“It’s a little inappropriate for you to be acting cute, isn’t it?”
Stella jolted. “What?!”
Drew nodded toward the umbrella on the passenger seat. Knuckles white on the steering wheel, his narrowing eyes froze her from the rearview mirror.
“You think it’s cuteto run around in the rain?”
“Only my bangs got wet. See? Hood.”
“You need to take better care as a future mother,” he demanded, not laughing. “Seatbelt.”
Grateful to break eye contact, Stella complied. She didn’t understand why he made her ride in the back tonight. She wasn’t pregnant yet.
And I don’t want to be pregnant now. We agreed to wait.
She thought of his new church. Too busy with her job, Stella had never attended. That was changing tonight. Up to this point, she had only seen a few congregants visiting Drew when she came home late from work. Only one couple stayed for introductions.
The woman, Marie, acted almost manic about her upcoming childbirth. Marie’s husband, eyes traversing Stella’s trim torso with tight lipped discernment, guided Marie past and out the door. He ignored Stella’s farewell.
Wanting to ask what the men discussed, Stella joked about the couple. Her remark about a “Stepford wife” earned Drew’s glower.
That night he convinced Stella to make love despite her fatigue and consternation. Stella would not have called it truly lovemaking. The pattern persisted, intimacy evolving into cold coupling when she acquiesced.
This night, watching street lights flash across clasped hands, Stella tried to remember when Drew first started acting odd. His finding a church had not been surprising. The newlyweds fresh out of college joked about his search for spiritual enlightenment. But he’d respected Stella’s interest in establishing an IT consulting career.
She planned to work from home after establishing clientele. First, they needed a home. Their apartment’s small second bedroom barely contained her desk and files. And her ambition required laying groundwork, solidifying big business contacts which sometimes required late night schmoozing.
Parenthood will have to wait.
The car stopped at a red light. She glanced up. Drew’s stare caused her to look toward the window.
“You really like this church,” she remarked with false levity toward her pale reflection. “Will Marie and her husband…?”
She closed her eyes. “Yes. Robert. Will they be there?”
“Of course. They wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“The Wednesday revival.”
“Oh. Is that what this is?”
“That’s what I told you,” Drew rumbled.
Stella’s eyebrows shot up, her mouth opening. Before any snide comment emerged about how he’d told her nothing until now, she rolled her lips between her teeth and gently bit down. Disagreement these days only deepened the chill wafting from her once-lighthearted spouse.
The car stopped and Stella made sure Drew had it in park so as not to receive further rebuke before unbuckling her safety belt. Nothing happened when she pulled the door handle.
“Drew, do you have the child locks on the doors?”
“Safety first, Stella,” Drew remarked, turned away as he exited the driver side, “We wouldn’t want you falling out of a moving vehicle and hurting yourself.”
His door slammed shut and Stella’s throat constricted. Waiting for Drew to come around and open her door, she attempted to stretch her legs in the cramped space. As crazy as it all seemed, running seemed like an excellent idea.
But Drew didn’t come around the car. He held a hand out behind his back, not even offering her a glance as his palm indicated she should wait.
What the heck?
Several young men opened the door of the weatherworn building as Drew approached. Wearing wide grins, several patted him on the back. Stella could make out nothing beyond the crowded doorway. Then a trio stepped out into the New York City rain alongside Drew. The rest retreated, and Stella thought she heard applause before the door closed.
Droplets sparkled in the hair of all four men, stained glass windows casting a glow in primary colors. Stella noticed with absurd clarity how one held a closed umbrella.
Swallowing a snort, she yelped when Drew opened the door and two strangers blocked her escape. One reached for her arm. Robert and Drew stood silent. Stella scrambled away, turning, only to back herself against the other locked door. She rattled the handle, her efforts impotent.
The word “impotent” actually popping into her panicked mind, Stella let out a sound indistinguishable between a laugh and a yelp. The leering male leaning in appeared anything but that. She tried to kick his groin. He only got a vice grip on her advancing right ankle.
God, let him be left-handed, Stella begged, her fear making the absurd wish seem logical.
Crying out to Drew, Stella felt something snap in her right hip when the assailant yanked. Suffering only a few minor forearm impacts, he grunted and stilled her flailing leg. Gaze finding her husband, she saw only excitement in his feverish eyes and bared teeth. Her grip on the door handle gave way as her lower body dropped and the attempt hyper-extended her left shoulder.
At least I’m right handed, she thought. I can still punch him where it hurts.
Then Stella landed on the pavement. The impact caused an explosion of stars before her vision and forced the air from her lungs, preventing her scream. Drew stepped aside for an old woman. She bent bearing a handkerchief, an acrid smell assaulting Stella’s nostrils even as she noticed the Bible in the other gnarled hand.
“Don’t cry,” a woman soothed through spinning darkness.
“Marie,” Stella croaked, hip and shoulder throbbing above overall achiness. “Help.”
“You’re fine, Sister Stella. Stay still. The drugs will wear off soon.”
Stella tried to sit but the world twisted. Bile rose in her throat.
“Mother Montgomery didn’t want you hurting yourself or any potential fathers.”
Stella heaved until emptied. She shuddered at that consideration.
Am I empty?
“It’s a blessed calling.”
“We’re here to revive the church.”