Monday, April 14, 2014

The Heart Of Worship...Jubilee

"Worship" triggers many responses:

RaIsEd HaNdS... Dancing...   singing...
    TEARs...    Shouts of Joy...  Corporate Prayer...   {PEACE}...

But for Jubilee, a teenage girl with Multiple Sclerosis who attends our special needs church service each week, it means all these things and much more.

Tugging on my arm:  "Ma'am, Ma'am,"  Jubilee always calls me Ma'am, even though I've told her my name dozens of times, "God gave me a new song and I want to sing it for you."

Lydia and I were in the church sanctuary waiting on everyone else to arrive.  The blind teenager who depends upon a walker was already sitting down on the front row.  "Sure, we'd love to hear it,"  I said, just as she began to sing:

"Angels watching over me...."

I couldn't understand all of the words, but I did catch those.  She began softly, but as the song progressed, her intensity grew and grew until she finally grabbed onto her walker, held it tight, and pushed it forward allowing herself to drop to her knees with a loud thump.  Instinctively, Lydia and I leaned forward to steady her, but she had everything under control.  

With Jubilee's head now bowed, and arms raised high, the song continued:  "His angels watch over me....His angels watch over you."  Lydia and I continued to look down upon the girl now kneeling on the floor, completely silent, careful not to do anything to disturb her.  The song became soft again until she, too, fell still and quiet.  She then pushed herself up, holding onto her walker, and said aloud:  "Thank you, Jesus, for giving me that song; it sure is a good song."  

After helping guide her back into her seat, we told her how much we enjoyed her singing.  She grabbed my arm once again and whispered:  "Ma'am, angels watch over Hope.  I'm praying God will help her talk."  (notice, she can remember Hope's name, but not mine.  hahaha!)

I lost my breath.  If the Lord is going to answer anyone's prayers, I thought, surely it is the prayers of Jubilee.  Then I hugged her.  Tight.  

"That really hurt my knees when I went down to sing,"  she said rubbing her knees with a giggle.

Lydia and I cracked up.  In response, Jubilee leaned back in the chair, slapped her leg and laughed out loud with us. 

Pretty soon the rest of our group lingered in, ready for worship to begin.  But I couldn't stop thinking about that brief time with a young girl most of the world looks over without notice each she had a song to sing and sang it.  She didn't wait for the crowd to hear it.  She didn't have a four piece band backing her up.  Most of her words couldn't be understood, she didn't sing in key, and there was no rhythm to her simple song.  But it ranked up as high as all of the most beautiful melodies Lydia and I have ever heard.

Yesterday, Jubilee arrived at our church service extra early again.  This time, she asked if she could babysit Hope for me while we waited for everyone else to get there.  She and I, together, pushed Hope around and around and around the little church.    

"I'm a good babysitter,"  she said, out of breath from all the pushing and walking.

"You're the best,"  I replied, marveling at this girl so eager to serve others.

"I'm still praying that Hope will talk."

After wiping a tear and gathering my composure, I answered:  "And I think He's gonna answer that prayer."

"Me too." 

Oh, Father, give me Jubilee's heart of worship

Monday, March 31, 2014

Meet The "REAL" Jesus In The Special Needs Church

Most ministries begin with a goal; ours began with a purpose.  Unable to find a church home where Hope and Charlie could fit in, our family decided if we were to fellowship with other believers on Sundays, we'd have to step out and begin our own service.  So several months ago, in cooperation with a local church (The Refuge Church), we began a service specifically geared to meet the needs of the special needs community.  I'll be the first to unapologetically admit that we've smacked inclusion in the face, but it works.  

Our mission is simple as we set out to deliberately extend the love of Jesus to all people, regardless of ability or disability, by simply offering an opportunity for whole families to celebrate Him freely, without hindrance.  And the keyword here is "freely".  Can't sit still for 45 minutes?  Need to move around?  No problem.  Is your child non-verbal?  Does he/she make loud noises?  You'll fit right in.  Medically fragile?  Physically handicapped?  Bring it on.  This place is intentional.  No one is going to stare or judge.  Those who show up at this service, with the exception of the few who regularly come to support what we're doing, are walking the same walk.  Each time we meet, I welcome the experience as an escape from real life.

Each service begins with upbeat easy-to-sing-along-with music and closes with a prayer tunnel.  We started utilizing puppets several weeks ago, and were pleasantly surprised with the response.  Last week, a family brought several puppets to share with the group.  One of their sons, who has Autism, socked a dog puppet on his hand and stood up front next to me and my puppet, Rosey, before the service began.  For the sake of privacy, I'll call this little boy 'Smiley'.  'Smiley' has dark wavy hair, chocolate brown eyes, and sweeping eyelashes.  He is a gorgeous boy and is so smart, but he struggles with communication and some behavior issues.   With the puppet on his hand, he walked right over to me to show it off:

"Hey Rosey!"  (It never ceases to amaze me how the kids sometimes forget my name, but they never forget Rosey's) 

My puppet replied:  "Well hello there, what's your name little dog?"  

He quickly answered:  "I'm Ralph!"  (which was such a genius response for a whole other reason)

Rosey told him how happy she was to meet him and how she hoped he'd sing along with her when the music began.  The entire time Rosey spoke, his sweet face lit up like the sunshine.  When Rosey finally took a breath (she is sometimes way too talkative), he pointed above the stage with his free hand while still working the dog puppet with his other hand.  Creating a voice for Ralph, which was very unlike his own voice, he asked me about a sign hanging on the wall behind the stage:  

"What's that?"

The Refuge Church had added a large glowing detour sign to go along with their brand new quarterly sermon series.  I hadn't really paid that much attention to it, but this little guy had not only seen it, but was disturbed by it.  His dad had told me a few minutes earlier Smiley almost didn't walk into the sanctuary because of I was prepared:

"I don't know, looks like a sign to me....a big orange glowing sign....what do you think about it?"  Rosey asked him in her high pitched voice, adding lots of her typical drama.

"It's a sign."  he replied, still working his puppet.

I continued through Rosey:  "It doesn't bother me.  I think that sign is just going to hang out up there on the wall and not bother us at all while we sing.  By the way, will you sing with me today Ralph?"  

"YEH!!"  Smiley replied, shaking the puppets head up and down.  

And he did.  When the music began, Smiley and his puppet remained up front, helping Rosey, me, and the others lead worship with songs.  

At one point, I used my puppet to bend down in front of Hope and Charlie to sing....Rosey kissed their cheeks....Hopey even reached out and hugged Rosey's furry body.  I didn't know "Smiley" was paying such close attention, but he was.  Next thing you know, he took his puppet and bent down to allow it to sing for Hope and Charlie, he then went over to an older gentleman sitting nearby and allowed his puppet to give the gentleman a kiss on his cheek.  The joy never left Smiley's face.  He led worship, openly sharing the love of Jesus.  He was comfortable... endearing...  charismatic... and perfect.

Later in the service, a new visitor raised her hand during prayer requests and asked if she could say something.  I'll call her Jubilee.  This young woman has Multiple Sclerosis, is legally blind and dependent upon a walker.  Though her words and thoughts form easily, delivery is difficult.  I had already watched her letting go of her walker to raise her hands during praise and worship, singing out with her whole heart, so I was anxious to hear what she had to say (this is me trying to remember it all):

"I had MS since I was four.  I went to the doctor because I was in so much pain.  I asked God to take my pain away because it was so bad.  My parents put me in a mental facility and I was there for a lot of years until my aunt and my grandmother got me out.  My time there was very bad.  When I got out I was baptized in February.  He saved me.  I'm still in a lot of pain but I trust Him and I want to tell everybody that Jesus loves me and He loves you too."

A few other people shared and then Jubilee's hand shot up once again.  She had something else to say:

"Can I sing a song for everybody that I wrote?" she asked. 

Well of course we all wanted to hear it.  She made her way up to the front, sat on the edge of the stage and sang a song written from her heart called: "Don't Give Up".  I imagine it had been her battle cry for those years she was shuffled from one treatment center to another.   She sang it again for us during last night's service.  Blind, body wrecked with pain, Jubilee became a minister, leading worship as she openly shared the love of Jesus.  She was comfortable... endearing... charismatic... perfect. 

There's another woman.  She's in her thirties and her disability has never been diagnosed.  I'm going to call her "Ruby" because to me, she has become a treasure.  "Ruby" loves my Charlie.  I mean, she LOVES Charlie.  She can't say his name, so she calls him "C" along with giving the sign for "C".   Each week, when Ruby walks in, she immediately begins to bellow:  "C"...."C"...."C" .   Charlie, sitting in his stroller, is then pushed away from me to go along and sit with Ruby and her momma.  Charlie, at age 5, has a mix of Down syndrome and Autism.  If left to his own devices, he'd be happy to stay in what we call "Charlie's World" most of the time, not interacting with anyone.  

Well, for two hours each Sunday evening, Charlie can count on being yanked out of "Charlie's World" by Ruby.  She dotes on him, pets him, picks at him, gets down in his face and says:  "C"...."C"...."C"  over and over and over again.  She kisses him, hugs him, and pushes him in that stroller through the building.  Ruby absolutely showers the love of Jesus upon my little Charlie every week, and in the process, she ministers to me.  Ruby is comfortable... endearing... charismatic... perfect.

I could tell you more stories..... about a mother who's teenage son was kicked out of school by people who couldn't understand his disability....about how she is teaching him to continue to stand with a heart of forgiveness in the face of adversity and to be strong in the Lord..... 

I could go on for days about the father who patiently dances with his daughter each week because he can't resist how she comes to life with the most infectious laughter you've ever heard when the music begins... I could tell you about how this little girl has impacted my own daughter's life....about how Lydia can't wait to see her each week.

I could share with you about a single mom who has adopted two beautiful girls....about how she sacrifices so they can have all they need...

and I could also tell you about two parents who spend hours teaching their young son to recite scripture so he'll be ready for a world that won't always accept him... and about how they're teaching their daughter to come alongside him as an encourager and helper. 

For me, this is church!  This, I believe, is a place where Jesus might choose to come and worship if He were still physically living among us today.  In my mind's eye, I can see the Savior hoping Smiley would use his dog puppet to give Him a kiss on the cheek.  He'd probably raise His hands and sing along to Jubilee's song:  "Don't Give Up!"  And who knows?  Ruby might nickname him "J".

At one time I wondered if Jesus were to show up, would He put on a big healing service and heal them all?  Would He give Hopey words to speak?  And heal her heart defect?  Would He bring Charlie out of "Charlie's World" for good.... and would He give sight to Jubilee?  A "normal" life to Ruby?  With one big swoop of His outstretched arms, would He bring complete healing to them all?  

I don't believe He would.  That thought doesn't even cross my mind anymore.

Worshipping with these precious ones who have been perfectly and purposely created has taught me they are the true ministers of the gospel.  Through the veil of something society has deemed to be a disability, the Father has imbued these special soldiers with the supernatural gift of being real.  Like Him.  And the truth is, they can be nothing less.  No masks.  No hidden agenda.  No false pretenses.  Uninhibited, they are child-like, free, and present.  

And that's who I want to be.  

If something frightens me or makes me uncomfortable, I want to muster the strength and honesty of find a way to verbalize my fears and insecurities instead of hiding them.  

When God places a song in my heart, I want to have the courage of Jubilee to get up in front of a crowd and sing it with abandon.  And when my heart is overflowing with love for Jesus, I want to have Jubilee's unwavering excitement to raise my hand and share my story. 

And finally, when someone around me is in need, I want to have Ruby's keen perception.  Oh, to have her unwavering compassion, willing to pour myself out for others with nothing to gain from it. 

This is our ministry.  This is our Jesus.  This is our life.  If you are ever in the Nashville area on a Sunday evening, please come meet Smiley, Jubilee, and Ruby for yourself.  Consider this an open invitation to come see Jesus in a brand new way!   

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thank You!!!

To those who have been following along with "The Cleveland Chronicles", I want to say thank you.  I am more than halfway through the novel now and will be taking the rest of it off line.  

Writing this story continues to be an emotional odyssey for me as I dig deep into each nook and cranny of my heart.  My ultimate goal is to weave Down syndrome, mental illness, and human frailty into a story line that fearlessly punctuates the hope of redemption each of us possess when we dare to reach out to the Savior.  No matter our doubts, our mistakes, and/or our weaknesses....HE is enough, HE is able, and HE is always reaching out to us.   

To Eleanor Sheeks:  thank you for pressing me to write this story. 

To the special gals who have become my faithful encouragers and editors:   Cindy Jenkins, Cindy Epperson Jenkins, Myra Monroe, and Kaye Miller (mom)....I am so grateful the Lord chose to bring you along with me on this journey....I've needed you!

To my sweet Lydia who overcomes Dyslexia each and every day, ever determined to succeed in her school work and in her mission to make the world the best it can be for the special needs community:  I am humbled beyond words that you have chosen to read and embrace my "fact made to fiction" tale. 

And last, to the 100+ who have been reading along, I'd love to send you a copy of the book once it is completed....Send your name and mailing address to .  I will mail the first 100 who respond a copy.   

The blog will continue, so I hope you'll all stick around for updates as we quite literally figure out how to live a life that has been woven with Down syndrome, mental illness, and much admitted human frailty.


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Cleveland Chronicles....Bonnie Cutless (Part Twenty Three)

Sunday night, Bonnie finished checking off the majority of her tasks, and sat down with a glass of wine to journal about her day.  It was official.  For now, church would become a regular part of her weekly routine.  Keeping her enemies a bit off kilter and befuddled, she would arrive at nine o'clock a.m. each Sunday, even though the service didn't begin until nine thirty.  

"What kind of boneheaded pastor would begin an hour long church service on the half hour?" she wondered.  The thought wouldn't leave her:  "Don't most events, no matter how big or small, begin ON the hour?"  

Bonnie's brain, now set on repeat, wouldn't let it go:

"How can I force the issue without uncovering that I'm the one wanting to change things?  Should I send an anonymous letter? I wonder if they would respond quicker to a suggestion or a threat?   What if I left a random note somewhere in the church....maybe in the restroom, taped to a mirror….but which one? The men's or ladies room?  Or better yet, what if I left a note on the church's front doors?  I could go old school and cut out letters from magazines and then glue them to a big poster board: 'GOD SAYS TO START YOUR SERVICE AT 9AM!'  She laughed.  It would freak everyone out and possibly make the local news.  No one could trace that, could they?  Wait.  Was there camera surveillance that might catch me?  No, I never saw a camera.  That little redneck country church can't afford camera surveillance.  Get a grip Bonnie!"

She clenched her fists tightly. These kinds of thoughts were like open blisters to her, raw and fixed on plaguing every minute until she dealt with them. Lucky for her, though, she'd learned how to bandage her mind's maniacal rumination.  Without hesitation, she abruptly shoved the fingernail of her right index finger deep underneath her left thumbnail until she felt the desired dose of pain without drawing blood.  She stopped.  Then she did it again.  And stopped.  Then she did it again.  And again.  And again.  Until she had completed the ceremonial cleansing action one hundred times. No more.  No less. She counted each, allowing the unrelenting discomfort to trump her obsessive thoughts about the church service time.  Slight bruising would be the only sign left to show she'd wrestled with her thoughts, a small price to pay.  

After finding mental relief, she finally wrote in her journal:

"Went to church.  Scared the hell out of Crew. He's a coward like his father. Worse than a coward.  A wuss.  The preacher and his wife are what I expected. Pathetic and weak. Selling Jesus and heaven as if they both exist.  Liars. Then taking an offering at church. Surprise! Probably using the money to go on a cruise. Low life thieves. Spoke to Mary's mom for the first time. Psycho Lunatic. She has a problem with me. Stares a lot.  I'd like to stomp her face. Sat in 'Mary the Fool's' pew.  She thinks I'm trying to be her friend.  Philip noticed me today.  Of course Philip noticed me.  I kissed him in front of Mary. I think I'll seduce him.  That will ruin Mary. The Down syndrome girl sat in my lap.  It made everyone nervous. Jerks. I'd never hurt a disabled kid. She's the only decent one.  I wish a Mack truck would fall from the sky and smash the rest of them.  I'm going to church every Sunday now. As long as it suits.  Was invited to the preacher's house for lunch. Didn't go. Think I'll go next week.  Tomorrow I go to Mary's house again. Sundays I do church with Mary.  Mondays I steal from Mary. Jesus' mother's name was Mary.  Cult."

Crew, the same time as his mother was cataloging her day, was in the basement getting ready to turn in for the night.  He crept up the steps and reached to check the door. It had been months since he'd tested it, but after the bizarre day at church, curiosity wouldn't allow him to deny himself any longer. He gripped the handle and turned it slowly.  It was locked. Responding to the familiar sting of hurt, he walked back down the stairs and lit up, taking only a couple of drags from his drug of choice.  The pain left him.  For the first time that day, his heart settled to a slow, steady beat.  He recalled the text his dad had sent earlier in the day:

"Just checking in with you.  Hope you have a great day son!"  

Crew made a decision not to return the message.  His last thought for the evening was that neither of his parents would ever love him.

Upstairs, Bonnie washed down the prescription meds that lulled her off to sleep each evening with the final drops of red wine.  She pulled down her bedding with five star hotel precision and turned off the light, then back on again, then off, then back on, and then off.  Three times.  Only one more item remained on the day's list. As she lay on her back, very much in the style of a mummy, she took a deep breath, embracing the tingling sensation that faithfully came each time she placed her body under her own authority. First she bent down all the toes on her right foot and then pulled them back. Next, she bent down all the toes on her left foot and pulled them back.  Back and forth she bent them, back and forth and back and forth:  "One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi...."she said aloud in a rhythmic cadence, her toes brushing the top sheet as she moved them, creating a soft swishing noise.  She looked forward to the noise each night. Once she reached the number one hundred, she sighed a deep breath of relief and dozed off to sleep. 

A few blocks away, well after midnight, Mary was still up attempting to outfox a little brown eyed fox hyped up on the effects of caffeine and sugar. Earlier in the evening, Miss Charity had highjacked Philip's sweet tea when no one was looking. Now, it was Mary who bore the consequences as she made countless attempts to con her daughter into closing her eyes.  The two were cuddled up in the floor of the little girl's room, propped up on pillows and layered up with cozy comforters.  Mary had sang every song she knew and recited every story she could recall, her voice was now hoarse and scratchy.  She laid still and quiet with the little princess tucked beneath her arm.  The moonlight found its way into the room casting a delicate glow that illuminated the face of 'Miss'.  To Mary, in that moment of time, her daughter was more beautiful than she'd ever been before.  Mary watched as Miss Charity's eyes played a game of hopscotch, bouncing around the room in every direction, sometimes followed by a mischievous giggle:  

"So, 'Miss', I take it from your giggles the angels are in the room with us tonight providing you with some entertainment, " Mary spoke, not expecting a response.  "I sure do wish I could watch the show with you."

She then considered what the angels might actually look like:

"Do they have wings?  Are they flying around?  Or do they walk around like we do?"  She paused for a few seconds, allowing her eyes to follow wherever the little girl's eyes led.

"Are they all men, or all women, or a mix of both?....and are they young or old?"  Pinching the end of her daughter's nose:  "Are any of them as adorable as you?"  Another quick pause.  "Probably not."  Mary smiled and Miss Charity giggled again.

"Do they talk to you?  And can they hear your thoughts?  Oh, how I wish I could hear your thoughts," a tear escaped her eye. Watching the little round face beneath her arm, she prayed:

"Lord, thank you for giving me this time with my baby.  In the still and quiet, I feel your presence all around.  I am so grateful You send Your angels to guard and protect this sweet princess and our family just as Your word promises," Miss Charity lifted her hand and patted Mary's chest as she continued:  "And thank you most of all for choosing me to be her momma. What an honor you have bestowed upon me."  

Mary pulled the little one even closer to herself.  And at some point, the two finally nodded off to sleep.  

The next morning, Philip awoke to find them tightly entwined on the floor like a knot beneath the mountain of blankets.  Careful not to wake them, he tip-toed back down the hall, making his way to the kitchen.  He made sure Wills left for school on time and left Tate with instructions to wake her mom by nine a.m.:

"Don't forget to wake her up so you guys can meet me at the Cracker Barrel by ten, alright?  You don’t want to miss your weekly dose of buttermilk pancakes, do you?" he gave her a big bear hug before heading out the door for work.  "I'll see you in a little while." The door closed behind him, leaving the old house eerily quiet.  Trudy stood by Tate's side.

"Trudy, do you think this house is spooky when it's quiet?"  she asked.

Trudy wagged her tail.

It was not even eight o'clock yet, and Tate hated the prospect of sitting up by herself for an hour why her mother and sister slept. She ran to her room, fetched a blanket and pillow, and dragged them into Miss Charity's room. Within a few minutes, she, too, was fast asleep right beside them.  Even Trudy joined them.  It was Mary who would open her eyes first at nearly ten o'clock:

"Tate, Miss Charity, what time is it?" she asked, scurrying off to the kitchen.  Tate, still groggy, followed behind wrapped in her blanket.  "It's nearly ten.  Oh, no, we're supposed to be at the Cracker Barrel to meet your daddy."

Mary grabbed the phone, punching in Philip's number:

"Good Morning, Mare-Bear!  Are you almost here?" he answered, with a chipper voice.

"Chief, you are not going to believe this...."

While Mary was talking to Philip, Bonnie was pulling up in the Cracker Barrel parking lot.  She'd already made her run by the Montgomery home, but seeing Mary's car parked in the turn-around, made a split second decision to dash out to the Cracker Barrel with the hope of finding Philip all alone.  She was right.  He was talking on the phone, exiting the front door when she caught up to him:

"Well, Philip, how are you this morning?" she asked, acting completely surprised to see him.  It was warm, so she had shimmied herself into a tight fitting knit blouse with a plunging v-neck and paired the top with an equally fitted pair of capri pants with strappy high heels.  

"Well, hey there Bonnie.  I'm on the phone with Mary right now....Mary, guess who's here at the Cracker Barrel?  You heard me?  Yes, it is Bonnie Cutless."  Philip responded.  

"Mary says to tell you hello...oh, wait," he held up his finger to Bonnie.  "I don't know honey, but I'll ask her.....Bonnie, Mary wants to know if you'll come in and join me for a cup of coffee until she and the kids can get here. They had a late start....unless, of course, you are meeting someone else here."  Philip bumbled the words, but Bonnie got the message.

"I'd love nothing more.  Tell Mary I'll look forward to visiting with her when she gets here, but until then, I'll try to be good company for you."  Bonnie placed her hand on Philip's shoulder and allowed it to run down his arm as she passed by him.  "I'll go reserve a big table for all of us."

Philip hated his eyes.  Why did he allow them to follow Bonnie's curves?  She caught his reflection in the door as she opened it. "He may call himself a Christian, but he's still a man," she thought to herself.  

"Phillip?  Are you still there?"  Mary questioned.

"Yeh, Mary, I'm still here.  Hurry up and get here, Bonnie has gone in to get us all a table."   He answered while straightening his tie and making a fuss over his hair, using his own reflection in the big window as he wondered why he suddenly cared about how he looked.

"I'll be there in a jiff; just make sure you are very nice to her.  I really think she's trying to change but just doesn't know how to go about it.  This may be a huge step in the right direction,"  Mary said. 

Philip entered the restaurant and found Bonnie at a corner table. She patted the table encouraging Philip to sit directly across from her.  He sat down.  The waitress brought him a coffee and Bonnie a glass of ice water.  The two began to engage in conversation:

"How often do you work out, Philip?" she asked.

"How did you know I work out?" he returned her question with one of his own in a joking way.

"Let's just say I can tell.  But I'm not guilty of checking you out or anything," Bonnie shot him a wink and a smile.

"Uhhhm, yeh," he recovered, "I go to the gym whenever I can.  It's not easy, though, because Mary needs me to get home and help out with the kids, especially with Miss Charity," he answered, getting the subject back on his family, but beginning to wonder if she was flirting with him.  "No, that's silly," he thought to himself.

After a few minutes, Bonnie deliberately spilled some water on her blouse while taking a sip:  "Oh, look at me, clumsy as ever."  She took her napkin and began to dab the water off of her right breast, pulling her shirt down each time she brushed at it, revealing her lacy bra.  She looked back up at Philip, whose jaw was wide open: "Did I get it all?" she asked, pulling her blouse tight with both hands.  "This is so embarrassing." 

"Yep, I think you got it," Philip answered, his mouth completely dry and his feet numb.  "Will you excuse me for a moment, Bonnie? I'm going to call Mary and see how close they are to getting here so I can make sure to go out and help her get Tate and the baby into the restaurant."

As he walked away, Bonnie took out her purse and freshened her lipstick:  "Oh, Philip Montgomery, you dirty dirty boy."  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Cleveland Chronicles....Bonnie Cutless (Part Twenty-Two)

When Mary awoke early Tuesday morning, she couldn't find her Bible.  It wasn't on the nightstand and it wasn't in the front room where she did her Bible study every morning.  She searched for the book everywhere in the house; she'd nearly turned the house upside down.  Philip was still sleeping soundly, and though she hated to wake him, she gave his shoulder a few quick taps:

"Chief, I'm sorry, but can you wake up for just a minute?"  

He was still in that morning fog, the kind of fog that causes you to question whether you are still in the middle of a dream, but he rounded up a half mumbled answer:  "Yeh, sure, what's wrong?"  His eyes looked like unopened slits beneath his thick brows. 

"I can't find my Bible.  Have you seen it?"

Signaling that he would like to return to his snooze-fest, he rolled over in the bed, away from her:  "No, I haven't seen it, but don't worry, I'm sure it will turn up somewhere."  

"Yeh, little 'Miss' probably took it and hid it somewhere.  I'll find it."  Mary left him to continue her search.

That missing Bible was one of her most prized possessions.  A black, hard cover King James Version, it had a golden sword on the front right corner displaying the words:  "Let The Word Of Christ Dwell In You Richly...."  Through the years, Mary had used it for that purpose.  Given to Mary by the church on the day of her baptism, the Bible was splattered with notes and different colors of highlights.  It never left her house.  She was so protective of it, as a matter of fact, she took a different Bible with her to church on Sundays.   

The remainder of that week, Mary spent time every day looking for her lost Bible.  She didn't find the cherished book, and it never dawned on her that two prized items had gone missing within hours of one another.  Mary, ever trusting and naive, kept believing the princess crown and the Bible would show up sooner or later.

Early spring had ushered in gleaming sunshine tempered by brisk temperatures guilty of trying to hang on too tightly to winter.  Sunday morning looked and felt like a promising day to all those who welcomed it.  Even the Daffodil reared her buttery head notably throughout town, sprinkling the newborn grass with flowers endeavoring to imitate morsels of fresh puffy popcorn sprinkled on the ground overnight.  The trees, not to be outdone, cut loose their annual grandiose show, busily clothing themselves with protective coats of apple, forest, and hunter green.

Stacking bulletins on the tables in the front entrance, Jeannie hummed a tune, looking forward to seeing her family, the church's members, walk through the door.  Her short hair, once jet black, was now punctuated by scads of gray.  Silver rimmed glasses hung precariously on the tip of her nose as she carefully double-checked the bulletin, making sure they were ready for each part of the prepared Sunday service. She patted her black patent flats on the floor to the rhythm of the tune as she hummed and read, freely allowing her long skirt to breeze back and forth against her stocking covered calves.  

Preacher Walker stood on stage testing the microphone while Crew sat in the very back of the room adjusting the sound when Bonnie walked in: 

"Hey baby!  I thought I'd find you here!"  

She threw her hand up in Crew's direction, nearly singing the all too casual greeting.  The pastor swallowed hard, absentmindedly digging his toes deep into the ends of his shoes, planting his feet to make sure he didn't tip over from sheer shock.   Crew stood from his chair, completely blown away.  

"Preacher Walker, isn't it?" her long silky blond hair swished from side to side as she made her way up the aisle to the podium.  A tight black dress, two inches above her knees, enveloped her body, hugging her thin frame.  The old pastor didn't move.  Couldn't move.  At some point Jeannie stepped in from the back of the sanctuary, giving her husband a helpful nudge:

"Honey, have you met Bonnie Cutless, Crew's momma yet?"  She followed Bonnie to the front, saying a prayer in her heart:  'Lord, please help him speak.'   But Preacher Walker, thoroughly addled, couldn't find words. 

She reached him and held out her hand.  His gut reaction was to reciprocate, so he lifted his hand and they shook.  She didn't let go.

"I wanted to thank you, pastor, for stepping in and taking care of Crew for me these past several weekends.  I don't know if you are aware, but I've been having some health issues, so you and your wife have been a tremendous help to me," she looked him square in the eyes and lied with the utmost sincerity.

Crew was still standing in the back, heart thumping.  She'd called him 'baby' when she walked in, hadn't she?  

The preacher finally said something:

"I'm so sorry, no, Jeannie and I sure didn't know you had been sick or we would’ve come and visited you, or brought you some food or somethin'.  We've been so happy to have Crew here to help us 'round the church on Saturdays and Sundays.  He's our official sound man now."  His voice shook, unmasking his trepidation for all in the room to see.  He turned toward his wife, "Have you met my wife.... Jeannie?"  

Bonnie still held his hand firmly in hers.

"We met as I was walking in.  She was humming a tune and didn't see me at first.  I must have stood there five minutes."  She looked in Jeannie's direction:  "What was that song?  It was familiar to me."

She'd been standing there watching her humming a tune for five minutes?  How had she missed her?  Jeannie could think of nothing else:  "Uhmm, I don't rightly know.  I mean, I can't remember.  I was just busying myself."  She gave a nervous giggle, feeling foolish.

Flashing her eyes back at the pastor, Bonnie intentionally gave his hand a solid squeeze before letting it go.  She already had the preacher and his wife bamboozled, eating from the palm of her hand, but she silently wished they were both licking the bottom of her black pumps.  Like dogs.  Thanks to her early experience with the cult, she could see right through all the religious hype and was determined to run the show.  

Stepping away, she took a seat, knowingly, on the end of the Montgomery family pew.  "So, what time does church start?"

"Everyone will start arriving any minute," Jeannie answered, trying her level best to appear upbeat and friendly.  "I'm gonna need to go back in the foyer and hand out bulletins, so I hope you'll excuse me."

"Of course.  Don't mind me.  We'll talk some more after the service if that's ok with you.  I'd really like to catch up."

"Catch up?"  Jeannie thought to herself, "You've never given me the time of day".....but she didn't share her thoughts; instead she blurted out:  "You know, Crew is havin' lunch over at our house after the service.  You're welcome to join us."  She then scooted away, very fast, making a clean escape before Bonnie could give an answer.  Preacher Walker followed her.  So did Crew.  And as soon as they were safely out of sight, the teenage boy grabbed the pastor's arms in a panic and started to speak, but Preacher Walker stopped him by raising his finger to his mouth with a gentle:  

"Shhhh.  Don't say anything right now, alright?  I wouldn't want your momma to hear us out here and think we're talkin' about her."

"But what is she doing here?"

The pastor again whispered:  "I don't know, but she liked to have scared me half too death when she walked in the sanctuary.  She is an intimidatin' somebody, ain't she?"

That brought a smile to Crew's face.  "Tell me about it," he said.    

Within minutes, families were drifting in, taking their pews.  Preacher Walker and Jeannie greeted each person while Crew took his place back behind the sound board, playing praise and worship music softly through the system.  His mother never looked back in his direction.  She sat like a statue, unmoving, facing forward. 

Philip and Mary pulled into the parking lot right behind GiGi and Poppy.  Poppy rushed over to their car once they parked, unbuckling the little 'Miss' from her carseat and piling her along with her fru-fru dress up in his arms.  They all walked in together and were greeted by Jeannie, who filled them in on the guest who was seated on their pew.

GiGi was aghast:  "Well I, for one, am not sitting next to that horrible excuse for a mother.  Once we start singing hymns, and the spirit fills this holy place, the good Lord may send a strike of lightning to zap her....and if that happens, and for the record, I wouldn't lose any sleep if it did happen, I don't want to be anywhere near her!" 

"Calm down, mom," Mary spoke under her breath, "Do you want people to hear you talking like that?"  

"That's right," added Poppy, "if this is awkward for anyone, it's Crew.  We need to act as normal as we can for his sake."

"I'll do it for Crew, but I'm warning you all," GiGi looked around at each of them, finger wagging, "I will pull out my Church of God roots and start speaking in tongues if I feel any demonic vibes escaping from that nutty woman." 

"I think I may go sit with Crew today if that's alright with everybody," interrupted Wills.  Everyone shook their heads in agreement, and he rushed to console his best friend while the rest contemplated on how to best handle the situation.

"Now GiGi, you have to behave yourself today," Poppy pulled his unpredictable wife up to the door so they could take a peek inside.  

"There she is!   Just look at her.  Evil is hanging all around that woman in our OUR pew!" blurted out GiGi.

"Shhhh," Mary reminded her forcefully.  "Don't start anything, momma!" 

Her mother purposefully let her purse roll off her arm and into her hand.  She rotated around and batted the big Coach bag back at Mary with a huff, thumping her daughter's arm.

"What do you keep in that bag, momma, a brick?  Good grief, that really hurt!"

"No, that's not a brick you felt.  I'm packing heat; that's what you felt.  Maybe next time you won't be so quick to shush me!"

"Poppy, you let her bring her gun to church?"  asked Mary, clearly not happy.

"Lord, Mary, do you think I'm stupid?  We all knew once your momma got her license to carry, she'd be parading a fancy gun around, but not at the Lord's house.  I drew the line there.  The "heat" she's carrying today is a big can of Raid Wasp Spray."

"And I'm not afraid to use it if I have to," added GiGi, nodding her head.

"Daaaaad....!  You let her bring a can of wasp spray to church?"  Mary exclaimed, her voice up an octave.

"She won't even stomp on a bug for fearin' she might break up it's family.....honey, you've got to believe me, your momma's just a big show boat.  She saw on Facebook that wasp spray works better than pepper spray, and she's been carrying it around with her ever since.  She thinks it's the new big thing."

"Show boat my eye!  This IS the new big thing!  A can of this juice will shoot poisonous spray twenty feet or more and blind a man," she gave her purse a big slap with her hand, "so if some yellow bellied thief ever comes in this building thinking he can rob me or anyone else of their jewelry, he'll think twice when I start shaking my can around and spraying it straight into his eyes in the name of Jesus." 

"A thief is never going to come into this church to rob the church people, so pipe down Rambo," he took his wife by the arm, still holding Miss Charity in his other arm: "Now come on in with me and choose all of your words....and all of your actions....very wisely," GiGi, pouting, sauntered in through the door and on into the sanctuary, her arm in Poppy's.  "And don't mention that spray can anymore 'cause you make Mary nervous when you start talking like that," he instructed as they made their way down the center aisle.

GiGi didn't try to speak softly when she got the last word in:  "That's my plan, Pops, gotta always keep everybody on their toes."   She then gave her purse a final loud slap with her hand.  "I may be a grandma, but nobody better mess with me."  And with her last comment, she dropped her arm from her husband's and took the lead, marching down the aisle in one of her finest Sunday suits and high heels.

Poppy, looking smug, gave a laugh:  "Little Miss, let's hope you never grow up to be as feisty as your GiGi."

Mary, Philip, and Tate followed closely behind them, dreading the impending meeting with Bonnie.  Philip took a second to glance back at Crew, who was now catching up with Wills, and gave him a thumbs up.  

GiGi, naturally, was the first to arrive at the front pew:  "Well, hello is Bonnie, isn't it?" asked GiGi.  "All these years, your son and Wills have been great friends, isn't it odd that we've never had a conversation?"  

"And I feel terrible about it, GiGi.  Would it be OK with you if I call you GiGi?"  Bonnie replied, reaching out her hand with all the appearances of a friendly handshake.  

But GiGi wasn't about to give the demon vibes a chance to get hold of her, so she didn't reciprocate:  "I've had a cold, honey, and don't want to make you sick.  I think I'll just keep my hand to myself today."  She made her way down the pew and sat down with a hard thump.  Poppy, Miss Charity, and Tate joined her.

It was Mary's turn:  "Good morning Bonnie, I'm so happy to see you!  It's been awhile, hasn't it?"  

"It certainly has.  Much too long, Mary.  And Philip, don't you look as handsome as ever?"  Bonnie reached out her arms and gave Philip a big hug.   Philip allowed his hands to touch her back in a stiff sort of way.  She pulled back, leaving him with a peck on his cheek before repositioning herself back on the pew.  Mary and Philip scooted past her, joining the others.  

GiGi leaned over toward her daughter:  "Did that demon woman just kiss your husband?"

"Mother, really?"

Poppy followed up by giving his wife the universal sign to zip her lip, but of course, she didn't listen:  "If she lays her hands or her lips on Philip one more time, I'm taking her down like David took down that giant.  I'll pull out every bleached blonde hair and stuff each one of 'em up her nose job before pounding the botox clear out of her face...and I don't need a slingshot to do it...I'll take her down with my bare hands!"

Bonnie couldn't hear what was being said, but she knew they were talking about her.  And she was pleased as punch about it.

The service had already begun when Viv entered, late as usual.  No one, unfortunately, had the chance to warn her about the surprise visitor.  As she walked down the center aisle toward the Montgomery family pew, she took notice of the long blonde hair and tried to place it.  Preacher Walker was just beginning his sermon when she reached the pew and realized who it was.  She attempted to pass over Bonnie, but Bonnie scooted over, making plenty of room for her at the end of the pew:

"Hey, Viv, honey," she patted the seat.  "Just sit yourself right here next to me." 

Viv sat still, going through the motions, pretending to listen to Preacher Walker's message, but in actuality, wholly preoccupied by the woman seated to her right.  What on earth was she doing there?  

GiGi elbowed Poppy in the ribs:  "Oh, Lord, look....that demon woman has Viv trapped like a rat."  

Poppy leaned over to ask his wife to please stop making comments, but in doing so, he inadvertently took his focus off of the little one seated in his lap.  Miss Charity, who had already noticed her Aunt Viv down at the end of the pew, took that brief opportunity to hop off of his lap and make a dash toward Viv.  Before anyone realized what had happened, Viv was snuggling her little niece close and kissing her on the softest part of her fuzzy neck:  "How did you manage to get away from your Poppy and find your way down here to me?"  

The little 'Miss' gave a giggle, out loud, fully realizing she had out-witted her grandfather.  

"Poppy, what in the world are you doing?  Look!  You've let our little angel run down there with Viv, right next to the seed of Satan.  God, we have to do something."  GiGi whispered loud enough for Bonnie to hear this time.  

In response, the blonde bombshell leaned forward, returning the very loud whisper:  "GiGi, dear, is there a problem?  Should I move?"  

GiGi had that deer caught in the headlights look and decided to make an attempt at her infamous ventriloquist impersonation, trying to whisper without moving her lips:

"Pops, pray for me 'cause it looks like the demon woman knows I'm onto her."  

She then opened her mouth very wide to silently mouth the next words to Bonnie:

Pointing to her ear:  "I can't hear you," then pointing to the pastor, "I'm trying to listen to the preacher."  Leaning back in the pew, she again took up her ventriloquist act:

"Don't worry Pops, I think I took care of it."

Poppy, used to his wife's many antics, pretended to be so engrossed in Preacher Walker's sermon that he didn't hear or see anything going on around him.  

Mary, however, didn't pretend not to see.  Taking matters into her own hands, hoping to settle things quickly and politely, she scooted down to sit right next to Bonnie:  "My mom is very protective over Miss Charity, that's all."  She reached her arm around Bonnie's back and gave her a gentle squeeze, placing her mouth close to her ear.  "We are all thrilled you are here."  

Bonnie, in turn, leaned forward and looked over toward GiGi, who eventually felt the stare bearing into her.   When their eyes finally met, the blonde gave the elder woman a big smile and a flitter of a wave before reaching over to Viv and pulling Miss Charity into her own lap.  The message was clear to GiGi.  Crew's mother was indeed a demon from the pit of hell. 

Meanwhile, in the back of the room, Crew and Wills were engrossed in the scene.  Crew's heart had not stopped racing since his mom's surprise entrance:

"Wills, what is my crazy mom up to?"

"I don't know, but my mom just hugged her and now your mom is holding my little sister."

Crew shrugged his shoulders in dismay.  Was hell freezing over, or what?   

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Cleveland Chronicles....Bonnie Cutless (Part Twenty-One)

"Whenever someone comes to me expressing a concern that she might be suffering from some sort of mental illness, her expression of that concern is the first clue telling me she is not," a wise doctor once told Mary when she was battling some depression following Miss Charity's first open heart surgery.  "But sometimes I have crazy thoughts; there have been times when I've even believed I am living in an alternate reality," she had told him.  "You are here, telling me about those thoughts, Mary, which means you are very aware of them.  If you were unaware that those thoughts were unusual, and if you were acting upon them, then we'd have reason for alarm."  

The same could not be said for Bonnie Cutless.  In her mixed up world, she was the only sane person and everyone else was to blame for all of her troubles.  She rummaged through her son's belongings every day after he left for school and justified her actions by blaming him for being untrustworthy.  When she found the Montgomery family's house key hidden in the toe of one of Crew's athletic socks, she blamed Philip for being so stupid as to give her son a key to his home.  And when she had a copy of the key made for herself, she placed full responsibility upon Mary for trying to take her son away from her.  Bonnie didn't have any problems; everyone else had plenty of them. 

Absorbed in a life rhythm ordered by strict routine, it didn't take Bonnie long to figure out Mary Montgomery's weekly schedule, if you could call it a schedule.  Bonnie couldn't imagine how anyone could live a life so lax and unpredictable.  She resented Mary for it, because to her, it amounted to laziness at best and negligence at worst.  But within a few months, she had become versed in most every detail of Mary's life, discovering her closest friends, favorite foods, and even the makeup she wore.  She kept every detail listed in a steno pad hidden beneath her mattress. Mary, always busy either tending to Miss Charity's constant needs or rushing to run errands whenever time allowed, never noticed she was being followed.  Outside the display of utter chaos, Bonnie's nemesis did have one constant routine.  Like clockwork, Mary, Tate, and Miss Charity met Philip for breakfast at the Cracker Barrel on Monday mornings before doing their weekly grocery run, leaving the Montgomery home empty for a minimum of two hours.

The first time she broke into their home, Bonnie took time to investigate each and every room.  She looked at photos displayed around the house, rooted through closets and drawers, and checked out the kitchen's pantry.  She had never burglarized a home before, but because she was so convinced retribution was a necessity, Bonnie wasn't the least bit nervous about the crime.  She was surprised to find she felt quite at home.  Trudy wasn't sure about her at first; she sniffed the stranger's ankles and gave her a bark or two.  But Ms. OCD, who had covered every detail, came prepared with Trudy's favorite goody:  Beggin' Strips.  Poor Trudy sold out for a treat and was thereafter Bonnie's little buddy.  

On her next plunder, she became gutsier, taking one item from every family member's bedroom.  She swiped a Tennessee Volunteer t-shirt from Wills' dresser drawer, a purple hairbrush from the big wicker basket sitting in Tate's floor, a princess crown from the end of Miss Charity's bed, and a worn Bible from Mary's bedside table.  An onlooker would've witnessed Bonnie casually passing from room to room, as comfortable as if the house were her own.  She didn't take much thought about what she stole that day.  For her the act of stealing was more about the exercise of control.  

After carefully placing the items in her car, which she boldly parked in the driveway, Bonnie stowed them in a clear plastic tub in her attic.  She marked "REVENGE" on the lid of the tub in big bold letters alongside a big smiley face she had drawn with a permanent marker.  Feeling exhilarated from playing her game, Bonnie had some extra pep in her step from the thrill of it all.  The thought of getting caught never entered her mind.  

"Have you seen Miss Charity's princess crown, momma?"  Tate asked that same night.  "It's time for her bedtime story, and I can't tell her a story without her crown."  

Mary answered while helping Tate look around the house:  "You're right!  The little princess will not be happy at all if she has to listen to a princess story without her crown!"  

They searched high and low to no avail, even employing Philip and Wills to help.  

"I'm telling you, momma, I'm pretty sure I put it on her bed this morning after I helped her make up her bed.  That's what I always do, you know?"  Tate added when they all decided to give up the quest.

"Stay right here and don't move a muscle!  I've got an idea!"  Mary dashed out of the room and into her bedroom, returning within a few minutes with her hands tucked behind her back.  She proceeded to speak with a heavy British accent:  "Wills, go fetch our little princess, please, sir,"  giving her son a nod with a grin plastered across her face.

"I guess I'm at your service, Queen Mother,"  Wills bowed while speaking with his own version of a goofy British accent.  He then retreated to find the princess.  In no time at all, he came marching back into the room, pretending to be a high ranking solider, with the little miss tucked beneath his arm, swinging her legs all around in an effort to be released from his grip.  

"Here she is, Madame!"  He placed the little one gently on the ottoman in front of the sofa.  "Do with her as you must, but please be gentle."  Wills backed away, head down.    

Mary played along.  "Oh, thank you kind soldier.  You will be rewarded greatly for your service.  In fact, please, go the pantry....and fetch yourself a Little Debbie.  Make it two."  

Racing to the pantry, Wills didn't give his mother time to change her mind:  "Oh, you are too kind my Queen!"  

Mary continued:  "Now, as for you, little princess.  It seems a wonderful thing has happened today.  The crown you once wore was for a baby princess, but as of today, you have become a big girl princess.  And to celebrate this day, you will now be wearing a very special big girl princess crown."

Mary bowed her head, gave a curtsy, and pulled a beautiful sparkling tiara from behind her back, holding it out in both of her hands, in front of her, as if it were extremely valuable so Tate and Miss Charity could get a good look. Tate couldn't contain herself:

"Oh, momma....I mean Queen Mother....that is a real life crown!"

"It certainly is.  What do you expect for a real big girl princess?"

Tate crept up to her mother, not taking her eyes from the tiara:  "May I?"

Mary, still keeping her very British accent, responded:  "Of course you may."

Tate took the crown from her mother's hands and placed it carefully upon the head of Miss Charity, who was already dressed in her bright pink footed pajamas. 

"She looks beautiful, doesn't she?"  Tate asked, admiring her little sister.

"Like a real princess," replied Philip, watching as Tate led her sister to her bedroom by the hand.  Miss Charity gently touched the crown on her head and grinned as they walked.  

Philip turned to Mary, "Where did you get that crown?"

"Long story," she answered.

Philip walked over to the kitchen to join Wills.  "I've got time for a story, do you son?"

Wills couldn't give up the accent:  "Oh, my lady, I always have time for your stories."  He popped the last bite of a Fudge Round into his mouth and smiled, chocolate goo coating his front teeth.

"Ganging up on the Queen Mother, are you?"  she teased, joining them.  "If you must know, the Queen Mother has dabbled in a few beauty pageants in her day.  Of course, King Philip, you'll recall how I was first runner up in all three of the Miss Cleveland pageants I entered to the utter dismay and embarrassment of our kingdom."

"Oh, dear, how have you ever lived it down?"  asked Philip, teasing.

"Why, I'll be gobsmacked, Queen Mother!  How do you show your face in this town?"  Wills shouted with much drama, pretending to wipe a tear from his eye.

Mary folded her arms giving them both a smirk with the roll of her eyes:  

"Well, at some point along the way in my quest to win a beauty pageant, I was given that crown as a cheeky sort of consolation prize...and it has haunted me all these years....reminding me that I am simply a...well, a loser."  She pretended to bite the back of her rolled up fist, shooting them a look filled with agony:  "I am so glad to finally pass it on to someone much more deserving than me."

"I still cannot believe I married a first runner up, Wills.  Why, oh, why did I not go after one of those Miss Cleveland winners who have a real crown? one they actually earned?"  

That was the last straw.  Mary reached into a drawer, pulled out a plastic spatula, and came after Philip, pounding his fanny with it every step of the way, as they ran from room to room laughing:  

Philip was the first to scream out:  "You don't deserve me, you are but a first runner up!"

Mary responded, just as loud:  "I will beat you with this spatula...into complete submission...until you recant every word, my Lord!"

"I won't do it! I will never back down to a first runner up!"

"You will!"

"I won't!"

Mary and Philip turned into high school sweethearts all over again, giggling and teasing one another.  Wills stood by enjoying every minute, reveling in the fact that his parents still loved each other after so many years. He chuckled to himself as he moseyed down the hall, peeking into Miss Charity's room to see the little princess listening intently as Tatum told her a story.  The sparkling tiara still sat upon her head.  He then leaned back against the bedroom door and smiled, marveling at how everything in his life felt right.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Cleveland Chronicles....Bonnie Cutless (Part Twenty)

A few months passed.  Peace, as easy as a leaf carried by a gentle breeze, flittered about, finally choosing its resting place upon the Montgomery family.  Mary and Philip made up.  Their marriage was superb again.  She had apologized; Philip was quick to forgive.  They agreed to reach out and offer support to Crew, who had responded to their kindness by joining them for dinner most every night.  They had even given him a key to their home so he could come and go as he pleased, a true sign of trust on their part.  

Crew now spent weekends with Preacher Walker and Jeannie, enjoying their attention and Jeannie's home cooked meals.  He worked with them cleaning the church on Saturdays and was proud of his new job as the lead sound man during Sunday morning service.  It had taken time for the fair haired teenager to lay his baggage down and open his heart to risk loving again, and though he still had a long way to go, he was on his way.  All the party goers who had been caught at the now infamous "Lemon Drop Party Bust", including Wills and Crew, had completed their community service work, painting the walls of a local elementary school in need of some fixing up.   And Crew had kept his promise to not have anymore parties.  Marijuana was still a daily struggle for him, but as he embraced the chance of being a part of a "family", his use had been steadily dwindling.

As for Miss Charity, she had her heart check and it was a good one.  The echocardiogram showed some slight changes, but immediate repair would not be necessary.  The Montgomery's were given a reprieve and wouldn't have to go to the next heart check for six months.  Precious harmony was not lost on Mary; she relished it every morning during her Bible study time, thanking God for His goodness.  At first, loving Crew had been a challenge for her; however, over time, as she allowed herself to open up, the Lord replaced her insecurities toward the boy with compassion for him.  He was fast becoming an integral part of her family life.

No one asked Crew about his mother and father, which was odd considering the incredible circumstances.  The town's rumor mill had effectively spread the news of his crazy momma and absentee father, word had even made the local "Bradley County Chitty Chat" gossip paper days after the Lemon Drop Party Bust.  Maybe Cleveland was one of those small towns, the kind that talked about the oddity of a person's family life behind closed doors while doing nothing to get involved....or perhaps no one really cared aside from Philip, Mary, Preacher Walker and Jeannie, who were too afraid to bring up the subject....whatever the reason, the town underestimated the Cutless family, especially Bonnie Cutless.

Crew's mom and dad met when in their twenties, set up on a blind date by a mutual friend.  Carter Cutless came from old money.  Bonnie came from nothing, but made up for what she lacked with breath-taking beauty.  At five foot ten inches, she never allowed herself to weigh more than one hundred and thirty pounds.  Straight blonde hair, always perfectly highlighted, reached down and kissed the middle of her back.  What she was known most for, however, were crystal blue eyes that captivated all who dared sneak a peek at them.  She was forty, but still looked twenty five...thirty at most.  Five years younger than Carter, all who knew her said she'd married him for his money.  They were correct.  

When Bonnie was a little girl, her mother sold her body to put food on the table, but mostly to feed her addiction to alcohol.  She and her mother lived in a trailer park for several years, surviving on very little, until the day a man calling himself a deacon knocked on their door offering hope of Jesus and a better life.  That evening, he moved them out of their trailer and into a communal type home,  where everyone was "married" to the head pastor and where alcohol and drugs were in abundance.  Bonnie was homeschooled by the women of the commune along with the other children, but as she blossomed, many of the women became jealous of her.  At thirteen years of age she was pushed out and into the foster care system.  She never saw her mother again.

Feelings of despair overwhelmed Bonnie at first.  The adjustment to life outside of the cult was a big one.  And even though her mother hadn't been a good one, she missed her.  As Bonnie was shuffled about in the system, her despair turned to bitterness....and eventually hatred.  She had watched the women in the commune, unabashedly throwing themselves at the pastor and the deacons to gain favors, and had been a good student.  As she went from foster home to foster home...and from school to school in the greater Atlanta area, she sought out the boys and men who had wealth and allowed them to have their way with her....for a price.  By the time the opportunity with Carter Cutless came along, she was a pro.  He was snagged and being dragged down the aisle before realizing she'd even baited her hook.

For a few years, Carter and Bonnie were happy, as most young married couples are.  Her exceeding beauty garnered Carter a lot of attention with his co-workers and peers.  But it didn't take long for him to tire of her manipulative tactics and strange behavior.  And when she read the signs that their relationship was waning, Bonnie quickly became pregnant with Crew to make sure she kept her grip on his money.  

Carter, in his own mind, was a big time successful banker.  It was true he was invited to nearly every charity event and societal occasion known to man in the southeastern part of the United States, often making the headlines at the events he chose to attend, but the truth was, his popularity had nothing to do with work and everything to do with a tremendously large portfolio loaded with blue chips left to him by his maternal grandparents.  As favor for him grew by the general public, he found less mercy for Bonnie.  He hadn't a clue (or a care) about her past, so putting two and two together in an effort to "fix things" was never an option.  So over time they grew more and more distant from one another; and by the time they moved to Cleveland, TN, their marriage was in name only.  He worked around the clock, renting a two bedroom apartment in Chattanooga near his office while she kept things spotless at their home, a good forty-five minutes away from him.  Her obsessive compulsive nature imprisoned her every waking minute except for the times she was running back and forth to the Cleveland Country Club.  Golf had become her favorite hobby, and more recently, one of the wealthiest members, her newest fixation. 

Crew had never been close to either of his parents.  He'd always felt like more of a "thing" to be cared for, much like a pet, than a human being.  His father, hungry for power, gorged himself with more and more money and notoriety.  That kind of lifestyle choice left no time for dealing with a son, though he made an obligatory call or text to Crew nearly every day to check in.  Bonnie, in contrast, resented everything about Crew.  Fury burned inside her at the mere thought of him.  Her mother had kicked her to the curb, so she had the full intention of allowing her son to feel the exact same pain she'd felt.  Locking him out of the main house, forcing him to live alone in the basement, was retribution on her part.  Her mother had done it to her, and she was passing along the torch.  

For all Crew knew, his mother didn't keep up with a single detail about his life.  He honestly felt she birthed him just so she could torture him with neglect.  Other than the two or three football games his parents attended together each year for show along with an occasional family get together with Carter's family in Georgia, he didn't see her or talk to her.  But Crew was wrong.  His mother's OCD ran much deeper than keeping her body in perfect shape, scrubbing her house from top to bottom on a daily basis, and popping a pill every four to five hours.  Her biggest addiction was him.  

Bonnie sat in her bedroom, on the King Sized Louis Philippe Sleigh bed, facing a custom made, full length mirror that took up half of the wall.  As she brushed her hair, she spoke to the reflection looking back at her:

"Mary, you think you are going to steal my son away from me, don't you?  

It was four minutes passed two o'clock in the afternoon, the regularly scheduled time for her to stroke her hair with the paddle brush one hundred times.  She didn't know why one hundred was a magic number, but had done it for as long as she could remember.  Her brush pulled at her long blonde hair for the sixty fourth time:

"That is a big mistake and it is going to cost you dearly,"  she stopped and threw the brush into the mirror with all of her might, causing the glass to splinter into tiny cracks in the area where the brush hit.  

She'd stopped brushing on number....oh, God, she couldn't recall what number she was on when she stopped brushing.  She began again with number one, brushing much quicker this time in an effort to try to stay on schedule.  Buffing her nails was next in her routine, to begin promptly at fifteen minutes past two.  She brushed faster and faster and faster. 

After reaching the number one-hundred, Bonnie picked up the phone and quickly dialed a local business to set up an appointment for them to come replace the mirror.  The nagging feeling of needing to get that mirror repaired was driving her nuts:  

"No, I need someone to come out tomorrow.  Period.  I cannot wait  until next week."

After giving the salesman exact measurements and offering to pay a significant amount of extra money for his agreeing to re-adjust his schedule to accommodate her, the salesman agreed to make a trip to Bonnie's house the next morning.  Satisfied,  she then pulled a tissue from the tissue box on the bedside table and cleaned the phone while checking the time:

"Stupid glass man.  Thank you for arguing with me and getting me off my entire day is ruined!"  

At two-thirty, Bonnie was seated in her bathroom floor filing and buffing her nails.  Everything had to begin on the quarter hour, half hour, or hour, which meant she would be going to bed fifteen minutes later than usual.  She wondered how she would sleep.  The thoughts began to torment her, and by nightfall, she knew she would have to numb the thoughts with a bit of extra poison.  She continued her discussion with herself:

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your family grow?  By stealing boys from other moms...oh, this game is gonna blow!"