CHANGE OF HEART:

Troy - Be a Couple

Sheri leaned into the large gentle hand cupping her face as she stared into molten silver eyes. Like a lightning bolt, it hit her. She was in love with her best friend! Also her lifelong prayer partner.

She silently asked God if He had been grooming them as a couple all their lives, if God wanted them to share the rest of their lives as husband and wife? As if in answer to her prayer, Troy smiled at her with such tenderness, such love.

He whispered, "How much wider can the Lord open the door for you, honey? He won't shove you through, force His will upon you, but you can choose to walk through that door and follow His plan for your life."

Instead of answering immediately, Sheri inclined her mouth near his ear. "I love you, Troy Montgomery." As always in the past, she pressed a kiss on his handsome cheek. But this time, she continued to peck kisses along his jaw until she slanted her lips against his.

Troy groaned before wrapping his arms around her. The power exchanged and he took over the kiss. Timeless, speaking more loudly of love, true affection on every level, than if he had shouted it from the rooftop.

When at last he pulled back, Sheri heaved as unsteadily as Troy. "Wow," she managed to huff out at last, still struggling to regain her normal heartbeat and breathing.

He smiled a few inches from her mouth. "Yeah. Wow!"

Absolutely stunned by the best kiss of her life, coming from her best friend none the least, Sheri rested one hand over her thudding heart. She then positioned her other palm against Troy's chest to check out his heartbeat, booming heavily just like hers. "Wow," she repeated in awe.

Troy reached for a strand of her blond hair, testing the texture between his fingers. "When I imagined this moment, I always pictured you with dark blue eyes and long mahogany-brown hair."

Red alert! Her brain flashed the message to her heart. If he were about to mention their future, like getting married, or even verbally stake his claim on her, she wanted to have changed everything back about herself. Although her mind didn't want Troy to continue, her heart obviously did and took over control of her voice. "When you imagined what moment?"

She must have somehow betrayed her panicky thoughts to the best friend in Troy, the person who knew her best on this earth, because he scooted back a little.

After making a more respectable distance between them, Troy answered her. "The moment when the woman in you sees and accepts the man in me. The moment we kissed for real, as male and female." He chuckled. "Thank You, Jesus! The chemistry is stronger than even I dreamed."

Sheri giggled. "Who'd have guessed?"

"God," Troy stated in his quiet yet firm and undisputable way.

"Speaking of God, just because I repented today, there are several things He still wants me to do. Consequences from my season of rebellion that still require action."

Troy crossed his arms over his chest and notched one brow. "Such as?"

"I need a phone to make a couple calls for starters."

"You've always been able to tell me anything, Sheri love. That's a part of the rare intimate bond between us. I don't want to lose that just because you accept me as a male now."

She rose to her feet and held out one hand to him. "Come on and help me find the nearest payphone."

He accepted her outstretched hand, but before allowing her to pull him to stand, he asked, "Don't you want to stick around for the barbeque?"

"You can. I have to make those calls. Now."

Troy stood and nodded curtly. "You're calling Clay."

She grinned. "Yep, he's call number one."

He sighed deeply and slipped one arm around her shoulders, pulling her in closer to his side. "All right then. I know precisely the place for you to make your calls, a place with all the privacy you could want."

"Really?" she asked, keeping up with Troy's strides.

He pulled out his cell phone, but instead of handing it to her, Troy called the helicopter pilot and said they were on their way to the helipad.

"Why can't I use your cell phone?"

"Because I'm taking you back to the island before you call Clay."

"I thought you said there were no towers to pick up a cell phone signal way out there?"

"There's not. I have a satellite phone tucked away in a very high tech office. All the latest and most top notch modern gadgets an executive might need."

Sheri elbowed him in the side. "I knew it! I knew you couldn't live without a computer and all the necessities of running your business from that island."

He shrugged. "Of course. But there is one thing I don't think you know, or have realized. And I'm going to have to spell it out for you when we return."

As if to halt any further discussion for right now, Troy started humming.

While they walked, Sheri recalled the praise and worship song.

Although she joined in humming, soon they were singing, voices raised in harmony, so familiar, so right. Both bubbling with the joy of the Lord, they sang all the way to the helipad and during the short flight over to the island.

After the helicopter lifted off, leaving them stranded again, Sheri strolled to the edge of the lapping waves. Surrounded by nature's beauty, she raised her arms and exclaimed, "Jesus is so worthy to be praised!"

Troy strode to her side. "To God be the glory."

She pivoted to face him and smiled. Then she knocked her palm against her forehead. "Phone calls. I almost forgot," she added with a laugh. "So where does a polished professional hide his phone? His high tech office?"

But Troy clasped her shoulders, not joining in her laughter, silver eyes serious and intense once more. "Do you know why I bought this island, Sheri? Why I didn't tell you about it?"

"To bring all your dates on a romantic getaway?" she teased him with a saucy grin.

He shook his head. "I told you, you're the first woman I've brought here. Yet you have it half right, a romantic getaway with my love. I bought this place for us. Not my private island. Ours. Yours and mine."

His tightened his hold on her shoulders as if to keep her upright as Troy continued. "After God revealed you were His choice as my wife, two years ago, I acted in faith and bought it for our future life together. And for any future children we will produce."

She didn't realize her mouth was gaping until he gently pushed up on her chin to shut it.

"Sheri, speechless? Hmm."

Two years ago! Share the island? Share their lives? Future children? "What about Atlanta?"

"We could live either place. Two extremes. Most likely spend time in both. As stranded as we seem, this island has all the technological capabilities to run the business."

He rubbed his hands up and down her arms as if trying to revive her from the shock. "While I've got you temporarily without words, I didn't only want you to work for me, Sheri love. I want you as a full partner in our security software firm. I want you as a full partner in every aspect of my life."

"I-I need to sit," she whispered a second before she plopped down right there in the sand.

Troy tilted back his head and laughed. When he squatted beside her, he rubbed one knuckle over her cheekbone. "I suppose the rest can wait until later, sweetheart. Too much input. You're obviously on sensory overload at the moment."

She took the hand he offered and allowed him to pull her to her feet.

In silence, they walked with intertwined fingers into the house.

Then Sheri shook her head to clear it, exhaling a cleansing breath. "The phone please?" Surely he had to be joking, she thought as instead of walking farther into the house, Troy led her into the kitchen pantry.

Sheri had investigated his almost-castle, but the closet in the walk-in pantry had not interested her. Mrs. Johnson had done most of the cooking and Sheri had assumed the closet held more non-perishable food supplies. "I know better than to assume anything," she grumbled as he opened the door and flicked on the lights.

A large state-of-the-art room; she humphed him. In a glance, she took in the satellite phone, computer with satellite hook-up, web camera for video conferencing, fax machine. There was much more, everything an executive in charge would need to run his business from a remote island, but Sheri narrowed her eyes on one corner of his desk. "That's my laptop! So that must make this the twilight zone, huh?"

He grinned. "That's what I call it."

She fisted her hands on her hips, elbows cocked, and shook her head. "I knew it, Troy Montgomery. You polished professional computer genius guru. I knew you couldn't live without all this technology."

"If anyone knows me, Sheri, it would be you. Just as I knew you would be overly tempted by all this technology if you knew of its existence." He handed her the satellite phone.

Sheri snatched it out of his hand then pointed at the door. "You promised me privacy, bud." Although he nodded, she noted the flash of hurt in his eyes. "Argh. All right. Please stay."

When he sat, Sheri bent over and placed her face directly in front of his. "Troy, once and for all, get this through your thick skull. Yes, I love Clay. I am not in love with Clay. You and Clay are friends; Clay and I are friends. The three of us are friends and family. No more uncertainty, or jealousy, or whatever happens lately when Clay is mentioned. Ok?"

"Ok." Then he grinned innocently and studied his fingernails. "I don't suppose you'll go the extra distance bonus round and tell me who you are in love with?"

"No. I won't. Not yet. All in good time. I feel like God is leading me to do everything in His order."

Sheri ignored his smug little smile and punched in the numbers on the phone, the same number she used to dial to call her brother.

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

"Howdy, Clay. How's the potential bride dates going?"

"Sheri! Howdy. I'm surviving the dates. No thanks to you."

"Ah, give the Texas ladies a break. A real chance. Your mom would only choose the best for you." She laughed. "Besides, isn't it about time to start populating the Swinging D with little cowboys and cowgirls?"

Clay laughed. "Maybe. How are ya? How's Troy treating ya?"

"I'm great. Quit smoking. Attended church and repented today."

"Praise Jesus!"

"Amen," she added. "I'm sorry for how I've acted toward you since Steve died."

"Lashing out in hurt, I understood. I miss him, too."

"I know." She cleared the emotional clog from her throat. "Would you happen to have the phone number of the truck driver?"

"Sure do. Just been waiting for ya to ask. Hold on and I'll get it."

Even as she waited on Clay, Troy dug his wallet from his back pocket. Then Troy pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to her. Marvin Reynolds. Dallas. And the trucker driver's phone number.

Thank you, she mouthed to Troy a heartbeat before Clay came back over the line with the exact same information.

"Anytime. I've been praying you'd forgive him. It was an accident, sideswiping Stevo. A horrible accident."

"Yes," she whispered and closed her eyes.

"Sheri, you didn't answer about Troy. Are you still immune to him? Still view him as platonic only?"

She snorted at that and opened her eyes to find Troy studying her intensely. "No. Definitely not."

Clay laughed. "Falling in love with him, huh?"

"All ready did."

"Wonderful. Tell him I said howdy. And I'll walk you down the aisle, give you away, when you get married."

"He has to ask first."

"He will," Clay laughed again. "He's been in love with you for a long time now. You, on the other hand, were pretty clueless and immune to his charm. The man deserves rewarded for his patience and faith. Knowing Troy, he's listening, so I'll let you off the hook. Thanks though for calling with all the great news. And thank You, Jesus, for answering prayer."

"Indeed and amen," she said enthusiastically. "Bye, Clay."

Sheri turned her full attention toward Troy before waving the piece of paper. "You had it all along."

"Uh-huh."

"You never tried to cram it down my throat, force it on me."

His lips lifted into a lopsided grin. "I may try to influence you, Sheri, give you an extra incentive, but in the end it's all your decision. Although I must say God has used you to test my patience; not my strongest virtue as you know."

Her heart swelled with emotion, thudding against her ribs. Instinctively, she knew Troy meant more than just her decision to call Marvin Reynolds.

Her decision to repent and get right with God. Her decision to follow God's path and her heart. Her decision to love Troy, marry him.

Sheri reached over and cupped his handsome cheek. "You are truly a good Christian man, Troy Montgomery, with many great virtues."

She felt a little nudge in her spirit, so Sheri bit her tongue to hold back the rush of words. Not yet; first things first. But, thank You, Jesus! I love Troy.

Picking up the phone again, she blew out a long slow breath.

"Easy, honey." Troy stood and slipped one large hand under her hair to gently massage her nape. Emotional support. Spiritual leadership. "It's ok, sweetheart. You're doing the right thing; I know it in my heart."

"Marvin Reynolds will probably think I'm nuts. Steve's death wasn't his fault. He doesn't need, or most likely want, my forgiveness." Sheri shrugged. "For some reason, although Steve died months ago, God is rather insistent I still call now."

"Follow the path God puts before you. It's not always easy to understand His reasoning, but you know His voice. Give up control and step out in faith like the Sheri of old."

Then Troy closed his eyes, lips scarcely moving, as he prayed silently.

She dialed the number and waited through three rings before a weary yet gruff male voice answered, "Hello?"

"Mr. Marvin Reynolds?"

"Yeah." He yawned loudly. "If you're selling something, I'm not buying."

"Mr. Reynolds, this is Sheri Knight. Steve Knight's sister."

The pause lasted so long she wondered if they'd disconnected, before the trucker sniffled and cleared his throat. "Steve Knight. I'm so sorry. His death has haunted me for months now."

Her heartbeat kicked into overdrive. "I'm sorry, too. That's why I'm calling actually. You don't need my forgiveness, and I apologize it took me this long to call you, but God wants you to know that I forgive you."

She inhaled deeply like a cement block had been lifted off her chest as she forgave him aloud. Straight from her heart, Sheri added, "Steve's death was an accident and he's in a much better place now. He's in heaven with Jesus and the rest of our family. My brother's death was not your fault, Mr. Reynolds. I don't blame you and neither does God. Please don't blame yourself."

The trucker's gruff voice grew so rusty it cracked. "Steve Knight was so young, his whole life ahead of him. When the fire department finally cut him out of the wreckage, he wanted to talk to me before they loaded him in the ambulance. Your brother took my hand and told me it wasn't my fault. That it was his time to join Jesus; and to know that Jesus loves me."

This time, Sheri sniffled and blinked rapidly. Hot tears spilled anyhow, running down her face until she licked away one salty drop by her lips. "God is love and Jesus does love you, Marvin Reynolds. If you were the only person on earth, He still would have died on the cross just for you. No matter what you've done in the past, no matter what guilt or lies Satan tries to push off on you, Jesus can and will forgive you."

She whispered urgently, "Truly. Jesus will wipe the slate clean, throw your sins into a sea of forgetfulness as far as the east is from the west. God and Jesus love you, Marvin. They want you to join their family, to give you peace that passes all understanding, to save you a spot in heaven for all eternity. Would you like to invite Jesus to live in your heart?"

By now, the trucker's sobs sounded loudly through the earpiece.

Sheri, too, was crying, praying silently, struggling to find her voice. Finally, she asked, "Marvin, I would like you to talk to my best friend please; Troy Montgomery, a born leader who I love and respect deeply. He was Steve's friend also, and the truest Christian man I know. God always uses Troy, guides him, and I feel like you're supposed to speak with someone calm and composed right now. Please listen to Troy; open your mind and heart."

"Ok."

Sheri handed the phone to Troy, smiling at his surprised expression. Then she listened to the one-sided conversation, praying softly the entire time, tears flowing down her face.

She didn't know how much time had passed, but Troy grabbed her hand while he led the trucker driver in the sinner's prayer. The angels were rejoicing as Troy hung up the phone several minutes later.

He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her from the chair. Spinning her around, hugging her, he praised God.

As one voice united in love and harmony, they declared, "To God be the glory!"

Troy slid his mouth next to her ear. "I told you, with God on our side, we are a winning team." He hugged her tightly before pulling back enough to stare into her eyes.

Sheri smiled and welcomed his mouth on hers. The kiss no sooner started though, than noises came from the kitchen. She pushed lightly against Troy's chest and he released her.

He sucked in an unsteady breath before raising his voice. "We're in here, Mrs. Johnson. Welcome back."

Sheri bit her lower lip, uncertain if Mr. and Mrs. Johnson's timing was wonderful or wretched.

"I'll be back soon," she whispered to Troy and hugged him once more. One quick hard squeeze, speaking of her love for him with an action and not words. God required one more action, but His plan for her life was clear to her now.

Stopping in the kitchen, Sheri visited with the Johnsons for a few minutes. While Troy sat at the table with them, she made her escape upstairs.

She shut the bedroom door before walking into the connecting bathroom. Digging through the cabinet, she searched until she found the box of hair color.

Smiling, she read and followed the directions. Before she unwrapped the towel from her wet hair, Sheri plucked out her green contacts and flicked them into the trashcan. After using the blow dryer, she stared at a familiar reflection, dark blue tell-all eyes and long mahogany-red hair. Transformation complete back into the Sheri of old, she smiled again.

The entire time, since shutting the bedroom door, she uttered a prayer. Now, God's love saturated her, His approval soaked into her bones. She was supposed to love Troy, be in love with him. Troy was her future. Now was the time.

Troy and her, with God guiding them at their center, were a winning team.

As she descended the stairs, Sheri heard Troy whistling a song of praise even before she saw him. Almost like his awareness of her alerted him to her presence, he pivoted as she reached the bottom step. The whistling halted mid-note, but his lips still puckered. Several long heartbeats later, he whistled again, this time a masculine sound of male/female appreciation.

"Thank You, Jesus!" Suddenly, Troy picked her up off the bottom step and pulled her into his arms. "Welcome back, Sheri love. I knew when you couldn't change God, couldn't change me, you'd change everything back about yourself. Praise the Lord!"

"Put me down, you brute," she laughed.

Yet the second he complied, Sheri wrapped her arms around his neck. "Come here, Troy. Closer." Then she rocked up on her toes and pressed her lips to his, kissing him for real.

Head spinning, heart pounding, she pulled back and panted.

When he leaned down to rest his forehead against hers, Sheri breathed, "I love you. I'm in love with you, Troy Montgomery."

He shut his eyes for a second and swallowed audibly. "I love you, Sheri Knight. And I claim you as mine in the Name of Jesus."

Silver eyes opened and stared at her. "You are so gorgeous." Troy stroked her hair and smiled. "Those beautiful blue eyes that I can read so well, that reveal everything, tell me that you now know God's plan for your life."

"Yes. And happily accepted it."

"In that case," Troy grabbed her hand and dropped to one knee. "Will you make me the happiest man on earth and agree to marry me, Sheri?"

"Oh, yes. You and me and God. A winning team. Forever."

"Amen and amen," he declared. Then he laughed. "So where does my future bride want her wedding?"

"Here."

His smile shouted of total masculine triumph, but his smooth baritone suggested instead of demanded. "Since you love to stare at the stars, the rhythm of the ocean waves, and get as excited as a little girl when watching the fireworks, how about uniting in marriage on the eve of July fourth? Here on the beach." He waggled one eyebrow. "Think how romantic our anniversary will be every year."

She sighed. "Sounds perfect, Troy."

He sighed also and rose to his feet. "I've had several years to pray about it, and a lifetime of knowing you to figure out what would make you happiest. We'll be happy, Sheri. I love you. With God guiding us, blessing our union, we will have a great life together."

"I love you, too, Troy." Sheri hugged Troy and shut her eyes, smiling hugely. "Thank You so very much, Jesus!"

Happily ever after!

May God bless you abundantly!