“Sister Sarah?” It was Sister Elizabeth behind me. “Who is that man? I’ve seen you talk to him before.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Is he the man who said bad things to you?” She stepped out in front of me, looking to where Johnny went, and then looked back at me. She looked around as if thinking about what to do next, then, obviously frustrated, said, “I’m right here if you need anything, okay?”
I went back to trying to talk to people walking by, but I found myself slowly meandering with a pamphlet in hand without interacting with anyone. That’s how it went for a long time—how long, I couldn’t say.
A short, stout man wandered about in circles, looking at me, before walking up. “Sister, praise Jesus. Where’s Scorpion?”
What should I do? What I dreaded ever since I found out about Johnny’s lies was now coming true.
“You don’t want to see Johnny.”
He looked at me. “Who?”
“The man you call Scorpion. He can’t help you.”
He scratched his head and looked around. “Is ‘Johnny’ around or not?”
“He’s in the alley, but…”
He walked away, ignoring all I said after him. I followed him as far as the corner, but he already had a big lead. Down the street, I could see Johnny, leaning on the wall at the entrance to the alley, smoking a cigarette. He saw the man coming toward him, and he disappeared into the dark.
“What’s going on, Sister Sarah?”
I turned to see Sister Elizabeth right behind me again. I tried to say something, but no words came out. I began to suffocate, unable to find a breath. I fell against Sister Elizabeth, who seemed surprised. Sisters Mary and Olive came over and asked what was wrong. I didn’t—couldn’t—say anything. My legs began to wobble and fail, but Sister Elizabeth held me up.
“Breathe normally, Sarah,” Sister Elizabeth said. “Deep breath, and let it out.”
Sisters Olive and Mary stood close as I saw stars. Brother Jed kept preaching and the traffic kept roaring and the lights kept flashing. People ignored us, walking back and forth and around us. It was as if I were invisible. It hit me like never before how useless I was, how inconsequential. The world would be better off without me.
Sister Elizabeth helped me walk with Sisters Mary and Olive on either side. We went to Brother Jed on his stool, still yelling as if nothing was going on, even though he was looking right at us.
“Jed, we are leaving.” Sister Elizabeth said it so firmly, I had never heard anyone talk to him like that. He stopped and started to say something, but Sister Elizabeth pulled me close, and together we walked away.
Sister Elizabeth had her arm around my shoulder, and we walked slowly along, though downtown, and finally into our neighborhood. Along the way, I told Sister Elizabeth everything through my loud sobs. She didn’t judge me, at least not openly.
Once in the apartment, I sat at the kitchen table while Sister Elizabeth heated up some water for hot chocolate.
“We have to tell the police. They’ll understand,” she said.
“I can’t.” I began to cry again. “If they find out I’d been dealing drugs, it’ll ruin everything.”
“You didn’t deal drugs. You were taken advantage of by a bad man.”
“It’ll destroy the tabernacle, and Brother Jed…”
“Brother Jed will be fine.”
“But I failed him, and I failed Jesus.”
“Trust me, Jesus has seen worse.”
Sister Elizabeth rubbed my back. “Sarah, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
But I knew she was wrong. How many of the men I sent to find Johnny over the past three weeks ended up like that man who died in my arms?
“What can I do, Sister Elizabeth? I have to do something. How many people have I hurt because of my arrogance?”
I wanted to save someone, but I only hurt more people. Had I been responsible for the death of more men? I remembered all the people at his funeral. The kind Dorothy Bussey, the man’s aunt. Then I remembered Caleb and his nonprofit New Path that tried to help Mr. Finnegan. Maybe he could help in some way? I told Sister Elizabeth about him.
“Maybe you could help Caleb. Maybe that would make you feel better.”
Help Caleb? How could I help him? But then I had an idea.