Chapter 32

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After Pastor Josh confronted me on the steps, things began to change. More specifically, I began to change. When Josh would talk about his family, I would share a story of my own. If I could see a member of the youth group looking down, I would go and ask in halting words if everything was okay. And at night when Keira's face would rise before me, I wouldn't feel sorrow, only a calm. Something inside me was softening.

It was after the final Sunday service a few weeks later. Josh and I were packing up as usual, when a tiny brunette called Michelle drifted over. She'd only been coming to church for a few weeks, but even I could see her instant fondness of Pastor Josh.

"Hi guys," she said, her big brown eyes focused on Josh. "Can I give you a hand with anything?"

Josh blushed. He's a big guy, and it was almost enjoyable to watch the flush creep upwards from his chin and all over his bald head. Red and shiny, he coughed, then replied. "Thanks, Michelle, that's really nice of you. I think we're okay though, right, Noah?"

For once, the right words came to me. "Actually Michelle, can you finish packing up these chairs with Josh? I need to get a drink."

"Sure," she said happily, smiling widely at my friend. Josh looked half-terrified, half-delighted as I left them alone and wandered away. I grabbed a can from the kitchen, then paced out into the darkness to ruminate.

Through the windows, Michelle and Josh were laughing and talking. I could almost see the fine threads of a new relationship spinning between them, delicate as silk, strong as a web. I didn't know much about people, but I knew love when I see it.

With that realisation, Keira's memory slapped me like an unexpected wave, fresh hurt streaking through me. I'd thought I was moving on, but my heart felt differently. Would it always be so painful? Would I ever stop craving her?

I waited on the steps of Pastor's Josh's little house until he appeared. He was flushed and happy. "Noah! Did you see the way she looked at me? I think she's interested in me, man! It's so hard, I can never tell if women are looking at me like a pastor, or something more, but I really think Michelle is special, and I don't want to overstep, but I'm gonna ask her out. What do you think?"

He was like a little kid, alive and burning. I couldn't help but return his smile. "Ask her out. She'll say yes."

"Yes!" Josh pumped a fist. "That's so good to hear, thanks man."

"Josh?"

He pulled up serious at my tone. "Yeah?"

"I'm ready to tell you my story now."

Before I could react, Josh grabbed me and hugged me. "Come on. I'll make the coffee."

The evening was warm, so we pulled chairs outside the big auditorium windows and faced the ocean on the spot where we first met. For the next few hours, I emptied everything out: becoming an orphan, my solitude, my faith, Keira. Like breath from a balloon, it escaped out of me in a bluster, but I slowed down as I reached the hard part.

"I truly thought she'd been sent like a gift into my life. I believed God wanted me to have her. What we felt... it was so strong, it was like she'd been made for me." I swallowed hard. "But then I read the passage about God wanting us to be single, and I had to run. I literally ran, pushed her away and left her in the rain alone. I abandoned her in the worst possible way because I was too afraid if I stayed one more minute, I'd never have the strength to do the right thing."

Josh had been listening attentively from the beginning, but now he raised a hand to stop me. "Wait, what passage?"

"Now to the unmarriedand the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do." Even after so long, the words still caught in my throat like chunks of despair.

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