Friday, September 23, 2016


 "Still got the dog, still got the truck,
still got the stars to dance under with luck.
and I still got the woman, Lord, I'm so awe-struck.
Don't need no whiskey, don't need no beer, 
To have a good time dancing 'round here.
How'd she still love me when I was a dog,
When I was walking round in a whiskey fog?
How'd she still love me when I was broke down?
How'd she still love me when I stumbled around.
Now I got a good woman, got me a church,
got me a Bible, got me some worth,
Why, it's the best feeling down here on earth!
Got a good God, and those stars flung from His hand.  
Why He's so good, I'll never understand."

celia jolley.

As the country singer crooned, Colton sang along to the radio.  But the words hurt. He still had his dog.  He still had his truck.  God knows the stars were still above.  He no longer needed whiskey.  He no longer needed even beer, but he no longer had the woman, and it left him to wonder.  He'd been a dog.  He'd been broken down.  He staggered until he no longer could stand.  He had a Bible, he had a church, and a little self-worth.  At least He had God, and looked up to the stars, but he had a sinking feeling knowing he'd messed up down here on earth.

Colton thought not so much about his wife, his ex, that is.  But he thought about his son and how the boy still loved him even after all the garbage he'd drug them all through.  His wife gave up, but his son stuck it out, needing his dad to sober up.  He did.  He came back to God and was living right on the straight and narrow, keeping accountable to other believers who knew his struggles.

Right now, he was headed for his son's baseball game and was meeting his buddy there, his accountability partner, his business partner, the one who had stood by him through the disintegration of his marriage, his best friend.  His wife, his ex, that is, had every right to divorce him.  He had to let her go.  But his son was worth fighting for.  The kid was offering him a second chance to be the kind of dad he should be.

He pulled his truck up next to Blake's.  Colton was a Ford man while Blake, a Chevy fan.  Other than that, they saw pretty much eye to eye on everything and had been best friends since high school.  But Blake had been clean and sober over eighteen years to Colton's three.   Blake's marriage had survived while Colton's had failed.  But, they both had sons playing on the team.  While his Emmet saw a lot of play time, Blake's Max, sat the bench a lot.  That kid kept a good attitude cheering his team on whether he was out there or not, whether he'd leave the game with the cleanest uniform next to all the other pants dirty from sliding. 

"Hey,  I think they got this game.  What'd you think?"  Colton asked.

"It's in the bag, especially if your Emmet is pitching," his friend responded.

"I don't know about that, but we're playing a team from a small school without a very deep bench.  If they have an injury, their whole team will be hurting," Colton continued. 

"Let's see if we can find any shade to set our chairs up in." Blake added, "It's a blessing the school planted these trees years ago so we don't have to cook in the sun like our boys do out on the field." 

"I brought plenty of water if your son gets thirsty," Colton offered.  "How's this?" He set his 

cooler down.

"Hey, wait a second, Colton.  Isn't that Sarah Hightower over there, the one you tried to date in high school?  I wonder what she's doing here?  I thought she'd moved away after she got married to the guy she worked for--what was his name?  Tim something or other."

"Wright.  His name was Wright.  I don't know..." Colton was struck almost senseless looking over at the woman that he hadn't seen in almost twenty years.  He saw the way her hair was teased by the wind, how the sun almost seemed to be reflected, gleaming from her sleek dark locks.  It looked just like he remembered it.  However when she turned, her profile was more stunningly beautiful than he recalled.   The years had been more than kind.  They had refined her features into a loveliness that was untouchable, at least for him.  He forced himself to look away.

"Colton?"  Blake broke into his revelry,  "Is this okay?  Do you want to sit here"

"Sure.  This is fine."  He set up his chair next to his buddy, but he couldn't help himself from  looking over at the one who had been his ideal, the one he'd pursued the most during those high school years when he'd begun his downward spiral into drinking.  No wonder, now that he thought  more clearly, no wonder she'd always given him the cold shoulder.  Sarah was a Christian.  Her light had drawn him like a moth to the flame, but he'd always been burned to fall dead at her feet.  He hadn't sought the Source of her light, only its reflection shining in her.  She was unattainable, especially in the state he usually ended up in with a life of partying. 

Colton felt shame sweep over him at the life he'd wasted, the best of his youth, his marriage, and nearly losing his chance at being a good dad.  Praise God, his son had allowed him a second chance at that at least.  Still, a deep loss and longing struck him in his chest.  He wanted a woman who'd believe in him, one who could respect him for what he'd become since he was a new creature in Christ.  The days when he didn't have his custody turn with his son were lonely indeed with too much time to think on his hands.

"Hey, buddy, I think I'm losing you.  Are you beating yourself up over there in your head again?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that.  But the game's ready to begin.  It looks like my Emmet is going to pitch."

That kept him concentrating on the game as he cheered his son and the team on.  But he couldn't help but overhear the women next to him when they began gossiping about Sarah.

"It looks like Miss Pear Blossom Queen is back.  I heard she got divorced and came back home with her tail tucked between her legs.  I would think that as a Christian she'd be the last to be divorced.  Heck, my man ain't no saint, but we're still married."  She snickered along with her friend.

"It's too bad about her sister though dying so young.  Breast cancer took her just like their mama."

Yeah,  I wouldn't want to be in her shoes the way that can run in families..."

That sent a pang through him thinking of Sarah and cancer in the same breath.  He had not realized that her older sister Emily had died.  Their mother had died soon after Sarah graduated from high school.  He knew that much.

Colton remembered now that Sarah had been crowned at the county pageant, how she'd explained that it helped her earn a college scholarship.  He also remembered how pretty she'd looked in the parade with her sash and tiara sitting in the restored thunderbird convertible, how she'd seen him and their eyes had locked that day. Then her smile faltered when she saw the beer bottle in his hand and the wobble in his step as he almost fell off the curb.  She turned away to wave at the crowd.  Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist, wrist was the way she'd described how they were told to wave. 

She may have been crowned Miss Pear Blossom, but the guys called her the Ice Queen for the cold shoulder she gave them all.  She was unapproachable.  He knew from personal experience.  She certainly rebuffed any attention he'd ever attempted.  There were plenty of easy girls, but there was only one Sarah.

Colton scrubbed his hands over his face.  Too many memories.  He tried to concentrate on the game as his son was up to bat.  Emmet hit a double that had allowed a teammate to score. 

"He's playing well, Colton.  You must be proud," Blake said.  Then he leaned over and whispered, "I couldn't help but overhear what those women just said about Sarah.  That's too bad.  No wonder she has an aura of sadness about her."

Colton glanced back over at her.  Aura of sadness?  Where did his buddy come up with this stuff?  But he had to admit that she didn't smile much.  He wondered if she had a son on the team.   Emmet would know. 

He did notice a new kid.  He was hard to miss when he made a spectacular play at first base and hit a triple.  She seemed to be cheering for him.  The boy did have the same color of hair.  In fact, he might be the one who his Emmet had mentioned he wanted to hang out with.

It was a double-header.  In between games, Blake turned up the heat, until Colton was like the frog in the kettle.  Should he jump? 

"Hey, Colton, I'm getting tired of your company.  Why don't you move your chair over by Sarah?
I noticed she's sitting all alone over there.  Besides you might as well since you can't keep your eyes off her anyway," he snorted.

"Really?" he squeaked like a pubescent boy.  He lowered his voice.  "And why would she be more willing to have me around now any more than she used to all those years ago?  If she's been in town long, she's probably heard plenty of my reputation to keep me at arm's distance." 

"Wait a minute.  I thought we got you past this stage of self-loathing.  Or are you just sitting here feeling sorry for yourself." Blake leaned over and whispered, "Most all the single ladies have you surrounded here, and I don't think they are interested in me and my paunch.  I think it's your lean good looks and a life that's looking up that has them all staring at you."

"Surely you jest," but Colton did glance around and saw more than a few women flashing smiles his direction, women in skimpy tank tops and short shorts.  He wasn't interested.

Blake continued his quiet conversation meant for only Colton's ears.  "These are hard times for single women our age who are afraid of the approaching years of being without a man.  They worry about the encroaching wrinkles from all their time spent at tanning booths and  of a future of coloring their gray hairs, sags and cellulose.  Their fear is almost palpable.  Can you feel their desperation?"

"I can feel my desperation to get away from your ribbing," he groused.

Colton knew his friend was only half kidding.  Women did sometimes throw themselves at him.  He always supposed it was because he was one of the only single guys their age who held down a steady job, who still had a license to drive and did not have to pedal a bike around town after too many DUI's, or who had just his one and only divorce and not a longer stream of failed relationships.  That still didn't mean Sarah would ever be interested in him.  Not likely.  No how.  Nope.  He'd crash and burn like he used to when he'd make a fool out of himself to get her attention.

"Go on.  Go sit by her.  It looks like she needs a friend," Blake urged.

"You go sit by her then," Colton growled.

"I can't. I'm married.  But if my Sally were here, she'd go sit by her.  It's too bad she's working today.  It's a shame all these other women would rather gossip about her than talk to her.  They've always been jealous of her flawless beauty and even more flawless character." Blake sighed like it was the most terrible thing in the world to leave Sarah by her lonesome.

"You said it.  She's flawless.  Always has been.  Always will be.  Me?  I'm the polar opposite."

"Here's five bucks that says you won't go over there and sit by her, buddy.  What do you say?"

"Make it ten and you're on."  Colton glanced back over at her.

"Okay, ten and I'll buy pizza for us all after the game," Blake grinned. 

"You're on!"  Colton sighed.

Though Colton no longer gambled at cards, the two friends often bet each other on little things just like when they were kids.   It was just a thing they did.

"Wish me luck.  I'm going in."  Colton took a deep breath, folded up his chair and walked directly over to where the woman sat.

"Do you mind if I sit here"

"It doesn't matter to me one way or the other," she said without looking at him.  Then when she glanced his way she said, "Colton?  I didn't realize it was you."

"Do you mind then?"  He had paused while setting up his chair.

"No, not at all."

"So which one is yours?" he asked her.

"He's playing first base.  His name is Rem, short for Remington."

"Nice name.  That was a great play he made earlier.  He also can really hit well too.  I'm sure the team is glad to have him along this year."

"So, which one is yours?  Wait, let me guess...the pitcher, last game?"

"Yeah, now he's playing second base.  But how did you guess?"

"I noticed his determined look before he let loose with his pitch.  Something looked familiar, but I didn't place it until I saw you here."

"A determined look, huh.  I guess you saw that a time or two when I was determined to get you to go out with me."

She laughed.  He couldn't believe she laughed.  It made her face almost radiant.  He wished it could be his one goal in life to make her laugh, but of course that wasn't really possible.

"I guess I was really terrible to you way back then."

"Uh, yeah.  I still have scars on my heart from all the times you refused me flat out."

"Yeah, right.  You never had a short supply of girls to date."

"But none of them were you," he said softly.

"Thanks.  Sometimes a girl needs to hear a kind word," she said, but she wasn't smiling any more. 

He wondered what had broken her heart.  It made him clinch his fists. But just then someone on the other team hit a home run over the fence.  "Wow, you don't see that every day."  The game was tied up.

"That's Rem's goal, to hit one over someday," she confided. 

"I think it's every kids dream who loves baseball," he said.  "I know I always wanted to.  It makes me wonder if I hadn't been drinking so much or sucking on those cigarettes, if I would have been in better shape to hit one out.  My downward spiral was already beginning my senior year.  I still don't know how I graduated.  I'm glad you never let me date you.  I wasn't worth it back then."

"And you are now?" She was seeking what was inside him now by giving him a piercing look.

He did not look away.  "I hope I'm a better man now.  No, I know I'm a better man now, thanks to God.  I've been clean and sober for three years, but wasted a lot of years before that.  I'm just glad my kid still likes me."

"I'm glad to hear that.  It means a lot to a young man to have his father take an active interest in his life.  I wish Rem...never mind."

"You wish Rem's dad took more of an interest in him?  Is that what you were going to say?" He glanced down at her hand.  She was not wear a wedding ring.  So, we're both divorced, I guess.
I never thought we'd end up like this, did you?"

"No.  Marriage was supposed to be forever."  She gave a disgusted laugh. 

"I'm sorry yours didn't, for Rem's sake as well as for yourself."  Colton went on, "I earned my divorce.  I was a terrible husband.  She put up with a lot before she got rid of me."

"Who did you marry?"



He remembered how his ex-wife would needle Sarah and make fun of her for not running with the crowd.   "I guess she wasn't very nice to you back then.  Wow, I haven't thought of high school this much since we were there.  I guess seeing you today has brought it back.  I must say, you look even prettier now, though I don't know how that can be because I always thought you the most beautiful person I'd ever seen."  He hadn't meant to say that.  What was in his mind just slipped out.  Now she'd probably put up her barriers like she used to.

"Thanks again, Colton.  I guess you're making my day.  I don't hear that kind of talk much any more."

"Well, you should because it's true," he said in the gravel of his voice looking down, too sheepish to look up at her.

She yelled out just then to her son who caught a hard hit ball toward first base.

"That was a great catch.  Your Rem is a player!"  Sarah looked over at him and smiled with a light in her eyes.  He went on,  "You remember Blake, don't you?  He's the one who led me back from the gutter to a relationship with God."  Colton kept the conversation going.

"Yeah, I remember you two were close friends."

"Well, he's taking Emmet and I out for pizza after the game.  I wonder if you and Rem would want to go with us.  I know my son has mentioned wanting to hang out with Rem.  I just didn't know he was your son.  I guess they have several classes together."

"Sure," she looked at him cautiously.  "If Rem's up for it.  Who did Blake end up marrying?"

"You remember Sally?  She got called into work today, but is usually here cheering Max on even if he's sitting in the dugout the whole game."

"Sally was always nice.  I liked her. She was a grade behind us, wasn't she?"

"Yeah, something like that.  She's sure stood by her man.  They even act like they like each other now and then."

"That must be nice," Sarah said under her breath.

Colton knew this wasn't the time, but he wanted to hear Sarah's story.  All he could muster now was, "I was sorry to hear about your sister Emily.  I can't imagine how tough that must have been."

"It doesn't get much tougher.  But thanks for saying that.  It helps to know others remember her too.  I miss her."

They both were quiet for awhile.  It was a lot to process seeing each other again.

As soon as the game was over, Colton sprinted over to Blake.  "The bets off.  Don't you dare say anything about it cause she's going to pizza with us.  That's all the winning I care about right now."

Blake punched him in the shoulder.  "Way to go, dude.  I'll buy the pizza and you can get the sodas."

It was a surprisingly comfortable time with all of them visiting.  The boys sure seemed like they hit it off as a trio of buddies.  He even overheard Rem telling his mother, "I like Max.  Even though he does get much play time, he's always cheering us on.  And Emmet, he's just cool."

Colton glanced over after that and saw she was wiping away a tear.

"Are you alright," he whispered?

"Yes, just so very grateful.  This was a tough move for Rem to make away from where his dad lives and from all his old friends, but your boys are making it so much better for him.  I'm just thankful."

"Say, Blake and I go to the Harvest Fellowship.  If you don't have a church yet, you'd be welcome.  Our boys love the youth group there.  It would give Rem a chance to meet some other good kids too."

"Maybe we'll try it.  We've visited around, but haven't settled on any one church yet," she said.

"Max, we got to go.  Your mom will be home soon," Blake said as he picked up what was left of the pizza in one box."

"Thank you for the pizza, Blake.  It was nice catching up with you and meeting your son."

"Sure thing.  I know Sally will be anxious to see you again.  She always liked you," he said. "Maybe we can all go to a Giants game sometime." 

"I know our boys would all really like that." She sounded agreeable. 

Blake winked at Colton behind her back and put his thumb up in the air.  After they were gone, Rem begged his mom, "Can Emmet come over tonight?  We want to play video games."

"I don't know..."

"His dad can come over too," he said grinning looking between Colton and his mom. 

"Sure, we'd love to come over, if it's okay with you, Sarah," he added.  He just had jumped in with both feet hoping he wouldn't get shot down.

Sarah hesitated for a moment and his heart sank.  Then she said, "Sure."  She gave him her address and her phone number so he could add it in his phone.  She actually took his as well saying, "You never know when the players' parents might need to contact each other."

Colton didn't care.  He didn't know when he'd been so happy. 

As the two guys played on the game system in Rem's room, Sarah and Colton got passed the nervous stuttered conversation as it gradually turned into a natural flow.  Colton told the longer version of his story, of his months in rehab and his conversion.  How fortunately his business was safe in Blake's hands, his partner.  Their nursery and landscaping business had grown with the housing boom. Even when that slowed, by then they had enough commercial contracts to keep them busy.  But how his wife had found someone else by then.

"But enough about me.  I want to know about you, Sarah.  Life has been hard, hasn't it?" 

"After the divorce, I needed to move back home to my dad's house to help make ends meet.  He's gone over half the year in his motorhome anyway.  Eventually I'm going to need to go back to work.  My insurance will be running out soon, and I can't do without that."  She nervously ran her finger around the rim of her water glass before opening up more.  "When my sister got sick, we found out she carried the same gene as our mother.  I was found to have the inherited gene mutation as well.  I'm just glad I have a son and don't have to worry about passing this horrible thing down to a daughter."

Colton's heart about pounded out of his chest.  He couldn't bear to think of her with cancer.  "What does that mean for you?"

She took a deep breath and then said it.  "The doctor advised me if I wanted to live to raise Remington, I needed to have a bi-lateral mastectomy as a preventative measure.  So that's what I chose even though my husband said he would divorce me if I did, that he couldn't love me if I was mutilated like that, that I wouldn't be a whole woman anymore, that I was disgusting to even consider it.  He was gone as soon as my surgery was scheduled.  I'm pretty sure he already had his next, more perfect woman picked out.  My dad had to come to be there for Rem and me, even though I hated to put him through it for the third time having lost my mother and my sister already.  Wow, I haven't told this to anyone else.  So there's my sad tale.  I'm no longer the whole package, you see.  End of story."

Since he couldn't go punch her ex in the face, he wanted to go over and put his arms round her, but it was too soon.  So he clenched his fists instead.

As she sat on the edge of the couch, Sarah was bent over hugging herself tightly as in grief.  "So what you see is fake, just form-fitting foam, just so you know.  They are gone.  So far I haven't opted for reconstructive surgery.  I'm waiting for the results of my last scan to make sure I'm cancer free before I decide what to do."

"Sarah, I don't know how that creep can live with himself and still call himself a man.  A real man would never run out on you.  You deserve so much better than that."

"I don't know about that.  I guess it's fairly common among those who go through it to get divorced.  He said that men prefer an unaltered female landscape, shall we say.  It's just how it is.  I'm resolved to it.  My dad's been great, but he's getting older.  I'm glad he's out having some fun on the road with his friends away from my drama for awhile.  Rem's been great too.  It does my heart good to see him just have fun tonight.  So thanks for letting Emmet come over."

"I wasn't so much thinking about the boys having a good time as I wanted to spend time with you, Sarah."

She wouldn't look at him, but her cheeks were flushed.  "Well, I'm certainly not the pick of the litter anymore, Colt."  A tear escaped.  "I hate this!  I hate crying."

He loved that she called him Colt.  No one ever had but her.  That was it.  He put down his glass of water and went over and pulled her to her feet.  "Hey."  He wrapped his arms around her and just held her.  At first she was stiff, but then relaxed.  That's when her tears really came.  Just soft crying, but he felt it shudder clear through her small body. 

The scent of gardenia was heady as his nose was tickled by her hair.  Instead he buried his hands in it.  This was the stuff of his dreams, being able to hold her, but it was so much more.  Sarah had been devastated and not just physically.  Her ex-husband had done a number on her worse than a back alley hit.  Her bruises were all on the inside.  It was her heart that had barely survived.

"I got a message before the game that my doctor wants me to come back in to go over the results of my scan.  I'm scared, Colt."

"Let me go with you."

She shook her head.  "No, I can't ask that of you."  She pushed him away.

"Okay, don't ask, I just offered.  I'm going with you," he said with his arms crossed and his feet wide apart in a determined stance, unless you have someone else..."

She shook her head and looked away.  It's just my dad now, and he's out of the state.  Then she searched his face.   "Why?  Why would you go with me?"

He could tell that she was afraid it was just pity.  "Oh Sarah, you don't know how honored I am to be your friend, how long I've waited for you to let me get that close."  Now he could feel his neck getting red, so he rubbed it.


"For reals," he grinned.  "And I must admit that I still think you are hot!"

There he went again running off at the mouth.  That would shut her down now, he was afraid.  But instead her mouth hung open.

"You are crazy, Colt.  Absolutely crazy."

"I've always been crazy about you, Sarah.  But I've never stayed sober long enough to step up to the plate before.  This is my chance."

"I can see you are still as determined as ever, only I don't have it in me to fight you about it like I used to.  In fact, I don't want to fight you at all."  Sarah allowed a small smile to creep slowly up on her face.  "Sure.  I'd love to have you come with me.  I 'll have to get back to you on the time, though after I call them on Monday morning."

"Wow, I finally get a date with Sarah Hightower." He made a fist in the air, one of victory.

She laughed.  That was quickly becoming his favorite sound in the world. 

But Colton had to tear himself away.  "I've kept you up late enough.  We better leave."  He walked over to the stairs and called up, "Emmet, we have to go home.  I need to let the poor dog out."  

"Remember, I let her out when I ran by the house to change before we went out for pizza.  But, yeah, I'm sure she needs to go out again.  Let me just save my settings first."

Colton turned to her saying, "She's the only female in our household, so we try to be considerate gentlemen as you can see." He winked.

"If it's anything like the royal treatment you are giving me, I'm sure she thinks she's the queen."

"She does think she rules the household.  I got her for a hunting dog, but she's gun shy.  So she decided she'd rather sit on her coach potato throne."

He had slipped his hand around her waist without thinking, so when the boys came down the stairs, they stared and then elbowed each other. 

Emmet only said, "See you tomorrow in church, Rem."

"Sure.  We'll be there."

"I guess that settles it," Sarah said with an easy smile that seemed to chase her worries away  And with that, she shocked him with a hug.

Colton waited in the back until they arrived at church.  Rem found Emmet and Max and they took off with the teen group.  He ushered Sarah up to where Blake and Sally had saved them a seat.  The women kind of half-waved and smiled at each other. 

When the preacher chose I Peter 3:1-4 for his text, Colton's breath was warm on her ear as he whispered, "That's you, your beautiful hidden person of the heart."  It made her stomach tingle.  She silently asked God, "What is with this man?  Is he for real?"

"Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God." 

That melted like butter on a hot biscuit into her soul.  She'd never thought of it in light of facing cancer.  What was on the outside wasn't nearly as important as what was on the inside.  She could have an imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit even if she felt like she was perishing, like her sister Emily had--that imperishable spirit while she perished.  That was precious in God's sight.  She had kept her hidden person of her heart, hidden because of fear, because of rejection. It was like today God gave led her out to the light that made her eyes blink in its sudden brightness.

They all went to In and Out Burger together afterwards.  Sally and Sarah renewed their friendship almost instantly.  Blake and Colton stayed out of their way and let them talk.  Sarah was very brief in what she revealed to Sally, but at least she opened up some.  It helped Colton know what he was and wasn't free to share with Blake unless she gave him permission.  It surprised his socks off when she volunteered the information that he had agreed to go with her to her next doctor appointment.

Colton said, "I was going to tell you, Blake, that I need to keep my calendar clear on the 20th, the day of her appointment."

"No problem.  The crews are practically running themselves, and I can stay in the office and handle things," Blake said.  But it was the eyebrow wiggling when the women weren't looking that got to Colton.

He tried to shrug it off, but a grin kept tipping off his happiness at gaining Sarah's trust.  That was a huge step for her to allow him the privilege to be with her whether her news was good or bad.  He sure had been doing some praying, well, begging God on her behalf.  There was just something special about her that he'd never gotten over.  He couldn't hardly keep his eyes off her either.  She practically sparkled talking to Sally as if she hadn't had a friend for quite some time.  Of course, their sons were a tight threesome.

The day of the 20th, Blake and Sally arranged to pick up all three boys after practice and to make sure that Rem wasn't alone as he waited news about his mother's doctor appointment.  When Colton picked Sarah up, he immediately saw how nervous she was. 

"My dad called me this morning to pray with me over the phone," Sarah said.  "If you think I was nervous when you saw picked me up, you should have seen me before he called.  You know, this appointment could mean that they found something.  Ever since I lost my sister, I've had to try to come to grips with the brevity of life.  It's just that I want so badly to take care of Remington, you know."

"Somehow I believe you won't be getting that kind of news today, leastwise that's what I've been talking to God about.  They have to go over your tests with you no matter what, right?"

"Yeah, I wish I had faith like you do."

He snorted.  "Did you just hear what you said?  Me have more faith than you?  Now that's a complete turnaround."  They both laughed.

"I can tell you've changed, Colt.  It's obvious just looking at you.  Your whole countenance is different."

"I'm truly thankful for what God has done.  I was a maintenance drunk, the kind who could go to work with just a couple of beers for breakfast and then I'd drink myself into a stupor when I got home.  I was just like my dad, and I hated myself all the more for it.  I was becoming surly like him too.  He's gone now.  But I was able to lead him to the Lord before he died of liver cancer a couple of years ago.  I'm just glad my mom is seeing the change God has made in me, the answer to her prayers all these years.  When I was drinking heavy, she moved to be near my sister.  I guess I was breaking her heart."

"Wow.  I'm sure she is proud of you now," Sarah said.

He merely laughed.  "After all the years I disappointed her, I hope she gets a little bit of that now, I guess.  A mother's love is a powerful thing.  I know you miss your mom, especially on a day like this, but you are being a great mom for Rem."

"This is it.  This is where the doctor's office is inside the cancer clinic.  She was my sister's doctor too.  That's another reason I moved back here, because of the good medical care available that I could trust."

He opened the door for her and held her hand as they went in.  Colton stood by her as she checked in.  A television was playing quietly, but he didn't even want to see the Giant's game right now.  He wanted to be totally present for Sarah.  After twenty minutes of her nervously squirming and sighing, they were finally called in.

"Hello, Sarah."  If the doctor had bad news, she must be hiding it well behind her relaxed demeanor.  "Is this a significant other?"

When they both gasped and looked at each other like deer in the headlights, the doctor laughed.  "Well, maybe not yet, I guess, but I can see a spark.  At least you brought someone with you, for which I'm glad.  I won't keep you in suspense, though.  Your tests were all clean.  There's no sign of cancer, just like we hoped."

Sarah sank against his shoulder.  He squeezed her hand and watched as she wiped grateful tears away.

"I see you were thinking the worst after losing your precious Emily.  I loved that woman.  She was so brave facing what she did.  But, Sarah, have you thought anymore about reconstructive surgery?"  The doctor glanced at Colton then looked back at Sarah.

Sarah had turned red, but she let go of his hand and sat up straight.  "I think I'd like to schedule it while I still have insurance. It will run out after the first of the year."

Colton leaned over and said softly, "You don't have to do that for me or any other man to think you are beautiful, you know.  If you don't want to go through more surgeries, it's fine.  I'll support you either way."

Sarah looked over at him and laughed a little. "Well, this is certainly awkward," she said blushing before turning back to the doctor.  "But, I've thought more about it and read up on it like you suggested, and I think it's important so that I can feel pretty." 

She heard Colton give his snort and knew what he was going to say before he whispered it, "You will always be pretty to me."

"Thanks," she grinned.  "As you can see, Doc, he's a great support."

"I wish all my patients had someone like you," she said to him.  "You'd be shocked at some of the responses that I've heard here in my office."

Sarah continued, "Well, since you can work with my own skin, like you said, I read how you can extract some of my own fat cells by using liposuction."

The doctor laughed.  "I like to think of it as a win-win procedure, not that you have much fat, Sarah.  Yes, I think that's a good option for you.  Why don't you schedule it with the secretary on your way out. Just be thinking..." again she glanced at Colton, "about what size.  After you get that surgery and follow up out of the way, I don't think I'll need to see you for another year."

Sarah heaved a huge sigh.  "Thank you, Jesus!" she said aloud and rolled her eyes heavenward as they walked back to the reception area.  "I promised to text Rem and my dad both right away.  Then I'll make my appointment.  They went back to the chairs where they were sitting before.  He messaged Blake.  "I'm taking her to celebrate her good news."

Colton never thought he'd be having this conversation over a piece of chocolate lava-cake with vanilla ice cream melting on the top.  "You don't have to go big to please anyone else, you know."  He was bright red, he knew, but he was also determined that she make the right choice.  "You only have to do what will make you feel the best about yourself.  I don't care if that's an "A" size up to a "DDD," whatever.  I  don't want you to think about anyone else but yourself when you make that decision."  There.  He'd said it and was glad of it , as he crossed his arms across his chest.

Sarah was covering her mouth laughing.  She could hardly contain herself. "Oh, Colton, what a jewel you are, you silly man.  I've never had a man care about me like that.  You are brave to enter no man's land to go to battle for my future bra size whatever that may be.  I'm not going to decide right now, but thank you for your vote of confidence."  She finally was getting her chuckles to subside.  They were sitting at a booth and she leaned over and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

The look in his eye must be what a calf looked like being branded, that's how shocked he was.  But he brazenly asked, "Can I get a do-over on that kiss?"

"What do you mean?" she asked now being the startled one.

"I mean this," and he pulled her into a kiss, the kind of kiss that it was good they were in a restaurant or it would have gone on longer.

"Oh," she said as she finally leaned back in the booth.

He just took a huge bite of his lava cake grinning like a fool.
On the way home Colton decided to go for broke.  He cleared his throat then barged ahead.  "I've been thinking, Sarah.  We're at the age when we can make a decision a little quicker than if we were still wet behind the ears.  I'd like to marry you before you have that surgery so I can take care of you.  I want to be the one to hold your hand through it all.  That way your dad won't have to come back if he's not ready to."

"What!  Did you just say what I thought you said?"  Sarah was dumbfounded and waved her hand in front of her face as if to cool it off even though the A.C. was working just fine in his truck.

He kept silent while he pulled over at the river park that meandered through that part of town.  When he turned off the engine, he broke his silence after looking her in the eyes.  "I'm dead serious, Sarah.  I've loved you forever.  This isn't some new thing for me.  I realize and can accept if it's too soon for you, but I wanted you to know what is in my heart.  I'm not just playing at dating.  I'm too old for that.  I want to be more than your significant other when you go back to the surgery center."

"I kinda thought that if and when I ever married again, it would be after I was back to being a fully endowed female, not just  with my boyish figure that I have now,"  Sarah couldn't help giggling nervously.  Then she closed her eyes either thinking or praying, or both.  She took some long minutes taking deep breaths while he tapped the steering wheel.  "Oh, Colton.  Dare I say yes?"  She looked at him with tears in her eyes.  "You already mean so much more to me than anyone in my past."

He whooped beaming wider than the man in the moon, and pulled her into the kind of kiss that he couldn't give her in the restaurant.

"Can we not tell anyone, our boys or friends yet.  I need to let this sink in and pray some more before we make any plans and announcements."
He tried to be reasonable and not sound disappointed.  "Sure, I'll wait a day or two, then we're getting the rings.  I want you to pick 'em out."

Before he dropped her off to spend some time with her son celebrating her good news, he asked, "Can I pick you up tonight?  There's something I want to do with you."

"Okay.  Are you ever going to stop surprising me, Colt?"

"I hope not.  I'm determined to always try to stay one step ahead of you," and he winked.  Even though Rem and Emmet were standing right by them, he pulled her into a kiss. 

"Wow, Mom.  You still got it, I guess, huh."  Rem laughed nervously.

"Yeah she does," Colton replied for her.  "Ready to go home and see about your dog, Emmet?"

"By the way, Colt," Sarah said through the open window after he shut his truck door, "What is your dog's name?"

"Queenie.  You hit the nail on the head with her.  See you tonight," and he caressed her cheek one more time before the truck jumped back to life.

"Dad, do you really have something going on with Rem's mom?" his son asked earnestly.

"How would you feel if I said yes?" Colton replied looking over at his son.

"All right I guess.  Mom sure moved on.  I guess there's nothing holding you back, if that's what you want.  She's nice and all and not bad looking for someone your age," Emmet grinned.

"Watch it.  Don't be speaking anything but the best about my gal, young man," he laughed.

"Yeah, I can admit she's pretty, very pretty," Emmet said.  "I can handle it if you are serious about her.  I'm not a little kid."

More pointedly, Colton said, "I think she's the one, son.  I've known her for twenty years, and I've always thought she was something special.  I always had to love her from afar, but now...I have a broken past, and she has a broken body, so together we might do alright with God's help."

"Wow, it sounds like you are serious.   Okay.  You have my stamp of approval for whatever that's worth." Emmet whistled.  "Do you think I'll fall in love that fast, dad?"

"You better not, young man," and they both let loose with a chest-full of laughter..

That night she came skipping down the steps before he could even turn his truck off.  She scooted over by him in the cab.  It was still a little light outside.  "Hi," but he wouldn't let her get by with kissing his cheek.  He greeted her with a proper courting kiss.

He asked, "Does Rem seem okay so far with our relationship?"

"He didn't seem upset when you kissed me in front of him or with the fact that I'm going somewhere with you now."

"So where did Rem take you to celebrate the good news from the doctor?"

"He wanted to go to Chinese food for supper.  We both like it.  I was still full though from that nice dinner you treated me to after the doctor's."

"I know he was glad to hear your good news and to hug his mama.  You didn't need a fortune cookie for that."  Colton looked over at her.  Now that the uncertainty was passed with her clean bill of health, she looked even more beautiful with that weight lifted off her.  Her facial features were looking more relaxed instead of tight.

"Yeah.  It had been eating him up too, the not knowing.  By the way, where are you taking me, Colt?"

"You'll see.  It's not far."  He soon was at the high school but he drove past the entrance and went on towards the ball diamond.  Colton turned off his truck and his lights.  "There's something I've wanted to do with you here, something I dreamed about doing ever I laid eyes on you again after all these years.  I just thought it would be too good to be true.  But here we are."

He opened the truck door and helped her out.  Holding her hand, he lead her out to the field. He pointed up.  "See those stars?  They haven't changed and have kept shining over all the love stories of all the ages.  Sometimes there's a shooting star when one burns out and dies, but there's a million more left to glitter the night.  Sometimes I wonder if it's love that keeps them winking up there, one for every heart that's fallen in love."  He took his phone out and chose a song to play and laid it on the pitcher's mound.  "Can I have this dance?"

"You're pretty romantic, Colt," Sarah said before letting him pull her in closer.

As his song played, the words no longer hurt.  He had his dog and his truck.  They didn't mean all that much.  He had his God and was grateful to have his Bible and his church. But God had also given him all these stars and the good woman in his arms.  His heart felt like it had a sparkler going off inside.

"I'll say, unequivocally yes," she whispered.

"Thank you, Lord," was all he could express since all of life was a prayer and Amen.


*This story was inspired by brave women we've known who have fought the breast cancer battle and to the gentlemen who have stood by them.  But the poem I wrote at the beginning was inspired by listening to country-western music, which I've done a little more of lately since going to Nashville.  So much of the genre are songs about drinking and loss. I just figured there's a better tune that could be sung.  That's my song and I'm sticking to it!

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