The pews were packed at First Baptist Church, Coreyville. As part-time music minister of the church, Greg Tenorly sat in his usual place on the podium, behind and slightly to the left of the pastor. He wondered why attendance was up. It was a perfect day—seventy degrees, sunny. That had to be part of the reason. And the sermon title was ‘Forgiveness Fighters.’ People would much rather hear a sermon about forgiveness than one about Hell.
Everybody wanted to be forgiven. But when it came to forgiving others—many people fight it. The pastor said these folks were the Forgiveness Fighters. He read a scripture passage.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
When Greg heard these verses, which he knew by memory, it was like a slap in the face. How many times had he already forgiven his father? But he knew that ‘seventy times seven’ did not mean literally 490 times. The number ‘seven’ in the Bible symbolized completeness. It meant forgiving an unlimited number of times. But how could Greg ever forgive his father for killing his mother?
Maybe if Greg had been there it wouldn’t have happened. But he had moved out of the house during his first semester at Lamar University—even though it was only forty minutes away, in Beaumont. A fellow music major had been more than happy to let Greg share the little rent house and the expenses.
Ralph Tenorly had sent his wife to the grocery store for more chips and dip. The big game was already starting, and there were no snacks in the house. But on her way back home, a pickup truck blew through a stop sign, crashing into the driver’s side of the car. Barbara was killed instantly.
Couldn’t Ralph have done without the stupid chips and dip? Or driven to the store himself?
Greg knew he needed to forgive his father. The instructions from the Bible were clear. And he would forgive him. But not today.
“What did you think of the sermon, Mom?” Cynthia asked her the question every week.
“Very good,” said Beverly. “It’s so important to forgive people. Holding grudges will just eat you up inside.”
Cynthia nodded in agreement.
Greg acted as though he wasn’t listening—looking around to see if he knew anybody standing in line. Luby’s Cafeteria was always crowded at this time of day, when the church people arrived. “I’m going to have the fried Cod today.”
“I love their fried fish,” said Beverly.
“Yeah. It’s got that crunchy coating,” said Greg. “That’s what makes it so good.”
“It’s pretty fattening though,” said Cynthia. “You could get the broiled fish instead.”
“That’s okay. I don’t eat it very often,” said Greg, holding in his stomach.
They slowly made their way up to the food, filled their trays, and found a table. Once Greg had said a prayer of blessing, they began to eat.
“Greg and I have been invited to his dad’s 75th birthday party,” said Cynthia. “But he and his dad are not on speaking terms.”
“That’s why he didn’t come to the wedding?” said Beverly.
“Right,” said Cynthia.
“Well, how long has this been going on?” said Beverly
Greg wished that Cynthia had not brought it up. “A few years.”
“Oh, Greg,” said Beverly, “that’s terrible. You need to work things out with him—like in today’s sermon. You need to forgive each other. Life’s just too short.”
“I know,” said Greg.
“We need to go to his birthday party,” said Cynthia. “Then you’d have a chance to sit down and talk to him.”
No, no, no! Greg wanted to scream it. But he knew Cynthia was right. It would be a waste of time trying to talk to his dad. But, for Cynthia…he would try.
“This is not gonna work, Sondra,” said Val. “I said you could stay here for a few weeks, but you’re eating up all my food.”
“What?” Sondra kept her eyes on the TV, reaching into the family-sized bag to grab another potato chip. “I’ll pay you back.”
“Okay.” Val didn’t move.
“Yes, right now—before you eat the whole bag.”
Sondra sat the bag down beside her on the couch, reached into her purse, and pulled out a five-dollar bill. “Here you go.”
Val snatched it out of her hand. “And from now on, buy your own food.”
“Fine. I will.”
“And I’m gonna need some money for rent and utilities.”
Sondra muted the TV. “You’re kidding.”
“No, I’m not. Look, I barely get by as it is. I can’t afford any extra expenses.”
“Okay. How about fifty a week?”
Sondra gritted her teeth. “Fine.”
Sondra’s nerve endings began to tingle—the way they always did right before she performed her magic act. In the blink of an eye, she could transform a living, breathing human into a corpse. She slipped her hand into her purse, and felt the large, cold pocket knife. In less than a second, without even thinking, the knife would be out, the blade exposed. Val would barely see the flash of metal before it ripped into her chest and punctured her heart.
She saw Val collapse to the floor—in her mind. She would have to leave town. Her plans would be destroyed. It’s just not worth it, she thought, taking a slow, deep breath. She retrieved the seventy-five dollars from her purse and handed it to her evil witch of a mother.
“Shouldn’t we test out these popcorn machines?” Lenny could almost taste the buttery stuff.
“We just ate hamburgers two hours ago,” said Craig. “And I’m sure they work just fine.”
Their voices echoed in the huge metal building that was becoming Billy-Eye’s Arcade and Dance Barn.
“But what if they don’t? Daddy’s gonna be mad.”
“Okay, yeah, I guess you’re right. So, where’s the popcorn?”
Lenny’s blank look gave his answer.
“Well, I guess it was a good idea to try out these machines—so we’d realize that we don’t even have any popcorn!” He punched Lenny in the arm.
“Hey, nobody told me to buy the popcorn.”
“Well, can’t you figure out anything for yourself?”
“Hey, did you hear that?”
“Don’t try to change the subject.” But then Craig heard it too. “Somebody’s knocking.”
“I told you.”
Craig walked across the wide-open concrete floor, and unlocked and opened the door. He was going to be rude to whoever it was. It was Sunday afternoon—why was somebody bothering them? They needed to get some work done.
Then he saw her. She was beautiful—mid to late twenties, short thick blonde hair. “May I help you?” And oh, how he wanted to help her.
“Yes. I’m here about the auditions for the house band.” She had a slight accent. It was sexy, European.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Registration is tomorrow…at 1:00 PM. You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Yes. I live in Little Cypress.”
How was this possible? Craig thought he had met every available woman within a fifty-mile radius. He had dated most of them.
“So, I’ll come back tomorrow,” she said, and then turned to walk away.
The sexiest butt he’d ever seen was leaving him. “What’s your name?” he blurted out.
She stopped and turned around. “Cindy. Cindy Banya.”
He walked out to her. “I’m Craig.” He held out his hand.
“Good to meet you, Craig,” she said, shaking his hand. “So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Could I buy you a cup of coffee?”
“Okay,” she said, holding out her hand for the money.
How long has she been in this country? he wondered. “No. I meant—”
“—I know what you meant.” She grinned. “Come on—we’ll take my car.”
As they walked toward her little convertible, he said, “What’s the name of your band?”
“Well, I’m not actually in a band right now. I was hoping to hook up with one that needs a good drummer.”
“I like your accent. Where are you from?”
“I grew up in Dallas. My family and I just moved here a few weeks ago.”
Craig felt better. That’s why he had never met her.
“My parents are Russian.” And then, in a perfect Texas twang, she said, “But I’m a true-blue Texan.”
“Yes, you are. And a beautiful one.”
“Thank you. Now, where are we going?” she said, as they got into her car.
“You ever been to The Buttard Biscuit?”
“You’re in for a treat, Honey. It’s my family’s restaurant. Our biscuits are better than cherry pie.”
Lenny walked out the door just in time to see his brother and some blonde driving away.