CHAPTER ONE - PART ONE
Jenna Welch sat half-watching the cooking competition on the Food Channel. She was more in the mood to curl up with a book, but Aaron couldn't stand these shows, so she should take advantage of this opportunity to not have to listen to him laugh at the whining chefs. Okay, it was a reach, but she needed to pull one positive from his absence.
She hated when he had to be away. It hurt her, made the air a bit tougher to breathe, and made her world, her senses, dull and muted. Good thing these overnight conferences were few and far between. Since he was manager of the Yorba Linda branch of Gadgets, Gizmos, 'N More, the highest-grossing Southern California store in the chain, he couldn't say no when the district manager suggested he attend.
She sighed and turned her attention back to the chefs on television rushing to construct a five-star meal using chicken breasts, soda crackers, assorted fruits and vegetables, and ketchup. Too tell the truth, as much as she complained, this wasn't nearly as fun without Aaron's snipes. She took no solace in the knowledge that he was as miserable as her. She wished he'd go out for a night on the town, but he wouldn't. While his fellow conference-goers enjoyed the San Francisco nightlife, he sat in his hotel room, not really watching his favorite TV shows, same as her.
She glanced at the phone and thought about calling him again. They'd talked for an hour earlier in the evening, so why not a few more minutes? It'd do them both good.
Before she could grab the cordless, Zach's cries erupted through the baby monitor. He'd been asleep for a solid hour, and was now probably hungry. Or had a load in his diaper. Or simply didn't like waking up alone. Heh, she couldn't fault him that.
As she walked towards his room, the heavenly voice entered her mind. Jesus. Her Lord and Savior. He hadn't graced her with his presence in nearly two months, right before Zach's birth.
"Good evening, Jenna. I pray you are doing well?"
She chuckled. As if he didn't know. He'd proved to know her better than she knew herself. "Yes, Lord, I'm fine. Except for Aaron being so far away."
"That's why I'm visiting you tonight. Your husband."
She stopped in the hallway, a few feet from Zach's bedroom. He'd stopped crying, but she could still hear him fuss. She'd be in soon enough; another few seconds wouldn't hurt. "Is something wrong with Aaron? I was just about to call him."
Jesus didn't say anything right away, as if weighing his words. "Yes, there is something wrong with your husband, but not in the immediate way you fear."
"He's a heathen. He doesn't believe in me or my Father."
"But he believes in something," she said, leaning against the wall. Her legs suddenly felt weak. "He just doesn't know what that something is. It's not like he's an atheist." She and Aaron had argued enough about religion over the years for her to know his position.
"That's my point, Jenna. He's an open book. When Satan gets a hold of him …"
"Satan?" She gave an exaggerated shake of her head. "No. Aaron's a good man. He wouldn't turn to the darkness. I know him, Lord."
"As do I. Have I ever misled you?"
She wanted to come up with something, anything, to say he was mistaken, but that was a fruitless task. "No, you've always been right about everything."
"I don't enjoy sharing news such as this. In fact, if it were only his soul at stake, I may not have interfered. I trust you. I know the goodness in your heart. You might be enough to save him."
She felt him smile, and she couldn't help smiling in return. "You know me well, child. That's an excellent sign for your eternal soul. The problem is that it's not merely his soul at stake, but your beloved Zachary's, as well."
"Zach? What about Zach?" She turned her attention back to her sweet baby. He still fussed, in need of her attention, but she had to know.
"If you allow Zachary to live with his father, he will grow up perverted and spiritually deformed. He will seem like a bright, well-adjusted child, but the threat will always be there."
"The threat that he will snap at any moment, like his father."
"But Aaron hasn't snapped, and he won't. He believes something is out there, and I'll get him to see it's God. It's you. He's a good man."
"If Zachary lives, he's going to end up in Hell. You must know that."
"No. No, I don't. How can you say that?"
"I asked you before, and I'll ask you again. How many times have I misled you?"
Tears formed in her eyes. "You've never misled me, Lord. But what do you want me to do?"
"Send Zachary to my Father. Send your child to Heaven. Now, before it's too late."
Yes, that made sense. Didn't it? But in order to do that …
"Jenna, my child, you need to do this. If you love Zachary like you say, you don't have a choice."