Mary E Hanks Author
April's Storm
Chapter 1

April Gray bit her lip to keep from shouting a warning to the bride. What are you thinking, marrying the same dude twice?

At the back of the church, Winter Cowan, soon to be Winter Williams unless April thought of some heroic intervention, stood waiting, dressed in layers of antique white. Would the ceremony stop if April screamed, “A Brown Recluse is crawling up my leg!”? No one could fault her for an arachnid alert. Even stoic Mable Evans, April’s number one criticizer, must be afraid of spiders. However, the older woman would frown on the pastor’s wife raising her voice during a wedding.

What if April collapsed in a dead faint? That would interrupt the event. Be worth it too. She’d do anything to keep a friend from making a fatal mistake, and Winter was about to make the worst mistake of all—marrying Ty Williams for the second time.

But, with April’s embarrassing record of mistakes in this church, she wouldn’t dare become a spectacle again. No doubt, at that very second, Mable’s eyes burned a hole in the back of April’s head, commanding her to act poised and respectable.

She squirmed in her seat as past mistakes flashed through her mind like a PowerPoint presentation. She recalled the time she’d danced at Lucy Benedict’s wedding, tripped over her husband’s shoes, crashed into the punch bowl, and landed smack-dab on Mable’s, then, punch-red shoes. Or the morning she rushed down the aisle to make a Sunday school announcement, stumbled, slapped a deacon in the face on her way down, and broke her wrist.

Klutz to a T, that was her—April Louise Gray, pastor’s wife un-extraordinaire.

A sigh wedged in her throat. Weddings are so depressing.

She glanced toward the front of the church and saw Chad standing next to Ty. She watched her husband, dressed in his best charcoal-gray suit, and wished he’d look her way, wink at her or something. But she knew Chad would never do such a thing in his official capacity.

The piano music rose in a crescendo, signaling the bride’s entrance. April leaped to her feet with the other attendees, contemplating a never-to-be-forgotten tackle. What if she grabbed the bride by the waist, slammed her to the floor like her brother, Brice, used to do to her during snow football, and sat on her? Winter would be shocked, of course. Knocked out, if all went well. But when she regained her senses, April would let her know just what she thought of this marrying the same man again nonsense.

Mrs. Evans, God bless her wherever she was, not to mention every parishioner at First City Community Church, would witness her most klutzy move ever. She’d never live it down. But what was one more harrowing pastor’s wife blunder with a list like Mable held over her head?

A few feet down the aisle, Winter, with her face free of a veil, and her mom, Mindy, sauntered along as if they were strolling through a rose garden instead of facing Winter’s impending doom. The bride leaned over and kissed her eighty-year-old mom’s cheek, and April’s heart ripped a little. How she missed Grammy, the dear woman who’d raised her through her teenage years.

Mindy smiled, her face aglow, apparently giving full approval of her daughter marrying Ty. What was she thinking?

Oh, phooey. Maybe April had it all wrong. Perhaps, Ty and Winter were meant for each other.
Unlike her and Chad. A knife twisted in her stomach.

Had it been eighteen months since she’d waltzed down the aisle an innocent bride? Innocent not only to the ways of a man, but to the ways of a man of the cloth.

A sob tore from her chest, and she stuffed her fist against her mouth. Mable would hate it if she broke down and sobbed during a public gathering. Rule number five on the woman’s rules for a pastor’s wife danced a dirge through April’s mind: A pastor’s wife will not cry or make a scene in front of the congregation.

For the last six months, Mable had taken April under her wing, teaching her perfect pastor’s wife etiquette.
Perfectly ridiculous, that’s what. No one could adhere to the staunch woman’s rules.

A tear trickled down her cheek, and she swiped it away as she remembered how she’d married Pastor Gray in a country church in Montana. Friends had warned her that their twelve-year age difference would pose problems, but she refused to listen. So what if Chad had been pastoring for eight years already? What did it matter if he was more mature and she was . . . well, less? Chad loved her. Would always love her.

Only . . .
She blew her nose in a Kleenex.
Six months ago, at the dawn of their first anniversary, he’d left her.
For his mistress: First City Community Church.

She held her breath, trying to gain control. If she could save Winter from such misery, she would in a heartbeat. She inched closer to the edge of the aisle, the back of her legs sliding along the wooden pew. Maybe she could thrust her sandal out and trip the bride. She’d have to be sneaky. Mable couldn’t see anything amiss or there’d be humiliation to pay. Another step and—Ow! Fire shot up her nylon-free leg. What now? She squatted and gasped at the sight of blood streaming from where a half-inch wooden sliver protruded from her leg. She yanked it out. Ouch. Could the day get any worse?

“Are you okay?” Cecily Jones, a college student, leaned over the pew with concern. The color of her sea-blue eyes deepened. “You’re hurt.”

April appreciated the girl’s sympathy, but not the attention. “I’ll be fine. Thank you.” She smiled at Cecily, wishing she could befriend her. But Mable insisted Rule number four be followed: A pastor’s wife should never cozy up to people in the congregation. So she hadn’t.

She stole a furtive glance behind her, hoping Mable hadn’t noticed. From two pews back, the older woman’s glare drilled holes in her skull. Oh, pickles.

Taffeta frills floated past April’s nose as she tended to her leg. So much for tackling the bride. An upward glance showed Winter grinning like she’d won the lottery. Peeking over the edge of the pew, April found a matching goofy grin spreading across the groom’s face. Of course, everyone felt bedazzled on their wedding day, but after the honeymoon ended, then watch the truth come out.

Oh, Lord, I’m sorry for my sourpuss attitude. Maybe these lovebirds have what it takes to keep love alive this time around.

Story had it, Winter and Ty were married six months before something horrible happened, and they split. Ten years later, with both of them redeemed by the Lord, they ran into each other at a conference in Idaho. Ty joined Winter’s ministry team, Passion’s Prayer, and they fell in love again. Now, here they were in Ketchikan, an island town in Southeast Alaska, getting married. They’d chosen this venue because Winter had to make an emergency trip to the Alaskan island to be with her elderly mom when she fell ill with pneumonia. Winter had even talked with Chad about funeral arrangements. But, thankfully, Mindy pulled through and felt well enough to walk her daughter down the aisle today.

At the front pew, Winter stopped near her older brother Judson. April couldn’t see the bride’s face, but when Ty’s lips formed the phrase “I love you” to Winter, a fistful of longings sucker-punched April, forcing her to her seat. Sappy movies always made her bawl like a baby. Now, leaning into the aisle, watching tears stream down Ty’s cheeks, him publically proclaiming his love for Winter, made the air squeeze right out of her chest. She gasped. Wilted. Wished for a real faint to overtake her. Seeing Winter’s husband-to-be so emotional, so sold on loving his bride, made April ache with raw jealousy. She sniffed and scanned the room, hoping no one had noticed her tears.

If Chad looked at me with such adoration, I’d melt at his feet. I’d quit dreaming of getting off this island!

“Who gives this woman to be married?” Chad asked in his preacher’s voice.

“I do,” Mindy spoke softly.

Then Judson helped his mother to her seat, Ty clasped Winter’s hands in his, and Chad motioned for everyone to be seated.

April pressed her hand to her mouth and whimpered, thinking how her pastor-husband lived his whole life immersed in church business, visitations, counseling sessions, board meetings, following protocol upon protocol, and answering a steady line of phone calls. Church work was like food to him. He thrived on it, all the while too preoccupied to notice her. If only he knew how far her thoughts had roamed. How much she wanted to leave Ketchikan for good. But no, she shouldn’t think such forbidden thoughts during a sacred ceremony. Wasn’t it wrong to regret marrying Chad? She’d promised ‘til death do us part—and yet?

Her sigh resembled the east wind gathering steam for a tornado, swirling all the emotions it could muster before flinging them aside. How much longer could she live this . . . lie?

She should be ashamed, that’s what. She was ashamed, but—

Was anyone truly happy in marriage? Her parents hadn’t been, especially when her dad ran off with another woman. She and Chad weren’t. Which made her wonder about Ty and Winter. The groom, besides being drop-dead, model gorgeous, did have an endearing gentleness about him, enhanced by the way he adored Winter. Just look at him, clutching her fingers to his lips, tears skidding down his face. Oh, there’s his grin again. He stroked Winter’s cheek, his eyes drowning in hers, and the moment was so passionate, so pure, April tore her glance away. Too private. Maybe no one should be watching this wedding.

She knew one thing, Ty wouldn’t be accused of tending to church business while Winter pined for him at home. If anything, she’d be the one doing important stuff, and Ty would be sitting in a motel room twiddling his thumbs. On second thought, she couldn’t imagine a handsome hunk like Ty Williams sitting alone anywhere. Not that she should be considering another woman’s soon-to-be-husband a handsome hunk. But the love for his bride plastered all over his face made him terribly appealing. He’d probably chase Winter to the ends of the earth, loving her.

Love. What had become of that knot-tying emotion? Lost under a sea of church duties. Buried under regrets. Almost too late to save it. She wouldn’t marry Chad again, that’s for sure. If once didn’t cut it that was it. Kaput.

Grammy would give her a tablespoon of hot sauce for thinking such evil. “Don’t mention the ‘D’ word.” Grammy beat a loud drum when it came to not saying the death to marriage word. “If you talk about that like it’s a possibility, it becomes one.”

Yep, good thing Grammy didn’t have a monitor to April’s brain. Of course, the Lord knew. But there wasn’t any getting around that. She’d prayed about Chad’s and her situation for six long months. Without a breath of improvement.

They didn’t date. No handholding in public. He barely kissed her, even at home. They hadn’t been alone without the phone ringing in months. Maybe a year. She’d lost track.

Then, last Sunday when she’d made a layered pudding dish for a church potluck, disaster fell. How could she know Mildred Morton had a severe allergy to cream cheese or that no one ever put cream cheese in anything? Why hadn’t Mable warned her of that in her dos and don’ts? And why had Mildred eaten a glutinous portion when it obviously had the offending item in it? The older woman had an awful breathing attack, and Chad rushed her to ER—not before glaring at April like she’d done it on purpose. Which she hadn’t. Since then, he’d hardly spoken to her.

He only thought about the congregation’s needs, what they expected, how they judged him. Well, Mr. Preacher, what about loving your neighbor? I’m a neighbor, for goodness’ sake.

Suddenly, the tune of “Ode to Joy” broke through her thoughts—and the romantic piano melody. Was that Chad’s cell? Had a door slammed?

April leaned into the aisle to get a better look. Winter and Ty still held hands, but their faces quirked in surprise. Where was Chad? She sucked in a ragged breath as murmuring broke out over the congregation.

“Where’s the pastor?”
“Where’d he go?”
“Was that his cell phone?”
Multiple voices spoke at once.

April wanted to slide under the pew and die. Hadn’t Chad told her he wouldn’t turn his phone off a hundred times? Who doesn’t silence their phone during a wedding?

While the rumble of voices accelerated, Ty walked to the pianist, Deborah McBride from Passion’s Prayer, and whispered something to her. With a grin and a nod, she ran her fingers over the keyboard and began singing, “‘When your eyes meet mine, they speak to me of love . . .’” Ty clasped Winter’s hand, and with his other arm around her waist, he slow danced with her.

As if on cue, someone in the sound booth lowered the house lights. The soft glow from the candelabras shimmered around Ty’s and Winter’s heads, making them look angelic.

A communal “Aw . . .” oozed across the room.

April sagged against the pew and swallowed back every inconsiderate rant she’d made about Winter marrying Ty. He’s a lovely man. Marry him!

Before the song ended, Chad rushed onstage. “I’m so sorry.” He had the good graces to look embarrassed.

“It was an emergency.” He cleared his throat.

Ty kissed Winter’s cheek and led her to stand in front of Chad, as if the temporary interruption had been planned. Wasn’t he the sweetest man?

“Marriage is honorable and nothing to be taken lightly.” Chad’s words, spoken as if he hadn’t missed a beat, pierced April’s heart. Honorable? Did he think it honorable to desert her? To leave her alone thirty nights out of thirty nights? And who had called? Was it a real emergency? Didn’t he know answering his phone at such a time made the person on the phone far more important than the person present? Even Mrs. Evans frowned on such impropriety. April figured the woman was glaring at Chad this very moment.

Oh, Lord, something’s terribly wrong in our lives and our marriage.
But what can I do?

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Paperback copy is also available at SOWER in Coeur d'Alene, ID.

Mary E Hanks, author and playwright

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