"I had a lot of fun, guys," Julia said, waving by as Jessie's car pulled away from the curb. She felt joyous inside, her face aglow with a contagious grin. After the little bran muffin incident, the day was salvaged by poking their heads into a few of the shops in the mall and then going out to the city park to try out the new Nerf football Jessie had bought at the dollar store.
She turned around, to see Mother scowling at the foot of the doorway. Her gleeful grin disappeared immediately, replaced by fear when she looked into her mother's disapproving eyes. "I don't like that redhead."
"Who? Kelsey? Why?" Julia asked. It was not a question of whether she broke a rule she didn't know--it was now a question of finding out that rule was so she didn't have to rely on telepathy next time, a skill she wasn't too terribly adept at.
"She looks like one of those women," Mother said.
That wasn't too terribly clear. Julia asked, "What do you mean, those women?"
"Are you talking back?"
"But Mom, if you don't tell me what you're refering to, how am I supposed to know?"
Mother relented. "She's awfully mannish. Wait till your dad hears about who you've been hanging around."
Oh boy, this sounds bad. Mother dragged her to the family room where Rhett was busy reading the paper after doing yardwork that morning, his salt and pepper hair wet from a recent shower. He had his bifocals perched on the bridge of his nose, slouched in his chair and totally oblivious to the commotion in the other room.
"Dear, Julia has been hanging around some questionable people."
He was rused out of his reading, much to his annoyance. What little thing was Mother bugging him about now?! "Uh huh," he affirmed his wife.
"They're not very Christian people, Rhett. And one of those girls looked like...do I dare say it? A homosexual!"
Rhett sighed, taking his bifocals off and setting them on the small table beside his chair. "Julia, you know better than to hang around people like that," he said, not bothering to put much emotion into it. He was an actor with a script to recite and nothing more.
"Personally, I don't think that's enough," Mother continued, grabbing Julia's wrist and shoving her forward to be shamed. "She knows she's not supposed to be hanging around non-Christians. She defied us!"
"Julia, you're grounded," he said, itching to get back to reading this paper and dismiss the kangaroo court.
"I still don't think that's enough," Mother said.
Rhett's bored disinterest vanished. "What do you mean?" he asked, perplexed.
"I'm afraid that homosexual's influence might have rubbed off on her."
"I'm not gay, Mom, if that's what you're implying," Julia interrupted.
"Hush, insolent child!" Mother said, threatening her with an upraised open palm.
Rhett looked at her. "So what are you suggesting we do?"
"I called earlier and got a few numbers for some local ex-gay programs," Mother said, whipping her head around to glare at Julia when the tall, dark haired girl looked like she was about to interrupt. "We can nip this in the bud before she is a truly lost soul."
It ripped her heart to be referred to in the third person. Was she not worthy of any respect? Why couldn't she have a say in this? Why must she be treated like a four year old?!
Rhett set his fist on the table. "Our daughter is not going to an ex-gay program."
Mother grimaced, her eyes turned the shade of ice cold white diamonds with a pale grey hue. "If you loved your daughter, you'd want her to go to an ex-gay program."
Rhett crossed his arms. "I said no. You heard her: she said she's not gay. She has a healthy interest in boys. She'll see how immoral these people are soon enough. She's a smart girl, she can see that for herself."
"Luke said he got dumped in favor of Kelsey."
"Luke's full of--" Julia yelled.
"Don't you dare!" Mother snarled. "You're in enough trouble without backtalking, young lady!"
"I've heard too many horror stories to subject our daughter to that treatment," Rhett insisted.
"Like what?" Mother hissed, angry that she couldn't pussy-whip Rhett into submitting to her judgment. After all, she was always right, and those who differed must be wrong!
"Jim's son ended up killing himself when he couldn't get rid of the attractions he felt towards other men," Rhett rattled.
"That was tragic," Mother said. "Such a nice man would have made the perfect husband for a young maid."
"And the Mercer's daughter ended up "marrying" a confirmed dyke she met at camp!"
"The Mercer's daughter!" Mother said, aghast. "I always thought she was straight!"
Rhett scratched his head. "She was. And that's my point. If we send Julia there, it could possibly backfire on us."
"Rhett, you're making this up," she accused.
Rhett bolted up in his chair. "She's not going to some god damn ex-gay program!" he bellowed. "The end!" Then he calmly reclined, and resumed reading his paper.
"You're still grounded, young lady. Go to your room."
The sun had long gone down, dinner time had long passed and Julia was still confined to her room. She had thought about getting online, but upon entering her room, saw that her computer had been taken out. Mom's gone off the deep end again. Probably looking for pornography on my hard drive or something else she could only fantasize about. She then had crept into bed, and feeling betrayed, could not stop the tears that crept out the slits of her eyes.
So she was six hours later, the hour nearing ten, when she heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in," she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
It was Rhett. "I'm sorry about Mother's attitude," he quietly apologized, not wanting to rouse his sleeping wife and be victim to her wrath.
"Where's my computer?"
Rhett looked over to the desk, to see that, indeed, it was missing. He sighed. "Mother must be on one of her parinoia streaks," he sighed. "I'll get it back for you tomorrow."
"She thinks there's pornography on there, doesn't she?"
"I don't know," Rhett openly admitted.
"She's going to be sorely disappointed if that's the case."
"I brought you some dinner."
"You're welcome. Sleep tight, and I'm sorry about this whole ordeal."
"Dad?" she asked. "How long am I grounded?"
"Mother didn't make me specify a time...you're free tomorrow."
"Thanks, Dad, you're the greatest."
"Good night, Julia."
"Good night, Dad." He left, shutting the door behind him. Julia picked at her meal in silence, using only the moonlight filtering through the window by her bedside to illuminate her food.
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