Agony in the Garden - Part 2
Jessie decided she needed to freshen up with a shower after her crying fit, leaving Kelsey alone with Dylan, Kyle and Brittany.
“Is Jessie okay?” Kyle asked.
“She’ll be fine. She’s just a little shocked, that’s all,” Kelsey consoled them.
“What happened, anyway? She was fine when I left to get leftovers and then when I got back, she was on the verge of tears!” Dylan said.
“I wish I had seen it earlier,” Brittany said. “I had gotten so used to it being common knowledge that you’re gay that I didn’t figure that she’d get a crush on you.”
“Oh,” Dylan said. “Probably doesn’t help I’m a little touchy with my girl friends at times.”
“If it makes you feel better, that was probably the first hint I’ve had that she wasn’t thinking about joining a convent after high school,” Kelsey joked. “I’ve known her for a while.”
“I feel like such a dick,” Dylan moaned. “How could I not see it?”
“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself,” Kelsey reassured him. “It’ll blow over.” She gave him a short pat on the back. “At least she’s smart enough to have a safe crush.”
Two pairs of nervous eyes looked at Kelsey, but neither Dylan nor Kelsey saw it.
“Do I look okay?” Cassie asked Julia nervously. “I’d hate to make a bad impression.”
Julia regarded her friend. “You look fine. Let’s go.”
They walked down to the dining area, which had been cleared of picnic benches so there was room to move about. Speakers had been set up at one end, and one of the camp counselors was feeding CDs into a player.
It didn’t take long for their dates to find them, and Luke greeted her with an affectionate hug and left his arm draped around her waist. “You look lovely,” he complimented her.
I didn’t change a darn thing since you saw me last, she thought to herself. Suckup. “Thanks,” she nicely replied.
All three of Luke’s buddies were with them, and Julia immediately figured out which one was Cassie’s date when she went over and held his hand. The other two didn’t look attached, which made her feel a little odd, but she figured their girlfriends must have been left at home.
They made their way onto the dance floor, and started to dance. She could feel Luke’s hands, one on her waist and the other on her back, and it made her shudder. She bit her lip, trying to hide her anxiety. Why did this have to be TONIGHT? she groaned to herself.
He looked at her with utter adoration, and she felt a little guilty about feeling cranky about the whole thing. Gee, Julia, lighten up for heaven’s sake! she scolded herself.
She glanced over, to see that Cassie was enjoying herself thoroughly. It’s about time she’s been bitten with boy fever, she thought to herself. It made her a little nervous how close her and Luke were at times, and she worried that maybe she had designs on her boyfriend. But seeing her content in someone else’s arms that didn’t belong to her boyfriend gave her a sense of relief.
She looked around to see who else was at the dance. The two other creeps were at the periphery, off the dance floor, snickering about something; in the other direction, she could see Kyle and Brittany dancing. Further, towards the edge, she saw Dylan, Jessie and Kelsey. You know, Jessie and Dylan would make a cute couple. I could swear they were flirting at the dinner table. She felt Luke lead her in another direction. I remember yesterday’s lunch conversation. They thought Kelsey and Natasha were a couple. That’s weird, because I don’t really see them together at all, and if they are, one of them leaves in a huff. But when they said that, I thought the likelier couple would have been Jessie and Kelsey. She could feel Luke sneaking in a few kisses on her neck. But I don’t think that’s the case either, seeing the way Jessie stands next to Dylan. Whew.
She wasn’t sure why she felt a sigh of relief about it, since it wasn’t really her business. Or was it? If they were a couple, they weren’t shoving anyone’s face in it, and as long as they were closeted, who cared? Well, we do, she thought to herself. I did, anyway. What’s going on with me? she cried to herself. Maybe I’m relieved because it means they aren’t dirty perverts, she justified to herself. That’s right. As long as I know they’re straight, I don’t have an obligation to treat them like lepers!
Luke found a good spot, and she noticed he had been lingering there for quite some while. “Luke,” she growled, “my parents are going to kill you if you leave any hickeys.”
He backed off, looking embarrassed. “Sorry,” he apologized.
I better look hard and long in the mirror before I go to bed tonight. I’m probably going to have to wear a turtleneck for the next few days! I should have been paying closer attention. The thought that her parents were going to jump to conclusions made her feel depressed and irritable. He didn’t seem to heed directions for long, and he started nuzzling her neck again. Didn’t I just tell him to stop?!
“Luke, I appreciate the fact you like me,” she drawled, “but could you please stop nuzzling my neck? At least until it gets a little colder and no one cares I’m wearing a turtleneck to school then?”
“Oh, alright,” he said, looking dejected. He backed off, still holding her in his arms, and she thought she had won at last. The taste of victory was short-lived, however, as she felt his hand creep down from her waist lower and lower.
“Don’t be feeling my butt, either,” she warned.
“I wasn’t doing any such thing,” he protested, patting her on the hip to show that his hands were technically behaving.
“You’re thinking about it,” she countered, her eyes darkening.
His face stiffened up. “We’ve been dating for several months now and you won’t let me do anything except kiss you on the lips! Loosen up, for heaven’s sake!”
She let out an aggravated sigh. “Luke, you’ve met my parents. And I’ve told you repeatedly that they get weird about things like kissing and dating. I just can’t afford to take that chance!”
“We’re miles and miles away from the watchdogs! What are a few forbidden kisses, anyways? Come on, Julia, lighten up!”
She broke out of his embrace and crossed her arms. “I said no. The end!”
His face flushed with fury, he stomped off the dance floor, no further words emanating from his previously randy lips.
Cassie saw the little tiff, and when the song ended, she went over to see what had happened. “Where’d Luke go?”
She shrugged, secretly relieved he had stormed off. “I have no idea.”
“What’s his problem, anyway?” she asked.
“I told him not leave any hickeys on me,” she replied.
“Oh,” Cassie said, a few giggles coming out. “Getting hot and heavy on the dance floor, hmm?”
“Well,” she said, “I couldn’t let him get too carried away and leave evidence for the folks to discover. They’re weird about that stuff.”
“So are my folks,” Cassie agreed, then in a lower voice, whispered, “I’m going to be wearing turtlenecks for a while!” She giggled afterwards, and turned around to look at her date, who had been watching her the whole time they had been talking. “Got to live a little, you know.” She patted her brow with a kleenex. “Don’t be afraid to be a rebel, Julia. It’s quite fun!”
She watched Cassie dive back onto the dance floor and kiss her date. I don’t doubt she’s coming back with a ton of hickeys, she thought to herself, watching the way the two interacted. She felt a little troubled by Cassie’s comments; she was sure that Cassie didn’t mean it to come out that way, but Julia felt perfectly content to have the physical affection stop at little kisses on the lips. She sometimes let Luke go further than that, but she had to admit it really disgusted her to feel his tongue in her mouth. It was so messy! And that’s why they call it swapping spit.
They had a table set up with beverages, and she helped herself to a bottle of water. She opened it and took a long swig, letting the cool stream refresh her parched throat. After getting a few good swigs, she capped the bottle and watched the crowd, seeing Dylan was on the dance floor with Jessie. They are cute, she admitted to herself. But unlike Cassie and her date, they weren’t so close together physically, and they were laughing on the dance floor. Why can’t Luke and I be more like that? She looks like she’s actually having fun!
She uncapped the bottle and took another long sip. Kelsey looks so alone. I wonder if I should go over there and keep her company.
When the song ended, Dylan made a motion with his hand, and Jessie followed suit. Kelsey ventured onto the dance floor, and it was obvious that her and Dylan were going to dance. And there’s your unlikely couple, folks. I guess Dylan and Jessie aren’t going out; I sure wouldn’t want to share my date with my best friend!
She looked at Cassie, who seemed to be enjoying herself. Although maybe that would have kept Luke out of my hair!
She watched the crowd, and felt there was no need to be there any more. Cassie was busy, Luke had already stormed off, and Kelsey seemed to be having a good time dancing with Dylan. I might as well go back to the cabin. Audrie’s probably been hiding out there all evening, so I ought to go be a pal and keep her company.
She walked back to the cabin, alone. As predicted, Audrie was there, and she was reading her bible. “Hey,” she greeted. Audrie placed her bookmark where she stopped and closed her book.
“Hey,” she replied. “Dance over already?”
“No, not even close,” Julia negated. “It was boring.”
Audrie nodded. “I’m surprised you came back so early, though. I thought you and Luke made up.”
Julia laughed, but said nothing. “Hey, what part are you reading?” she asked, pointing to the closed bible in her hand.
“I was just thumbing through the parables in Matthew and reading the commentary on the side,” she replied.
“Ever notice that the commentary on the sides sometimes differs from what they say in Sunday School?” Julia pointed out.
“Yeah,” she said. “I get confused when they do that. I thought it was supposed to be straight forward.”
Julia shook her head. “It’s a complex book,” she reminded her friend. “And there are many ways to read behind the lines.”
Audrie threw up her hands, and asked, “But how do I know which is the right one to believe when there’s multiple explanations?”
“You know what I do?”
“I pray,” Julia said, putting her hands together. “If the scholars can’t get it straight, at least I know the Holy Spirit will.”
Audrie nodded, a pleased look on her face. “Let’s pray then. I’m really confused!”
After praying, Julia went to her own bed and started reading a few verses on her own. The fine text on the thin pages made her eyes tired, and she slipped a bookmark in the book and tucked it in her duffel bag mere moments before sleep overcame her. She never heard her tent mates come in, and she had no idea what time it was when she felt a pain in her lower abdomen. Great. I have to use the bathroom.
She noticed the tent was completely dark, and the empty beds were now full. I wonder when everyone got back. She grabbed her flashlight and shined it on her watch. It’s a little past midnight. Way too early to get up.
She rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but the pain in her bladder was getting more and more insistent. I shouldn’t have drunk all that water before bed, she thought to herself. I don’t think I’m going to be able to go back to sleep without using the bathroom.
Reluctantly, she got out of bed and slipped her shoes on over her socks. She grabbed her flashlight and left the cabin, walking a few hundred feet down the path until she reached the bathroom, which was located on the main road through the camp.
The bright lights inside the bathroom made her wince, and it took her a few long seconds to acclimate to the intensity. She had to admit that she felt a lot better afterwards, although she still had a dull ache in her lower abdomen, which made her suspect she might have held it a little too long before doing something about it. She went to wash her hands, and looked into the mirror.
Hmm, she thought to herself. I look quite a bit perkier than I have in a while. She poked a few errant strands of hair back into her braid. I wonder why. This certainly hasn’t been a stress free week!
She grabbed a paper towel to dry off her hands, and then she left. The outside was brightly illuminated, except under the roof overhang. Julia didn’t pay attention to it, but it a very dark shadow for two menacing figures to hide in.
She felt hands grab at her, one hand covering her mouth.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” a very low, masculine voice growled in her ear. She could tell there were two sets of hands by the way she was being carried off. One person I might have been able to deal with, but two? Dear God, help me!
She could tell she was being dragged away from the road, into the sparse woodland behind the bathrooms. It was very dark in there, and Julia knew that once they got her there, anything could happen. She started to struggle, but was rewarded by having one set of hands grasp her wrists very hard. She tried to cry out in pain, but the hand over her mouth prevented her from doing so. The hand was replaced by an arm clad in heavy flannel, and she knew that biting wasn’t going to do anything to fend off the attack when she bit down hard and felt only fabric between her teeth.
Before they disappeared into the shadows, she got a good look at the face of one of her attackers. It’s one of the creeps that has been hounding Audrie! she realized in horror. She felt her heart start to race and veins pulse as she realized that they had something very, very bad in store for her.
It’s been a good evening, Kelsey mused to herself while walking to the bathroom to clean up before bed. She had hung out with Dylan and Jessie all evening, and by the end of it, Jessie and Dylan had a better understanding of each other, and Kelsey felt she had a new friend who understood the way she felt. She was thoroughly dismayed to see that it was now edging into the wee hours of the morning, and she feared she’d probably be in trouble with the camp counselors about being out past curfew. Way, way past curfew, she repeated to herself. She knew she was going to feel lousy come seven a.m., when they were due to wake up.
She had schlepped her shower gear with her, stuffing a towel, some soap and shower flip-flops in a canvas bag. She was about fifty feet away from the bathroom when she saw two figures drag off a third.
That’s weird, she thought to herself. The image was fleeting, and she thought she might have imagined it. It is awfully late. I’m probably seeing things. But the image would not go away even after she went into the bathroom. She set her stuff down, and sighed. Can it hurt to check? she asked herself. I better go out there and convince myself there’s nothing to be worried about.
She exited, and walked in the general direction she thought she saw the figures moving. It was very dark beyond the periphery of the lone light, and she was about to turn around when she saw light flicker off something in the sparse woodland behind the bathroom. What could that be? she wondered.
She saw the light flicker again. Okay, I don’t like the sight of this. She debated the best course of action. Thank goodness I didn’t change into a robe and flip-flops like a lot of the girls do to go to the shower. I think my best angle of approach is to circle behind what I thought I saw. It’ll also give me a better view with the light as a backdrop.
She quietly went back to the other side, then walked down the road until she was out of sight of the light. She then made her move to slip into the woodland, carefully navigating around roots and other obstacles using her feet. She was glad she had the ability to “see” the road ahead by feel; as she recalled, Jessie always had a way of tripping over the simplest things in the dark. It was too early in the school year for many leaves to have fallen, and she was grateful, for it meant she wasn’t making terribly much noise as she circled around to get a good look at what she suspected she saw.
She could only see silhouettes, but it was obvious that two men were restraining a struggling woman. I really don’t like the looks of this! she fumed to herself. She took a deep breath to steel her nerves, and quietly approached. If they think they’re going to get away with this, they got a surprise coming!
She stopped about five feet away, trying to figure out the best plan of attack. Once you’re discovered, you’re going to have to fight like there’s no tomorrow. The more off balance I can catch them, the better my chances are of defeating them.
“Say, she’s a prize,” one of the men laughed. “I thought the short brunette was hot, but damn, her friend is a hell of a lot sexier!”
“Wonder what Luke will say when they find out we seduced his girlfriend,” the other man chuckled.
Julia! Her mind reeled, and she had to quickly tell herself to block out what she had just learned. Keep your cool. There are two bone heads that need to be stopped. I think I could bowl over that one pretty easily if I charge with a low center of gravity.
With that, she made her move, leaping out of the woods like a lion pouncing on a gazelle. They didn’t see her in time, and she nailed one in the thigh, bowling him over and causing him to stumble over backwards. His buddy stopped what he was doing and charged, but she maintained her low center of gravity and pushed into his stomach, bowling him over too. The girl, now freed of the arm that was keeping her silent, let loose a bloodcurdling scream that made all the hairs on the back of Kelsey’s neck stand on end.
Focus, she grounded herself. She sensed movement to her left as she started to stand up, and she delivered a flying right jab at him. She felt where her knuckles hit bone, and the figure made a strangled yelp, holding his jaw with his hand and running off.
Dispatched one, one more to go, she told herself. She looked to her right, but he was not there. Damn, where did he go? The question was answered when she felt something whack at her ribs. She wheeled about and grabbed the offending object just as the attacker was about to deliver another bone crushing blow. The move startled him, and she yanked the object out of his hands. A stick, she realized, grabbing it and swinging it at his ankles. He jumped, and she continued to hound his ankles with the stick, getting one solid feeling blow in on his knee before he decided to run off into the night.
She listened carefully to see if the first one had come back. She heard footsteps, and braced herself for round three.
“What’s going on?” a voice asked. Kelsey thought the voice sounded familiar. “Dylan?”
“Is that you, Kelsey?”
“Yeah. Come here, but watch your back—I just chased off two sons of bitches and they might come back.”
She turned her attention to the girl on the ground. As she feared, it was Julia, and she was curled up in a ball, shivering. “Julia,” she said, kneeling next to her friend. She wrapped her arms around her, and held her. “I chased them off. It’s going to be alright.”
“Are you okay, Julia?” Dylan asked.
“Are you hurt?” Kelsey asked her. She shook her head. “Did they land any blows on you?” Julia shook her head again. Kelsey turned to Dylan. “She says she’s alright.”
“We need to get back to the bathrooms then,” he said. “I do believe there’s an emergency phone down there.”
“Julia, can you walk?” The tall girl nodded. “Okay, I’m going to help you get up. One, two, three.” She helped the tall girl up, who was now shaking very, very badly. She wrapped her arms around her, and she briefly wondered if that was panicking the girl worse. She started to drop her arms, but Julia whimpered, “Hold me.”
“Okay,” Kelsey replied, wrapping her arms around her again. The tall girl clung to her as if she was clinging on for dear life, and they walked to the bathroom silently.
They walked around to the front, where there were some benches. Dylan’s eyes darted around the area, searching for a phone, but there was none to be found within eyesight.
“Hey, girls,” he said, “Stay right there, I’m going to go find a phone and notify security. If you see them again, go into the bathroom and barricade yourselves.”
“Will do,” Kelsey said, leading her companion to the bench and gently easing her to her seat. She sat down next to her, tucking a foot under herself so she wasn’t quite so short in comparison to Julia. Wrapping her left arm around her friend, she pulled her in close, carefully watching her for any adverse reaction she might have.
She noticed that her friend wasn’t displaying the numb look she was when she first led her out of the woods. She looked frightened and sad, and Kelsey decided that she must have just started to realize what had almost happened out there. She swore she could literally see the floodgates start to open before her very eyes.
The tears started to come, first a simple sob, and extended its way through her body. Kelsey moved her hand up and started stroking her hair, wrapping her other arm around her shoulders, pulling her in.
Damn, I did a good job banging my knuckles up—ouch. She noticed her right hand was starting to swell a bit around the knuckles, and they felt stiff. I hope I didn’t break anything, she prayed.
It was rather easy to lose herself savoring feeling Julia in her arms, Kelsey mused, and she had to remind herself there were still two dangerous men on the loose. She kept her eyes and ears on full alert, trying to make sure they didn’t sneak up on them. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind finishing up this little project! Kelsey thought to herself. That very thought made her blood run cold, as various complications ran through her head. They could arm themselves with something more substantial than a dried up stick. They could schlep more bodies into the fray. Or they might have called the police on them and made it their burden to prove that they were the real victims.
Julia turned and rested her head on Kelsey’s collarbone. She could feel the tears rapidly soak through her shirt, and she was grateful it wasn’t all that cold of a night.
Through her muffled sobs, Kelsey heard footsteps, and she tensed. It sounded like it came down the road, and she leaned to try to see what had made the sound. Whew, it’s just Dylan. The tall, brawny man jogged towards them and stopped to deliver the news.
“I got a hold of security,” he told them. “They should be here very soon.”
“Good,” Kelsey replied. “Stay with us?”
“Of course,” he said, sitting down next to Julia. It made Kelsey feel a lot better to know she wasn’t the only one having to serve as the sentry, and she relaxed.
Julia had stopped sobbing so hard, and just laid her head there limply. Poor Julia, she must be exhausted, Kelsey thought to herself as she held the tall girl.
It seemed to have taken quite literally forever to get through the questioning once security and the Sheriff’s department got to the scene. Multiple personnel questioned both of them, and it seemed that they weren’t ever going to run out of people to have grill them. Kelsey felt very wrung out after telling five different people her account of the story, and some of them even had the gall to insinuate it was her fault!
But that wasn’t what truly worried her. She could hear Julia cry in the distance as she relayed the story repeatedly, and when the various law enforcement agencies, public and private, were done, her eyes were red and puffy, she had deep shadows around them, and her face was expressionless.
It was about three hours later that they were released, and Kelsey walked Julia to her tent quietly, an arm wrapped around her waist. She replied in kind by wrapping an arm around her shoulder, and they sauntered a couple hundred of yards to Julia’s tent before Julia went inside for the night.
Being alone, knowing the creeps were still at large, made Kelsey very edgy. She walked a few feet before deciding she was just too spooked to simply meander home, so she took off in a fast jog back to her tent.
It was like nothing had happened when Julia first entered her tent. All her tent mates were still asleep, and none the wiser about the hell she had just endured. She climbed into her bunk, and as exhausted as she was, there was just no way she could roll over and go to sleep. It was like her eyes were glued open. It was nearly impossible to stay still, and she kept rolling back and forth trying to find a comfortable position.
She felt very vulnerable in her bed. She knew it was a ridiculous idea, she was surrounded by her tent mates. Maybe I might fall asleep if I imagine there’s a protector with me. She tried to conjure some images. Let’s see, who’s supposed to be protecting me—Luke. But instead of comforting her, the thought made her shiver. He flunked that job, she angrily thought to herself. Who would protect me? she pondered. Of course, Kelsey. Darn brave thing she did, she remarked to herself. Her conscious drifted to thinking that maybe, one night, tonight, Kelsey would be there to soothe her. If she could have gotten away with it, she would have, too, she knew; but there was just no way she was ever going to explain to everyone come morning why there was a girl in her bunk. It would look just too weird, and people would make assumptions. Why does everything have to be about sex, anyways? she angrily fumed to herself.
Feeling the tiredness wash over her, she decided the best way to succumb to the desire of sleep was to imagine Kelsey was next to her, keeping guard, holding her tightly.
“Rise and shine, sleepyhead!” a cheery voice beamed. Kelsey cracked an eye open, and noticed it was light outside.
“Damn it,” she grumbled to herself, closing her eyes and shoving her blanket above her face to block out the light.
Jessie chuckled. “I’m not going to let you get off that easily, you know. It’s already past seven, they have a wrap up session at eight, and the bus departs at nine thirty.”
“Ugh,” Kelsey replied, not bothering to move.
This ought to wake her up. Always does! Nice to have ticklish friends, Jessie thought to herself as she leaned over and moved to tickle her ribs. Kelsey shot straight up, letting out a yelp.
“Easy there!” she cried. “You don’t have to dig your hands into my sides!” she growled.
“I hardly touched you,” Jessie replied, her look of good humor replaced with a concerned look.
“I guess I might as well get up,” Kelsey griped, throwing her legs over the side of the bed. Jessie looked at her friend, and noticed she looked absolutely wiped.
“Hey, what happened to your hand?” Jessie asked.
Do I really want to go there this early in the morning? “Later. I need to take a shower. Maybe it’ll wake me up.”
“Alright,” Jessie relented. Something’s really not right here!
Despite the fact she had been up for about three hours during the middle of the night, Julia still managed to be the first one of her tent mates up. Thankfully, it was light out by that point, and she could hear voices outside, so she grabbed her shower stuff and left.
She walked into the bathroom and really didn’t like what she saw in the mirror. I look awful, she thought to herself. She got out a bit of facial cleanser and rubbed it over her face real well before rinsing it off. A little better. She looked at herself closely in the mirror, and noticed that her pajamas were looking worse for the wear. This is really not good. If my parents see I’ve gotten my pajamas torn and dirty, they’re going to have my hide!
She got out her toothbrush and started to brush her teeth. I could just tell them. She cupped her hands, then tossed the meager amount of water in her mouth to rinse the toothpaste out. I tell them and I can forget leaving the house ever again. They’ll probably tell me to quit Student Council, the tennis team, and maybe even youth group if they think I can’t be trusted after dark.
She saw something purple near her hands, and rolled up her sleeves to see her wrists were bruised. Guess I’m wearing long sleeves for a while. She carefully looked at it—she could see the outlines of large fingers on her wrist. And tennis—I think I can get that covered up by wristbands.
She looked at herself carefully, trying to see what other bits of incriminating evidence she held on her body. Of course Luke had to leave a hickey. She pulled her neckline down to assess the damage. I think I can cover that up by wearing collared shirts, she decided.
She returned to her cabin, and picked out her clothing. This should do a good job of hiding everything, she thought to herself. I hope it doesn’t get too hot today.
Audrie heard her stirring about the cabin. “Morning,” she greeted.
“Morning,” Julia replied, tugging on her arm sleeves so Audrie wouldn’t see the bruises.
“I can’t wait to get out of here. I’m so glad I won’t have to look at my team members again!” she exclaimed. “Well, except for Jessie.”
Images of the previous night flashed before Julia’s eyes. She saw faces…cruel faces… She felt suddenly very nauseous, and she closed her eyes and bit her lip, trying to drown out what she had just envisioned.
“I can’t get rid of my team members soon enough either,” Julia commented, desperately trying to keep herself composed. “Those three girls were so annoying. But at least they were harmless.”
“I wonder if Cassie’s going to maintain a long distance relationship with that one dude,” Audrie wondered. “Didn’t you say they were really going at it on the dance floor last night?”
Julia let out a small laugh. “Oh yeah. I think they went much farther in one night than I have with Luke, sum total.”
“No way!” Audrie cried out. “Cassie?”
Julia arched an eyebrow. “Yeah.”
“I better go take a shower before all the hot water is gone. I’ll be back in a little while.”
“See you later.”
The bus was a very welcome sight, Julia had to admit as she climbed aboard. Luke, Cassie and Audrie were already seated, and although she desperately wanted to be left alone, she knew it was going to raise questions if she sat at the opposite end of the bus, so she sat behind Audrie, across from Cassie. If I look busy, they’ll leave me alone, she reasoned.
She put her feet up on the seat and curled against the seat back, deciding perhaps the best way to look occupied was to take a little nap. Boy, could I ever use one, she thought as she rested her head against the green naugahyde seat cover.
Julia glanced to the back, where Jessie, Kelsey and Natasha were sitting. Jessie and Natasha looked quite animated, but Kelsey looked just as tired as she herself felt. I probably ought to talk to her about last night. More specifically, that I don’t want word getting out about last night. Someone might rat me out to my parents.
She watched Kelsey’s eyes flutter shut as she sat sideways on the bus, her position nearly identical to Julia’s. Guess we’re both going to be taking a nice long nap on the way home. She felt the bus rumble to life, and the vibration felt soothing to her aching muscles. The hum of the engine was hypnotizing, and before the bus ever left the grounds, she was out like a light bulb.
Heavy eyelids fluttered open, revealing crystal blue eyes. “Hmm?”
“We’re here,” Audrie announced.
“Mmm hmm,” she repeated, trying to get her bearings back. They were back at school, and school was out. Judging by the position of the sun, Julia figured tennis practice started some while ago, and she was already considered absent for not being there on time, so she figured she might as well go straight home. Coach wasn’t expecting her to show up today, anyway.
She descended down the three stairs of the bus onto the surface of the parking lot, and she retrieved her luggage from under the bus. Oh shi—shoot! Luke’s my ride! she panicked.
Her eyes started darting around to see who else was still there. She didn’t think she could stomach riding with Luke after last night. It’s all his fault for being friends with those creeps.
Luke got into his white Volkswagen Beetle and sped off, the tires squealing as he hit the throttle harder than was diligent. Gee, I guess I don’t have to worry about him driving me home, she thought, partially relieved that he made the decision for her. She saw Kelsey unlock her Datsun, and she knew that she was on the verge of getting stranded if she didn’t get over there quickly.
“Kelsey!” she yelled. The red haired tomboy looked up, to see Julia running towards her.
“What’s up?” she asked, as Julia came to a halt.
Pleading blue eyes looked at her. “Any chance I can get a ride home? Everyone else left.”
“Sure. Put your stuff in back, it won’t go anywhere.”
“Thank you so much.” She heaved her stuff into the back of the pickup bed, then climbed in.
The cabin of the Datsun was quite cramped. She felt like she had her chin on her knees, and even Kelsey looked a little cramped in the small Japanese pickup. It smelled faintly of old cigarette smoke, and the interior was rather bare, save a small dashboard and a thin steering column, which actually helped to make a little more room since the dashboard wasn’t full size like on modern cars.
The upholstery looked like it certainly had seen better days, too. There was a big brown coffee stain that extended from the front passenger seat but mostly concentrated on the floor. But despite the hard wear, it didn’t look dirty. No, it looked like Kelsey cared about her wheels, and probably put in a whole lot of work to make it look this decent.
The smaller, red haired girl got in the driver’s seat, pushed in the clutch, pumped the throttle pedal several times, then turned the key. The starter whinnied and carried on, but the engine wouldn’t budge, and after a few seconds, Kelsey let off the ignition and waited a minute before doing it again. The starter whinnied again, and then the engine roared to life, sputtering a little before it went into a high but steady idle.
Kelsey waited a minute to let the engine warm up. “So, how do I get to your house?” she asked, putting the stick into reverse and backing out of her parking space.
“Just to warn you, it’s a way out there. I’ll bring you gas money tomorrow,” she offered. “Take Oak Street all the way out to the rail road tracks. Then I’ll give you further directions.”
“Alright,” Kelsey said, coming to a red light and flipping on her left turn blinker. Julia noted the calm way she came to a halt to the intersection. The light turned green, and Kelsey edged into the intersection, waiting for cross traffic to clear before hooking a left. She was remarkably smooth, effortlessly mixing and matching how far she let out the clutch to the amount of gas she gave the engine, so it neither stalled, sputtered, nor revved high up without going anywhere. She didn’t seem to have a need to show she could break the speed limit, but she didn’t dilly-dally either, keeping up with the flow of traffic.
A long time ago, Julia realized she could get insight into how a person was really like by the way they drove. Her mother was not fun to ride with; she always hit the brakes hard and at the last minute, and everyone would lurch forward against the seat restraints. She was always hitting the accelerator hard when a green light appeared; if there were multiple lanes of traffic, no one beat her out of a standstill, and if they did, she raced to beat them. She figured it was always appropriate; her mother always seemed angry about something, even though she had no idea what vexed her most of the time.
Her father on the other hand, was the total opposite. She knew that if she was to get anywhere on time, she’d have to leave about ten minutes earlier. He was overly cautious behind the wheel, and never, ever went past the speed limit, even if the flow of traffic was faster than that. He was a timid driver, and didn’t do anything unless he was absolutely certain, beyond all doubts reasonable and unreasonable, that something was safe.
“We’re getting close to the tracks,” Kelsey announced a few minutes later. “Where next?”
“About two stoplights beyond is Mallard Avenue. Turn right on that,” Julia instructed. “Go a little ways until you hit the bridge, then turn left on Geary.”
Kelsey watched a car come up really fast on her tail, and she resisted the urge to speed up any faster. The car swerved around them, hitting the accelerator just as they passed the little Datsun to make a point.
“Idiots,” Kelsey muttered on her breath, slowing down to turn onto Mallard. About an intersection later was Geary, and she turned onto that. It was a residential neighborhood, and Kelsey had a feeling she was getting close.
“Look for a street named Royale. Turn left on it.”
Kelsey did as instructed. Royale ended in a cul-de-sac; Julia’s house had to be somewhere here. “Which one?”
“It’s the blue house on the left.”
“Okay,” she said, overshooting the house and hooking a U-turn in the cul-de-sac. She slowly pulled up to the curb and put the transmission in neutral.
“Thanks,” Julia said. “Hey, could I ask a favor of you?”
“Could you not say anything about what happened in the wee hours of this morning? I’m probably going to get grounded if my parents catch wind of it.”
“Okay,” Kelsey promised. “I think Jessie knows something fishy is up, since she was really pressing for answers this morning as to what happened to my hand, but I’ll just tell her I fell.”
“Thanks,” Julia said. “You’re a pal. See you in class tomorrow.”
“Bye.” Julia then got out, grabbed the stuff out of the back of the truck, and walked to the front door. Kelsey put the transmission back into first and drove away, and she mused on what the best route for getting back to her own house was. Julia’s house was so far off the beaten path, she figured she had a whole slew of options to choose, so she picked a thoroughfare at random and drove home.
Home looked very welcome to Julia, and right before she got to the front door, her father opened it for her.
“Thanks, Dad.” He closed the door behind her.
“Who was that who drove you home?”
“That’s my friend Kelsey. She’s a part of the Student Council.”
He nodded, having got a glimpse of the girl through the front window and finding her to be a little unusual in appearance. “I thought Luke was going to drive you home.”
“He left without me,” she said. “He’s a little mad at me at the moment.”
“What happened, dear?” he asked, concerned. Julia was pretty sure she never mentioned fighting with him before, and she wasn’t about to let on now.
“Oh, nothing major. We had a difference of opinion. It’ll pass.”
Rhett looked at his daughter, and noted she didn’t seem terribly concerned. The next time he comes by, he better have an apology in hand or I’m going to pop him one, he thought to himself, dismayed by how rude it was to force Julia to rely on her non-church friends to drive her home.
She went in the kitchen to greet her mother, who was busy cooking dinner. Then she retraced her steps, grabbing the duffel bag she dropped off at the base of the stairs and going up to her room.
The sound of the door clicking shut behind her made a satisfying sound, and she threw her duffel on the floor next to her bed. She walked over to her computer, an old Pentium 486 that she got when her father upgraded to a machine that could handle Windows 98. It came originally installed with Windows 3.11, but had been recently upgraded to Windows 95, the most up to date operating system the old box could handle. She had to admit it handled a lot better; the old Windows confused her a lot.
She waited for the ancient machine to boot up. It started to make a funny noise from the 3.5” floppy drive, and Julia groaned. “Not again,” she grumbled, seeing an error screen. “Hit F1 for setup, or ESC to boot,” she read. “I have no idea what to do in setup, so let’s try ESC.” She decisively hit the key, and the floppy drive grinded and groaned, making her wonder if that was the proper choice, but then the Windows screen appeared, and started to load. “Whew.”
She double clicked the “Dialup” icon, and the modem started to whinny and carry on, making its characteristic high-pitched beeps and clicks. It announced she had a connection, so she minimized the window and opened up a web browser. She typed in the URL for her online email service, and perused the latest threads in the flame war she had left behind Thursday night.
“Wow, the fur was really flying this weekend,” she commented to herself, seeing a deluge of mail in her box. “Where shall I start?” She figured the flame war would lose its punch if she jumped around, so she started where the wars were when she left Friday morning.
The original message was from a member whose cousin was gay and marrying another man. He simply wanted advice on how to deal with his crisis of faith, but it quickly spiraled out of control. She noticed a gigantic volume of mail had been sent to the list on Friday and Saturday, but there were few messages on Sunday. Interesting, she thought to herself. She read through the digests, trying to follow along as best she could. A lot of the messages weren’t directly related to the question at hand, but the few that were seemed to suggest that the real crisis was reconciling his duty as a loving Christian with laying down the Word on wayward believers. Some people said his duty to reach out and reach people through Christ overrode any need to rebuke; one’s primary duty was to bring the flock together and unite them in Christ. The other majority opinion was that one’s primary duty was keeping the Word, and wayward followers of Christ who blatantly refused to change their ways were not worthy of being a part of Christ’s flock and ought to be cast out.
She knew how she felt Thursday evening. She was all for casting the unrepentant out like yesterday’s garbage. After all, they were threatening to derail the path of holiness the faithful held, and such a matter was not a light matter, since the group’s salvation could be in jeopardy if they allowed such a person in amongst themselves. But after the weekend retreat, she felt a little weird about the idea. She namely thought about those who were already cast out, and wondered what good it did the Kingdom of Christ to turn the people who needed Him most away.
She finally came across an email from the moderator.
Subject: Warning – Flame War
Due to the nature of the comments generated by this post, this thread has been officially closed. Any member that posts a reply to this topic after this email will be removed from the community.
All members should reread the rules of this list. While this email list promotes the discussion of biblical and church topics, we do not tolerate incendiary comments or positions not supported by the Holy Word. As a community of believers, we must hold some standards as to what are tolerable opinions and which ones are in error. Stances supporting homosexuality are expressly banned by the list bylaws; violators are subject to removal.
Before this weekend, she would have agreed. But now—she wasn’t so sure that the moderator was right. It was a little weird to doubt the moderator’s opinion—he was a lay pastor in a Baptist church in Alabama. Why am I doubting him, anyway? she asked herself. Since when did I doubt what pastors and ministers said? Since when did I care about the outcasts that need some guidance to enter the Kingdom of Christ and His Believers?
She sat there, very troubled. Every time she thought of outcasts, she thought of Kelsey. And it was then she knew what she had to do.
I got to invite her to Youth Group on Wednesday night.
“You have five minutes to finish up whatever you’re doing before it’s lights out!” Kelsey’s mother, Loretta Slevin, yelled up the stairs. Kelsey was tucked comfortably in her bed, but her sister, who shared her room with her, was still in the bathroom.
She had her flashlight tucked in next to her, ready to flick it on when the overhead lights went off. She hated having to go to bed at nine in the evening, but her mother had strange habits, and as long as she had a supply of AA batteries, she could secretly circumvent part of her mother’s plans. What high schooler goes to bed at nine in the evening? Sheesh!
“One minute!” Loretta yelled up the stairs. Kelsey was beginning to wonder if Shana would make it, as she flipped over another page in her novel.
She heard the bathroom door unlock, and Shana bounded into the room, flopping down on her bed.
“I’m coming up!” Loretta yelled. She slowly climbed up the stairs, and saw her two daughters were in bed. “Good, you’re both ready to sleep. Night,” she said, flicking off the light.
Kelsey waited for the door to close, then flicked on her flashlight.
“I’m going to tell Mom one of these days that you read under the covers,” Shana whined at her sister.
“She doesn’t care,” Kelsey growled back. “It’s not like you can see it from the street.” Little sisters are so bratty, she silently griped to herself. She knew why her mother turned the lights off at night—it was to make it look like no one was home. Mrs. Slevin had developed some strange habits in response to her abusive husband, and Kelsey knew it was pointless to try to break her of her strange and rather useless quirks. It provided comfort to the anxious woman, and Kelsey had come to understand that she desperately needed to feel in control—however she could—and if it involved strange but harmless household rules and rituals, so be it.
“Kelsey,” Shana whimpered. “I’m scared. Can I come sleep with you?”
“You’re a big girl now,” Kelsey grumbled, not wanting to share a twin bed with her whiny little sister. “You can sleep in your own bed.”
“But I’m really scared,” she cried.
She knew there would be no peace until she pried whatever was bothering her sister out. “What has you really scared?” she asked.
“When you were gone, Mom got a letter in the mail that Daddy made parole last week,” Shana told her. “And he called last night.”
“Gee, that was awfully fast to track down our number.”
“He said we’ve grown into beautiful young women, but he didn’t understand why you were traipsing around in black all the time,” Shana continued. “I think he’s been following us!”
Great. Piece of crap great! How do I answer that?
“Kelsey?” she pleaded.
“Alright,” she relented, and her sister came over and took up half of the bed readily. Kelsey continued to read, knowing that if it bothered her sister too much, she could return to her own bed to sleep.
Or, she could try insulting her instead. It would probably be faster. “Shana, have you been flossing your teeth?” she asked.
“Then you’re not doing a very good job,” Kelsey told her. Shana didn’t budge, and she was starting to regret ever relenting to her sister’s demands.
“Hey, Kelsey, our church is having a fair Wednesday night. You should come!”
“A fair,” she said, disinterested.
“Yeah! We get to aim at Pastor Mark’s head with water balloons! And if we get one hundred people to attend, we get to dunk Pastor Jim!” Pastor Jim was the head pastor of the church; he usually didn’t come to the youth activities but every once in a while he’d drop in to see how the next generation was doing.
“That must be fun,” Kelsey muttered, not particularly giving a care.
“You should come!” Shana prodded, knowing that if she whined long enough, Kelsey usually gave in. “Besides, you’re going to have to drive over there anyway to pick me up, you might as well join!”
“I can’t, Shana,” she protested. “You know I don’t believe that stuff.”
“So? That doesn’t mean you can’t join the fun!” Her sister looked at her intently. “C’mon, Kelsey…”
“I’ll think about it.” That should shut her up.
“Okay!” her sister replied, thinking she had won a victory.
“Goodnight.” Now perhaps I can get some sleep.
It was that dream again, Julia realized. A voice was calling her to come save her, and Julia reached to grab for her. But out of the corner of her eye, a stern old woman with a big wooden spoon appeared.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she scolded Julia.
“Someone needs help,” she explained.
“Why does she need help?” the old woman demanded.
“Can’t you see she’s sinking down that hole?” Julia replied frantically. “If I don’t grab her, she’ll fall through!”
“It’s too late,” the old woman said coldly. “You grab for her, and you’ll go down too.”
“But I have to try!”
“Do you know what’s on the other side?” The old woman looked at her very intently. “I’m just trying to help you, Julia. Listen to me, and you’ll be safe. Try to rescue her, and you’ll meet the same fate.”
“What is that fate?” Julia asked, unable to help herself in looking down the hole, which was a swirling red vortex.
“You know what lies on the other side, Julia,” the old woman replied. “It’s been drilled into you since you were old enough to read Bible stories in Sunday School!”
The old woman nodded.
“I can’t let her go down without a fight!” Julia cried out, reaching into the hole and grabbing the hand that struggled to keep above the red swirling clouds that threatened to consume her.
The old woman saw what she did. “I can’t let you do this, Julia,” she replied, as she took the wooden spoon and started beating her hands with it, until she could no longer hold onto the hand that stuck out of the red cloud of doom….
And slowly, she slipped away, into the pit of eternal despair. “No!!!” Julia screamed. “No!!!!”
She shot straight up in bed, pulling in a large amount of chilly night air into her lungs. The shock shook her awake, and she was aware she was in her room, not at the edge of a chasm, and that she was indeed alone in the room—there was no old cruel woman with a spoon watching over her.
Reluctantly, she sank back down in the bed, her breathing slowly returning to normal. She had a vague idea of what the dream was about, and it made her steadfast in her determination to prove the old woman wrong in that she couldn’t save the poor hell bound soul that depended on her.
It used to be their morning ritual when Julia was younger. Since the school bus service didn’t extend out to where Julia lived, she always had to rely on a ride to get out to school. Since school was on Rhett’s way to work, he would take Julia, and some mornings, if they got an early start, they’d stop for coffee and a little breakfast. Things had changed in the past year, though; Rhett got involved in several breakfast clubs that met several times a week, and Julia started to date Luke, who had a car, and it ended up working out that most mornings, Luke now took her to school instead of her father. Some mornings he would still be at the house when Luke came to pick her up, but this morning, he had a meeting to go to before work, so he was already gone by the time the white Volkswagen Beetle pulled around the corner.
Julia had to admit she missed getting a ride to school from her father. It was one of the few times of day that it was just her and him, and it was nice not to have her mother around. Everything felt supervised at home, and she never really felt relaxed whenever she sensed her mother’s presence. But he needed the social contacts these clubs provided—it was a great place to pick up new business and reinforce old business relationships.
The white Beetle hooked a U-turn in the cul-de-sac and pulled up to her house. Luke laid on the horn and didn’t stop until she was out the door. You don’t have to resort to those measures, Julia bitched to herself as the shrill blast disturbed the still morning air. She was always on time, and she didn’t know why he had to resort to such a rude gesture this morning. Good thing my dad has left, else he’d kill you!
Her clothes were in a more somber palate than she had been wearing recently. She wore a dark burgundy button down shirt with navy blue slacks, and Luke couldn’t help but notice how stunning his girlfriend looked in the outfit. She should wear dark colors more often, he thought, thinking of the soft, pastel-like colors her summer wardrobe tended towards.
She opened the passenger door and sat down in the seat. It was funny how the Beetle seemed to have been just as roomy as Kelsey’s Datsun, but she didn’t really pay attention to that fact until this morning, and she had to admit Luke looked pretty miserable stuffed into the driver’s seat. Some pair we are. She shut the door behind herself and put on her lap belt.
Admiring eyes glanced at her. “You look nice today,” he complimented.
“Thanks,” she said.
He pulled onto Geary, and he seemed to be calm, but she could tell the silence was starting to make him antsy. He pulled up to the stop sign, and waited for the traffic from the current green light to pass through before turning right onto Mallard. She could tell the silence was unnerving him, and if she was kind and compassionate, she would have broken it, but she couldn’t bring herself to say something, anything, to him.
“You’re still mad at me, aren’t you?” Luke asked, finally breaking the deathly silence.
Julia sighed. How could she diplomatically say yes without making him angrier? “We’ll talk about it when we get to school.”
He looked at her, and noticed her face was stoic. He knew she was still mad. It was really frustrating to him. What was the big deal about the dance, anyways? The girlfriend prior didn’t complain about the hickeys or the gropes…what was going on with her?
I guess this is what I get for dating a girl from my church, he grumbled, realizing that this was the trade off for dating someone respectable.
To her eyes, he seemed okay, but she noticed he started to speed a bit more—they were literally flying down Mallard. He stomped at the brakes at the last moment when they hit the red light at Oak Street, and then he peeled out taking the turn. His face was expressionless, but she had the nagging feeling he was letting her have a piece of mind via his driving.
“Luke, calm down, will you?” she chided him. “I think we both want to get to school in one piece.”
He acted like he didn’t hear her, and roared down Oak Street for a ways until they reached the turnoff for the school. He took the turn too fast, and she could feel the weight shift as centripetal force exerted itself upon the car.
He hooked a sharp left into the school parking lot and flew over the curbs, the leaf springs creaking and groaning under the unexpected strain. They both flew up in their seats, and Julia couldn’t figure out how they managed not to hit their heads of the ceiling. Good thing I don’t have to use the bathroom—that last speed bump would have made me wet my pants!
He found a parking spot and pulled in, turning off the key. They grabbed their stuff and left for their customary table.
“Okay Julia, now tell me why you’re mad at me,” Luke demanded.
Loaded question! She thought for a minute, trying to figure out how to best phrase what was making her feel ticked off. There were at least three good reasons, but she wasn’t sure she really wanted to dive into two of them. “Well,” she started, “I think we need to have some ground rules on physical affection. You left some hickeys on me.”
“You’re not wearing a turtleneck—” he pointed out.
“I won’t be able to wear collarless shirts this week,” she rebutted. “And you continued to hang out with those guys at camp after I told you they were harassing Audrie.”
“It wasn’t like Audrie was there,” Luke countered.
“I can’t believe you didn’t back her up. While the three of us were at the dance, she had to stay in her cabin just to avoid them!” She took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to make her point without revealing too much. “That’s not a nice thing to do to a friend.”
“She misinterpreted the whole situation,” Luke stated. “They only wanted to ask her to the dance.”
Oh no, that wasn’t what they had in mind. “Well, they ought to take a refresher course in charm school!” she declared. “Creeping out a girl you want to ask out isn’t how you get things done!”
Luke rolled his eyes. “Julia, what has come over you? You never used to be like this.”
“What do you mean, I didn’t used to be like this?” she calmly asked, canning her fury.
“We never used to fight,” he said sadly.
“I know,” she said.
“I don’t like where this relationship is going.”
“I don’t either,” she agreed. “But how long have we been going out? A couple of months? It’s a little inevitable that we’re going to find things we disagree about.”
“But…but…you’ve changed! What ever happened to the sweet girl I asked out a few months ago? It’s like…she’s gone!”
Uh—she grew a backbone. “Relationships do change, Luke. You can only be on your best behavior for a little while. And it’s not like I like the changes I’ve seen in you, either.”
He lifted his head and glared at her. “You didn’t just say that.”
“Fair’s fair—I’ve changed and so have you.”
His eyes narrowed, and his lips curled. “I have no idea what we’re going to do about this. But I’m going to go over there and think about it.” He walked off to the basketball court, and she had an idea he’d do anything but think about the situation at hand.
They were near the table when Luke took off. “Where’s he going?” Cassie asked. Julia whirled around to see who just addressed her, and remembered that there were more people at school than just her and Luke.
“Off to play basketball,” she nonchalantly replied.
Cassie quirked a brow. “That’s not like him.”
“No,” she said with a casual shrug. “But he hasn’t seen them in a few days, probably has a bit of catching up to do.”
Cassie let her eyes wander to the basketball court, where the boys were shooting baskets. “Uh huh,” she replied. “They’re discussing their girl problems while shooting three pointers. Yep.”
Julia laughed. She knew very well that Luke wasn’t thinking about what just happened, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to talk about it with his friends. She had to admit it was a funny thought though, and it made her feel a little bit better after the rather upsetting tiff she had with Luke mere minutes earlier.
She sat down on the bench, flinging her backpack onto the tabletop. There were still a few minutes before the bell, and she wrote a few things down in her notebook. First game of the year is this afternoon, she noted to herself. Thank goodness we wear polo shirts. She was still very, very embarrassed about the hickeys on her neck, and she had to admit, it made her feel dirty. If Luke was a girl, he’d perfectly understand why I’m so upset about that. She paused, then added, If Luke was a girl, we wouldn’t be dating!
She finished jotting down the few things on her mind, and looked up, watching the school grounds. She eyed each group of students, some groups obviously bound by a common interest, others connected by similar backgrounds, and some groups—she had no idea what kept them glued together. For instance, Jessie, Kelsey and Natasha. She had to admit she couldn’t figure out what they had in common. She knew Jessie and Kelsey were good friends, and that they played soccer together, but Natasha? What in heaven’s name did they have in common with her? Especially now that Julia had gotten to know Kelsey better, she was especially puzzled by their friendship.
She couldn’t help but watch Kelsey laugh at something Jessie said, and she felt a bit of sadness that she wasn’t there to join them. Kelsey started to say something, she could see her lips moving, and she felt a sense of despair. I don’t belong there, she sadly thought to herself. Just because we were buddy-buddy at the retreat doesn’t mean I’m one of them. So get over it.
The bell rang, and it was time to walk to class. Jessie and Kelsey both had trigonometry first period, so they walked to class together. Jessie had noticed that Kelsey seemed a bit subdued this morning, and while she was used to her friend being shy, she couldn’t help but notice she looked a little down. She made a few jokes, which seemed to have put a little bit of sparkle back in her friend’s eyes, but when her attention shifted to Natasha, she couldn’t help but sneak a few looks at her friend, to see if she could figure out what was on her mind.
Kelsey looked completely lost in her thoughts, and Jessie watched her green eyes to see where they were wandering to. They seemed to have settled on the general direction where Julia’s table was, and she felt a knot in her stomach. I don’t like the looks of this, kiddo. We need to have a talk.
Julia resented having English first thing in the morning. While morning was the best time of day for her, not all the synapses in her brain were firing at 8 am sharp, and as she read the in-class essay assignment, she struggled to keep her mind focused on the task at hand. She had no idea why Kelsey kept popping into her mind, and she was finding it madly distracting.
Focus, Julia, focus, she reminded herself, putting her pen to her piece of scratch paper. Here is my point. Here are the reasons for my points. And here are how I’m going to back up my reasons I use to make up my point. Okay, I know where this essay is going. Now, how shall I phrase my thesis statement?
Focusing on building her essay helped her, and while some parts of putting together an essay maddened her, before she knew it she had assembled the masterpiece and now was proofing it for clarity, spelling and grammar. That should work, she told herself, putting her pen down and walking the paper up to the teacher. She looked up and realized class was almost over. That was fast. Boy did time fly!
The teacher hadn’t expected her students to be finished in one class period, since it was a rather lengthy assignment, but she made everyone turn in what they had so far. She was going to read what the students wrote so far, so if they decided to cheat on the topic, she’d know by how their paper changed the next day. As she was leaving class, Cassie came out of her class, and she intercepted her.
“We need to talk.”
“Not now,” Julia replied. “I got to get to class.”
“What is it you have next? Statistics?”
The tall, dark haired girl nodded. “Yeah.”
“I have Algebra II next door. Let’s walk and talk.”
It took a few steps for Cassie to compose her thoughts. “What’s going on with you and Luke?”
Not that again! “That’s between him and I.”
Cassie shook her head and tried another tactic. “What’s going on with you? You’ve been acting a bit funny this past week.”
“You overheard us talking about Audrie and her stalkers,” Julia quietly said.
“Audrie was being stalked? By whom?”
“His basketball buddies at camp.”
“You mean Sean, Trevor and Austin?”
“If that’s their names, then yes.”
“I have a hard time believing you,” Cassie spat.
“I think your opinion is a little biased, considering you took one of them to the dance,” Julia countered.
“I still don’t believe you!” Cassie howled. “You guys are making things up! No wonder Luke’s mad at you!”
Julia clenched her fists, feeling a few satisfying cracks in her knuckles. “I see. It is Luke and you versus Audrie and I. I see. I see very well.” She came to the door of her next class and opened it. “I’ll see you later,” she said dismissively before slipping into the safety of the classroom.
Brunch. Kelsey had to admit the day had been dragging. She didn’t really recall it dragging last week, and it certainly didn’t seem to be dragging over the weekend—well, not when Julia was around, anyway.
Yeah, I’m a sucker, she snorted to herself. But now that the real world beckons, I’m sure it’ll go away. Julia has her friends, her church, her activities, and I have mine. There’s no reason to approach her, there’s no reason to talk to her, so just forget the whole thing happened.
“I’m hungry,” Jessie admitted. “Up for a trip to the Student Store?”
Kelsey’s face lit up. “You know I don’t give up an opportunity to grab some gooey chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. We better hurry before they run out!”
Jessie smiled. “Race you! Loser buys!” Like that, they dashed off.
Julia had purposely lingered in class after the bell rang to make sure Cassie was long gone. While she was initially upset that none of her friends were taking Statistics, she was now comforted by the fact she was surrounded by geeks, who were completely oblivious to anything and everything that bothered her in the outside world. She noted that their interests tended towards Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and something called anime, and she felt a sense of relief that here, she could be invisible. Invisible was good.
But she was very thirsty, and she had forgotten to bring bottled water from home, so she reluctantly left the safe embrace of the nerd kingdom and headed towards the Student Store.
She was surprised so many nerds were in her statistics class. It was the end of the math track at school—she had gone through all the lower levels, and at this top level, it was either this or calculus. She thought all the nerds would be in calculus, but perhaps they didn’t have enough room there and this was the spillover. Then again, I’m not sure many people get all the way to this level, she thought to herself. You got to be a nerd to get to this level.
I guess I am a nerd, then, she chuckled to herself. She had never thought of herself as that before, even though her grades had always been good.
She was walking to the Student Store when two figures flew by her. “What in heaven’s name was that?” she wondered, a little alarmed by the unexpected exuberance. The two figures slowed down as they entered the Student Store, and she saw it was Kelsey and Jessie. She couldn’t help but grin when she realized whom she just spotted.
That reminds me, maybe one of them has contact information for Dylan. I ought to write him a thank you letter.
The two girls came out of the Student Store, and Julia stepped in front of them before they could escape.
“Hey,” she said, feeling a little unsure of herself. She knew that she was crossing the social boundaries again, and she wasn’t sure how much she could get away with before they told her to get lost. “Have either of you got contact information for Dylan? I want to write him a thank you note.”
Jessie looked at her funnily. “Huh?”
Kelsey knew exactly what she was talking about. “Yeah, I do. It’s in my notebook, I’ll give it to you during Student Council.”
“Thanks,” Julia replied. Jessie kept looking at her strangely, and it made her incredibly nervous. “Uh, I ought to be going,” she said, her voice higher at the end of her supposed statement. I wonder where Audrie is. Can I sneak around without detection?
Kelsey watched with regret as Julia left. She seemed a little nervous, but
she had no idea why. Jessie turned her attention to Kelsey, and asked, “Why
does she want to talk to Dylan?”
Oh boy. I don’t think I can skirt around this one, Kelsey thought to herself. Jessie’s good about keeping confidences. She’s not going to be happy I lied to her about how I hurt my hand though.
“Let’s find somewhere where no one will overhear us. This needs to stay between you and I.”
“Okay,” Jessie said, her eyes looking concerned. They found a spot behind a building that was empty. “Spill.”
Kelsey held up her bruised hand. “You probably figured out I didn’t fall.”
“I knew that,” Jessie affirmed. “So what happened?”
“You know the stalkers that had been harassing Audrie?”
Kelsey continued, “Audrie made herself scarce, so they went after Julia.”
“Oh no.” She looked at Kelsey’s hand closely. “It wasn’t just looks, was it?”
“No. Two of them ganged up on her, and I happened to see what happened just in the nick of time. I fought them off.”
Jessie was flabbergasted. Funny things happen when I’m not around! “Is she alright?”
“I think she is,” Kelsey said hesitantly. “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to her much since it happened.”
“How are you doing?”
“My hand hurts, and it’s a bitch to write,” she laughed. “And I was a little sorry I dared you to race to the store—I forgot how much my ribs hurt.”
“No more tickling, huh?” Jessie gently teased, but her concerned eyes betraying her humor to show she was actually quite worried.
“Yeah, that’s why I snapped at you yesterday. Nothing personal,” Kelsey said, with a small grin.
“So what does Dylan have to do with all this?”
“He walked in on it too, and he helped us out. It’s a good thing he was there. Probably discouraged them from coming back and taking a few more swings at me.”
Jessie nodded. “I think I can see why she’s wanting to thank him then.”
“Yeah. I should send him that email too. She’s not the only one with things to be thankful for.”
She sat at the back of the bus, quietly musing on the day. She managed to avoid Luke and Cassie through brunch and lunch, and she had gotten Dylan’s email address during Student Council.
The rest of the tennis team was either napping or quietly conversing with themselves, and it was completely dark outside. It was going to be a long ride home—the first matches of the season were with opponents outside their league, which meant they had to travel quite a bit further than they did during regular games.
Julia was quite pleased with how her matches went. Even though she publicly understated her talent, she was secretly very proud of her position on the team. Top singles player, the force every opponent had to reckon with. If they could beat her, they could beat the whole team. She took pride in making sure that didn’t happen.
Opponents were terrified of her. She had a nasty curving serve, a wicked forearm, and a cutting backhand. She could snag the ball from anywhere on the court, scoop it up and smash it back in the opponent’s court before they could blink. And it was very, very hard to catch her off balance. On top of that, she had a knack for understanding a player’s weaknesses, and she regularly humiliated top ranked opponents in her matches.
Everyone on the team knew how good she was. In fact, they were downright intimidated. The other players mostly ignored her during practice; the only clue they gave her that she existed was a wide berth of deference and a few curses when the coach paired them up against her.
She desperately wanted to chuck the wristbands she had on, but she remembered how critical to her wardrobe they were when she was changing into her tennis clothes before the match. The bright red bruises she had last night had mellowed into a deep blue, and she knew in a few days they’d turn a hideous blotchy yellow-brown.
While the rest of the bus rested, Julia couldn’t help but think about all the homework that awaited her when she got home. She had to miss all her afternoon classes, and she had gone in during lunch to get the assignments from her teachers, who were very miffed she had to miss their classes, but knew that they were powerless against the athletic bulwark. She knew she had to get it done; it would be to her detriment not to stay up until it was done…
But as the hours passed on the bus, she felt less alert and more drowsy. She ended up passing out about thirty minutes before she arrived at school, and she was barely conscious when she grabbed her backpack and gym back and walked out into the parking lot to get a ride home from her father.
She had totally forgotten about all the homework that awaited her when she got home and fell asleep on the bed, still in her tennis clothes.
She had no idea if Luke was going to pick her up Wednesday morning, so instead of chancing it and risking having her mother drive her into school, she asked her father if she could tag along. He was a little surprised, since he was going to be passing by the school a full hour before classes started, but she desperately needed the time to catch up on the homework she was supposed to do last night. He obliged, and admitted he missed the time they used to spend together driving to school; sadly, the club meetings were too critical to the family’s livelihood to miss.
She was nearly caught up when the school bell rang; she had to admit it was weird to be in the library instead of outside. At least I don’t have any distractions here, she thought to herself, amazed at how productive she was when she couldn’t people watch like she usually did.
She spotted Audrie at brunch. “Hey, Audrie,” she greeted.
“Hi Julia,” Audrie greeted back. “Where were you this morning?”
“I was in the library,” she replied. “I had a lot of homework to do before classes started.”
Audrie nodded. “Luke’s been looking for you, by the way.”
“I guess I might as well find out what he has to say to me,” Julia said. “Let’s go find them.”
It didn’t take too long, and soon they spotted Cassie and Luke. “Hey guys,” Julia greeted.
“Where were you this morning?”
“I had to catch up on homework,” Julia replied. “I was too tired to it last night.”
Luke arched a brow but said nothing more about it. “I got news for you all.”
“Do tell,” Cassie urged him.
“I just found out that Todd got suspended. He apparently came to school drunk as a skunk this morning.”
“No way!” Audrie declared. Todd the Student Council President seemed like the last person to do something outlandish like that.
“Yes he did,” Luke said, “and that means he’s forfeited his position in the student council. Mr. Eldon has a no-nonsense policy concerning matters this grave.”
“Who’s going to run things then?” Julia asked.
“That would go to the Vice President,” Luke replied. “Which would be Jessie.”
“That’s intolerable!” Cassie cried. “At least Todd was a neutral force. Jessie’s in league of alliance with that whore Natasha!”
“She represents the tie-breaking vote,” Luke added. “We can’t let her stay in power!”
“And just how are we going to do this?” Julia asked, a little wary of what they were insinuating.
“I’m not sure,” Cassie replied, “yet.”
“Someone ought to know something about her,” Luke growled. “I know how you girls are. You always got dirt on someone.”
Cassie’s eyes gleamed. “Good thinking, Luke. And who said rumors had to be true?”
“Exactly,” Julia stated. “Whatever happened to our previous plan? She seemed to be more cooperative after we offered her a few favors. I don’t see why we need to stir up the dirt when she’s just starting to cooperate.”
“That’s no fun,” Luke snarled. “If Todd can fall, so can she!”
“Everyone loves a scandal, Julia,” Cassie reminded her.
“Has anyone ever bothered to stop and listen to themselves?” Julia asked them. “Do you know what we sound like?!” She paused, letting them think, although she doubted they’d use the opportunity. “If we’re going to pride ourselves on being the Christians on the Student Council, maybe we ought to be a little more careful about the mud slinging. What would Jesus say about our current methodology?”
Cassie rolled her eyes. “You know Jesus doesn’t care about Jessie or Natasha, or that tomboy you seem to have befriended. I’m all for war! Was it not St. Paul who urged us to be Christian soldiers?”
“Doesn’t Jesus say to reach out to everyone?” Julia countered. “You haven’t even given them a chance! I think I might be able to persuade some of them to join the Legion for Jesus.”
“Are you out of your stinking mind?!” Luke yelled. His eyes widened. “You are!”
“Okay, that’s not our goal in Student Council,” Julia admitted. “But I think trying to humiliate Jessie is just over the top and uncalled for.”
“Suit yourself,” Cassie growled. “Let’s go, Luke.”
Audrie didn’t bother to join them, leaving her alone with Julia.
“I’m a little intrigued by what they’re plotting,” Audrie confessed, “but hearing them brainstorm their evil schemes is giving me the willies.”
“Good, I’m not the only one who feels that way,” Julia said disgustedly as the bell rang.
“I even talked to her a little bit that one day on the retreat,” Audrie admitted. “She’s a bit reserved, but I don’t think she’s evil, per se. I think this is a low day for our group.”
“Let’s go. I believe Mr. Eldon has an announcement for us.”
Only nine members of the Student Council showed up on Wednesday morning, the tenth member absent. Kelsey and Jessie heard about it as soon as they walked in, and they sat there in their usual spots, stunned by the revelation.
“I’ll have to admit,” Jessie said, “that is the last thing I ever thought I’d hear.”
Kelsey nodded. “I’m surprised myself, although now that I think about it, there were some days that his breath smelled a little peculiar.”
Jessie looked at her funnily. “You think it’s true?”
“It’s plausible,” she sighed. “Although I have no idea how the hell you manage to do something like that before school!”
Jessie nodded. If Kelsey was right that this was not the first time he came to school under the influence, then she had to admit that Todd had some very serious problems on his hands, and being ousted as class president was probably the least of his worries.
“Alright class,” Mr. Eldon announced, his face none too happy. “Can I have your attention please?” The class quieted down, and he continued. “On the first day of class, I handed you a sheet that listed the rules regarding proper conduct for Student Council members. All of you signed the agreement that day, understanding what is expected of you and what consequences various infractions bring, including removal from your post. As the teacher for this class, it is my duty to enforce this contract, and I regret to inform you that Todd will no longer be the president of this student council and will not be returning to this class for the remainder of the semester.”
It looked like making the difficult statement tired him; however, he seemed more relaxed. “The rules and regulations state that the next in line for Student Council will be the Vice President. Congratulations, Jessie.”
Jessie accepted the bittersweet news. She was pretty upset she was going to get cast in this position; surely the Fundamentalist Four had it out for her now. Mr. Eldon handed her the agenda list, and she felt her blood run cold. I’m the one who now has to run these damn meetings.
She shuffled through the papers, trying to get an idea what needed to be addressed. After shuffling through the papers, she realized the most urgent priority was Friday’s post game dance.
“The first item on our agenda,” she read, “is brainstorming a theme for Friday night’s post-football game dance. Suggestions?”
Luke raised his hand. “Hawaiian theme.” Jessie scrawled the suggestion down.
Another hand shot up. “Superhero,” Natasha suggested. Jessie scrawled it underneath the first suggestion.
A third hand shot up. It was Brendan. “How about a nerd theme?”
Jessie bit her lip to stifle a laugh, and wrote it down. She looked up and noticed no other hands were up. “Any others?” No hands rose. “Let’s have a vote then. All in favor of Hawaiian, raise your hands.” She counted the hands. Three? She wrote it down faithfully.
“All in favor of a superhero theme, raise your hands.” Four hands rose this time.
“All in favor of a nerd theme, raise your hands.” One hand rose. “Okay, ‘Superhero’ had the most votes.”
“I demand another round of votes!” Cassie interjected. “Not everyone voted!”
Jessie quickly tallied up the votes. Eight votes—she herself was the ninth, and the president didn’t generally cast a vote unless she needed to break a tie. There was no tie this time. “That was all of them, Cassie.”
“Mr. Eldon!” Cassie shouted, trying to get an override from the teacher. But he simply shrugged. Cassie sank in her seat, her brown eyes glittering with anger. One of her friends didn’t vote with her, Jessie realized, when she looked at the tally totals again. No wonder she’s pissed. She wrote the final notes for that particular agenda item. But guess what? I wasn’t the one who did it.
Julia and Audrie were the first to claim the table for lunch. Soon after, Cassie and Luke joined them. Julia was a little surprised; she could have sworn she really pissed everyone off at brunch.
“Hey, what’s that in your hand?” Audrie asked, pointing to the manila envelope in Luke’s hand.
“Fliers,” he replied.
“For what?” Audrie questioned him further.
“This is top secret,” he confided, slipping one piece of paper out. Audrie took the sheet from him. Get represented! Demand new Student Council Elections today!
“Hmph,” she mumbled. “I don’t think enough people on this campus give a damn for this to really matter, Luke,” she advised.
“It’s only part of the plan,” he assured her. “By the time we’re done, they will give a damn.” He couldn’t keep a lid on the cackle that was emerging from his throat.
Cassie looked very intently at Audrie. “Now, Audrie, why did you not vote with us during Student Council?”
“We did Hawaiian theme all last year!” she explained. “People are sick and tired of it.”
“But now everyone has to buy new stuff for a new theme night,” Cassie countered. “Aren’t you one of us? Aren’t we a team? We can’t let Natasha’s team be winning, and we certainly can’t be voting with her!”
“Why do you assume Natasha and her friends are a team? They disagree with each other quite a bit,” Julia interjected. “I’ve been paying attention.”
“Well good for them! That should make having our way with the council a bit easier, don’t you think?” She paused, then continued, “But if we don’t work as a team, we’re never going to beat them! We got to take the edge!”
Audrie simply shrugged, not bothering to protest any further.
“Hey, there’s Cindy,” Cassie said, pointing to a short blonde girl. “She ought to know something.” Julia’s eyes flickered over to where Cassie pointed. Cindy Yates always seemed to know something juicy in the gossip department.
“Let’s go,” Luke replied, standing up and walking away with Cassie, leaving Julia and Audrie alone.
“I wonder what they’re going to come up with now,” Julia wondered.
Audrie tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Heaven only knows.”
She had to admit it was nice to see Luke and Cassie leave during lunch, but it also struck her as being a little wrong that Luke gladly left without her, but with another girl instead. She knew that it wasn’t anything of the romantic sort, so there was no real need for jealousy. But still—he left her to do something interesting with someone else. The group was in trouble.
Audrie seemed to be happy about the peace and quiet and was quietly finishing off a pudding cup she brought as part of her lunch. Julia was too busy sorting out how she felt about the whole mess to talk, so it suited her fine that Audrie had other things to do and was willing to sit in companionable silence.
She remembered when they first went out, they used to do interesting stuff. Bowling night was quite hilarious, as she recalled, although finding a ball that fit her long but slender fingers was not fun, and she ended up getting stuck with a fifteen-pound ball when all the other girls had eights. It was difficult to steer something that heavy, and most of balls she threw ended up in the gutter as a result. A lot of other people threw gutter balls that night, so she didn’t feel so bad, but it did upset her a bit, since she prided herself on her athletic prowess.
But things started to change as the summer progressed. A new pastor had come to the church, and he led them on a path much different than the previous pastors. The previous pastors were concerned about Christian principles, and making sure they were well versed. The new pastor had a zeal about him, and in retrospect, she realized he had come in with an agenda to turn them into fierce Christian soldiers, not light bearers to the world. It was subtle at first. He energized them with potent verses plucked from the Bible, and when he had them frenzied, he delivered his message. They all took to it like moths to a light. They entered school that year eager to spread the word of God, and to make sure it was done right. Anyone who stood in their way was to be mowed down.
She had to admit she got caught up in it too. She wasn’t too proud of her behavior in Student Council this year. She wasn’t even aware of it until she started to become friends with Kelsey on the Student Council retreat.
That was when she started to see everything through their eyes. It shocked her. Their behavior was atrocious. Abominable. Most disgustingly, they all had excused it as being the work of Christ. She remembered the night her and Audrie prayed over their Bibles. It was consoling to know she wasn’t the only one who had noticed the dark streak the group dynamic had taken. Audrie wasn’t the type to have a mean bone in her body, but Julia couldn’t ignore the fact that she herself had a mean streak a mile wide, and if she didn’t watch it very carefully, it would gladly come back out and play. That frightened her greatly.
At least I got to see the light, she mused gratefully. Audrie always saw the light, I suppose. I don’t think she ever took the bait. But Luke and Cassie—I don’t know. On the one hand, if I can reform, they can too. But how can I get them to reform? Can I, even? Or do they have to learn on their own?
I have no idea how long it is going to take them to return to their senses. But if I continue to hang around them, I might slip back into the darkness.
She swallowed hard. She knew what she had to do. There was no way she could associate with them anymore.
She was going to have to break up with Luke.
The wait between realizing she had to break up with him and getting an opportunity to actually do so seemed to have taken forever. She wouldn’t be seeing him until they drove over to the church fair tonight, and she knew she’d have to bite her lip until they got there before she could break the news.
It seemed rather sick that she’d have to take advantage of him giving her a ride before breaking the news, and she hoped maybe she could find someone to drive her home after the fair. I really need a driver’s license, she wished. That way I do not have to suck up to people to get from Point A to Point B!
She was glad she was not impulsive in her decision. It meant she got to mull the thought in her head all afternoon, and all during tennis practice. But it also gave her a streak of nervous energy that sent her teammates scurrying all over the court to keep up with her, and she had to admit she played until she felt she could drop.
She knew it was the right decision. In fact, she was surprised it didn’t happen earlier, the way things had deteriorated so quickly.
She met Luke in the parking lot after practice, and they got into his Volkswagen Beetle. “Hey, how was practice?” he asked.
“It was alright,” she said, although she knew her clothes were drenched with sweat. She doubted he’d notice—he always came out of football practice sweaty and smelly.
“So Cassie and I talked to Cindy,” he announced. “Boy did she have some golden nuggets! I’ll have to tell you when we get to church—but I need to focus on the road first.”
Julia amiably nodded. She didn’t really want to hear what he had to say, but it meant she was going to have to break the news as soon as they got to church so she wouldn’t have to hear it.
Not that there ever would be a convenient time to break it to him. She wasn’t sure how he was going to take it. Would he be sad? Angry? Relieved? Joyous? How would she react? She wasn’t sure either. And how would she react to his reaction? That was the real question. Breaking the news wasn’t so hard—she knew what she was about to say. But after that, nothing would be predictable.
Their church was near Julia’s house. Luke lived nearby, and so did Audrie and Cassie. She had spotted Shana at church a few times, but had no idea where she lived. Part of her hoped she’d see Kelsey at the fair, but it was a silly thought—surely she would not be caught dead there. Oh well. I’ll probably see her when she comes to pick up Shana. The thought made her smile a bit.
It took them a little while to get there, and she was glad to be able to stretch when she got out. Her legs felt tight, and she had the distinct feeling she probably way overdid it at practice today.
Luke locked the doors and walked around to the other side. “So, you want to hear what we cooked up today?” he asked, his eyes dancing with exuberance.
“I think I have an idea, and I think it’s going to make me sick,” she replied. “I can’t stomach all this malicious gossip, Luke.”
He looked at her, surprised. “You used to love it!”
“I know I did,” she said, “and I have to fight the urge to continue to revel in it. But, Luke, it’s just not right.”
He looked dismayed. “Just not right?”
“Just not right,” she repeated.
“Julia, what is going on with us?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Luke,” she told him, “but I can tell we have different paths to take. I just can’t do this, Luke. Our objectives are different. I don’t think I can reconcile my objectives to yours, and I don’t think it’s prudent to wait for you to come around to agree to mine.”
He looked at her, puzzled.
“I don’t see how we can continue to be a couple when we can’t agree on these things,” she told him. “I’m afraid it’s over.”
He looked shocked, and she thought he might cry.
“Julia?” he cried. “Why?”
“Why what?” she calmly asked. Shoving her emotions aside only seemed to be intensifying things.
“Why are you doing this? Why did you change?”
“I didn’t plan on changing, sweetheart. But the Spirit moves in mysterious ways, and I don’t think our callings match anymore. We must move on, as the Spirit directs us.”
He looked very sad, and she felt terrible. She reached up and wiped a tear from his face. “It will be okay, Luke. It’s not fair for me to string this out any further. It’s only going to hurt both of us.”
He nodded, conceding she had a point, but she knew if she stayed there too much longer, she might feel she had to change her mind. “I got to go, Luke.” She left him standing in the parking lot, furiously wiping away his tears.
“Cassie should be here by now,” she thought to herself as she entered the building. She felt horrible about leaving him, and she hoped maybe having another friend console him might ease the pain. “Cassie?”
The freckled brunette turned around. “Hi, Julia,” she greeted.
“Could I ask a favor of you?” Julia pleaded.
“Sure,” Cassie asked a little suspiciously.
“I just broke up with Luke. I’d hate to see him all alone in the parking lot to deal with the news, he’d probably appreciate having someone there for him,” she admitted.
“You did WHAT?”
“It’s obvious we’ve been growing apart,” Julia stated. “It was becoming a farce to pretend we liked each other that way when we couldn’t agree on anything.”
“Uh, alright, I’ll go see how he’s doing, but I can’t believe you did that,” she muttered as she left.
“But I did,” Julia said to herself as the girl left.
“Hi, Julia!” Shana exclaimed as she saw the tall dark haired girl. “Look who I managed to convince to come with me tonight!”
Julia looked behind her and saw Jessie and Kelsey there. I’ll be darned, she thought to herself. They were a little bit behind Shana, and looked like they were focused on something else. But then Kelsey’s head turned, and looked straight at her. She couldn’t help but smile, and she received a smile in return.
“I’ll be right back,” she told Shana, who looked a little confused. She walked over to where Jessie and Kelsey were standing. “Hey, wasn’t expecting you here, but I’m glad you could make it,” she gleefully said.
Kelsey laughed. “Shana begged and pleaded for me to go with her tonight,” Kelsey admitted. “Something about a water balloon contest and a dunk tank.”
Julia laughed. “Yeah,” she affirmed. “Quite a few new people showed up tonight. We might actually hit the hundred mark.”
Jessie nodded. “And I came as moral support. She was afraid she wouldn’t see anybody she’d know here.”
“Yeah,” Kelsey admitted. “I didn’t want to feel like an outcast. Groups freak me out enough as it is.”
Julia was about to say something in response when she spotted Audrie walking alone. “Hey, I’ll be right back. I better go say ‘hi’ to Audrie. She thinks we’ve abandoned her as of late.”
“Alrighty,” Kelsey said. “Later.”
Julia left, and Kelsey watched her weave her way through the crowd. “I wonder what she means about Audrie feeling left out.”
“I don’t know,” Jessie replied. “Something weird is going on, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her vote against her friends on issues.”
“Vote against? Huh?”
“Remember when we voted on the dance?”
“She didn’t vote with them.”
Kelsey pursed her lips together. “That is interesting.” She scratched her head. “They always vote in a block.”
“It might be just coincidence,” Jessie admitted. “But I’m getting really strange vibes about the whole thing. Between that and Julia being awfully friendly to us, I’d say something is up.”
A couple of youth members had come by and introduced themselves, and one of them, a pale girl with dark hair pulled back and big bangs in front, stayed around them for a little bit. “I hear things are getting interesting at your school,” she mentioned. “Something about the Student Council president getting drunk and losing his seat.” She continued, “I hear the new president isn’t any better. Do you know Luke?”
“Luke Garner?” Jessie asked.
“Yeah,” the girl confirmed. “He told me the new president is a total whore. Sleeps around with everyone!” Kelsey and Jessie eyed each other in disbelief. The girl looked pretty young—not as young as Shana, but definitely younger than them, perhaps a sophomore. “And supposedly she got an abortion late last year. He said he saw her walking out of the Planned Parenthood Clinic!”
Jessie couldn’t contain herself anymore. It was one of the most absurd things she had heard, and she couldn’t help but burst into laugher. “That’s a hoot!” she howled. “I had heard that Luke’s been kept awfully busy following Julia around—where’d he find time to do that?”
The girl shrugged. “That’s what he told me,” she said. “Pretty disgusting, isn’t it? I sure wouldn’t want someone like that as my student council president.”
Jessie looked over to see how Kelsey reacted. She hadn’t heard her laugh in response. She jumped back a little when she saw how furious Kelsey was.
“Hey, hey,” she said, putting her hand out. “It’s just a joke!”
“It’s not a joke!” Kelsey snarled. The girl’s eyes widened and she jumped back. “What in the hell is wrong with this goddamn church!” she swore. The girl’s eyes widened further.
“Let’s talk about this outside. I know you’re friends with Jessie, it must be a shock to you.”
“But—” she protested.
“Just listen to me. Out!”
They left the girl standing there, a little confused. Julia saw the girl.
“Hi Julia,” the girl responded. “Where’s Luke?”
Julia shrugged. “No idea. Hey, what’s wrong? Your eyes are all bugged out.”
“I was telling them a story I heard from Luke about the new Student Council president,” she innocently explained. “The tall one thought I was joking and the short one looked like she was ready to deck me!”
“What’s the story?” she asked. She didn’t want to hear it, but she knew if she was to talk to either of them, she had to know.
“You haven’t heard it yet? I’m surprised,” the girl replied. “Anyhow, Luke was telling me she’s an absolute whore. I guess it caught up to her, he said he saw her leaving Planned Parenthood late last year.”
Julia grimaced. “That is an interesting whopper he came up with,” she admitted. “Don’t believe everything you hear.”
“What do you mean?” the girl asked. “Luke said it.”
“Look, I know Jessie a lot better than any one else here does,” Julia corrected her. Okay, I’m stretching things a little, she confessed to herself. “And I know that all that is a bunch of lies. He has her confused with someone else in the Student Council, but don’t worry, that person will never become President!”
The girl looked confused. “So I just told a big fat hurtful lie?” she weakly said.
“You were duped.” She paused, then added, “You didn’t know who you just told that story to, did you?”
“That was Jessie.”
She didn’t realize how fast a shade of red a person’s skin shade could change, but she swore the girl looked like she had instantly morphed into a tomato.
“Could you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” the girl said shakily.
“Tell people it’s not true. And if they ask for proof, I said so.”
“Okay,” she shakily agreed.
“Did you see where they went?”
“They went outside,” she said, pointing to the door.
The cool evening air was a marked contrast to the warm air inside. She saw in the distance the two of them, close together, Kelsey consoling Jessie, who appeared to be crying. Kelsey herself looked absolutely furious, and Julia wasn’t sure how to approach the situation. She could run, but when Kelsey’s head turned, she knew she had been spotted. Running would surely imply she was in on it. But the moment was certainly between the two of them, and Julia felt like a fifth wheel.
She swallowed nervously, deciding she was better off to clear the situation. She slowly walked over, shaking more and more the closer she approached them. Kelsey didn’t see her until she was almost there, when she jerked her head up. “How dare you!” she barked.
Julia put her hands up. “I swear I had nothing to do with it. In fact, I did my damndest to stop it!”
“Well, it wasn’t enough!” Kelsey snarled.
“I did everything I could,” Julia promised. “I told Luke and Cassie outright that it was a cruel thing to do, I told them I was sick of putting up with it, and I even broke up with Luke over it! If losing a friend they’ve known all through high school isn’t enough to mend their evil ways, nothing is!”
Kelsey relaxed a little. She was sitting next to Jessie, who was hunched over sobbing. She traced small little circles on her back, trying to soothe her very distraught friend. “You broke up with him?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes,” she said.
Jessie lifted her head up a little bit. Her face was completely wet with tears. “You didn’t have to do that,” she sobbed.
“Obviously, his actions are hurting people,” she said, sitting down next to Kelsey, who wasn’t shooting daggers at her anymore. “I refuse to be a part of that any more.” She looked at Jessie, who looked back at her. “I’m really sorry you had to hear that.” She paused, her eyes shimmering. “Any of you have a baseball bat in your car?”
“Dang,” Julia replied. “I would have like to have used it to beat some sense into that sorry excuse for a human being.”
Kelsey laughed a little. “That would have been a sight to see. But I’d hate to see you spend a night in jail for his sorry hide.”
They sat there for a few minutes silently, and Julia could hear Jessie’s sobs decrease in intensity and frequency.
“Need some water?” Julia offered when it sounded like Jessie was finished sobbing.
“That would be nice,” she croaked.
“I’ll be right back. Promise.” She went back into the building, furiously trying to keep her attention on the task at hand, fearful of how she would react if she saw Luke after knowing what he had done to an unsuspecting soul that deserved better.
She fed a dollar into the vending machine and got her a water, fishing it out of the bottom tray and walking outside with it. She walked over to where Kelsey and Jessie were, and handed the bottle to Jessie.
“Thanks,” she replied, breaking the seal, uncapping the bottle, and taking a few big chugs. “Crying sure dehydrates a person.”
“That it can,” Julia agreed.
They sat there on the bench a few more minutes before Jessie broke the silence. “I’m going to go wash up. Dried tears feel awful on my face. And I probably should let Shana know that we’re still here—we’ve been out here long enough that she probably thinks we left without her.”
“Thanks, Jessie. I’d hate to think of her hitching a ride with some boy who just got his driver’s license.”
Jessie got up and left, leaving the two of them alone.
“How are you doing, Julia?” Kelsey asked softly. “I bet you’ve had a rough day.”
Julia nodded. “Yeah, it was rough. As much as he deserves what’s coming to him, there’s a little part of me that wished we could have worked it out.”
Kelsey wrapped an arm around her waist. “You don’t seem the type to give up without a fight.”
“It was probably over before it even started,” Julia confessed. “We had a lot of fun as friends, but once we became more than that, then he was always wanting to kiss, hug or grope me, and it just got to be old, you know?” She paused, then continued, “It just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t fun anymore. I probably should have put a stop to this long ago.”
“You had no idea it’d turn out that way,” Kelsey said.
Julia put her arms around Kelsey’s shoulders. “No, I didn’t.”
It felt very good to be embraced, Julia decided. It was weird to hear Kelsey talk about her ex and discussing how she sympathized with her. What boyfriend? All she really could focus on was the warm, strong arms that held her securely—she had to admit it was the best she felt all day.
She watched Kelsey, who sensed she was being looked at and turned her head in kind. She had to admit it felt good just to look at her, to look into her green eyes and see the green eyes look back at her. Kelsey had a happy grin on her face, and Julia was pretty sure she had one too. She leaned her head in, wanting to soak up the closeness she felt with the smaller girl; she literally could feel her breath tickling her chilled cheeks.
Kelsey’s eyes fluttered shut, and she couldn’t help but think how adorable she looked up close. She closed her eyes and leaned in, not really sure of what she was doing, just wanting to get closer.
She felt her heart beat faster as she felt Julia’s breath against her cheek. She was vaguely aware she was on the verge of doing something she really knew she ought not to, but it didn’t seem that Julia was resisting—in fact, she was pretty sure Julia was leaning into her. She felt her lips tingle in anticipation of a kiss….
“Hey,” a voice broke out, “I told Shana that we were still here,” Jessie interrupted. The tall girl stopped stock-still, unsure of what she just saw. From her vantage point, all she saw was Julia’s head go down, and Kelsey’s arms wrapped around her. Uh, did I just see what I thought I saw? she wondered to herself.
Hearing Jessie’s voice snapped Kelsey out of her trance. Her eyes opened, and she was shocked to see how close she had gotten Julia’s lips. Shit, shit, shit! What did I almost do?! she despaired. Julia’s eyes had opened at the same time, and she had jerked her head back abruptly. She fought the urge to fling her arms away from the tall dark haired girl, but simply let them drop.
Julia’s mind was full of jumbled thoughts. She had no idea what she was thinking, there were so many thoughts racing around, competing for her attention. She felt Kelsey drop her arms and withdraw, and she guessed she ought to do the same, so she did. She felt a distinct pang of regret as she did so.
They both turned to look at Jessie, who looked a little embarrassed. “Uhm,” she stuttered, “It’s almost eight thirty, Kelsey. You might want to go grab your sister so you can get home before your mom locks up.”
Kelsey nodded, dazed. She slowly got up and walked towards the door.
Julia sat there, looking similarly dazed. She shook her head, trying to get rational thought to return to her head. “Are you staying?” she asked Jessie.
“I’m probably going to get going myself,” Jessie admitted. “It’ll be weird to be here without Kelsey around.”
Julia looked at her pleadingly. “Any chance I could get a ride? I don’t live far from here and Luke isn’t driving me home any longer.”
“Sure,” Jessie offered. She was a little curious about what tall, dark and beautiful was doing to her best friend, and maybe she might volunteer something on the ride home.
They walked inside, to see that Kelsey and Shana were getting ready to leave. “I’ll go start the truck,” Kelsey said, leaving first.
“I need to use the bathroom,” Shana said, disappearing into the restroom. Julia decided she ought to go herself, and followed her in there.
They left the bathroom at the same time, but she saw no sign of Jessie. “I wonder where Jessie went,” Julia wondered.
“Why do you ask?” Shana asked.
“She’s my ride.”
“I thought Luke was your ride.”
“I don’t think he wants anything to do with me,” Julia replied.
“She parked next to Kelsey,” Shana replied. “I’ll walk you out there.”
They left the church building and headed out to the parking lot. She saw Kelsey and Jessie in the distance.
“You two seem to be awfully close friends,” Shana commented. “I bet you don’t know she’s gay.”
That was out of left field, Julia thought to herself. “Say what?”
“She’s gay. You probably ought to know so if she gets too close to you, you can pop her one,” Shana stated. “I can’t believe she stole you from me,” she added, indignantly.
You start up a random conversation one Wednesday night and now you think I ought to be your best friend? I don’t think so.
Then the words registered. She’s gay! The rumors are true! I was hoping they weren’t! Now I’m going to have to worry about her copping a feel or trying to kiss me when I’m not looking! Eww, eww, eww! This is what I get for befriending people not in my church! She felt a white hot anger stir within. She felt taken advantage of. Kelsey should have told her from the get-go. She would have never hugged her or touched her or assumed that anything she did was innocent. No, there surely had to be an agenda there!
They arrived where the two vehicles were parked. Jessie was inside her vehicle, a recent vintage Toyota RAV4; Kelsey was standing outside the rumbling Datsun, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes staring out into space.
She walked next to Kelsey, and growled, “Why didn’t you tell me you were gay?”
Kelsey looked surprised and rather dismayed. She didn’t have the heart to lie to her, but she wasn’t in the mood to confirm it either, especially since she could literally feel the fury radiating off her. “I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
“Yes it is!” Julia yelled. “I think I ought to know if a hug is just a hug or something more! You pervert!”
“Hey!” Kelsey yelled back. “I don’t have to listen to this!” She whirled about to get into the safe confines of the truck, but a hand stopped her. She turned her head, to see ice blue eyes boring straight into hers.
“You’re going to pay for this,” Julia growled, before letting her go. Kelsey proceeded to jump in the truck. Shana had stood outside, listening to the conversation, shocked; she didn’t realize that Kelsey had jumped into the truck until she had shifted into reverse and peeled out of the parking lot without her.
“Kelsey!” Shana wailed, but the Datsun tore down the street at a pace way beyond the speed limit. She turned to Julia. “Why did you do that?!” she yelled at Julia.
“Why did you have to tell me she was gay?” Julia retorted. Jessie had heard the entire commotion moments before, and had jumped out. She was livid at both of them—Julia, for harassing her friend who apparently trusted her very much so, and at Shana, because she was pretty sure the freshman had babbled something that she should have kept to herself. But both of them needed a ride.
“Get in the goddamn car,” Jessie growled. “I promised you a ride,” she said, looking at Julia, “and you look like you need one,” she said to Shana.
The two frightened passengers crawled in, unsure of what havoc they had just unleashed.
The last thing Kelsey wanted to do that evening was sleep in her room with her sister. There were only two people who knew she was gay—Jessie and her little sister Shana. Jessie was good about keeping confidences and she was outside talking to her when Julia had walked up to her and started bitching at her about being gay. The timing was too coincidental. Julia and Shana had walked out to the parking lot right before Julia berated her—it just had to be Shana!
Teach me to trust whiny freshmen, she thought to herself bitterly as she tried to get comfortable on the old, worn out couch downstairs.
The day had just been too much for her. It had started out innocently enough, although she had to admit she kept daydreaming about Julia when the material at hand couldn’t keep her attention. Shana had needled her into going to church, which she was beginning to sorely regret, but not for the reasons she thought she’d have. No, that was where they learned about the nasty rumor Luke had started spreading about her best friend, and she had to admit Jessie kept a pretty good straight face when the girl told her the story. She had no idea who she was talking to, did she? She thought it was awfully generous of Julia to come over and check on them—really, she didn’t have to, and she was very surprised by the gesture. And then after Jessie left—she still wasn’t sure what happened. It was just a simple little hug that somehow managed to get out of hand. She kept running it through her mind. What exactly happened? How did she get so close to Julia’s lips? She didn’t really remember how she got that close. Then she remembered that Julia had been leaning over her, and she must have leaned in closer when she shut her eyes.
All of a sudden, she felt like she had gotten kicked in the gut. If we kissed, it would have been HER fault! I so was not the initiator! Shit, I don’t even know HOW to kiss! She felt an intense anger surge through her body. And she then accuses me of being gay and perverted! My god! Does she not know what SHE almost did?!
She felt tears run down her face. Under a different set of circumstances, it might have been a fairy tale come true. If Julia wasn’t so repressed. If Jessie hadn’t stopped them in time. If Shana had kept her damn mouth shut. It should have been a good night. It should have been a night to remember. But tonight, it was a night she’d remember—like it or not. In one night, she almost had it all—and she was pretty sure she lost it all, too. If not more.
Julia wrapped the blanket around her shivering form, but it didn’t seem to warm her up any. The day had been a roller coaster. Standing up to her friends. Breaking up with her boyfriend. The tennis match. Comforting Jessie when she was pretty convinced she was going to get her head handed to her. Finding out Kelsey was gay. And she wasn’t sure what the hell happened outside on the bench.
She instantly regretted the words she had thrown at Kelsey in the parking lot, and she had spent the entire ride home in Jessie’s car shell-shocked. She didn’t know what to make of any of it. Kelsey is gay. Being gay is wrong. Kelsey is a nice person. It just didn’t make any sense. It might have made more sense if Kelsey wasn’t nice. Then she would have a good reason to hate her. But she couldn’t bring herself to do just that.
One part of her was furious at Kelsey for being gay. She wasn’t sure she could really trust her now. But another part of her desperately wanted to hold Kelsey. She wanted her to tell her it wasn’t true. That it was all a bad dream. That she was safe and she didn’t have to worry about anything.
She sighed, imagining Kelsey behind her, wrapped her arms around her waist and resting her chin on her shoulder. She could feel the warm tickle of her breath against her ear, whispering reassuring words that it was going to be okay, everything was going to be fine, nothing was wrong.
She let herself sink into her imagination, and she felt comforted. She could imagine her nuzzling against her shoulder, letting out a contented sigh, knowing that they both needed the embrace. She imagined Kelsey leaning over her, giving her soft kisses on her cheek, reassuring her, and she imagined she leaned into it, maneuvering herself so she could reach around and look into Kelsey’s green eyes. Confident green eyes would look back at her, her lips curled into a happy smile, her eyes sparkling. She would turn a little bit more, just so she could reach up and capture her lips, she could literally imagine how they’d feel like—soft and sensual, just like her own, and—
Julia’s eyes flew open. That’s what almost happened tonight! she realized with a terrible fright. I almost kissed her! Good God, what’s come over me? And I was going to blame HER for it!
She must have been egging me on somehow, she told herself.
She sank into the bed, feeling more alone than she ever had before in her life.
She had learned her lesson long ago that if she was to ring the doorbell at the Slevin house, she better stand far away from the doorstep. Kelsey’s mother opened the door, an evil scowl in her eye, which disappeared when she recognized the guest. “Good morning, Jessie,” she replied. “Looking for Kelsey?” she asked.
“She’s not feeling well. She probably won’t be going to school today.”
“I know,” Jessie replied. “She didn’t look like she was feeling too well last night.”
“Well come on in,” Kelsey’s mother invited her. She stepped inside while her mother went back to the kitchen. She could hear the knife drop into the cutlery rack; that was why she stood a prudent distance away when she rang the doorbell.
Shana was downstairs, and she looked a little sad. “Morning, Jessie,” she replied, before dashing out the door. Jessie had to admit she looked pretty guilty, and she suspected the little freshman hadn’t realized how much trouble she had stirred when she outed Kelsey to Julia the night prior.
She went upstairs and knocked on Kelsey’s door.
“Go away,” Kelsey grouched.
“It’s me, Jessie.” There was a pause behind the door.
“Come in,” she reluctantly consented.
Jessie cracked open the door. Kelsey was curled up in a ball, her face pallid and her eyes dark. She literally looked like she hadn’t sleep at all the previous night, and Jessie feared that was what would happen when she peeled out of the parking lot the previous night.
She had been concerned when she beat Kelsey home in the RAV4, but as she left, Kelsey’s Datsun sputtered in. She was probably avoiding Shana, and she couldn’t blame her. But looking at Shana’s eyes as she walked in this morning, she suspected the little freshman was completely naïve to how damaging the words she said were, and she’d probably think twice before spilling the beans like that again.
She walked over to the bed and sat beside Kelsey, stroking her hair. Her friend looked lifeless, so still and pallid and quiet. She laid down beside her and folded her into an embrace, which Kelsey did not fight but weakly accepted.
“What’s on your mind?” she softly whispered to her hurting friend.
Kelsey sighed. She didn’t want to feel anything, she hurt so bad. She just wanted the darkness she felt to consume her, to whisk her away, to bring an end to it all. Jessie looked into her eyes, seeing they were glossy and vacant. “You didn’t take anything, did you?” she asked, growing increasingly concerned by her lethargy.
“Heavens no!” she gasped. “That would require energy,” she added, softly.
“You’re not lying to me, are you?” Kelsey thought the words were absurd, but when she looked into Jessie’s brown eyes, she saw nothing but concern and terror.
“I’m not,” Kelsey reassured her. “I just hurt really, really bad.”
“I know,” Jessie whispered. “That’s why I came over. I saw what happened last night. I’m so sorry you had to go through it.”
“I was playing with fire,” Kelsey admitted. “I knew I was going to get burned. I just couldn’t imagine it would hurt so badly.”
Jessie wrapped one of her arms around and started to rub her back.
“And the scary part is that I don’t know how extensive the damage is. I’ve probably lost her. But what if she decides to tell the whole school? I’m fucked, Jessie. I’ll probably get kicked off the soccer team. She could put a damn good spin on it if she wants, even if it’s not the truth. You know the people she’s been around. They’re good at being evil.”
Jessie slowly blinked her eyes. She knew very well what Kelsey was talking about. The smear campaign was a perfect example of how hurtful the Fundamentalist Four could be. At least she knew it was false. With Kelsey—no, they could really hurt her.
“What if people really decide to take it out on me? If they harass me, I might not be able to take it,” she cried. “They might force me to drop out of high school!”
Jessie held her tightly. “Shh—one crisis at a time, hon. And if anyone starts taking potshots at you, I won’t hesitate to kick some ass! I ought to put all six feet and two inches of myself to good use.”
“And you know what really gets me?” She paused, to see Jessie’s eyes meet hers. “I kept replaying the incident in my head. How we got into such a compromised position. I kept replaying it, trying to figure how I got so out of control. And then I realized, she leaned down to kiss ME. She initiated it! It would just kill me to have her accuse me of being the predator when SHE was the one who damn near kissed me!”
“So what happened? Did she at least give you a kiss to remember? It’s the least she could have done…”
“We didn’t kiss, Jessie.”
“You didn’t?” Jessie said, shocked. “I could have sworn.”
“If you said something one second later, we probably would have!” She took a deep breath, feeling the emotions start to well up again. “It’s just as well you interrupted us before we both did something we regretted,” Kelsey told her. “The whole incident would have been a lot more obvious to her, and she probably would have slugged me right then and there!”
“Even though she was the one who was going to do it.”
“You saw how she reacted when Shana told her. It was quite literally a knee-jerk reaction! She wouldn’t have cared if she was the one who initiated it!”
“I was pretty worried about both of them when I drove them home last night,” Jessie admitted. “Julia was deathly silent, and Shana cried the entire way home.”
“She should have,” Kelsey spat. “I’ll give her something to cry about if I get any more grief at school over it!”
She felt her emotions bubble over, and the tears began again. Jessie pulled her in close, and she didn’t resist, nestling her head under her chin. It felt good to be in someone’s arms, even though they weren’t the arms she dreamt about—Jessie was muscular and broad, while Julia was slender. There was no way she could ever mistake Jessie for her beloved.
She noticed when she got to school that Luke and Cassie weren’t at the table. Audrie sat there alone, and sat across from her. “Morning,” Julia greeted.
“Hey,” Audrie replied, looking up. She was finishing up homework she didn’t get finished the previous night.
“Luke’s probably not going to want to see my face for a while,” Julia sighed. “I understand if you rather I didn’t sit at the table so Luke can return.”
Audrie looked up. “Julia, I wouldn’t abandon you over something like that,” she said, reaching out and putting her hand on Julia’s. “Friendship is friendship, and you’ve been there for me more times than Luke and Cassie combined.”
Julia had to admit she was seeking assurance, and was grateful she got it, even though she had to admit it was a little self-serving.
“Thanks, Audrie. You’re a pal.”
Audrie resumed doing her homework, and Julia let her eyes flicker over the open-air part of the campus. It was a morning ritual for her to search the grounds with her eyes until she found Kelsey, and when she saw Natasha without either of her friends, she felt dejected. She knew she had probably blown it last night, going off on her like that. It was uncalled for, she knew, and she felt really bad knowing that she wasn’t a blameless party either.
Maybe it’s just as well she isn’t here, she thought to herself. Maybe it’ll give me time to get my head on straight. This was just a one time thing, it’s not like I’m even attracted to girls, and there’s just no way I’m gay.
She nodded to herself. I am not gay.
Brunch came and went, and she still didn’t see any signs of Kelsey. Student Council convened, and since the President was not in attendance, Brendan ran the meeting. It was really weird to hear him speak—he must have been afraid of public speaking, because he stuttered and stammered through the entire class period. She wasn’t sure she even heard his voice until this morning, and it wasn’t what she expected.
Lunch came and went. Audrie had a lunchtime meeting to go to, so it was just her, alone. She lingered in the quad a few minutes, just long enough to snarf down a quick lunch, before she decided she was better off hiding in the library. At least no one would see her alone there, except for fellow losers.
The rest of the day was quiet too. She got into her customary battle with Lindsay, the other hotshot on the tennis team, but they were always insulting each other on the court. She had to admit her barbs were nastier than usual, which surprised her—she thought that her well had run dry when she stopped associating with Luke and Cassie.
She heard a few people mutter things about the rumors Luke and Cassie spread, and it made her sick. She felt too emotionally exhausted to try to fight them today though, and she was rather disappointed in herself each and every time she let one slip by.
The day did not end too soon, and she was very relieved to go home and collapse in her room. She wasn’t sure what was worse—the drama or the aftermath. All she knew was that she blew it big time, in more ways than one.
Friday morning. Julia knew it was going to be a big day; Student Council was in charge of brunch time rallies, and today, they were going to feature the volleyball team. Talking to some of the players on the team, she had heard they had a perfect record so far, and as long as they could hold off their tough cross-town rivals, they had a very good chance of going to the playoffs.
She had gotten a ride to school from her father, and had arrived extra early. Since hardly any souls were on campus at this hour, she went into the library; anticipating the alone time, she had brought her Bible with her to read until school started.
Her long, slender fingers flipped to a section where Jesus discussed forgiveness, and she couldn’t help but ponder that somehow, the Scripture was speaking to her personally today. She kept thinking back to Wednesday night, and how it wasn’t fair how she took out her frustrations on Kelsey. She had blamed Kelsey for something that wasn’t really her fault, and she knew she wasn’t going to feel any better about it until she apologized. She still felt Kelsey had wronged her though—she felt she should have known up front that the redheaded tomboy who wore baggy black clothes was gay. The girl must have had her reasons, Julia deduced, and given her visceral reaction, she figured that this is why she didn’t volunteer the information. Besides, if she had known up front about it, they would have never become friends, and Julia felt that what she learned from the quiet tomboy far outweighed the complications she had brought with her.
With those thoughts in mind, she realized she had made a big deal out of something small, and it was time to forgive her for the supposed wrong. It made her feel better, having decided that, but when she moved onto the next section, she just couldn’t concentrate anymore. She saw the words, and she read them, but she didn’t really read them; her mind kept thinking about Kelsey, and after a few minutes, she knew she wasn’t going to get any further into her readings. She glanced up at the clock and realized there was about ten minutes left before the morning bell rang, and, feeling restless, she decided to pack up and wander around campus a minute before she was forced to sit still for English class.
She walked into the quad, and her eyes quickly searched for their customary targets. Luke and Cassie were talking at their table, and as she swept her eyes further in an arc, she saw that Jessie and Kelsey had come to school today. She felt her heart beat a little faster, and a small grin emerged on her face. Hopefully she would get her chance to make amends with Kelsey. Maybe she could return things to the way they were; Wednesday was just a fluke, right? She’d have to watch herself more carefully, but it would be absolutely selfish to throw away the friendship they had cultivated just because she lost a little self-control. It wasn’t Kelsey’s fault—why punish her?
Student Council met early that day, since they were in charge of running the brunch time rally. Since Jessie was going to be in the rally, they needed an alternate announcer, and after hearing Brendan run the minutes of the meeting rather nervously, Julia knew that someone else needed to step up to the plate—and preferably not someone who had an ax to grind against Jessie. Before she had time to realize what she was volunteering to undertake, she had volunteered to be the announcer, and just in time too—Cassie and Luke were on the verge of taking the duty for themselves. They were bound to do something to humiliate her, and it wouldn’t be fair to Jessie.
Seeing the throng of students pour into the large gym at the start of brunch made her wonder if she made the right choice. She preferred to work behind the scenes, and being the center of attention was not her forte. She willed herself to stare at something that wasn’t living, hoping that by focusing her eyes on something other than the crowd, she’d be able to forget the fact that everyone was watching her. The door behind the basketball backboard seemed to be a good target. Besides, it seemed to be a better than imagining the school band in their tighty-whiteys.
Kelsey stood on the side, watching the rally from the exit row. She had helped set up equipment before the rally, and she had a push broom in hand, ready to clean up after the throng of screaming teenagers left the building to go to third period classes. She watched her friend Jessie assemble with the volleyball players, and she had to admit she looked very at ease there. She knew that Jessie considered her to be her best friend, but it was hard not to feel a tad bit jealous at how easily she got along with her teammates. She knew it was irrational; if Jessie was going to ditch her for a new best friend, she surely would have by now, right?
Right. And she hasn’t. Just because I don’t really have many friends doesn’t mean she has to live the same way. She quietly laughed to herself; she couldn’t remember being this insecure since junior high, when everything in the social order got turned upside down on its head. She had an inkling of why she was so insecure as of late; the person who provoked these newfound intense feelings walked across the floor of the gym, microphone in hand.
Interesting. Julia is going to do the announcements. She watched the tall, dark haired girl nervously find a spot on the floor. She doesn’t seem to be the type who likes to talk in front of large crowds, does she? She watched her clutch the microphone with a strong grip, and she started making announcements, prompting herself with short glances at the list in her other hand. For being someone who doesn’t spend much time in front of the public eye, she seems to be doing a decent job at getting things done, she thought. She looks like she’s starting to relax a little bit.
She saw the girl turn her head in her general direction, and she felt a jolt of fear run through her. If she looks at me, I’m not going to be able to suppress one of those damn smiles she always seems to elicit from me. She ducked further towards the exit, taking refuge by the bleachers that obscured her view of the gym floor.
It hurt too much to watch her. The rally was winding down, and she looked so damn comfortable on the gym floor, talking to the crowd like it was something she did on a routine basis. She looked in charge of the world. It was like nothing had ever happened, and Kelsey bit her lip, hard, to try to not think about the raven-haired beauty that had her, and now the whole gym, under her spell.
The blast of the trumpets and drums from the band section signaled the rally had come to a close. Students started pouring out of all the exits, and Kelsey struggled to find a place where she wouldn’t get run over by the throng of teenagers out to get a quick bite to satiate their endless appetites before third period started.
The surge of humanity died down as the bell for third period started; their task in Student Council today was to clean up the large mess a group of approximately one thousand plus students was sure to leave behind.
She took the push broom in her hands and started to sweep, comforted by the repetitive motion the task provided. Up, down, up, down—the task was soothing as she desperately tried to ignore the fact that six feet of dark haired, heart-breaking beauty was somewhere in the building.
She wished they had not departed on such hurtful words Wednesday night. It was the last time either of them had seen each other, and Kelsey had tried very hard to dodge her during the rally setup. So far, her plan seemed to work; Julia hadn’t gotten anywhere close.
The motion of moving the broom up and down the gym floor did a very good job
of blocking out any consciousness of those around her. It did a little too good
of a job; she had forgotten she was making the effort to avoid Julia, and she
jumped when she heard someone mutter, “Kelsey?”
She stopped, her fingers clenched tight around the push broom. It was the voice that had haunted her since Wednesday night. She turned around, to confirm what she suspected: six feet of raven haired, heart-breaking beauty was staring at her, wanting her attention. But for what?
She swallowed, trying to compose herself. The last thing she wanted to do was show weakness. She had no idea what knives Julia was going to pull out today. She’s probably here to finish me off, Kelsey feared, looking up into the blue eyes that she knew were fully capable of shimmering like ice on a cold winter’s day. “Yes?”
Julia watched the red haired tomboy turn around and look at her suspiciously. She felt her heart drop, but she bit her lip and reminded herself that they had parted on hurtful terms, and it was mostly her fault—of course Kelsey wasn’t going to welcome her with open arms! “Uh…I…uhm…wanted to ah-ah-apologize for wh-wh-what I said Wednesday night,” she blurted, stuttering and stammering through her sentence. Gosh, why does she have to look at me like that! I can’t even spit out a stupid sentence! Julia despaired. I calmly talk to one thousand people yet I can’t talk to her. Great! Just freaking great!
Kelsey arched her eyebrows, as if she was bemused. “No problem, you’re forgiven,” she said flatly, quickly averting her eyes and resuming her task.
She’s not going to make this easy, is she? Julia cried to herself. I can’t let her dismiss me like this! “Kelsey,” she pleaded, “I mean it.”
The red head bobbed up and whipped around to look at her. She frowned, but said nothing, looking as if she was debating which sentence to spit back at her. “Why?” she finally muttered. “Why did you do it?”
Okay, we’re getting somewhere, Julia realized. I hate confessing, though. “I wish I knew,” she admitted. “All I know is I’ve spent the past thirty-six hours wishing I never said it!”
Kelsey had a hard time looking at her, but she couldn’t resist looking at Julia anymore. She had to admit it wasn’t what she was expecting—she was expecting Julia to finish her off and instead, here she was, appearing to be on the verge of tears. Kelsey had the uncomfortable feeling that everyone in the Student Council must surely be looking at them now, and that this was a discussion better held elsewhere.
“Julia,” she softly suggested, “why don’t we go outside and discuss it? Might be easier to get stuff off our minds without an audience.”
Julia said nothing, but she started towards the door, looking at Kelsey as if to beckon her to follow. They left, but not before two sets of eyes, one blue and one hazel, watched them leave. Luke and Cassie then looked at each other with curious regard before resuming their cleaning tasks.
The outside air was a welcome respite from the stale gym air that smelled of the bodies recently crammed into them. They both felt nervous; the moment of silence seemed to have derailed their trains of thought.
Kelsey really didn’t want to look at Julia; when did it get so hard to look at her? It used to be so much fun to search the campus grounds for her beautiful face, but that was where the pain lied now. But she knew that the conversation was going to keep stalling until she looked at her and acknowledged her presence, so she tilted her head and looked at her. Julia seemed to take it as an encouraging sign, and she nervously smiled, trying to dissipate the heavy tension they both felt.
“When I said I regretted what I said, I mean it,” Julia said sadly. “I
like you a lot, as a friend. I’d hate to think our friendship is so fragile
that the occasional moment of emotion would destroy it.” Her voice was
wavering, and Kelsey could see the blue eyes tearing up. “Can we be friends
It was hard to pretend to be mad at her otherwise, and Kelsey decided to finally let her guard down. “Oh Julia,” she replied. “It’s harder to chase me off than that.”
She could see a glimmer of hope in the teary blue eyes. “Thank goodness,” she quietly sobbed. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
You’ve known me but for a month, Kelsey skeptically thought. Oh hell, who am I to judge? I feel the same damn exact way. She wasn’t sure if this was an appropriate moment, but if things were to return to normal, she knew she had to do it, so she leaned in and gave her a hug. She kept her distance at first, lest she was mistaken, but Julia took it in full stride and pulled her desperately close, wrapping her long arms under Kelsey’s and sobbing.
“It’s funny,” Kelsey whispered against her blouse and pounding heart, “but I’ve been wondering the same thing.”
“The same what?” Julia gasped between sobs.
“The same thought. What I’d do without you,” Kelsey confessed, softly.
“Oh Kelsey,” Julia cried, rocking her friend side-to-side, fresh tears streaming down her face. She felt Kelsey’s ribs contract and expand erratically under her hands, and she became aware that, just perhaps, her friend was crying too.
They had no idea how long they had been outside, crying in each other’s arms, but after a while, Jessie came outside to see the scene before her. Aww…I’m glad they’ve made up, she thought to herself upon seeing the two of them closely entwined. I hate to have to break the news to them, though, but… “Hey, guys?” she announced. “Mr. Eldon is looking for you.”
Julia looked at her. “Okay, we’ll be right in.” Kelsey didn’t seem to budge, and she instinctively brought one hand up to stroke her hair. “Hey, Kelsey?”
“We got to go. Our absence has been noted.”
Kelsey’s face turned pale with fear.
“Hey, hey, easy,” Julia tried to reassure her. “It’s alright.”
Reluctantly, Kelsey backed out of their embrace. “Lunch?” she hopefully asked her.
Julia smiled. “Yeah, I can do lunch. I haven’t been hanging out in the quad anymore though,” she informed her. “Meet you in front of the library?”
“It’ll take me a few minutes to get there, but yeah, I can meet you there for lunch.”
“Looking forward to it. Let’s go in.”
It was hard not to hide the smile on her face as she approached the steps of the library after fourth period. She felt like she floated through the remainder of her morning classes, and seeing the tall girl waiting, for her, on the steps of the library, made her heart do a double beat.
Damn, I have it bad! she couldn’t help but think to herself as she bounded up the stairs two at a time. “Hey,” Kelsey greeted. “Did you bring a lunch or need to buy something?”
Julia returned the smile. “I brought lunch today,” she replied. “How about you?”
“Brought a sandwich,” Kelsey replied. “If I bought lunch everyday, I’d be broke!”
Julia softly laughed. “Then the next question is where to sit. I’ve generally been sitting around here,” she admitted. “I don’t have to see Luke and his new girlfriend here.”
“New girlfriend?!” Kelsey squawked, shocked.
“That’s right, you weren’t here yesterday. Apparently he and Cassie got it bad for each other.”
“Eww!” Kelsey gagged.
But Julia simply shrugged. “I can’t say I’m surprised. They’re on the same wavelength, attacking people and going for their jugglers and all that.” She acted like she was kidding, but Kelsey knew she really wasn’t.
“Still! That skunk…he should be mourning for you!”
Julia gently laughed. “Kelsey, it’s not a bad thing.”
“I was worried he was going to pine after me and all that. I’m glad he’s moved on. It means I don’t have to worry about him.”
“Still—what a jerk!”
Julia had to admit it was nice to hear someone try to defend her, even though the matter at stake wasn’t really as serious as either of them had feared.
“Hey, what are you doing this evening?” Julia asked.
“Uh, nothing,” Kelsey replied.
“How about a movie?” Julia suggested.
“Sure. What did you have in mind?”
“Well…it can’t be rated R. Other than that, I really don’t know what’s out there, to be honest.”
Kelsey pondered it for a moment. “A lot of my friends liked American Pie, but I’m pretty sure it’s rated R. The Sixth Sense sounds pretty interesting.”
“Uh, I heard it has ghosts and stuff like that in it,” Julia said. “I can’t watch that kind of stuff, either.”
“Hmm,” Kelsey replied. “I have no idea what else is showing. Maybe we just have to decide when we get there?” I haven’t seen a movie in years! How am I supposed to choose one if I have no idea what’s showing?
Julia simply nodded. I was worried I was the only person who had no idea what’s current! “Yeah, let’s decide when we get there. Are you able to give me a lift?”
“Of course!” Kelsey blurted. “As long as you don’t mind a cramped little Datsun that sounds like it is on its last legs.”
Julia chuckled. “Anything with wheels has to be better than on foot.”
“Agreed!” Kelsey emphatically declared. “I don’t know how I managed life without that little beast box.”
“Yeah,” Kelsey affirmed. “It’s ancient, it isn’t fun to steer in tight corners, and sometimes I get fearful it won’t start, but it hasn’t failed me yet. It’s nice to be able to give friends rides.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“How old is your truck?” Julia asked.
“Well…I’m not sure what the exact year it is, but I think my mom could have driven it as a teenager. So I’d say, about the late 1970s.”
“That’s old!” Julia commented.
“Yeah,” Kelsey confessed. “At least I can claim it’s unique.”
“Suddenly, I’m having this image of someone blasting the Village People over the sound system,” Kelsey kidded.
Julia coughed. “Aren’t they the ones who did YMCA?”
Kelsey shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Julia couldn’t help herself. “Forgive me, but I have this mental image of the original owner blasting disco through the speakers.”
It was Kelsey’s turn to cough. “Julia! The mental image! Ack!”
Julia giggled. “Sorry, it was just too funny to pass up.”
“It’s alright. It is a pretty funny idea. I’ve just never thought about the truck as being a passport to previous times. I can’t imagine the sound system is too good—it’s never worked as long as my mom’s had it, and she’s had it for at least ten years now.”
“Passport to previous times, hmm?” Julia said, waggling her brows. “I don’t think I’d ever think of an old junker like that.”
“I have no idea where that idea came from,” Kelsey admitted. “Wait—are you calling my truck an old junker?!” she cried indignantly.
“It’s a Datsun!” Julia cried, shrieking it like it should have been obvious to her.
Kelsey reached an arm around and started tickling her. “Old junker, hmm? I’ll get ‘cha!”
Unfortunately, Julia fought back with some tickling of her own, and Kelsey quickly found herself outclassed. “Uncle!” she cried.
Julia smirked. “How about some lunch?”
“Good idea. Let’s go eat!”
Kelsey had picked up Julia a little bit before 7:30 that evening. It had rattled her a little bit when her mother had questioned her as to who is was that picked her up to do what, but Julia dismissed her mother’s fear by stating that she had told Dad, it was alright; pressed further, she admitted it was Shana’s sister from church. Granted, it was stretching the truth, but it got her the green light, and it was all she cared about this Friday night.
They arrived at the movie theater around eight, and they perused the offerings. “American Pie is rated R,” Kelsey confirmed, “and Eyes Wide Shut is definitely out—I hear they uh, do it, onscreen.”
Julia grimaced at the thought of cinematic sex. “So, the PG-13 offerings…The Sixth Sense and The Haunting is out, since I think they both deal with the supernatural. That leaves us with Wild Wild West and Runaway Bride.”
“Do you want to watch a romantic comedy?” Kelsey ventured, praying that was not what Julia liked.
“Nah,” Julia replied. “I’m more into science fiction.”
“Want to try Wild Wild West?”
Julia nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
They bought two tickets and decided to sit in the front. Julia was greatly annoyed by all the previews, but it simply served to make Kelsey sleepy.
“Bedtime already?” Julia asked, teasing.
“Pretty close,” Kelsey admitted. “It’s lights off at nine at my house.”
Julia looked at her incredulously. “You’re kidding me!” She paused, then added, “How are you getting home tonight?”
“Obviously I won’t be home by lockup time,” Kelsey said, “so I’m staying at Jessie’s tonight.”
Julia nodded, feeling relieved that wasn’t an issue.
She watched the opening scenes of the movie, and was intrigued by the fact there were some science fiction elements embedded in the movie. She was pretty certain it would be a Western, and who watches that?
She felt a weight rest upon her shoulder, and she looked over to see Kelsey had leaned against her shoulder. She carefully craned her head, as to not disturb her, and saw she was sound asleep.
She isn’t kidding about an early bedtime, is she? Julia thought to herself, her attention divided between the movie and the warmth radiating from her shoulder. That’s the way things with Luke and I used to be. We used to go to the movies, hold hands, I’d rest my head on his shoulder, and…
She was aware of the warmth that was also spreading up her arm, and the epicenter seemed to be her hand. She looked down, to see she had subconsciously grabbed Kelsey’s hand. She wondered for a moment if Kelsey had done it, but she noted her hand was resting on Kelsey’s thigh, making her doubtful Kelsey was the instigator.
She carefully extricated her disobedient hand, pursing her lips in thought. What is going on with me? she wondered. Why am I doing things without realizing it? Do I realize how incriminating this looks? I know she’s a lesbian—I can’t be giving her the wrong signals here!
She regarded her sleeping companion, who seemed oblivious to what was going on around her. It is certainly patience on her part, I guess. If she was a boy, she’d be all over me by now.
She felt Kelsey shift a little against her shoulder. Maybe she doesn’t feel the way I do. Wait—how do I feel about this? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing—and what the heck am I insinuating? I am certainly not gay!
I am not gay. I just feel very deeply attached to her. But people often mistake that for sexual attraction. No wonder I’m confused!
She forced herself to focus on the movie. She was a little startled, but secretly pleased when Kelsey shifted again and grasped her hand. She looked over, and noted she still seemed to be asleep. Can’t get mad at you over something I did not too long ago, can I? Her first instinct was to try to get out of the hand embrace, but forcing herself to be rational about the issue, she realized it was mostly fear, and if she had done the same thing not too long ago, then surely it must be magnetism.
She looked around carefully. It wasn’t like there were any people up front—they were mostly in the middle and back rows. I doubt anyone sees us. So relax, Julia.
It was hard to ignore the warm hand that held hers so gently. Kelsey’s hand was significantly smaller than hers, but it was squarer in proportion. Julia’s hands were long but slender, and powerful in their own regard, but Kelsey’s emanated a different type of strength. There were a few faint scars here and there that weren’t terribly visible in the dim light, but she could feel it as she ran her other thumb across her hand.
She ran her hand up to her arm after exploring her hands with her fingertips, feeling mostly smooth skin, with a few bumps and scars here and there—none too major, indicating she probably hadn’t broken her arm, but certainly had her share of scrapes and scratches. She found her bare forearm absolutely fascinating, and hadn’t realized how long she had been exploring it when Kelsey’s eyes fluttered open. “Hey, that tickles,” she softly reprimanded.
Julia was glad the theater was dark, so Kelsey couldn’t see her blush. “Sorry,” she apologized, taking her disobedient free hand and returned it to its proper side. Whatever happened to ‘behave myself?’ Julia pondered, trying desperately to follow the movie and realizing she had been too distracted to follow along and now, there was no way she was going to be able to get back on track.
She could feel Kelsey twitch as she went back to sleep, and she instinctively squeezed her hand, sending a tingle down Julia’s spine. She’s addictive, Julia thought, giving up on the movie entirely and deciding Kelsey was a lot more interesting—and it certainly helped that Kelsey was completely unaware of her companion’s silent admiration.
The credits came scrolling onto the screen too early for Julia’s tastes, and the other patrons were starting to stir. “Kelsey?” she said, gently shaking her companion. “Wake up.”
“Huh?” Sleepy green eyes blinked open.
“Movie is over,” Julia told her.
“Oh,” she said, trying to get her bearings. What is my head resting on? She let the sensation dictate the answer. Julia’s shoulder! she freaked. And my hand…is holding Julia’s…and on Julia’s thigh. Shit! What in the hell is wrong with me? She doesn’t like you that way, you damn pervert, so stop it! Stop it! She jerked her hand and head away, very startled.
Julia noticed her friend’s sudden discomfort. “Kelsey?”
“Sorry,” she stammered. “I don’t know how I managed to do that,” she blushed.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Julia tried to reassure her.
“But it’s not!” Kelsey replied. “You’re probably thinking I’m up to something that I can swear I’m not up to! God!” she despaired. “I swear it isn’t what it looked like!”
Her face was truly pained, and Julia scrambled to try to figure out how to ease her fears. “Kelsey!” she snapped, trying to get through to her. The startled tomboy stopped berating herself and looked at Julia. “It’s alright, so don’t worry about it.”
Kelsey decided to accept at face value—for the time being. I am really, really skating on thin ice right now.
The drive back to Julia’s house was quiet. Kelsey was feeling very confused, torn between the sensation of being close to Julia and knowing how dangerously close she was to the line. She liked Julia, a lot, and she knew that she was getting a little too daring in expressing her affection. Where did I go wrong? she pondered. Where should I have drawn the line?
If I knew, I would have drawn in the moment I offered to help her on that damned Student Council retreat! It was a petty little crush until then—after that, she’s been egging me on!
Julia’s mind was no less blurred. She thoroughly enjoyed Kelsey’s companionship, but seeing Kelsey freak out about being caught holding her hand gave her reason to suspect that maybe she was crossing some type of line that she ought not to cross. What line? Julia thought to herself. The moment I started thinking it was acceptable to hang out with people not from my church, that’s when the line got crossed.
She turned to regard the driver of the Datsun, and tried to envision life if she hadn’t ever crossed that line. Life would have been empty, she decided. Maybe she had no choice in crossing the line.
The Datsun finally pulled up to her house, and Julia got out. “Thanks,” she told her, before Kelsey pulled away to drive to Jessie’s house, which was on the other side of town. She walked up the concrete path to her front door, where her mother was waiting.
“Who drove you home?” her mother inquired, her face showing obvious disapproval.
Julia’s mother stood at the doorway, scowling. “Who drove you home?” she demanded. Julia took a breath, trying to buy time to figure out how she was going to explain herself.
I told you before I left this evening! she recalled. “That’s Kelsey,” Julia replied. “Shana’s sister from church,” she added. “I told you this before I left.” She crossed her fingers, hoping that she’d buy it again.
She wasn’t. “You met her at church.” Her eyes flicked to where the Datsun was moments earlier, then resumed staring at Julia. “I have a hard time believing that.” She paused, her eyes narrowing. “Unless something really radical has happened since I was there Sunday, I’m pretty sure our church doesn’t want anything to do with her kind.”
I think she’s figured it out. Dang. “But our church also does outreach stuff,” Julia explained. “Did Jesus not befriend sinners?”
Her mother grimaced. “Jesus is the Son of God. He cannot be corrupted. You, young lady, are an impressionable seventeen-year-old girl. There is no way someone like that could be a good influence!”
“You don’t even know her!” Julia cried.
“I know enough. Come in the living room with me, we need to have a talk with your father.”
Julia hated it when her mother said those infamous words: “We need to have a talk with your father.” Mother was pretty good at doling out the punishment herself, but she knew she was in deep hot water when she dragged her father Rhett into it.
Her father was sitting in his recliner, thoroughly engrossed in his newspaper; Julia thought it a shame that they’d have to ruin his peace and quiet. “Rhett, dear,” Mother said, her voice oozing with forced affection, “we need to have a family discussion.”
He slid his reading glasses down the bridge of his nose so his eyes could focus on his wife. “About what?” he asked, looking like he was itching to get back to the article he was reading.
“Julia has been hanging around questionable people,” Mother replied. Rhett kept looking at her, with the same eyes, expressing little interest in the revelation. She continued, “I think one of them is a—dare I say this—a lesbian!”
“Mom!” Julia yelled.
“Shut up, young lady!” her mother snarled, raising her hand. She then turned her focus back to her husband. “We need to do something about this, Rhett. She’s only seventeen! She might cave into peer pressure!”
Julia shook her head in disbelief. Peer pressure? I think peer pressure goes the other way! You think Kelsey dresses like that to express the latest fad?! And I’m insulted that you think I’m incapable of thinking for myself!
“What do you want to do about it?” Rhett asked back.
“She needs to be put into an ex-gay program. We got to stop it before it gets any worse.”
I am not gay! What the heck are you talking about?! Julia silently fumed, wanting to scream at her mother but knowing that she might make good on her raised hand threat.
“But that program is for people struggling with homosexual feelings,” Rhett told her. “Julia’s just friends with one. There’s a big difference.”
Mother didn’t appear convinced with Rhett’s explanation. “They have a class starting next Wednesday,” she informed him.
He slid his reading glasses off his face, folded them, and set them down on the end table, next to the newspaper. “No. She is not going to one of those programs!” he firmly declared.
“Why not?” Mother dared him. “Time is of the essence for her soul!”
“No!” he thundered, in a rare show of anger. “She is not going on one of those programs! You have no idea how they work!”
“And how would you know?”
“I know parents who have sent their children to these programs. Some say the programs worked.”
“Exactly!” Mother interrupted, thinking he had just screwed up his argument against the program.
“And many have said the programs just reinforced the tendencies.”
Mother looked at her husband quizzically. “So if Julia is a lesbian, she’ll stay a lesbian, but if she’s not, then no harm done.”
“I didn’t say that,” Rhett warned her. “Some people who go in there straight come out gay.”
“What?!” Mother shrieked. “Isn’t that counter to the program?”
Rhett put his finger up to make a point. “Think about it. You have a class full of homosexuals. Someone is bound to get influenced. I will not have Julia entering that den of snakes!”
Mother was speechless. This was not what she had in mind! But he did have a point—what if Julia went in straight and came out gay? She was going to have to figure out some other way to save her daughter’s straying soul, for it was clear that the ex-gay program wasn’t the proper route.
Julia looked relieved when she heard that she wasn’t going to get shoveled into an ex-gay program. However, she feared Mother wasn’t finished with her yet. As if on cue, Mother turned to face her once more.
“I still don’t like who you’ve been hanging out with,” she growled. “You’re grounded! Go upstairs to your room.”
Julia did as ordered, glad that she was finally getting away from her mother’s overbearing presence. She forced herself not to act too excited about it, and calmly walked up the stairs to her room. Let’s see what’s going on online.
But when she went into her room, she noted her desk looked empty. They took my computer!
She had settled on reading a book in bed, and she figured she must have nodded off when she heard a soft knock on her door. Her reading lamp was still on, and whoever was at the door must have thought she was still up.
She bookmarked the page and set it on the table next to her bed. “Come in.”
Rhett slipped in, shutting the door behind himself. “Some days I don’t know what possesses your mother,” he sighed. “Thank you for handling the inquisition with grace.”
Julia softly laughed in acknowledgment. “She must be on one of her paranoia streaks. Speaking of paranoia, where’s my computer?”
Rhett glanced over to the desk, to confirm what his daughter said. “She must have taken it.”
“I don’t know what she thinks she’s going to find,” Julia told him. “If she’s looking for pornography, she’s going to be very disappointed!”
Rhett smiled. “If she think there’s going to be anything of interest on your computer, she obviously doesn’t know you well.”
“She doesn’t,” Julia grumbled. “She always thinks I’m up to no good! If I was up to no good, wouldn’t it have shown by now?”
Rhett nodded. “I know, Julia. Your self discipline is admirable.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She paused, pleased with the compliment. “How long am I grounded for?”
He scratched his chin, which was itchy with stubble. “She didn’t say, so you’re free tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she replied, giving him a hug.
It was a little late when Kelsey arrived at Jessie’s house, but the tall brunette was expecting her. “Hey,” she greeted her when she came to the door. “How was the movie?” she asked.
They entered the house, Jessie shutting the door and locking it behind her. “To be honest, I fell asleep ten minutes into it.”
“That boring?” Jessie inquired. “Hey, want to grab a snack before we go
“Sure,” Kelsey said. “Dinner seems like a lifetime ago.”
Jessie laughed, as she rooted around in the pantry. “Hey, Kelsey, you like pita chips?”
“Never had them,” she admitted. Jessie opened the bag and gave her one.
She took the chip and carefully tasted it. “Hmm, this tastes faintly of sea
salt,” she remarked. “I like it!”
Jessie rolled the bag top over itself. “We have a winner. You might want to grab something to drink though.” Kelsey grabbed two bottles of water out of the refrigerator, and they went upstairs to Jessie’s room.
“Alright, girl, spill it,” Jessie demanded, smirking. “I have a hard time imagining you fell asleep a mere ten minutes into the movie. What was the movie, anyway? I’m going to make sure I don’t watch it!”
“It was Wild Wild West,” Kelsey admitted. “I didn’t sleep well last night, and you know my mom has an early bedtime. It was 8:15 by the time the movie started—you do the math.”
“Some date that must have been,” Jessie pondered. “You go to the movies and fall asleep.”
“This wasn’t a date,” Kelsey growled. “That would imply we’re dating.”
“Aren’t you?” Jessie asked. Kelsey wasn’t sure if she was kidding or entirely serious.
“No,” Kelsey answered. “You know her religion doesn’t allow that kind of thing.”
“Doesn’t stop people,” Jessie giggled. “You two were awfully cute there after brunch. I have a hard time imagining whatever is going on between the two of you is entirely platonic.”
Kelsey sighed. “To be honest, I don’t think it is either. She’s really confusing the hell out of me! First she damn near kisses me, then gets mad at me for being gay, then the next time I see her, she’s hugging me as if she was clinging for dear life! I don’t get her, Jessie. She’s a tough read!”
Jessie pursed her lips, thinking. “I think I’m starting to understand,” she slowly stated.
“You do? Then do tell.”
Jessie started, “I think she does like you, in that way. I’ve hugged my girl friends and all that, but I don’t think I’ve ever kissed them or held onto them for dear life like you two were this morning.”
“There’s a ‘but’ in here somewhere, isn’t there?”
Jessie nodded. “I don’t think she knows she likes you in that way.”
“How could she not?!” Kelsey cried.
Jessie shrugged. “I have no idea. I think you might be better at answering that question. How did you discover you were gay? I think I discovered I liked boys when I couldn’t keep my eyes off a certain cutie my sophomore year.”
Kelsey furrowed her brow. “I think it was more a process of elimination for me. I had just turned seventeen, and I still didn’t get what the big deal was. If I don’t like boys, then I must like girls, right? And then I slowly realized that I was probably expecting a little more out of my friendships than is normal, and it just seemed to click that yes, I must like girls then.”
“Expect a little more? Like kissing? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you kiss your girl friends.”
“That would have been obvious,” Kelsey reminded her. “It wasn’t. It was stuff like hugs and touches and daydreams that nothing would separate us, like boys.”
Jessie nodded. “I think I can see how that could be confusing. But I think that’s what Julia’s going through right now. It makes sense in that context.”
“It does,” Kelsey admitted. “It hasn’t struck her yet that what she’s doing isn’t really platonic anymore, but since it’s nothing obviously sexual, it’s going under the radar screen.” Her eyes brightened a bit. “That does explain a lot!”
“So, the next question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“It might be time to think a little further,” Jessie suggested. “It’s quite obvious the feeling is mutual.”
“The feelings may be mutual, but the realization isn’t!” Kelsey countered. “She’s deeply in the closet, she’s deep in denial, and she belongs to a religion that says the only way to be good is to not cave into these kinds of desires. Think about it, Jessie. I don’t think there’s a roadmap for this kind of territory!”
Rhett drove his daughter into school for the third consecutive school day. He thought she’d get sick of arriving at school before everyone else and would go back to riding with Luke, but she hadn’t seemed to have changed her mind and gone back to the old way yet. He did admit it was nice to be able to spend time with his daughter, but something was going on, and she wasn’t telling.
“You and Luke aren’t close any more, are you?” he asked, breaking the silence in the car.
Rhett furrowed his brow. “You aren’t together anymore, I take it.”
“We broke up Wednesday night.”
Rhett pondered what to say next. “That was a while ago, wasn’t it?”
“I’m sorry, Julia. It must be hard to go through. But if you need to talk, you can talk to me. I won’t repeat anything to your mother, promise.”
“I know, Dad. It wasn’t a big deal. We had been drifting for a while; breaking up was putting the relationship out of its misery.”
“That can be quite true,” he mused. “The most painful relationships are the ones you can’t break off.”
The yellow Datsun pulled into the school parking lot, and Kelsey got out. She didn’t recall ever wanting to see Monday so badly before, but she figured it had to do in part because of a tall, raven haired beauty she knew went there.
She had pondered the words Jessie had told her Friday night, and she came to a conclusion that if her relationship with Julia was ever to go any further, it was going to have to be Julia’s idea and not her own. If it meant that the relationship stayed where it was at, it was the price she was just going to have to pay for being friends with enigmatic girl.
Jessie was sure to call her a chicken, but Kelsey just didn’t see any other way to diplomatically tread the waters. Jessie doesn’t know how it feels to be gay, she mused. Julia has to come out on her own timetable. You just can’t rush it. She may not come out. I guess that is how bad I have it for her—I’d be willing to swallow my own heart just to be near her. She let her eyes scan the quad for the tall dark beauty, but she was not there, so she headed over to the last known hangout she had spotted her at—the library. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that strongly about someone before.
Her hunch proved correct, and Julia was outside the library. “Hey,” she greeted.
Julia took one look at the red haired tomboy. She looks so happy today, she thought to herself. This isn’t going to make what I have to do any easier. “Hey.”
“How was your weekend?”
“It was alright,” Julia dryly replied. “Well, no, it wasn’t.”
“What happened?” Kelsey asked.
“I got in trouble for hanging out with you,” she admitted. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to stop hanging out, Kelsey.”
The tomboy wasn’t expecting this type of news. “Stop hanging out?” she finally uttered. “Said who?”
“My parents,” Julia confessed.
“What did they do to you?”
“I got grounded.”
“That sucks! But if we only see each other at school, they don’t have to know about it, right?”
Pained blue eyes looked back at her. “It’s not that simple, Kelsey. I almost got my butt dragged into an ex-gay program. I don’t want to go to one of those things. I was doing a little research on the web about it, and those things sound awful. My parents are suspicious, Kelsey. I can’t afford to be seen with you. I might not be so lucky next time.”
Kelsey opened her mouth to say something, but she had no idea what to say. She wasn’t expecting this; things were going so well on Friday, she couldn’t imagine this complete reversal. Julia turned around and walked away, and she watched her disappear down the hall, and, she mused, out of my life.