John Follows opened up the heavy chapel door to let Alexander in ahead of him, but just before Alexander could step inside, he stopped. Surely there would be consequences if he dared to step inside a church. Surely God would strike him dead! The voices of damnation intensified.
"Are you alright?" John asked.
Alexander nodded and walked inside.
Surprisingly enough, no lightning bolts appeared from the ceiling to punish Alexander. Warily, he walked inside and tried to avoid looking at the Bibles. God would probably kill him if he so much as looked at the Word...
John led Alexander into an adjoining room. "This is where I typically talk with people," said John, motioning for Alexander to sit down. He did. "Like I said, I don't think I've seen you before. How long ago did you come here?"
"Almost two years ago, but I haven't ever come to your church, sir," Alexander said. It was true. He'd stayed in a few towns before settling down in Hendrick, and he hadn't once attended church.
"Where were you originally from?"
Alexander didn't want to give out any details that might get back to his family, so he answered evasively, "A good ways away."
John must have noticed Alexander's hesitancy, for he nodded and changed the subject. "Do you stay in town?"
"Yes, I rent a place from Ezra Crowby," Alexander replied.
"Oh, yes, I know who you're talking about," said John. He paused. "What did you say your name was?" he asked, though they both knew Alexander hadn't said his name yet.
"Hale. Alexander Hale." There was a flicker of recognition in John's eyes. "You've heard of me, haven't you?"
"I must say that I've heard of you," said John honestly.
"Then surely you know what I'm saying when I tell you that you probably don't want to talk to me," Alexander said, rising. "I'm sorry; I've wasted enough of your time."
John shook his head. "There's no need to leave, Alexander."
Shocked by the use of his first name, Alexander stopped. The only people who called him "Alexander" anymore were the women whom he'd charmed for his own purposes. He hesitated, yet something within him welled up with an urge to speak. "Sir, if I speak bluntly with you, you won't betray my confidence - will you?"
"I never would, Alexander."
"I need to know if there's hope." There. He'd done it. Alexander had said the words. He was pretty sure he already knew the answer to his question, but he had to ask.
"Hope for you, you mean?" John asked.
"Then I can tell you wholeheartedly that there is hope for you."
Alexander scoffed, though his scorn wasn't directed at the preacher. "You say that because you don't know who I am, sir."
"Who are you, then?"
Stiffening, Alexander could barely keep from walking away. Yet some spiritual thirst inside his soul kept him from leaving. He sank down into the chair, stunned by the wall of shame that suddenly washed over him. Goodness, he constantly felt terrible about himself, but he hadn't been this bad in ages...
The need for alcohol began to fray Alexander's nerves, and he tried to shove it away. "Can I tell you plainly?"
"If you want to," said the preacher, his tone suddenly fatherly and more personal.
"I'm an alcoholic, Pastor. I have 'romanced' so many women I've lost count. I gamble my money away and mock God with my actions." Alexander stopped short, not daring to tell this man about his robberies. "Now can you tell me there's hope for me?"