Chapter 22

"Let me guess, no lunch?" Jessie said, shaking her head. "Julia, you're going to have to face the music someday."

The tall, dark haired girl looked rather frail in the hospital bed, an IV in her arm replenishing liquids and nutrients. Despite her weakened state she didn't hesitate to shoot daggers back at Jessie. Mind your own damn business.

The nurse walked into the room, her father following behind. "According to the coach, she got dehydrated and passed out on the court."

Rhett William's face blanched to see his daughter laying prone on the bed, but whatever comments he had he kept to himself. "Dehydrated?" He scrunched his brows. "What'd you have for lunch?"

"A garden salad---why? Coach said I was just dehydrated."

She's going to hate me for this, but if I don't say something in front of her father and a nurse, I may just lose my only chance to get through her. Kelsey felt her hands quiver--she knew it'd probably blow their friendship all to hell again. But a real friend would watch it blow to hell for the greater good than to let her slowly starve herself to death.

"Julia, you can't eat like a bird and expect to survive," Kelsey said. "You can't hide it forever," she added.

"What are you talking about?" Julia snapped back.

"What do you mean?" Rhett asked.

"She doesn't eat normally at home, does she Mr. Williams--"

"Rhett," he corrected, then deviating back to the previous point. "She's never been a big eater."

"A garden salad isn't enough for a girl to live off of!" Kelsey said a little loudly.

"And we've caught her puking up food after a meal," Jessie added before either Rhett or Julia could protest.

"Julia?" Rhett asked.

"That's bologna!" Julia defensively countered. "Who are you going to believe, you're own daughter or two strangers?!"

Kelsey pretended not to feel the sting of that painful comment.

Julia had been released later that night, with doctor's directions to hydrate frequently throughout the day.

Julia, you're going to have to face the music someday, the words kept ringing in her mind. You've spun totally out of control.

She twisted on her side, facing the white wall, pillow tucked under her head. Julia Williams is never out of control.

The screech owl tried to ruse a mouse to blow his cover, making Julia jump instead. Damn mice were used to the game... What if I pass out and never wake up?

It was simple dehydration! The doctor didn't seemed concerned about your weight.

The doctor was a hotshot asshole who just wanted to shovel you in and out, get your money and get you out as soon as possible so he could finger that green cash. She felt her hands shake. I can't sleep. I to get this off my chest. Maybe Dylan would be a willing ear.

She crept out of bed, turned on the light, and booted up the computer. She connected, and composed a message to Dylan.

I don't know how to say this, but...I'm just so scared right now. I passed out on the court right after one of my tennis matches yesterday, and they said it was dehydration.

I know very well that wasn't it but I'm just spinning out of control. I can't confess I'm scared of food. I'm so scared one of these days I'm going to pass out and never wake up again.

Sorry to waste your time,

And before she could chicken out and cancel, she clicked "send."

She sat at the breakfast table, a measly bowl of cornflakes staring back at her, a cup of coffee and a small glass of milk (calcium--have to have it!) sitting beside her.

Rhett eyed her small portion. Maybe Kelsey was right... "Would you like some toast?" he asked her.

"No thanks," she politely declined, watching her mother leave the table, taking her dishes to the sink.

Rhett eyed the cornflakes again. Sure women didn't have ravenous appetites for food, but this? "Bagel?" She shook her head. "Aren't you hungry?"

"Mom says bread is fattening," she said, not bothering to tear her eyes away from the cereal box.

The doctor didn't say she had any eating problems, it was just dehydration. But I just can't seem to shake the notion she put in my head. He let out a small sigh. And now that Kelsey pointed it out, she is acting a little strangely about food. Why haven't I noticed it before?

Julia sat in her own corner, mind off in space.

Julia! the voice of Mother had cried out. Julia herself was about eight, a girl with a penchant for still managing to get herself into trouble despite her mother's determined efforts to stop her daughter's tomboyish ways. Her endless guilt trips seemed to be working, Julia had only one referral this year...

Mother came in. "Julia Marie Williams! I am NOT buying you another fall outfit!" she said, fingering how she managed to tear her nice khaki slacks Mother had painstakingly picked out for her. She had managed to pick out a wide assortment of girly clothes, too much pink, lavender, and pastels in her wardrobe, and too refined of cloth to handle the rough and tumble Julia managed to get into. Mother groaned to see the pants she bought only weeks before were beginning to look like highwaters now. "I wish you'd slow down growing!" she complained further. "Boys don't marry tall girls."

Julia was tempted to go into a spiel about how icky boys were and how she didn't want to marry when she grew up. What was the big deal? Her friends were always dreaming of the perfect husband, perfect house, the number of kids and pets they'd have and Julia herself was more content to play rough and tumble games the boys preferred, like pretending to be James Bond or Indiana Jones.

It was mortifying to Mrs. Williams to hear such talk from her daughter that she wanted to be a PI just like Thomas Magnum and catch dangerous Colombian druglords instead of settling for a safe occupation of housewife, marrying a nice, smart boy that would make her proud.

"She'll grow out of it," Rhett said over a cup of coffee.

There was a pain, and she cast her eyes down before Rhett could see it. Emotions were a no-no, not that she had been told that, but it was what she gathered from her stoic, cold mother. And Rhett---society demanded men never admit weakness.

She still longed for the days when she would pretend to be a hero. Her first grade year she liked pretending to be Wolverine, even though everyone had said she'd make a better Storm. Bah! She wasn't playing a sissy part! Storm was a girl, for crying out Christmas!

Raphael the Ninja Turtle was cool too, Julia mused, remembering vaguely of when the movie came out. Kindergarten, right? Yeah, Mother flipped to hear her daughter's tomboy enthusiasms, especially over that "satanic movie."

Sarcasm bubbled in her veins. And everyone presumes I played with Barbies as a girl. Sadness threatened, and Julia tried to switch her focus. Why do I feel like I'm losing it?

A little voice in her head said, Because you are.

Kelsey couldn't keep stoic after leaving Julia's room, and beyond the bend in the hospital, proceeded to cry. Oh Dearest Goddess! Why can't she see what's she's doing to herself! Why must she feel compelled to hate herself so much that she's willing to starve herself slowly and painfully to death? WHY??? She felt the hot tears come down her face, feeling a familiar presence sit beside her on the floor.

Jessie offered her a tissue. "Here, looks like you need one."


"I know this hurts, Kelsey," then whispering, "especially for you." Then speaking up, "It hurts me too."

"I mean, what if she passed out and never woke up. Jessie--"

The tall brunette put a reassuring hand on her knee and gave her a gentle squeeze. "Try to think positive. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make her drink."

Oops, Jessie realized a little too late, as Kelsey burst into tears. She engulfed her vulnerable friend in a hug, kicking herself mentally for hurting her friend further. "I'm sorry."

Morning---what had passed had passed; Julia was back at school today, much to Kelsey's relief. The break in the rain yesterday was brief, because the clouds had settled in like a blanket again, a fine drizzling mist that got everything damp in a subtle matter.

Just when she felt her world was settled, it got turned again. Boredom liked long stretches, but action was fast and sudden. Her world had remained static for so long, and now it wouldn't stop spinning! The constant motion was beginning to make her a little nauseous now.

She turned the corner, to see Julia approach her. I hope she still isn't mad at me, but that's rather unlikely, consider the wound I opened last night.

She watch Julia approach, bubbling with glee. "Guess what, Kelsey?" she asked, practically bouncing in place rather uncharacteristically.

"What?" asked Jessie.

"Justin asked me out!!!"

Chapter 23

One Month Later. Week before Halloween.

She checked to make sure the lights on the set were working properly---in the last check one of the light bulbs on the string had burned a filament and the display failed to work properly.

She took a step back from the display and grinned. Western Baptist Church Hell House. She felt a warm hand at her waist, and panicked for a moment until she realized it was Justin's.

"Hey," he said. "How's it going?"

"Found the naughty bulb," she said.

"Whew. Did you have to go through the whole blasted string to find the culprit?"

"Nah," she replied disengaging his hand from her waist and approaching the next item she needed to work on in the Hell House before it opened for this evening's visitors.

Someone had defaced the sign announcing the exhibit with 666's and "Satan" scrawled all over it in mockery. She took the paint stirrer and popped the lid off the paint, stirring the paint to make it even since the sludge had sunk to the bottom during transport, then took a small brush and meticulously began painting out the graffiti.

"Julia..." he whined, "you've been working on the Hell House like a slave. Can't you take a break for one night?"

She shook her head. "We can't let the public see this, Justin."

"Someone else can do that."

"They can, but they never do," she replied back, not even paying him heed by turning her head. Not even the splatter of paint as a bubble burst stopped her methodical cleaning of the sign.

He let out an annoyed sigh and walked away. She had a way of not saying "no" directly---no, Julia couldn't do that, but the way she just pretended to say yes and then ignore just infuriated the hell out of him. Her shy, pliant outward demeanor belied a stubborn streak a mile wide.

"Is Julia coming with us for dinner?" Reverend Rob Kendall asked his son.

"She insists on fixing up the sign," Justin said defeatedly.

"Ah," the Reverend said. "Well, let's go grab a bite to eat before we have to open the Hell House tonight."

Justin's brown eyes flickered with sadness, casting them down with disappointment.

Her arms ached, but she refused to take a break, lest the sadness wash over her again. Taking a bucket, she stood on it to reach the top fringes where the vandals managed to smear the spray paint. Such hatred---her and her church were trying to save the lost, hell-bound souls of the earth and all they could do was mock their efforts.

The preordained for hell, Reverend Kendall explained. They do not listen but mock, as their father Satan instructs them to do; they engage and promote immoral behavior and pay no heed to God's words. For them the lake of brimstone was created, an everlasting fire for the Devil and his errant seed.

An everlasting fire for the Devil and his seed. Sadness crept---she was supposed to hate those damn sinners, wasn't she? But, but...but that meant she was supposed to hate Jessie and Kelsey.

More sadness crept into her heart, gripping her like an icy hand that had just been removed from a bucket of ice water and wrapped around, holding the tender organ hostage. To see them writhe in the flames of Hell frightened her and had given her terrible nightmares every single night ever since the Reverend's hellfire and damnation sermon the Sunday previous.

She knew they'd never go away and she'd be accountable to God on Judgment Day if she didn't try to save them. Neither were going to like it---couldn't they tell it was for their own good?

And Kelsey---an even deeper sadness took root. Reverend Kendall said homosexuals were hell-bound and hopeless, but she had managed to find a church that had an ex-gay program that she was going to try to get Kelsey into. I have nothing to lose. She has nothing to lose. The dubious reports by the APA that ex-gay programs didn't work couldn't deter her---even if the cure rate was low, any percentage was better than none. Anything to save her soul.

Satisfied that the mockery had been covered up on the sign, she sealed the paint can, put the materials away, washed her face and changed into her costume for the morality play.

Monday morning, the day of the fair Lady of the Moon. "Hey, Jessie. Any word yet?" Kelsey asked, a charcoal sweater donned to ward off the autumn chill.

"Yeah. Mrs. Rogers said she was willing to teach us, but we have to get our parent's consent first."

"That'll be no problem for me," Kelsey said.

"Me neither."

"Cool," Kelsey said, a lopsided gleeful grin engulfing her face.

Julia came up to them and said, "Good morning," as was customary habit. Kelsey eyed her loverboy and felt a twinge of jealousy, her and Julia had become more distant since they started dating. She resented the son-of-a-bitch: a boor just like his hotshot fire spewing father, who saw the world in black and white and nothing else.

"Morning," Kelsey said, not bothering to give her any attention, pretending to ignore her. Two can play the dissing game.

"Say, we have our Halloween House up. Are you going to drop by this week?" Julia asked politely, trying to lure them in.

"Can't make it," Jessie said.

"It's a blast--" Julia prodded.

"No," Kelsey said, putting her foot down. "The last time I went to any of your church functions all hell broke loose."

"Well, yeah, you---" Green eyes bored into Julia's blue eyes, a reminder that if she outed her in front of Justin it would be absolutely unforgivable.

"She what?" Justin asked.

"Nevermind, the point is made," Julia said. "I promise, this time will be different."

"We're not falling for the ruse, Julia," Jessie said. "Neither of us believe in this sinner and salvation crap so leave us alone."

Justin's mouth fell open, aghast. Julia decided to wedge in further. "So you don't believe in Hell. What if you're wrong?" Silence. "What a heavy price to pay for a presumption."

"I don't buy into sadomasochistic religions, Julia. Leave us alone," Jessie growled.

"Sadomasochistic?" Justin cried out. "At least we don't sacrifice animals and babies under the full moon unlike someone I know!!!" Then he said, "She knows who she is and she's standing right here."

Kelsey couldn't listen to the son-of-a-bitch anymore. Taking his shirt, she tugged and jerked him to face level, growling menacingly, "Shut your trap before I fill it with the shit that's been spewing out it."

Justin shoved her back, escaping her grasp. "Violent, unnatural woman!"

Green eyes were no longer green anymore--they burned with a furious hazel yellow that could melt iron. "You're a clone of your father, an ill-tempered, self righteous jerk that doesn't know when it's time to close his ass."

"Fuck you," he snarled.

The two combatants were pulled away before Kelsey could get her hands on the son-of-a-bitch. Not that this wrong would go unavenged...

"What's that bitch's problem?" Justin asked his girlfriend afterwards.

Julia shrugged. "She's under a lot of stress and you poked the wrong nerve."

"Hmm," he said, not questioning further. From the first time he set eyes on Kelsey he knew she was a handful---he wasn't sure what it was but the ankh she wore spoke volumes. A heathen, one of the hell bound that had managed to befriend Julia, putting her within the dangerous reach of the clutches of Satan. And those boyish clothes and haircut---Jehovah pray she wasn't one of those women, it'd be a very painful process to deprogram the depraved influence of such a woman from Julia's mind and soul.

It didn't appear that anything was going on between them though, from Julia's reaction. She didn't seem uncomfortable having him follow him everywhere, even when she said "Good morning" to Kelsey. He really didn't care what sex Kelsey fucked, just as long as she didn't try to corrupt Julia with her immoral ways.

He didn't like Jessie much more either. The rumors that she aborted her baby at a black mass still permeated his mind, although the sources, Luke and Cassie, weren't much more moral either. Hypocrites, they were too involved in the secular world of school, sports, and Student Council to be true Christians. Although he had to give Cassie a bonus point or two for reproaching the satanic Natasha for her absolute filth--unlike Jessie he'd actually seen Natasha make out with three boys in one day.

He was set out to induce Julia into the church family of Western Baptist. They knew the One True Way, the Only Way to Salvation.

"What the fuck does she see in that asshole?!!" Kelsey fumed, her fists clenched and blanched of color.

"Calm down," Jessie said, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

"Don't touch me," Kelsey growled, shoulders tensing further.

"Hon, I know it's painful."

"I am so fucking sick of watching that turd always refer to that fictional baby you supposedly aborted. He knows it's a false rumor, he just doesn't give a shit, he's just trying to brainwash Julia into the cult."


"Yeah, the almighty cult of Reverend Kendall and his self righteous army of picketers! Next thing you know he's going to proclaim himself to be God or the Second Incarnation of Jesus or something absurd like that!!!"

Jessie shook her head. "I understand you're worried."

"Worried doesn't even start to cover it, Jessie."

Brunch. Julia turned the corner, accidentally running to one of the other students. "Kelsey! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, seeing the spilled cup of coffee that miraculously missed burning either one of them. Unfortunately, the contents were a total loss. "Here, I'll go buy you another one," Julia offered.

"That's okay," Kelsey said.

"I was headed towards the Student Store anyways. Wanna come?" Before Kelsey could weasel her way out, she added, "Come on."

What now? Kelsey wondered, following Julia back to the Student Store. A cold, nippy wind blew through the air, freezing Kelsey's cold fingers and sending Julia into a fit of shivering.

"I'm sorry about acting like such a jerk earlier," Julia apologized, then ducking into the store.

I mine as well replace the coffee. It'll warm me up. The red head ducked into the busy store, got a frothy cup of coffee, and went outside.

"There you were. Kelsey! I would have replaced it if you told me..."

"Don't worry about it," Kelsey said, taking a sip. "Ah, this stuff is warm, the other batch they sold me was rather cold and nasty."

"Yeah, it can be a rip off sometimes, can't it?"

"At least it's sometimes and not always."

Julia found a relatively quiet spot, where no one was around to eavesdrop. "Why did you choose to be gay?"

Kelsey made a confused face. "What do you mean, 'choose?'" The anguished look on Julia's face further confused her. What was she trying to hint at?

"Why did you choose not to be straight?"

"I never chose," Kelsey said. "I never had the chance."

"Hmm," Julia said. "You know, you had to choose at some point."

"Says whom? Some minister? The doctors digress on that," Kelsey said. "You think I enjoy living in fear of my own fucking shadow????"

"You don't necessarily have to live like that," Julia countered. "They can counsel you."

"You're hinting at an ex-gay program," Kelsey flat out told her. "The answer is no!" She whirled about to leave, angry that once again, religion had wedged itself between them.

"At least I believe there's hope! Ask my own minister or Kendall, they say there's none!"

"Maybe they have a point! Good bye!"

"KELSEY!" Julia cried out in anguish. "Kelsey, don't leave!"

The red haired girl stopped, and slowly turned around. "What?" she said, watching a tear trickle down Julia's face.

"I don't want to see you go to Hell..."

Chapter 24

"She pulled you aside and asked you to convert?" Jessie asked, in disbelief. "Argh, I wish she'd stop pulling this Ms. Preach-to-the-Masses bit."

"She seems to be convinced I'm actually going to Hell," Kelsey said, shaking her head.

Jessie arched a brow but said nothing. Her brown eyes flickered around the area, surveying the area for potential threats; she took a breath and exhaled. "That church is a cult, Kelsey. She's in real trouble. Most Christians don't even believe in their own hell they created."

"Julia can feel the things we can't. When the preacher shakes the podium and shouts the name of the Almighty, she trembles. When he says 'burn, sinners, burn, ye unsaved!' she feels the flames leap upon her skin as if it were her own fate."

"Jessie, what are you getting at?"

Brown eyes fluttered up. "Worry is a weapon a cult can use to rein in their own members. In this case, she's worrying about you--"

"Should I be flattered?" Kelsey tried to joke. "Just kidding, go on."

Jessie continued, "--which further propels her to try to preach to you, to get more members to feed the cult. It's like a pyramid scheme, Kelsey. And the people at the bottom are the unwitting pawns. She doesn't know what she's doing to you."

"No she doesn't." No, she doesn't know how it breaks my heart to see her ache like that. I suppose my worry is a self serving interest, but still! No one should have to pain over some hogwash someone tells them.

"Brr!" Julia exclaimed to herself, shivering in her warm-ups. Playoffs were starting, and tomorrow she'd be traveling a far ways off to compete for first in the league.

She took the towel and dried the chilled sweat from her brow and face, then wrapped the warm-up tighter around her body. A car passed by and honked. "Oh shoot, my ride!" She bent down and grabbed her backpack and hustled to catch her ride before it drove away.

"Hey, Dad," she said.

Rhett nodded but said nothing. Half the drive went by in silence, Julia staring out the window into the twilight dusk and the various objects of debris being swept about gently on the streets by the wind. He finally spoke: "Julia, has there been any unusual behavior in Western Baptist?"

"No, Dad, why?"

The man shrugged. "There's been rumors---grant you, just rumors---but when it comes to your safety I don't want you getting hurt."

"What type of rumors?"

The man shook his head, brow creased, but said nothing. "I want you to call me the instant inappropriate behavior occurs. Am I clear?"

"Yes, Dad."

He applied the brake, turning into the left hand turn lane and slowing to a stop in front of the red arrow. The things he had been hearing he didn't dare tell Julia---too awful to tell such an innocent girl. He hoped he made the right choice by not telling her--God pray he was just specific enough.

"Pastor Jennings?" a quiet voice asked, fearful of intruding.

The golden haired pastor lifted his head to see who his visitor was. "Good evening, Julia," he greeted. "Nice to see you again." The girl smiled. "Any luck with talking to her?" he asked.

Julia sadly shook her head. "I talked to both of them earlier, and they got nasty, saying they didn't believe in this 'sin and salvation' business."

Pastor Jennings gave her a look of sympathy. "It's not going to sink in the first time, Julia," he gently said. The minister had a benevolent air, a gentle voice and rounded, pleasant grandfatherly face. "As you said, she's gay, she's probably been stigmatized by other churches, told she's a hopeless case and it's quite understandable she doesn't want to come back."

"I have to fight their proclamation," Julia gently whispered.

"What proclamation?"

"Of what my home church said."

"What did they say?"

"It was a hopeless case and I'd just have to settle with the fact that she was hell-bound."

"Nothing's hopeless, Julia," the pastor consoled. "Does God not work miracles?"

She looked at him. "I believe in miracles," she whispered.

"She's going to have to take this on her own time, Julia. You can't force her into it. Pray for her, and when the good Lord calls her, be there to guide her in the right direction."

"Thank you, Pastor Jennings," she said, throwing a used up, wadded tissue in the trash. "Thank you," she said, then leaving.

The pastor watched her leave, shaking his head. "Too bad most people aren't moved by the spirit of love for one another anymore."

She walked into the foyer in front of the house, getting the key to open the house. A generation ago no one would think a thing of leaving the front door unlocked, but that was a generation ago. She was about to stick the key in the slot to open it when she heard yelling.

"Damn it, Rhett, you can't walk away from the church like that!!!" his wife yelled at him.

"I'll do damn well what my conscious tells me to do!"

She continued. "You're going to lose your customer base if you leave the church! And then your business will fail, we'll have no money to put Julia through college and--"

"They won't notice me there!" Rhett snarled back. "I'll close the business before I let it go bankrupt!"

The hollers diminished, echoing down the hall, the argument by no means over but out of the nosy ears of neighbors. Julia leaned against the foyer, feeling her knees buckling; she didn't resist the force of gravity that insisted on pulling her down. Slowly she slid down until she was curled up in a sitting position. A warm tear trickled down her face; it had to be her fault, she could hear too much of it to know it revolved around the chaotic mess started a month ago when her father got arrested at the protest.

Rhett refused to go to church the past month; Mother had been sure to nag, whine, and belittle him to get him back to church. When hasn't Mother nagged, whined, and belittled him? Julia thought. I can't recall. She took a trembling hand and wiped the tears off her cheeks, unable to find the courage to go in the house and face the mess she blamed herself for.

She heard the voices again. "Rhett, you can't just run out on the family!" Mother yelled at him. "Damn it!"

The front door slammed shut, and Julia scurried out of the way before Rhett could trip over her. She was paralyzed with a raw fear that chilled her bones, she had never seen her parents fight like this...

All Mother saw of Rhett was tail lights down the street when she got to the door. She shook her head, growling. She turned about slowly, about to go in, when she spotted Julia. "Oh, you're back," Mother said.

Julia timidly stood up, and slipped in the door after Mother, breaking into a dead run to her room as soon as she was sure Mother couldn't see her run in the house.

She locked the door and flopped on the bed, not bothering to turn on the lights. The moonless night cast no glow of its own, leaving her in a very dark room, save the slight light from the window where city lights gave off their glow. She felt the tension flow from her muscles, relaxing until she could feel her eyes brimming with tears that she couldn't hold back. Twisting onto her side, she clutched her pillow, billowing her face into it to snuffle the sobs so no one could hear her pain.

Will Dad come back? God, please let him come home safely. She opened her eyes, letting the tears evaporate off her lashes into the air, then closing her eyes, feeling the despair seep again towards her heart and constrict her lungs like rubber bands tightly bound; every time she tried to breath they'd nudge little.

Rhett didn't go to church after the protest outside the Methodist Church. The subsequent Sundays, Mother would get Julia ready for church, nag and cajole Rhett, who wouldn't budge an inch away from the recliner, newspaper in hand, coffee mug by his side, happily absorbed reading what his stocks were doing while in his pajamas and robe.

He had been very withdrawn after being booked overnight--Julia feared the worst had happened within his brief incarceration, but her dad assured her no such thing had happened. She later overheard him ask Mother, "Where did Julia learn what such things were?"

"Kids these days," Mother said coldly.

It was understandable the first week that Rhett hadn't come; the second week Mother made the excuse that he wasn't feeling well. But by the third week, the excuses ran out, and people in the church were beginning to wonder what was going on.

Rhett didn't voice his fears--no man emasculated himself like that! Mother overheard some of his richest clients muttered amongst themselves about Rhett's mysterious disappearances from church after the soured protest a few weeks back.

Rhett assured both of them that business was as normal, but Mother still had her doubts and had voiced them publicly to Julia while Rhett wasn't in the room. "He hasn't felt the impact--YET."

She roused herself out of the bitter recollection of the past month, opening her eyes and staring absentmindedly out the window.

The excitement and vigor of the beginning of school had begun to wane after the first month. Luke and Cassie still ganged up on Natasha, but mainly outside of Student Council, now that the failed coup d'etat against Jessie had blown by. She would have forgotten about it if it wasn't for the fact that Justin kept bringing it up at the most inopportune of times.

Speaking of Justin, they had been going out nearly a month. He was a bit insecure, but lively---now that she thought about it he had been a bit quieter than normal as of late. Just stress, right? Right.

Julia, has there been any unusual behavior in Western Baptist? she remembered her dad asking her earlier. What rumors had he heard? Could it have anything to do with Justin???

Nah. She turned over onto her back, putting her hand on her forehead. Restlessness and anxiety pulsed through her veins, making her unnerved like a cat out on its nightly prowls through a junkyard inhabited by pit bulls and rottweilers.

"I can't sleep like this," she hoarsely said, getting up, flipping on a light switch, and booting up the computer. She checked her email with anticipation, but the eagerness was dampened when she realized the letter she sent Dylan hadn't been replied to yet. She hung her head with disappointment. I might as well stay online and browse. I can't sleep. She tried to console herself with some "Inspirational Quotes" pages, but that didn't help her any. Maybe militancy. But it just reminded her of the pressing problem of Kelsey's homosexuality. Okay, you win--for now. I'll venture out into the secular world.

A few clicks, and she was back at the Yahoo! homepage. "Oh, where shall I go?" she asked herself. Two hours later, she had no clue how she managed to get in a chatroom talking to another teen girl about the mundane things in life. It was a relief to have someone to talk to---even if it was a total stranger on the other side of the country.

The other girl left the chatroom, and she was about to get off when she got messaged by an unfamiliar handle. Not that she knew any familiar ones, save Dylan's and Shana's, but neither was online.

Julia? the handle asked.

Who are you?Julia replied.

It's me, Kelsey.

I thought it was lights out time for you, Julia wrote back, confused.

I'm at Jessie's house, that's why.


What are you doing still up? It's awfully late.

Could be later. I should ask why you are awake still.

Cause there aren't many nights I get to stay up.

So, what's up?

Nothing much. You?

Was about to try to go back to sleep.


Couldn't sleep.

Fellow insomniac?

I guess. Just a lot on my mind.

What's wrong?

Nothing really, just this and that.

Like what?

As I said, nothing really. She had to grin as she kept Kelsey running around in circles. It was sick but funny....

Kelsey typed, Jessie's mother asked us to get off the computer for the night.

Goodnight then.

Goodnight. And then she left. Julia felt lonely once more, alone in her world. A numb feeling, a grasp of the humanity she needed to speak to so dearly, and then it fell out of her grasp once more.

"Shit," the devout Christian cried under her breath, shutting the computer down without much thought, her hands shaking, tears streaming down her face.

[ Chapters 25-27 ]

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