Nineteen years later
The sunshine irked me. It reminded me of what I was missing: a Friday afternoon golf outing with three friends. But my schedule of writing fifteen hundred words per day had not been fulfilled by noontime so I canceled my tee-off time.
If only the book’s publishing deadline could be extended one more time, I thought. Yet that’s not happening because it has already been extended twice and the publisher said the manuscript had to be completed by July 24th or else.
The or else loomed as a major problem because the royalty advance money had long since been spent.
My first book, 100Fold Churches, sank deep roots into the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed put for ten weeks. The publisher hoped for another block buster with my sequel and planned on printing twenty-five thousand copies for the first press run. To back up the publisher’s aspirations, the editor and my agent called me daily, reminding me of their financial outlays. The calls only added more steam to my internal boiler, as if I needed more, because two other projects provided more than enough pressure for me.
I stopped typing and removed my glasses. The new tortoise shell frames were too tight. I bent the temples a small fraction and placed them back on my slightly bent nose, the result of a football mishap. Shaking my head slightly, the glasses stayed in place.
But then, I gazed out the office window at Rock on the River Fellowship’s three million dollar building project, which also lagged behind schedule. A harsh winter, heavy spring rains, and architectural changes delayed the sixteen thousand square foot sanctuary from its anticipated completion date of August 1st to – maybe Thanksgiving. The gray concrete shell still lacked brick and roof.
Sadly, the construction delays had no effect on the construction loans and mortgages. Those marched forward to their own steady drum beats and cost the church twelve thousand dollars per month. All of which came out of offerings received from the membership. Each month, I held my breath until the bills were finally paid, and then, it began anew the following thirty days.
Fear cowers, but faith acts, I thought.
Okay, I thought, it’s time to get back to writing.
I turned back to the computer monitor and the reason for my being closeted away from the outside world: the book. Even my casual attire of khakis and orange golf shirt reflected my off-duty status. As senior pastor, I felt obligated to wear suits and dress shirts five days a week, with Saturday being business casual and Monday an off day. The faded orange University of Tennessee cap with a well-shaped bill resting atop my head was an accessory for no other reason than – just because.
Meditating on the next sentence, I drifted again by looking over at the mahogany picture frame, sitting on the corner of my desk. The smiling face shifted my thoughts onto another detour.
Jamie Newhart hosted a Christian talk show, “Good News in the Southland.” The syndicated television program originated in Nashville and was carried on more than forty stations throughout the southern states. A former Miss Georgia, Jamie had creamy skin and the type of flawless beauty which television loved to flaunt. Her pictures appeared on billboards and magazine covers throughout the Bible Belt.
Yet, Jamie and I did not meet through Christian activities, but instead, it happened late one evening at a Walmart in Nashville. She needed toothpaste and I needed razor blades. Both of us dashed to the department store without thinking about our garb. She wore a baggy sweatshirt and pink flip flops. I had on paint-smeared jeans and a ripped blue tee-shirt.
As we stood in line, a young boy bumped into Jamie, knocking the tube of toothpaste out of her hands. I stooped over, picked up the tube, and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I nodded without saying a word in reply.
In the thank you and the nod, we somehow noticed each other.
Later, Jamie explained to a friend about the electricity of that moment.
“Sugar, when I looked into those big puppy-dog blue eyes of his, I thought I was going to die. He’s a doll, an absolute doll. I fell head over heels in love with him and his dirty blond curly hair, right then and there at Walmart. I could just love him to death.”
The moment did not escape me either. I wandered through the parking lot looking for my Mercedes without remembering where I parked it. All I could focus on was Jamie’s face, her southern accent, and the smell of her perfume. When I finally located my car, I drove out of the parking lot without thinking what I was doing. I crossed the Cumberland River into Kentucky before realizing I missed my exit seven miles earlier.
A phone call to a television friend the next morning located her phone number. I called and asked her to go to a Gatlin Brothers concert at the Nashville Coliseum. I held my breath until she agreed.
The Gatlin brothers were my favorite singers, but I do not remember a song they sang. Fast Eddie’s Bar-B-Que was my favorite restaurant, but I do not know if I ate one bite of my pulled pork sandwich. Jamie’s presence demolished my concentration that night.
The one thing I do remember from our first date was my exit scene at the door to her condo. I leaned over to give her a kiss and she ducked out of the way.
“Why, Luke Stoner, don’t you know that Billy and Ruth Graham didn’t kiss until they were married?” she said with one eye closed and the opposite dark blond eyebrow tilted upward.
“Billy’s one of them North Carolina boys. We Tennessee boys are a little quicker on the draw than that,” I whispered through a smile.
She returned my smile, but held out until the third date before kissing me.
Jamie and I enjoyed the same music. The same books. The same movies. The same restaurants. Both of us were hard working, career oriented Christians who enjoyed an occasional laugh, but for the most part, we were serious believers.
Three months after our first date, I asked Jamie to marry me and she said, “Yes.” We eventually planned on a Christmas wedding at Rock on the River Fellowship.
This has been an awesome year, I thought. I’m about to marry the most beautiful and most wonderful woman in the whole world. How much better can it get than this? Lord, You have blessed me.
(The above is the first part of the second chapter for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)
(Continued in Part 5)