Bess opened the window in the nursery a smidgen, welcoming the draft of cold air that seemed to freshen the closed-in room where she had been spending most of her time since Judd was refusing to speak to her. So much for the concept of forgiveness, she thought. No matter that she had spent the last decade becoming this other person, the one who worked hard at a decent job and didn’t take what wasn’t hers, no matter that his own brother had seen something worth loving enough to marry, Judd was too quick to believe the worst about her. She could see the fragile connections she had been building evaporating like the heavy dew on blades of grass in early morning.
Agnes stepped into the room, her Bible in her hands, and gave Bess a sort of sad smile. “I’m old, Bess, but I’m not stupid. I know Judd didn’t invite Lillian over to hurt your feelings. In fact, knowing her, she probably finagled the invitation just to stir up trouble.”
“Well, she succeeded.” Bess picked up a fussy Daniel and sat down with him to rock, closing the window before she sat down to avoid giving her baby a chill.
A silence settled over the room as Agnes studied her. “Judd refuses to talk to me about it. I suppose you feel the same way?”
“Judd thinks because there are things I don’t want to talk about that I am some kind of super villain.”
“And both of you are too stubborn to give an inch.” Agnes sighed. Then, she shook her head, changing the subject, “Well, I thought we’d do some reading in Romans today, if you’d like.”
Bess nodded, hoping she could concentrate enough to learn. “Sure. Thanks.”
The letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church was a treatise on grace. Too many Christians wanted to lean on the Law for their salvation, thinking that if they just did enough of the good things and nothing of the bad, they would be saved. But, Paul pointed out, any person who broke even the smallest portion of the Law was guilty of breaking the Law in its entirety.
This truth is what made the gift of grace offered by Christ so precious. Because of grace, those who are incapable of keeping the Law in its entirety, no matter how good they are, are given the gift of salvation because of who they are, which is believers who have taken Christ as their Savior, instead of because of what they do.
“Because we can’t earn our salvation by what we do,” Agnes explained, “we have to be more open to forgiving ourselves and others when we stumble. God loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice for us, even though we so didn’t deserve it. It’s humbling when you think about it.”
Bess smiled. “I guess it’s pretty easy to fall into the habit of trying to do enough instead of trusting in grace.”
“All the time,” Agnes agreed. “But when I trust in grace most, it really gives me the freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit in me and to be guided by love in the actions I take. It’s a great responsibility, but it’s uplifting too. There’s a reason Jesus tells us His yoke is light as compared to the burden of living solely under the Law.”
Jethro set up with a howling wail that prompted the other dogs to create a barking symphony. Agnes excused herself to look outside, returning a few minutes later with a long, rectangular package in her hand. “Someone left this at the front door. It’s for you.”
Bess felt a spike of fear run up her spine. “Who brought it?”
Agnes shrugged. “No one was at the door. All I could see was a cloud of dust from where the car pulled out of the drive. Whoever it was, they were in a hurry.”
Taking the package in hands that slightly shook, Bess studied the bold, black scroll that said For Bess and wondered if it was a man’s or a woman’s handwriting. “It’s probably a baby present from one of your friends,” she said, just to fill the silence.
“Well, are you going to open it?”
How could she refuse without giving something away? And the box could really be a baby present. Bess pulled on the plain, brown paper, revealing a mix of black and white roses.
“What an interesting color palette,” Agnes said. “Let me put them in some water for you.” She took the flowers out of the box, handed the folded card to Bess and left the room without waiting to see who the flowers were from.
Bess sat down hard in the rocking chair and took two deep breaths before opening the vanilla card. The greeting was like a ransom note, letters and words clipped from multiple sources to spell out the message, with little wiggle room when it came to the message’s intent.
If only they could see the darkness in your soul, the note threatened. Soon, they’ll all know better.
To keep herself from packing a bag and running in response, Bess forced her mind to work more logically. As threats went, this one didn’t seem very physical. Considering the gossip Lillian was spreading, it could just as easily have been from that vindictive woman than Bess’ real enemy.
By the time Agnes had returned to continue with their Bible reading, Bess had calmed herself enough to appear completely unruffled. Agnes was even kind enough not to probe about who had sent the flowers in such a mysterious manner.
Judd wasn’t as easily diverted. When he came home from working with the cattle that evening, the first thing his eyes latched onto were the flowers sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. “Whose are those?” he asked his mother, even though Bess happened to be sitting right at the table when he walked through the back door.
Agnes glanced at Bess from the stove and kept her mouth shut, forcing Bess to answer. “Someone left them at the door for me today.”
He looked at her as if he hadn’t realized she was in the room. His jaw worked for a moment, and then he barked more than asked, “Who?”
Bess straightened her shoulders. “A secret admirer? The note wasn’t signed.”
“What did it say?”
Bess watched him for a moment, noticing how tired he looked, the new lines around his eyes and the tense set of his mouth. “Nothing important,” she said, making her voice sound bright. “Just a congratulations on the baby and the wedding.”
The last word came out a little strangled despite her efforts. Judd probed her with those eyes of his a few moments before shrugging, dismissing the mystery and probably Bess herself, and leaving the kitchen to get cleaned up for supper.
But Bess had had enough of the silent treatment. She stood up so quickly, her chair clattered to the floor. She ignored it, storming down the hall and right into the bathroom where the shower was beating a rapid rhythm into the steamy air.
Before she could think better about it, she stormed right up to the shower curtain and shoved it to the side, causing a shocked Judd to freeze in the act of rubbing his hairy chest with soap. Bess forced her eyes to stay above his waistline, placing her fists on her hips as she glared at him.
“I won’t be treated like I don’t exist just because I don’t want to dredge up all the misery that was my life before all this happened to me,” she said, flailing her hands to indicate the house and all the people in it. “I can’t make it a living thing again, seeing the pity of it reflected in your eyes when you look at me, when all I want to do is put it behind me. So why don’t you just make up your mind to practice some of that forgiveness your God is always talking about, and get over the stupid thing that Lillian said on Christmas Day?”
He blinked slowly, and for one awful moment, she thought he was going to grab the shower curtain and close it on her. Then, he smiled wickedly. “Well, are you going to stand there, glaring at me, or are you going to join me?”
Bess felt a wide smile break out on her face, the mysterious flowers and threatening note momentarily forgotten. She loosed the buttons of the maternity dress she was wearing because she’d had no time to update her wardrobe and made quick work of disrobing.
Stepping into the shower a moment later, she felt hope surge in her chest again, like a single butterfly flapping its golden wings.
As the start of something binding and true, it might not be much, but it was something.