Jericho [Part 2]
The Thibeaux family was dressed and ready to go at 6:15 pm. However, it only took 15 minutes to walk to Devon’s Grove, so they took the extra time to pray and read from the Bible before making the trip to the cabin.
Although the walk took only a short while, it was nearly dark by the time Justin and his family started up the winding road to the Reverend’s home. It was so dark, in fact, that Justin had to help Claire up the road to make sure she didn’t trip and fall in her heels.
Still, the family made it with a little time to spare. Not that it would matter, because the moment they stepped onto the porch, Reverend Frees threw open the front door and greeted them.
“Well hello, everyone,” he exclaimed, beaming from ear to ear, looking at Claire first, then Audrey, then Justin. “What a handsome family. Please, please, come in.”
Justin ushered Claire and Audrey inside, then shut the door behind him. When he turned around, his mouth dropped.
The cabin was little more than a shack. Justin knew this because his father helped rebuild it 20 years ago after a rockslide nearly crushed poor Hannah Moore to death. The old woman was only able to escape by dropping into the dirt hole that served as her cellar.
The cabin was magnificent. Stretching in either direction for what seemed like forever, the hut had beautiful dark wood floors, high ceilings, luxurious rugs heading in every direction, and leather furniture that he would bet his trusty truck cost more than the renovations done to the Westmore Hotel back in town.
And the staircase in front of him, he knew, should lead to nowhere. The cabin was only one story, and yet here it was, like something from a manor or castle. Long and winding, it managed to curl out of sight, it’s gargoyle figurines pointing up to a second floor that should not exist.
“Ah, yes,” Reverend Frees caught Justin’s look of astonishment. “I have done a few renovations. I have been very blessed, you see.”
Justin looked at Claire, who didn’t seem at all surprised. Instead, she busied herself putting Audrey in a crib that he hadn’t noticed until that moment. A crib that looked old but sturdy, and one that had no business being in the house of a widowed Reverend with no kin.
“I’ll go ahead and make some tea?” Claire looked at Reverend Frees and then Justin, who just nodded. “I know my way around the kitchen. Y’all talk amongst yourselves. Justin, keep an eye on the baby, will you?”
“Sure,” he said as Claire walked to the left and down a long hallway.
“So, Justin, tell me how work is going,” Reverend Frees said, sitting down in a large armchair, motioning for Justin to sit in the one next to him. “I don’t go into town very often, but I hear your business is doing well.”
Claire walked into the kitchen to see that it was laid out the same way as the last time she visited. She wasn’t expecting it; the kitchen changed every time. New cabinets, new floors, bigger, smaller, she just never knew what to expect.
But she had begun to be accustomed to the ways of Reverend Frees. She welcomed it, really, especially after living her entire life in Jericho. The town just never seemed to change.
She had, however. Changed. She saw things in a different light, something that she attributed to Reverend Frees. He had helped her to see the truth, the way things are.
And the truth was that her husband, her high school sweetheart, was a terrible man. He would drink, he would hit her, he would run off with women. And when it came to providing for her and Audrey? Why, Claire had to work three jobs to keep up with the bills.
Ever since she’d been making food for the Reverend, her eyes were opening up to the truth of her life. He made her see how things actually stood and how it could be.
How it could be.
If only Justin had made the change before attending that sermon that day. He wasn’t supposed to be there – Claire assumed he’d gone off to have some “quiet time” with Melody Rainer, the pretty bartender who just turned 18 – but somehow had managed to be roped up into the first sermon.
Since then, he’d turned around, started making better choices. He started putting her and Audrey first.
But after eight years of his behavior, four of them as his wife, it was too late.
So when the Reverend asked her to agree to come to dinner so that she could see how things could be, she took him up on the offer. There was no telling what the good man had up his sleeve, but she assumed whatever it was would be worth seeing.
There, on the large wooden island, was the tray that she was meant to prepare. She passed her hand over the ingredients – black tea, honey, sugar – and found the two ingredients she said would be a surprise for her husband.
She knew them well enough to know what they are. After all, her family had been one of the founders of the town, even if all those alive still pretended like they hadn’t. And she had been raised in these woods, taught every plant and flower by name and by sight by her grandmother.
Claire Thibeaux began preparing the tea, humming the sermon from earlier that morning.
“Here we are,” Reverend Frees said, standing as Claire entered the room with the heavy tray. “Why don’t you let me take that, darlin’, you have already been so very helpful.”
“Yeah, Claire, come sit next to me,” Justin said, patting the couch beside him. As she settled in, rocking baby Audrey in the crib right next to her, he continued, “Reverend Frees was just telling me how he hopes to transform Jericho into a haven for the redeemed. It’s a fascinating idea.”
“Well, right now it’s just an idea, you see, but with the help of the man upstairs,” Reverend Frees said, pointing his finger up to the ceiling, “it will become the truth of this town in no time at all. And I’ll need y’all to help me in this grand endeavor.”
“What do you need us to do?” Justin felt like a kid getting a gift for no reason at all. His chest was puffed out and he was giving the Reverend all his attention. “How can we be of service?”
“Well, my boy,” the Reverend started, getting up to his feet and pacing in the large room in front of the Thibeaux family, “it’s simple. There is a virus in town. One that will spread to every single citizen in town. One that needs rooting out at its very core. And I need help in finding and extracting it. That’s where you come in.”
Justin was at the edge of his seat, hanging onto the Reverend’s every word.
“I need someone strong, someone pure of heart, to help me find where the virus lives and starts. It’s hard for the good people of Jericho to accept that there’s a virus, especially one that lives in the hearts and minds of its citizens. I need someone who is already a part of the town to help me find the people who are afflicted so we can give them the help that they need.” The Reverend took a pause. “It is a hard job, one that will ask a lot of you, son, but it’s nothing I don’t think you can handle.”
“I can handle it alright,” Justin said, beaming with pride. He stole a glance at his wife to see if she was listening and indeed she was, her eyes on the Reverend. “I would be honored.”
“Good,” the Reverend boomed, letting out a laugh that echoed through the cabin. His face then went serious. “But I must ask, son, are you sure you are pure of heart?”
“What do you think, Claire. Do you think he can handle this?” Justin looked at his wife nervously, who was just sitting silently.
“He can do it,” she finally said. “He’ll be great at it, no doubt.”
Justin smiled with relief at her words.
“Well son, I have gotta say that I am so happy that you are going to help me rid Jericho of its virus,” the Reverend said. “But before we talk more about this, let’s have some tea. Our dinner is nearly set and we should take advantage of this here drink that your wife made for us. Claire?”
Claire served the Reverend, her husband, and herself, making sure that everyone had enough honey and sugar to satisfy their tastes.
“I think we should all drink to our vision of a pure Jericho,” the Reverend said, raising his mug.
“A pure and strong Jericho,” Claire said, raising her glass alongside her husband.
“One molded in my image,” Justin whispered before downing his tea.
[Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash]