A few weeks later, early on a Tuesday morning, after disembarking from my flight, I was driven to the hotel for guests of the Earnest Betty talk show.
Caroline had wanted to accompany me, but her work schedule denied it. Instead, she had promised to watch the show as it aired live on tv. That evening, as the time grew closer for my appearance, I became more nervous until, finally, when the car arrived to take me to the studio, I vomited. Thankfully, not in the car, but in the bathroom just as I was about to leave. Hurriedly, I cleaned myself up, downed a large gulp of mouthwash, and headed out of the hotel door and down the elevator to the car waiting outside.
After makeup I was led to the green room to wait to be summoned. Watching the monitor closely, I saw Earnest Betty getting settled in his chair, people were fussing around him, making sure his appearance and microphone were just so, and then I was fetched and seated at his table opposite him. My stomach began churning again, but not so much as when I realized other guests were being ushered in and seated at the table with us. Who are these people, I thought. I had got the impression I was going to be interviewed alone.
I felt my heart pounding. I wanted to run away.
People began checking our microphones while studio jargon was being shouted from all sides. I had never felt so out of my comfort zone in my life.
Then, suddenly, we were on air. While the Earnest Betty theme song played Earnest turned to all us guests and smiled. “Good luck,” he said.
As the music phased out he began to speak into the camera. “Good evening. Tonight I have three very special guests with me. Let me first introduce you to James Gossip, well-known author and speaker for One Road Ministries, and on his right Alexander Ann, philosopher, and writer for the successful tv show, Casual Reality, and on his right we welcome Liz Jan, columnist, expert on religious thinking, philanthropist, and host of a local radio show, Beliefs are Balderdash. Welcome to all of you.”
We all three smiled, but my heart sank. I hadn’t expected other guests to be speaking, and from the sound of their credentials they had been invited to add controversy. I was fully aware how much I needed to keep my wits about me. If I didn’t keep on top of their imminent jabs I could cause One Road Ministries to become a laughingstock.
“James,” Earnest said, turning to me. “Let’s begin with you.”
Hearing my name, I automatically straighten up in my chair bracing for the worst. For a moment I was back in grade school steeling myself against teachers’ questions. I noticed a copy of my latest book laying on the table in front of Earnest. He held it up to the camera. Against the studio’s expensive setting, the cover, which I had up until that minute been proud of, looked cheap and banal.
“In your new book you blast the Roman Catholic doctrines for being perverted. Are you a Protestant, James.”
“No, I’m not a Protestant, but I do believe the Roman Catholic doctrines are perverted to the point of leading many believers astray…”
Ernest interrupted. “Astray, James? Or to hell?”
The conversation was definitely not going in the direction I had hoped. I knew I had to quickly redirect Earnest in order to portray One Road in a positive light.
“Earnest, it’s my belief that no one who has a desire for the absolute truth can be led to hell. No matter what religion the searcher is currently serving, the Holy Spirit will direct the feet of that person toward the path of truth. And if that means giving up on specific denominations or beliefs, then so be it. And that does not hold just for the Catholic teachings but for any doctrine contrary to Biblical principles.”
“So you’re a man who holds to the belief that only Jesus is the way.”
“Absolutely, and that is one reason why I got involved with One Road Ministries so I could warn other believers of the Bible about the dangers involved with Associated Assemblies.”
To my relief Earnest kept to the subject of One Road. “Okay, then tell us about this One Road Ministry, and how a government agency could pose a threat to Christianity.”
I mentally pulled out the notes Margaret and Amy had gone over with me at Dcaff. I quickly mentioned how One Road Ministries was born; why the missionaries had formed to warn Bible believers about Associated Assemblies’ atheistic agenda; the numerous volunteers who tirelessly travel around warning Christians about the imminent onset of restrictions to be placed upon their faith; and most important of all the execution of the clerk and journalist in a country of Asia who had discovered Associated Assemblies’ agenda.
As soon as I mentioned the journalist, Earnest’s ears pricked up. “Which country was that?” he asked, looking concerned that a fellow reporter might have been murdered in the name of atheism.
“One Road Ministries has not released that information, Earnest, for fear that our volunteers in that country might come to harm.”
“This is serious stuff, James. Tell us something about the disclosed government information.”
I sensed the other guests were waiting like vultures ready to swoop in for the kill. I wondered what points they were planning to raise to debunk my stance. “The initial leak was in the form of a registration form destined to be delivered to citizens of that country. Then it got out that Associated Assemblies had formed an alliance with many countries, not just Asian. Now citizens worldwide are receiving registrations forms.”
“What of these registration forms, James? Why the initial secrecy?”
“Because the strategy of Associated Assemblies is to wipe out religion in all forms, but especially Christianity because governments believe our faith is responsible for the onslaught of terrorism. The registration form demands personal information from each individual plus the confession of one’s faith. Unless a person is of the atheist faith, a hefty fee has to be paid upon registration, and then annually.”
Suddenly, Liz Jan, bursting at the seams, jumped in. Her voice was agitated. “All religion is responsible for one form of terrorism or another,” she stated, dryly. “Any parent raising a child in Christianity is guilty of oppression, which is a form of terrorism. To eradicate religion is to provide freedom of thought for all citizens. There will be no more oppression through guilt or fear of the unknown!”
“But people with religious beliefs will be oppressed by Associated Assemblies, so in your view AA must be a terrorist organization. Severe restrictions will be placed upon worshipers of all kind. How can you describe that as freedom?” I replied.
Alexander Ann saw his chance. “As a philosopher I don’t believe that people are born to worship. Religion is designed to control people. I pity the child raised among the devout.”
“All children are raised among the devout. It just depends on the devotion of the parent. Atheism is a devotion too,” I said, trying to keep my head above water.
Earnest began to referee. “So, James, you believe that atheism is a religion?”
“Of course,” I said, perhaps a little too bluntly. “Believing or not believing in the existence of God is a choice. Alexander confesses to believe that no child is born to worship, but to live a life daily void of God is a form of self-worship.”
Alexander tried to jump in, but I wanted to continue my point. “Self-worship is a belief that man is in control of his destiny, when in reality we all know that is not true. For if we were, would we choose such traumatic experiences for ourselves: sickness, poverty, death? Of course not.”
“What about evolution, James?” asked Liz. “You’re not going to deny the existence of evolution now, are you? It’s already been accepted in all the schools.”
“Evolutionists make the mistake of believing that evolution is opposite to Creationism,” I replied. “And Creationist’s often believe that Creationism is the opposite of evolution. They are both wrong.”
“How so?” asked Earnest.
“Do you think God recorded the six days of Creation to confuse the evolutionists. Of course not. He wrote to His children so they could understand their origin in more detail. It‘s important to remember that the Bible is a book of prophecy. It has very little to do with the physical. The Creation needs to be studied through spiritual eyes.”
“Getting back to Associated Assemblies, James,” said Earnest. “I heard that demonstrators against the organization were able to convince their city council to reverse a decision to demolish a church that was to make way for the building of an inter-faith community worship centre. Is that true?”
“Yes, and I’m very proud to know the protesters. They did an amazing job convincing city council of the benefits of restoring a beautiful old building called Hawthorn Street Church. It will once again be used as a place of Christian worship. We of One Road Ministries pray for similar government decisions globally.”
“And what if that doesn’t happen?” asked Liz. “Does that mean your God doesn’t care about his worshipers. Just because a church was saved from demolition this time, doesn’t mean it will every time. Churches will be closed down, I can guarantee it?”
“Can you, Liz?” I retorted. “You might hope it, but I can’t allow myself to believe you can guarantee it. Prayer is a very powerful element within Christianity. I hope this program will be seen as a plea for global prayer for the safety of our churches and an end to Associated Assemblies.”
Given the time restraint, Earnest switched the topic to Alexander’s writing for Casual Reality, and began to ask him pertinent questions about the show. I assumed he wanted to give us all equal time. I had never seen Alexander’s program, so decided to sit quietly in the background. After about ten minutes of listening to Alexander describe his reasons and intentions for the program, Liz was given the opportunity to expound her philanthropy.
It always amused me to hear atheists underscore their roles in philanthropy as if determined to prove that one didn’t have to be religious to be kind. The last few minutes was taken up with Earnest’s questions re Liz’s radio show Beliefs are Balderdash; although the name spoke for itself.
“Well,” said Earnest after she finished. “Perhaps James should appear on your show, Liz. You two would have much to discuss.”
“Well, I certainly would,” I quipped.
Liz smiled like a snake preparing its fangs to strike.
“A great show, folks,” continued Earnest, looking away from Liz and into the camera. “But that’s it for tonight. I’d like to thank my guests; James Gossip, Liz Jan, and Alexander Ann. Goodnight. See you same time tomorrow.”
Suddenly, the theme music was again playing and the show was over, which meant I could finally exhale.
As the show went to commercial, we were directed to stay sitting until we were off air. When cleared to leave, Liz stood up and held out her hand to shake mine. She was smiling broadly. “Not bad, James, not bad. I just might agree to Earnest’s suggestion to have you on my show. Let’s see how One Road does over the next few months.” She handed me her business card. “I’ll be in touch,” she said. Turning to Earnest and Alexander she said goodbye and walked away.
“Good work, James,” said Alexander. “It was good meeting you.” He smiled politely, shook my and then Earnest’s hand, and left.
Earnest looked at me and laughed heartily. “You look sick, James,” he said. “It wasn’t that bad, surely?”
I had to admit it wasn’t, but was certainly looking forward to returning to the hotel to pack and get home. I decided to leave right away, and not to wait for the morning flight. I wanted to see Caroline. I hoped she would be proud of me.
When I arrived home she was at the airport waiting for me. As soon as she saw me she rushed into my arms. “I missed you!” she breathed.
She smelled delicious. Taking Caroline in my arms was like wrapping myself in a warm, fuzzy, bathrobe after experiencing a particularly stressful day. “I missed you too,” I said, and kissed her face several times before asking her if she saw the show.
“Of course, darling. You were wonderful. One Road Ministries should be proud of your efforts to promote their cause.”
I loved it when she called me darling. I recalled how I once tried to imagine what I would call Caroline if she was my wife. I had dismissed the word darling in favour of other endearments, but as it turned out I just preferred to call her Caroline. It’s a beautiful name and suits her perfectly. “But are you proud of me, Caroline?” I asked.
“Of course I am. Everything you do makes me proud.”
I smiled in appreciation. “I’m starving. Can we go somewhere to eat?”
We walked arm-in-arm out of the airport and toward the parking lot where she had left her vehicle. After driving along the highway and then into town, we chose to eat at a restaurant that served very early breakfast. As we sat together in a booth, and Caroline studied the menu, I thought of how foolish I had been to have let so much time lapse between the time we had picnicked at Cornflower Falls and our reuniting at Dcaff. I thought of Toni and wondered how I could have allowed myself to have feelings for her over Caroline. I remembered Toni’s kiss. It was exciting when it happened, but short-lived, whereas when I kissed Caroline I wanted it to last forever.
When the waitress arrived to take our order I was pleased that Caroline didn’t insist we order the same meal. That kind of smothering love irritated me. We were two very individual people with preferences apart from each others, and I liked that. I didn’t want to lose my personality in our relationship, and I didn’t want to destroy hers.
The waitress came to our table. After Caroline ordered, I heard the waitress say, “What would you like to order, sir?”
My thoughts of Caroline and Toni had taken my focus from the menu, so I wasn’t ready. I stammered out a random selection. “Oh, er, I’ll have an egg sunny side up, with two strips of bacon and toast and jam.”
“What kind of jam, sir? We have raspberry, strawberry, grape or marmalade.”
“I’ll take marmalade.”
“On white toast or whole wheat?”
“And what would you like to drink?”
“Coffee please. Double cream. No sugar. And keep it coming.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, and took our menus and walked away.
Caroline smiled, and looked around the restaurant. “It’s nice here. Very colourful.”
“Is it?” I asked, gazing at her. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Oh, James,” she said, blushing. She blew me a kiss. “Now, tell me all about the show. What was it like being on camera? What is Earnest Betty like? Did you know those other guests were going to be there?”
“Phew, those guests,” I sighed. “They really threw me. The producer didn’t tell me other people had been invited. Talk about being put on the spot.”
“But you were marvelous. Do you even remember what you said?” she laughed.
“Not really. I was too nervous. After the show Earnest said I looked sick! But he also said I did okay, so I don’t feel too bad.” I decided not to tell Caroline I vomited just before the show, for fear she would think I was a baby.
She smiled but then I saw her mood suddenly change. “James, you remember Kennedy, don’t you?”
“How could I forget that laugh,” I said.
But Caroline looked disappointed at my remark. “Don’t James. I know she is a character, but she has been wonderful to me. The thing is, she’s offered to let you stay at her place for the weekend so we can spend some time together. It’s huge, and way out in the countryside. You would love it.”
“She sounds wealthy. I thought she just operated a garden nursery.”
“She does, but she’s the sort of woman with a finger in many pies. I’m not entirely sure where she gets her money, and I don’t like to pry. What do you think, could you stay for a few days?”
“Of course, I’d love to. Perhaps you could ask her to call me to make arrangements.”
The waitress interrupted with our food.
“I’ll have to leave after our meal,” said Caroline, as we began to eat. “I have to get back before the nursery opens for the day.”
“Can’t you move back to this area? You are so far away. We only see each other on weekends.”
“But I have to work, and I love the nursery. It’s wonderful to get my hand’s into the soil, and growing plants is so relaxing, plus I don’t have a job here.”
“Let me call Gerrard and see if he can find you an apartment. Then you can begin to look for employment here.”
She lowered her eyes. “Don’t rush me, James. Please,” she said, softly. “Let’s just enjoy what we have for now.”
I felt disappointment, but knew if I moved too fast, I might lose her again. “Of course,” I said, trying to sound understanding, but not feeling it.
After our meal I decided to take a taxi home, so she could be on her way. I hated leaving her again. A part of me was pleased she lived way out in the countryside so there would less likely be other men around her. I didn’t want anyone stealing her away.
We parted outside the door of the restaurant. “Goodbye, darling,” she said. “I’m already looking forward to seeing you again.”
I took her in my arms and kissed her. “Persuade Kennedy to call me soon,” I whispered.
I watched as she walked toward the parking area. She turned to wave, and blew me a kiss. I stepped back inside the restaurant to order one last cappuccino before calling for a taxi, and as I sat sipping my coffee I reflected on how painful love could be. I wondered how long I would have to wait to hear from Kennedy so I could spend at least two days with Caroline. I knew our separation would seem endless, and her comment about not rushing into anything meant my plan to ask her to marry me would have to be shelved. I thought of Toni telling Caroline that we were planning to marry. Had Toni been jealous of Caroline and just wanted to hurt her, or did she really believe that I would someday ask her to be my wife. I had never discussed my feelings for Caroline with Toni. I wasn’t even aware she thought she had competition. Then I remembered after Toni had kissed me, she had told me that Caroline had advised her to look for me at Cornflower Falls. I made a mental note to ask Caroline how Toni had found her.
Finishing my coffee, I placed the empty mug on my table, then called for a taxi and went outside to wait. Suddenly my phone rang.
“Hi Handsome!” the voice said. I recognized it as Kennedy‘s. “Caroline just called to ask me to invite you to my home. S’fine with me. You could drive up this Friday and stay the weekend.”
Her call surprised me. “When did Caroline call?” I asked.
“A few minutes ago!” She let out a brittle laugh. “She told me you two lovebirds had just said goodbye and would I call you as soon as possible. Ah, true love. There’s nothing like it, James.” She laughed again.
“I agree,” I replied, ecstatic that Caroline hadn’t even waited to return home before asking Kennedy to call. She must have phoned while in the restaurant’s parking lot. “I’d love to visit this weekend. Thank you for the invitation. What time on Friday?”
“Let’s say about seven. Remember it’s a three hour drive all told. By the way, I saw the Earnest Betty show. Not bad for your first time on national tv.”
“Thanks, I hope the consequences of my appearance are positive.”
“I don’t see why not. Do you need directions to my home? It’s quite a way off the beaten track.”
“I’m sure I’ll find it,” I assured her.
“Well, good luck. We’ll see you on Friday. Looking forward to it. Bye.”
As she hung up, my taxi pulled up to the curb and I climbed in. I was tired. My Earnest Betty experience seemed like months ago, instead of just hours. I looked forward to taking a shower and nap to sleep off jet lag, but as the taxi pulled into my driveway I was astonished to see a mass of news reporters waiting for me to return.
“There he is!” shouted one.
About a dozen of them pushed their way toward me. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Wave? Ignore them? Say the proverbial no comment? But if they wanted to know about One Road, I didn’t want to ignore them or say no comment, so I waved and smiled.
One reporter stepped forward with a microphone to ask me a question, while the others held cameras or recorders as close to my face as possible. “Mr. Gossip,” she said. As if on cue everyone hushed. “We saw your appearance on the Earnest Betty talk show. Can you tell us more about One Road Ministries?”
“Yes, of course. Volunteers for this cause is essential. We need team leaders, district managers and speakers for presentations at churches. I’d like to take this opportunity to invite anyone interested in volunteering to get in touch with One Road Ministries.”
“What do you think of your chances to take this globally?”
“After appearing on the EB show, I pray many more people will now become aware of One Road Ministries and Associated Assemblies through social media. We already have many global volunteers, but hundreds if not thousands more are needed. So again, I’d like to encourage folks out there to contact the head office of One Road Ministries and get involved in this extremely important cause.”
“Do you think you can beat Associated Assemblies?”
“That’s what we are aiming for.”
“Mr. Gossip,” another voice called. “How serious do you think Associated Assemblies is about eradicating religion worldwide?”
“Very serious,” I answered. “The governments are not going to give up easily.”
“Do you advocate violence against this organization?” someone else called.
“Never. If protests are required, they must be peaceful protests.”
Their questions continued for a few more minutes and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone, leaving me to wonder if I had imagined the incident.
I put my key in the front door and walked inside. It was so good to be back home, but I could see my voicemail light blinking which meant I had at least one message to attend to. I knew it wasn’t Caroline, as she always called me on my cell phone, so I decided instead to go straight upstairs to shower and then get to bed. Within minutes of laying my head down on my pillow I was fast asleep.
Not until the following morning, did I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day. It was bright and sunny, and invigoratingly breezy so I decided to take my morning coffee and croissant outside. But before heading to the kitchen I checked my voicemail. There were twenty-one messages! I placed the phone back on its stand. There was no way I was going to listen to a single one until after at least five sips of espresso. I set the coffee machine, and then opening the back door took a deep breath of fresh air. I thought of Caroline and wondered what she was doing. Of course, she would be working. I pondered how she could choose working in a nursery over moving back here and seeing me more often? Perhaps she didn’t love me as much as she said, or at least not as much as I loved her. I fantasized over the upcoming weekend. Two whole days together. It would be like the old days together at Cornflower Falls. Only now she lets me kiss her!
The sound of the espresso machine broke into my thoughts. After pouring my coffee and lightly toasting a croissant and spreading it with apple butter, I braved the breeze and sat outside to eat.
Later that morning, I confronted my voicemail. There were messages from members of The Gossips congratulating me on a job well done on the EB show. Another from my agent informing me sales of my latest book were climbing faster than expected, again, in his words, thanks to Earnest mentioning it on his show. My minister called and congratulated me for making a stand for Christ on air. Ol’ Joe and other members of my church called basically congratulating me on my appearance on TV, and so on. But the last message was another from Gerrard telling me to take a look at the morning’s national newspaper. I put my phone down, and went to the mailbox to collect the paper and began to look inside. Huh, there I was on page six. Not a very large section, just a couple of paragraphs mentioning One Road Ministries and Associated Assemblies and my appearance of the EB show. There was a small picture of me alongside the report with a caption that read: James Gossip Demands Global Protests.
I winced. Next time you talk to reporters, I told myself, choose No Comment!