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portion of after the medical and legal fees were deducted. To this day, Iíll swear to the effectiveness of mace in hand to hand combat.

I had managed to come out on the winning end of a legal battle for a change, but I was still distinctly sobered by the incident. My health was on a downward slope. My time on Earth was running down, and I needed to make some changes before it was too late.


The Love of My Life and a Beating in the Church Yard

Her hair was coal black, framing delicate features and sensitive dark eyes that sucked me in the moment that I saw her. Lean, like a dancer, she moved with a delicate grace that made me think she was floating above the earth, rather than touching the ground, with each step she took. Her red lips contrasted with her porcelain skin, and when she turned her gaze toward me I felt as though I were burning up inside.

I kept waiting to wake up, sweating, from some blissful dream, and have the images of her face and figure fade, and drift into my subconscious mind before I could grab hold of them and make them mine. But here I was, ironically, in the same church building in which I had met Heather; the flighty girl/woman whose memory had haunted me for so many years. At the first sight of Christine, all the residual pain, the mental images of Heather that I had held locked up in my brain, as though sacred, and repeatedly dredged up to torture myself- were swept away like so much chaff before a storm.

Some people insist that attending church is a waste of time. Those people are obviously already perfect or have no desire to improve themselves. For me, I needed constant reminders and positive reinforcement to keep myself on the straight and narrow track. For most of my life temptation had found me a willing participant. I barely hesitated when confronted with some way to temporarily quell the uncertainty or divert my attention from the inevitable. Instead of sticking to the path of righteousness I find myself jumping off and trying the quick and easy way to oblivion.

Still, despite of my need for steady guidance, church had exposed me to a lot of lousy people, in addition to the good ones. But I kept coming back because I knew that even though the members might not be perfect, the gospel of it might be. The moment that I saw Christine, I knew that my church going was about to pay off in spades. She opened her mouth and the words were colored with an English accent. What quirk of fate had led her across vast oceans and landed her in Washington state, in a small Protestant church that was little more than a few double-wides pushed together, up from a gravel drive and surrounded by trees?

I knew I was getting ahead of myself. By the end of church I had mustered up a small portion of my usual bravado to talk to her. During my short life I had approached hundreds and hundreds of women. I realized that it was a numbers game. Sometimes I was blown off, sometimes I was burned to the ground, other times I got lucky. Suddenly, something that I had done with such casual nonchalance became a tongue-tied effort in stamina. Was it because I had more riding on this than just pure lust? Were my noble intentions fettering the free-fall flow of words that usually came so easily to me?

Finally, I asked for a date and she, miraculously, agreed. "Pick me up Friday night at 6:00," she said. "Iím staying at the Draytonís house for the school year."

At that point, the Drayton family began to filter out of the churchís double doors, their footsteps crunching on the gravel walkway. Mr. Drayton strutted at the lead of the processions, his acne-scarred face wearing a perpetual sneer. His short-cropped haircut was shaved severely on the sides, heralding back to former days in the military. His wife came along behind him several paces, staring at the ground as though she dared not look up. Two young teenage girls followed, glancing sullenly upward through unwashed locks of greasy hair. The two sons straggled behind, with a self-assured saunter reminiscent of their fatherís. Recently graduated from highschool, Devon was the oldest child; dark haired, with a cleft chin and a prominent nose. He poked at the spiked hair of his fifteen year-old younger brother, Daniel, and his face split in a grin that revealed a jagged row of uneven teeth

The Draytons had somehow become involved in an exchange program in which European high school students spent their senior year of schooling in the United States. Though, often times, families involved would send one of their own to Europe in trade, the Draytonís hadnít parted with any of their own children, but had opened their home for Christine.

The Draytonís had been attending the church for several years now, and I had remembered them from irregular visits that I had made. Honestly, I hadnít given them much thought. They seemed vaguely out of place, and despite attempts by Mr. Drayton, hadnít really been able to mesh with the other members of the congregation during the churchís social gatherings. The fatherís superior attitude went beyond cockiness, an attitude I often employ and with which I am intimately familiar with, and edged into what seemed a desire to control every element around him.

Still, I had observed this all in passing and had not pondered any

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