Authors: Jennifer Collins Johnson
There was something about her.
Maybe it was the way she carried herself, shoulders back and chin lifted.
Noticing him for the first time, she grabbed his hand in hers. “Pastor Mason, how nice of you to come.”
Wade tried to ignore the jolt of electricity that shot up his arm and sent his heart pounding. He looked into her eyes and prayed she couldn't see the attraction he felt. “Call me Wade.”
He noted a glimmer of interest in her eyes before she looked away. “I've never called a pastor by his first name.”
“You've probably never had a pastor your age.”
Kristy gazed back at him, and he felt her scrutiny from his head to his toes. Finally, she smiled, exposing a dimple in her left cheek he hadn't noticed before.
Jennifer Collins Johnson
and her husband have been married for over two decades. They have three daughters and one son-in-law. Jennifer is a sixth-grade language arts teacher. She is also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. When she isn't teaching or writing, she enjoys dates with her husband, shopping trips with her girls, dinners with her best friend and all-night brainstorming with her writing buddies.
Books by Jennifer Collins Johnson
Love Inspired Heartsong Presents
A Heart Healed
A Family Reunited
A Love Discovered
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows
is God in His holy dwelling.
This book is dedicated to an organization that taught me so much about writing, American Christian Fiction Writers.
o matter what I do, I'll always be a teenage-pregnancy statistic.” The words of the midthirties woman on the talk show whirled through Kristy Phillips's mind. She couldn't imagine why the television had been on, but she didn't have time to worry about that now. She was in a hurry. Even if the words hit close to home.
She rummaged through her closet to find something that would look like new for a very special event: her daughter's high school graduation. She settled on a crisp white blouse with a ruffled collar and cuffs and a navy pencil-style skirt, accenting the outfit with oversize, bold green beads she'd discovered on clearance at one of her favorite department stores. In the background all the while was the attractive woman on the screen, close to Kristy's age, wearing a pair of slacks Kristy actually owned and sitting beside a boyâa full-grown boy who was probably very close to Mel's age. Kristy's heart nearly leaped from her chest.
Kristy turned off the television and dumped the contents of one purse into another one. She grabbed her keys off the counter and hustled out the front door. But the woman's words stuck to Kristy like a rayon skirt in need of an antistatic dryer sheet, like gum stuck on the bottom of a new high heel.
I'll always be a teenage-pregnancy statistic. I'll alwaysâ¦
When she finally arrived at the auditorium where the school was hosting the high school graduation, Kristy hiked her name-brand-knock-off bag higher up on her shoulder. A plastered smile curved her lipstick-covered lips as she made her way through the sea of parents and family members scurrying to find the best seats in the packed place. Uneasiness quickened her heartbeat as she recognized a few of the faces on the stage. Her daughter's principal had been Kristy's principal. The assistant principal had been Kristy's tenth-grade math teacher. Many things had changed, and yet many things had stayed the same.
Of course, eighteen years isn't much time for a complete faculty change.
No matter what I do, I'll always be a teenage-pregnancy statistic.
The words taunted her. She glanced down at her skirt, hoping no one could tell she'd slip stitched a part of the hem, which had come loose on the left side. She'd had the skirt for several years, but it was a classic, never going out of style. Most of Kristy's clothes were of that nature. After finally finding a seat, Kristy nodded to the older woman beside her. “Hello.”
“Hello, honey.” The woman's white hair was wound in loose curls atop her head. Though wrinkles trekked over the woman's face and neck, her green eyes sparked with lively mischief. “My great-grandson is graduating today. Who are you here for?”
“My daughter, Amelia Adams.”
“My, my, but you don't look old enough to have a child graduating high school.”
Kristy's smile wavered momentarily.
That's because I'm not.
She blinked the thought away. “Thank you.”
The older woman turned toward the teenager sitting beside her, probably another great-grandson.
No matter what I do, I'll always be a teenage-pregnancy statistic.
Kristy let out a long breath, envisioning the much-too-young woman on the television screen no more than two hours before.
Kristy tried to take in her surroundings. Academia was not foreign to her. She'd spent the past ten years teaching freshmen and sophomore English at the local community college. A not-so-glorious position in a not-so-prestigious environment, Kristy was still content with the strides she'd made since having Mel at the young age of just-turned-eighteen. Some people had doubted that she'd ever be able to get her college degree, but Kristy had proved them wrong. God had guided her every step, but Kristy had still worked many long and hard hours to enjoy a modest, yet comfortable life with her only child.
Amid the bustle of graduation, Kristy's gaze kept wandering to the sea of people around her. She assumed it was the English teacher in her, but Kristy always wondered what people were thinking. For the scowlers, had something happened to cause a possible rift in their daily schedule? For the smilers, were they genuinely that happy or putting on a facade? For the harried, were they notoriously late like Kristy? The last thought shifted Kristy's gaze toward the door. Thankful that for once in her life, she had been on time, Kristy noted a frazzled mother with two younger children in tow, scanning the room for open seats.
Kristy found herself looking for a place for the mother and her children, until the glare of a familiar face Kristy hadn't seen in over a decade forced her to sink down in her metal, fold-up chair. With an instantaneous wave of anger and determination, Kristy sat up, pushed her shoulders back and lifted her chin. She forced herself to smile at the owner of the glaring eyesâher old and longtime-retired high school counselor. The woman nodded abruptly, then focused her attention back on the ceremonies.
I'd forgotten that Ms. Judgmental's granddaughter was in Mel's class.
It was funny, almost downright amazing, how the woman's descendants could be so different from their grandmother. Maybe it was because the older woman's influence was diluted after Ms. Jent, or Ms. Judgmental as Kristy preferred to think of her, had moved to sunny Florida almost nine years ago. Her granddaughter was one of Amelia's sweetest friends and would probably be surprised at how hard Ms. Jent had been on Mel's mom.
But Kristy wouldn't be able to forget. Had she known the school counselor's opinionâthat pregnant girls shouldn't be allowed in regular classesâKristy would have never confided in her, especially at the end of her senior year. The counselor offered no other alternative for sinful, unmarried teens. Just GED courses. Ms. Jent's efforts had been in vain. Kristy had had only four months of school left when she'd discovered the pregnancy and had been barely showing by the time she'd graduated.
Determined to focus on something else, Kristy gazed at the podium, trying to grasp the words of the class valedictorian. That wasn't easy, either. The young man at the stand had finally grown into his deep, rich voice and out of his acne-ridden face. Despite the improvement in his appearance, Kristy struggled, listening to the words. He and Amelia had fought neck-and-neck through high school to surpass each other in academics. When the points had been tallied, both had shared the same grade-point average. However, much to Kristy's chagrin, Mel had missed the honor of valedictorian by scoring one point lower on her ACT. And for some reason, this high school had never deigned to allow the salutatorianâthe second bestâto speak, too.
Ugh. Just listen to my attitude, Lord. I can almost taste the ugliness I feel. Resurrected insecurities from Ms. Jent. Frustration with Mel not being valedictorian.
She clasped her hands together and placed them on top of her lap, allowing her right, newly manicured thumbnail to gently scratch the side of her left thumb.
Help me think kind thoughts. Help me look at people as You do.
Slim Jim finally finished. A chorus of applause erupted as he made his way off the stage and into the mound of fifteen hundred soon-to-be graduates sitting at the front of the auditorium. Navy robes and caps adorned with red-and-blue tassels filled the oversize space.
Realizing her hands' nervous motions, Kristy crossed her legs, unclasped her hands and rubbed her clammy palms against the smooth material of her skirt. She reminded herself not to tap her foot as the high school principal made his way to the podium. Kristy watched as Mel's row filtered out of their seats and toward the stage. Mel would be first to receive her diploma.
Kristy snatched a peek at Mel's father, Tim Adams. Leah, Tim's entirely-too-perfect wife of thirteen years, which also made her Mel's stepmom for the same length of time, leaned forward, craning her neck to see over the crowd to find Mel. They'd probably gotten there early, but even that wouldn't have guaranteed a perfect sight line. Their twelve-year-old and seven-year-old sons also strained to get a peek at their “sister.”
Kristy bit back a snarl. It wasn't that she begrudged Tim his happiness. Tim had always been a really nice guy, good-
looking, too, which was one of the reasons she'd found herself pregnant her senior year of high school. At the same time, she hated that Leah was so good: Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker and June Cleaver all wrapped into one.
Finally, the assistant principal spoke at the podium, introducing the class. His words jumbled in Kristy's mind until she heard the words
Cheers rang from the lips of Mel's half brothers, but Kristy tuned them out. She watched as her precious one-and-only walked onto the stage. Mel's curly dark brown hair hung in a shiny mass against the navy robe. Mel sported her new glasses and looked every inch like the beautiful, smart young woman she was. Pride enveloped Kristy's heart.
She'll be an excellent lawyer.