Monday, August 13, 2007

Chapter 1: Jennings Grove, Part III

This place looks like a ghost town, Vernon thought and shivered. He pushed a switch on his door handle, and the window hummed as it rolled down.

As they drove around, they finally found where everyone had gone. Jennings Grove Primitive Baptist Church was in session. He stopped in the middle of the road and peered out. The white building with clapboard siding sat on what looked like wooden posts. A cross-topped steeple perched above the front door. Stained-glass windows glowed with various saints and biblical scenes as twilight approached. Trees surrounded the church and its large gravel parking lot, which remained largely free of cars. As he cocked his head out the window, Vernon made out muffled strains of "And Can It Be." A sign out front proclaimed this week's message as "The Outer Darkness, Where there is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth." Well, now isn't that just cheerful?

Something about the grounds looked odd, but it took a moment to figure out what bothered him. Vernon was a city boy; he preferred concrete and steel to meadows and open sky. But since Cheryl liked taking the scenic route when they went on vacation, he'd learned to appreciate rural sites, particularly the architecture. Every old country church he'd ever seen had at least a small cemetery, but this one lacked even a single headstone.

"There it is," Cheryl said, pointing past his ear. He turned his head and saw a driveway just behind them. Nodding, he pushed the lever to reverse and backed up until he could pull into a driveway just past the church.

The winding gravel drive took them to the front of an aging white house. Antique windows peered back at them from a new wooden porch in the front. Paint peeled from the front door and the wooden eaves. A new set of windows faced the church from the western wall, and a new carport covered a spur of the driveway on the eastern side. Ethan wasn't kidding about the renovations, was he? He looked up. Shingles curled from a battered roof. I hope his plans include a new roof. For that matter, I hope that thing will keep the rain out.

The site looked a bit smaller than most of the other tracts in Jennings Grove, but still offered more space than they'd ever had, even at their home in Houston. Lots of room for Alexis to run around. He smiled at the thought. She had never been able to fully understand why she couldn't go outside to play at their last couple of apartments. Even though it hurt to tell her she couldn't go to the neighborhood's filthy park, he liked the fact she couldn't grasp her parents' concern about drug dealers, gangs and dirty needles. She can stay innocent out here. Toward the back of the yard, between the house and church, stood the biggest pecan tree he'd ever seen. She'd love to climb that thing, I bet. Someone had mowed recently, exposing a set of deep ruts across the yard.

"So," he said, turning to his wife. "What do you think?"

"I think I'm going to have a lot of cleaning to do."

"Probably." He pointed to the ruts. "Don't you think Hank and George could have been a little more careful with their trailer? Those are going to take forever to even out."

"So what? Look at the place. Do you think anyone's going to notice?"

"Ethan has done a lot for us here. The least we could do is take care of the place. I'd think your brothers would appreciate that."

"My brothers moved nearly everything we own up here and into that house themselves. They did it for free. They had to take off work and pay for the gas all the way up here and back down to Houston. I'd think you would be a little more appreciative of what they've done and not worry about a couple of tire tracks in the yard."

"You're right, Cheryl. I'm sorry." He took a deep breath. "Look, I don't want to fight anymore, OK? It may not be the greatest place in the world, but it's a sight better than what we had. Let's try to make the most of it."

"Alright." She glanced at the house and, for the first time in months, his wife smiled. "Let's go inside."

Vernon opened the door and climbed out of the car. They were finally home.


Part I of Chapter 2 coming Friday!

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