”
Clint almost thought he saw a twinkle in the preacher’s brown eyes. “Oh, I’m sure you can. I’d like to help you anyway.”
Clint shrugged and tried to remember that being there was his own fault. He guessed he’d better get used to all this praying stuff. The preacher knelt down beside the sofa and rested his elbows on it. “Join me.”
Clint knelt, too, and Amos prayed. “Dear Lord, I thank You for this beautiful day. I see Your handiwork in the glory of the sky and trees, and I thank You for all Your many, wondrous gifts to man. I also thank You that You’ve brought Clint to us. Bless him, Father, and help him to learn from us. I ask this in the blessed name of Jesus. Amen.”
He got to his feet and indicated the bookshelf. “Find a Bible to take with you to church tomorrow. There’s an alarm clock in the bedroom so you can wake up on time.”
The preacher went back to his own house, leaving Clint to resentfully study the fetter on his leg. The judge didn’t know it, but he had sentenced him to prison anyway. Vegetable soup, milk, cookies, Bibles, and electronic monitors? What a way to live.
Rachel poured the leftover vegetable soup into a bowl and covered it. “Mama, why did you bake cookies for him? Aren’t we supposed to be punishing him? I hope you didn’t spend all afternoon slaving for that man.” She looked around the kitchen for more cookies. “What about our family? Don’t we get cookies too?”
Her mother opened the pantry door and took out a cookie jar. Then she handed a chocolate chip cookie to Rachel. “You’re right, Rachel. He doesn’t deserve those cookies. On the other hand, though, neither do you and I.”
“Oh, I know what you’re thinking. We’re all sinners, right?” She took a big bite of her cookie. Decadent and yummy as usual.
“We never burned down a church,” Rachel pointed out.
Her mother laughed. “God can forgive any sin, even burning down a church.”
“I know, but…” Rachel gave up and stuffed the rest of the cookie into her mouth. She forgot that she had prayed for strength to forgive Clint. Her parents were like children. Had they forgotten everything this man had taken from them? That little building had been a part of her life since she was six years old. It was a place to respect, not a place to drink and smoke. Didn’t the jerk know that?
Let God forgive Clint Hayes if He wanted to. Why did her father have to bring such a person into their home? He should have let the judge sentence Hayes to jail. If her father wanted to save Clint’s soul, he could have visited the man in jail. Honestly!
She closed her eyes. Calm, Rachel. What’s good about the man? Something has to be good. What would God see in him? Well, she had to admit he was cute. He wasn’t especially tall, maybe six feet at the most, but he was so well proportioned he looked taller. He had sandy blond hair and intense blue eyes. His face looked sensitive yet…what was the word…vulnerable. That wasn’t exactly it either, but at the moment she couldn’t think of anything any better. The look in his eyes made her think he was waiting for life to kick him in the teeth and wanted to be ready for the blow.
Against her instincts, she did see what God saw in him: a wounded child in need of guidance and love. And it scared her.
She turned out the light in the kitchen and ran to her room. Maybe he’d had a hard time in his life. Maybe he drank and smoked because no one had ever cared enough to teach him any better. If so, maybe in a way he was as much a victim as the congregation of Saved By Grace. Sighing, she pulled her Sunday School book out of her night stand.
Maybe she’d dress up tomorrow. She had a new fall suit in a warm shade of chocolate brown that looked beautiful with her hair. The length of the skirt pleased her, although her father would probably think it was too short. He had definite opinions about such matters.
The blazer looked nice, too. She’d add a pair of high heels and some gold jewelry. Smiling, she thought of how nice she’d look. Way out of his league. Color flooded her cheeks. Why had she even thought of such a thing? Who’d want a man like Clint to notice her as a woman? Her boyfriend Josh was a nice guy, not a church burner. He’d been to school and had a future.
Morning came all too soon for Rachel. No one knew how much she dreaded going to church with Clint Hayes. She clattered down the stairs to join her parents. “Isn’t Mr. Hayes here yet?” she asked, aware of how snooty she sounded but unable to stop herself.
“Not yet,” her father answered.
Rachel cocked her head. “You don’t think he ran away do you?”
That's it, folks. If you're interested in The Sentence it's available at the following locations:
Would you like to see a picture of Clint? Rachel took this one while Clint was working on the new church. Cute, isn't he?
All pictures except those of Clint and Rachel's dress are from Strawberryshortcakexo.tumblr. Rachel's dress is from http://www.pullandbear.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product/pullandbearcz/en/pullandbear/29016/609011/ASYMMETRICAL%2BDRESS%2BWITH%2BOPEN%2BBACK and the picture of Clint I bought so long ago I don't remember where it came from.