Chapter 13 – The Other Thief
Sleep eluded me, in spite of having gotten plenty of exercise in the blazing Arizona sun with the kids, riding ride after ride and slide after slide at the water park. They’d been so happy all day, yet seeing their joy at spending time together as a family only served to drive a dagger of shame through my heart. Mary had looked so happy, too. It was hard enough to watch her play with the kids with such love in her eyes and in her soul. But each time she turned those love-eyes on me, I had to force my return gaze or look away. It was becoming more and more painful to receive her loving attention. Thank God for dark sunglasses.
Tired of staring through the black of our bedroom toward the ceiling, I got up around 4:30 a.m. again and retreated to my home studio. It felt good to put some physical distance between me and the angelic presence sleeping so soundly beside me. I didn’t deserve to share her bed. I needed to get alone with my thoughts, alone with God, and plan my course of action—my confession. I wanted to rehearse the words so thoroughly that I couldn’t second-guess myself. Even though I continued to pray for strength and courage, each time I tried to gather my thoughts, I was consumed with the memory of how horrifically my first confession had gone.
I could still back out—at least partially. I could still just tell her about Paulina. That would probably be easier. After all, according to Dr. Shapiro, she seemed about to regain her memory anyway. Or I could just tell her about Cindy, which seemed the worse of the two options. Either of those options would be easier than making a double confession! But as I thought about what Pastor John had taught me, I realized that in order to cut both ungodly soul ties, I would need to confess to both sins. Yes, it would have to be done that way, I resolved. I would do it as soon as Mary woke up.
I went into the kitchen and brewed her a strong cup of coffee, hoping the aroma would wake her. Killing time by opening messages in my office, I read another reminder from Stephanie to meet her in the studio to sign off on Forgiven. I started rationalizing my plan to talk with Mary first thing when she woke up. Surely, I couldn’t drop a bomb like that and then leave her alone while I was at the studio all day. I decided I’d better meet with Stephanie first, so that the rest of my day would be clear for consoling Mary. I took care of mundane office tasks until after sunrise, left Mary’s coffee in the microwave with a note on the kitchen counter, let Stephanie know I could meet her, and headed out for the studio.
I got to the studio before Stephanie. It was just after sunrise and the early rays of sunshine splashed across the lobby walls, highlighting Justus’ framed photos, awards, and our platinum record for Sanctified. The rays reflected off that album back into my eyes, making me wonder how I had strayed so far from the path that had gotten me here. It was as if God was sending me a message. His light was what had gotten me this far, and I longed for it again. In my mind, I begged God to allow Philippians 3:13 to bear fruit: “I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” I so desperately wanted to leave this unfamiliar Francis in my past.
When Stephanie arrived, I was grateful to find her in all-business mode, anxious to get the final listen-through taken care of. As she fired up the equipment, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I glanced just long enough to see that it was a call coming in from Cindy. Really! This early? Anger surged through me as I sent the call to voicemail and turned off my phone. The last thing I needed was for Stephanie to see Cindy calling me, giving her an opportunity to reopen that line of interrogation with me.
“I’m so excited!” Stephanie said. It felt great to see her smiling in my direction again. That hadn’t happened much lately. “The press conference for Forgiven is all set up for next week, followed by a spectacular release party at the Beverly Hills Hotel! And the week after that, you’re off to Haiti to collect your medal of honor. God is so good!”
“Wow, that’s fantastic!” I said. “We sure have come a long way, haven’t we Steph?”
“I was just thinking about that,” said Stephanie, wistfully. “Do you remember when we recorded our first song, ‘Justus,’ about the 14th disciple? We didn’t even have a record contract yet. We begged our way into that tiny, makeshift studio in the back of the Sam Goody Music store at 2:00 a.m. when no one was around.”
“I remember,” I said. “Our only plan then was to sell the song after each mass at church and at church festivals, to anyone who would buy it! And even though we barely made any money, we had all agreed from the start to split the proceeds with the church’s soup kitchen that fed Keeler’s homeless. We went all over town stapling flyers onto telephone poles!” My heart melted a bit, thinking about our humble origins and how simple things were back then.
“Do you remember how we celebrated the wrap-up of that first recording?” she asked, the twinkle in her eyes telling me she remembered it well.
“I do!” I said. “We scraped together just enough money to take the band, families, and Pastor John out to a celebratory dinner at Applebee’s!” I beamed at Stephanie, noticing her moist eyes and realizing how much our work together had meant to her all these years.
“I’ll always remember that dinner,” she said.
“No matter how over-the-top amazing this Beverly Hills Hotel party turns out to be—and believe me, it will be amazing!—nothing will ever beat the excitement and innocence of that first celebration. I hope you don’t mind that I told the catering staff at the hotel to have the same Buffalo wings and nachos that we had that night.”
“Not at all! Great idea! Can you imagine if we’d had a crystal ball at that first celebration, and could see what we were destined for?” Right after the words left my mouth, their full implications hit me. All the fame, all the money, all the good I’d been able to do in the world—that’s what I was initially thinking about when I imagined my younger self looking into that crystal ball. But what if the crystal ball had also revealed the shitpile I’d made of my personal life? It would have shattered young Francis’ heart.
We put on our headsets to begin the final listen. The rest of the band had already signed off, and it was always me and Steph who had the final say. The tracks sounded fantastic—even better than I’d remembered them. I turned up the volume to really feel their impact. At the end of each song, Stephanie and I gave one another nods and high-fives to indicate our approval.
But when the very last song came on—the title song—my insides began to churn. It was the most powerful song Justus had ever recorded, and the most impactful lyrics the Holy Spirit had ever moved me to write. But something just didn’t feel right. Somehow the song just didn’t feel like it had felt when I’d written it. It felt sharp. Painful, even. I listened to myself sing, “All I need is you to love. For you to set me free. All I need is your breath inside of me. To give me life. Bring me back to my knees.” Unable to bear it any longer, I pulled the headset off.
Seeing that Stephanie had noticed my discomfort and wanting to avoid a conversation with her, I quickly said, “Yep! That’s a wrap. Everything sounds great. Thanks for meeting me here today and getting this over to the label.” I grabbed my keys and tried to make a beeline for the door.
“I understand why that song upset you, Francis.”
Stopped by her words, I quickly turned around to face her. “I’m fine. All’s good. This album is going to sell millions. Let’s get it to the record label right away.” I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
I got the sense Stephanie wanted to question me. She wanted a status update on Cindy. I could feel it in her. But she must have also been able to feel me. My emotional exhaustion. My soul’s ache. My remorse and my shame. She walked over to me and put her hands on my shoulders.
Softly, she said, “You are stronger than you feel. You’re a better man than it seems right now. And you will come through this season of your life.”
She hugged me for a long time, allowing her friendship and her belief in me to sink deep into my soul. Unable to articulate my immense gratitude, I gave her a quick, “thank you” squeeze and left the studio. Blinking into the bright midday sun, I pulled out my phone to text Mary. I steeled myself, gathered my nerve, and typed, “Hi, sweetheart. Meet me at the Sanctuary for lunch?”
Mary’s reply came back immediately. “So Forgiven is a wrap? That does call for a celebration! I’ll be there as soon as I pick Heather up from swimming and drop her off with Eddie and Delia.”
Driving to the Sanctuary, I tried to rehearse my confession. But imagining Mary’s face upon hearing what I’d done was too painful. I decided the confession would have to just come out naturally in the moment. If I kept trying to plan it, I was afraid I’d back out. It was like making a plan to saw off your own leg. The more you thought about it in advance, the less likely you’d be to actually go through with it.
I asked the hostess for a quiet table in the corner and ordered a root beer.
“You’re in Justus, aren’t you?” asked the shy waitress as she set a basket of chips on my table.
“I am,” I said, extending my hand. “Francis Rose. Good to meet you.”
“I’m sure people ask you all the time—so you don’t have to say yes—but do you think we could take a picture together? My boyfriend will never believe this.”
“Of course,” I said, leaning into her photo.
“Would you like an autograph?”
“Thank you! Could I have two?”
I fulfilled the waitress’s requests, sending her happily off her shift. I nervously scanned the room. It was taking Mary much longer to arrive than I expected. My mind ambled down dark pathways of possibility. Mary had said she’d be going by the house first. What if Cindy had been there, waiting to talk to her? Or what if Cindy had called her? Maybe Cindy was angry with me for ignoring her call and took revenge by spilling our secret to Mary. God, I would be glad when all of this shit was over. Just a few more minutes and I wouldn’t have to be tortured by this anymore—at least not the secrets part.
Sensing commotion at the restaurant entrance, I looked up to see Mary barreling toward me with a terrified expression I’d never seen on her before. Eyes wide, hair frazzled, she accidentally knocked over a chair as she rushed across the crowded restaurant. Adrenaline shot through my bloodstream. Oh shit. Oh shit, shit, shit. It had happened! She’d found out!
Two valets came running after her, calling “Ma’am! Ma’am!” One put his hand on her arm and she twirled to face him, looking disoriented, as though she couldn’t imagine why he’d stopped her.
“I need your car key, Ma’am,” he said—apologetically, because her distress was palpable. Mary gave him the keys in her hand, and angrily took the stub offered by the other valet.
My heart stiff with fear, unable to breathe, I stood up, utterly unready for whatever was about to take place.
Mary lurched to the table like a zombie and leaned against it, staring at me.
“Honey . . . honey, say something,” I said, bracing for the worst. When she didn’t respond, I started rambling. “Mary, it’s terrible, I know. God help me, I can explain. I talked to Pastor–”
Mary grabbed me around the neck and sobbed, “It’s the worst thing, Francis! Why? Why?”
Shaking, I rested my forehead on her shoulder. How could I answer that question? It was the same question I’d been asking myself, but I’d never gotten any kind of answer that made sense. Why? Why? Why had I done this to her? My mouth dry, I pulled her away from me to look into her eyes.
“Mary, please know how much I love you. I made a terrible, terrible mistake.”
“Why did it happen? Why did it happen, again?” she sobbed.
Her question stunned me. She was finally remembering my first confession after all this time, and now she was asking how it could happen again with Cindy!
I struggled to get my response right. I opened my mouth to speak, but there was no air to even push out of my lungs. Before I could formulate an answer, she sobbed, “I guess I should have known better than to drive that route, but I wasn’t even thinking about it. And then, just as I passed that spot on East Camelback where we crashed . . . Oh God, I saw her again!” Mary fell into my arms, dissolving into tears, unable to continue.
Slowly, it dawned on me. Mary didn’t know. She. Didn’t. Know. Mary still didn’t know my shameful secrets. She’d had one of her visions, and that was what all this was about. The rollercoaster ride of my emotions was making me too dizzy to support her so I led her to a chair at the table and scooted my chair right up next to hers.
“It was just a vision, sweetheart,” I said, my hands shaking.
“But Francis, it wasn’t the same! It was awful! It was the clearest one I’ve ever had, and you were in it this time! You were lying on the side of the road. It was so terrible; it looked like you were dead! It was you and that same woman I’ve seen before. Oh, how I’ve come to hate her, Francis! That woman with the skin-tight black clothing and the red lipstick and that long, shiny, black hair. Only . . . only this time, the hair started to change, Francis! It seemed to be turning from black to blonde! It was like the woman herself was changing into a different woman, starting with the hair, but then it all disappeared before I could see any more. Why? Why does this keep happening to me? Make it stop!”
My thoughts formed a tornado in my mind as I took my sobbing, trembling wife into my arms. “It’s going to be okay, sweetheart. It’s over now,” I said.
Wiping her eyes and dabbing at her nose with a napkin, Mary asked, “Francis, why did you say you made a terrible mistake?”
Mary continued, “It wasn’t your mistake, honey. I know you don’t like to drive. It was my mistake that we crashed that night.”
Awash with more emotions than I knew how to process, I needed to step away to get my bearings. I said, “Let me get you a drink, sweetheart,” and headed for the bar. What if this newest vision brought flashes of memory with it? What if she were about to remember the conversation in the car that preceded the crash? I had to tell her before she remembered it on her own! But how could I tell her when she was in such a disoriented frenzy?
“Hey, look who it is!” said the bartender. It was Dave, the one I’d met the night I’d been here with Cindy.
“Just a glass of Chardonnay,” I said, hoping to let him know, with my tone, that I wasn’t in the mood for small talk.
“That blonde you came in with the other night, Mr. Rose—wow, what a hottie! I bet women throw themselves at you like crazy! That Christian rock thing must really melt the chicks’ hearts—and panties!” He winked at me, wiggling his eyebrows.
“Can you just get me the wine?”
“Sure, sure, I’m getting it. I bet it’s for that other beauty you have lined up over there in the corner. I gotta hand it to you, man, it’s a great gig! What an act!”
I threw money on the bar and took Mary’s wine. “Cindy is a longtime family friend,” I said, “and that beauty over there is my wife.”
Dave smiled broadly. “Okay, Mr. Christian rock star! Your secret is safe with me! Rock on!”
Mary was still visibly shaken when I returned with her wine. Frustrated and at the end of my rope, I said, “Damn it, sweetheart, I’m so goddamn sorry this keeps happening. What can I do to help you?”
“Just please help me make it stop, Francis. With all of Eddie’s issues lately, and with you being gone so much working on Forgiven, I’ve really been struggling. I need you now more than ever.”
Mary brought my hand up and gently laid it to the side of her cheek, searching my face for reassurance that I would be her hero and protector, just as I’d always been. Over her shoulder, I saw Bartender Dave watching us. Catching my eye, he made the zipper-across-the-lips gesture, insinuating that his lips were sealed.
I slouched back in my chair, leaning my head on the headrest, dead and empty inside. All my hopefulness at being near the end of my self-inflicted torture, all my resolutions and pure intentions—I watched it all melt away like the ice in my root beer. The confession wasn’t going to happen—not now, and probably not ever. I would never be unburdened of my sin. I had done the deliverance with Pastor John and that would just have to be the extent of my repentance. Whatever weak, pathetic, sinful creature I’d become, it was time for me to accept the truth of it and move on.
About The Book
Francis Rose, lead singer for a meteorically popular Christian rock band, has it all―fame, fortune, family, and deep faith. With the support of his loving wife, young daughter, and Down-syndrome blessed son, he’s gone from performing to an audience of 20 at his tiny Lutheran church in Keeler, Indiana, to selling out 20,000-seat arenas. His impact is global, soulful, and seemingly unstoppable.
The seven deadly sins don’t stand a chance against a man of Francis’ character, morality, and faith. Or do they? Their alluring assault is relentless as Francis encounters each of them along his ascending path to superstardom. Will the full armor of God protect him, or will his vast talents and blessings be undone by the threats posed by a foreign and unlikely demon?
Is it too late? Can he be saved? Should he be saved?
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