Unforgivable – Part 3
by Brynn Paulin
All material © Brynn Paulin
When the shattering ceased, another started. Ben knelt before me, his knees bracketing mine. Taking my face in his hands he kissed me in that way he’d kissed me the day I’d refused to go out with him and every day since. When he pressed me backward into the carpet, I didn’t fight him—being with him was everything I’d wanted and everything I’d denied. But then, in my mind-numbed state, all my sensibilities fled. I could only act on my physical reactions. I let the stirrings he roused in my core guide me and when he settled between my knees, I ground against him, letting him know with all certainty exactly what I wanted from him.
The night took on a dreamlike quality. Ben wasn’t drunk, and he knew exactly what to do. All he wanted from me was to feel, and for those few hours, all I did was feel the love from this wonderful man. I forgot about my other pain. I knew Ben could be my a addiction.
When I woke the next morning, with a warm body pressed to my side, dread shot through me.
“What have I done?” What had he done? The night came back to me in glorious clarity. I’d destroyed this man’s life if anyone discovered what had happened. That’s what I’d done. I vowed right then that I’d never drink again.
I closed my eyes and sighed. My lids flew open when Ben’s lips settled over mine. I let the pleasure sink over me for a moment before I pulled away. “What are we going to do?”
He hugged me tighter to him, and I felt every naked contour of his delicious body. “What are we going to do about ‘what?’”
“This. This should never have happened.”
“Yes, it should have.”
We remained there in a silent embrace for a while before Ben broke the silence. “So considering…um…everything, don’t you think maybe you should open up about what it is that eats you up every day.”
I stiffened and tried to get away, but he held me tight, with no reaction whatsoever to the swear word that spewed from my mouth. He just held me and waited.
“Three years ago…” I started, my words clogging in my throat. I could barely speak around the lump. My harsh breathing filled the quiet room. “Three years ago, on my parents’ anniversary, I took them out for the evening. My little sister went with us. We had a great time. I insisted on driving because, well, you know, I was treating them. This was their special day, so I chauffeur them around…”
I heard Ben whisper God’s name behind me as he guessed where the story was going. I was on a roll now. I couldn’t stop, even when his arms tightened and his forehead pressed between my shoulder blades.
“We were on our way home. We were laughing and joking about something that had happened at dinner. At the intersection before our subdivision—” My voice broke, and I felt my chest closing as I relived the panic and terror of that moment again. I hadn’t so much as spoken any of their names since then.
“Don’t,” Ben urged, gently stroking me, trying to calm me.
But I’d started speaking. I couldn’t stop. Not now. “That intersection is strange. The busier street crosses at a diagonal. There was a semi-truck. The way he hit us—it crushed the front passenger seat. The backseat.” The sobs echoing in the room didn’t even seem human. It took me a moment to realize they were mine, wrenching through the air between my forced-out words. “My sister, my mom and dad. It didn’t touch me. Everyone says the driver ran the light. All the witnesses. He says he didn’t. I think my light was green… I don’t remember.” I buried my face in my pillow. “I just don’t remember.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
I couldn’t answer. How many people had told me that? How many of them had been driving the car when their family was slaughtered? How many of them knew what it was like for the entire night out to have been their idea, tragedy the only unplanned event? How many of them were instrumental in eliminating their family in one fell swoop? Even if it was supposedly not their fault?
I would never come to terms with the fact I’d been driving. I’d dragged them all out to dinner—my mom had wanted to make pot roast, but I’d insisted on treating them…
“They’re not the only victims,” Ben whispered into my hair, still holding me, stroking me. “You’re just as much a victim, if not more so—”
“Don’t you dare tell me they’re in a better place!”
He sighed, ruffling the hair at the back of my neck. “I wouldn’t, even if that’s what I thought. What I mean is: You were the one left behind. You were the one who can’t forgive herself. You are the one who’s facing this all alone.”
“I’m alive and they’re not.”
“A gift wrapped in tragedy. There’s a reason. I don’t know what it is—truly, neither of us might ever know—but there’s a reason. Some reason. Your purpose.”
“Purpose?” I scoffed. “More like a great big mistake.”
Ben tried to convince me otherwise, but I couldn’t buy his philosophy or his gentle acceptance. He insisted I needed to forgive myself for living and that, he said, was the only forgiveness needed. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I just pulled the blankets over my head. Grudgingly, I told him I’d think about it. Really, though I’d just vowed to never drink another drop, I wanted to search out the nearest liquor store. But when I’d chosen a place to run away to, I’d made a poor decision. This county was dry on Sunday, and that meant they didn’t sell alcohol on “the day of the Lord.”
“You’re not alone anymore, Gaia. Someday, when you’re ready, I want to marry you.”
I laughed hysterically, and I know if he’d been a lesser man, and less understanding, it would have hurt his feelings. “Why not?” he asked, interpreting my laugh.
“Me a pastor’s wife. God no! I’m not for you.”
“You are. Do you know how long I’ve loved you?”
If I hadn’t been cried out, I probably would have started crying again. My eyes burned from crying too much. I loved him, but I couldn’t have him. The alcoholic and the preacher. Priceless. “No Ben. I couldn’t do that to you.”
“No,” I cut him off. “Ben. Just leave. Please.”
I expected him to protest, but to my relief, he got out of the bed and started to get dressed. “I have to get to the church, anyway. You know, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you think you’ve done. You’re not unforgivable. I know you don’t want to hear it, but Jesus hung out with some of the biggest sinners there were. So I guess it would be okay for a sinner like me to be with a sinner like you.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around me. His hands bracket my head and he found my lips through the fabric and gave me a quick kiss. “I’m not giving up on you. If you decide to take a chance on me, the service starts at ten. Don’t worry, I won’t make you stand up and give a testimony.”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered as I heard him leave. There was no way I was setting foot in a church. God had no use for me, and I certainly had no use for him. He’d thrown up the wall between us the day he’d taken my family. If only Ben didn’t play for the holy roller team. What had I been thinking? A preacher and an alcoholic, I scoffed to myself again, the analogy of the bird and fish going through my mind. We could fall in love, but where would we live. I’d never be accepted in his life—not in this community. And for all his platitudes, he couldn’t accept my pain or what I’d done. And I didn’t want to taint him with it.
But as much as God had thrown up the wall, Ben had thrown down a gauntlet that morning. If you’re willing to take a chance on us…
Climbing out of bed, I went to closet and pulled out the demur yellow sundress. I laid it across the rumpled covers before I showered. I’d go listen to Ben preach.
Then I’d figure out a way to tell him goodbye. Maybe, God would give me the words and the strength. What a joke.