Kayla trudged up the next street, eyes focused straight ahead while her heart drank in the light. She didn’t notice that her limp was slowly getting less pronounced. And she didn’t notice the two men who followed her. All she thought about was her goal, about her desire to be home where she could tend to her injuries, pour herself a glass of sweet tea over crushed ice, and sit outside to bask in the light some more.
Gradually she became aware of voices coming from behind her. She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but from time to time they would burst into laughter. Glancing behind her, she was startled to see two youngish men, both dressed in black hoodies and worn jeans. Their hands were hidden in their bulging hoodie pockets, and they wore caps pulled low over their eyes as if to shield them from the bright sunlight. Dismayed, she wondered how this neighborhood changed without her noticing. Everyone always wore bright, happy colors. When had dark hoodies like those creep in? It was like shadows had infiltrated the light. However, the men didn’t seem to be paying any attention to her and she let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.
She had only gone a few more steps when she heard one of them call out, “Hey, wait up!”
Kayla’s heart went cold. It was one thing to share a sidewalk with fellow pedestrians, but now she felt like a target. Keeping her eyes straight ahead, she continued limping up the sidewalk as if she hadn’t heard them. Maybe they would go away.
“Hey, you need some help?” The voice called again, accompanied by a dark chuckle from the man’s partner. The voices sounded a little closer, much to Kayla’s apprehension. They were gaining on her.
She tried to walk faster, but her bad ankle wouldn’t cooperate. Knowing now she couldn’t out-walk the men, she looked around. She needed to find a place to go, somewhere with people, before they caught up to her. This was a commercial part of town, but the small businesses were more like electronic repair shops, florists, and office suites. None were very busy, and most actually looked closed by the look of the empty parking lots. But the florist building only two doors away looked promising with its lit up ‘OPEN’ sign.
“Hey, lady! I’m talking to you!”
Heart racing faster than her feet could move, Kayla bee-lined toward the florist doorway. Those men might be perfectly harmless, but it wasn’t worth the chance. Step, limp, step, limp, step, limp. She had to go faster. As the heavy tread of their sneakers came even closer, she cringed as she imagined the feel their nasty breath on her neck. Just a few more steps.
Suddenly an arm grabbed her arm just as she reached for the door handle. “There you are, darling. You had me worried. What took you so long?” Kayla spun around to look up into the eyes of a man who appeared to be around her age. Well dressed, sharp haircut, and carrying a brief case, the man was smiling at her as if she was a close friend.
“What? I don’t – “
“I know you didn’t mean to be late. You never do. But this time I think you have a good excuse.” The man interrupted. Navigating her with his hand, he continued talking as he led her inside the store. “What happened to your ankle? That’s a pretty good limp you have.”
Kayla turned her head and watched the two younger men in hoodies pass without saying anything else. She shuddered as they met her gaze with dark, angry eyes before moving on and disappearing around the next corner. Feeling safer now, she pulled her arm from the stranger’s hand.
“Thank you. That was kind of you.”
“You’re welcome. I’ve had some dealings with those two characters. They may have only wanted to help you, but I doubt it. They’re bad news. So… what happened to your ankle?”
“Oh, I fell but I’ll be okay. I just need to get home.” She tried to go around him so she could leave. But he moved in front of her.
“There’s no hurry. Come, sit down. Let me take a look at it.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No, but I’ve deal with many sprains over the years. I coach soccer.”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll just go home.” She tried again to get past him, but again was blocked.
“Hey, Larry! Bring some hot water, a towel, and the old bandage you keep under the counter,” the man called over his shoulder as he led Kayla to a table. He pulled out a chair and almost pushed her down on it. “Now, now, don’t be like that. It’s best to determine the extent of you injury now. Walking on could possibly make it worse. If it’s not too bad, like you say, I’ll just wrap it and you can be on your way.”
Feeling she didn’t have a choice, Kayla sat. She wished she was back at home. Even more, she wished she was back in the light. It was dark in this store, which was strange considering it was a florist. Even if the owner didn’t invest in good lighting, why didn’t the sunlight enter through the two large front windows? It was like the glass only let in tiny amounts of the light she craved.
Wincing as the man gently manipulated her foot, she noticed another man approaching holding a bowl of steaming water in one hand, and a cloth and bandage roll in the other. He appeared to be the same age as her rescuer. Taking the cloth and bowl of water, the first man said, “You’re right. It’s not that bad a sprain. I’ve seen worse.”
“Do you need anything else?” Larry asked. “Something to eat? A soft drink?”
“No, no, I’m fine.” Kayla tried to get up. “I’m okay, really. I need to go now.”
“What you need is to rest your ankle for a few more minutes. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.” The first man smiled warmly at her. “Plenty of time to get you home later.”
“Pastor Rory, if she wants to go, let her go. We can’t force her to stay.” Larry said. “Although, I agree it would be better if she stayed.”
“True,” Rory said, and then looked at Kayla. “If you really want to go, I won’t stop you. But can I at least clean the dirt from your ankle before wrapping it?”
Sitting back down, Kayla sighed. If was nice of these men, to take the time to care for her injury. And Pastor Rory did seem to know what he was doing. “Okay, but just for a few minutes. Then I really need to get going.”
Pastor Rory continued smiling as he dipped the cloth into the hot water. He squeezed out the excess water, then gently began running it over Kayla’s ankle. “Here, let me remove your shoe and sock so I can get at the dirt better.” He slowly tugged her shoelace loose, and then gently removed the shoe. Confusing emotions flowed through Kayla. On the one hand, letting a stranger touch her felt awkward. She wanted to stop it and go on home. On the other hand, he was a pastor. It was his job to take care of people. And her ankle really did need to be cleaned whether now or at her house. It would be easier to do it here since he already had everything ready. She should just relax and let him do what he was called to do. Besides, she had to admit his touch did feel good. Somehow the throbbing in her ankle seemed to disappear under the pleasant sensation of the slow circular movements of the hot cloth.
She sighed, closing her eyes to more fully enjoy the deep warmth as Pastor Rory wrapped her foot in the cloth and gently massaged her toes, moving across her foot, and then up her ankle. It felt so good after having been in pain for so long that she didn’t notice when he pushed the bottom of her jeans up and began massaging her shin and calf. She gave in to the sensation, trusting in the integrity of the pastor’s office even though a soft warning bell was beginning to go off in her head.
“Feels, good, doesn’t it?” Larry asked. “Pastor Rory is very good at what he does. And I’m good at what I do. Let me bring you some of my world famous fudge. It will warm your stomach every bit as much as that hot water is warming your leg.”
Kayla opened her eyes. “Aren’t you a florist?”
“Yes, but just to pay my bills. My real passion is baking.” He pointed to a back door. “I have a full kitchen back there. If you don’t like fudge, my chocolate cream pie is heavenly. Here, I’ll bring you some of each. Be right back.”
Kayla watched him disappear through the doorway, and then turned her attention back to Pastor Rory, who was rinsing the cloth in the bowl. “Thank you. I didn’t realize how badly I needed this.”
“Most people don’t know what they really need. That’s why I became a pastor. I want to teach people to recognize their needs, and even more important, to meet those needs. So many people think they need to go through life denying themselves, but that’s just wrong. We’re supposed to be enjoying our bodies. ‘If it feels good, then it is good’ – that’s what I always say.” Pastor Rory winked at her. “Like right now. You’re enjoying this cleansing, right?” Kayla nodded, but something in what he said caused her concern although she couldn’t put her finger on it. She started to pull her pant leg back down, but Pastor Rory stopped her. “I’m not done yet. Your knee is also dirty.” He pointed to a smudge on her pants. “Can you pull your pants up over your knee so I can clean there too?” He started to tug at her pants, but now it was her turn to stop him. “That’s okay. I can handle my knee myself. Just wrap my ankle, and I’ll be going.” Pastor Rory’s smile faded. “I would feel much better if you would let me free you from all your dirt.”
“I would feel much better if I could go home now.” Kayla responded, pulling her pant leg down firmly. “If you don’t want to wrap my ankle, that’s okay. It’s feeling much better now.”
Larry returned before Pastor Rory could answer. “Here you go. Eat all you want. There’s plenty more where this came from.” He shoved a plate heaping with thick fudge slices and gooey pie toward her.
Kayla’s stomach twisted at the thought of all that sugar. Shaking her head, she said, “No, thanks. And I think I’ll skip the bandage.” She pulled her sock and shoe on and tied it quickly. “It was really nice of you guys to go through all this trouble for me.”
“No trouble at all,” Pastor Rory’s mouth smiled, but his eyes didn’t match. “If you have any more problems, come back anytime. You know where we are.”
Larry chimed in. “Even if you don’t have a problem, please come back.”
“Sure,” Kayla said as she stood. She took a step and immediately realized all that warmth had been deceptive. Her ankle was no better than when she had entered this place.
“Are you sure you want to go? I can see your ankle still needs treatment. I can free you from that pain, too.” Pastor Rory said.
“Positive. Thank you again.” Kayla limped to the door, and exited without looking back. As soon as the sun hit her face, all traces of confusion left her. She felt sick that she had allowed that man, pastor or not, to touch her like that. Even worse, she had enjoyed it! Well, she knew better now. If she ever ran into him again, she would not be tricked by his words a second time. Turning her face up to the light, she allowed it to cleanse her of all the residual unpleasantness of that man’s touch as she continued toward home, determined this time not to let anything stop her.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise freedom, but they themselves are slave of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:1-2, 18-19)
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14)