Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 57

Elena


"The Grinch has always been your favorite movie.” Dad laughs, placing the disc in the DVD player.

“You’re right, it has! I don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with how his heart grows throughout the movie.” My eyes squeeze shut for a second; I said it without thinking. My mind went straight to Mike and the heart that he claims he doesn’t have.

Dad hands me a large bowl of fresh popcorn then takes a seat in the Barcalounger with his bowl of popped buttery goodness.

I curl up with a blanket on the couch and start munching on the popped kettle corn. “What time did you say Rachel flies in tomorrow?” he asks, skipping through the previews with the remote.

“5 pm,” I answer enthusiastically. I am so ready for her visit.

He pushes the play button; the opening credits fill the screen. “We should leave here around noon. It will take a couple of hours to get into Atlanta,” he informs me.

I nod my head and focus on one of my favorite Christmas movies until a phone rings. I was going to make a joke about silencing his phone as they do in the theaters, but his face looks a little grave as he answers the call.

Dad stands up and walks over to the kitchen. I try to listen in.

“Wait. Calm down, what happened?” He sounds concerned in his hushed tone. My eyes dart from the movie to my dad’s wide brown eyes. He realizes I’m trying to eavesdrop out of curiosity. To my dismay, he takes his conversation down the hall, and then there’s a sound of a door closing.

Minutes later, he comes walking out. “Honey, I know it’s tradition to watch The Grinch on Christmas Eve, but how about we go to a Christmas Eve service really quick. We can watch this when we get back.”

What? I blink at his sudden change in our evening’s plans.

The brows on my forehead pull together. “Why?” I ask, very confused.

“Well...I just feel like we should try a new tradition.” He shrugs on his jacket. Oh, this is really happening.

I question him and his strange attitude. “What was that phone call about?” Walking over to the door, I reach for my coat from the rack. Are we seriously going to a church service right now? I’m wearing sweatpants, and my hair is an absolute mess on the top of my head.

“What? Oh, it was a work thing. Come on, let’s go,” he urges, holding the front door open for me.

My feet plant themselves at the threshold. “I can’t go to church in sweatpants, dad.” My tone is a tad irritable as I turn around to change - that is, until he grabs the sleeve of my coat to stop me.

“You look fine. Come on, let’s go,” he orders. I give up and follow him to the car in the dark of night. “Come as you are, right?” dad says, letting out a small laugh at his own attempt of a joke.

I give him a small glare. Good one, dad.

It’s been silent in the car for a while. The only sound is the Christmas music of jingle bells coming through the speakers. “Dad, I’m sorry, but I’m not buying this. What is going on?” I corner him as I try to fix the nest of hair on my head to make that at least more presentable.

He sighs, “Elena, I can’t tell you. The less information you know, the safer you are.”

“Dad, come on! Please tell me. What’s going on? To be honest, you are kind of scaring me right now,” I shriek, staring at him.

The dashboard lights illuminate his frame as I watch him reach for the dial to turn the radio down. His grip tightens on the steering wheel. “There is a bad man out there. He’s on the loose, and I don’t want you to be home by yourself. I may be overly cautious here, but I just want you to be safe.” His eyes don’t leave the road.

“What are you talking about?” Does he plan on ditching me at a church? Who’s out there, and why would he come to our house?

“I’m going to drop you off at a church, but I’ll be back soon. I just need to stop somewhere, and then I’ll be right back – I promise,” his words rush out.

“What? No! Dad, you are not going to leave me at some church while you put your life in danger!” My eyes widen, and my pulse races. I’m scared. What if he gets shot again?

“It’s not like that. I need to help a colleague out with a... dead end... it’s just office work. I promise,” he assures to calm me down.

We reach a small white church glowing above some ground lights. There’s a wooden cross above the door in the A-frame of the structure. “You promise it’s just paperwork?” I check, facing my dad

“Yes. Honey, I promise. Please go inside and save me a seat,” he pleads.

I begrudgingly climb out of the car and make my way to the steps. I turn around to see dad wave at me. “Love you, honey.”

“Love you too!” I shout above the engine’s sound, then turn my attention towards the white double doors at the top of five cement steps. The last time I was in a church was for my mother’s funeral. I try to pocket away that awful memory and focus on climbing the steps.

Once inside, I shrug off my jacket then realize that I’m in an old faded green t-shirt, so I shrug my coat back on. My elbow hits something behind me, and there’s a high-pitched voice of surprise that follows.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I apologize to the woman next to me. She is slightly shorter than I am, with brown hair in a bob cut with a few strands of grey hair and hazel eyes behind thick black frames. She’s wearing the warmest smile and the cutest red knitted sweater with the Grinch on it. She is a kindred spirit.

“Oh, don’t worry, dear! I wasn’t paying attention to what was around me,” her voice is sweet, feminine, and thick with that southern accent.

“I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?” she asks, sincerely interested in what I have to say.

“I guess you could say that. I was just dropped off. My dad will join in later.”

“Oh, well, you can sit with me if you’d like. I’m Carol,” she introduces herself with an outstretched hand for me to take.

I smile and place my small hand in her slightly smaller one, so we can shake hands. “I’m Elena.”

Her eyes widen the slightest bit. “It is lovely to meet you,” she says. “Come, let’s go find some seats in the back.”

I follow her into a large sanctuary with finely polished wooden floors, white painted walls with floor-length windows and golden curtains. There’s an oak podium at the end of the aisle with a small carved cross in the middle of it. Behind the podium is a small black stage where some people in red choir outfits gather. I follow Carol to a pew in the back near the entrance and take a seat on the maroon cushioned bench then rest my back against the oak backing.

My gaze falls upon people fellowshipping with one another. Then I notice a tall thin man with short blond hair and a dark blond goatee on his chin. He’s wearing a forest green button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up -exposing a few tattoos on his arms, and black jeans; he zig-zags his way from pew to pew, greeting the people who have come. “You can scooch closer to me, dear, and save a seat at the end for your father,” Carol suggests.

I do as she says. As the blond-haired man gets closer to our pew, I notice his bright white smile, tanned leathery skin, and striking round blue eyes.

The attractive older man looks at Carol first. “Hello, Carol, nice to see you here tonight. Is your son coming?” he asks.

Carol waves her hand. “I doubt it, but maybe the Good Lord will drag him here by the collar.” They both laugh at the inside joke.

His gaze falls on me. “Hello, welcome. I’m Reverend Viper, but people call me Reverend.” He winks and reaches his hand out for me. I stretch mine out to meet his for a shake; his gaze lingers on mine for a tad bit too long, but not uncomfortably long. It looks as though he’s calculating something, but I’m not sure... I brush it aside.

“I’m Elena,” I introduce myself.

“Elena,” he repeats. His other hand covers the back of mine in his palm, holding it with both hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope you will enjoy the service.”

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