The Forgiving Tree Part IV

For those that need to catch up, Part I is here, Part II is here, and Part III is here. Part V will be posted Saturday.

Landis woke. It felt almost as if someone were sitting on him. He opened his eyes a hair. Collin. Collin was sitting on him.

“You just had to come down here, didn’t you?”

Ben. Landis craned his neck. Ben and Beth stood together in front of the Forgiveness Tree. Ben gripped Beth’s forearm tightly. Terry hulked nearby.

“You don’t understand,” said Beth.

“You just had to butt in,” Ben said. “Don’t you know I was trying to protect you?”

“Ben you can’t,” she said, pulling against him as he drew her hand closer to the hollowed knot.

“Honey don’t you see? I have to.”

“NO!” Landis bucked hard. Collin slid off with a surprised grunt. Landis scrambled to his feet.

Ben rammed Beth’s hand into the hallowed knot.

“Sinner, be judged!”

Landis froze. Her hand. Collin put him in a headlock and dragged him closer. “Time you saw justice workin’ up close and personal.”

“Yes,” said Beth, “You should all see this.”

She drew out her arm, healthy and whole, down to the fingertips.

“What?” Ben let go of her.

“Looks like I’m not much of a sinner.”

“But you’re a woman,” said Ben.

“Everybody gots original sin,” said Collin.

“And you’re not a virgin, neither,” said Terry.

Landis’s stomach flipped. Ben? Or someone else? It should have been him. If he hadn’t been such a coward.

Beth glared at them, holding up her hand. “This is the judgment of the Forgiving Tree. If you think it’s wrong, maybe you should stick your other arm in there and see what happens.”

Ben and the twins shook their heads.

“Now, let’s get some things straight. Tommy was my blood. That gives me the right here. So clear out. Not you,” she added as Landis inched backward.

“I can’t believe you’re going to let him off,” Ben snarled as he backed away.

“Who said I was going to let him off? I just said you can’t do it the way you were trying to. You want Landis to be judged? Then go, and he shall be.”

They left.

“Beth, you’re an angel,” Landis blurted. He wanted to kiss her.

She shrugged, a little smile playing around her lips.

“And all that stuff about judging me was just to get them to leave, right?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.” Her hair still shimmered in the sun, but all the light was gone from her eyes. “The Forgiveness Tree doesn’t take women. Nan told me.”

“But your Nan disappeared!”

“Tree didn’t get her. But that’s another story for another day. And, you can’t be forced. That’s why I stopped Ben, before. Wouldn’t have done any good. You have to want redemption.”

“Oh.” His mouth was too dry now to say anything else.

“You loved Tommy, I know you did. And I think, Landis, that if you loved me, you would want redemption.” Beth trailed one slim finger around the lip of the hallowed knot. “So, do you?”

Landis sputtered. “Do I what?”

“Do you love me?”

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