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Sin, Secrets, and Salvation

By Lynn Hobbs

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Chapter One
Night had fallen when Susan Penleigh’s shift at the museum ended and she walked toward her Ford Escape. The ache in her fingers, from the hours of relentless inventory, made it difficult to snatch car keys out of her purse. She slid into the vehicle and relished the feel of merely sitting idle for a few moments. With her head leaned back and eyes closed for several seconds, though reluctant to even move, she finally sat up, clicked on the seat belt, and started the Ford.
The sky drew her attention when she put the car in reverse and started moving. Spring was her favorite season, and May seemed to have a reviving effect from the recent winter blahs of northern Washington. Clouds rolled in, and the sharp coolness she experienced alerted her to get an updated weather report. Inside all day, she had no clue what to expect. The car radio on low, she hummed along with the gospel classic “Blessed Assurance,” and began the drive home. Moments later, caught up in the song, she turned the volume up to sing along with new-found energy. I’ll catch the weather on the ten o’clock news.
Her eyes darted around and she observed the other vehicles on the road. Not much traffic tonight. A casual glance in the rear view mirror caused a frantic surprise causing a rapid intake of breath, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood at sudden attention. A van barreled toward her at what seemed to be a speed way beyond the limit. Her heart raced as she swerved to the shoulder of the road to give the driver room to pass. Tinted windows made it a mystery as to the driver’s identity. Maybe someone got sick and had to be rushed to the hospital by private vehicle.
Several minutes of driving proved the theory wrong. Susan passed as the van sat on the side of the road. Strange. Almost blinded by the sudden brightness of high-beams that flooded her mirrors, she made her turn for the exit. An anxious look out the side window as she passed another streetlight, confirmed the van had followed her into the turn. Her heart thudded in her chest and her breathing quickened. What is going on?
Safety training kicked in, she drove to a well-lit shopping center and pulled into the parking lot. The van pulled in also. Perspiration beaded on her upper lip in spite of the cool air. Why are they following me? The loud beating of her heart penetrated her ears as fear engulfed her whole being. Catching her breath, she checked the rear view mirror for signs of the van. It’s still here. Blue and tan van…Oregon license plates…
Adrenalin rushed through her veins as she slammed her foot on the accelerator. She spun the car around, drove behind a fast food restaurant, and sped down an alley. Getting her bearings, she made a few turns and came out into a quiet neighborhood. She slowed down and kept a close watch on the rear view mirror. After driving several blocks, the van failed to reappear. Relieved, she dismissed her near panic reaction and tried to calm down. What was that all about? With a trembling hand she turned her car around, decided to put this freak episode behind her, and headed home. Probably some teens pulling a prank. Probably.
A loud sigh escaped her lips. Relaxed, she pulled onto her street only to have that disappear when she saw every light in the house on. That could only mean one thing, both her daughters and her son were alone and Dave, their dad, was not home. Why can’t at least one thing go right today?
Dave’s excuses of appointments to sell insurance to clients out of town, rubbed her wrong. There was no way all these late nights could have been work-related. The signs were there and had been for awhile. She couldn’t ignore them much longer. Something had to be done.
Thoughts of Dave triggered old memories. She stopped and remembered how happy she and Dave had been twenty years ago, when they married.
It hadn’t always been awful. The excitement of just holding hands and wanting to be together constantly, such a strong bond of love, it even overwhelmed us. We enjoyed doing so much together; Dave was the one who taught me how to drive a car. Hmmm, good feelings―I do miss them.
Susan pulled her car in the driveway and locked it. The remote beeped loud and clear in the quiet night. Silence quickly filled the space with faint, distant sounds of chirping birds passing by overhead. It should be so peaceful to be home. Upon entering the house, exhaustion came over her and she yawned.
Determined, she walked through the house and straight to the kitchen. “Hello.”
All three of the kids dropped what they were doing and hurried to Susan. Scott towered over her at seventeen. Sweet Karen, her socialite butterfly, looked twenty-five but was only sixteen. And her baby, Molly, was a fourteen-year old band geek.
“Everyone finished with homework?”
“Yes, Mom, we’ll be in our room.” Karen spoke for her younger sister as usual. Molly adored her big sister and followed her like a shadow. Scott hovered in the doorway. Susan sprinkled herbs and spices on salmon steaks, shoved them in the oven and started the salad.
Scott jumped up onto the counter, and sat with his long legs dangling. He reached over and placed two hot pads on the counter to remove the salmon from the oven. Susan walked the short distance from the stove and stood at the adjoining counter. “Thanks.” She grabbed the cutting board from a peg on the wall and pulled a knife from the drawer.
He grinned. “Mom,” he began.
Slicing a few vegetables, she paused to give him her attention. “What?”
“Mom,” he hesitated, “you haven’t even stopped to take your uniform off yet.”
“Well, it’s so late, Scott; I want to get dinner on.” She gave him a tired smile.
“Mom, we’re sick of how Dad treats you and us too.” Scott’s look was so solemn.
Aware of a sound behind her, she turned and saw the girls standing in the doorway. She realized then they’d all been talking earlier.
“Scott’s right, Mom.” Karen whispered.
Molly’s eyes were big as saucers; she looked bug-eyed at Susan and remained quiet. Susan laid the knife down. “It’s time I brought this out in the open. Your dad says he’s doing what he has to do. The problem is getting him away from his friends at night.” Susan crossed her arms over her chest.
“The problem, Mom, is he could be here if he wanted to be.” Scott announced.
Her children were more astute than she gave them credit for. She looked at such concerned expressions on their young faces and her heart twisted.
No, we are not the perfect family but they are my family.
“I need to tell you, I am considering divorce.”
All three begin to nod their heads in agreement. She and her kids were always close. They would expect answers with no sugar coating, and no apologies. Dave’s absence was all too typical. Her mind wandered back to ten years ago. His behavior was unacceptable then. She tried to get counseling for both of them. He refused and she ended up with a legal separation for a year.
Thinking back, she noticed the same pattern. The sudden interest he took in his appearance, losing weight, purchasing new clothes, and yes, staying out late.
She managed well with the children ten years ago. And would again.
At that time, she had leased a duplex that was reasonable. An older woman occupied the other duplex and agreed to watch the kids after school until Susan got home from work. She had found an office job at a credit union.
She sighed. Compared to her experience of years ago, it would now be easier. Living outside Seattle, Washington, in nearby Greenville, was good for them. With her full-time job at the museum and the kids being older, they wouldn’t need as much supervision.
Dave rotated between two girlfriends back then. With his actions now, it was past time for him to be history.
“I will make time to talk to your dad.” Susan turned the oven off, took the salmon steaks out and placed them on the counter. The girls prepared the table, Scott placed the food and they all sat down. Grace was said, as they held hands together. Susan added a silent plea for strength to face the eventual ordeal ahead of her.
They seem as relieved as I am. I will not dwell on anything unhappy while we eat.
“What did you learn in band practice?” Susan changed the subject.
“A new routine to march by is the latest problem to tackle.” Scott laughed.
Molly giggled. “It will take awhile. That’s pretty definite.”
“Remember the end result of all the hours of band practice, when it all comes together? Think about the moment you’re proud you worked the kinks out, that’s how I feel about my hobby.” She glanced at each child.
“What’s that?” They all asked, looking up from their plates.
“I write at night after you go to bed. I love it.”
Their faces lit up with grins and all eyebrows rose high.
“What do you write about?” Karen inquired.
“Oh, some are poems, and others are short stories.”
Three teenage appetites kicked into high gear, and demolished the meal. Susan enjoyed hearing their chatter and all helped clean the kitchen. She watched as the girls loaded the dishwasher and Scott took the garbage container outside and locked it secure. She felt so blessed to have such good kids. After saying goodnight, they went to bed and Susan laid on the couch in the living room. Her work shift started early, it would be difficult to wait up for Dave.
At five o’clock a.m., she jumped from the couch at the shrill sound of the alarm clock. To sleep on a couch is so wrong. Still groggy from not enough sleep, she stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. No one else was up. She awoke by degrees, stiff and sore; she stretched her elbows upward while arching her back. She rubbed her fingers across her eyes and yawned, as she walked by the windows over the long kitchen counter on the right side of the room. Grabbing a cup from the shelf, she saw it was still dark outside. She poured herself some coffee and glanced at the next door neighbor’s house. It was vacant, a for sale sign in the yard.
Wait a minute. Something’s not right. She focused on the pale glow from the security lights in the front yard. The outline of a vehicle caught her eye in the murky darkness, and she learned towards the window for a better look.
It’s the same van.
The coffee cup slipped from her grasp, and the hot liquid splattered the floor and furniture. She didn’t care. Frantic, she ran from the kitchen to the bedroom. I have to wake Dave.
“Dave.” Almost choked with fright, her voice cracked. She burst open the bedroom door and gasped. The bed was empty. Soft moonlight poured inside from the only window in the room, as she looked around. Dave was not here. A sob died in her throat and she squared her shoulders. I refuse to let him defeat me. Wide awake now, Susan’s anger took control.
Fluorescent lights brightened the kitchen upon her slow return. She ignored the mess on the floor and poured another cup of coffee. The aroma and steam cleared her head of fear, as she developed a plan. She would call his cell phone. Susan, strong and resolved, dialed from the kitchen phone. On the third ring he answered.
“Yeah.”
“Dave, where are you?”
“I’m in a motel. I was too tired to drive home.”
“Thanks for calling us.” Susan raised her voice, clearly annoyed.
“Why did you call me?” Dave snarled.
“Why do you even ask?” She slammed the coffee cup on the counter.
“I don’t have to listen to this.”
“Dave, I could use some compassion here.”
“Okay, okay, what’s up?”
“I was followed home from work last night. Actually, I should say chased part of the way. This morning I found the same vehicle, parked at the vacant house next door, where the Jenson’s lived.”
“Maybe they got lost trying to find the Jenson house. It is for sale.”
“They chased me Dave.”
“Hey, nobody gets chased in Greenville, Washington.”
“They have Oregon license plates.”
“That proves it. You are overreacting, Susan. Why would anyone follow you and risk parking next door to you anyway? It could be an early appointment with a real estate agent.”
“Don’t blow this off Dave, something is going on.”
“Well, if you ask me, I think they are checking out the Jenson house. It could have been the house across the street, as well. It’s vacant and for sale too. What was their name?”
“Tidwell.”
“Go on to work Susan. We’ll talk later.”
“Sure.”
She cleaned the coffee drenched kitchen and got the kids up. They are, left for school, and she went on to work. Her concentration lagged and she couldn’t wait to get back home, but when she did the van was gone.
♦♦♦♦
Dave and Susan’s situation continued to worsen.
Shortly after his night out, she left work for a quick lunch at home. She felt her skin crawl, as she looked at the shut-off notice hanging on the front door.
It was from the electric company.
She went inside, prepared her sandwich, and spent the whole hour reminiscing about other incidents.
Susan remembered when she paid the utility bills at Dave’s office. He had said things were sort of tight. Yet, he went out to eat daily with the guys. She was frugal and ate at home.
His was a monetary reason for Susan remaining at her job, and not at his office. Her job provided free insurance to full time employees and their families. She also made fourteen dollars an hour.
Susan slowly chewed her sandwich and it tasted like rubber. This was the longest one hour lunch she had ever spent. She thought of Dave’s being in control with her job and everything else.
Four months ago, Dave had hired phone girls to do soliciting from his office.
She almost didn’t hear the phone ring that day, over the grinding noise of the kitchen garbage disposal.
“Mrs. Penleigh?”
“Yes.”
“Mrs. Penleigh, this is Roy Fritsche with Giddings Telecom. An additional eight hundred dollars is due for the business number on your account.”
“Eight hundred dollars? Why?” Susan listened to his monotone voice.
“Mrs. Penleigh, hundreds of phone calls are being charged to that number. We are required to have an additional deposit or we have to discontinue service. That’s standard company procedure.”
“My husband has phone girls call long distance from his office. They set up appointments with anyone interested in purchasing insurance. That’s the reason behind the large amount of long distance calls.” Susan explained.
“We need it now, Mrs. Penleigh.”
“Yes, I understand. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ll talk to him concerning the additional deposit.” She assured him.
As she depressed the button to end the call, she released it for a new dial tone and dialed her husband.
“Dave?”
“What?”
“The phone company needs eight hundred dollars for an additional deposit, because of your phone girls. I just got off the phone with them.”
“Well, I don’t have it. I told you things were tight. A lot of people owe me and it’s put me in a bind.”
“If you don’t pay it today, the service will be cut off.”
“You’ll have to get it from your employee savings plan. I have to keep this place open.” Dave started barking orders.
“No, Dave. That money is for the future.”
“It is for emergencies. Susan, we are a team. This is for our future. Take care of this okay? I’ll put the money back in later, when we get it.”
“Okay.” She sighed and gave in to his demand.
“Thanks.”
Kiss it goodbye. No, he never paid it back.
Susan later swung by Dave’s office on her way to work and met the infamous Penny Holcomb, he had recently hired. He talked about her constantly. Attractive and a big flirt, she was one of the younger phone girls. Divorced with two small children, she enjoyed Dave’s constant lop-sided grin.
Susan was annoyed and embarrassed by Dave’s obsession with Penny.
Once Dave became so enraptured that he drove to Susan’s job and asked for her car keys.
“Don’t worry; I’ll pick you up from work when your shift is over.”
“Why do you want my Chevy Tahoe?”
Dave laughed.
“I am simply helping Penny out. I’m letting her borrow your car for the weekend. She has to visit her in-laws out of town and needs a car.” He shrugged it off nonchalantly.
“Well, excuse me, but I need my car for the weekend.” Susan’s words gushed out of her mouth as her temper raged. “I have a family full of needs and errands to complete; and I don’t want Penny getting my car dirty with her little kids eating in it.”
“Those little kids need to be driven inside a safe, reliable car. Penny needs help and your car will help her. Penny’s car could never make the trip.”
Dave tried to make Susan feel guilty and finally convinced her to turn her car keys over to him.
The following Monday, Penny was a no show at the office. Upon contacting her parents, Dave and Susan discovered they didn’t know where Penny was either.
That afternoon, Susan’s car was found next to a local restaurant. Sugar had been poured into the gas tank. It was useless. Soon it was all over town that Penny and her kids had run off with some guy her own age. Dave refused to discuss the issue but he did get Susan another car, she now drove a Ford Escape.
Disgusted over the memories, Susan left her sandwich on the table, went into the living room and angrily flipped the controls of the television on. “Oh, and that’s another great one to remember.” She hollered out loud to herself and threw a pillow at the television. “That expensive television commercial he had to make. Oh, did he look sharp.”
Unpaid bills had continued to mount. He did drum up more business from that attempt though, than from having the phone girls. Yet, he still insisted I have to work.
Still infuriated with him, she shook her head, sat down and ran her hand through her hair. Her head throbbed as she remembered the most recent time her parents had come over.
“Sam has to get his truck serviced at the Ford dealership. I thought I’d stay and visit before you go on to your job.” Brenda smiled at her daughter. “Susan Penleigh, I can’t believe you’re paying those high bills.” She frowned.
Of course Susan had taken them into her confidence about Dave’s recent actions.
“Why don’t you stay home today? Rest would do you good.” Brenda spoke in a quiet voice. “Look at you, skin and bones. You never stop.”
Susan resembled those undernourished people on television with skinny legs and arms. She had a lot on her shoulders: responsibilities of the kids, maintenance at home, a forty-hour a week job with each Saturday being all night. Yes, she was overworked. On Sundays she slept. Later, she’d help the kids clean Dave’s office. She also kept the ledger and balanced the checkbook. Dave never even mowed the grass.
She knew her kindhearted mother meant well.
Susan grinned. It was tempting. She considered the suggestion her mother had made. “I have not missed a day of work in a mighty long time. I am tired. Others routinely call in sick when they’re not. I never do.” She laughed at the possibilities. “Oh, to fall asleep or leisurely lie around all day. I will do it.”
They jumped and yelled, waved their arms up into the air, all excited. Susan left Dave a note on the table to inform him she would call in sick at work, but intended to simply have a day of rest.
They got into Susan’s car and drove to her job, talking to each other a mile a minute. Dave happened to come home to check on the mail and saw her note. He wasted no time in driving the short distance to the museum. He raced his car into the parking lot, screeching his tires to a sudden stop, as Susan exited her car.
“What do you think you are doing?” He demanded.
She didn’t wear any makeup, in order to deliberately appear weak and pale, and dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt.
“I’m going in there and tell them I don’t feel good, I can’t work today,” Susan stated.
“Oh, no, you don’t. You get back home and put your uniform on. “He fumed through clenched teeth. “You have got to work.” His voice grew louder and he repeatedly pointed his finger toward her face.
She had no idea he would become this furious over one day off work.
“You get home and I mean now.” He spoke with a fury and spit flew out of his mouth.
Past experience taught her the battle was over. Mr. Authority has pulled a proverbial rug out from underneath me. Weariness washed all over her body in defeat.
Repulsed, she studied Dave’s face as if seeing him for the first time. She realized she wouldn’t have gone through with it anyway.
“Oh, I’ll go to work, buy not because of you.” She raised an eyebrow defiantly and drew her mouth together into a tight line.
Triumphant, Dave marched to his car to leave.
She walked back to the car where Brenda waited. There was more than one reason why she decided to return to work. True, she was shocked by her husband’s reaction, of course. She was also surprised at how easy it was to not behave like a Christian. Susan looked at her mother and smiled.
“I’m sure you overheard everything.” Susan told her. “We got all caught up in the moment. Just because someone else calls in sick when they aren’t, doesn’t make it right for me to do it. That’s the way of the world. Not the way of a Christian.”
“You are so right.” Brenda agreed. “That certainly was close.”
“Yes, it was.” Thank you, Lord Jesus for my job.
Each raised an arm high in the air, gave a high-five with a slap of hands; and a happy grin. Exuberant, refreshed in her decision, Susan’s face glowed. Returning to her house, she realized how fast a situation could be turned around. Renewed in awareness and in faith, the comfort of a hug was shared with her mother. Sam returned to get Brenda, and Susan prepared that day long ago, for her shift at the museum.
Susan had an excessive amount of problems to deal with. What a marriage. She went back into the kitchen, looked at her half eaten sandwich and knew she would never forget her awful lunch hour. Glancing at the time on the wall clock, reminiscing was over. She’d have to hurry back or she’d be late. As she left the house, she carefully closed the front door. She made sure the shut-off notice was still intact, hanging on the door knob.
Hope your lunch was pleasant, Dave. She walked across the deck fuming. He claims he needs his restaurant buddies, they help with his business. Yeah, right. They are always welcome. Aggravated, she drew back her leg and kicked the welcome mat with a violet force that sent it flying through the air.

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