CHANGE OF HEART:
Clay - Kiss Him First
Sheri cupped his freshly shaved cheek, holding him in a hover above her lips. Tipping to her toes, she initiated contact, slanted her mouth under his. She brushed her lips on his, softly, until he groaned and wrapped her in his steely embrace. His mouth moved over hers gently; then the kiss flared to timeless.
Suddenly, he lifted his head while holding her by the upper arms and she panted. Good thing he held her up; her legs were so rubbery while her heart thudded so loudly, she was certain he could hear it.
Then he started to laugh. "Whew! Sorry, honey. I know I had no right to kiss you like that yet, but your mouth has a different opinion about me dating other women."
"Oh, Clay, come pray with me." Her quiet words were accompanied by a soul-deep search into his golden gaze.
He squeezed her hand. "My pleasure, Sheri."
She pulled him along to the den where she kneeled by the couch. Without a word, Clay kneeled beside her and clasped her hands.
Immediately, he shut his eyes and prayed softly for her, with her.
After a full minute passed, Sheri squeezed her eyes against the onslaught of sincere tears. "Help me to forgive the truck driver, so that You can forgive me for my season of rebellion. Take me back into an intimate walk with You."
"Please reveal Your plan for my life; confirm that loving Clay is Your will. Help me to always run to You, and never away from You again. Cast my sins as far as the east is from the west and help me back to the woman I was before I changed everything. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen."
Golden brown eyes appeared glossy before Clay closed his arms around her, thanking Jesus, giving Him all the glory and honor. His voice sounded rusty as if perhaps choked up by his own unshed tears. "First it was up to you, between you and God. You repented just as He promised me and now you belong to me, Sheri."
She wasn't certain about his claim she belonged to him now as well as to God. Sheri squeezed his hand and rose to her feet. "In that case, cowboy, call your rodeo cowgirl and cancel your date. You should be able to recall I never did learn to share when I was a kid."
He rolled to his feet, too, towering over her. His voice was tinted with amusement. "It seems I do recall that, ma'am."
Then he headed to his desk to find the pictures of the women his mother had chosen, scanning one particular letter for a phone number. Within a few minutes, he dialed and Sheri left the room.
When she returned with the keys to his truck dangling from her finger, he had broken the date without managing to break the woman's heart. She jangled his keys. "May I borrow your truck?"
He smiled at her confidently. "Where we headed? Dallas?"
Clay rested one hand on her shoulder. "You could simply call him, Sheri."
She shook her head. "No, sorry. I can't take the easy way out. God wants me to give the truck driver my forgiveness face-to-face."
He nodded before sliding open a desk drawer. After he withdrew a paper, he handed it to her. "You might want to call first and see if he's around before making the long road trip."
Well, actually, that was a grand idea! So Sheri called, only to discover the trucker was unloading at a local downtown store. She no sooner hung up, than she hitched a thumb toward the door. "Let's go. He's in town at the department store."
Clay snatched the keys out of her hand with a grin of his own. "I'll drive. I've seen you drive."
"Hey! I drive better than you, but you ride a horse better than me."
He smiled all the way in town, about fifteen miles away. Sheri was almost certain he was praying again. She, too, prayed silently.
She opened the creaky passenger side door and hopped out behind the department store. Only one semi-trailer was backed into the dock. Thinking she'd simply knock on his truck door, she jumped when an old weary-looking man walked around from the other side of the trailer.
She cleared her throat. "I'm Sheri Knight." She extended her palm toward him.
He shook her hand. "I'm Marvin Reynolds."
"Mr. Reynolds, God wants me to tell you I totally forgive you, your part, in my brother Steve's wreck and consequent death."
He pulled off his baseball cap and twisted it in his hands. "I'm the one who should apologize. It's haunted me."
"No, Mr. Reynolds. It was me who owed you an apology and my complete forgiveness. Steve's death was an accident. He's in heaven now with the rest of our family. There is no reason for his death to haunt you."
"God doesn't blame you and neither do I. Neither should you."
Clay stepped forward and witnessed to the trucker until all three of them climbed into the air-conditioned comfort of the truck.
Sheri shut her eyes, praying for Marvin Reynolds while Clay told him about Jesus, answered his questions, talked to him for a long time. Then she intertwined fingers with Clay, holding out her other hand to the truck driver, before Clay led Marvin in the sinner's prayer.
They rejoiced, excited, on fire for God, before Clay invited the truck driver and his family to the Swinging D Sunday afternoon, invited him to church services as well. Reynolds accepted and shook Clay's hand, too, no longer looking soul-weary.
On the way to Clay's truck, he swung his brawny arm over her shoulder but walked in peaceful silence with her.
Sheri thought about the party, a Christian fellowship afternoon. Clay's mom had hired caters to serve lunch, with good old-fashioned fun afterwards. Like horseback riding, fishing in one of the Swinging D's ponds, and a hayride to name but a few. Sheri believed his mom arranged it so his date to the church party would add more weight to the relationship with the rodeo cowgirl. Now she wondered if he'd take her as his date.
After opening her door, Clay bowed slightly at the waist. "Great job, Sheri. Praise God! Do you feel better?"
She paused before climbing into the truck. "Yes," she smiled brightly. "Like Jesus lifted a huge weight off my chest."
An idea popped into her head and she nodded her silent agreement. "I'll be right back. I need to run into the store for something."
Sheri dashed away from Clay, into the store, and into the hair color aisle. She gnawed her bottom lip, comparing several dark shades of brown. "Grr!" She didn't know which was the right color.
Clay grunted from behind her. "Craving another cigarette?"
Sheri pivoted to glance at Clay; then she tilted her head to the side and ran an internal query. She laughed. "Guess what? God took away the cravings."
Clay smiled too, before walking to where she had five different shades of dark brown in a row. After about a half-heartbeat, he picked up one box. "This is it. Dark brown with a mahogany tint. Trust me. I remember distinctly."
Maybe that was what he was waiting on, before asking her for a their first real date? She couldn't change him, didn't want to change him, wanted the same values as him again, so she planned to change everything back to her old self. Hadn't he said God promised him a blue-eyed brunette; or had he said he loved a blue-eyed brunette? Didn't matter, her days as a green-eyed blond were history.
He stopped at the pizza parlor, since it was very nearly suppertime, and ordered enough pizzas to feed four cowboys and a computer scientist.
After their meal, and their Bible reading and prayer meeting, Sheri led Clay by the hand to his computer chair. "Sit down and see what I've done. Hope you don't get upset that I did it without asking your permission."
Clay sat down and scooted up to the keyboard as Sheri pointed to an icon, a graphic art of the Swinging D's brand.
She whispered, "Double click on the Swinging D."
After he did, he sucked in an unsteady breath. "What have you created, little artist?"
The heat of embarrassment kissed her cheeks. "Recall how the paperwork was your least favorite part of your job?" When he nodded, she continued, "Now all you have to do is insert pertinent current numbers and it automatically does it for you. Every aspect of ranching, tailored precisely for every need of the Swinging D."
While she was leaning over his shoulder, watching him investigate the computer program, Clay turned his head, brushed his lips across her cheek, and softly stated, "You are brilliant, Sheri. Is there any chance you could work from home, from here?"
She tapped one finger on her chin, thinking. If Troy would agree to it, she could work for him from Texas. Between video conferencing, to e-mail, to Internet instant message programs, besides using the phone and fax, she could still pull off her job. She could still make her mark with Troy and his company known and respected because of the all Christian, all computer geniuses, who worked there. Top notch security.
Sheri smiled. "Hey, cowboy, I could break out my laptop, but I might disappear for days." She laughed. "If you're done looking at your new toy, could you give a gal a chance to use your computer?"
"Certainly." He stood. Very quietly, he inquired, "E-mailing Troy again?"
She didn't even look up. "Uh-huh. Wanna toss an idea his way."
Clay cupped her cheek and pulled her attention to him. "I want you to be able to tell me everything and anything like you do Troy, that intimacy. I want to share everything, each other's best confidant. I want to make you my wife."
"Wow," she uttered. His wife? Yeehaw!
"Silly man, it's a lifelong reaction to confide in my best bud. Now I'm writing Troy to see if he would let me work for him, only long distance. I see no reason why I can't still work on security software from . . . well, from the Swinging D to be precise."
He smiled in a purely male confident way and cocked one elbow toward her. "Come with me, honey. We've got about another hour of daylight to burn. Let's go horseback riding. I recall how much you loved to race me."
"May I have a rain-check? I have something to fix for the next hour."
He agreed to give her a lifetime supply of rain-checks.
The next hour zipped by but she used every second to her advantage. First, she read the directions on the box and colored her hair back to her natural dark brown shade. Then she plucked out her green contacts and tossed them into the trashcan. After drying her long hair, she slipped into a faded pair of blue jeans and a pink flower print blouse.
In the mirror, reflected a familiar image. Dark brown hair shimmering with red highlights. Deep blue expressive eyes. "Welcome back," she whispered to herself.
"Thank You, Jesus, for taking me back to whom I was in Christ. Please open the doors, to show me Your plan, to make Your will obvious to see. A sign if he loves me with Your blessings. I seek confirmation from You that Clay is your choice as my husband."
She phoned Troy from her bedroom. "Hi, bud."
"Hi, budette," Troy answered with a chuckle. "What's happening? You sound excited."
"I repented, turned from my season of rebellion."
"I'm um-still in love with Clay."
Troy snorted. "Like that surprises me? I knew you still loved him when you returned to Texas with him."
"Speaking of Texas, with all the technology available, do you suppose I could work for you long distance? From the Swinging D, Troy."
He sighed deeply. "I'm a step ahead of you again, all ready with the equipment we'll need. I assure you that we can make it work. Best bud, or not, I'm not about to miss out on hiring both the left and right sides of your brain. You're an artist and you excel at logic."
He chuckled. "A computer security mastermind."
"That would you, dude. But great! Thanks, Troy."
"No problem, Sheri." After about a heartbeat, Troy added, "If you are wondering, yes, I give you my endorsement and congratulations. I fully intend to walk you down the aisle in Stevo's stead when you marry Clay."
"Thank you, Troy Montgomery," she said around the lump of emotion in her throat. "Talk to you later. Like after he asks and we've set a date."
She had simply asked. Already God opened doors to point her in the direction of His will.
Everything was quiet when she exited her room. She walked through the dark house until she saw the light on in the den. Sheri smiled. Clay was playing with his new program, grinning like a little boy with a new toy. Without making a sound, she stepped into the room.
As if his male radar bleeped her approach, Clay turned toward her. "Oh, baby." In an instant, he was by her side. "Dark shimmering hair, expressive eyes as blue as the deepest ocean. You are the woman in my dreams."
He threaded long calloused fingers into her hair, tipping up her face with his other hand to gaze at her eyes. "Sheri, I love you."
She didn't shrink back from his gentle touch or piercing stare into her eyes. She didn't even shrink back when he said he loved her. Instead, she uttered a silent prayer. "I love you, too, Clay," she stated breathlessly.
He escorted her outside to sit on the porch swing. Fireflies flashed near and far.
Clay dropped to one knee, grabbing both of her small hands in one of his large hands. He placed his palm, holding her hands, over the steady thuds of his heart. "I love you, Sheri Knight. Welcome back to the family of God, sweetheart. You've committed to Christ. Can you commit to me now?"
He smiled at her tenderly. "Would you grant me the highest honor of my life by agreeing to be my wife and share my life? You and me and God, a winning team."
Tears of joy filled her eyes. Stevo had approved. Troy approved. Most importantly of all, God approved.
"God and you and me." She smiled. "A winning team." She nodded in agreement. "Yes, thank you for asking Clay. It would be my supreme pleasure to claim you as my husband. To pray with you, make love with you, have children with you, grow old with you while serving God with you."
He raised his face even with hers and smiled, dimple winking. "Then after church Sunday, at the afternoon fellowship here at the Swinging D, I'll announce our fast approaching marriage. How does Independence Day, July fourth, strike you? Then we would have fireworks to celebrate each anniversary."
"I'd love to become your bride and then settle back on a blanket with you, watching the heavens, celebrating with July fourth fireworks."
Clay let out a low whistle of approval and grinned. "Thank You, Jesus, for the gift of Sheri."
She sighed happily. "Yes, thank You, God, for guiding us, for being our center."
"Amen," Clay agreed against her lips.
Happily ever after!