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SIMPLE DECEIT
by Nancy Mehl

Genre: Contemporary Romance, Inspirational

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At first, I couldn’t seem to find a response to Sweetie’s shocking statement. Finally I managed to say, “Why did you lie? Why did Sam lie—to me?”

She cleared her throat again. I knew she did it out of nervousness, but it was beginning to get on my nerves. “One day Bernie told Sam they was goin’ out to eat and then to the movies. She never had much money, so Sam was pretty excited. Kept him outta school even. Sure enough she took him to a burger joint for lunch and then to a movie. After that she drove over to the church where Sam had been goin’ with a neighbor boy. She told him to wait there for her while she ran a quick errand.” Sweetie wiped away a tear. “That’s the last time he saw his mama. A couple hours later she called the church and told them to call me. That’s how he came to stay in Harmony.”

My mind went back to the conversation we’d had about the abandoned baby the night before. Sam had been strangely silent and changed the subject without much discussion. Suddenly his reaction made sense.

“I know tellin’ a fib is a sin, Gracie, but how could I let that little boy tell folks the truth?” She shook her head. “I told him to tell everyone his mama died in a car crash to save him from embarrassment. Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong. But now it’s caused this problem between you, and it just ain’t right. Sam reacted so bad to that note because it reminded him of what happened to him so long ago. I think he sees some of his mama in you—the good parts.

But this thing with the baby. . . Well, it just hit too close to home. Stirred up some kinda feelin’s he ain’t dealt with yet.” She wrung her hands together. “You just gotta wait it out, Gracie. I know he’ll come around. If you wanna be mad at someone, be mad at me. I’m the one who caused this unholy mess.”

Frankly, at that moment I was somewhat angry with both of them. But the picture in my mind of Sam waiting for his mother, wondering where she was, overcame my bruised feelings and evoked deep compassion. “Sam did tell me once that I reminded him of his mother.”

She nodded. “I thought so. You see, there was lots of good things about my sister, Bernie. She was so pretty, and when she laughed, it sounded like sunshine. She loved animals, and she had a good heart. Saw things really deep, you know? Had a way of findin’ the good in folks—same way you do.”

“Her name’s Bernie?”

She nodded. “Bernice. We called her Bernie ever since she was small. She just weren’t no Bernice. Just like I weren’t no Myrtle.”

I frowned at her. “You make her sound like a good person. But she left her son. That’s certainly not a good thing to do.”

“I know that. This may sound silly to you, but I believe she left Sam at that church because she loved him. She was hooked on drugs back then, and she didn’t think she could take good care of the boy. She thought I’d make a better mama than her.” Sweetie covered her face with her hands for a moment. When she brought them down, I could see her anguish. “I hope she was right. I been tryin’ my best all these years. I sure love that boy like he was my own.”

“So what you’re saying is that when I showed him that note, he thought maybe I actually had left my baby—just like his mother left him?”

Sweetie held up her hands in surrender. “I know it sounds nuts, Gracie, but yeah. I think that’s exactly what happened. That boy loves you so much it almost hurts. But this situation made him think of his mama. I think he’s afraid you’re gonna hurt him like she did.” She eyed me carefully. “I know Sam seems all growed up and well-balanced, but he ain’t never healed from the pain his mama caused by leavin.’ All these years, I been hopin’ he’d get over it. But I can see now that he’s still hidin’ his hurt inside.” She ran her weathered hand over her face. “This is all my fault. Not lettin’him deal with the truth. Now I mighta cost him the best thing that’s ever happened to him in his whole life. You, Gracie girl.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said, shaking my head. “But I wish Sam would have told me the truth. It makes me feel like he doesn’t trust me. Surely he doesn’t think something like that would change the way I feel about him.”

Sweetie stood up and walked to the window, where she looked out toward the dark clouds that hung over Harmony. “Gonna start snowin’ soon.” Her voice sounded far away, even though she only stood a few feet from me. As if on cue, big fat snowflakes began drifting past the windows. After a few seconds, she whirled around to face me. “No matter who did wrong, you have to decide if you can work through it. Is Sam worth enough to you to put out the effort it will take to ride out this storm?” She crossed her arms and studied me. “I ain’t tellin’ you it will be over tomorrow. Sometimes storms blow through with big winds and lots of fury—then suddenly they’re gone.” She waved her hand toward the thickening snow. “And sometimes they park themselves right over you and take their sweet time movin’ along. You gotta have your feet planted firm, Gracie, so the storm don’t knock you over.” She walked back to the couch and picked up her old coat. “It’s like that story about the man who built his house on the rock and the man who built his house on the sand.” She shook her head and laughed. “I realized a long time ago that both those men had the same storms. Life ain’t always gonna be as smooth as a baby’s clean behind. Sometimes there’s gonna be somethin’ nasty that’s gotta be dealt with. I used to blame God for what happened to my mama and daddy. And what happened to my sister. But down through the years I figgered somethin’ out. I was lookin’ in the wrong place. It ain’t God sendin’ the storm. It’s God who gives us the rock.”

I couldn’t hold back a smile. “You’re a pretty smart woman, Sweetie Goodrich. There are a lot of religious experts who haven’t figured that out.”

She snorted. “I quit puttin’ much stock in them experts a long time ago. Only PhD in religion comes from the Holy Ghost, and He ain’t much interested in what kinda title you got after your name. Shoot, them rotten ole Pharisees thought they were experts, too. I think God’s more interested in open hearts willin’to listen to His voice.” She peered closely at me, her expression grave. “Now I just got one question for you.”

“You want to know if I’m willing to stand on the rock and see this through?”

“That’s it, Gracie girl. Do you love Sam enough to ride out this storm?”

I got up and went over to where she stood. Then I wrapped my arms around her. “Yes,” I whispered. “I’ll stand on that rock as long as it takes. We’ll make it through this storm—as long as that’s what Sam wants.”

She squeezed me hard and then shook herself loose. After sliding on her coat, she walked to the door but turned around to gaze at me once more before stepping outside. There were tears

in her eyes. “Don’t you worry about that, okay? That boy loves you so much he don’t know his up from his down. When he’s ready to talk, he’ll come to you. Trust me. I been around him a long time now. He has to deal with stuff in his own way.”

“Okay. I won’t push.”

She nodded and walked out the door. I was left standing alone in my house, wondering if I’d just promised Sweetie something I couldn’t do. Did I really love Sam enough to weather this storm? I’d had such high hopes for us—for my life in Harmony. But things weren’t turning out the way I’d expected. Had I missed God?