Sierra sat thoughtfully throughout the remainder of the morning service, hauntingly aware of her every move. Thoughts like how she was holding her hands, where her eyes were fixed, whether she crossed her legs or not, and more than anything else, whether or not her stomach would growl loud enough for Grayson to hear it, occupied her thoughts and distracted her from comprehending a single word of the Pastor’s sermon.
About half-way through the message, Grayson leaned forward to take off his sports coat. Sierra noticed that he was struggling to get his arm out of the sleeve while sitting down. She reached over to clutch the bottom of it when her freshly manicured fingernails brushed unexpectedly against the palm of his calloused hand. Anxious by the touch, Sierra whispered as she drew her hand back, ‘Would you like me to help you?’ ‘Ye -yes, thank you! That would be great,’ he replied with a magnificent smile.
As the sleeve was pulled off, Sierra could not help but notice the well-developed form of Grayson’s arms. ‘What in the world does this guy do,’ she thought. He looked like a cover model for You Name It Magazine. Grayson folded the coat in half and handed it to Sierra as he asked her to lay it over the pew beside her.
When Sierra took the coat, her senses were awakened by the sweet smelling cologne that embraced the very fabric of the garment. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, hoping he would not notice the delay in her doing what he had asked of her - because that would just be uncanny. For the remainder of the service, all Sierra could think about was the scent of Grayson’s cologne.
When the service ended, Sierra did not want to seem over-zealous. She hastily told Grayson it was nice to meet him and that she hoped to see him again, then she decidedly walked away to chat with others who had missed the opportunity to welcome her home during the greeting time at the beginning of the service. Certainly, that was not what she wanted to do. She wanted to stand right where she was and watch Grayson, waiting for him to ask her out to dinner or for her phone number, or just anything - but she resisted.
Judith yelled across the room, ‘Sierra, I am going to go on home, I will meet you there!’ ‘I am right behind you mom,’ Sierra replied. Grayson heard the exchange of words and spoke a soft, ‘I was really nice to meet you,’ his blue eyes fixed intently on her with a penetrating gaze.
Laura Trahan stood in the back of the church with her arms crossed, tapping her half painted fingertips against the Bible in her right hand. Her bewildered look puzzled Sierra, but she didn’t allow it to bother her. She had known Laura since they were in pre-school. She was always perturbed by something Sierra was doing, so why should this day be any different? A fiery red-head, Laura was always tempered when things were not going her way.
When she got to her car, Sierra realized that she had forgotten her keys in the fellowship hall where Grayson had laid them on the counter-top after her initial, feeble entrance. She dropped her purse and things off in the back seat of her car then headed to that same old rusty door to find her keys.
As if it were a replay of the morning episode, Sierra arrived at the door just as it swung open with Grayson standing on the other side. ‘Well… long time no see,’ he laughed upon almost literally running into Sierra again. He was headed to the church van to bring some of the youth home from the service.
‘Oh, I think I left my keys in the fellowship hall and I was coming to get them,’ Sierra managed to utter, though her heart felt like it was going to burst at one more pleasant yet unforeseen encounter. Grayson held the door with his perfectly shined shoe as he leaned over and picked Sierra’s keys up off of the counter-top where he had laid them earlier. Placing them in Sierra’s palm, Grayson used his free hand to cradle the bottom of her hand. He gripped tightly enough that Sierra could not pull away, not that she wanted to, but gently enough that she felt the same deep compassion and tenderness from his hands that she witnessed in his gorgeous blue eyes. She hated to walk away. She was under his spell.
Grayson eventually released her hand, gave her a wink, and walked toward the van. It was obvious that the teenagers who waited for their ride home were aware that something more than a simple goodbye had just taken place before their eyes. Sierra turned and walked to her car, this time she actually sat down and started the engine.
Before she drove away, Sierra rested her head against the back of her seat and reflected upon the previous two hours of her life. They undoubtedly left an impression – one she was certain would never fade away.
‘Grayson Raines - why you, why today, and what would this turn out to be?’ A flood of emotion came over her. ‘There must be something to this. God must have a plan, but it could not have happened at a more inconvenient time,’ she felt.
‘What will I tell PJ,’ she thought as she finally put the car in drive. Patrick Jennings, aka PJ had been her steady for nearly two years. He would always shrink from the idea of a bona fide commitment, especially marriage. Sierra didn’t push him. She knew he was not a Christian.
Her mother’s words echoed in her mind a million times, ‘Do not be yoked together with a nonbeliever.’ But - Sierra was sure she loved PJ. She had often dreamt of spending the rest of her life with him. He, on the other hand was not willing to discuss such things. He lived for the moment. Life was supposed to be fun, commitment was not fun. She assumed his goal was to elude responsibility for as long as he possibly could.
‘I will just cross that bridge when I come to it. PJ is on a training mission for the next week anyway,’ with that thought her confidence grew stronger. PJ was an Army Ranger in training for the 82nd Air Borne Battalion. His primary focus was to advance in his Army career, and he was doing a fine job of that. He was from Malibu Beach, California. That was the most intriguing aspect, at least to uncultured Sierra.
Sierra had spent her entire life in La Maison, Louisiana. She was definitely not cultured. PJ; on the other hand was. He was twenty-four, and his black military style haircut caused his black eyes to pop. He was a surfer, how cool is that! And, he drove around the base on a fast, blue and white street bike. He wore white leathers, and even got a set of leathers for Sierra so that she could ride with him in style. Money was not an issue for PJ; his dad was the CEO of some big company in San Francisco, even more fascinating!
Everyone knew that PJ and Sierra together were like a ‘wink and a smile.’ He loved to hear her talk. Her southern accent hooked him and kept him hooked for two years, whether he admitted it or not. He was also gripped by her tiny frame. Sierra was only five feet tall and weighed all of 115 pounds. She was like a little doll; at least that is what PJ always told her.
Today; however, for the first time in two years, Sierra felt relieved that PJ had never asked her to marry him. She was young and zealous. If PJ had proposed; she would have gone to the moon to marry him without even considering the consequences. She was immature, and infatuated, not in love. She realized that now. The shadow of doubt that had hovered over her for two years had instantly transformed into calm assurance. PJ was not the one. She was over him. Only God could have given that assurance.
Sierra’s parents lived only about three miles from Flowing Creek Church, so the trip home was not a long one. As she pulled her little car into the driveway, Sierra noticed others had arrived before her. Two of her three brothers were waiting for her to get home. They had been working, and this was their first chance to see her since she got back to Louisiana. Before she could get the car parked, her brother Josh and his wife Andrea stepped out of the front door waving and smiling. ‘It is so great to see you! You look beautiful,’ exclaimed Andrea as soon as Sierra stepped out of the car. She was glad to hear those encouraging words, ‘Maybe if Andrea thinks I look beautiful, Grayson did too,’ she thought.
‘You cut your hair,’ she heard Alisa, her other sister-in-law, shout from the backyard. Sierra had always had long, brown hair. It was a trademark of sorts of her. Having to put it up every day that she was in uniform got laborious, and PJ suggested she get it cut. ‘Why not,’ she thought. Then; about six months ago, she jumped on the back of PJ’s motorcycle and had him take her to the beauty shop. He helped her pick out a style that he thought would suit her, and that was all she wrote. She liked it, it made her look older, or at least she thought it did. PJ said it was cute, which made her second guess herself. She didn’t want to look cute - she wanted to look beautiful, or at least pretty. A cute baby doll, uuugghh!!
At that moment Judith chimed in, ‘Well I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I love it short and I think you should keep it that way.’ Sierra was still unsure about the style being permanent; but she was sure glad everyone liked it.
As Sierra reached into her back seat to gather her things, her oldest brother, Grant rounded the corner with Stan, her dad. Grant was not the most affectionate one of the family; he was a lot like his dad. The words I Love You were hard to come by, but the notion was definitely implied. Sierra knew they loved her and were glad to see her home. Her dad can’t give her a hug without lifting her up off of the ground and popping her back. She knew what she was in for as soon as she saw him coming her way. First, Grant reached out to empty her hands and said, ‘Here, I will take that,’ it was his way of avoiding the affectionate stuff, at least that is what Sierra thought. Her hands were free, so of course, the back popping hug was next on the agenda. Stan said, ‘Come here girl,’ and then lifted her off the ground, shaking her little body with one jolt, causing every vertebrate in her back to snap simultaneously. ‘Ok daddy, it won’t pop anymore. You can put me down,’ exclaimed Sierra with a lighthearted tone.
With that, everyone headed into the house. ‘Boy it sure smells good in here,’ Sierra voiced as she walked through the front door. ‘What’s for lunch?’ ‘Your favorite, Shrimp Etouffette,’ Judith answered in a loving manner. It was the fresh French bread in the oven that had tantalized her senses, however.
‘Let me change into something more comfortable and I will help you set the table,’ Sierra told her mother as she headed to the bedroom. Sierra closed the bedroom door behind her and fell backwards onto the bed just as she used to do in the swimming pool when she was a kid. Her arms out to her side like she was free as a bird, she landed on the mattress and bounced a time or two before the pillow-top softness engulfed her tiny frame.
All she could think about was Grayson…and PJ, but mostly Grayson. The image of his tight thighs, his massive arms, and his superman-like torso engulfed her mind. Those eyes, there was something magical in his stunning blue eyes that captured her from the depths of her being. ‘Mrs. Sierra Raines, how would that sound,’ she thought. ‘Sierra Nicole Raines has a nice ring to it, better than Sierra Nicole Jennings, I like it,’ she thought. Then she snapped to reality and jumped off of the bed.
‘Whew, let me pick out something to wear and get in there where they need my help before I fall asleep,’ she whispered aloud to herself as she slid out of the little black dress she had worn to church.
Slipping into a purple and gold LSU sweat suit, and pulling her hair; that was just now long enough to fit into a tiny ponytail back, she skipped toward the kitchen like she was fifteen again.
She said, ‘What can I do?’ She wanted to be a part of the family environment again, it had been so long. She was taking it all in.
‘Sierra, you can put ice in the glasses and find out what everyone wants to drink. We have just about anything you can imagine,’ Judith instructed. Sierra did just that. ‘Two cokes, one diet, and the rest sweet tea. Two cokes, one diet, and the rest sweet tea,’ she rehearsed after getting everyone’s request so that she would not forget.
When the drinks were ready, she carried them to the table two at a time. Andrea was three months pregnant. When Josh saw that she had coke in her glass, he politely rebuked her saying, ‘Andrea, you know the baby doesn’t need that. You need to drink water.’ Andrea looked at Josh nearly teary-eyed and said, ‘Just this once Josh, I am sick and tired of drinking water, if you were the one carrying this baby maybe you would understand.’
A blanket of silence fell over the room as everyone waited for Josh’s response. Everyone knew that his reply would either make the situation worse or make it better. Trying to make facial expressions to direct Josh’s response, Judith cleared her throat in an effort to gain his attention.
‘Ok baby, you know what you need, but I wouldn’t make it a habit,’ replied Josh. Everyone let out a sigh of relief and began fixing their plates. Andrea smiled. About the time Sierra was going to sit down to fix her plate, the phone rang. ‘I’ll get it she said, since I am the only one still up.’
She thought surely it would be Travis, her twin brother calling from New Mexico where he was still stationed. He too had joined the Air Force directly out of high school, but planned to make a career of it.
‘Hello, this is Sierra speaking,’ she said as she put the phone to her ear. Her knees buckled when she heard PJ on the other end of the line.
‘I miss you baby, when can I come see you?’
‘Oh...PJ, I wasn’t expecting to hear your voice, I thought you were in training this week.’
‘I am, but I asked for a little break so that I could hear your voice. I don’t know, but ever since you left, all I can think about is you.’ As he spoke those words Sierra slid to the floor in the corner of her mom’s kitchen, lifeless and speechless at the same time. She nearly dropped the phone.
He continued, ‘I don’t know how I am going to live without you here, everything seems so empty with you gone. I don’t have a motivation to get up in the morning, to get off of work in the evenings, or to look forward to the weekend.’
‘PJ, why are you doing this to me now? I thought you were not ready for a commitment. That was the last thing we talked about before I left?’ she replied.
‘I thought so too, but since you have been gone I have had time to truly reflect on my life. I realize something that I had never realized before now.’ ‘What’s that,’ Sierra said nervously.
‘I – I think I love you Sierra.’
Sierra didn’t know how to respond. ‘Um…PJ, I have to talk to you about something, but now is not a good time. Can you call me back later when everyone is not listening?’
‘I will try, if possible tonight. Can you be around the phone at eleven-thirty your time? That is probably the only time I can get away to call again.’ ‘Yes, I should be here, I have church tonight, but it will be over by then,’ Sierra responded. ‘I look forward to it,’ she said out of habit and in an effort to avoid responding with ‘I love you too.’
The last words she heard before hanging up the phone and breathing a deep sigh were, ‘Bye angel.’ As Sierra picked her limp body up off of the floor and tried to regain her composure, her mother walked in and said, ‘Is everything alright?’ Feeling numb, Sierra thought about lying and saying that everything was just fine. But she decided it was time to be honest, ‘No, I am in a total whirlwind and I don’t know what I am going to do about it,’ she said to Judith as she headed back to her seat and plopped down like a rag-doll.
‘Okay, so let’s talk about it,’ Alisa said emphatically. ‘We are your family, that’s why we are here. What happened,’ prompted Alisa.
‘You are going to think I am crazy, but I am just going to say it like it is,’ Sierra began to explain. ’I have been dating PJ for almost two years, I know you know that, but you have not had the privilege of meeting him because he was afraid of the whole, ‘meet the family thing’ and he was not ready for a commitment. So, that was him on the phone. He got permission to take a break from his rigorous training schedule, which is unheard of, to call me and tell me that he doesn’t know how he is going to live without me. He has had time to evaluate our relationship, and his life, and he realized that he finally thinks he loves me and he wants to come down here to see me and meet the family.’
‘That’s fantastic Sierra! Congratulations!’ shouted Andrea. Sierra sighed. Josh kicked Andrea underneath the table. ‘What’s wrong honey, aren’t you excited?’ Andrea responded to her reaction. Sierra pushed her plate away, leaned forward resting her elbows on the table, and covered her eyes with her hands in dismay. ‘This is what I have been waiting for! This is what I wanted for so long, but today of all days, something happened that changed my thoughts, changed my feelings, and changed my mind about PJ altogether,’ Sierra cried.
‘What is it Sierra, what happened,’ demanded her dad. ‘It…it was Grayson, I don’t know how–but when I saw him this morning something happened inside of me. As crazy as it sounds, it is like I know he is the one I am supposed to marry. I don’t even know him, so I must be losing my mind. And now, I come home all confused about my chance encounter with Grayson and PJ calls to say he can’t live without me and he thinks he loves me. I don’t know what to do!’ ‘How can I be feeling this way about a guy I just met? How can the past two years of my life with PJ end just like that? Am I crazy?’