The Centaur and the Heir – Chapter Two

If you haven’t had a read of the first chapter of my nanowrimo endeavour, The Centaur and the Heir I suggest you read that first The Centaur and the Heir Chapter 1

But otherwise, for the three of you who have read it and are waiting for the next instalment with baited breath here it is: The Centaur and the Heir chapter 2

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The Centaur and the Heir – Chapter One

Last year I posted daily instalments of my nanowrimo endeavour. This year I’m going to do it a bit differently, every few days I’ll give you a new PDF which you can download and read – if anyone feels like being super clever and even more helpful and telling me how to turn this into an ebook I might even put in in the kindle store (for free).

Below is instalment 1 of The Centaur and the Heir, with just a taster to wet your appetite.

Susan pulled herself up out of her seat. It felt to her as though she had been there for day upon day, it could even have been a full week for the way that time seemed to have stalled as she drifted into restless slumber of silence. In fact it was only a little more than half an hour since the last visitor had left and the storm of noise and conversation had given way to a peace more threatening than any hail of inquisitive kindness she could imagine.

If this feels like a wordy and long-winded way of setting out her condition and state of mind it is but a glimpse of her own tumultuous considerations. When Susan realised the time had passed so slowly she thought herself stupid for ever doubting it’s glacial pace. Archie was due to visit later that afternoon and she knew he would not fail her. He had done as she asked even in the most painful of abstentions.

Susan found herself frustrated at the failure of time to move to her whim. But you know how it is, why when you are waiting for something to happen it seems to never come, but when you are having such joy the time never seems enough. She wished the hours had passed, maybe even days gone by in flash when pain could have been sidelined and the gnawing absence subsided. It was in the midst of this melancholy that Susan’s eyes alighted on the painting she spent most of the last few years refusing to make eye contact with. … Read on

The Centaur and the Heir Chapter 1

Writing in the shadow of CS Lewis

Last year I decided to write a novel in a month. Over the course of November I wrote on most days and ended up with 32 chapters totalling over 56 000 words. This was not just for the sake of it. Although once I’ve said a little more you might think there was no greater purpose. Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge to write a 50 000 word novel from scratch during November, you can plan beforehand but not write, and because the rules are actually more or less non-existent plenty of people do it in different way – including working on existing projects.

Last year I had no plot until the night before I started. I lay in the bath and came up with a cast of characters and a couple of defining events and then started writing. It was a bit crazy and I lost a fair amount of sleep and by virtue of posting a chapter each day to this blog lost quite a few readers as well. The story was basically a Christian romance novel. It was pretty dire. I had about half a dozen regular readers, and the plot development was aided by a couple of crowd sourced brain storming sessions where new characters jumped onto the page and interacted with each other.

This year I’m doing it again.

I said I wouldn’t. A bit like Steve Redgrave when he got out of the boat, except it’s not at all like that. I felt I had achieved something, shown what I could do with a large helping of self disciple and swift typing skills. I also felt it was unnecessary to do that again to produce something that I would never get published, or even try to get published.

But then I came across a single line in a book and I knew I would do it again. I was reading through Rowan William’s book about Narnia, The Lion’s World and found a letter from CS Lewis to a reader regarding Susan Pevensie: “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman.” It goes on a bit but I don’t want to give anything away.

I had the starting point for my story. And I had all of October to research and prepare.

Unfortunately moving house and doing a lot of work writing meant my research amounted to reading books 1-6 of the Narnia series, and hoping to get through the Last Battle in the next couple of days. I also have only a vague plan of what will happen in the story, but as well as a starting point I also have a rather intimidating back drop against which to write and ensure at least some measure of continuity.

Firstly though, it is worth stating very clearly that this is fan-fiction, it is not to be published other then on this blog and I am doing so for no financial gain. I don’t know who owns the copyright for the books and characters, but no infringement is intended. I am also doing this from the place of huge respect and appreciation for the series and CS Lewis’ other writings.

Secondly, this is rather scary, CS Lewis is a brilliant writer with hidden gems within and between each sentence, reading through them again has drawn out new aspects and reinforced other themes I’ve seen before. In writing a sequel to the series I have the challenge of deciding how closely to try and follow his style and themes. I am setting the book a few years after The Silver Chair and probably more or less contemporaneously to The Last Battle. This poses two additional challenges, firstly to ensure the language and especially the dialogue is appropriate to the period. The second challenge is that the Narnia books are written about children and for children. Down to the little asides CS Lewis throws in about grown-ups not understanding things and similar, the writing is so brilliant because it is simple and profound and presented from a childlike mentality – especially the earlier books.

What I intend to do is shift that a few years forward. Susan will be twenty-one at the start of the book and I intend to write from that period in life, with a mind towards readers also at a similar stage. While I will try and situate the novel in the right era, i.e. starting in 1949, much of it will take place in Narnia so that becomes less relevant.

A final challenge is that in The Last Battle the old Narnia is passing away. That’s why I say that it’s more or less contemporary, because I’m making the most of the discrepancy between times in different worlds to present a story happening in Narnia before it draws to a close, yet after Peter, Edmund and Lucy are on their way to Aslan’s country.

I hope you enjoy reading, I don’t think I’ll post daily, but probably twice a week or so in longer chunks but as PDFs so as not to overload the blog posts. Currently undecided on the title, either The Centaur and the Heir or Hunting the Heir, or something else that strikes me soon.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 32

Sam was not content with letting it stay the way that he had left it. He crept out of bed once Emma and Kathy had departed. He took in the crowded space of their combined lounge and kitchen and after a couple of laps in which he had turned on the kettle and made his cup of coffee, before cycling back around to turn on the radio and hope the heat had drifted from his drink so he could take the caffeine hit he needed.

All the time he measured how close Kathy was getting to her departure, where they would be, how long it was before her plane took off. And against that he assessed the possibility of making a last ditch intervention. As the moments ticked by and it gradually became less feasible to make the trip before Kathy left he became less and less convinced of the distance he had forced between them. Sam knew that despite Kathy being the one who was heading off towards a distant country where contact would be minimal, he was the one who had driven any relationship out of the realm of possibility. In a moment of obscene arrogance he felt responsible for Kathy’s flight from the life she led. He saw that she would have stayed if he had asked.

But only part of Sam wanted that. There was part of him that cherished his independence so dearly that he was happy to hide behind the ruse of waiting for the right woman. Deep inside he wondered if that was what this was all about, for both of them. Their combined reluctance to put words to what was between them, to settle for existing in a borderline space rather than have to define and determine the something that for Sam was some way short of the certainty he looked for. He contrasted it with his thoughts about Alex, he had always felt very sure of his attraction, always knowing what he thought he wanted. But then that was never to be, and that made it easier for him to be certain, it gave Sam the safety net of never having to see it through, of never having to live with the consequences of being in love. The unrequited love was a comfort, it was an easy option, it led him on, allowed him to think that his affection was actual when it was only ever one-sided infatuation.

With Kathy it was all so much harder, the chance of reciprocated love hung in his midst, it loitered in front of him, trying to coax him away from his contented solitude and fantasised affection. And it was all too much. He could not bear the pressure of being the one for whom someone else decided what their life was all about, the thought that someone else might act in a different way because he was near, or reorder their life around him, it was all beyond his comprehension. Attraction had always been the respectable part of infatuation. A relationship was always the theoretical end point of his attraction but never a reality he had encountered, therefore it waited for him like a child waited for the monsters to leave the wardrobe. The otherness it represented was a barrier to high for him to hurdle.

As he sipped his coffee and watched the clock and made his calculations he decided that it was almost too late, in fact, there was no way short of a miracle or a unexpected delay that would make it possible for him to reach Kathy before she left for good. It was in anticipation of making a forlorn but visible gesture that he left his cup half empty as he flew out the door.

Sam wished the tube to move faster, despite expecting, perhaps intending, that he was already too late. He contemplated what he would do when he got there. The romantic inside him erred towards the grand gesture, the impetuous purchase of a ticket to Benin and jumping on board the plane with his rucksack containing nothing but what he would normally carry around each day. The addition of a passport was a nod towards serious consideration of this option.

Another part of him wanted to get there in time to stop Kathy walking through the departure gates, declare his undying love for her in anticipation of feelings he hoped were only waiting to be mined. The realist had already written this option off, she would have long since walked through security, leaving Emma waiting behind, perhaps already on her return journey.

A combination of his realism and pecuniary instinct meant neither of these options were truly under consideration, which was perhaps why having left it so late he still made the journey. He know that he would not be able to stop her from flying, and knew that he would baulk at the reckless abandon needed to head through the gates inadequately prepared on the possibility that his feelings were strong enough, and Kathy did not spurn them.

He texted Emma as the tube surfaced to enquire of their status but got no response. He waited in agony, it felt as though he was convincing himself of his feelings, each fleeting thought of Kathy seemed to deepen his affection towards her. Every time he asked himself if he really liked her he became a little more sure that he did. And everything he recalled of her interactions towards him told him that she was acting out of the same fear of commitment that haunted his own life. The two of them seemed destined to avoid articulating their feelings but all the time confirming the strength of their emotions. Kathy’s insistence on continuing her trip had been in spite of her attraction towards Sam and not because of any lack thereof, he thought as he emerged from the station and into the airport.

Sam had almost convinced himself that he would do whatever it took because their relationship was now bound to succeed as if its trajectory had been set by his commitment to the grandiose romantic action. He would pull out his credit card and buy whatever seat he could get, he would follow on the next flight, he would trek through a jungle if it meant they could be together. Almost.

And he saw the departure board. Flight AF293 to Cotonou via Paris had just departed after a fifteen minute delay. Fifteen minutes in which Sam had made and drunk most of his coffee. Fifteen minutes in which he entertained fantasies of stopping Kathy from leaving, and dismissed them as such. Fifteen minutes in which he might of made it. He would never know.

His phone went, it was Emma, calling. Sam was about to answer when he saw the solitary girl walk the wrong way through the security checks. The phone kept ringing in his hand and he hit reject, because she was there in front of him.

Sam moved across the concourse and placed himself in the seat beside her. Together they sat in silence as passengers bustled past. Emma finally spoke to her brother, “She’s gone.”

“I know.”

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 31

Emma had agreed to accompany Kathy to the airport, she hadn’t really been able to say no, but wasn’t looking forward to the last minute agonising over whether she was doing the right thing. Sam had clearly decided to stay in bed to avoid any awkward last minute conversations but that just made for an inevitable opening salvo one Kathy and Emma were clear of the house.

“He couldn’t even bring himself to say goodbye, after avoiding me all night yesterday he refused to get out of bed, pretending he was still asleep when I knocked.” The words flowed out of Kathy’s mouth which had clearly been brewing over the past day as Sam had intentionally distanced himself.

“And I thought there might just be something between us, we had been getting on so well, but when I want him to do the one thing that he needs to do he backed off and took the easy option.”

Emma looked carefully at her friend before opting for the direct approach. “Kathy, if you’d wanted him to ask you to stay that much because you wanted him to want you, and he hasn’t then you’re better off leaving him behind, but if you wanted to stay and just fancied the easy way out then you don’t need him to tell you to stay.

“What if he had asked you to stay, would you have? And what if he’d said he’d come with you, would you have been happy with that? You’re treating one thing as the solution to the other, when in fact you can be getting both things wrong at the same time. Going to Benin isn’t going to appease the fact that Sam hasn’t asked you out, and staying here is not going to convince him that you’re into him. That’s just not how it works. If you want to be with him then you’ve got to make that decision. And if you want to go to Benin then you’ve got to work out how those two decisions work together. Maybe they can, but maybe they’re can’t, perhaps it’s about time that you took a difficult decision, because I’m worried that life has left you a bit soft.”

Emma resented the constant attention that Kathy required, and although certain she would miss her, was also slightly relieved that their relationship would enter a less intense phase through separation across thousands of miles. It also offended Emma that Kathy was so full of her own dilemmas and problems, and whether or not she was well enough liked, and as a result never took any notice of the trials that she was facing. Because as Kathy pressed ahead with her decision to move to Benin, Emma was grappling to hold the threads of her friendships with both Theo and Talitha together. And she knew that this was a hopeless, thankless and unwise task.

Over the past few weeks Talitha had come to rely on Emma as her link into the church, and the initial awkwardness as she spoke of the halting development of her relationship with Theo was swiftly bypassed, especially as she realised how much Emma knew from the other side of the fence.  The problem for Emma was maintaining contact with Theo, which she could not avoid as they stood side by side most days for hours on end. Refusing to talk to one another was only ever a prospect on Emma’s side as Theo continued his advances, clearly spurred on once he knew that Talitha was walking away, refusing to become beholden to his fleeting whims.

It was therefore ironic that as Emma counselled Talitha about the course of action she had taken, and of it’s wisdom, that she herself seriously contemplated throwing it all to one side and ignoring the sage words that she delivered and saying yes to Theo. The only thing that held her back was a sense of respectability that was more ingrained in her from her parents than through any notion of what might or might not be the correct course of action at any particular time. Emma did not feel convicted about the continual flirting that she engaged in because she told herself it was going nowhere, even when she pretended to be disinterested, even when she greeted his kindness with stony silence. When they stood in silence working she fumed at her attraction towards him, knowing with every breath in her that it was a road that she should not pursue.

So as Kathy poured out her trauma with the seventeenth repetition Emma’s patience was wearing thin, but this being her final morning, her very act of departure, Emma swallowed her frustration and smiled with compassion as the various aspects of the relationship were played over in minute detail, all to the end of showing why she was correct in thinking Sam was into her, and why he was an idiot for not telling her.

But Kathy continued unabated towards the airport, towards her terminal and towards her departure, as far as Emma was concerned Kathy had made her decision, if she so wanted to be with Sam then she would have done something about it. Deep down she viewed this latest act as just the most recent in a long line of avoidance measures, all designed to ensure that she never had to face up to the reality of her life. Kathy was so determined to illustrate her independence that she was prepared to forgo what she thought she most wanted. Reflecting, Emma decided, a hidden priority that took precedence over everything else.

Sam had stayed in bed and tried to ignore the noises that came around him. He tried to forget that the girl who was throwing herself at him was now leaving. That was a series of signals he could not get his head around. If she was so interested in him, why then would she make such a public display of leaving the country and flaunting her lack of attachment for all the world to see. He heard the knocks on the door, he heard the voices calling out goodbye. And he ignored them all. It was better Sam decided not to get sucked into awkward and unnecessary farewells, if there was nothing between them, which Sam was sure was the case then why did his final words matter one iota.

However, Sam knew that it was not all as simple as this. He knew that there was a girl which he liked to a degree that stopped him from sleeping, and he knew that this girl was about to walk out of his life for good. It cannot of been easy for her to make the decision, nor can it have been easy for her to put to one side what ever attraction she felt towards him, to ensure that she could leave and not be haunted by what she left behind.

He only thought about what she felt, or what he thought that she must be feeling. He had relegated his thoughts to a lower rank, not needing any consideration, at least not in the present.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 30

The air was thick with conversation as the bodies mingled throughout the flat. In the past week Sam had effectively moved in with Emma ahead of the semi-permanent arrangement that would follow Kathy’s departure. And tonight as the flat filled with guests coming to bid her a fond farewell Sam had fully intended to excuse himself and find an alternative distraction to fill the void in his evening.

His diary was rather full of voids these days. Without work to keep him occupied, and without Alex to provide easy company he was left with few others accept Emma and Kathy for company. He had been shocked by how quickly his former life that revolved around Holland Park evaporated after his shameful, maliciously induced, departure. Sam had tried to speak to a few of his closest friends, but that was not always the life giving experience he hoped it would provide. Some of them refused point blank to see him, obviously mindful of an edict from on high to severe all contact with the spurned black sheep of the congregation. Others were clearly less ready to heed the commands of the church leadership without finding out for themselves what had gone on.

On one such occasion he found himself regretting his eagerness for social contact. He met Juan Carlos in Starbucks assuming that their friendship would pick up where it had left off prior to recent events. Instead all he received was a swift inquisition as to the veracity of Adam’s version of events. And when Sam refused to be drawn apart from fully refuting them and standing by his alternative version he had presented so colourfully from the front of church that day, Juan’s interest receded with alarming speed. It depressed Sam to think that the person he had met with frequently, taken under his wings when he firsts arrived in London was so unable to think of any thing beyond the scandal and conjecture propagated from the pulpit.

If Sam was to have avoided Kathy’s leaving party it would have had to been through finding something for him to do alone. He become used to going to the cinema in the early afternoon taking advantage of the quiet showings to buy his single ticket and find a spot where his lack of company was unlikely to attract attention. Sam justified his lonely solace by arguing to himself as he waited for the film to begin that going to the cinema was an odd thing to do in company as you sat in silence and watch the film, what was the point in being with other people when their presence made no difference, he asked himself.

As Emma played the host and cheerleader in chief for Kathy’s farewell Sam slunk into a corner with his wine in the plastic beaker and managed to be both annoyed that no one was talking to him and desperate to keep himself to himself. The questions would become intolerable, they had been on every occasion he had to explain his new found liberty.

In this room Sam was Emma’s brother, he was known simply as that. It had been the same when he tagged along to St Bart’s. That first evening after he had been thrown out of his church he had nearly come along with her, simply needing above everything else to avoid being alone.

His saviour on that occasion was now his nemesis on this. Kathy had volunteered to stay at home while Emma went to church, she could see that he was not in a place to be among crowds, and wondered whether even her presence was one person too many. But she persisted and decided that it was times like this that she could make her impression. Kathy was not given to cynicism, nor did she intend to manipulative Sam at a time when his emotions were so sensitive. However, she did want to help him at a time when he was so clearly in need of compassion, and if as a side affect he thought better of her because of it, then that was a consequence she was not going to refuse.

Sam knew that she was acting the rescuer, taking the role that provided the greatest contact, he saw it as a mirror to his relationship with Alex, where he would always do whatever she wanted if it only meant that they spent a few more moments together. He told himself that he was in no position to make a decision about a relationship in the light of the turbulent period he had been through. And not one which was not just a decision about whether he liked someone and someone liked him in return, a dilemma that had always flummoxed him in the past. On this occasion it was a decision that affect the choices that the other person had made about their life, and also what choices he would make about his.

All this was too much for a Saturday evening as he nursingly cradled his wine. It was too much for Sam to get his head around at the best of times, but he did realise that perhaps this wasn’t so unusual a set of circumstances. Because surely all final decisions about whether or not you wanted to be with someone involved consideration of their plans and yours. Never was there a set of emotional relationships that could be determined in the abstract, detached from the specific circumstances of their life. Always lurking in the background were realities and exceptions that confused the situation, contaminated the purity of the love that perhaps two people wished could be theirs.

So despite the attention that Kathy fawned on Sam he drew back away from committing, her company was something he enjoyed, her conversation brought life to him even when he felt there was little else worth living for. Even in the darkness of the past fortnight it was Kathy who had provided the highest moment. But that was not enough. He was not ready to disrupt her plans, Sam did not think that he could say enough with enough conviction to make it worth his while to try and stop her from going, or even follow her across the world. That meant that amid the crowds Sam stayed away from Kathy and watched as everyone wished her well, and he just wished she would stay, but did not know what he could do or say that would make it happen.

Kathy was there waiting for his attention, clearly looking for a reason, any reason, to come and talk, but she remained still. She allowed herself to be distracted by the myriad well wishers and friends who had appeared. For her this was an exercise in soothing the pain, but almost becoming an act of self-flagellation as the attention she received from so many quarters was negated by the refusal of the one from whom she most wanted it, to even countenance her needs.

As the party turned from quiet to loud, from a frenzy into a lull, and as the guest started to depart, and the last stragglers gathered up their coats, Kathy still waited. And when only she, Emma and Sam were left he simply picked himself up and went upstairs, with only a “I’ll help tidy up in the morning.” It was almost as if he had shut out her impending departure, forced himself to not think too much about something that might cause too much pain.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 29

Kathy sat and listened unsure whether she should leave. This was a space and time that Sam and Emma should have alone. Yet she wanted to listen, she even wanted to try and help, although what she would have done that might have aided the situation was beyond even her comprehension. Sam was a shadow of usual self, even of the under confident man who she had grown to appreciate with a warmness that surprised her.

He sat on the sofa close to Emma, and he talked and Emma gently nodded comfortingly as he laid out the morning’s trauma. Sam kept saying, over and over again, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what happened.” And Emma had no words in response. She had nothing that would calm him, there were no words that would reassure him. There was nothing that she could do which would make the situation all okay. So she stuck to murmuring her concern and compassion.

Emma had been the only person to whom Sam could go as he walked out of church, he wanted to vanish with immediate effect, as he walked down the streets and past the bustling crowds preparing for their Sunday shopping experience. He wondered if this is what it felt like to have suicidal tendencies. He didn’t want to see anyone, he didn’t want to talk to anyone. Sam felt as though anything that he did would make the situation worse. That was why he had to go and talk to Emma, he did not have to explain why this had happened. Sam also knew that she would not have any inclination to believe the slander thrown at him from the pulpit.

It was unsurprising but still unexpected that Kathy was there when he arrived. His defences were down and he did not have the energy to hold it together while she remained. So he conceded her presence and in machine gun style interspersed with howls of pain and a handful of tears spat out the words Adam had spoken in a near verbatim fashion.

Kathy was stunned by the tale he told. She pieced together the story as he sped on, working backwards from this morning’s events through to his and Emma’s discovery before Christmas. She was at first minded to disbelief, considering the incredulity of the situation. What pastor would do such a thing she thought. But as Emma confirmed the story she began to see the baggage he had been carrying for the past month.

Sam realised he was not presenting his best side to Kathy, but he did not have the energy to care. This should have been the person that he held it altogether for. Here she was, Sam thought, seeing his very worst side, watching as all his emotions came spilling out, overflowing from the depths of his heart. He looked and saw pity ingrained on her face, and that made it so much harder to bare, sympathy was just about tolerable, pity was certainly not.

Only after it seemed as though he had exhausted his energies in venting his emotions did Emma begin to speak. “Sam, you’ve had an incredibly traumatic experience and now is not the time to make big decisions about the future. I’m here to listen and I’m not going anywhere.

“I want you to know that this is a safe place. If you want, in a couple of weeks you can take Kathy’s room. And if you can’t stand living at your place the sofa’s available for now. And I don’t think you should go into the office tomorrow, that can wait a few days.”

He knew that his sister was speaking sense, but Sam had not yet decided to completely give up on the fight. He was so outraged by the miscarriage of justice that he had suffered. There was a mingling of anger and frustration, and resignation and failure, in his thoughts as he sat wondering what to do next. His name had been ruined, and all in the effort of preserving the someone else’s.

Part of Sam wanted to come straight back at Adam, to demand to meet with the elders and defend himself and ask him to substantiate his allegations. But Sam knew that he couldn’t prove his claims without Alex’s cooperation, and any attempt to turn the accusations back towards the perpetrator would be seen as evidence of his guilt, casting the mud on the one who was correcting and rebuking the sinner in their midst.

Sam knew that if he wanted to he had a fair claim for constructive dismissal, the church wouldn’t have been able to sack him unilaterally even if the allegations were true, but before he got too carried away preparing a legal brief in his mind he reminded himself that he wasn’t technically employed, but as an apprentice he was on a training programme and the church basically had the right to do whatever they wished.

Besides which, Sam rather wished that this whole affair just came to a swift end. And when he came to think more deeply he realised that pursuing this through the courts would not be the best way forward. In fact sometime later he thought that it would be fundamentally contrary to his theology, as Sam looked across the world he saw men and women persecuted for their faith who did not respond with counter suits and campaigns but with prayer and fasting. These were men and women who inspired Sam, and in his only very little way this was his response. Not to any great act of persecution, but refusing to strike back nonetheless and instead turn the other cheek towards the aggressor. Such minded theology did not come at once, at first his thoughts were governed by deep resignation towards the conspiracy of forces arrayed against him.

Instead, Sam sat completely overwhelmed by the world around him. He simply put one foot in front of the next. Emma felt guilty for going to church, but Talitha had only become a Christian the week before so she felt obliged to go. When Emma made the offer for him to come along he nearly followed, only saved from the agony at the last minute. Not only would he have had to face a room of strangers but also Talitha who was a complexity he could live without.

Sam was walking through the world in a haze and knew that one day the mist would lift but could not see that day coming too soon.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 28

The three days of theological training couldn’t have been further from what Sam wanted. It was dry and abstract, and did nothing to soothe the pain that ate away at him. Every argument and discussion he entered was aggressive and volatile, even when he didn’t really object to the point being made he took it upon himself to take offence. He was even more contrary than usual and as he returned to London on Saturday morning he was undecided if he’d even turn up to church the next day.

It should have been the point he’d been aiming for since he began his apprenticeship, he’d been given the opportunity to preach in the morning service. In the snatches of time that he had found over the break between tormenting himself with Alex and Adam’s antics he was proud of his preparations. At one point he had even considered exposing Adam from the stage in the middle of his preach, finding a tangent off which to launch a vicious crusade against the church’s philandering pastor. Common sense prevailed and Sam put together a mediocre sermon that would hardly bring revival but wouldn’t get him booed off the stage either.

However, as Sam got home Adam texted him, “I’m going to be making a special announcement at church tomorrow so you won’t be preaching, please do come and hear what I have to say.” With that Adam discovered a curious mix of emotions, frustration at missing his chance to preach, but also a slight satisfaction as it seemed Adam had heeded his suggestion and would be facing up to the consequences of his actions.

The atmosphere in church seemed more sombre than usual to Sam, although maybe he had projected that from his expectations of what would come later. He noticed that Alex was not there, he wondered if she had been asked to come, or maybe asked to stay away. He could certainly understand why she would not want to be there, Sam was not sure he wanted to be there either.

As the church rose and sat to sing the songs and hear the prayers and readings Sam’s mind drifted to consider what Adam would have done over the past couple of days. Presumably he had told the other elders, and surely they would have something to say after Adam had made his announcement. Sam thought it improbable that he would be allowed to continue in his post as before, at the very least a period of penitence away from the visibility of the church would be required.

The Reverend Doctor took to the pulpit as if it was a regular Sunday, many would have thought that he was about to introduce Sam as their speaker for that morning. Instead he adopted a sombre tone. “It is a pleasure to lead Holland Park Baptist Church, and virtually every part of this job I love and thrive in. However, there are some aspects that bring no joy. And today I am afraid is one of them.

“Last week some very serious allegations were brought to my attention and I have done all that I can to deal with them sensitively and compassionately. It was my sincere hope that his could be resolved in a quiet and private manner. Unfortunately the actions of the people in question have made this impossible.

“Some of the responsibility for anything that happens within this congregation must fall upon my shoulders, and I personally feel that burden. It has saddens me that the actions of others also betrays a lack of Godly wisdom and discretion in my own life. I must apologise that I have played a part in bringing this situation into the church.

“There are many challenges that face us in this world as we seek to live as disciples of Jesus and uphold his holy and righteous ways. These challenges are not less severe here in London, they are, I would suggest even harder to resist. The world that we live in tells us so many things that are contrary to the word of truth which we must seek to live by. Never is the way of the world more at odds to the way of Christ than when it comes to our relationships. The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to what is the right way to build sexual relationships. There is no alternative, they are only to exist within marriage.

“That is not a popular message in the world we inhabit. It tells us we can have what we want whenever we want it. It sells us the consumerist gospel that we are entitled to everything and anything we wish. And it opposes those who suggest we must be disciplined and restrained in what we do. The world would tell us that there is no reason not to have sexual relations with someone who we were in love with, whoever that may be and at whatever stage or level of commitment that relationship was at.  That is not the teaching of the Bible and it is not the sort of conduct that is compatible with growing in Christ as part of Holland Park.

“The Bible teaches us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I have sinned and I will go on sinning. I am a filthy sinner clothed only in the glorious robes of Christ’s forgiveness. But our sin is not a burden we have to carry, it is not a life that we cannot escape, it is not inevitable that we will fall in to temptation, that we will succumb to the schemes of Satan.  We must be strong, we must find our strength in Christ to flee from sin when it presents itself. We must fall on our knees and beg of Christ’s forgiveness when we dirty the brilliant white that he has covered us in. We must be assured that we are saved not because of what we do, but but the reckless grace of God, who in his mercy sent his son to die for us.

“It is therefore with great sadness that we find ourselves where we do today. That we find ourselves in a place where continued, unconfessed, in fact, denied sin has blighted someone’s life. Following attempts to resolve the situation in private and to find that the person in question is not only continuing in their destructive pattern of behaviour but they deny that it is taking place, and as a result are completely unrepentant of their sin. As a church it is necessary at this stage that we take careful but clear public action.

“At the start of last term we had a new apprentice start working for the church, and it is about Samuel Engle that I now want to speak. In many ways Samuel has been a blessing to the church. He has been a key part of the office and I know many of the students greatly valued the efforts that he put into your activities. There are two key things that need to be made clear about why we are doing what we are doing today. The first strand which I will comment on is not in and of itself the reason for our actions. The second, however, is.

“Firstly Samuel has been conducting theological training alongside his work here. Samuel has a lively mind and engages in many heated discussions around the church. His tutors have commented that it is more than just an activity in playing Devil’s Advocate. It would appear that he is ready to question core aspects of the evangelical truth to which we hold.

“As I said, that is cause for concern, especially if true to the extent suggest would mean he falsely signed the church compact. But it is the second aspect which I must dwell on. For the past few months Sam has been engaged in continued and persistent sinful activity. I have confronted him about his actions but he refuses to acknowledge the veracity of my observations, and as a result will not cease his behaviour or repent of his sin.

“Samuel has been having an inappropriate, and deeply sinful, sexual relationship with a young woman. Despite being caught in a deeply compromising position he has continued to protest his innocence. It was only with the testimony and confession of the other party that I felt able to confront him and give him a final chance to repent and seek forgiveness before it was necessary to take this current public and difficult step.

“I have thought long and hard over whether to name the other party involved in this fornication. In the end I decided, and the elders backed this decision, that given her repentance it was neither necessary nor appropriate to bring her name into the open and make an already horrendous situation even worse.

“The person in question will be placed under church discipline and we hope that full restoration will be attainable within a short period of time. This has been an experience that I would never choose and there have been many unwanted elements that I wished were not present, nor necessary for me to do. And in considering how to deal with Samuel I faced the hardest. This past few months we have worked closely, his behaviour came as such a shock to me, and I alluded earlier that I must bear some of the responsibility, and this is why, it was my choice to offer him the role and I did not pick up that something was wrong until too late.

“Last night I met with the elders to discuss what to do. In short there were two options, and those two options are both still possible courses of action. The first is that Samuel comes under the church’s discipline and fully confesses his actions, steps down from all positions of responsibility, and seeks to rebuild based on God’s grace and guidance. The alternative is that if Samuel is unwilling to confess, repent and come under the church’s authority then I am afraid that I am in no position other than to say this church will no longer be a place where he can fellowship.”

The church had sat with rapt attention throughout the Reverend Doctor’s address. Stunned expressions stretched across the pews, and none were more stunned than the expression etched onto Sam’s face. He could not believe what he had just heard. And then the church began to turn, almost in unison towards him. They follow Adam’s gaze, as thought waiting for an answer.

Sam considered the question impossible to answer because it had no grounding in the truth. He strode up the centre aisle and took the microphone from Adam and faced the congregation. “I am not going to answer the claims that the Reverend Doctor this morning. He has made them because I have caught him in an inappropriate relationship and he refused to admit it. It is he who we should be disciplining, it is he who should be kicked out of the church.”

And before Sam could say another word the microphone was snatched back. “I think we have heard enough,” Adam adopted his solemn pose before he went on, “I think you ought to leave Sam, you can come into the office this week to clear out your stuff. We will all be praying for you and when you are ready to confess your sins and call on the Lord for repentance we will welcome you with open arms.”

Sam hung around beside the pulpit where he had been left as Adam had resumed his pious utterings, he could not grasp the extent of what had gone on. But he slowly sensed the need to move as the eyes from across the church bore down on him and waited for him to move. So he started to walk, but not before a last look back at Adam standing in the pulpit preparing to now give the main part of the morning’s sermon. And in the front row, unnoticed until now sat Alex. As she studiously avoided Sam’s stare he began to leave the church, it was only fleeting but the look that went from Adam to Alex, and then returned. That looked said it all.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 27

Sam returned to London following the Christmas break knowing that he could no longer put off dealing with the fall out from Alex’s indiscretions. Mostly because they were not just Alex’s but affected so many more people.

He had Emma whispering in one ear telling him that he couldn’t keep what he knew to himself, and Alex in the other urging that he must. And he was turn between the two of them. Maybe it was the continued presence of his sister while he was at home that made her argument come to the fore Sam thought, he also knew that his reluctance to go against Alex’s wishes was driven by a deep desire not to upset her. And a notion, however misguided, that if he did what she wanted might be more amenable to him in more than an agape sense.

Sam could not decide whether he would say yes if Alex were to suggest that his previously spurned attraction was now reciprocated. At first he was determined that this put her, while not beyond redemption, beyond his affection. What it actually meant was that he saw an avenue back into her attention through his compassion and complicity.

Each word that Emma whispered had an eroding effect and by the time he stepped off the train he knew what he had to do. He knew that his actions would cause great pain to Alex, and he wanted to tell her before he went through with it. But in a less than courageous manner her opted for the minimal contact option of text rather than risk being talked out of his convictions. Alex hadn’t been at Holland Park the last two Sundays before church, and he guessed after this all came out she probably would not return.

Sam had carefully planned his course of action, very aware of the biblical guidelines for correcting someone. He had a regular review meeting planned for his first day back in the office, this would be the chance he would take to speak to Adam privately. Sam had not really thought much beyond that, although he knew his next steps would involve the church elders and if necessary the rest of the church, he had not planned for how those steps might unfold.

It felt like his first day again as he waited out side the Reverend Doctor’s office. He had made an effort not to appear any different than a normal work day, although perhaps he had made a little greater effort than normal to be punctual. The door was opened to signal his availability and Sam proceeded into the office and onto the seat presented.

“Sam, hope you had a good Christmas break, we’ve got lots coming up at the moment, but I think we need to take a look at you training reports, I’m a bit concerned you’re not treating them with sufficient seriousness. The theology is quite lazy, and some of the ideas are frankly off the wall.”

This was the time, and Sam knew it, if he let the conversation drift down this line of academic discussion he’d never get to what he knew he must utter. “Adam,” That word had taken too much thought for Sam’s liking, he decided against being ultra formal, “We can talk about my training in a minute or two, but first of all there’s something that I’ve got to tell you.”

Sam half expected Adam to jump into the conversation and push him down another alley, but instead he simply nodded to indicate permission to go on. “Adam, I know about your relationship with Alex.” And he hoped that was enough.

However, it was not, Adam gently stirred from his silence to speak, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, I thought maybe you had something to confess to me?”

“I’m talking about whatever word you want to use to describe whatever it is that’s been going on between you and Alex, I know about it, and she knows I do. You and her, and this relationship of sorts, this affair that’s been going on. I don’t think I can keep it a secret any longer.”

“Sam, I think you have been spun a lie. This is a simply preposterous suggestion, I don’t know what Alex has told you, but clearly she has got some sort of fantasy in her mind which she has then confessed to you as reality to assuage her conscience for her impure thoughts. I’d advise that you say no more of this, and probably for the best not to have anything to do with Alex. She clearly needs help and I don’t want you getting distracted with such a basket case.”

His fury reached uncontrollable levels, it was the suggestion that she might be mentally unwell that had pushed him over the edge. “How dare you pretend that this is all make believe! I’ve seen the messages you sent her, she didn’t confess until I told her I knew. You’ve been getting up to your dirty little things while you’re wife’s been looking after her sick mum. You are an absolute disgrace.”

Silence came slowly as the fervour of the atmosphere peaked and then subsided, “Sir, I’m going to have to tell some other people what I know if you’re not going to accept your responsibilities for what you’ve done wrong.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Adam shot back instantly, “Just think what you’ll do for Alex’s reputation, do you really want to drag your best friend’s name through the mud.”

Sam sat up and waited to compose himself before issuing his ultimatum, “If you’re not going to do anything then I will tell the other elders next Monday.” And he stood up and left.

As he made his way through the day Adam called after him, “Where do you think you’re going? We’re not done yet.”

“Yes we are. And I’m going home.” Sam turned and walked down the corridor, glad that he had picked up his bag as he had left, as that would have rather muted the point if he had had to tunr and return to salvage his belongings.

Out onto the street Sam walked, and he kept on going. To begin with he was heading towards Alex’s campus, quite what he thought he would achieve there was beyond his comprehension. But he kept on walking, kept on wondering if he had just acted with career ending bravery.

Alex was not on his mind, instead he felt numb, he felt as though the pain of the past weeks had become compounded into a few minutes of agony to his soul. And all he was left with was an empty space where he thought perhaps his emotions should reside.

Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 26

Despite working together virtually everyday Theo was frustrated that he seemed to see less of Emma than before. She kept her distance, that he knew, and it was because of him that this gulf had grown between them. As he starred across the counter and watched her serve the customers he wished she could be his.

At first he thought she was just a distraction, an alternative option if things with Talitha didn’t work out. But as time went on, and he opted out at every opportunity from pushing his relationships from the murky ambiguity where it currently lurked and into a place of clarity, he wondered if he had his priorities the wrong way round.

Emma lifted the plates and cups from the table and knew the eyes that were following her across the floor. She knew that she shouldn’t enjoy the attention as much as she did but it had been such an infrequent experience that she couldn’t quite reject it altogether. He was there whenever she turned around, he seemed to linger at the end of shifts, arrive early when she was working, even turn up for spurious reasons when he needn’t be there. Through it all Emma did her best to not respond to the attention but nor did she try to stop it. She had thought about what would need to happen to make it a plausible course of action, and although she tried to remove each obstacle that she conjured, more kept on cropping up barring the road ahead.

The two that featured most prominently were Talitha and his refusal to even entertain any notion that he might like to explore Christianity. It was ironic she thought that these two strands became so intertwined. Theo had happily come along to church a couple of times and then suddenly became very opposed to the notion. Before Christmas Emma determined to rebuff all attempts that he made to ingratiate himself towards her, but the constant attention was hard to shrug off. Emma also knew that on a very deep level she loved the idea of being wanted.

It was an attractive notion on the face of it to Emma to only countenance dating Christians but that missed the harsh realities of church demographics. In other churches she might consider her self to stand a good chance of attracting a guy’s attention but in St Bart’s she felt very much in the second division. It wasn’t in her to pimp herself out in prayer meetings or flirt her way through fellowship groups. Even the bible study classes took on the appearance of beauty contests with the carefully groomed girls flaunting their wares to the small cluster of eligible men who deigned to attend.

Against this tyranny of repressed sexuality the idea of letting herself go with Theo was incredibly attractive. Not only did he show her the affection no guys at church had even come close to but he had been clear about his attentions and declared his feelings for her.

Talitha had been a more tricky notion to get her head round, when she came along to church the first time, Emma had assumed that it was simply to follow Theo, maybe even to keep an eye on him. She certainly felt the glower of suspicion penetrating the friendly conversation. But then she had returned, and carried on coming to church.

And it was Talitha that created confusion about Theo’s affection. She had been his obsession for so many months, it was her that he talked about at each turn, whose return to London he longed for when they first met. But who seemed to have faded from his mind. Despite his apparent shift in affection he seemed unwilling to make a final decision.

Emma had not let on to Theo that Talitha had started coming to church, and Talitha had said very little to her about Theo, leaving her unclear about just how much remained between them. She did not know what had been said, or what had been left unsaid, leaving a cloud of confusion hovering in the mist.

Despite his attraction towards Emma Theo could see that he was not making any progress. Usually so easily able to win girls around to his affection he found a brick wall erected in his presence. And that just made it worse, he wanted to break down the divide that had appeared, for the sake of their friendship above everything else he told himself.

But in order to achieve a restoration of their prior friendship he would first need to renounce his stronger affection that currently governed his mind, and this would not be an easy choice to make. Theo remembered watching the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and the advice on dating it contained, go for the second best girl, she’s more likely to be available and grateful for the attention. That girl he decided in this context was Talitha, she had been waiting for him to make a move all these months, perhaps it was time to finally commit to that option. The added bonus that pushed Theo into pursuing this course of action was the restoration of friendship with Emma that would hopefully follow a public and obvious renunciation of his rather hasty declaration of love. It had not escaped Theo’s thoughts that it was a desire to rebuild his friendship with Emma that pushed him towards developing his relationship with Talitha. Nor had it escaped his conscious attention that some where in a convoluted corner of his mind that act might be the first step towards a future relationship with Emma.

She gave Theo a smile as she walked past the counter, knowing the latest twist that he almost certainly did not. Emma wondered if the whole situation would become more complicated before it eased off. If Talitha was going to stay involved in the church then this issue was going to have to be dealt with. She felt like she was in an impossible position, how could she offer any advice towards Talitha when she was nothing close to a neutral observer. Telling Talitha to put an end to things with Theo might be the correct thing to say, but an impossible option if there was the faintest chance that anything might develop between them. And if even were it not to, Emma felt unable to switch sides and move from being Theo’s counsellor to helping the girl he was now stringing along.