The Sins of Our Fathers; Chapter One
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This is the first chapter.
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The End Of The World Aas She Knew It
It all started with the end of the millennium. As the New Year approached, her family began acting strangely. They began storing water and food in the fall, as people started whispering about the turn of the century and Y2K.
It sounded like a lot of nonsense to Claire, but her parents seemed genuinely concerned. They began attending a small church and planning for the end of modern life. The fear grew to a fever pitch through the holiday season, as frantic computer programmers, her father included, speculated about what would happen when digital clocks turned from 12-31-1999 to 01-01-2000. A new millennium had never taken place in the digital world.
Those proclaiming the end times cried loudly and many became religious out of fear.
Her parents wore their piety proudly. They came into religion late in life, as Claire herself reached puberty. Their transformation from normal parents to radical religion happened so quickly that Claire doubted the sincerity of their faith. She had little time to adapt to being a zealot.
One day, a normal family of four, enjoying life, working, going to school. The next day, sanctimonious holy rollers bent on saving, or at least changing the world.
They wanted the change to start with their two daughters. Overnight, Claire’s life as a normal middle school kid changed forever. Gone were the days of jeans, and short hair. Her father decided it would be more appropriate for his women to wear dresses, so as not to cause others to stumble. Claire grumpily thought that the only one stumbling was herself, as she tried to run in those stupid dresses.
Outwardly obedient, inside she seethed with rebellion and escape. Claire did not change on the inside. Outside she was the model child of obedience, her hair pulled neatly back into a bun, or hanging down her back, with the bangs pulled off her face, long skirts covering her legs. Practical Mary Jane shoes, in simple black to match every outfit, caused her to stumble through gym class as her skirts wrapped themselves crazily around her legs. It was humiliating.
Her heart longed to go back to the way things were. The embarrassment caused her to pull inward, trusting no one.
One year she was wearing shorts and tennis shoes like everyone else in PE. During her seventh grade school year, everything changed, and she became an instant object of ridicule. She could see the popular girls whispering and pointing. Sure, they felt sorry for her but that didn’t stop them from laughing and calling her a nun.
On the inside, Claire ran like the wind, her hair unbridled, blowing wildly behind her, her legs free in shorts, her feet unencumbered by clumsy shoes. In her dreams, she ran barefoot through sand on the beach, or through fields of wildflowers. She ran long and fast, never tiring. She ran until she was completely alone. On the inside Claire was free.
Her parents could only push Claire so far. Not so Rachel. Only eight when the craziness began, Rachel adapted to the religious realm easily.
Claire had no idea what Rachel thought on the inside and she didn’t really care. They were never close. Besides the difference in their ages, they were completely different people.
Rachel cheerfully obeyed while smiling all the while. On the outside, Rachel seemed perfectly cutout for the small world of religion, embracing the rules and regulations with her charming smile and cautious heart.
Claire felt destined for something greater and this religious nonsense of her parents stood squarely in the way of her normal life. Claire loved her family, but as the slide into religious fanaticism grew steeper, Claire pulled quietly into herself, rarely revealing her true nature to anyone.
The dresses and long hair were embarrassing, but the worst part came when her mother announced they would no longer be attending public school. Her father had decided the influence of public school kids was beyond the evangelistic reach of his daughters.
At the end of the summer, the family sat at the breakfast table, finishing their morning studies, and preparing for Saturday chores.
Melissa began nervously, smiling widely at her daughters, while her eyes darted to Craig.
“Girls, your father and I have decided that when school starts next month, you won’t be returning to your usual classes. Instead, we have decided that I will teach you here, at home, where we can focus on what truly matters.”
Claire stared at her mother in shocked disbelief, then turned her outrage directly toward Craig.
“Are you crazy? What is wrong with you? Why are you trying to ruin my life?”
Claire didn’t mean to shout, but she was stunned by their sudden announcement.
Rachael beamed at her mother, and clapped her hands excitedly.
“Can you teach us how to cook, and how to be wives, and how to be ladies?” she asked charmingly.
Craig cleared his throat.
“Claire, I understand your shock, but we’ve made up our minds. We want the best for both you girls, and I believe homeschooling will offer us an opportunity to raise you with proper standards, respect and devotion.
“Besides, your mother’s pretty smart. I think she could teach you a lot more than any public school ever could.”
With that he reached across the table and squeezed his wife’s hand affectionately.
In August, rather than beginning eight-grade with her friends, Claire watched them walk toward the bus stop, as her father cheerfully announced the morning bible study.
She clenched her jaw in silent frustration, willing the world to end. She couldn’t believe they were keeping her home. As if the dresses weren’t freakish enough, now to be homeschooled meant a complete end to life, as Claire knew it. When they announced the plans to homeschool over the weekend, Claire hoped it was a passing fancy; a phase that her parents had entered into, but would come out of again before school actually began. Now, as she watched her former classmates make their way to the bus stop, she realized that this really was what her life had become.
She could have never predicted three short months ago, when summer started, what drastic changes their lives would take. Watching her friends walk past, she angrily thought about all that had transpired during the worst summer ever. The summer bummer. She smiled to herself as she repeated it in her head. The summer bummer.
Their morning bible study began during summer vacation. Every morning after breakfast, her father announced the day’s study, while the girls gathered their bibles, pens and paper.
Claire played along, memorizing the family verses every week, and spouting them back at the supper table. Her father would begin the devotional time with a family prayer, just after the breakfast dishes were cleared.
“Father God, we ask that you be with us today, as we each go our separate ways, that you guide us to your divine appointments, and that you give us the words to reach the many lost souls we find along the way.”
Eyes closed, each person holding another family members hand, faces pointed blissfully, and Claire thought, ignorantly, heavenward. She peeked out from half closed lashes, watching the surrender of her family to a greater God.
After prayer, Craig would begin reading directly from the bible. He started the summer at the beginning, in Genesis. Reading from the Old-English sounding King James Bible he recounted the story of creation and man’s fall from grace during the month of June. After the reading, which was usually a chapter long, he would ask the girls questions.
“Okay Rachel,” he began gently, “Tell daddy how long God took to create the earth.”
Rachel at only eight had already heard many of the stories during her previous months at Sunday school. Thirteen-year- old Claire sat with the adults during Sunday bible study and worship.
She couldn’t tell you what they had read during the adult bible study, or what it meant. Usually she stared at the floor, bored out of her mind. One Sunday, during the service, she began meticulously folding the sermon notes into an origami paper crane. She worked quietly, staring down at her paper, until Craig angrily snatched the nearly finished bird out of her hands. He glared at her and seethed between clenched jaws, “Stop messing around and pay attention.”
He wadded the graceful cranes in his angry fists, then watched Claire carefully to ensure her undivided attention.
Rachel had obviously learned more in Sunday School than Claire ever cared to.
“Seven days, daddy. God created the world in seven days. Well,” she paused, looking puzzled, “Actually, he worked six days and rested on the last day. That is why we celebrate the Sabbath. To rest at church.”
“Very good, sweetheart. You are daddy’s bible champion. Claire, can you tell me what the snake told Eve?”
“Ummm,” Claire rolled her eyes, tipping back slightly in her chair. She chewed her bottom lip distractedly, trying to remember what the snake had said. Something about an apple, for sure. She glanced sidelong at her sister hoping for a little help.
“Claire, sit up and look at me when you speak,” her father’s voice was louder than it needed to be, and Claire jumped forward, startled.
“I was thinking. You didn’t even give me a chance to answer the question. You just yell.” With that, she left the table and headed toward her room.
“Claire,” he shouted, “you get back to this table now. I will not say it again. If you disobey me, there will be serious consequences.”
Claire stood in the hallway, debating whether to return to the table. She felt trapped, and a little afraid.
Ever since they had started going to this church, her dad talked all the time about obedience. He always insisted they look directly into his eyes when speaking. Irritated with herself for her own fear, Claire headed back to the table. His consequences usually involved a spanking or grounding, neither of which she felt was appropriate. And neither of which she cared to deal with on such a beautiful summer day.
“Good choice Claire. Now, what did the snake say to Eve?”
Claire stared at her hands, unsure whether to answer. Of course she knew the answer. In the months since joining the Seekers Church, she had learned more about bible stories than she ever cared to know.
“He told her that she would be as smart as God,” Claire replied, still staring at her hands.
“Yes, he did, but you need to look at me when you speak,” her dad replied.
“I said, he told her that she would be as smart as God if she ate the apple. The forbidden fruit.”
After a few more questions, dad would select an important verse from the reading, and have everyone repeat it back to him. Even mom said the verse back to her husband, smiling at her daughters, encouraging them to follow her obedient lead.
The family then recited the verse several times, all together, and dad gave them a moment to write it into their journal.
Each member of the family spent exactly fifteen minutes journaling. Rachel was allowed to draw pictures about what they had read, but Claire was expected to write a prayer for the day, as well as her own insight into the scripture reading. Their mother always set the kitchen timer, and for fifteen minutes, the family sat in silence, contemplating Gods word and writing. Their mother, Melissa always wrote the memory verse at the top of Rachel’s page, whispering softly each word, explaining the verse.
After family devotions, the family headed off for individual chores.
Craig had worked as a computer engineer for years, developing software for a quickly growing computer company. From college, he worked his way up to vice-president of design. His job paid a lot, but he worked long hours.
One morning, shortly after summer vacation began, Craig had an announcement for the family. After family devotions, he asked the girls to stay seated while he took his wife’s hand.
“This will come as a shock to all of you,” he began.
“The church has asked me to step down from my job, and take on the position of worship leader. It will be a big cut in pay, but it is exactly what God is calling me to do. Pastor Bill asked me last week, and I have been praying for an answer. Today I know that God has called me to serve him.”
Claire couldn’t believe her ears. Going to this goofy church was bad enough; with it’s cloned families of perfect wives and cookie-cutter children. She knew she didn’t fit in with the home-school group who believed dancing was wrong and kissing was a mortal sin. Those kids were so strange. And the few public school kids who attended the church were strange and kept to themselves. Obviously, her family was making a huge mistake.
She stared in disbelief as her mother announced, “I have some news myself. Since becoming members at Seekers, I have been praying for God to increase our family, in His timing of course. Well, I guess it’s His timing. We’ll be having a baby in February.”
Craig wept at the news, and Rachel squealed with delight. She jumped up and hugged her mom, then her dad excitedly. Melissa held Craig’s hand, smiling serenely. Claire sat dumbfounded by the many ways God was ruining her life.
Summer wore on, and Claire discovered many other things she disliked about the Seeker Church. Not only did her dad take a job there, as the “worship minister”, but now her mom was getting more involved in the children’s ministry and she continually enlisted Claire for extra help. As if sitting in church during Sunday school weren’t bad enough, now she was forced to work with crying infants every Sunday as their plump mothers handed them over the baby gate.
One Sunday, Claire overheard a woman telling her mother that she was looking forward to having another baby. She handed over a chubby toddler, who began crying immediately. Claire stood up to help, taking the squealing boy into her arms. He began kicking and pulling Claire’s hair. She smiled at the young mother and asked, “So when is your next baby due?”
The woman looked at Claire with a puzzled frown.
“What do you mean? I just had that baby. I’m not pregnant now.”
Claire felt her face become immediately hot, and she stammered an embarrassed apology.
“I’m sorry. I thought you said you were looking forward to having another baby.”
“I am, but not right now. I was speaking to your mother. You would do well to learn to mind your own business, young lady.”
Mortified, Claire busied herself with tending to the wailing child on her hip, who continued angrily pulling Claire’s hair with his sticky hands.
After the woman left, Melissa gently took the boy, changed his diaper and gave him a bottle of milk. She shook her head at Claire.
“Sweetheart, never ask a woman if she is pregnant. You’ll find that most women can’t wait to tell someone if they are. That’s just not something you ask, even if you think you’re sure.”
Claire made a mental note and hoped no one would ever mistake her for being pregnant. Actually, she hoped she never had kids.
With their sticky hands and dirty faces and smelly diapers, Claire wondered what the attraction could possibly be, for people wanting to have so many.
Craig was good as the worship pastor. Everyone said so.
“He brings me to tears every time he sings that song,” one lady would say.
“I am so touched by how willing he is to share himself with us,” said another.
Claire was irritated by his false displays of emotion. She knew, as she watched him on the stage, playing the guitar and singing to Jesus, that the tears were a part of the show. His earnest plea to Jesus, for a humble heart was an act.
Claire knew Craig. She knew how he was before, how he looked at women, and used to curse, and drink beer.
And now, he proudly displayed his weaknesses, as if to strengthen those around him. He cried his fake tears, and sang his love songs to God, and made Claire sick to her stomach.
But the church members loved his worship style. They enthusiastically sang along, arms waiving toward the heavens, tears streaming down their faces.
Under Craig’s leadership, the worship team slowly grew. A drummer volunteered from within the congregation and a piano teacher offered to accompany Craig. The worship team grew from Craig singing solo as he played his guitar, to several church members who had different musical talents.
“That Theresa, she has a wonderful voice,” he said at lunch one afternoon following church. “She has no formal voice training, but she sings like an angel. I’m thinking of having her meet me a couple evening’s next week, so I can get her up to speed on a few songs. If I can get her to sing while she plays the piano, we would have quite a worship team.”
Claire watched her father suspiciously. She never trusted him around women, especially not around pretty young women like Theresa. He had a way about him that irritated Claire beyond belief. She could tell when an attractive woman was speaking to Craig. His voice changed and became soft and kind, completely unlike his usual voice. Claire was glad he didn’t speak to her with that patronizing tone.
As summer gave way to fall, Melissa’s pregnancy became more pronounced. Claire had hoped that as her mother became more pregnant, she would talk Craig out of the homeschooling idea. Unfortunately, as her pregnancy progressed, so did her desire to have her daughters near at hand, learning the skills of hearth and home.
By fall, Claire’s fate as an official home-school nerd was sealed. As other kids finished the final weeks of summer vacation, Claire and Rachel began studying a new series of Christian based textbooks complete with scripture, biblical history and geography of the bible. Claire feared that she would end the school year far behind her friends and unable to get into a decent college.
Part of the homeschooling curriculum included a book that the Newell family began during the summer, and continued reading as a daily part of their studies.
“Becoming a Young Woman of God,” taught every lesson a good wife should know, including baking, manners, and sewing. Claire and Rachel worked together through the lessons, as their mother tried to teach them the finer arts of knitting and crocheting.
Claire grew frustrated with her mother’s feeble attempts to teach her to knit. Claire was the only left-handed person in the family, and her mother couldn’t quite figure out how to show her to hold the knitting needles. Rachel caught on quickly and began making a collection of misshapen and crooked potholders and scarves. She wanted to make enough to give as gifts for Christmas. One morning as Rachel finished yet another loopy potholder Claire dropped her knitting to the table in frustration, the yarn a tangled mess and one needle slightly bent.
“If you can’t even teach me how to knit, how are you going to teach me anything else?” she angrily asked Melissa.
“I’m never going to get to college with you homeschooling me. This is so stupid. All because of a church. I can’t believe you are ruining my life because of a church. And it’s not even a big church. It’s a small church with hardly any members. And I’m sick of the way dad cries in front of everyone. And I’m sick of sitting in the nursery.”
Melissa looked stunned, as though she had been slapped in the face. Slowly a tear welled in the corner of her eye. She quietly set her own knitting on the table.
“Rachel honey, would you please finish your knitting in your room. After you’re finished, you can read a book. I need to speak with your sister privately.”
Claire inhaled deeply and rolled her eyes. She did not want to have a fight with her mother, and she didn’t feel like getting in trouble again.
“No. I’m sorry. Rachel, don’t go. It’s fine. Everything is fine. Please forgive me. I was just frustrated that my needle keeps slipping out and messing me up.”
Letting out a deep sigh, she slumped heavily in her chair, frustrated and not really sorry. She was tired of her life, but there was really no option for her. Being mean to her ever-growing mother would not solve anything. She felt frustrated and lonely. Her friends all attended school and Claire knew how much fun they were having in the eighth grade. This was all so unfair.
Rachel smiled sweetly at Claire as she rose from the table.
“Maybe you need to take a break. We could practice the piano if you want. Or I could help you with your knitting.”
“No. I’m fine. I just need to get some fresh air.”
Claire headed into the kitchen for a drink of water.
“Mom, can I go outside and read for a while?”
Melissa agreed and abandoned her own knitting.
“Rachel and I will start going over today’s recipes. Come in, in half an hour, and we’ll begin your baking lesson.”
Claire slipped out the door and into the hot air, breathing deeply. She found a soft, grassy spot in the corner of the yard and lay down, letting the sun soak through her long dress to warm her skin. Angrily she pulled her skirt up off her legs to get some sun, and lay back shading her eyes with her book.
The family had fully embraced the long hair and long-dress code of the Seeker Church. During Melissa’s pregnancy, she draped herself in long, unattractive dresses, that looked more like giant tents than dresses. Claire hated the dresses more than anything, but she felt sorry for Melissa. There was no way to make a maternity tent look attractive. Most of the other women in church also wore the dresses, but Claire thought none looked as lumpy and as frumpy as Melissa.
Even Theresa from the worship team had long hair and long dresses. The difference was that Theresa was young, shapely, and beautiful. She wore long dresses, fitted neatly to her trim frame. Her hair was dark and luxurious, while Melissa struggled to get her hair to grow longer than her shoulders.
Newly married, Theresa glowed with happiness. Her eyes sparkled and her skin shone.
Melissa’s skin had turned splotchy, her eyes developed dark circles, and she looked exhausted.
Theresa’s family was one of the founding families of the Seeker Church. Her young husband, Chris was attractive and a vibrant leader of the college youth. They had been married early in the spring, as the daffodils poked their head from the chilly ground.
In the fall, with Melissa’s belly beginning to bulge, Theresa confided in Melissa. In a corner of the nursery, Claire listened as she held a sleeping baby.
“We have been trying since March to get pregnant,” Theresa whispered. “Chris is worrying that something might be wrong with me.”
Melissa smiled and placed a comforting hand on Theresa’s arm.
“Don’t worry. Everything happens in God’s timing. When the time is right, you will be pregnant, and your beautiful family will start to grow. In the mean time, you concentrate on serving the Lord with your beautiful music.”
As Claire covertly eavesdropped on their conversation, she wondered what it meant to try and get pregnant. She didn’t know exactly. She knew the basic idea behind sex and pregnancy but she figured that once a man and woman had sex the pregnancy was inevitable.
Maybe they couldn’t figure out how to get it in. She puzzled it over in her mind for the rest of the service, wondering what prevented Theresa from getting pregnant.
She she continued to watch her father suspiciously. While he seemed sincere, she didn’t trust that he wasn’t attracted to the vibrant young piano teacher.
He was always so nice to Theresa, going out of his way to praise her music and talent. He took extra time to help her work through the vocals on different songs, and he was always there to encourage her.
With Melissa suffering the physical decline of pregnancy, Claire thought that Theresa looked even more glamorous. Claire looked at her mother with pity, wondering if she had any dignity left at all. She slumped around the house in giant Mumu’s, and barely fixing herself up to go out in public.
The fall brought so many changes to the house and to the family. Craig was settling in to his new role, developing his worship team, and creating a worship event every Sunday for the faithful followers of the Seeker Church.
Melissa began swelling early, and continued to grow larger than Claire had ever seen any woman grow.
When fall began, the homeschooling of the Newell children began in earnest. Every day began with family devotions, just like during the summer. After devotions, Craig headed to the church for work. The girls dragged out their stacks of books and turned the dining room table into their own school room.
Claire enjoyed the routine of a regular school day. She tried to keep herself on some sort of schedule, just to keep from going crazy. Up early, she spent time reading or drawing, or sometimes she even snuck outside, to enjoy the quiet and the cool morning air.
When the family rose, she helped Melissa and Rachel get breakfast. Then devotions. Then school, after Craig left for work.
Claire snickered inside every time he said he was going to work.
His job seemed nothing like work to her. Every day he went to the church and sang worship songs.
He met with the pastor early in the week, to find out the theme of the sermon, and then he arranged fitting music to precede and follow the words of wisdom. What he did now seemed even less like work than the job he had before. And they had a lot less money. This summer, they didn’t even get to take a trip.
During previous summer vacations, the family had taken trips to the beach, to the mountains, into Denver to watch baseball. They at least tried to have fun together.
Now that they found religion, things had really changed. For summer vacation, they joined a group of church families at a camp ground in Estes Park, where everyone sat around the fire singing church songs, led by Craig.
Even her birthday at the beginning of the summer had been uneventful. She turned thirteen and her parents hardly noticed. This had been the worst summer Claire ever remembered. The summer bummer, she thought angrily.
Once school started Craig began staying late at work, helping Theresa with her singing. She worked as an elementary school music teacher and she gave piano lessons after school, to the many homeschool families in the Seeker Church. This left little time to practice the worship music for Sunday services, so Craig stayed late to work with her. Some nights, the entire team practiced, and sometimes Craig worked with Theresa one-on-one.
Since beginning home schooling, both Claire and Rachel took piano lessons from Theresa. They formally called her “Miss White” and were never allowed to call her Theresa.
All the children at the Seeker Church called adults by their sir names. Children addressing adults using their first names was considered a sign of disrespect. Still some of the younger women suggested children call them by their first names such as Miss Debbie and Miss Anne. Those women were typically not yet married, and most of them didn’t have children.
With parental approval the children made the adjustment, however Theresa was “Miss White” because she was young and married. And she was a teacher.
Most of the kids in the congregation studied piano with her whenever she wasn’t teaching at public school. The majority of children in the Seeker church were homeschooled and most of them played several instruments, including the piano. Afternoons at the church were crowdedwith homeschoolers taking piano lessons, just up the hall from Craig’s office.
Twice a week Claire and Rachel walked to the church after their schoolwork was finished to take their lessons. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at three. Half an hour for Claire, followed by Rachel. They waited for each other and walked home together.
One afternoon, Claire finished her schoolwork early, and decided to surprise her dad at the church. She grabbed two sodas from the fridge, shouted good-bye to her mom and headed down the street. The church was only about six blocks away, and Claire enjoyed walking alone. Mom could drive Rachel later.
Claire could tell it was fall by the way the light had changed. The intense rays of summer had faded slightly. Although it was still warm, the light took on a different quality, and Claire could see the yellowing of leaves on the trees lining the street. It was still comfortably warm, but the hazy light and gentle breeze lent a cool touch to the air that felt nice as she walked.
She deeply breathed in the smell of crisping leaves and decaying earth. Since she was early, Claire took her time. Although the leaves had begun to change color, they hadn’t yet started falling from their branches. As she neared the church, a giant golden cottonwood glowed with the sun behind the leaves.
Claire stopped in her tracks and stared at the wondrous spectacle. She had never seen a tree glowing before, not like this. She breathed deeply and took in the beauty of the tree. It filled her with a peace and calm that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
After a few moments, Claire took a deep breath and continued on, making a mental note of the beautiful tree, so she could tell Craig about it before her lesson.
Arriving at the church, she peeked into the piano room, where her lessons were held. Miss White hadn’t yet arrived from school. She was usually at the church by 3, but Claire was early. She had hoped to get her lesson done and head home for some reading without Rachel tagging along. She set her books on the piano bench and walked back toward the lobby.
Sandy, the church secretary looked up, frowning.
“What do you need, Claire?”
“I’m looking for Miss White. I’m here for my piano lesson.”
Sandy knew everybody’s business in the church, and Claire was sure Sandy knew exactly why she was there.
“Miss White got here a bit ago. Maybe she’s in the Ladies Room.”
Sandy looked back to her computer screen, dismissing Claire.
Shrugging, she headed toward her dad’s office. The door was closed, which was odd. Claire couldn’t see a light under the door, but she tried it anyway. Locked.
She headed back down the hallway, to the secretary’s office. Sandy looked up again, annoyed.
“Hi, have you seen my dad, Mrs. Combs?”
“I know your dad is here. He was just in my office, giving me his song list for the weekend. Did you check the music room? He’s probably meeting with Miss White.”
Claire clenched her teeth. Either the woman was stupid, or she figured Claire was stupid. She smiled apologetically.
“I was just down there. There was nobody there.”
She headed out the front door, looking for her dad’s little car. There it was, parked in its usual spot at the farthest end of the parking lot. Miss White’s car was closer to the door.
Claire headed back inside and tried her dad’s door again. This time, it swung open, and there stood Craig and Theresa. They both looked at Claire with surprise.
Her dad gained his composure first.
“Hi sweetheart. What are you doing here? I thought your lesson was at four?”
“No dad, it’s at three every Tuesday and Thursday. Anyway I wanted to stop and say hi. And bring you a soda,” she replied, then looking at Theresa she added, “and I wanted to see if I could do my lesson early. I have a good book I’m reading and I wanted to get home.”
Theresa, laughed, her face flushed.
“Of course, why don’t you head down to the music room and I’ll just finish up with your dad.”
Claire shrugged, “I’ll just wait for you. And I wanted to tell my dad something.”
She stood awkwardly, wondering what to do. Then she pulled the diet coke out of her sweatshirt pocket.
“Here’s your soda, dad.”
Craig took the diet coke, popped the top and swigged half the can in one long swallow.
“That’s ok, Theresa, we can catch up tomorrow, or tonight after your lessons. Why don’t you take Claire now?”
Craig smiled dismissively at Claire.
“Tell me what you wanted, then head on down to your piano lesson.”
The moment of peace had been lost, the beauty of the tree forgotten.
“Um. Never mind. I forgot what I was going to say. I’ll just go get started warming up.”
Claire felt irritated with Craig and Theresa both. She wanted to visit with her dad. Now she just felt like a bother and an interruption in his day.
After her lesson, Claire headed home, thinking only of her book. She saw her mom and Rachel pull into the parking lot, a few minutes late as usual and she was glad she had gone early. Now she could enjoy a few minutes of reading without answering to Melissa about her schoolwork.
Melissa continued to grow, as the weather grew colder. She continued homeschooling, even though some mornings she was sick to her stomach, and unable to help her daughters. She would let the girls make breakfast, then sit miserable through the family Bible study, not saying a word, pale and tired looking. On those days, Claire set Rachel up in front of the television while she worked on her own schoolwork.
If Melissa was up to fixing lunch, she would. Usually Claire fixed lunch for the three of them and cleaned up.
If Melissa felt better after eating lunch she would work with Rachel on her school while Claire cleaned up the dishes.
Claire hated the days when Craig came home for lunch. He would show up unannounced, and wonder aloud what the girls were making their dad for lunch. Then he would sit at the table, going over sheet music and drumming his fingers on the table.
When everyone sat down, he would rub his hands together, before blessing the food.
“So, what did you learn today?” he would ask enthusiastically. Rachel often launched into an eager narrative of what she watched on Dora the Explorer or Disney Kids.
“Well Rachel, that sounds like fun but what did you learn?” he would chide.
Rachel then got quiet, thinking earnestly about what she had learned.
“What about you Claire, what did you learn today?”
One day, after a long week of taking care of Rachel and tending to her sick mother, Claire answered, “I learned that I don’t ever want to get pregnant or be married.”
Her father’s hand slapped across her cheek before Claire realized what happened. The stinging and embarrassment made her eyes water, and the coppery taste of blood seeped into her mouth.
“Don’t you ever speak with such disrespect again. Go into your room, and don’t come out until supper.”
Claire didn’t make a sound as she left the table, but inside she cheered. This would actually give her an afternoon off from babysitting Rachel, from tending to Melissa, and from participating in housework and preparing dinner. She could spend the day in peace, reading her book.
After Craig returned to church, Melissa called out.
“Claire, I know your dad told you to go to your room, but I need your help with Rachel. Come out here and help your sister with her reading.”
“So much for peace,” thought Claire.
The church began preparing for the annual Christmas pageant in early October. Requests were sent into the congregation for members who wanted to sing in the Hallelujah Chorus. Children’s ministry workers began work on skits, plays and decorations, and the worship team began practicing full time.
In November, the newlywed White’s announced to the congregation that they were finally expecting their first baby in June. While there were many women pregnant in the church body, everyone was excited for this young couple. They were such a cute couple and so involved in the church. It seemed like more proof of God’s hand of blessing over everyone’s lives.
If there were a poster couple for the Seeker Church, Chris and Theresa White were the models. Young, good looking and cheerful, they exuded the exact air of righteousness and grace that the Seeker Church hoped to express. Theresa made the announcement during Sunday morning praise and worship. Craig cried throughout the entire service. His joy at the couple’s announcement touched the congregation and many others shed tears of happiness for them.
As Thanksgiving approached, it was clear that Melissa was having a difficult pregnancy. Her nausea never subsided, the edema grew worse and the doctor ordered her to stay off her feet. Claire resented her newly acquired role as mom to Rachel.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, she walked down to the church, to visit with her dad. She felt lonely, having only talked to Rachel all day and she was tired of the noise of the TV.
Claire had finished her own school work before lunch, then made lunch and cleaned up, when she decided to go for a walk.
Melissa was asleep on the couch while Rachel sat under her feet, watching cartoons.
Claire bundled up and headed into the chilly air. The brisk wind felt good against her hot face, and she wondered if she was catching a cold, or if the house was just too warm. She decided the house was way to warm. And anyway, she didn’t have time to get sick. She pulled her cap around her ears, grateful that her sister had learned some knitting skills.
The crisp air refreshed her tired face and Claire happily shuffled through piles of brown leaves that collected in the gutters. The sun peeked through quickly moving clouds and it seemed as though it might even snow. As she drew closer to the church, she noticed her giant cottonwood, the one that had glowed in early fall.
Now, in late November, only a few tattered leaves clung to the branches. The tree looked bare and forlorn.
Claire felt the same way inside.
Lonely, unattractive and unknown: homeschooling had been hard on Claire. She didn’t make friends with the weird kids at church, who always did as they were supposed to and never talked back. And she never had an opportunity to visit her old friends from public school. Even on the weekends, Craig wanted to protect her from their influence.
And there was still the whole Y2K, end of the world crap that her father and many others discussed at length. As the end of the year approached, the food and water storage increased dramatically.
They could no longer park Melissa’s car in the garage, with all the containers of freeze dried food, water and emergency preparedness gear the family had collected.
She dragged her feet slowly through the leaves, half-hoping that the world would come to an end and free her up from this craziness.
The parking lot at the church was mostly empty just days before the holiday. Her dad was there, and Theresa. And it looked like maybe Pastor Bill was too. Claire was relieved not to see Sandy’s car in the lot. She had been the church secretary since they moved from the auditorium of the high school to the official church building earlier this year.
The church had grown by leaps and bounds, with hundreds of people now attending Seeker services. Claire didn’t know if that was because the end of the world was coming, or if it was something else, but she was glad that if her dad was going to work at a church, at least he had an actual church to go to, rather than just a borrowed school auditorium. And over the course of the years, she grew tired of setting up and taking down folding chairs every Sunday.
Sandy the secretary was a friend of pastor Bill and his wife Mary. She was old and cranky and unfriendly, just who you’d want to see when coming into a church, Claire thought ironically.
Claire was glad to feel the warmth of the church when she pushed her way through the glass doors.
Mrs. Combs wasn’t at her desk, and the hallway lights were off. The corridor leading to Craig’s office was dim, and Claire wondered why everything was so dark. She was sure Craig was here, and Miss White too. But maybe they had gone to Pastor Bill’s office for a meeting.
Sandy Combs often attended the pastor’s meetings to take notes and make sure things were properly marked on the church calendar. And she did live close enough to walk to church, although Claire doubted that Mrs. Combs walked farther than her driveway. She was too old and cranky for that.
Claire tried the doorknob to Craig’s office, expecting to find it locked. The door opened and she froze, a greeting caught in her throat.
Her dad’s back was to the door, his pants around his knees, shirt pushed up. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness. She couldn’t figure out what she was looking at. Why were his pants half down? And why was his shirt untucked?
She stared, unsure what to say. As her eyes focused in the dimness, she could see that around his neck appeared to be women’s shoes. Claire suddenly realized the shoes were attached to a woman’s legs, which were wrapped around Craig’s shoulders. Craig and the woman were both moaning and his hips were thrusting rhythmically forward toward the desk.
Claire couldn’t make sense of the scene before her.
“Dad, are you okay?”
Craig froze instantly. Without turning around, he sternly ordered, “Leave the room and shut the door.”
Quietly she backed out of the room, closing the door softly. Stifling a sob, Claire ran for the front door of the church, sprinting toward home in the crisp fall air. Only half an hour had elapsed since she left the peace of her home to discover the lie that her life had become.
Craig came home an hour later, whistling. He kissed Melissa, then Claire and Rachel.
“How are my girls today?”
He rubbed Melissa’s belly and pulled her close.
“How’s momma feeling today?” he whispered into her ear.
Melissa smiled and kissed him on the cheek.
“I’m doing pretty well. Thanks to all of Claire’s hard work. She even let me take a nap this afternoon.”
Claire pulled away as Craig stepped close to hug her.
“Hey, give your dad a hug. I missed you today. Thanks for all you’re doing to help the family.”
He squeezed her shoulder and Claire thought she could smell the faint scent of perfume on his shirt.
Craig pulled away and headed into the kitchen.
“Has anyone started supper yet? Melissa, what’s on the menu?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t make anything yet. I was just so tired. I was hoping Claire would get to it this afternoon.”
Melissa looked apologetically at Claire as she spoke.
“Well, great. I work all day and come home to a cold kitchen and no supper.”
“Daddy, I could make you a sandwich,” Rachel offered.
“No. I’ll make something,” Craig grumbled.
Under his breath he added, “Sure would be nice if somebody cared about my needs.”
Claire heard his remark and recoiled at his selfishness. Quietly she went to her room and closed the door, wondering how he could be so selfish, and how she could bury his lie in herself.
Joining the church and awaiting the end of the world was bad enough.
Being yanked out of school and forced into homeschooling was worse.
Her father quitting his job to become a pastor was incomprehensible.
But seeing him with another woman? It was the end of the world as she knew it.
To read Chapter Two of The Sins of Our Fathers,
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