Reverend Samuel Powell stood before his church’s pulpit, his fist raised as he began raining fire and brimstone down upon his congregation. The reverend was there solely to put the fear of God into his flock. He saw the little children’s faces full of fear, the raised eyebrows of the elderly. He stopped and cleared his throat. It was time to take this sermon down a notch. He had gone a little overboard today. Lowering his voice, Sam talked lovingly of God’s forgiveness. He watched the children go back to coloring their lambs in the field handouts. The elderly pulled their Bibles from the pew-backs to read along with the verse he was preaching from, relieved when he saw the looks on the rest of the congregation’s faces as they started to relax with his words of comfort.

His flock would go home from today’s sermon feeling better, but also forewarned. It was Reverend Sam’s style: scare godliness into them. He’d been doing it the past five years. His transfer consideration was coming up soon. Pastor Sam knew he would have to preach some love sermons in the next few weeks so people wouldn’t remember his harshness behind the pulpit, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay here or not. Complications in his personal life had arisen.

Mia Copeland sat at the front of the church. She never missed a sermon, having become very devout since Thomas died of a brain aneurysm unexpectedly last year. He was only 39 when he abandoned his beautiful wife. Not only was Mia beautiful in soul, but the fair way she looked weakened Sam to his knees. His own wife was a comely woman, but up against Mia, well, there was no comparing.

Sally, his wife, wanted to stay here. She told him as much now that their eldest child was in elementary school. Such is the life of a pastor and their family, moving from church to church.

Sam found himself going back to gaze upon Mia. He was resisting temptation every time he looked and saw her sitting there near his wife and children. They were best friends, Sally and Mia. That made things harder for him. Mia was always at their house; she didn’t have anyone else but his wife Sally for a friend.

Sam prayed for his heart to turn away from the widow. Sally had no idea of the battle he was fighting. Sam encouraged his wife to move on to a new church so that he could leave temptation behind. He had a few offers at more prominent churches, they paid more, and the parsonages were newer, bigger, better-heated than their current home.

When he brought up the parsonage’s draftiness, Max Fondwell, president of the trustees, pointed out that Sam’s rent and heat was free and essentially told him beggars shouldn’t be choosers. After that conversation, Sam tried not to feel ill will toward the man and the people who thought they provided him with a palace despite their refusal to put a dime into keeping his wife and kids warm. How was he going to change Sally’s mind about leaving South Branch before she saw his attention turning in Mia’s direction?

In the final stanza of the hymn, Reverend Sam walked to the back of the sanctuary to shake the hand of every member as they departed the building. Mia Copeland was seated at the front of the church; she was the last to leave. He took the widow’s hand and held it for as long as it was decent before letting her go. Mia’s perfume wafted behind her. The smell of her stayed with him long after she disappeared. The devil mocked him.

Max Fondwell stood outside on the sidewalk near Sally Powell. She chatted with him, amiably waiting for the preacher. She appreciated the man because Max stood up to her husband. Sam could get overbearing at times. Secretly, Sally enjoyed seeing Max put Sam in his place at the Pastor Parishioners meetings. Max was a local attorney in town. He liked to rule his church with an iron fist. The devil filled him with false bravado.

There were times when Sally hid a smirk behind her hand when she watched Max reprimand her husband in a meeting for having the gall to ask about a new furnace and windows for the parsonage. Max liked using his position as an attorney and had perfected the art of arguing points ad nauseam.

Sally and Max hadn’t done anything about their mutual respect for one another. A small lunch once, in an out of the way place by accident. It was too dangerous to pursue this relationship, which made it even more desirable. The devil tempted her.

How Sam had allowed the door to open on his marriage came more of a surprise to him than anyone. Mia needed his help. He wanted to be her knight in shining armor, but Sam was a married man, while she was free and vulnerable. He gave her sound advice, and they prayed together. Mia was never far from his thoughts. It was best to move from here, now.

During the discussion of whether the Reverend Sam Powell was staying or leaving, Sam informed his committee that he had been offered two different jobs, both in larger churches, for more money and nicer parsonages.

Max snickered at the pastor, as if he knew that Sam was testing them by trying to get the committee to pay him more and spruce up the parsonage.

After the meeting, Sam watched Mia Copeland pull Max aside, asking him to have a cup of coffee. Max did the once-over up and down, agreeing to meet her at Maggie’s Coffee House.

Sam and Sally were driving home after the meeting when they saw Mia’s car in front of the cafe. Sally noticed Max’s car. They said at the same time,

“Let’s get some coffee,”


Sally and Sam walked through Maggie’s front door, taking a corner booth after saying hello to the blossoming couple.

Sally could tell that Max had eyes for Mia. She couldn’t explain the flash of jealousy that ran through her like a bolt of lightning.

Sam saw the smile on Mia’s face. Maybe it was Max’s alpha male hormonal exuberance. He didn’t know, but a flash of regret realizing Mia had already moved out of his camp squeezed at his heart.

Sally and Sam ordered their coffees and sat in silence. It was hard to talk when both were watching love spark in the booth next to them.

Sally focused on her husband. She sipped her cup of coffee and asked him point-blank:

“So, do we stay, or do we go?”

“What?” Sam woke up to his wife’s question, turning what she said over in his mind.

“How do you feel? Should we stay in South Branch or take the bigger church? It’s more money, a better school district, a larger, newer home. I am suddenly embracing change. After tonight, watching the committee batter you, I feel perhaps we need to move from South Branch and seek a new opportunity.” They heard Mia giggling at Max’s joke.

“I am thinking in these same terms,” Sam told his wife, feeling relief sink in.

Max and Mia left in the same car. The Powells watched in silence. Lightning flashed across the sky and rain fell in buckets as they ran for the minivan.

“Wow, this is one heck of a rainstorm. Let’s wait until the worst passes.” Sam sat watching out the window.

“It surprises me that Mia would go for someone like Max,” Sally said.

“Why?” Sam was surprised his wife would say such a thing, though he was thinking the same thing. “She’s your best friend; what do you think?” Sam hoped his wife had wisdom.

“Max and Mia have opposite personalities.” Sally couldn’t believe she had been toying with the idea of breaking her vows with a man like Max Fondwell. Over what? Some blowhard lawyer. She loved her husband. Tears started to fall. Sally opened the glove box to extract tissue to wipe her tears.

“What’s this?” She held up the bag of white powder, shaking it in Sam’s face.

“Oh, I shouldn’t have left that in there. One of our youth was standing on the street corner last week; I pulled over to offer the boy a ride home. The police came up; he put this in my coat pocket. I walked away and let the officer do his job. I forgot. I put it in the glove compartment.”

“What is it?” Sally asked innocently.

“Cocaine, I think.” Sally opened the bag and smelled it.

“Don’t do that. You could get some in your body!” Sam cautioned. Sally laughed. She licked her finger and dipped it in the bag, just like she saw them do on television shows. She rubbed the white powder against her gums and felt an immediate orgasmic response.

“Oh, Sam. You’ve got to try a little.” She extended the bag of powder to her husband. He resisted temptation, thinking about Eve and the fall from the garden, but he’d already gone there in his thoughts, hadn’t he?

Sam dipped a wet finger in the bag, receiving the same response that Sally had. He immediately knew why this drug was so addictive.

The babysitter sent home, Sam and Sally made passionate love like they hadn’t done in a while.

“Wow,” Sally said breathlessly

“Wow,” Sam responded.

On their next date night, Sally searched the glove box and found the cocaine. She dipped her finger in and then encouraged her husband to do the same.

“I think we should throw this stuff out,” Sam said before he eagerly took a sample.

“Sam, we aren’t drug addicts. We have only dipped our fingers in a plastic bag. When this is gone, we are out. We are just finding out what everyone else knows around us. How can you preach about the dangers of drugs if you don’t know about the subject personally? You can help kids with this knowledge, and drug addicts.” Sam shook his head, agreeing with his wife.

They couldn’t wait until date night to go out; they hired a babysitter and took a drive, ending up in a small patch of trees in the county park. Sam and Sally moved to the back of the minivan, having dipped into the plastic bag yet again.

“Sam, I think this stuff has enhanced our lives. I feel so connected with you right now, more than ever.” Sam agreed with his wife. He wondered how he was going to get in touch with Trevor Nash. The kid owed him, and he knew he would be more than happy to score some more dust for him. Sam had gotten that term off a television show.

Trevor’s jaw dropped when Pastor Powell approached him after church with a request for more snow, but he accepted the money the pastor gave him.

Sally called out to her husband from the bathroom. Their youngest threw up. They wouldn’t be able to get a sitter. Sam needed to get to his committee meeting. As he stepped outside, Trevor Nash came running up to him.

“Evening, Pastor.” They shook hands, and Trevor transferred the small bag into his hands. He quickly put that in his coat.

“Thank you.” Trevor trotted off. Sam was a little perturbed that the kid was so bold, but he did the exchange with class.

The committee sat in a semi-circle while Sam, who had a change of heart, told them he would not stay. He had decided to go in a different direction. Sam realized that he had walked this path a bit too far, and his heart wanted to return to his former life, the one he was comfortable with. He watched Mia’s face fall. Sam knew Sally told her differently, before they’d changed their minds for the umpteenth time. Telling the committee made it official; there was no turning back. He felt he was taking charge of his life.

“Well, then, we have nothing further to say. Pastor, our best to you.” Max adjourned the meeting. Sam locked up the church after everyone left. He pulled out of the parking lot heading toward home when the skies let loose. Sam turned on the wipers.

There was Mia with an umbrella walking to her house. He pulled over.

“Get in, I’ll drive you home.” Mia jumped in.

“When did you change your mind?” she said through sniffles.

“There is a tissue in the glove box.” All too late, he realized there was a little bag in there too. “Wait,” he called out trying to stop her, but Mia already had the bag in her hand.

“Is this what I think it is?” She shook it up and down. Sam tried to act as if he was shocked and had no idea what it was.

“Sam, Sally and I are best friends. I know.”

The next thing he knew, he had Mia in the back of the minivan. Sam couldn’t stop himself. All that pent-up desire, months and months denying himself.

“We shouldn’t have,” Sam said, regretting acting on their urges.

“I know,” Mia agreed. They rode in silence while the rain came down even harder. Sam felt the minivan hydroplaning. He let up on the accelerator, but it was too late; the van was carried over the shoulder where it rolled over, coming back into an upright position. Sam was a bit dazed, but clarity came when he saw Mia.

“Mia?” She was bleeding from her head. He said a quick prayer. “Mia? Are you alright?” He shook her shoulder. Mia’s head fell at an odd angle. He knew she’d broken her neck.

Sam freaked out; his chest heaved as sobs of regret were expelled from his body. He needed to get help. Something clicked inside, and he called the emergency number.

“License and registration?” Mia had already been taken away by ambulance, and the legal formalities had begun. Both officers were from his church. Then one of them shined the flashlight in his eyes.

“Reverend, did you take something? Are you driving under the influence of a controlled substance?”

“No.” Sam reached for the glove box, and the plastic bag came out with his registration card.

“I am going to need you to step away from the vehicle,” the officer warned. Sam saw the damning evidence; the bag of cocaine lay on the passenger side floor. It had come out when he grabbed the registration papers.

His whole life went down the drain in front of his eyes in that split second. He knew he was losing everything: his wife, kids, his job, the respect of the community. Sam knew he was headed for jail. He had driven under the influence of narcotics and killed his wife’s best friend.

They put him in the back of the squad. The rain was still falling steadily. When it came time to tell the cops where he got the drugs, Trevor Nash’s name was on his lips.

“It was Trevor. He led me to temptation.” Pastor Sam wept. The officers left Sam locked in the car while they searched his vehicle. Sam was their pastor; they didn’t doubt his word, but they needed to go through the routine of finding any further evidence.

Sam watched out of the window as the cop searched the minivan. He had another wave of nausea, wondering how he was going to tell Sally about this event. Sam was ashamed, knowing there was no recovering from this.

He felt for his pocket, the drugs that Trevor had given him this evening. Sam didn’t think twice. He took the entire contents of the bag into his system, knowing there would be fatal consequences, and right now, he didn’t care.

As he rode the wave of an overdose, Sam prayed the Lord’s Prayer. The rain came down around him, washing away his sins, he thought in a haze.

“Lead us not into temptation.” His body fell forward, hitting the front seat as Sam felt his soul leaving this world, but where was his soul to go? In that moment of indecision, the Devil stepped in and made the decision for him.