Reverend Aaron Abel Collins, pastor at the Edgewood African Methodist Episcopal Congregation of Atlanta, is considered a mighty man of God by his parishioners. His congregation numbers around four hundred and fifty active members with significant neighborhood outreach, making the Reverend an influential voice in his community. As a young Theology student at Morris Brown, he met Maxine Avis Flowers, a student at Spelman, and they married a few months after both had graduated, and just after this, he accepted his first commission as a youth minister at a church in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, where he and Maxine welcomed their son, Alfred Abel. Three years later, several months after getting his first assignment as the lead pastor at a church in Augusta, they welcomed their daughter, Avis Arielle. Daughter Annabelle Arlene came along while Aaron was minister at a church in Carrolton, and son Avery Amos while Aaron served a congregation in Decatur. Now he’s in his third year at Edgewood, with Alfred a recent graduate of Georgia State University, and Avis a sophomore at Spelman. Annabelle is a track star at Carver High, and Avery is in middle school where he’s already showing promise as a scholar and on the basketball court.
Today, the family is gathering in Piedmont Park to celebrate Alfred’s graduation from college and enlistment in the Air Force. This is the last weekend they’ll have together, as Alfred is scheduled to report for duty on Tuesday. Since GSU doesn’t have an Air Force ROTC program, Alfred has been attending one at Georgia Tech, where his commander, a reserve officer named Owen Asher, has encouraged him to apply for flight school. Inspired by Guion Bluford, Alfred’s goal is to become a pilot and qualify for the Space program. He’s always been an avid model builder and the desk in his bedroom houses his favorite, a replica of the Challenger, which Alfred hopes to pilot one day. Annabelle especially will miss her brother, as the two have always been very close. Sensing this, Alfred invites her to take a walk with him around the park, so they can talk.
As they’re circling the swimming pool, David Cairo, a friend of Alfred’s from GSU approaches them. “Hey Alf, how’s it going?”
“Hey Cairo,” Alfred says. “Out with the camera, I see.” He indicates Annabelle. “This is my baby sister, Annabelle.”
She swats his arm. “Alfie. I’m not a baby.” She shakes David’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Are you in college?” he asks.
“No, Carver High,” Annabelle tells him.
“Annie’s a track star,” Alfred says. “Long-distance.”
“You must have run the Peachtree then,” Cairo says.
“Several times,” she replies.
They chat for several minutes, before Cairo heads off toward the boat house. Annabelle takes the opportunity to give Alfred a tight hug.
“What’s that for?” he says.
“I’m going to miss you,” she says. “Who’ll listen to me complain about school now?”
“You can always talk to Avis, if you can get a word in,” he says. They both laugh and continue walking.
“I don’t need to talk to Avis,” Annabelle says. “I already know how she’ll respond. ‘You should just be happy you’re getting a good education.’”
“I made the mistake of mentioning Buddhism to her,” he says. “She called it a stupid cult. Yeah, a stupid cult that’s several thousand years older than Christianity.”
“Do you really think you’d ever convert?” Annabelle asks. “It’s so different from what we know.”
“Not to me it isn’t,” he says. “From the moment I first learned about it, I’ve felt comfortable with the teachings. No judgment. Just experience the world around us.”
“No judgment,” she says. “That sounds nice.”
“Mom and Dad aren’t that bad, you know,” he tells her. “And even Avis has her moments.”
“It’s not them,” Annabelle says. “It’s everyone else. All those church women clucking their cheeks, ‘Annabelle, you need to be more ladylike. Never find you a man the way you act.’ Like that’s the only goal a woman is supposed to have.”
“Are you still having your doubts?” he says.
“Always,” she says. “I listen to Dad in the pulpit every Sunday and half the time, I’m thinking, ‘Really? Dad?’”
“I know,” he says. “It’s tough. One day you’ll find your true path, though. Hang in there.”
“See? This is just what I’m going to miss,” she says, putting her arm around him. “I can’t talk to anybody the way I talk to you.”
“I’ll write,” he says. “They do give us leave sometimes.”
“It won’t be the same,” she says. “Especially if you go into space. How am I supposed to talk to you up there?”
He gives her a peck on the cheek. “We’ll find a way.”