Bella spent the night restlessly. Dream after dream filled with aliens reaching out to her kept her from the deep sleep she so desperately sought. Each time she would wake up trembling, half expecting to find herself being watched by something not quite human. Finally she gave up trying to sleep and got up in time to watch the sun rise.
Holding a cup of coffee, she stood at her east facing window and watched the sky change colors. From dark to ever increasing light, the sky spoke to her in a way she had not experienced before. She didn’t know why, but for some reason it filled her with excitement, like it knew something she didn’t. Something good.
As the disturbing remnants of her dreams faded, replaced with feelings of expectant hope, she walked back to the kitchen to make herself something to eat. Passing by her computer, she noticed the notebook on the desk. Should she go back to it, do more research, try to find out more about this supposedly pastor? Or should she toss it in the trash and forget the whole thing? No, she couldn’t forget it. She had seen and heard too much to just let it go. But she did want to know the truth of it. Were they aliens, as far-fetched as that sounded now, or were they just a couple of eccentric men? Maybe she’d do a little more research after breakfast. Actually, maybe, she should go to a church service that morning and talk to the people there. They would know more, wouldn’t they?
After cleaning up her breakfast dishes she sat at her computer to check on the church’s service times. There were three that morning, and one that evening. She decided on the earliest service since she was already up. Besides, the sooner she went, the less time there was for her to get nervous. She hadn’t been to a church since the few times she had gone with friends when she was little. She was pretty sure the adult service would be nothing like the kids’ services she had attended all those years ago. What would this service be like? How would the people react to her? Would she know what to do and when to do it so she’d fit in – or would it be obvious to everyone that she didn’t belong? Would she be put on the spot having to introduce herself or something? Would there be wild or crazy behavior? She had heard about some pretty weird churches.
She showered, then stood in front of her closet. What should she wear? Do people still dress up for church? They did when she was little, but that was a long time ago. She decided to wear the same thing she had worn the first time she had gone to see Pastor Toby and hope he didn’t recognize it. She didn’t want him to think she didn’t own anything else.
It was still too early to walk to the church so she sat down at her computer and tried a new search – this time about aliens and force fields. She felt foolish now. Aliens? Really? That was just crazy. What had she been thinking? There had to be a better explanation to the missing rain than an alien spaceship.
An hour later, she didn’t know whether to feel disappointed or relieved. She hadn’t found anything she hadn’t already heard before. She shut down the computer and got ready to leave for church. Maybe she’d discover something over there.
The short walk got her to the church well before the service started. And it was a good thing. She hadn’t realized how many people attended this church. It was packed! People stood in groups talking, at tables looking at the literature, at the counter near the kitchen getting coffee, and sitting on chairs that were arranged around the room. Many more people were walking in every direction. The ones with children seemed to all head for the door in the middle – the one that opened into a hallway with more doors along each side. Classrooms? The largest group of people streamed towards Pastor Toby’s living room door, which was being held open by a smiling man who greeted each person as they passed. No way could that many people fit in the living room. Were they all heading for the garden? She entered the stream and let it guide her, fully expecting to end up in the garden. But she was wrong.
When she entered the room, the first thing she noticed was that it was crowded just like she expected. Extra chairs had been put out and everyone in the room was either sitting in a chair or leaning against various pieces of furniture, door frames, or the wall. But what she didn’t expect was that no matter how many other people came into the room, it never got more crowded.
The second thing she noticed was that regardless of the number of people in th room, her chair – the chair she had chosen to sit when she had been there before – was empty. She watched as a steady line of people passed it on their way to find a place of their own. Why didn’t anyone sit in it? Didn’t they see i? Was there a sign on it that she couldn’t see? Was there something about this chair that no one was telling her?
“Please, sit down,” she heard a gentle voice behind her say. She turned and saw Jude motioning to the chair. “My dad is almost ready to start.”
“Why hasn’t anybody sat here yet?” she asked as she sat down.
“Because that’s your chair, your place. No one can take your place. They don’t need to since they each have their own places.” He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. “You don’t know how glad I am that you came. I know it wasn’t easy.”
Bella looked at him warily. He didn’t look like an alien. She couldn’t detect any signs of shape shifting or anything that seemed to be off. He looked as human as she was. Maybe she was completely wrong about this. Maybe there’s a simple explanation about the rain. She really hadn’t stayed to ask questions. But she could ask now.
Just as she opened her mouth to ask, Pastor Toby entered the room with a loud greeting. Every eye went to him, including hers. She couldn’t have looked away if she wanted to. His presence filled the room like warm sunshine, a brightness that filled her with longing for more even as she drank it in. All questions fled her mind. She didn’t care if he was alien or not. All she knew was that at this moment, there was no other place on earth she’d rather be.
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