CHANGE OF HEART:

Troy - Accept Church Job

For a few heartbeats, Sheri leaned into the large gentle hand cupping her face. She shut her eyes and prayed, certain that God did indeed want her to do everything in His order. Until she dealt with the consequences of her season of rebellion, and changed everything back about herself, she couldn't commit to Troy. For now, she would preserve the rare gift as platonic best friends.

Sighing, she opened her eyes and pulled back from his touch.

Troy rubbed the bridge of his sculpted nose between index finger and thumb. "You're taking the job."

"Yes."

"Are you leaving the island?"

Instead of answering him, she nodded toward the church. "It shouldn't take too long to analyze and write the program. However, I couldn't charge him. It'll be more like tithing my talent to the church."

"Sheri, are you leaving me?" When she didn't answer immediately, Troy hopped to his feet. He paced with hands fisted at his sides.

She stared at the waves rolling to shore, fighting a sudden attack of tears. The mere idea of leaving his island, leaving him, hurt like her heart might be shattering into ten thousand tiny pieces. None of it felt related to their rare gift of being just platonic best friends. "We could work together," she whispered.

When he didn't answer her immediately, she glanced at him. His jaw muscles jumped and pumped. No doubt about it, Troy was angry. Yet his quiet drawl betrayed no hint of hostility, tinted instead with hurt. "That has always been our plan, yes."

"Don't be mad, Troy."

He halted mid-stride, directly in front of her, and fisted his hands on his hips. "Don't be mad? You don't give me an answer about if you're leaving me, but I'm not supposed to be mad?"

He snorted. "Newsflash. I'm not a mind reader, even if I do know you better than anyone else on earth."

Sheri frowned. "This is not like you at all."

Troy stabbed one finger against his chest. "I'm not a saint, Sheri. Although I try to be as Christ wants me to be, I'm an imperfect human."

Then he pointed at her. "Talk to me! You have always been able to tell me anything. God knows; He's used you to test my patience, trial by fire for two years now. As you know, patience is not my biggest virtue."

She came to her feet, alarmed by his uncharacteristic exasperation, and walked the few feet separating them. Sheri reached for his arm, rubbed up and down, to sooth him. "Listen, bud-"

"Don't!" he interrupted, clasping her upper arms. "Don't you dare give me that platonic buddy line, Sheri Knight. You love me, woman. Say it! Would it kill you to tell me?"

"I love you, Troy Montgomery. I'm in love with you."

That seemed to shift the wind right out of his sails. He tilted his head back and gave a harsh little laugh. "This is not at all the way I imagined it."

"How did you imagine it?"

He toyed with a strand of her blond hair, testing the texture between his fingers, staring into her eyes. "For starters, you always had the prettiest navy tell-all eyes and long dark mahogany hair."

She lifted her lips in a lopsided grin. "Sorry."

"I'm sorry, Sheri. It doesn't make my anger any more right for it to be righteous anger, but I'm certain of what God has told me about His plan for my life. It includes you in a big way. Way bigger than as my platonic best friend."

He sighed deeply. "You got right with God, so I didn't see this coming at all. Please pray about this, about leaving the island, about leaving me. Please ask God to reveal His plan for your life, His choice for your husband."

"Oh, Troy," she whispered and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. She released him as quickly, but grabbed one of his large gentle hands and led him to the picnic bench. "Come sit beside me and I'll tell you everything. The proverbial icky spilling of my guts."

He relaxed visibly, chuckled, and sat beside her. Then he notched one ebony brow, waiting for her to begin.

"I am following God's plan for my life, Troy. Although I repented today, there are still consequences to my season of rebellion. I feel like God has forgiven me, cleansed the fury and unforgiveness at others from my heart, blasted away the defensive and protective barriers, but that's not enough."

Amazed over her own stupidity for only now realizing the truth, she shook her head and continued pouring out her heart. "It wasn't the trucker's fault, but I blamed him as well as God, myself, and Steve. For some reason, even though it's been months since Steve's death, I feel like God first requires me to actually contact the truck driver, to apologize, to give him my forgiveness he probably neither wants nor needs."

Troy nodded. "I agree it's the right thing to do; I feel it in my heart. But you don't have to do it alone. Lean on me. You could make the call today with me right next to your side, giving you emotional support and praying."

"Yes, I suppose so. Sounds preferable."

She squeezed his hand. "Then there's Clay." He stiffened, so she lifted his knuckles to her lips. "He's your friend, just as Steve was. He's my friend, but I knocked down the communication lines between us. He was Steve's best friend and loves me like a little sister. I believe Clay wants to try to step into Steve's shoes as a big brother."

Sheri whispered, "You and Clay make up my family, the only one I have left here on earth. You both love me more than any other people on earth and I want, need, my earthly family."

This time, Troy lifted her knuckles to his lips where he pressed a soft kiss. "I can accept that, agree with that. And I'm sorry, Sheri, for the way I've acted anytime Clay was mentioned. He's my friend, too, and I don't like being jealous. Bad enough it's a sin, one which leaves a wretched taste in my throat."

"You don't need to be jealous of that cowboy."

"I know that now."

"Do you? Do you know why you don't need to be jealous of Clay Dillenger? Because I'm totally in love with you, Troy Montgomery!"

She stabbed one finger over her heart. "But I feel like God wants me to fix the things I've broken during my season of rebellion. I believe Jesus wants me to change everything back into the Sheri Knight of old before I can commit to, or claim you. I might as well work for the church while I'm working on myself."

Troy grinned. "You like to help people; that's you. It's something I love about you. We used to work as a charity team."

"Who says we can't still work as a team, Troy? I don't even want to leave you or your island."

"Who says you have to leave the island?"

Sheri bit her lip, closing her eyes and uttering a silent prayer. She opened her eyes and smiled. "No one. I guess, well, I don't know. I thought I would have to choose, but God only wants me to change everything back. Not leave you in the process."

"Well thank You, Jesus! Here I thought I'd have to remind you that the Johnsons are usually there and you know I'm a man of integrity. Just because I told you I'm in love with you doesn't mean I would act improperly toward you now. I've been in love with you for a long time, Sheri."

"How long, Troy?" she whispered. "How long ago did your feelings for me change? How long ago did God reveal His plan for you that included me in a major way?"

"While you were at college, I started missing you more than I should even as my best friend. More like a man misses a woman who he loves. Needless to say, I was slightly shaken up by the male/female insight."

She snorted. "Sounds eerily familiar. Like I was when the way in which I saw you changed."

Troy nodded and stroked one knuckle over her closest cheekbone. "So, I started praying hard about it, for God to change it back, take it away, whatever it took not to ruin the rare gift we all ready had. When I saw you two years ago at Christmas, in Texas, the truth hit me squarely between the eyes. My best friend was more than female; you are a gorgeous woman. And I didn't just love you, I was in love with you."

"Two years ago?"

He pointed at his heart. "Bulls-eye! Like an arrow flying true and on course, a direct hit. That's when I accepted it. I wasn't misunderstanding God, or His plan for my life."

Sheri hurt for him because he had gone through such a life-altering decision and not been able to share it, or the burden that came along with it, with his best friend. "What a trial for you. You have the charming trait of seeing what you want, flat out going for it, and successfully reaching that goal with God's help and to His glory. Mr. Faith Speaking Positive."

He blew out a huge sigh and nodded again. "I was really torn, warring with myself, to make it happen right then. But that was not God's timing; it was mine. Since then, God has used you greatly to test my patience."

A straight streak of white teeth gleamed against his handsome tanned face. "I'm much better at that virtue now."

She laughed. "Sure you are."

"I am. Still don't have it down pat though, but I'll prove it to you. Ready?"

"Hmm." Sheri giggled hesitantly. "I'm not sure. I'm nearly on sensory overload now with all the new input."

Troy took her hand in his, intertwining their fingers. "Do you know why I bought the island and didn't tell you about it? Do you know when I bought it?"

"I could hardly know when, since you didn't tell me. Since you soared straight to the top as an executive? I don't even know another man with his own private island. I'd imagine you bought it as a romantic get-away for all your southern belle dates."

"I told you, Sheri; you are the first woman I've taken there. You are half right, however, about the romantic get-away for me and my love. But it's not my island. I bought it for you and me. Our island."

"After God revealed His plan to me two years ago, for us to marry, I bought the island on faith for our future life together. And any future children we will produce, sweetheart."

She didn't realize her mouth was hanging open until he placed his index finger under her chin and pushed up to close it.

He tapped his shirt pocket then snapped his fingers. "What a time not to have my organizer. Sheri, speechless? Need to note that date on my calendar."

When she only blinked in reply, he chuckled and continued, "While I have you temporarily without words, I'll tell you something else important. I didn't only want you to work for me, Sheri love. I wanted you as a full partner in our successful security software firm. I want you as a full partner in every aspect of my life."

At that, she leaned forward to rest her head between her knees. "Stop laughing, Troy! You're making my world spin."

"Hmm. I haven't even begun to rock your world, woman."

As if that were prophecy, and the catalyst she needed, Sheri hopped to her feet. She rubbed one hand over her forehead; realizing people were arriving in groves for the afternoon barbeque.

"Calls," she said aloud. "I have calls to make immediately. Which way to a payphone, Montgomery? One with privacy preferably."

He smiled smugly, whipped out his cell phone and handed it to her. "Here you go. Immediate. Private. Right here, right now."

She grabbed the phone, humphed, and stuck her nose in the air playfully. "You think of everything, don't you?"

"I think we're a team, a winning team, with God at our center. I also think I will be the spiritual head of our family."

She didn't bother to deny that. They might be a team, lifelong best friends, but even before she became aware of him as male, she often depended upon him for emotional support and spiritual leadership. Instead of commenting, she dialed her brother's old phone number.

"Swinging D. Good afternoon and God bless ya."

"Howdy, Clay."

"Howdy, Sheri. Need me to walk you down the aisle so soon?"

She snorted. "Surrounded by know-it-alls."

Clay laughed, baritone rumbling. "Ah, falling in love. With one's best friend to boot. You weren't so immune to Troy after all? I imagine he's ecstatic."

"How are your dates with the potential brides?"

He snorted this time. "I'm surviving them. Met a certain Texas Christian lady yesterday who's mighty interesting."

"Good for you! About time to populate the Swinging D with little cowboy and cowgirls."

"Whoa. Maybe. I'm praying about it. How are ya?"

"Great! Quit smoking. Attended church today and repented."

"Praise Jesus!"

"Indeed and amen," she agreed enthusiastically. "Listen, cowboy, I'm sorry for how I've acted toward you since Steve's death."

"Thanks. I didn't like you running from God, but I understood your pain."

He paused. "I miss him, too, ya know. It's no one's fault. No one to blame. It was a horrible accident."

"Yes," she whispered. "An accident. You wouldn't happen to have the truck driver's name and phone number, would you, Clay?"

"Yeah. Been praying, waiting for ya to forgive and ask. Hold on and I'll get it."

While she waited on Clay, Troy dug out his wallet from his back pocket. Then Troy pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to her.

When Sheri opened it, she read the truck driver's name, Marvin Reynolds, his address in Dallas and his phone number. "Thank you, Troy," she said in awe.

A few heartbeats later, Clay came back on the line and repeated the same information. "Thanks, cowboy."

"You're most welcome, ma'am. I know I'm not Stevo, Sheri, but I've known you all your life. We're like family. We're also friends. Will ya accept me as your honorary brother?"

"It would be my pleasure, Clay."

"Well, my date will be here soon. You can call me anytime, for any reason, but I'll be awaiting your call about your wedding. I expect to walk ya down the aisle and give ya away in marriage to Troy."

"He has to ask first."

Clay laughed. "He will. You're falling in line with God's plan. Knowing Troy, the wait is probably killing him. Tell him I said howdy and to take extra special care of you."

"Ok. Thanks. Bye, Clay."

When she disconnected, Sheri sat next to Troy and leaned against his shoulder. "Clay said hi."

She sighed. "I apologize, Troy. Protective as always, you had all the bases covered, every angle calculated, with what was best for me in mind. You had the trucker's info all along. I never figured that. You never tried to cram it down my throat, or force me to call and forgive him."

He slipped one arm around her shoulder. "Ah, honey, I may try to give you extra incentives sometimes, not above trying to influence you, but in the end it's not about force. Everything is your choice. Your decision."

He didn't have to say more for her to understand Troy meant more than her decision to call the truck driver and forgive him. It was her choice to repent, to end her season of rebellion, to stop running and get right with God. It was her decision to love Troy, to marry him, and to share the rest of her life with him

She sniffled once, overcome with gratitude. "Thank You, God, for being in complete control of my life again. Forever. Please direct my path, guide me in the right decisions. May I do Your Will, God, serve You, and walk in Your plan for my life."

"In Jesus Name. Amen," Troy added.

Sheri blew out a shaky breath, staring back and forth from the piece of paper to the cell phone.

Troy pulled her in tighter to his side. "Easy, honey. It'll be ok. Submit to God's voice; you know His voice well; know how to follow His lead when He nudges your spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells inside you still. I'm right here and I'm praying."

"The trucker will probably think I'm beyond bananas to call him all these months after Stevo's death. For some reason though, God is quite insistent that I obey in this, that I offer Marvin Reynolds my forgiveness and my apology."

"We might not always understand, but God has His reasons and His own timetable. Jesus isn't demanding; He's asking and I'm sure it's not just to humble you. Definitely not to humiliate you."

"You're right." She elbowed him lightly in the ribs, teasing him, "Again."

But he didn't joke back, instead quietly prayed. After she uttered a heartfelt prayer of her own, Sheri punched the driver's number into the cell phone.

"Hello?" answered a weary, gruff, male voice.

"Hello, Marvin Reynolds?"

"Who wants to know? If you're selling something, I'm not interested."

"This is Sheri Knight. Steve Knight's little sister."

The pause that followed lasted so long, Sheri checked the cell phone, the seconds still ticking away, to make sure she hadn't lost the connection.

Finally the truck driver sniffled once and cleared his throat. "Steve Knight. His death has haunted me for months now."

Quietly, yet firmly, Sheri stated, "Steve wouldn't want his death to haunt you. He's gone to a better place, a perfect place with no sorrow or pain. Steve joined the rest of our family, all living with Jesus in heaven now."

"I'm so sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Mr. Reynolds. I'm the one who owes you an apology. Steve's death was an accident and no one is to blame. You don't need my forgiveness, but God wants me to give it to you. And I apologize for it taking me so long to do so. It's not your fault."

"I wish I could believe that," came the rusty answer. "After the fire department's Jaws of Life finally cut through your brother's car, he asked to see me; right before the ambulance took him to the emergency room. Steve Knight took my hand and assured me the accident wasn't my fault. That it was his time to join Jesus. And to know Jesus loves me."

Sheri swallowed hard around the swell of emotion in her throat as the tears streamed down her face. That sounded so much like her big brother. "Jesus does love you, Marvin Reynolds. If you were the only person on earth, He would have suffered and died on the cross for you alone. So you can invite Him into your heart, be forgiven, and spend eternity with Him in heaven."

The gruff trucker cried openly now over the phone line.

The entire time, Troy held her close, offering his love and support. His mouth nearly touched her hair, his smooth baritone drawl consistent, but voice quiet, faithfully praying.

Sheri's heart thudded hard against her chest, realizing now why God had wanted her to call. God whispered into her heart, her head, and nudged her spirit. "Marvin, if you wouldn't mind, I feel like God would like me to hand the phone over to my best friend. He was also Steve's friend. His name is Troy Montgomery and he's the truest Christian man I know. He's wise and God guides him."

After she handed the phone to Troy, she placed her hand on him and prayed. Sheri didn't know how much time passed, but eventually Troy led the truck driver in the sinner's prayer.

When he finally hung up, she struck her hand in the air. "Victory in Jesus! To God be the glory."

"The angels are rejoicing, Sheri love."

"Thank you, Troy. I felt like God wanted me to give you the phone. Kinda like a tag team."

Troy hugged her, whispering, "We are a team; a winning team, you and me and God, His plan with His guidance. He is so worthy to be praised!"

"Love. Hope. Faith," she thought before realizing she had spoken aloud.

"The greatest of which is love. And I love you, Sheri Knight. Ah, honey, how much longer are you going to make me wait before you change everything back about yourself so I can claim you?"

"Soon," she promised.

He growled low in his throat then chuckled. "Come on. Let's join the barbeque in process. Would you be my date, sweetheart, a real date?"

"Hmm." She glanced in several directions at all the Christian fellowshipping. Then she shot him a saucy grin. "Soon."

"Soon?"

"As in be back soon."

Troy tossed up his arms in the air, muttering, "Soon. I'll never give up, Sheri. You will be mine. I claim it in Jesus' Name."

Although she walked away, weaving through the crowd, she had to laugh when she heard Troy proclaim, "God grant me the patience to out-wait and win that woman."

She headed down the road, praying she was headed the right direction from the coastal church. Sheri didn't have far to walk before she spotted a pharmacy.

While she looked through the hair coloring products, searching for the same brand and color Troy had chosen as her exact shade before taking her to the island, a petite and very pregnant woman approached her.

"Hi. I'm Rebecca Boswell. I thought I recognized you. You attended our church with Troy Montgomery."

"Yes. I'm Sheri Knight."

"He's never brought anyone before. He's never even accepted any of our well-meaning congregation's attempts at matchmaking. Now I know why. He belongs to you, huh?"

"Yes," Sheri admitted. "Well, as soon as I color my hair and take out my contacts."

Rebecca laughed. "Ok." She held up the bottle of antacid, rubbed her extended belly with the other hand, and shuddered. "Barbeque. My hubby is manning the grill."

"Listen, Sheri," Rebecca giggled, "I'm not too anxious for the heartburn to begin and you look a little lost. I own a shop down the street; I'm a beautician. If all you need is your hair colored before you feel like you and Troy can be a couple, then all it'll take is two shakes and you'll have your natural color back."

Sheri didn't mean to, but she squealed with excitement. Then she laughed and spontaneously hugged the pregnant woman. "Great! Thank you so much."

They paid for their purchases and walked over to Rebecca's beauty salon. After working on her for a very short while, rinsing, coloring and blow drying, Rebecca swiveled the beautician's chair toward the mirror.

Sheri studied her reflection, almost her but not quite. She plucked out her green-tinted contacts and tossed them into the trash. The woman in the mirror now had large navy expressive eyes and long dark hair. "Yeppers. That's me," she told Rebecca. "Thank you kindly. What do I owe you?"

Rebecca snorted. "You saved me from barbeque heartburn for a little while longer. I'll call us even if we can be friends. Oh, and if you go get your man now."

Sheri shook her hand. "Deal."

Within five minutes, Rebecca had driven them back to the coastal church. The congregational crowd had swelled, as had the noise level, as Christians fellowshipped and had fun. With Rebecca running interference for her, Sheri smiled, but didn't stop to visit, intent upon finding Troy.

She finally spied him, sitting with his back toward her at a picnic table, speaking with two other men and three lovely ladies. Sheri grinned and closed the distance.

When she kneeled on the opposite bench seat, she bent over the table directly behind Troy and slipped each of her hands over his eyes. "Guess who?"

He chuckled. "Hmm. Sounds like Sheri." He sniffed the air. "Smells like Sheri." He lifted his hands to cover hers. "Feels like Sheri. I'll strain my brain and guess, Sheri?"

His laughter changed into a swift intake of breath as he turned toward her.

"Changed back to the real me," she announced. "The Sheri of old as God wanted before I could walk in His plan for my future."

Troy was around the picnic table in a flash, silver eyes intently studying her. "Oh, Sheri. You're exquisite. Welcome back."

Then he wrapped her into his protective and loving embrace. "I love you, woman, and I'm not waiting a second longer." Troy released her, but captured her hand as he dropped to one knee. "Sheri Knight, will you marry me?"

"Yes, Troy. It would be my honor and privilege."

"We'll be happy, honey, I promise. You and me with God at our center as our coach. We'll be a winning team."

Then Troy raised his voice to his Christian friends. "She said yes! Meet my future bride, Sheri Knight. I claim her as mine with God's blessings!"

In the next instant, Troy was kissing her, staking his claim with action until she was breathless and ready to melt into a puddle at his feet. When at last he pulled back, her heart beat a staccato. Dizzy with joy, she laughed.

Troy chuckled and darted his eyes from side to side. "You've done it now. You've kissed me in front of the whole congregation. Good practice for when we're standing before them for our marriage ceremony."

She glanced around and sure enough, they were indeed the center of attention. Heat crept up her neck and set her face ablaze.

"Never be embarrassed with me. There is nothing to shame you about our love. It's a gift from God."

Troy cupped her burning cheek. "What do you think about working as a team, donating our talents and the needed computer program to the church?"

"Think?" She laughed again. "Troy Montgomery, what have you done to me? I can't think at all. I need to rent a brain cell."

He laughed then. "Your brilliant mind will kick in soon enough. Until then, let me rush us forward toward matrimony. We could write the computer program from our island, as it's technologically capable, but how about we travel back and forth from the church so we can meet with Pastor Shaw for pre-marital counseling sessions?"

"Uh, ok."

Troy cocked his head and smiled at her with pure masculine satisfaction. "I do believe your beautiful blue tell-all eyes are glazed, sweetheart, so I'll slow down a wee bit." He combed his fingers through her long hair before bringing a dark mahogany strand to rub against his lips.

She blinked, wondering if she were dreaming.

"Do want the wedding to be here, Atlanta, or Texas?"

"Here. I mean, our island. Is that fine with you?"

"More than fine. In fact, being how I've had years to think about what type of marriage ceremony would make you happiest, I have a few ideas. Picture this, my little nature lover. Sunset on our island beach, followed by twilight and the stars you so love to contemplate coming out while we take our holy vows before God, unite as one before Him. If you'd agree to July fourth, since you love to stargaze and watch fireworks, then think how romantic our anniversary will be each year."

"Wow, Troy. No wonder I love you wildly. Sounds perfect. Is there anything you don't have all figured out?"

"God is in complete control, Sheri. He'll guide us every day and bless us. We'll be a winning and successful team. Forever."

"Troy," she whispered as her brain began to function again. "We, you and me, are getting married. To God be the glory!"

As Pastor Shaw approached them, and they told him their plans, God's plan for their future, Troy hugged her once more. "Oh, yes, God is so worthy to be praised. And thank You, Jesus, for answered prayer."

     Happily ever afters!
     

               Jesus loves you so much He died just for YOU!