Reverend Nick assured Marilyn that he was just a phone call or short drive away. She was grateful to have someone to talk to. He came over often, and was always ready with an inspirational scripture, meant to try to inspire her to, as he put it, find a reason to carry on. Marilyn was angry with God and wasn’t yet ready to attend church, but allowed Reverend Nick to come pick up Erica and take her to Sunday school.
As they talked about life after Eric, Marilyn said, “you know, Reverend Nick. I could never think about him without smiling. Now, I can never think about him without crying.” Reverend Nick said he knew she would find it impossible to believe, but it would get easier with time. “It’s not what time steals,” he said. “It’s what it leaves behind, and it’s what you choose to do with what’s left behind.”
He became a fixture in Marilyn and Ericas’ lives. They often had dinner together and he was very attentive to Erica. He was always willing to help with homework and taught her how to ride her very first “big girl” bicycle. Marilyn appreciated his gestures, and was completely unaware of the feelings that he had developed for her, until he did something that was unpardonable.
Sitting on the sofa one night, Reverend Nick took Marilyns’ hand and said, “I love you.” Being a man of God, he was supposed to love everyone, so she thanked him, but when he kissed her, she recoiled in disgust.
He apologized profusely, but his apology went unheard. He had crossed a line. She told him that he was never again welcome in her home, and pushed him away as he tried to embrace her. He said he thought she was being emotional and overreacting and had maybe misinterpreted his intentions. Marilyn raised her voice when she asked him how she could possibly misinterpret an unwelcome kiss. She told him that she never wanted to see or hear from him again, and through gritted teeth, said that she would never call him “reverend” again.
Marilyns’ parents lived only two streets over, and as had Nick, been a tremendous support system. They suggested that it might be best for Erica to stay with them until Marilyn could regain her footing. Reluctantly, she agreed, but insisted that when she wasn’t working, she would spend the day with Erica.
When Erica begged to take her bicycle so she could ride it to kindergarten, Marilyn relented with the request that she go straight to school, and then straight to her grandparents’ house after.
She returned to work and was putting in long hours, trying to keep her mind from remaining stagnant with grief. Some days, she stumbled a bit but she knew that she had to keep on trying to reach some sort of normalcy again.
She had to constantly remind herself that lives were in her hands and she needed to stay focused.
Marilyn didn’t tell her parents about Reverend Nick, so when her mother called and casually mentioned how comforting it seemed to be to Erica when Reverend Nick stopped by, she was furious. “What are you talking about?” she asked. Her mother said, “Reverend Nick comes to see Erica almost every day after school and sometimes, they go to the pizza place.” Marilyn was trying to control her anger as she told her mother that she was never to allow Nick to see Erica again, and that she would explain later.
Enraged, she called Nick and told him that she thought she had made it clear when she warned him to stay away from them, and he was not going to use Erica as a pawn to get to her, if that was his intention.
Try as he might to assure her that his motives were noble, Marilyn dismissed his pleas and hung up after a final warning to stay away from her and her child.
Three weeks later, the unthinkable happened. Erica didn’t come home from school. In a panic, Marilyns’ mother called Sheriff Dodd, who went to the hospital to tell Marilyn. Everyone was questioned about their whereabouts on that day and everyone was cleared, except Reverend Nick. He had no alibi other than “being in the church alone, praying.” When asked who he was praying for, he said, “Marilyn and Erica,” which immediately raised eyebrows. Unbeknownst to him, there had been rumors about his “inappropriate” attention to Marilyn and Erica.
Sheriff Dodd had also had heard the rumors, and after Marilyn told him about the situation with Reverend Nick, coupled with having no alibi, he decided to issue a search warrant for the parish, and the van which had been provided by the congregation. Although no evidence was found, suspicion was still growing.
Reverend Nick was picked up and questioned for hours. Since he could not corroborate his whereabouts, he became the prime suspect. He was immediately dismissed and secularized from the church.
Two days after she disappeared, Ericas’ broken little body was found at the bottom of a dumpster behind the local Pizza Hut. Her clothes, shoes and socks were missing and a piece of her hair had been cut off. The autopsy revealed that she had been beaten and strangled. No traces of foreign DNA could be found on her body which led the coroner to believe that the killer had worn gloves.
There was an outcry for the capture of the monster who had committed such a horrific crime and Reverend Nick had already been tried and convicted by the town.
Despite his continued pleas of innocence, he was arrested and charged with Ericas’ murder.
To be continued__________________________