Rocky Mountain Calvary (sample)

 

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Rocky Mountain Calvary

The Greatest Love Story Of All Time

Chapter 1

Jesus has gone over the edge.”

Marcus blinked at his sister’s assertion as she swept her long red hair over her shoulder with an air of finality.

Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. We’re here to take him home.”

Mari put a hand to her shoulder. “Steph, that is not precisely why we’re here. We’re just here to evaluate the situation.”

Marcus had been completely caught off guard by the appearance of his Aunt Mari, cousin Jimmy, and sister Stephanie at The Cedar Hill State Park close to Dallas—the latest stop for Jesus’ Good News Tour.

Marcus had a feeling he knew what this was all about. “You heard the news report from Miami, didn’t you? You know they took what he said completely out of context.”

That report had shown Jesus with a real beach bum look saying, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” It was a report that had gone viral, giving many pause, and some had stopped following Jesus altogether.

Jimmy, who took after his tall, blond father right down to the smoky blue eyes, laughed. “Really? ‘Eat my flesh and drink my blood’ has some sort of context that makes sense?”

Marcus crossed his arms. “Actually it does, although I wouldn’t expect you to understand. You’ve spent the last ten years so jealous, you couldn’t possibly see the truth of the matter.”

Jimmy turned and would have stormed off in his usual hotheaded style, except the press of the people made “storming” all but impossible. Marcus watched him go. Jimmy somehow managed to exhibit an attitude while weaving slowly through the crowd.

Marcus turned his attention back to his sister, trying to reign in his irritation. Steph had graduated from college last spring, but Marcus didn’t know how. She had spent most of her time partying. Why does she think she has the right to criticize anyone. He knew he should be glad to see her, but his irritation would not be contained. “So Steph, how did you even find time to make this trip? I mean, you’re the pillar that holds Jack Quinn’s up?”

Jack Quinn’s?” Annaliese’s voice sounded just behind his elbow, and he immediately regretted his jab.

Steph, however, didn’t bat an eye. Lifting her slender nose into the air, she gave Annaliese a small smile. “Jack Quinn’s Irish Alehouse.” She tilted her head as she brought her gaze back to Marcus. “My dear brother is calling me a lush, I believe.”

Annaliese’s eyebrows lifted as Mari’s eyes slid shut. Marcus could see the strain on his aunt’s face as she ran a hand across her forehead, ruffling her short, dark curls. She looks really tired. He let out a breath, struggling to find an apology. He didn’t want to add to Aunt Mari’s stress. “Sorry, Steph, that was uncalled for.”

Stephanie held his gaze for a moment in defiance, then seemed to soften. “I’m not Jimmy. Jealousy isn’t my m.o., but something has to be done.” She gestured sideways. “Even his mom is concerned, and Uncle Joe paid for all of us to fly down here, so I guess he’s got some questions too.”

Annaliese stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Annaliese.”

Marcus put fingertips to his temple. “I’m so sorry–I’m a bit frazzled right now. Annaliese, this is my sister, Stephanie, and my Aunt Mari.” He slid a hand down Annaliese’s honey blond hair that she wore loose around her shoulders today. “Annaliese is my girlfriend.”

Stephanie smiled politely, Mari smiled with a sparkle in her eyes, and Annaliese absolutely lit up. “Jesus’ mom?”

Mari nodded, and Annaliese nearly squealed with excitement. “How long will you be here? I have so many questions! Marcus and I are writing a book, and I want to make sure we have all the facts straight.”

While Annaliese pulled her sketch book out of her shoulder bag to show Mari, Marcus took Stephanie by the elbow, moved her a few steps toward a bench on the edge of the pavilion and sat, pulling her down with him.

Their relationship had been severely strained during her college years, and he wanted desperately to connect with her the way he used to. He awkwardly took her hand. “Steph… I’ve been close to Jesus this whole trip. Believe me, what he’s saying makes sense if you’re… tuned in to the way he talks about things.” She looked skeptical, but he pressed on. “Really. You may not like what he says or what his words actually mean, but he’s not crazy. He just has a mission here that few will understand.”

She let him keep hold of her, but her voice was still dripping with sarcasm. “I guess not. Who would have guessed his mission was slicing himself up for lunch.”

Marcus released her hand with a breath blown out in exasperation. He knew exactly what Jesus meant. His flesh and blood were going to be sacrificed. He intended to give up his life for humanity. But he didn’t know if Stephanie would be able to deal with that; he barely could himself. And what of Aunt Mari? Does she know her son is going to die?

How long are you staying? If you listen to him for a few days–see some miracles–you’ll feel differently.”

She shrugged. “It’s up to Aunt Mari, although Jimmy can’t stay more than a week.”

Have you found a job yet?”

No.”

That short answer exasperated him but didn’t really surprise him. They hadn’t been able to really talk since she was in high school.

They were saved from an awkward silence by the appearance of Annaliese and Aunt Mari. His aunt was beaming. “You have a very talented girlfriend, here. Her artwork is amazing.”

Marcus caught Annaliese’s eye and smiled. “I know. She’s pretty nice, besides.”

Stephanie rose and stepped to the ground. “Shouldn’t we find Jesus? That is why we came.”

Mari nodded, and although Marcus sensed she had something else to say to his surly sister, she turned to him. “This is a big crowd. Do you know where he is?”

Marcus stood. “I have a pretty good idea.”

***

Jimmy had climbed a tree behind the bathhouse and jumped on the roof, watching from a distance as person after person came to Jesus. A broad blond man at his side, who reminded him of old pictures of his own father, kept the people from crowding too closely.

As he watched, he was thrown back in time to when they were kids. Healing their stuffed animals and Naomi’s dolls had been one of Jesus’ favorite games. Their parents had played along like parents do, but there had come a time when Jimmy had wanted to move on to playing video games and baseball, and while his older brother would play with him occasionally, Jesus was the type of kid who spent his time volunteering and visiting old people in the nursing home.

He was never in trouble either. He never told a lie, never stole a dime, and he never ever talked back to their parents or teased their sister. Of course they all loved you best. You were perfect in every way.

By way of explanation for Jesus’ glowing personality, he’d heard the story of Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth over and over. Somehow they thought that would help—that he would be able to understand their undying admiration for Jesus because he was sent straight from heaven.

He didn’t.

It only made it worse to know that no matter how hard he tried, he’d never measure up. He’d never surpass–or even come close to–the perfection of his big brother. And therefore, he’d never come close to being truly accepted by his dad. He’d always be in second place. Hell, probably third. Naomi gets second.

He balked against carpentry, construction, and any other job that required a hammer and power tools simply because Jesus took to it so quickly and easily. He knew it would be one more field where Jesus would outshine him, so he went into something completely different. He formed a heavy metal rock band. Since he already had a good deal of his parents’ disapproval, he figured he may as well have it all.

Sometime in college, Jimmy had begun to doubt his mother’s story. He’d asked his Uncle Eli, Aunt Sheri, Uncle Ben, and Aunt Rhonda about it, and they had all claimed it was true, but when pressed, they had no more proof than he had–only the word of his parents about a heavenly conception and angel visitations. He decided they’d made the whole thing up to excuse Jesus for not being a normal kid.

Then Jesus had started healing people.

At least that’s what people said. Jimmy had moved to California several years ago and had been touring with his band for the last two months. With some internal band trouble, he’d decided to go home for Thanksgiving, and before he could head back to California, everyone was in a quandary over Jesus’ comments in Florida. It was actually Jimmy’s idea to crash the tour. If his older brother had indeed gone bonkers, Jimmy wanted to witness it firsthand.

As he watched, Marcus pushed his way through the crowd to Jesus’ side. Leaning in, he imagined Marcus was filling Jesus in on their arrival. Jesus listened, then shook his head. Marcus grabbed hold of his arm and leaned toward his ear again, but Jesus’ expression didn’t change. He spoke to Marcus for a moment, who scowled. Jimmy noted the look of shock on the tall blond standing with Jesus. Marcus turned with a perturbed expression and headed back the way he’d come. Jimmy smirked. Not happy to see us? Why, Jesus, that can’t be a good attitude, can it?

Jesus conferred a moment with the man beside him, who went off toward the parked vehicles. Then he spoke to another couple of men, who dragged a table out of the pavilion. Jesus climbed onto it and stood as his companion made his way back to him with a bullhorn in hand.

I’ve been told that some of my family are here,” Jesus announced through the bullhorn. “My cousin, my brother, and my mother.”

A woman shouted, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!”

Jesus paused for a moment before going on. “God blesses those who hear the word of God and obey it.” He waved a hand around the audience. “In fact, those who do the will of my Father in heaven are the real members of my family.” He looked toward Jimmy, who leaned, putting his face behind a tree branch. “Doubt will put you on the outside of the Kingdom’s walls.”

Jesus took a few steps to the right, but still directed the bullhorn toward Jimmy. “And yet, God does not desire that any should perish.”

Jesus swiveled to face a different direction, and Jimmy gave a sharp exhale, cramming his fists tighter in his jacket pockets. What are you so nervous about? There’s no way he could recognize you, and even if he did, who cares?

Jesus continued speaking. “Suppose you have a hundred sheep, and one goes missing. Won’t you leave the ninety-nine and go searching for the one that wandered away? Won’t you search for it high and low? Won’t you tell your neighbors that you have lost a sheep and to keep an eye out for it? And when you find it, won’t you rejoice that the lamb was found?”

He turned to face Jimmy again, and he could feel the hairs standing up on the back of his neck.

That’s just the way it is in heaven. I tell you there is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner turns from evil than ninety-nine persons who do not need reformation.”

From Jimmy’s vantage point, he could see his mom and Stephanie on the edge of the crowd, and a new rage welled up inside. Damn him. I don’t care if he rejects me, but Mom and Steph? Sliding down the roof, he jumped off the back of the bathhouse. I’m not your lost lamb, Jesus.

Mari had heard and understood Jesus’ message. They had come with doubt. She had come with doubt.

And she, of all people, should know better.

Stephanie was fuming at her side. “Well, it sounds like he’s just going to ignore us. After all, he has all these people for his family now. We may as well catch the next flight home.”

Mari put a hand to her back. “Let’s listen a bit longer.”

Jesus had already launched into another story. “Not long after the father divided up his estate with his two sons, the younger left home in a brand new sports car, leaving the farm in his dust. He went to the big city and spent his evenings in the clubs and his nights with wild women. The way he was throwing money around, he acquired many friends, and each night out grew more and more expensive.

It took some months, but without working to make a living of any kind, his cash began to run low. He sold his sports car but didn’t want to appear poor, so he kept going to the clubs, buying rounds of drinks for everyone. Eventually he ran out of money entirely. Then he ran out of friends. He knew farming, so he got a job as a hired hand. His boss was a task master, who expected dawn to dark work for very little wages.

One day when he was feeding the hogs, he was so hungry, he actually started drooling over the slop he was feeding them, and it dawned on him that his father’s hired men were treated far better than he was being treated. Coming to his senses, he quit and hitchhiked home. ‘I’ll just ask him if he’ll hire me on,’ he thought. ‘After I wasted all my money, I doubt I can just move back in like nothing happened.’

His father, however, looked down his long driveway from his front porch every day, praying for his son’s safety. In all the long months, he had never received a letter, a phone call or even a text from his son. When he saw someone walking toward the house, he ran and got his binoculars. Then he called the caterers and ordered a banquet. He ran to meet his son and grabbed him up in a great hug, nearly crushing his skinny frame. He walked him home, choked with tears of joy.”

Mari smiled with a tear running down her face. She knew that no matter the dip in faith she had experienced since the newscast, with neighbors, friends, and family calling to find out “what was up with Jesus,” a humble heart that acknowledges the goodness of the Father will always be received. She looked to Stephanie expectantly, but she wore much the same expression she’d worn all day. Maybe all year. Sweet Stephanie. She doesn’t yet realize that she’s eating with the pigs.

Meanwhile,” Jesus went on, “the older son had been checking on the cattle and fixing fence. When he drove in, he was curious about the many cars lining the driveway. Entering the house, he saw the reason for the impromptu party, and he was incensed. Pulling his father aside, he let him have it. ‘I’ve stayed with you while this loser squandered your money on wine, women, and song, and you’ve never once thrown a party like this for me!’ The father replied, ‘You know how much I love you, and everything I have is yours, but we have to celebrate. Your brother was lost, but now he’s found!’ ”

As Jesus continued talking, Stephanie sighed and looked to Mari. “Now can we go?”

Mari tried not to be peeved with her niece. “Not just yet. When he’s done speaking, I want to talk to him.”

But you heard him. He doesn’t even consider us family anymore.”

Mari shook her head. “No, he said that his family is composed of those who do his Father’s will. Those two groups can intersect and, in theory at least, completely overlap. But he has a job to do here; we can’t expect him to drop everything just to see us. We can wait.”

Seek and you will find.” Jesus’ voice pulled her attention back to the shelter. “Knock and the door will open. Ask and you will receive.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes as she folded her arms over her chest and stuck out a hip in protest, a heavy sigh escaping her lips.

***

Annaliese sneaked a peek at the sullen Jimmy while they ate around the campfire and couldn’t believe that this was Jesus’ brother. Unclamping the hair clip at the back of her head, she twisted her falling down hair back up and clamped it again. They’re as different as night and day.

Marcus’s sister had also been a bit of a shock. She could tell that Stephanie had the potential to be a real beauty, but her constant pout was anything but attractive.

Earlier, Annaliese had kept a close eye on Jesus as he interacted with them. He had listened attentively to his mother, and even though she had been too far away to hear any words, the grief on Mari’s face had been evident. Jesus’ embrace had lasted a long time, and as he held her, he smiled, his lips moving by her ear in what Annaliese imagined to be words of comfort.

He’d held Stephanie’s hands as he spoke to her, but she couldn’t seem to meet his gaze. He’d given her a brief hug, which she didn’t reciprocate, and she had never smiled once.

Jimmy wouldn’t even put out his hand when Jesus offered his own, and Annaliese had been shocked at the words that she could hear from a distance. Jesus had taken his vitriol in stride, which only seemed to stoke his brother’s fire to a higher degree. Annaliese had wanted to hold him down and cast out whatever demons obviously lived there, but she knew it wasn’t her place to deal with the man.

Marcus was trying to lighten the mood with old stories, and while he had gotten Stephanie to actually laugh once or twice, Jimmy never got beyond a smirk or two. I wonder what happened in their childhood. How do they not know who Jesus is?

Annaliese was curious about the rest of the family. “So your daughter and husband couldn’t come with you?” she asked Mari when there was a lull in the conversation.

Naomi is in college, and Joe thinks the entire construction world would crumble if he left it for a few days.”

How long will you all be with us?”

Mari glanced at the two in her charge. “More than a day; less than a week. I think we’ll play it by ear.”

Jimmy pushed up to his feet, obviously not happy with Mari’s answer. “If you’ll excuse me, I need a smoke. I’ll be in the parking lot.”

 

As Jimmy approached the lot in the dark, he saw a tiny glow that he recognized. Pausing, he pulled out a lighter and his pack of cigarettes. After lighting up, the glow came his way. A tall man in a leather jacket came out of the night. Smiling, he took the cigarette from his lips. “Hey, you’re Jesus’ brother, right? I had never put two and two together.”

Jimmy took a long drag on his cigarette, feeling calm settle into his body. “What do you mean?”

You’re Jimmy Rhodes from The Flying Monkeys.” He grinned as he brought his cigarette back up to his mouth. “You play a mean guitar, man.”

Jimmy acknowledged the compliment with a nod. “Thanks. Do you uh… travel around with this mess?”

He laughed. “Yeah, for a while now, although I’ve spent more time with Zayne than Jesus in the last month.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Harley.”

Jimmy shook it as he got a flash of ignoring his brother’s handshake. “Zayne. I don’t think I’ve met a Zayne yet.”

A corner of Harley’s mouth tilted upward. “Kind of a funny little guy. I haven’t figured out if he’s for real or not.” At Jimmy’ raised eyebrows, he went on. “He seems to think he’s Jesus’ right-hand man, but I just don’t see it. When Jesus needs help with anything, Zayne is just about the last person he calls. Anyway, I didn’t mean to intrude on your privacy. I just saw a fellow smoker and wanted to say ‘hello.’ ”

Harley turned to go, but Jimmy stopped him. “No, that’s okay. I could use the company. I made a rather hasty bid for making this trip, and now that I’m here, I’m kind of stuck. This isn’t widely known yet, but I’m sure it will be soon. Two weeks ago, my drummer stole my identity, cleaned out my bank account, and skipped the country.” He took another long drag on his cigarette. “So I haven’t even got the money for a return ticket. I get to leave when Mom says so.”

Harley leaned against the tailgate of a nearby pickup and crossed his boots at the ankles. “And I take it you’d rather leave immediately.”

Jimmy threw his cigarette butt down and ground it into the asphalt. “More like several hours ago.” Jesus obviously had visions of grandeur, but unfortunately, he didn’t seem crazy.

Harley flicked his butt to the center of the lot. “Huh. So you’re not into this whole Jesus thing.”

Hell no!” Jimmy spat out.

Harley tilted his head back toward camp. “How about your pretty little cousin.”

Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t pretend to understand Steph, but she doesn’t fall at his feet—not the way everyone else in the family does.”

‘At his feet’ is an absolute requirement here, Jimmy. That’s what it’s all about.”

Jimmy looked Harley up and down as the leather-clad man fished in his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, knocking it against his hand until one shot out. He had a real laid back look with tousled brown hair that extended a good inch below his collar and a well-stubbled jaw.

If you don’t mind me saying so,” Jimmy said cautiously, “you don’t seem to fit the Jesus follower demographic.” He pointed to Harley’s now-lit cigarette. “Don’t you have to give up stuff like that to hang with Jesus?”

I probably should,” Harley replied, nodding. “Old habits are hard to break.”

Jimmy looked around the lot. “Speaking of ‘old habits,’ I could sure use a drink. Do you have your own car? Could you give me a lift into town?”

Harley pulled keys out of his jacket pocket and held them up. “As a matter of fact, I do.” He walked across the lot to a beat up little VW Bug. Instead of opening the doors, however, he popped the trunk and began to rummage through bags. “There’s no need to drive into town, though.” He turned, holding a bottle of vodka in one hand and his cigarette in the other. “I keep my ‘old habits’ right here.”

Jimmy smiled. The week he might spend in Jesus’ ever-widening shadow just got brighter.

Chapter 2

Wow, I didn’t see this coming.” Harley looked out at the sea of protest signs that were flooding across the green toward the pavilion where those who camped out with Jesus were sharing donuts and coffee in the early morning light.

Natalie, the tall, strong woman he’d love to reinstate as his girlfriend, gave him a sideways glance before returning her gaze to her steaming cup of joe. “What did you and Zayne do for a month? We had some protesters in Kansas—especially around Topeka—and Blake said they had quite a lot in Florida. Miracles just aren’t good enough for some people. Some insist that you agree with them as well.”

Harley squinted at the signs. “What are they protesting about?”

You name it. Jesus is on the right side of those who want healing and forgiveness and the wrong side of just about everyone else.” Natalie could finally make out some of the signs heading their way. “Looks like this group is pro-guns.”

There were posters displaying guns with various slogans. “Shall not be infringed” was a popular one. As was the often used cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Natalie’s eyes grew wide at a bright red, white, and blue banner, so big, two people were carrying it. She pointed it out to Harley and read it aloud.`God, Guns, and Guts Made America Free.’ Jesus is gonna love that one.”

Natalie looked past Harley as a guy and a girl a bit younger than herself came up to the side of their table and stood. It took a moment, but then their identities popped into her head. Jesus’ brother and cousin.

What’s all this, Harley?” the young man asked, rubbing a hand over tousled bed-head hair.

Natalie raised surprised eyebrows at their familiarity, but before she could ask any questions, Harley answered, shrugging. “Nat says it’s a protest.”

Jimmy gave him a look. “I can see it’s a protest. Does Jesus get this often?”

Natalie narrowed her eyes at what sounded almost like glee in the man’s voice. “Quite a bit, although this is a bigger group than usual. It’s Jimmy and Stephanie, right?

The pair nodded and sat down on the other side of the table.

I’m Natalie. I wouldn’t be alive today without Jesus.” She chalked up their seeming indifference to the earliness of the hour and pressed on. “You two must be really proud.”

Jimmy smirked and couldn’t seem to bring himself to speak. Stephanie punched him on the arm, then looked to Natalie. “You’ll have to excuse Jimmy. He has some issues.”

Jimmy looked down his nose at her. “Like you don’t.”

The protesters bunched up in front of the pavilion and began to chant their slogans. It didn’t take long for it to get on everyone’s nerves. “Will they be doing this all day?” the redhead cried out with obvious exasperation. “Jimmy, you have to talk your mother into leaving. I’m not listening to this all day.”

Jesus strode up behind the two, putting hands on their shoulders. “I think today would be a good day to explore some trails. I doubt they’ll follow us.”

Stephanie turned to look back at him. “Why don’t you just make them go away.” She waved her hand in the air. “Rumor has it, you control the wind.”

He grinned. “What would you like to see? A twister swirling them out over the lake?”

She crossed her arms. “If they don’t stop shouting, yes.”

He pulled her hair behind her back, using his fingers to comb through it in a sweet gesture that showed their family ties. “I can’t, Steph, because some of them will be back in a few days without the signs. Some will catch a taste of the Kingdom and will want more.” He dropped both hands heavy on her shoulders and leaned toward her ear. “If I drop them in the lake, they probably won’t come back.

Jimmy shook his head, chuckling under his breath, and while Natalie was smiling at the picture that Jesus had conjured up for her, Jimmy’s smile was obviously mocking.

She was about to tell him just how much he had to learn about his older brother, when Jesus slapped Jimmy’s arm with the back of his hand. “You’re more than welcome to stay here, Jimmy,” he said walking behind him and rounding the end of the table. Abruptly he stopped, took a step back, and pulled out a pen from his back pocket, laying it in front of his brother. “Make a protest sign of your own while you’re at it.”

***

No, no, no!” Zayne was getting exasperated, his phone to his ear. “He was not speaking literally! His body and his blood are his life, right? It’s who he is, and to follow him, you have to understand who he is so completely, it’s like you’re ingesting him. It was just a metaphor!”

Zayne’s main contribution to the Good News Tour was his accounting skills, but he often took on the job of P.R., as well.

Well, if you want our support,” a voice boomed so loudly that Zayne moved the phone six inches away from his head, “you better have a little chat with Mr. Rhodes.”

Zayne took a deep breath and forced himself to speak quietly and slowly, a hand raked into his chestnut hair. “The crowds here in Dallas are enormous. Evidently what he says doesn’t have nearly the impact as what he does. We won’t have to move an inch for the next month–unless we want to move farther south for more warmth. All of Texas is coming to us.”

Zayne heard voices approaching on the trail behind him and quickly wrapped up his conversation. As he stood to the side, waiting, Jesus rounded the bend with his pretty red-headed cousin by his side and what looked like the entire gang of followers behind him.

Well,” Zayne said as they caught up to him, “so much for my time of quiet meditation.” He let his smile slide over to the young green-eyed beauty, but she merely gave him a tiny flicker of a smile as he fell in beside Jesus, who bested him in height by four inches. “And where are we going this morning?”

Jesus motioned his hand forward. “Wherever this path takes us.”

They walked on, and Zayne kept silent listening to Jesus question Stephanie about her future plans. He was surprised and disappointed to learn that she had just graduated from college. She looked far more mature than that. She could pass for twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Seven years difference in their ages wouldn’t be that bad, but thirteen was probably pushing it.

Zayne was slowly pulled out of his thoughts by shouting up ahead. As they came to a clearing containing a parked RV, he, Jesus, and Stephanie stopped suddenly with the appearance of a man dragging a woman wearing a too-large men’s button shirt over bare legs as if he had just yanked her out of bed. In his other hand, he held a rifle.

Jesus turned to those bunching up on the trail behind them. “Wait here, everyone.”

Stephanie grabbed his arm. “Let’s just get out of here.”

He pulled free of her hand with a reassuring smile. “It’ll be fine. Just stay here.”

As he slowly approached the scene with hands raised, the man swung the rifle toward him, and everyone gasped. Marcus, Annaliese, and Jesus’ mother pushed their way to the front. Marcus leaned toward Zayne. “What’s going on?”

Zayne waved a hand at the spectacle fifty feet away. “You know as much as I do.”

Jesus kept walking toward them. “What’s the trouble here? Ma’am, are you okay?”

The fellow holding the gun laughed and gave her a push, sending the slender woman with long, black hair to the ground. “Is she okay? She cheated on me, and you ask her if she’s okay?”

Jesus started to bend down to help her up, and the man aimed his rifle at her back. “Get out of the way! She doesn’t deserve to live!”

Jesus moved to put himself between the two, and Zayne heard Mari take in a sharp breath. She took a step forward but Zayne and Marcus both put out a hand to stop her at the same time. “It will be okay, Aunt Mari,” Marcus assured her. Then he said something to Annaliese about it not being the right time.

While Marcus had arms around both Mari and Annaliese. Stephanie stood alone, looking terrified. Zayne stepped swiftly to her side. “He’ll be okay.”

She looked to him wide-eyed. “How do you know?”

Nothing can kill him; he was sent from God.” His brows came together at her unchanging expression. “You know that, don’t you?”

She didn’t answer and returned her attention to the drama unfolding.

Jesus was nodding as he squatted down to block the woman on the ground. “You’re hurt,” he yelled back. “That’s understandable. But killing her won’t help.” He gestured back toward his group, who had crowded forward and spread out to see what was going on. “And I’m afraid there are an awful lot of witnesses here today.”

The man shook his head. “I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to me.” He raised his rifle again. “As long as she pays for cheating. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ is one of the ten commandments.”

The woman let out a cry and turned her head as if preparing for her end, her long hair sweeping the ground.

Ah, yes,” Jesus replied, “the ten commandments. Absolutely.” He bent down and began to draw in the loose dirt around the fire pit with his finger.

The man with the rifle was losing patience. “What are you doing? Get out of the way!”

Well,” Jesus said, still writing on the ground, “you mentioned the ten commandments, so I’ve written out the main points for your review. You’ve not broken any of these, I imagine, since you’re so quick to hand out judgment.”

The man hesitated. “Well, everybody lies now and then.”

Jesus dusted his hands off on his jeans and rose. “That’s it? Only a lie or two? I imagine God consults you before he makes a move, huh?”

The man’s expression remained as hard as flint, but suddenly he spun and stomped back to his trailer. Jesus turned and helped the woman to her feet, and a second later a blue flowered duffel bag came flying out the door.

Keeping her close behind him, Jesus moved to pick it up, then putting her in front of him, he urged her back toward the trail. The RV started up, grabbing the woman’s attention for a moment, as her husband backed the large vehicle with more speed than seemed sensible.

Jesus touched her elbow, and with dark eyes full of emotion, she started forward again. The rough terrain proved to be too difficult for bare feet, however. She was tenderfooting it forward, wincing at rocks and twigs, when Juan jogged forward and swept her up.

When the three reached the group once again, Jesus laid a hand gently on her head, whispering something Zayne couldn’t hear. She nodded with her arms around Juan’s neck, and Zayne couldn’t help the jealousy that washed over him. I should have gone out to get her.

He was still kicking himself for an opportunity lost, when Jesus crossed in front of him to hand the woman’s duffel bag to Stephanie. “Can you and Mom take her back a ways and get her dressed? I hope there’s a pair of shoes in here.”

Zayne wondered at Jesus’ choice for the job as Stephanie looked as pale as a ghost at the moment, but she gave a tiny nod and turned to follow Mari and Juan through the mob and back up the trail.

Zayne took a step toward Jesus. “Now what?”

Jesus looked at him a moment before answering. “Forward, Zayne. We go forward.” He turned to look across the now empty clearing to where the trail picked up again on the other side. “Wherever that may lead.”

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