When Beth exited with Donald, her bracelets jangled together like gaudy cymbals on her wrists. Lily could not wash the picture of Beth’s unseemly hands and black nails from her mind. Lily looked up at the pastor.
“We are departing from our normal order of worship this morning, but just to reward a person whose reputation is truly one of selfless service, one who has for years poured into other people, especially the young,” the pastor said.
Nothing on Lily moved. Except her eyes. She scanned the sanctuary for any appearance of Beth, but did not see her.
The pastor continued. “Beulah,” he said, “please join me in congratulating a man with a servant’s heart, a man who had the vision to plant a school centered on Christ, a man who has sought to inculcate a faculty that manifest the gospel to our community. Fred Aims, please come forward.”
The congregation stood without hesitation and applauded. Lily stood, too, thrilled for her one friend in church. Lily looked over to where Fred and Ellen had been sitting a few rows in front of her, but they were both gone. Lily assumed she had just missed their exit when Beth had come to sit beside her earlier.
The applause continued for a few seconds, but Fred did not appear near the chancel area. Congregants glanced over to where Fred and Ellen usually sat during services. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Aims was there.
“I’m sorry,” the pastor said, “something must’ve happened. Do we have someone checking on Fred?”
Suddenly, the sound of a frantic woman could be heard from behind the raised platform made for the chancel and choir. It was Beth. “Daddy!” she screamed.
Fred Aims lay dead on the hall floor. While walking with his wife to be recognized, he had collapsed. Beth’s frame overshadowed her father. Her rust-colored hair lay upon her father’s neck and upon his plaid shirt; her gold cross earrings lay flat on the breathless chest. Mrs. Aims knelt on the other side of her husband, holding his still warm left hand, weeping in silence.
(To be continued)