CHANGE OF HEART:
Troy - Attend church on Mainland
As soon as Sheri lifted her hands away from her eyes, she locked onto the intense silver orbs of the man with whom she was in love. "It's still early enough to make it to the mainland for church services, right?"
Troy stared deeply into her eyes. "Right. Plenty of time to spare, too."
Although Sheri cleared her throat, her voice came out in little more than a whisper. "If it's safe enough to make it, then I feel like I should repent in more of a public place."
She ran one hand through her long blond hair. "Just as my season of rebellion was out in the open for God and the public to witness."
Clay scooted back swiftly in the kitchen chair and rose to his feet. "Jesus does not want to publicly humiliate you, Sheri. True, you must have no shame to proclaim Him as your Lord, but Jesus in no way wants to hurt you. He can heal your heart no matter where you ask."
She glanced at Clay who so obviously wanted to try and fill her big brother's shoes. "Sorry, Clay."
Sheri smiled at him. "For the way I've acted toward you since Stevo died. He was your best friend. I'm certain you've been hurting and missing him, too."
Clay brushed off his cowboy hat and raked one hand through his golden mane. "I understood your pain, just not your method of running from it."
She nodded then glanced over at her best friend. "Be back soon, Troy Montgomery." After a quick grin and wink in his direction, Sheri pivoted from the kitchen as he quirked one questioning ebony brow.
After closing the bedroom door, Sheri headed straight toward the attached bathroom. She dug out the box of hair color that Troy had announced precisely her shade and bought before ever arriving on his island. Sheri plucked out her green-tinted contacts and tossed them in the trash, then hopped into the shower.
A half hour later, Sheri stared at the familiar reflection in the mirror, long dark mahogany hair and large navy expressive eyes. Smiling, she nodded once. "Yep, that's the real me."
With another nod, she blew out a steadying exhale. "Watch out, Troy Montgomery, here I come."
Descending the stairs, Sheri decided to detour to the tiny chapel.
When she pushed open the door, Troy was kneeling. Eyes closed, his lips moved inaudibly. The precious peace of Jesus in the room settled over her as if cloaked in His protective wings. She inhaled deeply, soaking in the soul soothing peace until completely saturated. Then she silently walked over to Troy and kneeled beside him.
He did not so much as open one eye, but maybe he recognized her scent because Troy whispered, "Do you feel that, Sheri love?"
"Yes." Sheri sighed and slipped one hand between his praying closed fingers. As his prayer partner, she had always joined hands with him in the past, joined in agreement. "It's been a long time, Troy, since I've felt anything remotely like this."
Troy squeezed her hand gently. "Jesus has come to heal your heart this instant, babe. He'll change you back to the real Sheri Knight."
Already with guards down to truly absorb the peace enshrouding the room, her heart softened ever more as one tear slipped down her cheek. Open. Ready. She wanted to get right with God, follow His plan for her life. More salty drops pooled under her closed eyes, leaking out two by two.
Finally Sheri began praying, barely above a whisper, but oh so sincere. She repented for running into a season of rebellion, asking Jesus to please cleanse the unforgiveness and anger from her heart, asking Jesus to please forgive her in return. As Jesus cast her sins as far as the east is from the west, tossing them into a sea of forgetfulness, He healed her heart in that second.
While she praised God, giving Him the honor and praise, her tears turned into God's perfect medicine, laughter. Love, hope and faith combined as the joy of the Lord bubbled up from deep inside her spirit. Although laughing out loud, in her head Sheri silently beseeched God to reveal His plan for her life, to set her feet on His path, to confirm that God had chosen Troy as her future husband and true love.
When the deep timbre of Troy's chuckle joined her own overflowing happiness, she opened her eyes and glanced his way. He whooped and laughed, then opened his eyes and smiled her way. Only his smile froze and his silver eyes widened.
"Wow. The real Sheri, beautiful inside and out. Thank You, Jesus!" Troy stroked one hand down her long dark hair, cupping her face with his other hand and lifting her eyes to meet his. "Welcome back, Sheri love."
She heard the clomp of cowboy boots echoing on the tile floor, coming their way, but still she whispered, "I love you, Troy."
Troy whooped for joy again. Sheri laughed.
Clay walked into the chapel. "What's all the noise about?" He did a double take when he saw Sheri kneeling and her changed outward appearance. "Whoa. The prettiest blue eyes I've ever seen are shining with the light of the Lord."
Fisting one hand in the air, as if in victory, Clay, too, whooped out praises to God.
Troy rose then held out one hand to pull up Sheri. His arm closed around her shoulders and he tucked her up tightly to his side like proclaiming she belonged with him, to him.
Clay nodded once in acknowledgment of the nonverbal message, then grinned. "James is aboard his fishing boat, engines revving, ready to take us to the mainland. The sea is still a little choppy, but the tropical storm has pretty much passed. He wanted me to come get y'all, but now I'm wondering if you still need to travel to the mainland for church services?"
"I'd still like to attend church," Sheri said. "And meet some of Troy's Christian friends."
"Ah, Christian fellowship and edification," Troy agreed. "Let's go, honey."
She hooked her elbow through his and allowed him to escort her outside. The rain had stopped, although a mist blew in the warm wind. Even sunshine peeked through breaks in dark scattering storm clouds. With Troy on one side and Clay on the other, they walked down the boat dock.
The large fishing vessel bobbed in the waves. Maybe five feet of water stood between the end of the dock and the boat's deck. Sheri grinned first at Troy and then at Clay.
Clay snorted. "Uh-oh. The bold brat is still a daredevil."
She ignored him, turned loose of Troy, backed up and took a running leap off the edge of the dock to land safely upon the boat deck. Cocking her hands on her hips, she laughed. "Come on over, boys."
After they all boarded and climbed to the bridge to join James, Sheri sat on a bench and stared out the glassed-in cockpit at the ocean.
Clay joined her, saying nothing for a while, but pulling out his billfold from his back pocket. He nudged her with his elbow, so Sheri glanced his way.
Clay pulled a photograph from his wallet. "This picture belonged to Stevo." A snapshot of Sheri and Troy as young teenagers, laughing and obviously great friends. Then Clay handed it to her. "Read what Steve wrote on the back."
Sheri turned the photo over to recognize her big brother's strong neat penmanship. It was dated a decade ago. She read the words aloud, "Best friends forever. A gift from God, a rare and precious bond. I wonder if God will choose for them to share their future together?"
Then printed words by Steve's hand had been added, dated slightly more than two years ago. "Big bro knows best. Troy's feelings for my little sis have changed. He's determined to win her heart, follow God's plan, and share their lives."
Her mouth dropped open and she blinked slowly. Steve saw all this?
Troy dropped back on the bench beside her, lifting one finger to close her gaping mouth. When she handed him the picture, he laughed. "Two years ago, Stevo was right on target again."
Clay smirked and notched up his cowboy hat on his forehead. "Yeah, well, Montgomery, you weren't all that hard to read when love struck ya."
Finally Sheri turned to stare into Troy's silver eyes. "Two years ago? Your feelings for me changed two years ago and you never bothered to mention it to me, your best friend?"
He grinned. "See how much God has used you to help teach me the virtue of patience?"
Clay grunted. "Also your faith, Troy. Didn't you tell Steve that God revealed His plan for your life and it included Sheri as the woman handpicked by God as your wife? Then didn't you buy that island two years ago on faith for your future life together with Sheri?" Clay chuckled, adding, "And any future children you produce?"
Before Sheri could even question Troy, he beat her to it with an explanation. "Not my island, Sheri. Ours."
He held up one hand when she opened her mouth to interrupt. "Wait. While we're at it, I didn't only want you to work for me as an employee. I want you as a full partner in our successful security software empire. I want you as a full partner in every aspect of my life."
Captain James Connery chuckled and strolled toward her. "Lass, you are looking beautiful as the real you, but also a might peaked."
Clay crossed his arms over his chest and grunted. "Good one, Troy. She's speechless. Best record this historic day."
Then Clay cleared his throat. "Speaking of important dates to mark on your calendar, when's the wedding? I, of course, will walk her down the aisle."
Troy glared first at Clay, then at the captain, and grumbled, "This is not at all the way I planned for this to go down."
Sheri raised a shaky hand to her forehead. Surely this was one of those wacked-out dreams and she was going to awaken any moment?
Troy stood and extended one hand her direction. "Come on, sweetheart. You look like you could use a little fresh air."
She accepted his hand, but didn't turn loose as they descended the stairs onto the deck. Inhaling the warm salty air deeply into her lungs, Sheri closed her eyes and lifted her face toward the sun. "Am I only dreaming, Troy?"
Suddenly his smooth baritone sounded very close to her ear. "No, Sheri."
Opening her eyes, she discovered Troy had leaned down with his handsome face directly in front of hers, his mouth in her hair by her ear. She shivered and her heart thudded unsteadily.
"I love you, Sheri Knight." He grinned. "Large tell-all navy eyes and long dark mahogany hair. Hmm. This is getting closer to the way I envisioned it."
She swallowed then licked her dry lips. "Envisioned what?" She hadn't meant to say it aloud.
"I don't think you're quite ready to hear it now. Too much emotional input, too fast. How about I give you a hint?" he murmured before he tilted his head and slanted his lips against hers.
With a mind of their own, her arms slid around his neck and pulled him closer. This time, Sheri kissed him back in a show of timeless affection, speaking volumes about unconditional love without uttering a word.
A long loud blast of the boat horn broke them apart.
Troy heaved unsteady breaths, blinked rapidly several times; then he hitched his thumb toward the upcoming shoreline and a large stone church on the coast. "We're nearly there."
Sheri rested one hand over her stampeding heart, hoping to slow down the dangerous rate. No matter how hard she tried, Sheri couldn't seem to kick her brain in gear. Even when the boat horn announced their arrival once more, Troy had to again tell her they had reached his church.
Troy grinned, sliding an arm around her shoulders. "Those beautiful blue eyes are kinda dazed, honey. Does that mean your brilliant mind is temporarily offline?"
"Oh my," she managed. "I can't think at all."
Although Clay joined them on deck to disembark, Troy lowered his mouth to her ear. "Wait until I really rock your world. Oh, baby!"
Sheri choked and Clay thumped her on the back a few times.
The trio left James Connery and approached the church as the bells tolled to signal the service was about to begin. After so many introductions, so many truly warm welcomes, they moved into the sanctuary and sat in a pew halfway to the front.
Sheri cleared everything else from her mind and worshiped the Lord. There was no way to quit smiling, her heart was singing with joy as God whispered His plan for her life into her spirit. It felt gloriously familiar and right, so she simply soaked in the minister's message.
After the service ended and the congregation fellowshipped a little longer, Sheri walked down the church steps hand in hand with Troy.
Together the trio strolled across the lawn of the coastal church, down to a picnic table situated next to the white sandy beach.
Clay, grinning ear to ear, drawled, "Now what?"
She sighed. "Well, personally, I need to find a payphone and a little privacy."
Glancing into Troy's silver eyes, she explained. "I know God's plan for my life now. There's some unfinished business I need to take care of before I can move forward, a consequence from my season of rebellion that God seems insistent I deal with first."
Troy nodded, pulled his cell phone from his pocket and waved one hand toward the vast empty beach. "Phone. Privacy. Anything else?"
"Always Mr. Executive, polished professional with a solution to every problem," Clay teased Troy.
Sheri accepted the phone and grinned. "Ok, Johnny-on-the-spot, let's see you whip out of thin air the phone number of the truck driver who accidentally sideswiped Stevo."
Troy bowed. "My pleasure, ma'am." He dug out his wallet then pulled free a folded piece of paper and handed it to her.
"Thank You, Jesus," Clay uttered before pivoting to walk along the shore. "I'll give you two some privacy, but I'll be praying."
Sheri tilted her head and unfolded the paper. Then she gasped. The truck driver's name, Marvin Reynolds, his Dallas address and home phone number. "You've had it all along," she whispered. "I never figured that, Troy. You never tried to force his number down my throat."
Troy cupped her face, lifting it slightly until her eyes met and held his. "Sheri love, I may offer you incentives. I may not even be above trying to influence you, but it will never be about outright force. In the end, it's all about choice. Your choice. Your decision."
She instinctively knew he meant much more than her choice to forgive the truck driver. More than her decision to get right with God. Her choice to follow God's plan. Her decision to love Troy as the husband chosen for her by Almighty God.
As soon as she turned on the cell phone, before she even picked up a signal for reception, Troy rested his palm over her shoulder, squeezed wordless support, and he prayed quietly.
She exhaled twice, two quick puffs, before dialing the trucker driver's home phone number.
In the middle of the third ring, a gruff but weary sounding male voice snarled, "Hello?"
"Hello, Marvin Reynolds?"
The trucker snorted. "That depends. Who wants to know?"
"Mr. Reynolds, I'm Sheri Knight. Steve Knight's little sister."
A long shaky sigh sounded over the line. "Steve Knight was so young. His death has haunted me all these months. His sister, huh? Have you finally called to give me a piece of your mind?"
"I called to give you a piece of my heart," she replied softly. "Steve wouldn't want his death to haunt you. It wasn't your fault, so I have nothing to forgive you for, but God seems to want me to offer you my forgiveness just the same. And apologize for it taking me so long to do so."
After several long heartbeats, the truck driver sniffled once and whispered, "I wish I could believe I'm not to blame."
Sheri closed her eyes, beginning to understand why God wanted her to call this man personally. Her heart thudded hard. "You are not to blame, Marvin. It wasn't your fault, just a horrible accident. Steve is in a perfect place where there is no sorrow or pain. He's in heaven with Jesus and the rest of our family now."
Marvin no longer tried to hide his emotion as he wept openly over the phone. "You know, your big brother was hurt real bad. Blood all over the place as they cut him out of the wreckage, but before he'd let the ambulance take him to the hospital, he grabbed my hand. Steve Knight told me it wasn't my fault. That it was just his time to join Jesus in heaven. Then he told me that Jesus loves me."
It sounded so much like something Steve would do and say, Sheri stopped fighting against her tears. "Jesus does love you, Marvin. He loves you so much; He suffered and died on the cross to save your soul. Jesus wants you to invite Him into your heart, help you through this life and give you eternal life in heaven with Him."
The truck driver did not accept immediately. Nor did he decline right away. Instead, he cried.
The Holy Spirit nudged Sheri. As she watched Troy pray, Sheri spoke into the phone. "Marvin, there is someone I would like for you to talk with. He's my best friend and was also my brother's friend. His name is Troy Montgomery and God guides him. He is the truest Christian I know."
"Ok," Marvin agreed.
As Sheri passed the phone to Troy, she rested her hand directly over his heart and prayed quietly. She didn't know how long Troy talked to the trucker; how much time passed or what all was said. All she knew was Troy eventually led Marvin Reynolds in the sinner's prayer. When he finally disconnected, she hollered, "Praise God!"
Troy wrapped his arms around her and twirled her around off the ground. "The angels are rejoicing right now, Sheri love."
When he set her feet back on the sandy beach, Sheri hugged him. "It felt like God wanted me to hand you the phone. Kinda like we are a tag team."
Troy laughed and returned her squeeze before pulling back to smile directly into her face. "We are a team, Sheri, a winning team. You and me and God. He's our coach, guiding us to victory."
Then he looked around at the empty stretch of sand, tilted back his head and laughed. "This is more like what I envisioned, sweetheart, in my mind's eye a few million times."
Just like that, Troy dropped to one knee and held her hand over his heart. "I love you, Sheri Knight. Would you do me the honor of marrying me?"
Sheri smiled, feeling like she was giving off a thousand watts of happiness. "Yes, Troy Montgomery. It would be my pleasure to accept your proposal and God's plan."
More than male satisfaction, Troy emitted victory as he rose to his feet. "Then I claim you, Sheri, as mine with the blessings of God. You belong to me and I officially stake my claim." His mouth swooped down to press against hers, slanting, giving, taking, loving.
He must have realized her legs had turned to mush, cause Troy supported her around the waist with his strong gentle hands. When at last he ended the kiss, hooded silver eyes studied her intensely. "Where would you like to have the wedding? Texas? Atlanta? Our island?"
"Wow," was all she could manage at first.
"Zero brain-functioning ability, huh?"
She laughed and tossed her hair over her shoulder with a shake of her head. "It took a long time for me to notice your charms, bud. Whew. I'd really love to get married on our island."
Again a streak of straight white teeth gleamed directly into her face. "I thought you might like that. In fact, since it took you so long to notice I'm your personal Prince Charming, I've had years to contemplate what type of wedding might make you happiest. Would you care to hear any of my ideas?"
"Fire away, Troy. I've always admired your mind."
He smirked and humphed her. "Picture this, our island at sunset, along the sandy white beach right next to the rhythmic rolling blue waves, taking holy vows to unite us as one before God. Twilight gives way to a canopy of twinkling stars as we kiss to seal our union."
"Wow!" Sheri exclaimed. "No wonder I love you."
Troy laughed, the deep timbre infectious. "If you'd agree to marry me on July Fourth, then you'd have all the things you love. Think of how romantic our anniversary will be every year. You and me on the beach, on a blanket, soaking in the stars before the big fireworks display out over the ocean."
He winked and shot her a very masculine smile. "And afterwards, we make our own really beautiful big fireworks."
"Sold. Deal. Thank You, God, for the gift of Troy."
Clay must have wandered back because he stepped beside them, clapping and smiling. "Thank You, Lord, for making them a winning team, for guiding them."
Right before Troy lowered his lips to hers, as his head descended, he praised, "And thank You, Jesus, for answered prayer."
"Amen," Clay agreed.
Sheri said, "Amen," against Troy's lips as he kissed her, loving her, promising happiness together with actions not words.
Happily ever after!