Free Souls, Chapter 19

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 19

Sandy swung her legs off the sofa and sighed. It was long past time for her to change her clothes and get something to eat. In her bedroom she exchanged the challis skirt, ruffled blouse, and plum velvet jacket for a comfortable pair of old jeans and a turtleneck sweater, but she didn’t make it to the kitchen. Her attention was arrested by a photograph of her parents that stood on the bookcase across from the sofa.

When she returned home for summer vacation that year, she never once mentioned to them what Jeff Chesters had tried to do.  To know a thing like that had happened to their little girl– it would have broken their hearts.

Well, no, she admitted, that wasn’t true. Anger and indignation for her sake would have been more their response. Her mother would not have stopped until she’d gotten to the bottom of why a senior like Jeff would have victimized her freshman daughter, and she would have held the school responsible. Roderick Beichten, though not the kind of father to go after his daughter’s would-be rapist with a shotgun, would certainly have wished he were. At a minimum he would have insisted on bringing in the police. Her parents’ upset and turmoil (not to mention the appalling questions) would have been too much to bear.

“I chose to handle it myself, in myself . . . I think I did a pretty good job of it– I was a strong kid!” Her lips twisted in an ironic smile. “At least I was then . . .

“And I did my Christian duty. I forgave Jeff.”

At this, a soft nagging query rose up: “Did you really?”

“Yes, I did! Several times!”

And that was perfectly all right. Forgiveness took time and work, the human heart being what it was.

“Yes, I forgave him, a long time ago!” So long ago, that she could think of what happened in the student store that night as if it had happened to somebody else.

But still, hadn’t she been a little vindictive in stereotyping him earlier, by assuming his sexual predations still went on?

“I’m sorry, Jesus.” Reflexively she folded her hands to pray. “O Lord, if You haven’t done it already, grant Jeff Chesters true repentance and salvation in You. Amen.” This quick petition didn’t seem quite adequate, so she went on. “And grant him a strong marriage with a loving wife– who has his number– ” (she couldn’t help adding)– “and give him Your strength and a new heart to be faithful to her in it. In Your name, amen.”

So much for Jeff Chesters. Harder to forgive had been herself. No, not for any part in the attempted rape as such. He had had no excuse for that, whatever her feelings toward him might have been. But it had taken all summer for her to accept pardon for breaking the solemn vow she and her friends had made to God. Certainly she had kept her body virgin, but hadn’t she pledged herself to purity of mind as well?

“Lord have mercy on me! The thoughts I allowed myself to have! And I told myself God would approve! Really, Sandy? What did Jesus say? ‘Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’ . . . It works both ways . . . What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose . . . And it didn’t matter that I wasn’t married to someone else and neither was Jeff, I know good and well that ‘adultery’ includes what I did . . .

“And it doesn’t matter that it was just me, in my own head. I hurt God when I let my mind run on all those things! . . .

“Well, no,” she corrected herself. “I didn’t hurt God, not exactly . . . God is all-powerful, you can’t hurt God . . . But I offended against Him. I grieved the Holy Spirit,” she thought, glad the right phrase had come to mind. “That’s what I did.

“We had a good time together that summer, Carole and Elise and Brenda and all. But didn’t I keep on hoping that no one would mention the Knights of the Single Eye! And wasn’t I relieved when no one did? I was afraid I’d have to admit I’d broken my pledge.”

She took a deep breath, for she was forced to wonder. Why hadn’t any of the other girls said how they were doing with keeping their promise?  They’d all pledged accountability, hadn’t they?

“Yes, I know. It frightened me even more to think that any of them had broken it, too. I wanted to think they had all stayed strong, even if I hadn’t. If they could do it, I still had hope I could start all over again and do better the next year.”

The Knights of the Order of the Single Eye. As a thing in itself, that was also something she had left behind in her youth. But the principles it stood for, the pure focus and the focussed purity, Sandy knew she was still bound to them, because she belonged to Jesus Christ.

The commitment to her work was there, certainly, and the striving to do it to the glory of God. Hadn’t she proved that by refusing to work for Nick Hardt, even if it might cost her her present job?

And the purity of body and mind . . . ?

“Eric would never do what Jeff did.”

They’d spent too many hours alone together in the office even to conceive of that as a possibility: if he had wanted to force himself on her he could have done it months ago. And if he grew to care for her more than he did now, he certainly would go on respecting her, even protecting her, unless she gave him cause to believe that–

Unless she clearly invited it. The danger was not in him, it was in herself.

“What if he wants to get closer, but not that close, and I use it as an excuse to let my fantasies run wild? What if I gave him the idea I wanted our relationship to become physical?”

She had been willing with Jeff.  She couldn’t deny it.  He had destroyed that willingness, not she.  But if Eric should pick up on her desire, if his response should deepen her need, where would it end?  She couldn’t see him actually falling in love with her, but she could see herself, even now . . .

What was she thinking? Never mind things getting physical, their relations had to remain as they were in every way. “If I got even more– ” she struggled for the word– “more invested in him, without him feeling the same way about me, would I still have the guts to call him on things when I need to? It’s hard enough as it is now!

“And . . . what if something should . . . happen . . . and he should . . . eventually!–” she made herself examine the contingency– “should eventually grow to love me . . . Wouldn’t it be too much? Don’t we spend most of our time together as it is? I don’t dare be that dependent on one other person. Especially Eric, whom I can’t marry.”

She picked up another framed photo that stood near that of her parents. It was of herself and a group of her Classical Honors classmates at their high school graduation. How long had it been since she’d seen most of them, or even written or talked to them on the telephone?

“A lot of the Blakewell people don’t live here anymore,” she defended herself. “They’re all over the country. Some of them live in other parts of the world!”

True.  But several had returned to Wapatomekie after college. There were also friends she’d met at the university who were native Wapatomekians or had moved here after graduation. But since Eric had taken her on at his office, she’d been putting in so much overtime that most of them had stopped inviting her to dinner or movies or just to hang out at their homes. “Sandy, I’d ask you to come,” one of them had finally told her, “ but it’s no use. You’ll just beg off and tell me you have to work.” She hadn’t been able to deny it on that occasion, and the general understanding among her friends was that that’s the way it would always be.

Sandy put the photograph down. In the kitchen she made herself a sandwich and sat down at the table that stood under the breakfast room window.

“If I’d kept my friendships up,” she chided herself, chewing the food without tasting it, “I’d have somebody to talk to about all this.”

That was taking it too far. There were some of her old girlfriends, Carole especially, who would be glad to hash it out with her. They would sympathize and not judge her, either. But they were busy, too. Most of them were married already and were juggling children and careers and she’d hate to add one more demand to their time.

Now Tracey would be happy to hear all about it. They’d remained friends even after Sandy moved out of the dorm after Christmas her second year. She was working for a firm out in Denver and Sandy could call her some weekend when the long distance rates were low. But not tonight, and not about this. She knew the tack Tracey would take. She was – last time she’d written, at least– still single, had lots of boyfriends, and was a nominal Christian at best. She would certainly tell her to let her fantasies rip. And press on her a few pointers on how to get Eric into bed, whether he had that in mind or not.

Could she discuss it with her mother? Her knowledge of her warmth and her almost fiercely-partisan support argued that she could. But no. Karen Beichten was beginning to worry that her daughter would never find a husband. When Sandy had called down to Florida to tell her she was joining Eric’s firm, she hadn’t been able to keep a certain something was out of her voice that made her mother too hopeful about where it might lead. She’d wanted to know all about “Sandy’s new young man,” and it had been with difficulty that she had convinced Mrs. Beichten that Eric Baumann was only her new boss. Her own errant hopes were hard enough to quell, without tempting her mother to indulge in them, too.

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