The warm rays of the sun were unbearable against her sticky skin and she couldn’t wait to get inside. Bounding up the porch steps, she clucked her tongue in annoyance as her tennis shoes scuffed the top step. Recovering her balance, she unlocked the front door and entered. A sweet aroma tickled her nostrils as she stepped into the lobby and she smiled, recognizing her favorite treat baking in the kitchen. It meant only one thing. Her mom was home early. “Hey Mom!” she called out, dropping her backpack on the bench near the door.

She could hear her mother’s voice and followed it to the kitchen, pausing at the door to watch her mother pace the kitchen, the house phone propped on her shoulder. Brow raised as her mother waved at her distractedly, she shrugged and made a beeline for the freshly-baked macadamia-nut cookies on the island counter. Sneaking a glance at her mother who had her back turned, she quickly picked up a warm cookie to her mouth.

“It’s such a pity…” her mother lamented, glaring at her daughter now stuffing her mouth with the cookie. Rolling her eyes at her daughter’s smile, she continued her pacing. “To get pregnant out of wedlock… God forbid.” She clucked her tongue piteously.

Slowing her chewing, Keziah watched her mother pause to lean against the counter, all the while wondering who had earned her mother’s disappointment and distaste. The sweet aroma of the cookies pulled her from her mother’s concern and with a pleased grin, she reached for another cookie.

Keziah’s eyes snapped open and she stared at the shadowed tiles of the ceiling, lying immobile in her bed. Her mother’s disappointed expression from a distant memory now faced her, plagued her with every waking moment. No longer was it just some pitiful youth that had lost her way, but her own daughter. There was no way her mother could hold her head up high now. And it was all her fault.

Blinking back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks, Keziah shifted slowly to her side and stared listlessly at the wall. Pregnant out of wedlock. The words poked at her bruised heart, cloaked her until she couldn’t breathe easy.

Keziah stiffened as something shifted in the shadows and she squeezed her eyes shut, gripping the blanket that she tossed in her fitful sleep. Her lips strained to speak, to utter something but no words came.

Jay jerked awake and stared at the darkness, his body quaking. He released a haggard breath and bent forward, holding his head in his hands. Shaken visibly from his dream, Jay closed his eyes and muttered a soft prayer for the tremors to cease. It’d been a while since he’d had that dream and it only came on him when he was unsettled, dissatisfied.

Shaking off the quaking, Jay kicked off the covers and stood to his feet. Rubbing his face to clear off the sleep, he ambled to the desk by his window and turned on the lamp. The light flooded the room and his eyes fell on the Bible tucked on the shelf. Tugging it from its nook, Jay flipped open the pages and leaned back against his chair to read.

Somehow, he’d thought reading the Bible through the night would help his insomnia. Something about reading through Numbers always had a way of lulling him to a deep sleep. Not this time. Instead, he begrudgingly put the Bible on the pillow beside him and stared at the ceiling. The guilt of his nightmare gnawing at his conscience till the first bird’s tweeting at his windows.

He lay in bed, still staring at the ceiling through bleary eyes, listening to his parents moving around across the hall. The pipes creaked as they got ready for the day, his father’s deep voice mixing with his mother’s. Jayson groaned as he heard footsteps approaching, knowing it had to be his mother. A soft but firm knock to which he didn’t bother to answer, grateful that he’d locked the door before she had a chance to check to see if he was awake.

When he didn’t answer, Jayson heard her sigh and her footsteps retreated back down the hall. He didn’t have to hear to know what they were saying. Another day and still no job prospects. After he’d mentioned to his parents that he was taking a few weeks off from the bank, he noticed the disappointment on his father’s face and the anxiety in his mother’s eyes. He didn’t bother telling them about Isaac’s suggestion to work pro bono at the church, knowing they’d balk. Especially his father who visibly struggled over the fact that Jayson was unemployed.

Grimacing, Jayson dragged his hand over his face and turned in bed, covering his face with the pillow. In the back of his mind, he pleaded with whatever power could make him fall asleep since counting sheep failed at a half past three. His eyes stung and he scowled, squeezing his eyes tight to keep the tears from falling. He turned violently to face the empty pillow by his side, glaring at the black leather Bible.

His jaw clenched tight, holding back the rant that filled his throat. Self-pity was not an option for his condition and he refused to succumb to crying. Even if he had to rescind to Isaac and work for free, it was better than working in the bank, though a far cry from his calling as a pastor.

A thought struck him then, niggling at the back of his mind, mocking him. Jayson stiffened in his bed. What if God hadn’t called him after all? What if getting through years of seminary school was just to assuage the guilt he’d been running from all these years? What if God wanted him to work as an accountant and he’d been too stubborn to hear Him after all?

Jayson’s eyes stayed on the leather binding of the Bible, his heart so thumping hard against his chest that he could hear it through the mattress. His hands twitched to reach for the Bible, to flip through the pages and find a scripture verse that would convince him otherwise. There had to be a reason why this wandering thought crossed his mind. It wasn’t outlandish to think he’d missed his way. After all, he’d been so foolish in his adolescent years till the last semester as a senior in college.

Seminary school had not been easy, classes were tougher for him than most as he tried to grasp the essence of God and his Word. He’d struggled through each semester, fighting through the self-doubt that he was capable of doing it. Each time though, without fail, there was always someone to encourage him through God’s Word and the self-doubt disappeared. Until now. All his school friends were either working in different cities or battling in the mission field. His heart thumped a bit, realizing he was the only one with nothing to show for those grueling years in school.

“God…” he whispered in the suffocating silence. Jayson clenched his teeth, drawing his fingers into his palms as the wave of fear swept over him, self-inadequacy seizing him.

The dull sound of his phone vibrating against the bedside table jarred him back to the present. Jayson blinked against the tears that blurred his vision and blindly reached for the phone. It vibrated incessantly against his palm as he brought it before him. His sister’s caller ID flashed on the screen. Although there was no sound, Jayson knew what song belonged to her call.

After a college Bible retreat, his older sister sang Kathy Troccoli’s “My Life is in Your Hands” until his father begged her to pipe down. It tickled Jayson that Wilma could make their father scowl and linked the song to her phone number, more to annoy her than to amuse him. This time, the song only mocked his dwindling confidence and he hesitated.

On the third ring, Jayson reluctantly accepted the call and lifted the phone to his ear, only to pull it back at the shrieking cry on the other end. The hair in the back of his neck stood and Jayson sat up immediately. “Wilma? What’s going on?” He demanded over the sound of his wailing niece in the background.

Wilma clucked her tongue. “I need your help,” she said, interrupting the baby’s screaming with shushing. “Are you awake?”

Jayson frowned at the clock by his bed. It was only six in the morning. He pulled his legs to the side of the bed. “I am now. What’s going on?”