Everyone, and that means everyone who could sing or who thought they could sing, was present for the auditions for the youth choir. Emily looked around. Many of her classmates and even friends that were out of school already wanted to take the chance and become part of this new adventure. It was evident by the turnout poor old Branchford just didn’t have that many exciting things going on. Bentley sat to the back of the church. Emily didn’t see him until her warm-up, but it was unbelievable that he was going to audition for the choir, and her body quivered at his mere presence. She tried to shake it off.
Michael Harrison took his place at the front of the church. “Attention. Attention everyone. I want to thank you all for coming tonight. I must say I didn’t expect this great of a turn out. I’m pleasantly surprised. The auditions will be taken in the order that your name shows up on the sign-in sheet. Now, let’s see here. Okay. Here we go, Miss Emily Treece.” Excitement was in the air as everyone prepared to hear one of the best voices in town. “Emily, would you please come up to the front of the church. Go ahead and situate yourself by the piano. What is it you plan to sing?”
“Well, I thought I would audition with ‘Oh Promise Me’ if that’s all right?”
“Of course. You may try out with anything you feel comfortable singing.”
Emily loved to sing. It was easy to lose herself in the music and forget about cares and anxiety, and she soon thought only of the notes that sprang into her own personal delivery of loveliness. Her soprano voice was clear and vibrant. Melodic intonations, power with gentle overtones captivated the hearts of the people present. Michael’s face was in awe of the beauty that enchanted the room. When she finished, there was nothing but silence. Michael stood in place for a moment. His face was flushed and Emily could tell a new admiration had settled within him. He was moved as was everybody. Emily, breathless, and Michael entranced were locked in a mutual appreciation of each other’s talent. For a brief moment, their souls bonded. Loud applause and whoops and hollers burst forth in the church and the moment ended.
A thrilled Emily looked around the room only to discover that Bentley was also in tune with Michael and Emily’s mutual admiration society. He glared at Michael and then at Emily. Hatred oozed from him. Michael was a threat. Not only because Bentley saw that Emily had a fondness for him, but because Michael was a man of God and Bentley hated religion. It all was so hypocritical and he was going to do something about this and soon. Fate chose a rhythm for its terrifying dance in Emily’s life. In her soul, it was a matter of fact that what was coming was necessary; that it was preordained and there was nothing she could do about it, and that’s what frightened her the most. She knew it, Bentley knew it, and she was lost.
The church, which had been teeming with vocalists, soon narrowed itself down to the real talent in the community. Out of forty youths who auditioned for the choir, only twenty were chosen. Lucky for Emily, Sally’s rich alto voice captured the interest of Reverend Harrison, so Emily at least had her friend to protect her. Bentley Madison, however, did not make it into the choir; a decision that infuriated him. He left the church agitated.
Packing up to go home, Emily and Sally were stopped by Michael. “Emily, you possess a remarkable talent. Your Aunt Jenny was right. I had no idea your voice was so beautiful. I just assumed it was parental pride.” The three laughed, but Michael grew serious. “Would you honor me by performing that duet you and I talked about earlier?”
“Michael, you flatter me. I … yes, I will do the duet. Thank you.”
The happy girls left the church. Nothing but the audition was talked about on the way home. When they arrived at Emily’s, Sally left her and still dizzy with excitement from the evening, Em wasn’t paying attention to what was around her. Humming her audition tune, she made her way to the back of the farmhouse.
“Hey, baby angel.” Bentley stepped out of the shadows where he was waiting for her. She tried to run back to the front of the house, but he grabbed her. He pulled her close to him. His strong chest pressed against hers. Backing her up to the house, Bentley’s face got so close to hers she was forced to smell his rank, alcoholic breath. A different expression transformed his face into a fiendish, malevolent veil. It was evil, and it left her immobile and helpless. Bentley’s grinding pelvis pinned her entire body against the house. With every breath that he took he rubbed up against her. “Emmy, girl. I told you this morning that I love you. I really hope you and that Reverend choirmaster don’t plan on having anything goin’. If you would just tell me you love me, I can make you feel real good.” He unbuttoned the top button of Emily’s dress. She squirmed in protest. He kissed her, and this time his mouth was open and a forced tongue salivated into hers. Engulfed in his foul alcoholic breath, she choked. Every beat of his heart, every pulsating movement was angry and tormented. He unbuttoned the second button and slipped his hand down her dress. She was powerless. Bentley wanted more, but a door slammed and the spell was broken.
Uncle Zeb called, “Emily! Em, are you out here?”
Bentley put his hand over Emily’s mouth. “Baby, don’t say anything. He’ll go away and if he doesn’t, you just tell him that you are with a friend talkin’. You hear me? Do you hear me?” Emily was shaken by his terrifying, hissing whisper. She nodded. Uncle Zeb was not giving up.
“Emily Marie Treece, you better answer your uncle or there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
“I’m here, Uncle Zeb. Bentley walked me home from choir practice and we are just talking. Is that okay with you?”
“Okay, darlin’. But you come in soon, an’ make er’ quick.”
Bentley let up on Emily. He buttoned the buttons on her dress and gently kissed her on the mouth. “You see how wonderful I can be, baby angel? I love you and nobody is going to love you but me.” He left Emily trembling. She knew she had to get a hold of herself before going into the house. Her aunt and uncle had to be told about this, but in this town, everyone thinks when something like this happens, the girl is to blame. The girl led the boy on. Dread gripped her soul. In the traces of her heart, Emily knew that what was to come was inevitable. She didn’t know when it was going to happen and she had no idea how to stop it.