Escondido – Oceanside, CA
Jenny Hodge took over the secretary position at Bethel Presbyterian after Phyllis Nelson retired. She was sweet, vivacious, and a supremely gifted administrator. She brought a kind of order to the church office that it had never seen. David noticed her talents and how they relieved many of the burdens he carried. He kept Phyllis on for over twenty years out of love for her and deference to Randall, her husband, who served as an elder. Phyllis was more of a motherly comfort to David than a secretary, and she was there for him through some of his darkest days after Dawn passed away. Jenny, however was something else. Her blonde ringlets fell softly to her shoulders; her brown eyes were full of life. She reminded him of Dawn.
David was already known for spending long hours at his Bethel office. When Jenny came aboard, those hours got even longer. He was caught in a web of attraction toward her and he could not untangle himself. It would have been much easier if the attraction had not been mutual. Jenny seized on every opportunity she could to converse with David. She often told him of her marital strife with Jason, who seemed insensitive and uncaring. She would tell the Reverend how much she appreciated his willingness to listen to her struggles. He told her that it was his job, as her pastor, to be there for her. He told himself the same. In time he began to confide in her about the coldness in his own marriage, conveniently leaving out the parts that would paint him as the perpetrator of most of the problems that existed between him and Serafina.
Serafina noticed the problem long before it metastasized into an uncontained whirlwind. So did Daniel. He spent many hours warning his dear friend that his growing bond with Jenny could only spell disaster. He encouraged David to seek counseling, knowing that his unresolved grief over Dawn poisoned his marriage to Serafina and left the door wide open for an escape into the arms of a woman like Jenny. In spite of all warnings, and all of David’s promises to constrain himself and recover a proper working relationship with his secretary, he could not keep himself away from her. She brought him something he had been missing since Dawn. It was never about Jenny, he didn’t ever have the heart to tell her this, he just wanted Dawn back and he felt like he could have at least a piece of her in Jenny.
The twisted coils wound around David and Jenny and lead to a frantic, if not tragic, romance. The affair was short-lived. When it was discovered, the inevitable fallout began. Daniel had the unfortunate responsibility of bringing David’s sin before the congregation and beginning the process of deposing him from the ministry. Serafina was humiliated, and while she was not surprised, she was still crushed. She had loved David through the vacant distance between them and longed for a wholeness in their marriage that would never materialize. Malachi was at college, far away from the chaos, but Jacob was caught in the middle of the storm. He was crushed beyond all repair. He held his father in the highest regard and could not reconcile the man he knew with what he had done.
David continued on chasing the dream that he could have a new life, a less painful one with Jenny. She met him at the Oceanside Pier and took a long, slow walk with him as they talked about what had transpired and what they might do next. It was a gray afternoon, and broken shafts of light poured through the spaces between the clouds on the horizon. When they reached the end of the pier, she took his hand as it rested on the railing overlooking the western horizon and kissed it. She told David that there was no way they could move on together. She was still young and wanted a family of her own. David was old and it would not be fair to have him take on the role of fathering young children in his twilight years. He held her in a desperate embrace, wishing that there was something else that could be said. There wasn’t. He brushed back the blonde hair from her forehead and kissed her one last time. He remained at the end of the pier as he watched her walk away for the final time. He felt like he had lost Dawn all over again, but somehow the loss was darker. He had given up his life for this young woman. As she disappeared in the crowd walking along the pier, so did the only life he ever knew. He was left to hear the empty roar of the surf behind him and the gulls screeching overhead. The afternoon had given way to a dark, foggy evening as he stayed out over the Pacific for several hours gazing blankly westward, feeling himself sink into a whirlpool he might never pull out of.