The ball hurtled through the warm spring air like a guided
missile, heading straight for Valerie Townsend's face. She
threw up her hands to protect herself, dropping the pile of magazines
she'd been carrying.
"I'm sorry, ma'am!" a little boy yelled breathlessly, running
hard toward her. "I didn't mean for it to go toward you!
"That's OK," she assured the boy, bending to retrieve the
"Here, let me get those for you," said a voice that was
definitely not that of a boy. Valerie straightened in the direction
of the voice and was surprised to look into one of the
warmest pairs of eyes she'd ever seen. The gorgeous, gray-green
eyes belonged to a tall, athletically built man who offered
her a wide smile. She admired the way his thick wavy
hair shone in the sun.
The man scooped up the magazines and handed them to
her. "Are you all right?" he asked, a note of concern in his
Valerie smiled in return. "Thanks, I'm fine. My arm took
the blow, so there's no harm done."
He extended his hand in one smooth motion. "Curtis
Chambers," he offered. She gave his hand a quick squeeze.
"Hi, I'm Valerie Townsend."
Valerie tucked her magazines under her arm and turned
to continue her search for a shady park bench, but Curtis
wanted to continue the conversation.
"Do you come here often?" he asked. "I haven't seen you
in this part of the park before."
"Actually, I just started," Valerie said. "I've been looking
for a place to think and read."
That was an understatement, and she knew it. She was
looking for a place to escape the stifling animosity that hung
in the air between her and her husband, John. Even though
they shared a spacious home, it sometimes felt like the world
wasn't large enough for the two of them to get along. It was
easy enough to ignore each other during the week when
they both worked, but lately weekends had become tense
and unpleasant. Just a few minutes ago, she'd yelled at him
about just how sick he made her sometimes. Then she'd
grabbed an armful of magazines and left to find some peace
It wasn't that she and John had had some disruptive ugliness
between them, really. But after seven years, their marriage
had lost some of its glow. A lot of its glow. Things had
been just fine during the first five. In fact, there'd been times
when she'd never expected their honeymoon stage to end.
But it had come to an abrupt end after they'd been unable to
start a family. And after her miscarriage a year ago and the
depression that followed, her marriage had begun to unravel
like a poorly crafted pair of baby booties. And, when Valerie
was honest with herself, she wasn't sure she cared much
about knitting it back together.
"Well, I'm glad I came this way today," Curtis said. His
voice jolted Valerie from her thoughts.
"I'm sorry?" she said, asking him to repeat himself.
He eyed her appreciatively. "I said, I'm glad I came this
way today. I was on my way to a rehearsal with my band and
decided to take a shortcut through the park."
Valerie noticed the guitar case at his feet. "You play
guitar?" she asked.
"Bass," he said, smiling again. "But only for the Lord."
She felt a little embarrassed at the way her heart skipped
at his words: "Only for the Lord." It was nice enough that he
was a Christian, but she wondered whether she was happy
for him or for herself. Why was she suddenly so intrigued by
"Well, thanks again for saving my face," she said, turning
again to leave.
Curtis picked up his guitar case.
"Maybe I'll see you again," Curtis said. "I come through
here every week when I go to band rehearsal, and sometimes
I jog here." He paused, and held her eyes with his. "I'll be
looking for you," he said. "See you next time."
"Nice to meet you," she said, hoping he couldn't tell how
flustered she was by the way he focused so intently on her.
He strode off, rounded a curve and was out of her sight.
Was he flirting with her, flashing her that stunning smile?
Valerie sat down on the park bench and wondered if
there were some reason she'd run into Curtis at that particular
time. He certainly was intriguing.
* * *
Valerie sat in her bedroom three Saturdays later, watching
the pouring rain. She was thoroughly disappointed that
she could not go to the park that day. All week she'd thought
about the last two encounters with Curtis. Now it would be
another week before she could possibly see him again. Their
meetings had been harmless, Valerie told herself. They just
met at her park bench and chatted. Curtis talked to her
about his hopes for the band, and she told him about her
work as an administrative assistant to the director of the
local museum of African-American art and culture. Valerie
was flattered by the interest he took in her work, and she enjoyed
listening to his stories.
Several times over the last few weeks, she'd found herself
wondering why God would allow this handsome, friendly
man to come into her life. She'd been unhappy in her marriage
for some time; was Curtis God's answer to her prayer
to be free of it? After all, God wouldn't want her to be so unhappy
for so long, would He?
Valerie laughed at herself, feeling foolish. In her mind's
eye, the two of them had dated, she had divorced John, and
they were headed for the altar. It's only been three weeks,
she reasoned, and besides, he's not interested in me that way.
We're just two people who really hit it off.
She decided to do her weekend chores, just in case the sun
came out that afternoon. She washed clothes, did some grocery
shopping and ran a load of dishes. When the sun did
emerge from the clouds, Valerie was ready to go. She chose a
casual pantsuit and a chic pair of sandals. She ran a comb
through her short auburn curls, refreshed her lipstick, and
sprayed on a touch of perfume before she headed for the door.
Her husband was relaxing on the couch, watching a basketball
game. John looked quizzically at Valerie as she opened
the back door. "Where are you going in such a hurry?" he
Valerie chose a couple of magazines from the coffee
table and tried to appear casual. She'd forgotten that John
had Saturday off this week.
"Oh, I'm just going to the park for a couple of hours," she
If John sensed that something was amiss, he didn't let on.
"Well, don't forget that we have the farewell dinner for
the missionary couple tonight at church."
"I'll be back in time," she said over her shoulder as she
slipped out the door.
I hope I haven't missed him, Valerie thought, walking more
quickly than usual. She resented her husband's inquiry about
her activities. After all, if she wanted to have a little time to
spend her way before she played her public role as the contented
wife, that was her business.
Valerie arrived at the park, scrambled off the path she
had begun to follow, and skirted a small hill to get to her
bench faster. Descending the hill she stopped, frozen by
what she saw in front of her. A mother with two small children
was sitting on her bench. She was holding one baby on
her lap and talking to the other child who was in a stroller.
Valerie winced, the way she had almost every time she'd
seen young children lately. Her hand flew involuntarily to
her stomach, and she remembered the pain of her childlessness
Then she started to pray. Maybe it was nothing-or
maybe that woman was sitting on her bench as a test of her
faith. In any case, it was an intrusion-and it was wasting
more time she could have been spending with Curtis.
"Come on God, make her move," she whispered. "Make
her move, please." Suddenly, the woman placed the baby on
her lap back into the stroller, settled her other child, and
pushed the stroller back onto the path and down the hill.
Valerie dashed to the bench before anyone else spied it,
sat down, and mused over how quickly God had moved in
response to her need. Surely He wouldn't have provided a
place for her to meet Curtis if he disapproved of their friendship,
Valerie waited and busied herself thumbing through the
magazines she had brought. An hour passed, and no Curtis.
She read some more and checked her watch again. Almost
thirty minutes more had gone by. In another thirty minutes
she would have to leave to dress for the dinner.
"Where can he be?" Valerie said to herself. She twisted
her wedding ring around and around on her finger nervously,
gazing at the one-carat solitaire. It was set in a wide gold
nugget band that snuggled against a matching nugget band
to form a pair. The diamond glittered and winked at her as if
teasing her, taunting her. Valerie felt trapped, caught by
John's ring that seemed to twinkle at her: "Gotcha!"
She sighed and chose another magazine from the pile
she'd brought. Of course Curtis would have noticed her
wedding rings. How could he have missed them? That must
have been why Curtis didn't come. How could he have
known that she only wore them as part of the charade she
and John called a marriage? He couldn't have known that she
hadn't really wanted to wear her rings for some time.
Valerie figured she might as well go home. Apparently
Curtis was not going to show. Dejected, she gathered her
"Nice bench you've chosen out here under the trees,"
Curtis said, walking up just as she stood to leave. "Mind if I
"Sure," Valerie said, making room for Curtis on the small
park bench. "Have a seat. Where's your guitar?" she asked,
noticing that he'd come empty-handed.
"It's already at the church. I see you're still catching up on
"I am," she said. "I love to read. It relaxes me."
His eyes bore into her, and Valerie could tell he was curious
about something. "Do you live near here?"
She nodded. "Do you know where Sierra Sand is?"
He seemed impressed. "That's a really nice subdivision,"
he said. "A nice neighborhood." He paused, letting his eyes
drift slowly over her nut-brown skin and sparkling brown
eyes. "Which brings me to another question."
"What's that?" she asked, blushing slightly under his perusal.
He nodded toward her left hand. "Where is your husband?"
"Right now he's at home, watching some game," she said,
rolling her eyes.
"I can tell just looking at the rings on your finger that he
cares a great deal about you," he said, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm surprised he's not enjoying this fantastic day with his attractive . and
"Th-Thank you for your compliment," Valerie stammered,
ecstatic that Curtis thought she was attractive. "But,
you're mistaken. I'm not at all mysterious. I just have some
problems I need to think through."
Curtis seemed intrigued. "Maybe I can help you with
your thinking." He placed his arm on the bench behind her,
letting it graze her shoulder for a moment. "Do you have
time to talk now?"
"Oh," she said, voice heavy with disappointment. "My
husband and I are going to a dinner tonight, so I have to rush
"That's too bad. I was going to invite you for a quick bite
to eat before my rehearsal. Well . maybe next time."
"That would be great."
"Then you can tell me all about yourself, and about
what's troubling you ." He paused and added, "And why
you're not home with your husband." He took her hand,
helping her to stand. "You had better get going." He
squeezed her hand lightly. "See you next week around five."
Valerie floated all the way home.
JUST A FRIEND?
If the will of one person could have made the days of the week
progress, Valerie would have made them move so that she
wouldn't have to wait to see Curtis.
At one moment she was on cloud nine-daydreaming
about the upcoming Saturday. At the very next moment she
was in the deepest doldrums.
You fool, he won't come, she mused to herself on Wednesday
as she poured a cup of coffee and made her way over to her
desk. Here she was at work, with plenty to do to arrange an
upcoming exhibit, but her thoughts kept drifting to Curtis.
Valerie didn't dare confide in anyone. She thought of
telling two of her close friends at work but felt too uneasy. For
one thing, they might think she was just reading things into a
few innocent meetings. Besides, telling them about Curtis
would mean revealing just how bad, how boring, things had
become between John and her. She glanced at her shelf,
where a photo of her husband smiled down on her. In the
shot, his muscular arm was draped around her shoulder as
they smiled for the camera. Those were happier days, she thought.Before the infertility treatments, before the miscarriage, before my husband
forgot how to meet my needs, before we started bickering so much.
In any case, they looked like the perfect couple in that
photo, and Valerie wasn't about to tell her coworkers that
* * *
Valerie frowned, annoyed to see her husband parked in
front of the television yet again. It was Saturday, and apparently
John didn't have to work. Well, she hoped he wouldn't
interfere with her weekend plans. After all, she had a five
o'clock date to keep.
Valerie blushed. Was she really thinking of their get-together
as a date?
John noticed her bustling around the house, hurrying to
finish her work again. "Valerie, are you going somewhere?"
"Just to the park," she said. "I want to do some reading,
and the noise is distracting to me."
John seemed annoyed. "Did you forget that we're supposed
to visit my Mom today for her birthday?"
Valerie met his irritation with her own. "I'm not going to
be able to go, John. I've got a big meeting with several of the
museum's key donors on Monday, and you know how tired
that long drive to your mother's makes me. I've got to be at
my best on Monday, and that won't happen if I've been stuck
in the car for most of today and tomorrow."
She plucked a gift bag from the corner of the room and
set it on the coffee table.
"Here's a gift for her. Tell her I said hello," she said indifferently.
John looked at Valerie with a strange expression in his
eyes. Whether it was disbelief or disappointment, she
couldn't tell. It didn't matter, though, because she didn't care.
John never considered her plans or her schedule, or whether
she'd even wanted to visit his mother. He never thought
about her feelings or interests at all. He could go by himself.
She didn't plan on missing her time with Curtis. She'd been
looking forward to it all week.
Valerie had only been waiting for about fifteen minutes
when Curtis strode into view.
"Hey, pretty lady," he said, handing her a daisy he'd
plucked along the path.