CHANGE OF HEART:
Clay - React With Anger
Amused by her jealousy, huh? Sheri patted the blanket. "Come sit down beside me and look at the stars then I'll tell you which I choose."
As soon as he had joined her, she balled up her hand into a fist and hammered him on the bicep. "That's my choice, makes me mad enough to hit you!"
He chuckled then rubbed his bicep. One dark golden eyebrow sailed up in the air. "So you're going to stand and fight for me before some other woman claims me. Will you punch out these women like you did me?"
Very quickly she rubbed one hand over any discomfort she might have caused his bicep, but she doubted if he felt it at all. Embarrassed by her outburst, yet still angry, she huffed, "Sorry. No; I won't be punching anyone out."
After she dropped back on the blanket, Clay propped up on elbow beside her to stare down into her face, her eyes, before speaking. "You must forgive yourself. And God. And the trucker who sideswiped Steve. To do that, you must grieve."
Clay rested one large calloused finger over her lips, holding her silence, as he continued. "Right after the funeral, you became numb, withdrew from your friends, changed everything about yourself, lost too much weight, and became irritable; of course that could be your addiction to nicotine. You also said you don't sleep well because you're eaten alive with guilt. Your anger is a natural part of your grief. But to move past grief to healing, you must forgive; you must forgive to be forgiven."
He lay on his side; then he wrapped one strong arm around her shoulders to pull her face against his chest. "Relax," he purred.
Once she did, Clay started telling stories of Steve. Stories she knew by heart and stories she'd never heard before. His soft drawl battered away at the wall around her heart until she was left defenseless.
Sheri uttered, "Oh, Stevo, I forgive you for leaving me alone." Just like that the dam broke and her grief came sliding down her face until she was sobbing against Clay.
He stroked her hair, her back, rocking her with his other hand, all the while praying softly, mixing his prayers with her tears.
Finally, she hiccupped and lifted her face from his now wet t-shirt.
When she sat up, so did he. Then Clay lifted the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe away her tears. He shot her a sad smile and pressed his lips to her forehead.
Sheri jumped to her feet, folded the blanket, and escaped to bed, before falling in an emotionally exhausted slumber.
Since she went to bed early, she was up and fixing breakfast before dawn.
Immediately afterwards, she mopped, vacuumed, dusted, and changed the bed sheets. Finishing with just enough time to fix lunch, Sheri joined Clay and his three ranch hands to eat.
The doorbell rang. Sheri glanced at her watch; only a few minutes past noon? His beauty pageant queen was due to arrive for her date at one, yet when she swung open the door that's who she found. The gorgeous sophisticated blond could only be her.
"Hi, I'm Sheri." Sheri extended her hand, but the other woman didn't.
"I'm Betsy and I've come for Clay."
"Please carry my luggage inside."
Sheri glanced over her shoulder to see if anyone else was coming to investigate. When she saw no one, she smiled. "Clay is not on the market for a wife. His mother wrote the ad, read the replies, and conducted the interviews."
With a swift shrug, Sheri added, "Unfortunately, his mom failed to learn first if he's already taken. And he is. Thank you for dropping by." Then Sheri shut the door in the woman's gaping face.
She dashed back to the kitchen to join Clay and the ranch hands.
Clay wiped his mouth on a napkin, before stretching. "Who was at the door, Sheri?"
Instead of answering him right away, she came up with and discarded a variable fountain of ideas. Although she hurriedly rinsed the dishes before adding them to the dishwasher, Clay walked over to the sink.
"Sheri, I asked who was at the door?"
She gnawed her bottom lip with her top teeth. "I took care of it. No need to wonder more than that."
Sheri laughed bitterly. "In a matter of speaking, she surely was selling something. You can thank me later for clearing your social calendar this weekend."
Clay lifted off his hat before raking one hand through his short golden mane and placing the hat securely back on his head. "You sent my date away?"
She propped one hand on her hip. "I thought you didn't like blind dates? Or your mom hand-choosing bride candidates?"
"I don't like blind dates and I don't want to date any of the women chosen by my mom." He shot her a lopsided grin and his dimple winked at her. "So what did you say to her?"
Once again, the uncommon happened. Waves of heat crept up her neck to coat her face with embarrassment.
Clay laughed and nodded. "Yep, I want to hear it for sure now."
In little more than a whisper, Sheri stated, "That someone else has already claimed you."
"You don't say?"
She stepped into his comfort zone of personal space and rocked up on her toes. "Yeah, I do say."
Golden brown eyes stared into hers before he shook his head. "No. I can't read your eyes under those green shields."
He lowered his face while tilting hers up. "Are you still a virgin, Sheri, or did you change that about you, too?"
"I'm still a virgin, Clay."
He brushed his mouth across hers before whispering, "Kiss me back, Sheri. Open your mouth to me and kiss me back."
His lips brushed and slanted this way and that ever so softly. "Make your claim, sweetheart. But I can't make mine until you give Jesus complete control of your life again. First you belong to God again, and then you are the woman who God promised me, promising blessings."
She dropped back down on her bare feet and stepped away from him. "I can't. I'm as aware as you of the Bible's teachings. A Christian and non-Christian are not supposed to have a relationship."
"Ah," he grinned. "But you are a Christian, albeit a backslid one."
"Yes, but you've told me, you can't make any claim on me until I am as devoted to Jesus as you are." Sheri shrugged. "I'm working on it."
He kissed her on the forehead as if she was his little sister and he didn't try to kiss her again for a week.
Sheri participated in their nightly Bible reading and prayer. Little by little, she repented sin by sin each day.
Although she didn't attend church with Clay, she decided she would the next weekend. Yes, she'd seek out the Dallas trucker who sideswiped Stevo and forgive him, face to face. Then the next day, after forgiving so she could be forgiven, after she handed Jesus complete control of her life once and for all, she'd attend church with Clay. She'd attend next Sunday as a blue-eyed brunette.
On the next Friday morning, Sheri toted the laundry basket full of Clay's clean clothes into his room. But when she pushed the door open, there was Clay, on his knees beside the bed with his open Bible on the mattress, quietly praying.
A craving even a hundred times more powerful than a nicotine fit, coursed through her system. This is what she wanted to share with him, a relationship with God. The real thing, a marriage of man and woman with God in control, guiding and blessing them.
He glanced up and caught her staring at him. Was he gauging her reaction as he held her eyes?
She dashed to his dresser where she overturned the basket of clean clothes into a pile. Then she fled.
But Clay followed her retreat downstairs to the laundry room where she returned the basket. He stood in the doorway, arms braced against the opening, blocking her into the tiny laundry room.
She cleared her throat and tried to appear nonchalant. "Ready for your date with the rodeo cowgirl here in a few hours?"
He tilted his head. "That depends on you, Sheri. Are you ready to repent, forgive, and hand God total control? Or are you ready to watch me date another woman right in front of your face?"
"If you want to date her, let me know so I won't kick her out before she sets foot in your home." When he said nothing, she frowned. "I have to go into Dallas today anyway. Then I'll stay in the guest cabin, since your mom left for a cruise."
"Dallas? To find and forgive the trucker?" Golden gaze caught and captured her full attention, so all she could manage was a nod. He smiled and the dimple pitted in his handsome cheek. "Want me to come along with you?"
"You've got a hot date, cowboy."
"You can't just stand up the rodeo cowgirl. I all ready put a damper on the Dillenger hospitality when I kicked the beauty queen off the Swinging D before she even set foot inside. The height of rudeness. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you."
He grimaced slightly at the memory. Then he grinned again. "Oh, my bold beauty, I'll be coming with you to Dallas even if I have to bring the rodeo cowgirl along."
"Joy oh bliss," she mumbled and walked toward the exit.
But Clay didn't budge out of her way.
Due to honoring his beliefs, what she knew to be true, she didn't want to become a couple until she had gotten right with God. Christians were not supposed to date or marry non-Christians. She wasn't exactly a nonbeliever, but she wasn't back from her season of rebellion quite yet so she, too, again spent private time on her knees with God. No, she needed to forgive the trucker, then dye her blond hair back to dark brown and throw away the green-colored contacts; needed to transform back into the true Sheri.
When Clay spoke, his smooth southern drawl tugged at her heart. "Kiss me, Sheri, now, and I'll tell the rodeo queen that I'm already taken."
Sheri leaned up on tiptoes and rested her hands on his broad shoulders. She closed her eyes and tilted her head, brushing her lips over his. When she pressed against his mouth harder, Clay wrapped his arms around her and took control of the kiss. It was gentle, then timeless.
Suddenly, he grabbed her by the shoulders and backed up two steps from her. The golden glowing rim almost overcame the brown around his pupils as he heaved in unsteady breaths.
Gasping herself, head spinning, heart rejoicing in staccato time, Sheri dropped to her flat feet before she did something as silly as melt like mush on his scruffy cowboy boots.
He raked one hand down his face. "Whew! I'm sorry, Sheri. I had no right to kiss you like that yet."
Indeed, she now felt as if she had well and truly been marked as his. Yet unclaimed until she belonged totally to Jesus again; before she could belong to Clay, or he to her.
As soon as he unblocked her exit, Sheri made time for Clay's computer. She signed online, checking to see if Troy was online at that same minute. When he wasn't, she e-mailed him; sent him an SOS that the torch she had carried for Clay all these years was blazing out of control.
Not ten minutes after she sent the e-mail, the phone rang.
Clay answered it in the kitchen, but carried the portable phone into the den. He frowned slightly. "It's for you. It's Troy."
She practically yanked the phone out of his hand before saying, "Hi, bud!" But before she said more, she noticed Clay dropped into the armchair across from the desk, folding his brawny arms over his chest. Clearly he didn't intend to give her any private time to talk to her best friend.
Troy shot right to the point with a low whistle. "SOS, huh?"
She grimaced. "Can I call you back later?"
"No, Sheri. I want to know what is going on right now."
"Ok, Troy. Howdy to you too. Newsflash for you, I plan to forgive the trucker face-to-face. Soon, I'll be back in God's good graces. Soon, you'll have me as your prayer partner again."
Troy sighed as if vastly relieved. "Praise the Lord!" Then he chuckled. "You're not talking about Clay because he's sitting right there listening, right?"
"That would be affirmative, Troy. How about I call you after I get back from Dallas?"
Troy agreed, leaving her thinking about her choices. Did she stake her claim on Clay, cementing them as a couple, right now? Before his next date arrived? Or did she get right with God first, forgiving to be forgiven, so she could come to Clay as a full-fledged Christian?
The Bible warned against Christian and non-Christian romantic relationships. Didn't she want to start the foundation of her relationship with Clay built on the Cornerstone to withstand anything, instead of sandy soil unwise to build upon?
Clay leaned forward in his chair to prop one elbow upon the desk, resting his head against his fisted hand. "So, what did Troy want?"
She flitted her eyes everywhere but to his. "He was just answering my e-mail."
"Why not simply e-mail you back? Is Troy tangled in your heartstrings, Sheri?"
"He's my best friend and you know it!"
"Maybe I want to be your sole confidant after God. Your soul-mate. Maybe I want to be your best friend. And definitely not platonic like the relationship you share with Troy."
What should she do? Let Clay know she wanted to be a couple as of this second? Or first change everything about herself back into the Sheri who righteously served the Lord?
Should she stake her claim on Clay right now before she belonged to Jesus again? Or should she forgive the trucker, fully repent; color her hair back to brown and eyes to blue before she claimed Clay as one good Christian to another?
Should she repent fully, change back into the real Sheri, before claiming Clay? Should she stake her claim, kiss Clay, right now before she belonged to Jesus again?