Ken felt that rain would have better suited his mood than the bright sunshine that had lain across his back all day. The fact that most of his work allowed him to think while he did it was no solace today, especially not when his thoughts kept drifting to Michelle. He sang to himself, tried to recite Scripture, thought of how he was going to paint his house, planned exactly how to remove the somber, dark wood paneling in the den without harming the drywall underneath and drew up a mental list of things he needed to pick up at the store on the way home. It didn’t really help. Michelle was there the whole time, lurking, just ready to jump out. She was back, after all, and he had dreamed of her for these past two years. Even his six-month binge hadn’t kept her from his nights. And now, for the first time since his talk with Bill, he was seriously considering going out and getting really smashed. He decided to start painting the study instead.
And so it was about seven-thirty when there came a knock at the front door of his new house. Wondering who it might be, he dropped the brush on top of the paint can, wiped his hands on his rag and went to the door. He pulled it open and immediately resisted the urge to slam it shut again.
“Hi,” Michelle said with a small smile.
“Ayuh,” was all he replied. He drank in her presence despite himself. Her hair was pulled back and she was dressed in a conservative, but form-fitting blue cotton top with short sleeves and a pair of bleached jeans. She clutched at the strap of her purse with both hands. The rage that he had pent up all day suddenly receded at her presence and he felt ashamed that she would see him in his paint-spattered pants and ragged t-shirt.
“Would you like to come in?” he asked after a long moment. “It’s getting cold.”
“Sure.” She stepped through the entry, looking around. “When your mom said you’d bought a new house, I didn’t realize it was our old one,” she remarked.
“Well, it always had a special place in my heart.” He looked at her thoughtfully as she stepped through the front hall, still holding on to her purse, and peered through the doorway into the living-room.
“Hm, dark blue doesn’t really fit there,” she said.
“I’m painting it yellow,” he told her. She looked at him quizzically and then back at the room.
“I don’t know; I’ve always thought this room ought to be ivory, even though Mom had it painted green.”
“You remember that?” he demanded, stepping up behind her.
“Sure, I do.” She turned to face him. “I just tried to suppress it.” He shook his head and turned away.
“You surprise me, Michelle.” And he walked towards the study where he’d been painting, caught between the hope she’d follow and the wish she’d go away. She came after him, and went into the room that he was working on.
“This was my playroom,” she remarked. “We used to spend hours in here.” She laughed at the memory and he found himself smiling as he picked up the brush and went back to cutting in around the windows.
“So what brings you here?” he asked.
“I wanted to talk to you.” She dropped her bag and sat down on the stepping stool Ken had been using to work on the upper corners of the room.
“What do we have to talk about?” he shot back, straightening. He could feel the burning behind his eyes come alive again.
“A lot.” She looked at him, and there was something in her deep green eyes that at any other time he might have realized was a reflection of her love for him, but right now it simply felt like pity – something that he did not want. He turned back to his painting.
“Like saying ‘I’m sorry.’”
He flinched, bouncing the brush against the trim and leaving a splash of primer on the molding around the window.
“Isn’t it a little late for that?” he sighed, resisting the urge to lean his head against the wall.
“It’s never too late for that.” Michelle’s voice was adamant, but in the same moment it cracked. He looked at her and noticed a trickle down the side of her nose. She wiped at it.
“Look, Ken, I hurt you deeply, I know that,” she began. “The way I said it and my timing was probably wrong, but it was the right thing to do.” He bristled at that remark and made to reply, but she raised a hand.
“Please, let me finish. I am very sorry that I hurt you and I need to ask your forgiveness. I am sorry that what I did drove you to – do what you did.”
Oh, God, she knows, he thought to himself. How on earth does she know?
“And so I want to ask you to please forgive me,” she finished in a quavering voice. He looked down at the brush in his hand, suddenly wanting to thrust it into her face.
“I think you’d better leave,” was all he said.
“Kenner,” she pleaded.
“Go, Michelle, before I do something I regret.” She caught the tone in his voice, the fire in his eyes, and nodded miserably. She got up and took her bag, then walked to the door, shoulders slumped. She paused and looked over her shoulder, tears streaming freely now.
“I love you, Kenner Olivier,” she whispered and then was gone. And he was caught between the walls of rage and despair. They pressed ever closer and he slumped down against the wall, not caring that his brush was now staining the hardwood floor or that his hair was resting in the fresh primer he’d just put on underneath the molding.
Why he decided to drive up to the Stone House that evening was a mystery to him, but as the large door opened to reveal his friend and mentor, Ken knew it was the right thing at the right time. Larry’s glasses glinted, backlit by the hall light.
“Ken,” he exclaimed. “Welcome.” Ken noticed that there was no surprise in Larry’s voice.
“H’lo, Larry,” he muttered in return and walked into the entry hall.
“I take it you came to talk.” The teacher was all business as he looked at his blond friend who was clad in paint-spattered jeans and a dark t-shirt with a brown work jacket thrown over his shoulders. By comparison, Larry looked about ready to walk out the door for a meeting, being attired in dress pants, jacket and a bow tie. Typical, Ken thought to himself.
“Ayuh,” he grunted in reply.
“Then let’s go upstairs.” Larry led the way up the broad stairs and then up the narrow ones to the attic. They turned left past a large bank of book cases and came into Larry’s study. He offered Ken his usual seat in one of the two large captain’s chairs, while taking the other for himself.
“So,” the teacher began thoughtfully. “I take it this is about Michelle.” Ken nodded. “And?”
“And she came to see me tonight.” He pushed the words out with difficulty. “She came to ask me for forgiveness.” The ghost of a smile flitted across Larry’s lips.
“Well what?” The younger man glared at his mentor.
“Did you forgive her?”
“Would I be here if I had?” he snapped back. Larry tilted his seat back.
“No, I don’t think so.” He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “So why come to me?” The question suddenly brought the crystal clarity that Ken had longed for.
“Because I want to move on.”
“With or without Michelle?” The question stung.
“She’s just a dream,” he shot back.
“She seemed pretty real to me this afternoon,” Larry pointed out.
“Not that Michelle. My Michelle. I’ve got to leave her behind.” Ken pushed his hands out towards the other man.
“I see your point. This Michelle who has returned from Germany – what do you think of her?” A dreaded question. Ken brushed his hands through his hair.
“She scares me, Larry. She reminds me of me before....” He looked away. “I want to be like that again.”
“Well, you can...”
“...And the first step is forgiveness,” Ken completed the sentence. “We’ve been through this before.” Larry looked at him through his spectacles and at that precise moment knew that this was the breaking point. It was now or never.
“So I’m forgiving her for what?” the younger man continued. “For destroying my life? For causing me to waste these years when I could be doing other things?”
“Well, that might be a start,” the mentor said quietly. “But I think it was you who destroyed your life, not her.”
“I don’t have to listen to this,” Ken snapped, standing up. Larry raised his voice just slightly, but the command was clear.
“Sit down, Ken, we’re not through yet.” The younger man slumped back into his seat. The battle was on the inside, the sullen rebellion playing on the surface, but the diamond-hard, laser-bright desire to be changed slammed against it repeatedly. As much as he tried to tune Larry’s words out, he couldn’t help but listen.
“It wasn’t Michelle who messed things up, Ken, it was you.”
“But I repented,” he defended himself.
“Yes, but I think you need to do more. You need to not only forgive Michelle for hurting you deeply, you need to forgive yourself for acting the way you did.”
“So God drops her back into my life just when things are going so well, huh? Why this? Why now? I thought I’d passed the test the first time!” Ken could hear his pulse pounding between his ears. He knew these were all lame excuses.
“There is a secret to the Christian life that few people ever grasp, Ken,” Larry explained quietly. “Each trial that you’ve withstood will lead to another, bigger one. You shouldn’t worry about being tested, you should worry about not being tested.”
“And this one’s forgiveness?” It was hopeful. Maybe there was an easy way out. Larry paused, as if listening to something.
“I’m not so sure if that is all of it, Ken.” He paused for a moment, then turned to his desk and retrieved a small note pad and a pen. He wrote on it briefly, tore the sheet off, and passed it over to Ken. There were Bible references written on it.
“What are these, Larry?” he demanded.
“They are some passages that deal with forgiveness.” Larry leaned back. “I want you to go downstairs to the guest room and read them. And then I want you to spend the rest of the night here.”
“I can do that at home,” Ken protested, almost jumping up.
“No, you won’t.” Larry sighed heavily and, for the first time in many months, Ken’s exceptional gift of reading people revived. He could see a great burden on Larry’s heart and he knew that he, Kenner Olivier, was that burden. His mentor knew and understood something that he didn’t; and Larry wanted him to know that truth.
“I let you push me away once, Ken,” the teacher continued, taking off his glasses to wipe his moist eyes. “Never again.” And he repeated it more quietly, “Never again.”
“All right, I’ll do as you ask.” The admission was pushed out sullenly, but deep inside Ken felt relief at giving in.
“Let’s pray before you go.” Larry reached out a hand and placed it on his friend’s shoulder.
“Dear God,” he began, “I come to You for my friend Ken. I know You’ve been prodding him. Thank You that You have shown him that his Michelle is a dream. Thank You that he has realized that she must go. But, Lord, I pray that You would help him to realize the power of forgiveness. I pray that You would speak to him through the passages that I have written down and that You would help him to understand what he must do. I pray this in Your name, amen.”
Ken laid the Bible down on his lap, staring out into the darkness of the room. He’d looked at the Lord’s Prayer, where it said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Then he read the parable of the unforgiving servant. And there it said of the servant, “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35)
Not forgiving those who had wronged him was tantamount to turning off the flow of God’s grace into his life. How long had it been since he had refused to forgive Michelle? He grimaced. Two years, two months, and twelve days exactly. A long time. Maybe that’s why he’d been allowed to drift. It wasn’t her fault after all. The guilt came crashing down on him as he realized it and for an instant he felt as if the ceiling was going to smother him.
“But I don’t feel like it,” he pushed out between clenched teeth.
“Forgiveness is a choice,” he heard Pastor Jenkins’ voice from the past. Wait – last Sunday’s sermon! In that instant he could almost see the large black man holding on to the pulpit with one hand, gesturing to the sky with the other.
“Forgiveness is a choice,” he intoned. “We are to choose to do so, not wait until we feel like it. We are to forgive. That is what God wants us to do. We are to choose to revoke our right to revenge on the person who has wronged us and to lay it in God’s hands. Whether or not that person accepts our forgiveness is another matter, but if we have forgiven, we have done our part.”
Those last words echoed on and Ken whispered them into the night, “But if we have forgiven, we have done our part.” At that moment, the diamond spikes broke through his dark rebellion. He bowed his head and the tears began to flow.
“Oh, God,” he sobbed, “forgive me for being such a selfish fool. Forgive me for not forgiving Michelle. I know she was right to do what she did. I know that I was wrong and that You wanted me to let You bear the pain. Oh, God, I forgive her, because You have told me to. I choose to forgive her; and I give her back to You.” And at that moment he knew he was free.
There was a tap on the door. He quickly grabbed a tissue from the side table and wiped his eyes before calling a hoarse, “Come in.”
“Hey, Kenner,” Rian called, coming in and perching herself on the end of his bed. “I heard that you were here and thought I should stop by and see if I could do anything.” Larry’s younger sister still had her dark-blond hair cut boyishly short. She was dressed in a pair of flannel pants and a tank top, looking quite comfortable despite the slight chill of the guest room.
“Thank you, I think I’m taken care of.” He patted the book on his lap.
“Oh.” She glanced down at it and then back up at him. “That was about her wasn’t it.”
“Yes,” he affirmed. “And it was time that chapter was closed.”
“So you’re moving on?” There was a hopeful lilt in her voice.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Hm.” She looked away then fixed him with a firm stare. “Where to?”
“I take it you were thinking of yourself.” His voice had suddenly turned flat.
“Well, it almost happened – once.” She picked at the covers of the bed and Ken found himself remembering the time they’d shared a few drinks at the pub when Ken was going through his down period. They’d gotten awfully friendly and Rian had invited him back to the Stone House. Though somewhat tipsy, he’d been sober enough to decline.
“That was once,” he affirmed. “No more.”
“So there are no others.”
“No, there was ever only one,” he told her and knew that it was his conviction. She stood up and glared at him.
“Then stop moping around and go propose to her, for Chrissakes! Why did you think she came back in the first place?” And she was gone.
Ken smiled. There was ever only one; and that one had been Michelle. Could they really get together again? He would have to accept her change. No, it wouldn’t work right away, he decided. They would have to be friends first, but he knew without a doubt what his goal would be if his thoughts were confirmed. With that he rose, closed the door, slipped out of his clothes and into bed and slept the deepest sleep he’d had in years, completely with out dreams.