After the message and a time of refreshments with the youth, Grayson approached Sierra. ‘I was wondering if you have a little bit of time after we are done here to chat. I would like to get to know you a little bit better,’ he admitted to her with a nervous grin.
‘Actually, I left my car parked at the Allen’s house. Sabrina invited me to come over for a little while after church, so that would work out fine,’ she answered in reply to his invitation. Great, let me just wind things up around here and we will walk over with Brother Will and Sabrina, he concluded. ‘I will go to the sanctuary and let my mom know what I am doing so she won’t worry,’ Sierra said with enthusiasm. Sierra nearly tripped over a chair as she turned to head for the sanctuary, and hoped Grayson hadn’t noticed.
The service had let out only seconds before Sierra made it to the back door of the sanctuary. People greeted her as she held the door for them to exit. She knew her mom would still be there. She always sits at the organ and waits for everyone else before she makes her way to the exit. ‘Hey mom, Brother Allen and Sabrina invited me to come back over to their house for a while after church, so I will be home later,’ she informed Judith. ‘I guess things went well over dinner,’ Judith supposed.
Sierra explained that the Allen’s had asked a million questions and it gave them an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better. She told her about the water-hose episode, and said he had mentioned to her that he would like to get to know her better. ‘I am really excited, but feel a little bit vulnerable at the same time,’ she confessed.
‘Something would be wrong if you didn’t feel that way. Ok – have fun. I am so happy things are working out with Grayson. I just knew there was something about him that you would connect with,’ her mother proudly admitted.
Sierra headed back to the fellowship hall to wait for Grayson to finish straightening up from the youth’s refreshment time. About the time he finished folding the last table, Pastor Allen walked through the fellowship hall and said, ‘Ya’ll ready – the popcorn is waiting!’ ‘Yep, answered Grayson, let me just grab my Bible.’
Sabrina was in the parking lot waiting for them to come out. The four of them reflected on the happenings of the night as they laughed and walked toward the Allen’s home. ‘I heard you almost got hosed down tonight Sierra,’ Pastor Allen joked. ‘I really think they would have done it if I had not been inside of the church,’ Sierra disclosed. ‘Well, we almost went for it,’ Grayson confessed, but when I saw the look on your face when you were begging for mercy I gave the boys the symbol to ‘cut.’ ‘I didn’t think that would be a very positive start to the evening, especially when I wanted to talk to you after church,’ he divulged.
‘Thank you for changing your mind,’ she retorted. Having grown up with three brothers, she was familiar with the practical jokes guys could play, but she would have to admit she was a little surprised that Grayson was already playing such games with her. ‘The youth asked me if you were coming tonight,’ he explained. When I told them what you said about ‘if there is not a water hose pointed at you’ they got the bright idea to go get the hose. ‘I have to admit, I went along with it, but it was honestly not my idea,’ he justified.
Will and Sabrina laughed with delight as they listened to Grayson and Sierra’s discussion. They were happy to be a part of their new-found rapport. ‘I bought some of that caramel popcorn when we went to the store earlier, Sabrina you can’t have any since you didn’t think we needed it,’ he said with a sarcastic tone. ‘I got some cookies and drinks too. I thought everyone might want a little snack,’ he clarified with a smile as he rolled his eyes over in Sabrina’s direction.
‘I am still stuffed from that lasagna,’ Sierra immediately responded. ‘Grayson over there doesn’t eat a lot of sweets in case you couldn’t tell, so I didn’t really buy the good stuff for him. You are going to have to eat some of it or Sabrina will be on my case for sure,’ Will begged.
‘You don’t eat popcorn,’ Sierra asked with a puzzled look. ‘Well, with my workout regime I have conditioned myself to a strict diet. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, fried food, and soft drinks. They are really terrible for you anyway, so I just got out of the habit of eating junk food when I was competing and I have never got back into it,’ Grayson elucidated.
‘Well what in the world do you eat?’ Sierra asked. I eat rice, vegetables, meats that aren’t fried, fruits, and I mostly drink water. After a workout I will go for pizza or something high in carbs, and I usually eat a pack of noodles or something like that at night so my muscles will respond to the morning workout. It is just what you get used to I guess,’ he explained as she glared at him with a strange look on her face. Sierra had never met anyone who was that disciplined with their diet and exercise schedule. In the service she had to do PT, and run, but that was as far as it went.
‘So I guess going to get hot donuts at midnight is out of the question for someone like you,’ she laughed. She and her friends would often do just that. The donut place in downtown Baton Rouge was open twenty-four hours a day, and they have hot donuts every hour. It was one of Sierra’s favorite things to do. ‘Well, of course I would go,’ he said. ‘I don’t think I would actually eat a donut, unless it was an apple filled one, but I would go,’ he admitted.
’He’s just a weirdo; we don’t let him bother us. Honey, pop some of that caramel popcorn, and I will put the cookies in the oven and pour us some drinks. Grayson, you can get a bottle of water, you know where to find it. See, Sierra, you just have to be yourself and don’t let all of that diet talk intimidate you, Brother Allen said as he patted his belly and laughed.
‘Ha, okay thanks for the heads-up!’ Sierra said lightheartedly as she grabbed the pack of cookies and began placing them on the cookie sheet. Sabrina pulled a game out of the closet, she thought that would be a great way to keep everyone engaged in an activity so they could avoid any times of awkward silence. ‘We love to play board games,’ she admitted. ‘With everyone’s busy schedule it is often difficult to spend quality time together. Once in a while it is great to just stop everything, turn off the television, and play a good game,’ Sabrina contended.
‘Will, come over here and explain the rules to the game,’ she commanded. It was a game using chips and cards that a friend of theirs had apparently made for them, so Sierra had never seen it before, but it was pretty easy to learn. ‘Sounds fun,’ Grayson said. ‘Now – we will have to divide up into teams. Do you want to play guys against girls, or do ya’ll wanna play against us?’ Will asked as he pulled the colored chips out of a bag. ‘Well, since Sierra and I have never played before - we would be at a terrible disadvantage if we played against two pros like yourselves, so for at least the first round I think we should play girls against guys,’ Grayson stipulated. ‘The first team to get five in a row - twice wins. That’s about the sum of it. You lay chips on cards and try to get five in a row without being blocked by the other team.’
‘Well that sounds pretty easy, let’s go for it,’ Grayson replied. ‘Okay then Gray-man, don’t make me look bad,’ Will prodded Grayson with his elbow. The Allens played two rounds of the game with Grayson and Sierra before they decided it was getting late and they were going to go on in their room and watch television before they went to bed. Sierra was relieved that the ice had been broken, but felt a nervous flood pour over her at the thought of being there for the first time all alone with Grayson.
‘Do you mind leaving the game out – Grayson and I may want to play one more round before I have to go home,’ Sierra said hoping they would agree. She thought that would be a wonderful way to keep from the one-on-one weirdness of just the two of them trying to come up with a good thing to talk about. ‘That will be fine,’ Sabrina said. ‘Don’t even worry about putting it up, I will do that in the morning. Ya’ll just have fun with it. Goodnight.’ With that, Sabrina and Will disappeared behind the door of the hallway and pulled it shut. Sierra was really glad that they pulled the door shut, she was paranoid that they would be watching behind the cracked opening otherwise. ‘I am just being paranoid,’ she thought to herself as she grabbed the green chips and pushed the red ones over in Grayson’s direction.
As she got the bag of red chips to Grayson’s side of the table, he put his hand on hers as if to stop her in her tracks. ‘Look at me,’ he said in a little above a whisper. Sierra felt sure Grayson could hear her heart pounding, as she could barely hear anything else. She felt her cheeks fill with blood, and it was suddenly very hot at that table.
Grayson had been a ‘take charge’ kind of guy with his youth group. He knew how to get out of them what he wanted. Apparently he had the same power over Sierra. She looked into his piercing eyes and felt as if he could see through to her soul. At that moment, without letting go of her hand, he began to speak as if he had rehearsed his lines all day long.
‘I know it is as obvious to you as it is to me that something miraculous is taking place between us,’ he opened. ‘The moment you walked into that fellowship hall Sunday morning, I felt a change in my life that I have never felt before, and do not expect I will ever feel again,’ he said while never wavering from his piercing glare into her eyes.
‘Sierra Bradley, I am not sure what your life story was about before this week, but I believe I can say with certainty that you and I have activated a new volume in that series. I am not sure what it is that God is doing, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wants to accomplish something in my life and he wants to use you to do it,’ he went on. ‘I hope I am not scaring you, but God has a way of making His will clear to me so that I don’t have a choice but to follow it. It is black and white. And since Sunday I have done nothing but pray and seek the Lord about whatever it is that is going on inside of me concerning you,’ he explained.
‘I feel that the Lord wants me to tell you this from Isaiah 55: 8, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord,’ Grayson quoted the scripture before explaining himself. ‘See Sierra, I believe God knows that we are flabbergasted by the whirlwind he has thrown us into over the past few days. In men’s eyes it makes no sense that I would even be sitting here right now telling you these things, but here I am.’ He said with a beautiful smile.
‘Sunday night when I came to the window of your mom’s vehicle and told you that message God had given me for you about any windows in your life being opened - well, all the way back to New Orleans I pondered those words in my heart. I asked God why he would want me to tell you that, and why I was feeling like I had met you for a reason,’ he reflected.
‘The funny thing is; God didn’t give me an answer. All I know is that the only thing I could think of on Monday was you. When Brother Allen called and told me you were going to be in New Orleans on Tuesday, I wanted to drop everything I was doing and go find you right then. I actually did skip my noon class and go down to the River Walk yearning to run into you somewhere. Then, when I saw you by that fountain, I think my heart literally skipped a beat. That is why I was so eager to answer the questions your friends posed to me even though they were quite personal, I feel like that meeting was ordained by God. He wanted you to learn about me, and tonight I am here with you because I think he wants me to learn more about you.’
Sierra was astounded by his articulate display of feelings that mirrored her own. She felt numb and speechless, humbled and overwhelmed. ‘Well, what do you want to know,’ she said as she pulled her hand back to her lap. ‘Everything, Sierra, I want to know everything. What is your middle name? What is your favorite color? Why did you join the Air Force? What is your hobby? What are you good at - and not so good at?’ Grayson began listing out questions he wanted answers to regarding Sierra Bradley’s life.
‘Well, my middle name is Nicole, but I don’t tell that to just anyone, so feel honored,’ she began in an effort to answer his questions. ‘So, what is your middle name,’ she retaliated. ‘Ha, I guess I deserve that. My middle name is Kyle. Grayson Kyle Raines; is that better,’ he smiled. As Sierra began to talk, Grayson sat back in his chair with the most fascinated look on his face, and listened intently. My favorite color is purple. I joined the Air Force because I did not want to stay home with my parents while I went to college, and since I didn’t get scholarships to pay for my school, the military seemed like a reasonable route to take. Now I am not so sure I would do that again, but the experience was good, and I have money to go to school now when I get ready. Hmmm, my hobby, that’s a good question, I am not sure what my hobby is, she said as she attempted to look Grayson in the eyes for a second. She could not keep her focus on him for very long because his gaze was so deep it was almost intimidating to her. Sierra had lived a life so far removed from who she truly was in her heart for so long that the things she would have considered hobbies a week ago were no longer even remotely interesting.
‘I am exploring my interest right now, I don’t know what my hobbies are,’ she admitted to Grayson. I guess you could say I am good at singing. I am pretty good at writing, and I am learning to cook. ‘Anything else?’ she said laughingly.
Grayson did not waver; his serious tone revealed the genuine intent of his heart, to learn more about the girl God had put in his path. ‘If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?’ He asked. ‘Oh my goodness,’ Sierra thought as she pondered that question in her heart. ‘He is psycho-analyzing me. He wants to see if I am crazy or something.’ ‘Are you psycho-analyzing me?’ Sierra asked with a grin, having learned earlier that Grayson earned his undergraduate degree in psychology, and had worked in a Psych ward during his last year of college. ‘No, not really,’ he said with a smile. ‘I just want to find out more about you and the best way to get you to talk is to ask questions. You will be more prone to answer if I break my questions down into smaller segments of thought.’ he explained.
‘So, he IS psycho-analyzing me, great!’ she thought, but decided to go with it anyway. What would I change if I could choose one thing? ‘Hmmm’ –she thought as she pondered the best response for one who was analyzing her every word. ‘Now I could go overboard here and tell him about all of the days in my life that were – well – less than perfect, or I can use this as an opportunity to show him how far I have come,’ She decided to go with the latter of the two choices.
‘Well, Grayson, everybody has things that go on in their lives that they would have chosen to avoid if given the opportunity. However, those things are what make us who we are. Although there are situations that I would not want to even consider living through again, I would not change them for any amount of money because I am who I am today, I view the world from the perspective that I do, and I focus on the future with regard to those life lessons I have been taught as a result of both lovely - and unlovely situations along the way. I have not always recognized that God was in control of every situation in my life for the purpose of getting me to a point that He could use me for his good, but I do now. Even if only this week, I understand that everything that happens... happens for a reason. Because of that, I have to answer your question with one word...nothing, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life, even if I could,’ Sierra responded genuinely from her heart.
Grayson appeared mesmerized, ‘Thank you so much Sierra for sharing your heart with me, I am breathless. That was definitely not the answer I expected to hear, but I must admit it is the best one you could have given!’ He replied.