Agony in the Garden - Part 3
The rest of the week was just a numb blur to Kelsey. True to her threat, Julia did make herself scarce, and she didn’t see her at all during the day except for in Student Council. Knowing they were no longer on speaking terms made third period nearly unbearable, especially since Julia acted like nothing had happened and everything was well. But as soon as the bell rang, she’d be scarce again, and she wouldn’t see her for the rest of the day.
In one respect, it hurt greatly. She desperately missed seeing the tall, dark haired girl everywhere; it rendered her morning ritual scanning the quad for familiar faces useless. She was pretty sure Julia was hiding out in the library, at least part of the time, but to find her would be paramount to stalking. It was incredibly hard not to go looking for her.
But in a way, not seeing her face was a good thing. It meant there were fewer opportunities during the day to look at her beautiful face and despair, and as the week ended and the next one started, she began to notice she was thinking of Julia less. She wondered if she’d even be thinking of Julia at all if it wasn’t for the fact she was in Student Council.
Kelsey noted it was nice not to feel pain. But the feelings had been replaced by a sense of nothingness; nothing mattered anymore.
Julia’s second class of the day was statistics, and she noticed when she walked in that the desks were no longer in rows but bunched together into groups of four. I wonder what’s going on, she wondered to herself. She usually sat in the back, and she knew that the boys had no idea she was in their class until they had to stand around waiting for the teacher to announce his new plans. She knew, for she could feel all their eyes on her, and it made her incredibly nervous. They act like they’ve never seen a woman before!
The teacher started announcing who he assigned to each group of desks. “Desk four,” he announced, “Tony, Caleb, Justin and Julia.”
Julia regarded the three boys carefully. They all looked like nerds, she had to admit; given their looks, they appeared to be surprised that someone who looked like neither a nerd or a teenage boy had joined their group. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to pick her new teammates out of a classroom lineup.
Caleb was the shortest. He had sandy blonde hair, and was a little chubby. Tony looked like he had potential; if he abandoned the offbeat t-shirts, oversized glasses, and got a real haircut instead of a mop-top do, he probably would have girls throwing themselves at him. Tallest of the group was Justin. He had dark black hair, and was skinny. He wore a large digital watch on his left wrist, and his t-shirt hung off his shoulders, emphasizing the lack of muscle on his body.
Confident she had a better chance at recognizing them now, she sat back in her desk and idly twirled a pencil, anxiously awaiting the lesson to start so her classmates would stop staring at her.
The brunch bell rang, and Julia was glad for the escape. I hope these groups aren’t for the rest of the semester, she groused to herself. Those boys give me the heebie-jeebies.
She braced herself against the building when she spotted Cassie, but the freckled brunette didn’t seem to notice her. She exhaled, grateful. She took a step when she heard her name called out.
“Your name is Julia, right?” a male voice asked. She turned around to see who asked her. It was one of the guys from her group.
“Yeah,” she said, distrustfully. Just leave me alone!
“I’m Justin,” he announced. “Justin Kendall.”
She looked at him quizzically. His last name is awfully familiar…”Your dad’s the pastor at Western Baptist, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he is,” Justin admitted. “How’d you know that?” he asked.
“He’s given some sermons at my church,” she said.
“He does serve as a guest lecturer.” The boy looked nervous at first, but he seemed to have calmed down a bit, and she found herself rethinking her opinion on him. Poor soul probably doesn’t get to be around girls often. “What church do you go to?”
“First Baptist,” she replied.
“Hmm,” Justin nodded. “I think my dad’s doing a guest lecturer this Sunday. Want to join us for lunch afterwards?”
I hardly even know you! Julia grumbled to herself. It can’t hurt, I guess. I can drag my parents there and that way, if he’s being a complete and utter fool, I won’t have to suffer it alone! “Lunch sounds good. Looking forward to seeing you then. I got to go.”
“Later,” he said, a smile plastered on his face.
Sunday morning. The Williams household was in a flurry of action, trying to get ready and out of the house in time to get to church. Because church required one’s Sunday best, the usual preparations that would have sufficed for a normal day at school or in the office wasn’t enough, and most Sundays, at least one member of the household struggled to meet the increased expectations on the timetable used for weekdays.
The regular pastor of the church, Reverend James Russell, gave the sermon, and she was beginning to feel a bit skeptical about seeing Justin afterwards. He said his dad was giving the sermon, right? Maybe I mistook which Sunday it was. The service was winding down to a close when Rev. Russell announced he had an announcement.
“This is Reverend Robert Kendall from Western Baptist, he has served here as a guest pastor, and he has an announcement. Reverend?”
“Thank you,” Reverend Kendall replied. Julia looked at him closely; he was a tall, broad shouldered man with dark black hair and a full but trimmed beard. “Our church is sponsoring a rally,” he began. “The Methodist Church down the street has recently started performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. We have been organizing pickets to protest this activity. We are holding a rally this evening. If you are interested in joining, please meet in front of this church at 5 pm. Please dress nicely—the press may be sending photographers out. Thank you.”
After the service was over, Justin quickly found Julia. “Still up for lunch?”
“Yes. My parents are right behind me,” she said, turning around. “My mom is, anyway, my dad must be conversing with some parishioners.” She turned and caught her mother’s attention. “Mom, this is Justin. Justin, this is my mom.” She paused. “Where’s your dad?” she asked him.
“He’s probably talking to people about the rally,” Justin replied. “You’re coming, aren’t you?”
Julia felt trapped. I was going to catch up on homework this evening, she groaned. She saw her mother’s eyes, and they were expectant. If I go, it’ll make her happy. And she’ll stop accusing me of being gay. “Mom, would that be okay with you?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I’ll give you a ride over here.”
They met in the church parking lot a little bit before 5 pm. Julia had abandoned her long skirt in favor of cream-colored slacks, but she kept the same top, throwing a light colored cardigan over to keep her arms warm. Justin was wearing the same outfit he had worn in the morning—a crisp button down shirt, open at the collar, tucked into a pair of black slacks.
“How many of these rallies have you guys held?”
“Hmm,” Justin pondered. “This is the second rally we’ve held here, but my dad has been working alongside some other churches for quite some while until he started his own group.”
Julia nodded. “Where did you get this idea before? I’ve never heard of churches picketing other churches.”
“See,” Justin told her, “there’s this church in Alabama called North Shore Baptist. They picket all kinds of things, but they mostly picket fag stuff. They even have their own website. You can go there and see the stuff they’ve done. My dad found it to be inspiring, so he started up his own little group to protest deviant activities around the county.”
Don’t people have better things to do with their time? Julia wondered. Look who’s talking! You’re standing here in a parking lot, getting ready to picket a church down the street, and you’re calling the whole thing nuts?
Rev. Kendall assembled the group of protestors about a quarter past the hour. Julia was surprised to see that about twenty people had shown. I wonder if this is normal, large or small for a crowd?
“We’re going to go inside first,” he told the group, “and make signs for the picket lines.” He opened the church and they went into one of the larger rooms, where tables and chairs were set up. Justin distributed markers and poster boards to each group that gathered at the tables.
“We have a list of suggested quotes,” Rev. Kendall told the group, “but if you can think of a better slogan, please feel free to use it.”
Justin finished distributing the materials and sat down next to Julia. “Have any good slogans?” he asked her.
“I haven’t given it much thought,” she admitted.
“I’ve always been fond of the ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ one. How does that sound?”
Julia stared at the board, afraid to affirm. Why am I here? she asked
herself. “What other ones are out there?”
“There’s a couple that quote bible verses,” Justin said. “I like the Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 passages.”
Julia paused, trying to remember which verses they were. “Refresh me, I’m drawing a bit of a blank here.”
Justin chuckled. “Coming here is good for you; we can brush up on your scripture while we’re here.” He uncapped a marker and started writing a slogan. “Leviticus 18:22 tells people not to have gay sex and Leviticus 20:13 says that God wants gay people stoned to death.”
It took an incredible amount of willpower not to choke on her spit. He looked
at her, and chuckled. “What’s the matter?”
She quietly went back to her work, but she couldn’t help but let a comment slip under her breath. “That’s awfully harsh.”
Justin had heard what she said. “The truth is harsh indeed. But God’s word is God’s word. We’ll get you straightened out on it in no time!”
Maybe this can count for my ex-gay camp experience, she mused, feeling increasingly nauseous.
They arrived in the parking lot of the Methodist Church a little after six in the evening. Not many people had arrived yet; they were due to arrive within the hour, since the ceremony started at seven. They quietly lined the sidewalk leading up to the door of the church, their signs held at half-mast.
“This seems awfully confrontational,” Julia muttered.
Justin laughed. “You get used to it. It’s a little unnerving at first. We’re taught since we’re little tykes not to get in people’s faces. You have to relearn that there are times and circumstances that require drastic measures. Saving the souls of wayward Christians is one of them.”
“Has anyone repented?” Julia asked.
“I wouldn’t know personally,” he replied. “It’s probably something personal—we don’t see it directly. But if we can get people to question what they’ve been led to believe is acceptable, then that is a step towards victory.”
A trickle of people started appearing in the Methodist Church parking lot. They saw the protestors and scowled.
“Weren’t you saying that we had to dress nice in case the press shows up?” Julia inquired nervously.
“Yeah,” Justin affirmed.
“Has the press ever showed up?”
He shook his head. “Not in our experience, but I think the first one my dad was a participant in got a little out of hand.”
“How out of hand?” she asked.
“Well,” he drawled, “the police were involved.”
“Justin, that sounds really scary.”
“It does,” he agreed. “Should something funny like that happen, we need to stand our ground. We can’t let the perverts win.”
“That might require violent measures,” she warned.
“No violence,” he told her. “You don’t move. You refuse to cooperate. But you don’t get violent.”
What in heaven’s name have I gotten myself involved in? she fearfully fretted as more guests started to show up at the church’s doors.
The service was underway. Julia had noticed that some people were initially dissuaded from entering the church by seeing the sheer mass of protestors outside, but she carefully observed the latter crowd and noticed that some of the people who tried to get in earlier had piggybacked on the shirt tails of the larger crowd. If this was meant to deter them, I think they failed.
“Okay guys,” Reverend Kendall prompted the picketers. “It’s time to sing our psalms.” Justin unfolded a piece of paper he was carrying in his pocket and showed Julia. “We sing the psalms in order.”
“Okay,” she said, grasping the damp paper.
“First psalm,” he prompted. The group started to sing, attempting to disrupt the service inside. It seemed that no one paid attention, except for a little boy who was watching them out the window briefly before his mother dragged him back to the pew.
“Who brings a child to these obscene ceremonies?” Justin disgustingly said.
Julia felt increasingly uncomfortable. Who drags their children out to these disgusting protests? She thought about her mother, and how proud she had been when Julia offered to join the protest. It’s people like my mother, that’s who. I should have walked away from this long ago!
The minister stepped outside. “Folks, I appreciate your concern, but this is a private event. Please leave.” As quickly as he came out, he dodged back into the safe confines of the building.
They know we’re here. I think he was kindly warning us there. She looked at the other protestors, and noted they didn’t seem concerned at all. I wonder what the next step is. “I think this is escalating,” she commented, her palms sweating.
Justin laughed. “Julia, nothing’s happened yet. They all say that.”
“But then what?”
“They realize we’re not going to leave and try to ignore us.”
She shook her head. “I’m scared.”
They had taken a break in their psalm recitation. “Let’s try something familiar,” he suggested. “You sing well, join me?” He paused, then started to softly sing, “Jesus, lover of my soul…”
Julia had to admit that reciting the familiar words she had uttered many times before at the Wednesday night youth meetings was reassuring. But she couldn’t entirely let go of her fear. If the minister has gone in to call the cops, we’re sitting ducks!
All was still outside, except for the assembly of protestors. The air had started to chill rapidly after the sun set, and Julia couldn’t help but shiver a little.
Headlights flashed as a string of cars started to enter the parking lot. Julia squinted, and could tell they were large and colored the same—an ominous white. “Guess what?” she snorted. “I think the police have gotten involved.”
A handful of cops exited the squad cars. One of them went up to Reverend Kendall, and while Julia couldn’t hear what they were saying, she got the impression that the officer was laying down the situation and trying to negotiate a deal so everyone went home happy. She noted that a larger number of cops were still in their squad cars. I wonder what they’re up to, she pondered. Backup in case negotiations fail?
The lead cop turned and made a motion to one of the squad cars. The officer took his cue and turned on his bullhorn, startling the unseasoned protestors with a loud wail and barked directions. “Leave now or you will be arrested!”
Julia felt her hands being grasped; she looked down and realized that Justin had taken one hand and an unknown older man had taken her other. “Human chain,” Justin informed her. “Remember what I said. We don’t move, but we don’t fight.”
The officers waited a minute, until it was obvious the protestors were not going to cooperate. The officers who had attempted to negotiate with Reverend Kendall returned to their cars, and she could see they were all fidgeting with something in their squad cars. What are they doing? They all exited the cars, and she could see they had donned gas masks. Great. I think this has just escalated into a riot!
“Hold my hand,” Justin reminded her, and she nervously clenched his hand as the police took positions by their vehicles. A canister was lobbed into the air, and landed at their feet, dispersing a cloud of smoke. Another canister was lobbed into the air, and it too started to smoke on impact.
She felt her lungs burn, as the pepper gas seeped into the crowd. I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to be able to stay here much longer! She began to violently cough, her eyes watering. She could make out figures approaching them in the distance, rapidly; instinctively, she grasped Justin’s hand and tugged him along as she started to run.
She could see more backup units arrive on the scene, and she tried to pull in fresh air as she ran, but the pepper gas made her lungs burn even more as she tried to run. At some point, she had gotten separated from Justin, and she turned back, trying to find him in the middle of the chaotic scene.
She saw a nightstick approaching from the side, and she instinctively dodged, resuming running. She could hear heavy footsteps behind her, and she willed herself to forget the intense burn in her lungs, she had a cop on her tail and she was determined not to let him get her. She noticed that he was catching up to her, and glimpsing back, she suspected she might be able to better evade him if she started turning. She began to run a zig zag pattern, and after several agonizing minutes, she noticed the breathing had gotten more distant, and she turned around to see the officer had gotten completely winded trying to chase her with all his heavy equipment.
I’m a block from home, she realized. I’ll just go there. To heck with this whole protest!
She didn’t bother stopping until she got to the front door, and she was surprised to find it locked. They’re not expecting me home for a while, she noted. I hope they didn’t go somewhere. She rang the doorbell, and she was convinced she was going to have to sit out of the cold front steps when her father opened the door.
“Julia?” he said, puzzled. “What are you doing here?” He composed himself, adding, “I thought the protest was going to last longer.”
She shook her head. “They called the cops on us,” she matter-of-factly stated. Drawing air in to breathe irritated her sore lungs, and she started to cough violently.
“Good grief,” he exclaimed. “I had been thinking about joining you in the protests, but I’m glad I didn’t.” He looked at her, concerned. “Let me go heat you some hot water for tea. It might help.”
“I don’t think anything’s going to help at this point,” she gagged.
Monday morning. Kelsey wanted onto campus, and spotted her friend Jessie talking to Natasha. I haven’t seen Natasha around for a while. I wonder what she’s up to.
She approached the table, to see Jessie and Natasha were having quite an animated conversation. Whatever she’s been up to, it’s riled her up plenty. I think this is a discussion best left between the two of them.
“Hey, Kelsey,” Jessie greeted.
“Hey,” she replied.
“Hey,” Natasha said. “Did you see the news last night?”
Since when did you watch the news? “Evening or late night?”
“Late night,” Natasha said. Jessie leaned over and whispered something in Natasha’s ear, and she nodded. “Oh. I gathered you didn’t. Anyhow, they had this big riot in front of First Methodist Church last night. I don’t think anything this exciting has happened in this drab little town since…I don’t remember!”
“Now why would there be a riot in front of a church, of all places?” Kelsey asked, perplexed.
“Hey, Jessie, do you remember why they were rioting?”
The tall girl creased her brow in thought. “They were holding a lesbian wedding,” she replied.
“Wait a minute!” Kelsey retorted. “Since when do churches marry gay people?”
“Some do,” Jessie informed her. “It was a recent decision made by First Methodist.”
“I think I can fill this in. Someone caught wind of it and got pissed.”
“Yep,” Jessie affirmed. “Western Baptist Church swooped in and started picketing, and when the cops came, they refused to leave so they had to gas them.”
“Thank goodness Julia goes to First Baptist,” Kelsey sighed to herself. “I’d hate to think of her being involved in something evil like that.”
Natasha jumped in. “I got bad news for you, Kelsey. I think the news crew caught a picture of her running from the scene.”
“No way!” Kelsey shouted, not wanting to believe it.
“I’m afraid so,” Jessie confirmed. “I’m afraid she’s returned to the dark side.”
Julia felt dead on her feet as she walked into the library that morning. Her throat burned all night, and she kept getting up every hour trying various remedies to soothe her crying throat. The tea worked a little bit, the menthol cough drops she usually used burned going down, so she finally resorted to throat lozenges with an anesthetic. It gave her a few hours of relief, but not nearly enough to restore her depleted energy.
Her legs were sore from the long run from the cops; she mused the irony that she could beat her opponents on the tennis court with ease yet a little run from the cops would leave her muscles screaming in agony. Must have been all the adrenaline, she pondered as she stood in the shower that morning. She noticed she had an assortment of bumps and bruises; none were too bad, but it was obvious she had gotten herself into some type of trouble.
She had deliberately chosen her outfit that morning, making sure she covered up as much skin as possible without overdoing it. She wore a peach colored long sleeved blouse, which was thin enough to stay cool when it got a little warm in the afternoon. She was delighted with her choice, as she recalled; but now she wished she brought a sweater to throw over her shoulders, they hadn’t turned the heat on in the library yet and it was absolutely frigid.
She got her bible out of her backpack and started reading it, as was her usual ritual. She had grown fond of the ritual; it cleared her head of the anxieties the start of a new school day usually brought, such as tests, papers, and people. Especially people—tests and papers were a lot more predictable than people.
She wasn’t sure how far she had gotten on the page, but she was startled when she felt a small hand shake her awake. “Julia?”
The voice sounded familiar, and Julia opened her eyes. “Hi Audrie,” she greeted.
Concerned eyes looked at her. “What happened, Julia? You look awful.”
“I feel awful,” she confessed. “I didn’t sleep well.”
Audrie gently brushed up against the bruise on the side of her head, near her eye. “You were there, weren’t you?” she gently asked. “At the protest.”
Julia hung her head. “Yes,” she admitted. “I must have gotten elbowed fleeing the scene.”
“I’m kind of surprised you went,” Audrie told her. “I thought you weren’t doing that stuff anymore.”
“I didn’t feel I had a choice, Audrie,” Julia confided. “My mom really pressured me into going. I knew it was a mistake from the get-go.”
Audrie looked a little relieved. “I’m glad to hear you weren’t overanxious to jump into that fray,” she said. “It wasn’t too long ago you would have gladly taken on those cops by yourself!”
Julia laughed a little, but her lungs weren’t ready for the exertion, so she coughed. It was a loud, lung-rattling cough; it felt as if the walls shook with it.
“You might want to go see the nurse about that,” Audrie suggested as the bell rang.
She was relieved to see Justin didn’t show up for Statistics, but she was a bit concerned by his absence as well. She was quite angry with him for dragging her into that protest, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he knew it would turn out like this. She was shocked out of her thoughts when she heard Caleb and Tony talking about Justin.
“I wonder why Justin isn’t here,” Caleb wondered.
Tony shrugged. “Wait—isn’t he that lunatic preacher’s son?”
“What lunatic preacher?”
“Didn’t you hear the news last night?”
“No,” Caleb admitted.
“Yeah. This wacko pastor guy was picketing a Methodist church and it got out of hand. They said it was some guy named Rob Kendall or something.”
“You’re right. I think that is Justin’s last name.”
Tony groaned. “Great. Just great. Of all the groups in class, we get stuck with the Jesus freak!”
“I wonder if he got arrested,” Caleb suggested. “That would keep a kid out of a school!”
“Yes, it would.”
Julia watched them debate Justin’s absence silently, noting neither of them looked at her. I’m the invisible girl in class. It’s a bit insulting but there are times I’m eternally grateful for it!
The teacher gave them an assignment, and she began to work on it. Wait, that protest made the news! I wonder if the whole campus knows about it? I better not have my name associated with it! This is awful!
She slipped into the classroom for third period, feeling anxious as ever. It had really rattled her to hear that the protests made news last night, and there was just no way she could hide the little shiner that was developing near her eye. Clothes only go so far, she groaned to herself.
She opened her notebook and started doodling in it, desperately trying to take her mind off matters before class started. She saw someone stop in front of her, and she looked up. It was Luke.
“Hey, Julia, nice job,” he congratulated her. “I’m sorry to hear it got out of hand, but you know, that was a brave thing to do to stand up to those damn liberals.”
Julia scrunched up her face. He’s actually congratulating me for going to that?
“Besides,” Luke continued, “I was a little worried about you there for a while, being nice to all the secularists and stuff. Glad to hear you came back to your senses.”
Uh…how do I answer that? “Thanks,” she said, trying to get him to leave her alone.
“Who is the guy who runs those things anyway?” Luke asked. “Damn, if it wasn’t for the fact I’m up to my ears in athletics, I’d join you, but Coach would have my hide. Cassie might join you though.”
I wonder if I’m in trouble with my coach over this mess! Julia panicked.
She was especially jittery by the time tennis practice time arrived. Coach Banning surely knows of the idiotic caper I pulled by now, she convinced herself. I wonder if I’m just going to get merely suspended or actually kicked off the team for this. It’ll be hard to overcome if I’m to advance to the playoff.
That thought made her mood especially sour. I was so close to being the number one player in the state! she fumed. I was so close last year—surely it is not unreasonable to advance past the last few spots and claim it myself. And now I think I just blew it. All because Mom and that stupid boy! You want teen rebellion, Mom? You have seen nothing yet!
I wonder if it would make her lay off the pressure if I told her participating in these activities was creating problems at school. But then again, I don’t think she wants me playing sports, and this just fits into her evil little plan! Argh! I can’t win! I just can’t win!
She entered the locker room, and she was grateful that the rows of lockers prevented the other players from seeing her enter. She could overhear all their discussions, and a lot of them revolved around the compromising position she put herself in last night. I hope this dies down soon. This is so embarrassing.
She changed out of the safety of her long sleeves for one of her practice shirts and a pair of shorts. She heard footsteps, and instinctively looked up. It was Coach Banning. “Julia, I need to have a word with you.”
“Okay,” she squeaked, following the coach up into her office. She sat in the plastic chair across from the coach’s desk, uncomfortably aware that Coach had probably called her in to confirm her fears.
“Julia, I have been informed that you may have participated in a disturbance of the peace last night,” she started. “Our athletic department doesn’t tolerate this type of behavior, and we are policy-bound to suspend and possibly remove athletes who run afoul of the law off the team. It would kill me to lose my best singles player, but I am policy bound on these matters. Do you understand me?”
She felt her fingers curl under the lip of the chair’s edge, and she bit her lip to try to stem the tears she could feel welling up. Yep. I did it. I’m done for the season.
“Because your name did not show up on the police report, you technically did not run afoul of the law. I know you’ve played very hard for me through the years, and I appreciate it. Matters such as these that don’t make it into the police logs are up to coach’s discretion, and I’d hate to have you leave, Julia. But I am warning you that I will not put up with this kind of behavior in the future.”
I’m not off the team? “Thanks Coach,” she blurted, her voice wavering. She quickly left and dodged into one of the bathroom stalls before anyone could catch her crying.
She collapsed on her bed after tennis practice, exhausted. She had ran herself ragged on the tennis court, running ball handling skills solo on the court after she had completed all her tennis matches. She wasn’t sure how long after practice she had stayed until Coach Banning came out and told her she had to lock up all the equipment, and she sheepishly realized that it was very dark outside at this point.
She was very glad that her father was able to pick her up after practice, and she confided in him about her near brush with disaster concerning her spot on the tennis team. Unlike her mother, Rhett knew that tennis meant a lot to his quiet daughter, and he was appalled to hear how close she had indeed come to forfeiting her season.
He had been talking to people who knew others involved in the rally, and was very dismayed to hear half of them had to go to the hospital for injuries. Justin, in fact, had his arm broken by one of the nightsticks, and she realized how lucky she was that she was able to run away from the scene. That could have been me. Most of the protestors who appeared that night were charged with disorderly conduct. And that would indeed have been curtains for the season!
“Is Mom expecting me to go to any more of the rallies?” she fearfully asked him on the ride home.
“I don’t care what she expects,” Rhett calmly told her. “Those things are dangerous and you’re not going to another one of those.”
She was anxious for sleep, but thoughts kept running through her head. I can’t believe I’m going to have to do this all again tomorrow. I’m not sure I can take another day of this! It feels like everyone is watching me and snickering behind my back!
Sleep finally came, but not the type she so desperately wished for.
They were back at the Methodist Church, picketing. It looked exactly the way she remembered it—everyone standing in a line next to the door, leaving a small opening for parishioners to pass through. But instead of calmly holding their picket signs and singing psalms about the wonders of God, they were taunting the guests and chanting various passages about the wrath of God that was sure to rain down upon them for this.
The wedding started inside, and more protestors arrived outside. Reverend Kendall was inflaming the crowd with a fiery sermon, which was agitating the crowd. A limousine pulled up outside, and the parishioners poured outside, ignoring the taunts and jeers of the crowd. The bride and what appeared to be the groom stepped outside, and they threw rice into the air, congratulating the new couple. Julia knew that the groom couldn’t be a man—they wouldn’t have bothered to protest if it was a run of the mill heterosexual couple! She looked closely—and realized it was Kelsey!
And who was her bride? She glared at her, thinking there was something so wrong, Kelsey was with the wrong person, she was not the one, no way…
Kelsey didn’t look happy. She looked weary, and tired. That’s not how honeymoons are supposed to start…
The limousine pulled out of the parking lot, into the sunset, and Julia sadly realized her protests were in vain.
Julia woke up, her face drenched in tears. The scene was so wrong, but she couldn’t put a finger on why. There were a number of things that disturbed her. I didn’t want to be at that protest on Sunday! Why did I have to revisit the scene of the crime? She took the corner of her top sheet and tried to dry her face. And the crowd! So hateful! She felt new tears replace the ones that she had dried off, and she knew it was becoming an increasingly lost battle. And the bride! I wanted to gouge her eyes out! And Kelsey…she looked so sad. I don’t know why. Was it us? Was it the bride? It’s not like she can get a girl pregnant, so I can’t imagine she’s being forced to marry her…hmm. Maybe I’m upset because it implies Kelsey isn’t going to change.
Visions of the angry slogans reappeared in her head. They were the words of an angry God, one who wasn’t so forgiving. I can’t let her suffer the wrath of our Lord. Jesus, please let her see the light. It will break my heart to see her lost.
Kelsey sat at the end of the bleachers, watching Jessie play her game. They had made plans to hang out after the game, and Kelsey had to admit to herself it was nice to see her friend enjoying something she devoted so much of her time to.
Her friend’s broad build was quite unlike any of the other tall girls who were stationed up front to block and spike. The rest of them looked like whippets—long, lean, with slight builds that made them look like taut bowstrings when they leapt into the air, backs arched, legs bent, arms drawn back, ready to unleash the energy coiled into their flexed bodies. Jessie, on the other hand, looked like a blacksmith, her arm like a sledgehammer, and she had to remark that Jessie’s attacks tended to carry a different kind of quality to them, probably because she was using her muscles a little differently than the skinny girls that surrounded her.
I couldn’t ever imagine wearing those shorts, Kelsey thought to herself, seeing that they didn’t extend very far down the thigh. The opposing team’s shorts were even more revealing, but seeing the way the girls leapt, dodged and dug, it was apparent that the less of a leg the shorts had, the less there was to get in the way. Not a place to be caught dead with cellulite!
Wait—our soccer uniforms aren’t too much better! Oh god—I’m going to have to wear that again?! She hadn’t paid much attention to her team uniforms in years past, but over the past year, she felt increasingly uncomfortable in girl’s clothing. How did I manage it in past years? she wondered.
The varsity volleyball team easily defeated their outmatched opponents, and after changing into her warm-ups in the locker room, Jessie was ready to go. “Where’d you park?” she asked Kelsey.
“Where I usually do,” she replied. “It’s not too far.”
Jessie nodded. “Wouldn’t hurt to walk around a little and stretch out my muscles.”
She fished the keys for her Datsun out of her pocket and unlocked the door. She got in and unlocked the passenger side, letting Jessie get in.
“Want to grab something to eat before we head over to my house?” Jessie asked. “Last night’s dinner was pretty atrocious, I’d hate to subject you to that.”
Kelsey started the truck, and buckled her seat belt. “What do you have in mind?” she casually asked, glancing in the rear view mirror to check the coast was clear before backing out. She saw a dark, strange but uncomfortably familiar figure look back at her in the mirror, about twenty feet away. She felt her muscles clench and heart start to race in automatic reaction to the sight.
She punched the clutch pedal, jerked the stick shift into reverse, and peeled out of the parking space. She quickly punched the clutch pedal back in, shoved the stick into first, and peeled out of the parking lot, merely slowing down as she turned onto the side street out of the parking lot.
“Kelsey, what in the hell is going on?” Jessie asked, noting her friend’s sudden change in demeanor.
“Let’s get out of here and then I’ll tell you.” She raced down the street, coming to a head-bobbing stop when she hit the stop sign to turn onto the busy main throughway. “In fact, you can do me a favor. Keep looking back behind us and make sure we’re not being followed.”
“Okay,” Jessie slowly replied, twisting her large frame to get a good look behind them. The road was empty.
Kelsey found an empty bubble in the mass of evening rush hour traffic, and she floored the accelerator, turning onto the main drag through town. “That ought to have lost him,” she remarked, her heart still racing.
“Lost who?” Jessie asked, confused.
“I think my dad saw my Datsun in the parking lot and was waiting for me.”
“What?!” Jessie cried. “I thought he was in jail!”
“He made parole several weeks ago,” Kelsey informed her.
“Damn,” Jessie muttered, recalling the many times she’d ring the doorbell at Kelsey’s house and be greeted with the kitchen knife. “Hey, how does Chinese sound? There’s a quick and cheap place near my house that’s pretty decent.”
Jessie was astounded to see that Kelsey was nearing the end of her rather large order of chow mein. “Goodness, girl!” she remarked. “Where do you put it all?”
Kelsey laughed. “I’m not sure.”
“It has to disappear somewhere!” Jessie chuckled.
After eating dinner, they returned to Jessie’s house, where they watched a little bit of television in Jessie’s room. “Hey, Kelsey?”
“Hmm?” the redhead replied.
“How are you doing?” Jessie asked.
“I’m alright,” she said. “I’m a little shook up about seeing my dad in the parking lot, though.”
Jessie nodded. “Hey, if you need a safe place to stay, you’re always welcome here.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But I probably should get going soon, it’s almost eight thirty.”
“Kelsey,” she said gravely. “Do you think it’s a good idea to go home if you think he’s been stalking you?”
“You know the answer. Someone has to look out for my mom.”
“But she can defend herself! She wields a mean knife!”
“She also doesn’t hear too well,” Kelsey countered. “And Shana’s probably home already.”
Jessie sighed, disappointed. “Okay,” she relented. “But my offer stands.”
“Thanks, Jessie,” she said, getting up and giving her a hug. “You’re the best.”
“Anytime,” the tall girl whispered back. “Take care of yourself.”
“Hey, Slugger,” Jessie greeted her friend the next morning. “How are you doing?”
“Slugger?” Kelsey replied. “I think the description is more fitting for
you the way you were slamming that volleyball on your hapless opponents last
Jessie chuckled. “What can I say? It sounded fitting.” She sat down on the bench. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m good,” she said. “Neither heard nor saw anything more last night. Hopefully it was just a fluke.” Yeah right, I know him better than that.
Kelsey sat down next to her and opened her notebook, doodling a bit to pass the time before it was time to go to class. Natasha sauntered up to the table in the meanwhile and was chatting with Jessie when the conversation came to a sudden halt.
“My, my,” Natasha cackled. “Would you look what Julia picked up?”
“Where?” Jessie asked, which Natasha answered by pointing towards the parking lot. “Who the hell is that following her?”
“I have no idea,” Jessie said. Kelsey stopped doodling and looked in the general direction, to see a scrawny but tall dark haired boy following Julia around.
“He looks like a lost puppy,” Natasha chuckled. “Wouldn’t that be a story? Julia dumps Luke for that loser! Woo! That’ll have the gossips going into overdrive!”
Kelsey couldn’t help but look at Julia with much irritation. Somewhere within, she felt an anger start to stir. What makes this loser so attractive, hmm? He looks like he ditched his friends at the Trekkie table for you. I would have never figured you for a nerd magnet, Julia. She watched her disappear into one of the classroom corridors, leaving her to resume drawing little sketches in her notebook. This is what you left me for, hmm? That’s right, I never had claim to you. This is true. But why were you so abrupt?
“I wonder if he was involved in that riot,” Jessie pondered.
Natasha commented, “His arm is in a cast. He hardly looks the athletic type. What do you think the chances are?”
So you left me for a Jesus freak. That makes more sense. And I bet the conditions of your new life involve keeping me out of it! And to make sure I don’t return, you rub my face in your true nature. Your true nature is ugly, Julia. You have returned to the dark side!
“I’m going to have to say Julia doesn’t look too great either. Did you see that nasty bruise on her face?” Jessie said.
“Pretty ugly,” Natasha concurred.
Not as ugly as your soul, I bet, Kelsey fumed.
She thought that her first two classes of the day would distract her from her increasingly furious feelings about Julia. Physics kept her distracted for a little while until she grew bored of the teacher’s yakking and started to daydream, and art class only served as a potent outlet to truly feel the rage inside. Every muscle felt like it was in knots when she left for brunch.
“Hey Kelsey,” Jessie greeted her. “Whoa! You look like you ate something really sour. What’s up?”
“I’m mad at Julia,” she tersely replied.
Jessie nodded sympathetically. “I bet that was a bit much for you this morning. I’m sorry if we upset you.”
“Isn’t your fault,” she corrected, her voice low and angry. “She’s the one who abruptly stopped being friends with me for no reason.”
“You seemed okay about it,” Jessie offered.
“No—I think the situation’s just caught up to me.” Her eyes narrowed. “I feel like I’ve been replaced—with an even bigger loser than myself!”
“You’re not a loser!” Jessie scolded. “I don’t know what her problem is, but you’re not a loser, you hear me?!”
They turned the corner, to be passed by Justin and Julia. Kelsey bit her lip, trying to resist the urge to go postal. The rage was consuming her. She could feel the blackness pulse through her veins. Justin eyed Jessie very carefully, giving her a dirty look before continuing on his way. Julia never noticed who she almost ran into.
She continued doodling in her notebook all through third period, worried that she focused on the class at hand, she’d be forced to look at Julia, and that was the last thing she wanted to do. She took her pencil and sketched in the outlines of claw-like fingers, powerful and menacing. First she used vague lines to depict each of the five digits, then turned the lines into boxes with more body. She then turned the boxes into cylinders, flattening them as appropriate. She then took her pencil and pressed harder onto the sheet, drawing swift, decisive strokes that brought the hands to life from the vague outline they once were.
The voices in the background were starting to get annoying. Cassie had found something to her immense disliking, and Kelsey could swear she had spent half the period whining about something. She took the side of her pencil and shaded in the space around the hands, completing her dark vision that consumed her mind.
Cassie was up to something bad, she could tell. Her attention wasn’t terribly focused when she was shading in the negative space around the hands, and it sounded like Cassie was insinuating something against Jessie when things didn’t go to her plans that morning.
Cassie said one more thing, and Kelsey felt something snap. “Stick a sock in it, Cassie,” she snarled. “Everyone’s sick and tired of you whining and crying like an old windbag.”
Stunned silence filled the classroom. Looking up to gauge the audience reaction, she saw a mix of emotions, ranging from downright admiration from Brendan, to an amused chuckle from Jessie, to shocked silence from Natasha, Audrie, and Julia, and finally, angry looks of hatred from Luke and Cassie.
“You-you-you bitch!” Cassie cried. “Who in the hell do you think you are, ordering me around?”
Angry green eyes glared at her. “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? I swear, you haven’t said one constructive thing since you came in here this morning. All you’ve done is bitched and moaned about how we’re supposedly screwing you over.”
“Well, you are!” Cassie hissed.
“That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve heard,” Kelsey growled. “You’re just mad that no one wants to follow along with your plans.”
Cassie rose out of her desk seat and took two steps towards Kelsey when a strong but lean arm shot out and intercepted her. “Don’t make it any worse, Cassie,” a low, feminine voice warned. Cassie whirled around to see who dared to stop her, and saw it was Julia.
“You heard what that dyke said,” Cassie growled. “Let me go!” She tried to elbow her way out of Julia’s grasp, only to find the tall, raven-haired girl grip harder.
“Don’t be calling my friends names,” she said, her eyes fierce. “Or Kelsey’s going to be the least of your problems.”
Cassie looked at her one-time friend, and shivered. She had never seen Julia this angry, and the calm tone she delivered it in made her shiver even more. She’s getting ready to pounce on me! She gulped, and slowly returned to her seat, a few shades more pallid than when she got up.
Jessie, Kelsey and Natasha sat together at lunch. “That was a pretty impressive display this morning,” Natasha congratulated her. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak, much less tell Cassie where to shove it.”
“She was being especially grating this morning, what can I say?”
“I think you finally figured out why I’m in her face all the time,” Natasha replied. “Although it’s been less fun since Julia stopped supporting them.”
“I was wondering why you haven’t been baiting Cassie lately,” Jessie commented.
“I’ve been preoccupied,” Natasha replied.
“Speaking of preoccupation, what brings you back to the table?” asked Jessie. “Not that I’m complaining, I’ve missed having you around.”
“Hmm,” Natasha drawled. “I was hanging out with another goth chick. She’s a sophomore, and I ran into her when I was leaving Chemistry a few weeks ago. We hung out for a while, but then she got a boyfriend and that was that.”
“That sucks,” Kelsey sympathized.
Natasha simply shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve done it to plenty other people. I have no excuse for feeling sorry for myself.”
They quietly ate their food for a few minutes before conversing again. Natasha said, “I’m a bit surprised that Julia got mad at Cassie. I know they don’t hang out anymore, but I thought she was back to her old ways.”
“Good point,” Jessie agreed. “If she was up to her old ways she would have threatened to take you—” she nodded at Kelsey, “—out instead of Cassie.”
“Thank god,” Kelsey sighed. “Did you see Cassie’s reaction when Julia told her to stop it or else? I thought she was going to piss her pants!” Jessie chuckled.
“It’s nice to see someone else provoke that kind of reaction out of Julia,” Natasha giggled. “She’s so sexy when she growls like that.”
Kelsey spat out the cola she was drinking and Jessie choked on her food. “Natasha!”
Their goth friend simply chuckled. “You’re not the only one watching her, girlfriend!” she laughed.
Hands off! Kelsey jealously thought to herself. If I can’t have her, you can’t either!
Jessie convinced Kelsey to come over to her house after practice, and Kelsey tagged along for a few minutes, since she had to ask the soccer coach a question about when preseason practices started. She returned to the gym to relay the news to Jessie, to find that the varsity volleyball court was empty.
I guess they’re out running, she thought to herself. I’ll catch her after practice then. She left the gym, only to run into Jessie, who was in her warm-ups.
“Practice got cancelled,” Jessie replied. “That gives me a whole afternoon to kill.” She gave Kelsey a quizzical look. “It’s been so long since I had a free one, I’m not sure what to do!”
Kelsey laughed. “My afternoons of freedom are coming to a close pretty soon. Coach Sawyer is starting preseason practices next month.”
Jessie pondered the point a minute. “Hmm,” she drawled, seeing a school bus parked near the tennis courts and two different sets of uniforms wandering the courts. “We could see what the tennis team is up to.”
Kelsey blushed. “We could,” she slowly said, “but Julia might think I’m stalking her.”
“Nonsense!” Jessie dismissed. “I got buddies on the tennis team too!”
“Good!” Kelsey exhaled. “I like plausible deniability.”
Jessie chuckled. “Let’s go!”
They walked over to the tennis courts, watching Julia warm up. Jessie had heard from her friends that Julia was quite a whirlwind, and watching her warm up, she had a feeling they weren’t exaggerating.
She wore a crisp white polo with a blue mid-length skirt. Not all the girls on the team were so lucky to have such a modest get-up, and Kelsey internally winced. Can you get more sexist than making your players play in a goddamn skirt? Not even the opposing team wears that shit! The opposing team wore red polo shirts and black shorts.
Warm-ups soon ended, and the visiting coach sent the first player to face Julia. She was quite a bit shorter, with a powerful build, and she exuded confidence as she eyed her tall, thin opponent. She settled in kitty-corner to where Julia was standing, awaiting her serve. The tall, dark haired girl tossed the ball up, and arched her back, then snapping forward in a sudden explosion of power, her arms whipping in a half circle as she smashed the hapless ball with her racket, sending it screaming into the opponent’s side of the court. Her opponent seemed to have been caught off guard a little bit, but she was able to return it, shooting the ball back onto Julia’s side of the court. Julia deftly backhanded it, forcing the player to scramble to the other side to return it. She tried to catch Julia off balance by sending it down the other side, but she was prepared, and extended her long arms to smack it to the other side. The girl hustled across the court, and lobbed it down the side she was on, and Julia returned it straight across, catching the girl off guard. She threw herself at the ball, and while she did manage to get her racket on it, the angle was wrong, and the ball fluttered into the net.
“Fifteen love,” Julia announced, before letting loose another sizzling serve. Her opponent backhanded the serve, but it went out of bounds.
“Thirty love,” she announced, serving it again. This time, her opponent was more prepared, and she gently lobbed it into the front corner on Julia’s side of the court before bouncing out.
“There’s no way she could have gotten that one,” Jessie remarked. “She’s playing all the way back.”
Kelsey’s eyes flashed around to the other matches. “Most of them are,” she commented.
“Thirty fifteen,” Julia announced before serving it a fourth time. Her opponent looked uncomfortable on the other side of the court, and she backhanded it; even though it remained inbounds this time, it was a predictable return, and Julia returned it where she had been standing moments before, catching her shifting her momentum in the wrong direction. She tried to backhand it, but couldn’t get her arm extended across her body in time, and it sailed by her.
“Forty fifteen,” Julia announced, before letting loose another rocket. Her opponent was on her strong side again, and Julia took a few steps in to prevent another little surprise that cost her a point earlier.
The downside to this strategy was that the ball was just starting to bounce up by the time Julia got to it. She dug it out, but it was slower than if she was able to return it normally. Her opponent took a few steps in and smashed it down on the court, prompting a flurry of fast steps and a dive. Julia extended her arms and tipped the ball over the next; it quietly bounced in a corner before bouncing out of play.
“Whew,” the dark girl exhaled, realizing she won the first game. She had been lucky to have gotten the ball in time and take advantage of the fact her opponent had come up to the net and was off balance as a result. “Time for game two.”
Jessie and Kelsey walked around, observing the other games. Jessie lingered a while at the games her friends were playing, but Kelsey had to admit they lacked the excitement that Julia’s game had.
A while later, they returned to Julia’s match. Both her and her opponent were sweating quite heavily, despite the fact the day was a bit cool. “I wonder if they’re still playing at the same intensity as they were earlier,” Kelsey remarked.
“Let’s watch and find out,” Jessie suggested.
This time, her opponent was serving. Julia stood at the edge of the court, in a slight crouch, ready to attack whatever landed in her court. The first serve attempt ended up in the net, but the next one rocketed over the top of the net and landed in the service box. Julia swung at it, delivering a fairly predictable return, then quickly shifted her weight to the center of the court so she could respond to the next attack, wherever it would be. The ball was delivered to the opposite side, and she easily backhanded it to the same location she had previously returned the ball. It caught her opponent a little off guard, but she easily responded by returning it to the opposite side. It was easier for Julia to get this one, since she didn’t have to reach across her body to execute a forehand return. She returned it to the same spot again, and this time, her opponent appeared to be expecting it.
She regained her center of balance and waited to see what her opponent was going to do. She returned it to the same side, and Julia deftly whacked it onto the opposite side, catching her opponent off guard. She desperately dashed over and swiped at the ball, but her racket angle was wrong and she lobbed it into the air. It had a high arc, and Julia ran up to the next desperately to smash it. Kelsey watched her strong powerful legs propel her to the front of the net, her shoes a blur of white with something white fluttering around her ankles. She took one more step, extending her arm to touch it, but when she took the next step, something tripped her and she went careening as the tennis racket made contact with the ball. She crashed into the supports that held the net up, and her opponent watched in shock as the ball softly bounced in bounds before dribbling its way out.
“That was some ending!” Jessie exclaimed. “There was no way in hell she could have gotten that one!”
“She’s not getting up,” Kelsey worriedly noted.
Jessie’s eyes flashed to where she had last seen Julia. She had come to rest beside the pole, rolled onto her side, and she wasn’t moving.
“Coach Banning!” they heard one of Julia’s teammates yell. “Coach Banning!” they repeated. “Come quick!”
She wasn’t sure how she got on the ground, but she was very aware her head was throbbing, and there were voices around her. She slowly opened one eye, to see Coach Banning hovering over her, very concerned.
“What happened?” she weakly mumbled.
“Don’t move,” the coach first informed her. “You ran into one of the posts headfirst and knocked yourself out.”
She saw two paramedics enter her field of view, and she could dimly hear them discuss something, but she felt rather foggy, and it sounded like she had the ocean roaring in her ears. She strained to comprehend her surroundings, but it exhausted her—nothing was making sense.
Kelsey felt her heart was stuck in her throat as she watched the scene from a distance. The girl was only out for a minute, but she looked absolutely dazed when she came to. It was even harder to watch when the paramedics came to her side with a board to immobilize her.
Jessie noted the fear in her friend’s eyes. “It’s routine, Kelsey,” she assured her. “They need to at least take her in and do a CT scan.”
The paramedics had her stabilized and they hoisted her up, leading her to the waiting ambulance and then driving out of the parking lot.
“How about we go to my house for a while,” Jessie offered. “We’ll stop by later and see how she’s doing.”
Kelsey weakly nodded. There wasn’t anything they could do about it then.
They ate dinner at Jessie’s house, but Kelsey wasn’t in the mood to eat. She picked at her food; the thought of eating made her feel sick to her stomach. She excused herself after everyone else had eaten, and she went outside to pace, unable to sit still any longer. Jessie wanted to follow her outside, but she had dishes to do.
A few minutes later, she joined her friend out in the backyard. “Hey, Slugger.”
Kelsey looked up. “Hey.” She willed herself to stay still, but it was a losing battle. “Sorry, I can’t help it,” she said, resuming her pacing.
“It’s alright,” she reassured her. “You have every reason to be beside yourself.”
“It’s nuts,” Kelsey retorted. “I shouldn’t be giving a damn about her, the way she makes me so mad! But…” She stopped, took a deep breath, and tried to figure out how to explain her feelings. “It’s not that simple with her,” she said sheepishly. “How can you be mad at someone and still care for them?”
“How many times have you blown your top at your sister?”
“I know you wouldn’t do anything to harm her, even though I know she drives you nuts at times.”
Kelsey humbly laughed. “Good point. She drives me up the wall and we used to really go at it with our fists when we were younger, but if someone gave her a bad time at school, I’d probably be the first there kicking some ass for her.”
“See?” Jessie said. “Sometimes the fact you care for someone makes anger all the more maddening.”
“Isn’t that the truth!” Kelsey exclaimed. “I wonder how long they’re going to working on her at the hospital before we can visit.”
“I have no idea,” Jessie answered. “How about we try visiting an hour before visiting hours are over.”
“It sounds good, except I have to be home by 8:30.”
“Why don’t you stay here for the night. We’ll stop by your house on the way out for you to pick up stuff.”
“Thanks, Jessie, you’re the best.”
When they got to the hospital, they found out that Julia had just been moved from the ER to a regular room, since she had to stay overnight for observation. They navigated the maze of corridors, looking for her room number, and were finally rewarded when they came across her room.
A tall man with black and silver hair sat next to her. He was dressed in a gray business suit, and when he looked up, Kelsey thought to herself that surely this man, who bore such a physical resemblance to Julia, had to be her father.
“Hi, we’re friends of Julia,” Jessie introduced themselves. “I’m Jessie and this is my friend Kelsey.”
The man smiled. “I’m Rhett. Nice to meet you.”
“How’s she doing?” Kelsey managed to say, terribly nervous in front of her crush’s father.
“She’s alright. A bit fatigued, but that’s normal for concussions.”
“So it was a concussion,” Jessie confirmed. “I hope that’s all.”
“That’s all,” he affirmed. “You can come in and sit wherever you can find room. She’ll be glad to know someone came and visited her.”
Both Jessie and Kelsey smiled.
The man turned to his daughter, and muttered, “Julia, you have visitors.”
Tired blue eyes fought their way through heavy eyelids. “Hi guys,” she softly said, her eyes fluttering back shut.
“She looks exhausted,” Kelsey noted. “Maybe we ought to come back in the morning before school.”
“She’ll probably still be here then,” Rhett said. “They won’t discharge her before noon.”
“Okay,” Kelsey said. “Tell her we’ll be by tomorrow then.”
“Will do.” The two of them started to leave, when Julia’s mother came in.
“Who were those girls?” she accused.
“Two of Julia’s friends from school,” he innocently replied.
“I don’t like them!” she hissed. “That short one especially! She’s the one who drove her home a few weeks ago, isn’t she?”
“Don’t ‘Katharine’ me! I don’t want them visiting!”
“Mother…” Julia growled, fighting through her fatigue.
“Don’t ‘mother’ me, young lady! I thought I told you not to hang
around people like that!”
“Katharine!” Rhett roared. “Enough!” He took a deep breath, then added, “You should be glad that two of her friends went to the effort to come visit. No one else has been by this evening.”
She scowled at him, then muttered, “You haven’t heard the end of this, Rhett.”
Julia let herself slip back into the welcome embrace of her fatigue. Anything had to be better than listening to her mother berate her friends.
“Julia, dear, how are you feeling?”
I’m not listening and I’m not answering!
“We escaped just in time,” Kelsey noted, hearing Julia’s parents argue in the distance. “I don’t think her mother likes me.”
“She sounds like a witch,” Jessie stated disdainfully. “Her father seems pretty nice though.”
“He does,” Kelsey agreed.
They came back in the morning before school, but when Kelsey peeked her head in, she noted that Julia’s mother was with her. I’m not about to start World War III when she’s recovering, Kelsey thought to herself, dragging Jessie away before she could draw attention to themselves.
“Why aren’t you going in?” Jessie asked partway down the corridor.
“Remember the fight we overheard last night?” Kelsey reminded her. “I think I have a good idea which parent told Julia we can’t be friends!”
“You never told me that,” Jessie commented, miffed she didn’t hear about it earlier.
“That’s why we stopped talking a few weeks ago,” Kelsey replied, hitting the button for the elevator. “She told me we couldn’t hang out together.”
“I remember that part. I just didn’t remember there being a reason for it.”
“There was.” Kelsey paused, a pained look on her face. “I don’t think I gave her enough benefit of the doubt there. Her mother sounds like a real piece of work there.”
Jessie nodded. “Yes, she does. It’s a little early to be heading to school, I thought we’d be spending more time here.”
“It won’t kill us to arrive early.”
Julia woke up a little after nine. She eyed the clock, and groggily tried to remember how she got stuck in a hospital bed. I think I hit my head or something, she vaguely recalled. And I think Kelsey and Jessie were here—or were they? I was so tired last night!
Did they say something about visiting this morning? That would be nice. She eyed the clock. They’re in school now. I wonder if they came by this morning.
She sensed she was not in the room alone, and she tilted her head to see who was beside her. Shoot. If they came by, they didn’t dare stay for long!
“How are you doing, dear?” her mother asked.
I vaguely recall being rather mad with you…but when aren’t I?
No more symptoms developed, so she was discharged a little after noon. “What would you like for lunch?” Rhett asked, her mother sitting on the passenger side.
“Sleep,” she mumbled.
Rhett arched an eyebrow in question but said nothing. “Sleep it is then.”
One month later. Week before Halloween.
She plugged in the string of lights to make sure they worked before she handed them to Justin. The work of setting up the Western Baptist Church Hell House was monotonous, giving her time to muse.
She hadn’t wanted to go back to Western Baptist Church ever since the disastrous protest a month earlier, but her mother had confronted her in private and demanded she go back to Western Baptist to “get straightened out” or she’d pull her off the tennis team. I wonder if Dad knows what happened, she wondered to herself. He was rather surprised I volunteered to return after that near brush with the law.
She couldn’t help but glare at the hapless skinny teenager on the ladder when he asked for the next set of lights. “Here,” she groused, shoving them into his outstretched hands.
Worse yet, she detected a change in him. He was polite enough at first, but he seemed to have gotten more and more possessive of her during the past month. He acts like he’s going out with me, she grumbled. I can’t talk to any of my friends without him asking me for all the details afterwards! I probably should pop him one and get this whole mess sorted out before he thinks he can take me for granted!
I better watch out. I think he is planning on asking me out. I don’t know what’s wrong with him! I haven’t encouraged him in any way! I don’t flirt with him; in fact, I’m usually snapping at him! She plugged in the next set of light bulbs, and found they weren’t working. “Oh boy, dead string. Let’s try the next one,” she muttered to herself, tossing the faulty string aside. Is he just a sucker for punishment or is he really that clueless?
“Lights,” Justin asked, absentmindedly putting his hand out for another set.
“Hold your horses,” she growled at him as she tested the next string. “Here.”
He took the string, not even bothering to look down. At least I’ve been elusive enough around campus so he’s only pestering me at brunch. If he thinks he’s going to get between Audrie and I, he’s in real trouble! Bad enough he’s taken everyone else from me. Kelsey won’t even look at me anymore.
She sighed, sticking another set of lights into the socket. She has been a big source of the problem, but not directly. No one likes the way she dresses. She saw the lights worked, and testily tossed them up on Justin’s ladder so she could work on the next set. Gee, I could have befriended Natasha. But at the rate everyone’s acting, maybe I ought to have befriended her instead. Everyone seems so much more upset that I befriended a tomboy than a slut.
She tested the last set, and saw they too were faulty. “Time to play the ‘guess which bulb is burned’ game,” she groaned. Speaking of sluts, I don’t like that little rumor going around what Cassie is doing with Luke. The hypocrisy makes me sick! She closely examined each bulb, trying to figure out which one had the burned filament. I wonder how much longer Luke was going to go out with me if I hadn’t called things off. Surely he had figured out I wasn’t going to put out!
A shiver ran down her spine when she thought about the statement more carefully. Gee, who was giving me rides to school? If I knew he was that eager to hop in the sack, I wouldn’t have ever gotten in a car with him alone!
She found the suspect bulb, and snatched a replacement. Then again, I thought he took that chastity vow. You know, the one that stated ‘no sex until marriage.’ So much for that! She pulled the bad bulb out and squeezed the new one in. I wonder how many of my peers here are living the same double standard. Blabbing they’re living the Christian life and then acting just as sinfully as the secularists! She tossed the fixed string to Justin, who was growing impatient that she wasn’t handing him light strings fast enough for his liking. She reached over and grabbed the last string, which also needed a new light bulb.
“Lights?” he demanded. She had the bad bulb out but hadn’t quite gotten around to getting the new one in.
“Hold on,” she growled.
“Gee Julia, could you be any slower?” he griped. She reacted by throwing the lights at his face.
“What in the Sam Hill is your problem?” He looked at the light string. “This thing is missing a bulb!”
“Duh,” she hissed. “What do you think I was in the middle of doing? If you would have given me one more second, the blasted thing would have been fixed!”
He threw the light string on the ground. “Fine. Fix it.” She grabbed the string of lights.
One of the other teenagers helping out with the Hell House came into the building. “Someone painted Satanic graffiti over one of our signs,” she tattled. “Where’s the paint to fix it?”
Julia walked over and handed her the light string. “I’ll take care of it. You put a new light bulb in this faulty string and hand it to Justin.”
“Okay,” she said.
Justin watched the tall, dark haired girl leave the building. The new girl couldn’t figure out what Julia was talking about, so after a few fumbling minutes, he told her, “Give it to me.” He quickly put the new bulb in and strung it up. “There, all done,” he congratulated himself as he climbed down the ladder.
His father, the Reverend Robert Kendall, was waiting for him. “How about we take a break and get some dinner?” he asked.
“That would be good,” Justin mumbled.
“Do you think Julia would like to join us?” he offered.
“I doubt it. She’s pretty intent on fixing that sign.”
The Reverend nodded. “Sweet girl she is, always working so hard. Let’s go.”
Her arms ached, but she refused to take a break. Her shoulders were burning from having them above her head for an extended period, but she figured it was good for her arms to get a workout; she surely needed that for tennis.
She couldn’t tell exactly what had been scrawled on the side of the building. Was it Satanic? Or merely spray painted gang signs? She knew nothing about gangs, but it wouldn’t have surprised her if it was a tag left by a gang eager to claim a new location. Living in the suburbs, she always assumed they were immune to stuff like this; but the dope peddlers probably found a ready market with the richer parts of the neighborhood—of course they were going to make their presence known.
So much hatred in the world, she sadly thought to herself. It reminded her of a conversation she had prior with Justin about homosexuality. He believes there is no hope for salvation for homosexuals. I told him it was awfully harsh, and through Jesus, salvation is possible for all that believe. But oh no, he had to whip out this argument that if God intended someone to be saved, they’d show the signs of being willing vessels. According to him, if someone has homosexual feelings, then they’ve been marked as one of the damned and not to waste time converting them. In fact, he suggested killing them! She shook her head. There is just no way I can believe something like that! At my home church, we believe that God can help anyone! She put her paintbrush down on top of the can, satisfied with her work.
But I suppose there is a point to be made, she sadly mused. I don’t want my friends to go to Hell. Every time she thought about the “H” word, she had images of her and Kelsey, separated forever. She wasn’t sure why the image kept popping in her head, and finally justified it to herself in that it must be a message from God that she had work to do, and that was to save Kelsey. Why couldn’t anyone else see it? Why did everyone have to fight her tooth and nail over it?
Well, I could take her to the Hell House. Maybe it might scare her enough to seek the Light. And then I won’t have to worry about us being separated after this life.
“Hey, what do you have planned for Halloween?” Jessie asked Kelsey.
The tomboy shrugged. “Not much,” she admitted. “Mom wants Shana and I out of the house, she said she’s going to close up early so no trick or treaters bother her.”
“Hey, we can do something fun then,” Jessie replied, a gleam in her brown eyes.
“What do you have in mind?” Kelsey inquired.
“I haven’t given it much thought yet,” Jessie admitted. “I’d hate to have to go to something all by myself.”
“I’m sure that can be amended,” Kelsey replied. “We’ll think of something.”
She saw a figure walk briskly across the quad, another figure close on their heels. Kelsey only saw it out of the corner of her eye, but she couldn’t help but turn her head to get a closer look. Justin was chasing after Julia, who was spitting nails at him. Interesting. I guess things went sour with Lover Boy already. Gee, that was fast.
She couldn’t help but feel infuriated every time she saw Justin. Not only did he seem so unlikely of a boyfriend for tall, dark and beautiful, but the more times she saw him, the more convinced she was that he was a complete asshole. What does she see in him? she despaired.
Julia ducked into the Student Council room, hoping Justin would get the hint that she had stuff to do, and guess what? It didn’t involve him! She swore for a second that he was going to follow her in there, but she shot him an evil look and he finally left her alone. “That boy is going to be the death of me yet!” she screamed, slamming her backpack down.
Startled eyes looked at the source of the ruckus. “Sorry,” she sheepishly apologized, taking her seat quietly.
Student Council went by peacefully, since they were working on prepping for the upcoming Halloween fair instead of voting on issues that no one could agree on. Kelsey and Jessie had chosen to work on posters, and she tagged along outside with them. “Hey guys,” she shyly greeted.
“Hey Julia,” Jessie greeted, but Kelsey didn’t bother looking up, intent on penciling in the lettering. “What’s up?”
“Not much. I have no idea how many people need to do posters, but I have a question for you guys.”
“Yeah?” Jessie asked, propping her right foot on the picnic bench.
“What are you two doing this weekend?”
“Well, we have the school fair on Saturday,” Jessie said.
“I know that. We all have to show.” She smiled. “If you’re free Friday night, my church is sponsoring a haunted house. I promise it will be a blast.”
“I can’t make it,” Jessie apologized. “Sorry.”
“Kelsey?” Julia asked. She’s mad at me. Still.
“Count me out,” she tersely replied.
Julia sighed. The extended cold shoulder was really starting to get to her. “Okay,” she relented. “I was hoping we could hang out. I wish I wasn’t so busy these days, I’ve missed hanging out with you guys.”
Kelsey stopped what she was doing. “Really,” she said flatly.
Jessie noted the cold reply. She’s out looking for her in the quad every morning, anxiously trying to get a glimpse of her, yet when she’s right in front of her, she pretends she doesn’t exist! “Hey, what are you doing for lunch?” she suggested.
“The usual,” Julia replied, “but I can easily amend that. What class do you have next?”
“English,” Jessie replied.
“How about I meet you both outside the English department then?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jessie replied.
“Great, see you then. I better see what Audrie’s up to. Catch you later!”
Kelsey waited a moment before breaking her focus from her work and watching Julia’s back as she left. “What’s going on with you two?” Jessie asked, in the opposite direction.
Kelsey let her eyes linger a moment before turning her head to face Jessie. “She’s up to something.”
“She might very well be,” Jessie admitted. “But it has been a while since we hung out.”
“Yes, it has been.” Kelsey shook a bottle of poster paint, then squirted out a bit on the makeshift palette. “Too long,” she softly added, before realizing what she said. “Man, what is up with me?” she chided herself. “I should have forgotten the whole thing ages ago!”
“Well, if that is true, then why did she just stop by?”
Kelsey pursed her lips, furiously trying to come up with a good explanation, but unable to find one. “You got me there,” she ceded. “Again.”
As promised, she was waiting outside the English department soon after the lunch bell rang. “Hey Julia,” Jessie greeted. “Kelsey should be here soon. Her class a bit farther away than yours.”
“I hope I didn’t scare her off,” Julia sadly commented. “I was hoping to talk to her.”
“I know,” Jessie said. “This is between you and I, but she’s acting angry with you because she doesn’t want you to know how badly she misses you.”
“Really?” Julia asked, her eyes glimmering with hope.
“Remember what I said, she’d kill me if I said anything. Not that I promised, I figured it out myself.”
Julia’s eyes quickly scanned the crowd. “Dang,” she grumbled. “I’m about to be spotted. How about we meet behind the theater department? We won’t be found there.”
“I’ll meet you there,” Jessie replied, before Julia ran off. That’s not how you get to the theater department, she mused to herself, confused when Julia took off in the opposite direction.
A few minutes later, Kelsey spotted her. “Hey Jessie. I thought Julia was going to meet us here.”
“She said she’d meet us behind the theater department,” Jessie informed her.
“Maybe she doesn’t want to be seen in public with me,” Kelsey dejectedly muttered.
Nothing can be easy with that girl, can it? Jessie thought to herself, as they started walking towards the spot Julia promised to meet them at.
A few minutes later, they arrived. Julia was already sitting on the back steps. “Hey,” she greeted. “Sorry about the change of venue, but the last thing I wanted was Justin to tag along and spoil our lunch.”
That’s what she meant by ‘I can’t be spotted,’ Jessie thought to herself. “Whenever I see the two of you, you don’t look too happy,” Jessie commented, sitting beside her.
“If I had my choice, it wouldn’t be the two of us!” she cried. “He won’t leave me alone!”
Oh oh, Kelsey thought as she heard alarm bells ring in her head. “Have you told him you don’t want to see him anymore?”
Julia pondered the point. “I certainly don’t go out of my way to be nice to him,” she said, “but I don’t think I’ve told him directly.”
“You might want to tell him flat out,” Jessie told her. “Boys can be absolutely clueless.”
“And you might want to talk to a teacher or a counselor,” Kelsey added.
“Abusive boyfriends are no laughing matter.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Julia informed them.
Julia frowned. “But he sure acts like it,” she quietly added. She sat there for a moment, then fearfully cried, “I got to put a stop to this before my mom pressures me into dating him!”
Jessie and Kelsey looked at each other worriedly. Why do I get the feeling this isn’t the first time her mother has pressured her into something she doesn’t want to do? Kelsey asked herself. The memory of the Monday after the movie she watched with Julia floated into her mind. I forgot about that. When she told me we had to stop hanging out, she was sad, like she really didn’t want to do it.
The last sentence she uttered broke the dam she had erected around the situation, and Julia found herself unable to hold back any longer. The tears started to gush out; embarrassed, she bent over, leaning into her arms to hide her face.
“Hey, hey, shh,” Jessie said, rubbing her back. Kelsey sat on the other side of her and started to do the same.
After a few minutes, she was able to compose herself. “Some lunch, huh?” she joked. “I swear, every time I’m around you guys, I end up crying. Sorry to be such lousy company.”
“You’re not lousy company,” Kelsey comforted her. “You obviously have a lot on your mind.”
Julia nodded. “You could say that.”
“Do you have anyone you can talk to?” Kelsey asked. “It’s not good to bottle it up.”
“That’s the problem,” Julia answered. “I can’t.”
“Why us and not them?” Jessie asked. “Audrie seems to be a nice girl. You talk to each other in class, so I’m assuming you’re still friends.”
“We’re still friends, and I’m usually hiding with her when Justin isn’t following my footsteps.” She regarded her two friends, then added, “But they all have certain expectations of me. You guys don’t.”
“Expectations,” Julia repeated. “It’s part and parcel of being part of the church crowd. You dress modestly. You dress femininely. You don’t date until you’re sixteen, but oh boy, once you turn sixteen, you better date or everyone is going to think something is wrong with you! And if you have a problem with it, you better pretend otherwise! Else they will think something is wrong with you, and you’ll get reported.”
“These things have a way of making their way back to parents and pastors,” she continued. “Mother takes her responsibilities very seriously.”
“What about your father?” Kelsey asked. “He seemed to be really nice.”
“He is,” Julia agreed. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.” She dabbed her cheek with her shirtsleeve. “But she’s the one who rules the roost.”
She usually had about ten minutes to spare after classes were over before she had to go to the locker room and change into her tennis clothes. She had wanted to discuss a certain issue with Audrie during lunch, but when she invited Jessie and Kelsey to eat with her, plans got a little scattered, so she had to chase down her friend before tennis practice. Audrie was a part of the yearbook staff, so she quietly awaited her outside the classroom door.
Audrie was a little surprised to see her there. “Hey Julia.”
“Hey,” she greeted back. “Sorry I wasn’t there for lunch. I tried your suggestion though.”
“About the Hell House? How’d that go?” Audrie asked, interested.
Julia shrugged. “It went as well as I thought it would,” she quietly replied. “They refused.”
Audrie nodded. “It’s not an easy thing, is it?”
Julia chuckled lightly. “Heck no! It’s awkward!” She composed herself, then added, “I have no idea what to do next.”
“You could ask Pastor Mark, Pastor Jim or even that Reverend at that church you’ve been going to recently.”
“Um, I don’t think I can,” Julia doubted.
Audrie looked at her quizzically. “They’re ministers. They should be well versed about gathering in the flock. How could they not?”
“Normally, they are,” she said. “But they don’t consider one of them to be part of the flock.”
“For what reason?”
“For being Jewish or being gay, take your pick,” Julia retorted.
“Kelsey’s Jewish?” Audrie exclaimed. “I would never have figured.”
“No, Jessie. I don’t think she knows I know it, but she was absent on Yom Kippur, and that girl doesn’t ever miss school.”
“Huh,” Audrie muttered. “That’s a definite double whammy. You sure none of them could help?”
“Reverend Kendall is definitely out. Justin’s been saying the nastiest things about gay people, and I bet the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You know what he told me?” She paused, for dramatic effect. “He told me they should be shot!”
“No wonder you can’t stand him.”
“I know he wants to go out with me, but he just blew whatever chance he had
out of the water with that one. If I wanted to be around someone intolerant like
that, I would have stayed with Luke!”
“I think you and Luke had very, uh, different interpretations of life,” she chuckled.
“You think that rumor is true?” Julia asked, with disgust. “Never mind, I know better than to stoop down to gossiping.”
Audrie looked at her guiltily. “It doesn’t help Cassie confirmed it.”
“Ewww!” Julia gagged. “The whole thing makes me so mad! Not that I care about the fact they’re together but—but—”
“The hypocrisy. I know,” Audrie said. “It’s tough to be on the straight and narrow. It’s tough enough in the secular world, but when it bleeds into the church world, you really have a battle.”
“Growing up, I always thought that church would be a safe haven from these
worldly influence,” Julia quietly confessed. “I thought none of us would
ever end up like this.” She let out a deep sigh. “I guess it makes
sense though. Everyone expects us to be perfect, and they get mad at us for even
the slightest infraction, so we might as well blow it big time, right?”
“Keep the faith,” Audrie urged her. “I know it’s tough. A lot of people you thought were steadfast Christian soldiers are dropping by the wayside, succumbing to temptation. There are a lot of times I wish I could just give into the temptation too. But who are we really behaving for? That’s the question we must ask ourselves. Is it for the church, or is it for Christ?” She paused, for both of them to reflect on it. “I have to remind myself every day who I’m really doing this for. I’m doing this for Christ. Not the church.”
“I agree with you completely,” Julia said. “A lot of people at my church have told me I’m nuts for doing this. My mom has made it clear that even if Kelsey converts, she’s not welcome at our church, because they don’t welcome her kind. It’s a Catch-22, really. Once she finds Jesus, that other part should be mute. I know the Holy Spirit will help her resist the temptations.”
Audrie looked at her a little skeptically, but said nothing. “If it consoles you any, Julia, I think you’re really noble for trying to do the right thing.”
“Thanks, Audrie.” She bit her lip to not let out the emotions the conversation stirred. The lack of support she was getting about telling the Good News to Kelsey and Jessie was really wearing down on her. “But I’m at a standstill. I still don’t know who to talk to about the next step.”
“I’m not sure either, but I can ask around this weekend. I’ll see what I can find.”
“Thanks, Audrie,” she said, hugging her friend. “You’re the best.”
It had been a while since she saw the nightmare last, but it came back that night, with a vengeance.
She found herself peering over the ledge, into the chasm, where the red cloud was swirling again. Hearing cries, she leaned over further, hoping to see the hand that she had seen so many times before, but was unable to see it.
"Where are you?" she cried into the chasm.
"I'm down here," the voice wailed. "Hurry, there's not much time left to save me!"
The banshee wail of cats fighting woke her up, and she shakily tried to figure out what she was trembling. Kelsey, she told herself. I don't have much time. I must get The Gospel to her, now!
Audrie spotted Julia in the library the next morning. “Hey,” Julia greeted.
“Hey,” she replied. “I got some information for you.” She set her backpack on the table, unzipped it, and got out a piece of paper. “Someone suggested you talk to Pastor Jennings over at Zion Baptist. Apparently he has experience reaching out to stigmatized groups.”
Julia’s face lit up with a smile. “Thank you so much.”
Audrie returned the smile. “No problem.”
Julia decided the best way to get Kelsey to let her guard down was to eat lunch with them again. I don’t have much time, but if I press again today, I’m only going to drive her further away. I got to give her reason to trust me. Why can’t I do normal missionary work like everyone else? Preaching to strangers whom I don’t know? People whose opinion I don’t care about. People whose fate I’m not personally involved in. She listened to Jessie and Kelsey banter between themselves as she took another bite of her roast-turkey-on-wheat sandwich. It also doesn’t help that the last time I tried to help someone see the light, I lost her as a friend.
She swallowed her bite, then grabbed a carrot stick to crunch. But the stakes are too high. Either I jeopardize our friendship, or I jeopardize her soul. The latter is unforgivable!
“Hey, Julia, why so quiet?” Jessie asked, drawing her out of her thoughts.
“Nothing much, just thinking. We’re almost done with the preparations for
the Halloween Fair, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, we are,” Kelsey replied. “It’s been nice to have a quiet week in Student Council.”
“Don’t count on it lasting,” Julia warned. “I hear Cassie is on the warpath again.”
“There’s a surprise,” Kelsey laughed. “I suppose the nature of the holiday is a reason to take offense.”
Julia bit her tongue, to avoid saying what she truly thought of Halloween. Save this argument for another day! “Maybe, but we celebrate it in style. You sure you don’t want to come to the Hell House this weekend?”
“No,” Kelsey reiterated.
“We also hold a Harvest Fair on Halloween proper,” Julia offered. “They’re laid back affairs.”
Kelsey shook her head again. “No.”
I tried. Back off. “Okay.” I bet she wouldn’t mind all the food they have there. I’ve never seen a girl eat so much!
Jessie eyed the two of them. Both of them were looking at each other intensely, as if they were waiting for the other one to back down. Julia’s words seemed to have indicated she had given up, but her looks betrayed what she said. Got to end this little tangent now. I don’t know what’s gotten into Julia! We told her no yesterday. “Hey, Julia, how’s tennis going?”
The tall, dark haired girl looked relieved. “Quite well. This week is our final week of the regular season, and then we have playoffs.”
“Playoffs? Congratulations,” Jessie said.
“Thanks,” Julia replied, blushing. “How’s volleyball going?”
“Two more weeks of the regular season, and then playoffs. I’m not so sure we’re going to make it though.”
“How could that happen? Your team was so hot at the beginning of the year!”
“Injuries,” Jessie said. “Our outside hitter broke her leg and one of our middle blockers pulled a hamstring. It’s just too much for a team to overcome.”
“That stinks,” Julia said. That’s the downside of team sports—if one member falls, you all fall. There are only two of us on the tennis team going to the playoffs—Lindsay and I. Ugh. Of all people to have to travel long distances with, why her? “Sorry to hear that.”
“Nothing’s ever a sure thing when you’re a team.” She glanced at Kelsey. “We should have more depth on our soccer team, thankfully. You are coming, right Kelsey?”
“I’ll try,” she said. “But Coach has enough midfielders and there’s no way I could possibly oust Angie from her goalie position.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” Jessie confided. “I’ve heard that she’s been slacking on her schoolwork this year.”
“I just have a hard time imagining I’m going to make it to varsity level. You know how devastating it was to be held back while everyone else moved up last year?”
“She was wanting to make sure you got playing time in,” Jessie assured her. “She hasn’t forgotten you.”
“I hope not,” Kelsey said quietly.
The lunch bell rang, bringing an abrupt halt to their conversation. “What are you doing after practice?” Jessie asked Julia.
“I got church stuff tonight,” Julia said regretfully. “See you at lunch tomorrow?” she hopefully asked.
“Of course,” Jessie said. “Kelsey?”
“I’ll be here.”
“See you then. Take care.”
“Thanks, and you too.”
“Pastor Jennings?” a quiet voice asked, a little unsure of herself.
The balding, gray haired pastor looked up. “Hi, how may I help you?” he asked, unsure of the tall girl who stood before him; she wasn’t a member of his congregation.
“I’m Julia, I spoke with you over the phone this morning,” she introduced herself.
His eyes softened as he recognized her voice from the phone call earlier that day. “Yes! Hello Julia, nice to meet you.” He extended his hand, and she shook it.
“Nice to meet you too.”
He leaned back in his seat. “How can I help you? I recall you said something about needing advice on how to spread the gospel to reluctant listeners, but you didn’t provide specifics on the phone. Did you have someone in mind?”
She quietly nodded. “Yes.” She felt a little nervous. Would he judge her like all the others had? Then again, her friend Audrie recommended him, and she was not the judging type. “One of my friends recommended I speak to you since it’s a little complicated of a situation.” She swallowed, then continued, “The friend I want to spread to the gospel to is a member of a group that traditionally is overlooked by ministries.”
He nodded. “That can be tough,” he admitted. “What kind of group? I have dealt with many different types of people in my twenty-eight years of ministry.”
Julia felt the room was closing in on her. Did she dare admit to whom she wished to spread the word? After all, everyone else thought she was nuts for thinking it was possible… “Uh…she’s gay.”
The pastor gently smiled. “That is a tough one. You’re right; they usually are overlooked, if not outright shunned by most evangelists. But through God, all things are possible, and not even gay people are beyond the bounds of God’s love and salvation.”
I like this guy, she decided, liking the fact he hadn’t told her they were hopelessly doomed to burning in hell like everyone else had told her. “How can I get her to see the light?”
“There are no guarantees, Julia. Ultimately, it is her choice whether or not she accepts Christ in her heart. But the biggest thing you can do is to continue to be her friend. She’s used to everyone pushing her away. In many cases, generous Christians like you are often lifelines, one of the few stable things in their lives. Love her like Christ loved mankind; that is the most powerful, and often most convincing demonstration of the power of God’s love.”
“That sounds like it can take a long time, and schedules easily get disrupted. I’m afraid I may not have much time. What can I do, Pastor?”
He leaned forward and opened one of his desk drawers. “Here’s some stuff that might help.” He pulled out a few tracts and some booklets. “These are good for handing out to people, they lay out the reasons why it is important to accept Jesus as their savior. And these booklets have good advice on how to minister to the unsaved. It also has good advice on how to avoid temptation, which is always a risk when mingling with the unsaved.”
Julia opened the booklet. “Maybe I can convince my mom that I haven’t lost my mind,” she gently chuckled. “I’m pretty convinced it’s going to be harder for her to support me in doing this than getting her and her friend to accept the Good News.”
Pastor Jennings leaned back in his chair. “She is probably just concerned that you’re in close quarters with the unsaved. I’m willing to talk to her, but you need to continue talking to me as you work on this. You need to maintain close counsel with your church when you do missionary work. How many times have you seen missionaries work in pairs? Temptations one might succumb to on ones own are harder to fall for when working with a fellow Christian. If possible, you might want to enlist the help of your friend who referred you to me, if possible.”
Julia nodded. “I understand this,” she solemnly stated.
The pastor nodded. “Do you have any other questions, Julia?”
“Not now,” she said, “but I probably will as I continue to work on this.” She reached towards the business cards on his desk. “May I take one?”
“Please do, Julia, and please keep in contact with me. I’d love to hear how it goes, and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.”
“Thank you very much, Pastor Jennings,” she said, getting up.
“Remember that this may take time and patience. And there is always the possibility she may not accept. We all have free will, and if she chooses not to accept Christ, do not take it as a failure on your part.”
“Thank you. I will remember that.”
Zion Baptist was only a few blocks from Western Baptist, so Julia walked over there afterwards; her father was going to pick her up at eight, so she had about an hour and a half to work on the Hell House. They were working on constructing sets, propping up pieces of plywood to divide the spacious main room into a twisting and turning maze-like corridor, and then painting them. Julia found that the time went really fast with a hammer in her hand, and she reluctantly tore herself away from the project at five until eight to go meet her father in the parking lot.
“Hi Dad,” she greeted as she climbed in the car, slinging her backpack into the back seat.
“Hi Julia,” Rhett greeted her back. She shut the door, and he started to pull out of the parking lot. “Julia, I need to talk to you about something,” he gravely said.
Julia felt her limbs go rigid. What did I do? I wonder if I did something to make Mom mad and Dad’s warning me, or is he agreeing with her and delivering the bad news. Maybe he caught wind that I went to talk to Pastor Jennings instead of Pastor Mark or Jim, or maybe he found out that I’m trying to deliver the Good News to Kelsey and Jessie and he thinks I’m nuts along with everyone else. Or maybe he’s heard I spend too much hanging out with Kelsey—would he approve of such a thing?
“Oh, sorry, long day,” she fibbed, not wanting to let him know she was worried he was going to figure out what she had been up to lately.
“I heard some unsavory rumors about Western Baptist, and I want you to watch out.”
Which answer is right? None of the above. “What kind of stuff?” she asked, unaware there was anything going on that was unchristian.
“You know they’re a charismatic church, right?”
“I didn’t know that.” Julia paused, then asked, “What is a charismatic church?”
“To sum it up, they believe that the Holy Spirit bestows gifts upon the saved. Gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophecy.”
“That’s a problem?” She scratched her head. “Isn’t that mentioned in Acts?”
“Yes, you’re right, it is mentioned in Acts. But most churches nowadays believe that God doesn’t send these gifts down to the saved like He did in the first days of the Church. Charismatics are renegade in believing that God still sends these gifts to earth.”
“Why wouldn’t God be sending these gifts down to earth still?”
“I honestly don’t know why He stopped; it is simply a collective answer that at some point, between the founding of the church and now, He stopped doing so.”
“So these people are unorthodox in believing that God still sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit down. What’s the harm?”
“Dear,” he gravely warned, “Possession is not something only the Holy Spirit does. Satan and his demons are masters of possession. I am very concerned that when people speak in these tongues and prophesize, the voice they believe comes from God is coming from the Devil instead. Other people believe them, and too become targets of the Devil.”
He noticed his daughter sat there quietly for a while, and he glanced over when he came to a stoplight. “Julia?”
“Sorry,” she apologized. “I just never thought about it like that.”
“Wolf in sheep’s clothing. They’re not easy to recognize. They lie in wait, pretending to be a part of the flock, and at your weakest moment, they strike. I just want you to be careful.”
“Thank you for looking out for me, Dad.” The light turned green, and the car proceeded to pass through the intersection. “To be honest, I have felt funny vibes from this church since the night of the protest. I promised I would help them with the House, but I don’t want to go back.”
“Why did you go back?” he asked, curious.
“Don’t tell Mom I told you,” she quietly revealed, “but she pressured me to go back.”
Rhett’s face was still, and Julia trembled. What was he thinking? “You don’t have to go back. And if you change your mind about the House, I will stand by you.”
“It’s almost finished, and we’re mostly just working,” she assured him. “I’d hate to go to all that effort to put it up and then not see the final product. Plus, the fun stuff starts tomorrow. We have the rooms set up; all we have to do is drag out props and decorate the rooms.”
Rhett nodded. It seemed a bit bizarre to him that a church would set up a haunted house, but Julia had explained earlier that it was designed to show why people needed to come to Jesus—horrors like those in the Hell House were what awaited the unrepentant. “Are any of your friends coming to see the exhibit?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Julia replied. “I’m pretty sure Luke and Cassie want to see the gory spectacle, but Audrie’s not into that stuff, I’m pretty sure she’ll take a pass.”
“What about the two girls I saw when you were in the hospital?”
“I asked, but they declined.”
“It might be a little overwhelming for some people,” Rhett suggested.
She shook her head. “They’re the ones who need to be there the most.” The words were out before she realized it. Shi—shoot! I didn’t meant to blurt that out! She pursed her lips, trying to act calmly. If I don’t get upset over what I just leaked, maybe he won’t figure out that I’ve been doing something Mother has expressed obvious disapproval in.
“Be careful around the unsaved,” Rhett calmly instructed. “It can be a real let down when you realize they’re not going to change.”
Is he doubting me, or speaking from experience? “Dad?” she timidly asked. “Has that ever happened to you?” Please don’t tell me he grew up in the same vacuum Mom did!
“It has,” he admitted.
“Is it ever worth it?”
He gently pressed the brakes to slow down the car so they could safely turn onto the quiet residential streets off Geary. “Yes. People can surprise you sometimes.”
Julia spent the last hour before bedtime catching up on her email. It bothered her how slow her connection was, but she figured a 28K modem was better than no internet access at all. For that matter, I shouldn’t take my computer for granted either, she chuckled to herself, remembering the night her mother seized it over a month prior.
She saw that the only mail to hit her inbox was from the email list she was on, and she had installed a filter so all those emails would go into their own folder. Delete. She sent them all to the trash, clearing up more storage space on her account. I should just unsubscribe, she told herself; the list was unbearable after the nasty flame war that spanned the weekend she was at the Student Council retreat. The drama used to be fun, and it used to be a good place to ask questions, but now I’m not so sure I can safely ask a question without getting told I’m going to burn in Hell for it.
This is what Audrie meant when she said “keep the faith.” It’s hard not to feel angry and skeptical about the whole thing. The page reloaded, to show the folder was empty. Now what? I’m not ready to sleep yet. She instinctively opened up a web browser. I could try looking up strategies on converting people. Now that’s a good idea!
She had gotten her query results returned when she heard muffled voices downstairs. Angry muffled voices. Am I hearing what I think I’m hearing? she wondered. Nah, she denied, and opened up the first resulting link. Hmm, this page suggests that a person who is a professed homosexual before being saved can show themselves to attained a state of grace through celibacy instead of having to hump the opposite sex. The angry voices continued downstairs. I wonder if I could claim celibacy to weasel out of dealing with boys. The thought made her grin, and she idly toyed with the idea for a few moments before she noticed the voices were getting louder. I can’t deny it anymore. I think my parents are actually having a fight! She felt a little sick at the revelation. They never fight!
What could possibly provoke a fight? She looked at her closed door. I could go use the bathroom; but do I really want to hear this? Curiosity got the better of her, and she left to use the bathroom.
“What’s wrong with Western Baptist?” her mother demanded.
“They’re charismatics!” Rhett shouted. “You don’t know what’s possessing them to speak and faint in the middle of a church service!”
“The Holy Spirit, Rhett!” Mother spat. “Or do you think that’s just a fairy tale, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny?”
“That’s not funny, Katharine,” he retorted. “And I don’t like you mocking my faith.”
“I think the Holy Spirit is in desperate need around here,” Mother emphatically stated. “Julia certainly needs it, and the more you fight me, the more convinced I am you need it too!”
Julia shut the bathroom door, but she could still clearly hear the argument through the hollow door and off the tile floors.
“The Holy Spirit moves through our church too,” Rhett calmly argued. “I don’t see why we have to go elsewhere to get something we already have.”
“If First Baptist was so good, we wouldn’t be losing Julia right now!” she hissed.
Boy, she seems awfully convinced I’ve lost the way, Julia worried. I think I’ve heard enough, this whole thing is making me sick! She left, and quietly returned to her room. Thank goodness my door is solid enough to muffle the words. She turned off the lights and said a prayer, praying that indeed, the Holy Spirit was still with her and that if she strayed, Jesus would come show her how to find her way back.
She stared into the chasm below; in it, she saw a blurred figure. The victim, she realized, and she grabbed onto her hands. “How do you always manage to find yourself in this pit night after night?” Julia asked.
“Because you haven’t told me about The Word,” the victim replied. “Tell it to me before I fall; you can’t hold onto me forever.” In the distance, she heard a beeping sound. “I’m going…” her final words were as she disappeared into the chasm below.
Her alarm began sounding; Julia angrily slapped the snooze button to quiet it. I always wake up before the dang alarm! she grouched to herself, jumpy. She sat up and stretched. I think the dream was pretty obvious. First, the Holy Spirit still speaks to me, and second, I need to tell them today. She thought about Jessie and Kelsey. Why must I do something difficult when I’m already upset? She threw her legs over the side of the bed and willed her muscles to let her stand. She stretched again, this time using all the muscles in her body. I’m not going to be at peace until I do it, so I might as well do it.
Audrie noted her friend’s nervousness when she walked into the library that morning. “Hey,” she greeted Julia. “How’d things with Pastor Jennings go?”
Julia plastered a small smile on her face on her face. “It actually went very well,” she told her. “He had some good advice.” She held up the two booklets she got from him. “He suggested using these.”
Audrie thumbed through them. “Pretty run of the mill stuff, but sound in basis,” she mumbled to herself as she glanced at it. “You’re thinking about doing it today, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Julia nervously revealed. “I’m not going to sleep well until I do it.”
Audrie reached out and grabbed one of her hands. “I wish you the best of luck.” She gave her a quick squeeze and then let go. “And remember, if she doesn’t accept, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve done what you can, and sometimes it takes a while to sink in.”
Julia sat on the back steps of the theater department at lunchtime, nervously awaiting Kelsey. Jessie hadn’t shown that day, which would mean she would have an audience of only one. This could go either way, she fretted. At least I got confirmation during Student Council she’d still meet me here. Jessie does almost all the talking for them.
She saw the familiar figure in the distance, and she felt her heart race. Have faith, Julia, she reminded herself, feeling her stomach clench at the thought that Kelsey might never want to speak to her again after she delivered her spiel.
“Hey,” Kelsey said, sitting beside her. “Glad you could make it.”
“Me too,” Julia replied. I think it might have been easier to have Jessie here. I feel a lot more nervous around her alone. She inched closer to Kelsey. “Cold day,” she mumbled.
“Yeah, it is,” Kelsey agreed, getting out the sandwich and bag of pretzels she had brought for lunch. “Want one?” she asked, holding out the bag of pretzels.
“No thanks,” Julia declined.
“You sure?” Kelsey questioned. “They’re lowfat…”
Julia grinned. “Alright, I wouldn’t mind a few.” She pinched a couple out of the bag. “Thanks.”
“What did you bring?” Kelsey asked, peering over.
“Sandwich,” Julia replied. “Roast beef and swiss on rye.”
“Hmm, that sounds good,” Kelsey murmured, opening her sandwich. “Ham and processed cheese slice. At least it’s not bologna today.”
“Your mom packs your lunch?”
“Yeah,” Kelsey admitted. “The kitchen is her domain; she guards it jealously.”
Julia softly chuckled, remembering what Jessie had told her about the kitchen knife incident. “I bet.”
Kelsey felt Julia inch even closer, lightly pressing against her along her arm and shoulder. It felt achingly familiar. Gods, I have missed this, she mused to herself, feeling the warmth radiate from her side. She felt the urge to wrap her arm around Julia’s waist, but she caught the thought in time and disciplined herself. Behave yourself, Kelsey!
Julia felt a little tingle when she pressed her arm against Kelsey’s. I’ve missed this, she mused to herself. But this is making it all the harder to do what I have to do. Dear God, please give the strength to do what I must. She means too much to me to let her burn in Hell.
She desperately wanted to grab Kelsey’s hand for reassurance, but she knew it was probably the last thing Kelsey would want her to do if she decided to take offense at her message. Remember the Mormon friend you had who tried to convert you? You were ready to take off her head by the end of the spiel!
No wonder this is so hard! she then realized, which prompted her stomach to clench, making her gasp.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Kelsey asked, noting the sharp intake of air.
It’s now or never, Julia, her inner voice warned. Thank goodness for the tracts Pastor Jennings gave me, because I don’t think I can do the speech! “Hey, I got something for you.”
Kelsey looked at her quizzically as she dug through her backpack. Gee, her hands are sure trembling. I wonder what’s going on.
Julia finally found the tract. “Here,” she said, handing it to her.
Kelsey took the little booklet in her hand. God’s Plan for Mankind? What is this, some bible tract? She stared at it a little harder. It is! I should have seen this coming! She didn’t want to eat lunch with me for company’s sake; she just wanted to convert me! Are we even friends at all or is this just a ruse too? She bit her lip hard, frowning. Watch your temper, she reminded herself. She turned to look at Julia, whose reaction was a mix of fear and hopefulness. And just what are you hoping for? She looked at the tract again, and felt nauseous. “Uh, I got to go, later,” she mumbled, getting up and leaving, willing herself to calmly walk away and not run like she desired to.
I should have seen this coming! she berated herself as she walked towards the crowded quad.
"Hey, Kelsey, where's Jessie?" Natasha asked.
"She's home sick."
Natasha looked at her skeptically for a moment, then remembered. "Oh yeah," she sheepishly recalled. "Want to hang out? No point in you wandering campus all alone."
Not a bad idea; maybe hearing Natasha's voice will drown out that conversation I had with Julia. "Yeah, I'll walk around with you guys." She eyed Natasha's companion; she was another goth girl, but in many ways, she was unlike Natasha. For starters, Natasha was very full figured, with ample breasts, wide hips, and a solid waist; this girl was thin and had a boyish figure. She had her hair cut to above the shoulders, with full bangs, and it was dyed black.
"This is Kacie," Natasha introduced her friend. "She's the one I ran into in Chemistry."
Ah, yes, I recall that conversation, Kelsey remembered. She extended her hand. "I'm Kelsey. Nice to meet you."
"So, where are you coming from?" Natasha asked, eyeing the direction she had come from.
"Theater department," Kelsey answered.
Natasha looked confused. "You don't have theater as a class...do you?"
"No, no, just meeting a friend there for lunch."
"And who is this friend?" Natasha said in a suggestive voice, winking at her.
"It's where Julia's been hiding out," Kelsey revealed.
Natasha grinned. "So that's where she's disappeared to," she commented. "Looks funny to look at the old table and see only Luke and Cassie there." She turned her head to stare in that direction, where Luke and Cassie were making out. "I don't think Julia would approve of what's on the menu though," she chuckled, Kelsey joining her when she caught onto the joke. "What's that in your hand?"
Kelsey opened her hand, to reveal she was still clutching what Julia had given her. Her good humor immediately vanished. "Lunch was going well until she handed me this!" She waved the booklet around.
"What is it?"
Kacie leaned over to look at it. "It's a Bible tract," she warily answered, then looking up to stare at Kelsey. "You're not some kind of Bible nut, are you?"
"Fuck no!" Kelsey blurted. "Do I look like the type they want desecrating the church grounds?" she spat.
Kacie eyed her from head to toe. "I'd hope not," she said, with a knowing grin and a wink.
"How could I be so dumb?" Kelsey continued to rant. "She didn't ask us to hang out with her for old time's sake; she wanted to convert me!"
"I think you ought to go back and try a little converting of your own," Natasha suggested. "I think she's a bit more receptive to your gospel."
"That's not funny," Kelsey snapped.
"Hey, hey, sorry," Natasha apologized, putting her hands up. "She's a stubborn one, isn't she?"
Kelsey snorted. "That, she is."
The lunch bell rang, announcing it was time to go back to class. Kelsey departed immediately, while Natasha and Kacie lingered a little longer.
"Where have you been hiding her?" Kacie asked.
"I haven't been hiding her," Natasha replied. "She hangs out with Jessie usually. It's been a bit tricky to find either of them lately, though."
"I wouldn't mind hearing her gospel," Kacie chuckled, watching the tomboy disappear into the crowd.
"You can try," Natasha said cautiously, "but I don't think she sees any other woman besides that fundie who gave her that bible tract."
"Heavens, the pond isn't that dry!" Kacie cried.
Julia sat there, watching Kelsey walk away. Blew that one, didn’t I? She sat there stunned for a few minutes. It’s for the greater good, Julia. You gave her a chance. It’s out of your hands now. And if she decides to hate you for it, it’s out of your hands too.
But the self-assurance didn’t make her feel any better. She missed hearing the bell, and knew she was in trouble when she saw the next class start to gather around the door. Shoot, I’m going to be late!
She dashed inside the back door of her fifth period class just as the tardy bell rang.
Julia was surprised to see her mom's car waiting for her in the parking lot after tennis practice. "Hi Mom," she said. "Where's Dad?"
"He had a business meeting to attend," she replied. She got in the car and buckled up. "And I have a few things to straighten out with you, young lady," she announced as she pulled out of the parking lot.
I'm trapped, Julia realized, horrified.
Her mother continued. "I hear you've been hanging out with heathens. I told you not to."
"Who said I've been hanging out with heathens?"
"Poor Justin," her mother sighed. "You've left him high and dry at lunchtime. Repeatedly."
"I don't like him," she stated, clenching her jaw.
"And why not, dear?"
"He's a jerk."
"That can't be true," her mother dismissed. "He's a minister's son!"
"That doesn't make him immune from being unpleasant to be around," Julia countered. "Oftentimes pastors' kids are the worst."
Her mother gave her a sharp look. "That's not true. Justin is a very nice boy. I think you two would make a nice couple. Reverend Kendall tells me he wants to follow in his father's footsteps. Being a minister's wife is a very noble position of service."
She's planning my wedding—that—that—that witch!
"He's going to ask you out. And you are not going to say no, or I will ban you from playing tennis. Do you understand?"
Can I slit my wrists now? Julia sighed.
The next morning, Audrie found Julia in the library. "Hey, what's wrong?" she asked, seeing her friend's distress. "Things didn't work out, did they?"
"She left without a word," Julia admitted. "And my mom told me she's going to make me date Justin."
"She can't do that," Audrie dismissed.
"Oh yes she can," Julia challenged. "She said she'd ground me otherwise. Make me quit tennis."
"Is she nuts? Playoffs start next week!"
"No, she's evil. She knows how much I want this."
Audrie frowned. "How bad is this Justin guy?"
"You've seen him stalk me on campus," Julia replied. "This is like my worst nightmare!"
Audrie looked worried. "Did you tell her that he's a psychopath?"
"She told me I was full of shit—excuse me, I mean manure. Apparently minister's sons are perfect little angels."
Audrie snorted. "She's deluded! They're usually the worst!"
"That's what I told her but she ignored me." Julia looked down on her hands. "I guess I better tell Coach Banning I'm going to have to quit. I don't think I can do this."
Audrie's eyes widened. "Julia, there has to be a way around this! You've fought too hard to get to your position!"
"All the other schools can rejoice in the fact there will be no more competition," Julia weakly said. "It's only two weeks, it's not a big deal."
"Julia, don't talk like that," Audrie scolded her. "We will find a way around this."
"You don't know my mother." She flicked her wrist, to see what time it was.
"Julia?" Audrie softly asked, gently taking her left wrist, turning it and pushing her watch back. Julia jerked her wrist out of Audrie's hand.
"Don't," she coldly said, picking up her backpack and leaving.
Audrie watched her leave. She wouldn't be doing it somewhere so visible if she wasn't crying out for help. She packed up her bags and left, determined.
Lunchtime. Julia wasn’t sure why she automatically gravitated to the back steps of the theater department, especially after yesterday’s encounter. You think she’s going to forgive you? she mocked herself. You know she’s not coming back, and when the reality hits, you’re going to really feel bad. She fished out her sandwich and looked at it with disgust. Maybe I need a reality check. Kelsey hates me, Jessie probably does by now, since I’m sure she’s told her what a horrible mean bitch I am, Audrie’s probably mad at me for snapping at her this morning and at brunch, my mom is forcing me to choose between tennis and staying single, and when my parents disagree, she usually ends up getting her way anyway. She flung the sandwich against the side of the building. The world is officially against me. She eyed the fence that kept her locked in during school hours. That wouldn’t be too difficult to scale. I don’t know why behaving matters anymore!
She looked longingly at the fence. Escape. She felt her pulse quicken. There is no need to be here anymore. But as she worked the logistics of avoiding the barbed wire on top, she wondered what she would do after jumping the fence. Roadkill would teach them a lesson. She eyed the traffic passing by. I’m not sure they’re going fast enough to guarantee a clean hit though, and I’d hate to have to explain myself in the hospital.
“Julia?” a dismembered voice echoed in her ears. “Julia, are you alright?”
Jessie stepped in front of her line of sight. “Julia?”
Slowly, she blinked, trying to focus on the tall volleyball player that stood between her and the fence. “You’ve come to kill me,” she prayed. “Please make it quick.”
Jessie looked at her, puzzled. “Why would I kill you?”
“Didn’t Kelsey tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Jessie asked innocently.
“About what a horrible person I am?” Julia spat. “I wasn’t trying to hurt her!” she cried.
“Whoa, whoa, back the truck up! Why would she think that?”
“I gave her a booklet,” she quietly admitted.
“A booklet? Why would it upset her?”
“It did. I only wanted to share with her something important to me.” She sighed, feeling her face flushed with emotion. “I know everyone thinks I’m nuts for believing in Jesus!”
Oh. She tried to convert her. Could have seen that coming from a mile away. “It couldn’t have upset her too much,” Jessie assured her. “She didn’t say a single thing to me about it.” I don’t need to tell Julia the reason is because she’s been hanging out with Natasha and that goth chick all morning long. Although that might explain things… “Julia, you’re not nuts for being passionate about something you believe in.”
“But I’m just another crazy fundamentalist,” she mumbled.
“You’re going to have to try harder than that,” Jessie joked. “Did I ever tell you about my grandfather Yitzhak?”
Julia shook her head. “No.”
“Well, he’s an Orthodox Jew. Very conservative—so conservative that in the summer, he still wears a long black wool coat and a shtreimel, which is a fur hat. Mind you, this is in New York, where summertime temperatures often hit 90 degrees, and unlike here, it’s muggy too.”
“Why would someone do something crazy like that?”
“Because the Torah tells him to,” Jessie explained. “Over the centuries, the rabbis agreed that an outfit this hot and bulky was what was required to be modest.”
“Do people pass out from it?”
Jessie shrugged. “I have no idea. I haven’t ever spoken to him. Big family rift.” She sat next to Julia and put an arm around her shoulder. “I’m just saying that there is always someone out there crazier than you and I. So relax. I haven’t come to bite your head off, and if Kelsey is going to overreact over something like this, she needs to grow a thicker skin.”
“I need to what?” a voice asked. Julia looked up and saw Kelsey. She came.
“I was telling Julia one of my stories about Jewish life,” Jessie explained.
“You got plenty of them,” Kelsey replied, sitting on the other side of Julia. “The one about the old rabbi camping outside your synagogue trying to convince everyone to move to Israel was pretty funny.”
Julia grinned, slipping an arm around Kelsey’s waist. I guess they don’t hate me after all, she concluded.
Kelsey felt Julia’s arm reach around her. I guess she is my friend. She doesn’t hate me for not accepting whatever dogma she believes in.
“So Kelsey, who’s that goth chick Natasha’s been hanging around with?” Jessie asked.
“That’s Kacie. She’s the one Natasha ran into in chemistry.”
Jessie nodded. “I guess the boyfriend didn’t last long.”
“The same can be said for our peace and quiet,” Julia quietly muttered. “Here comes trouble.”
Two heads shot up to meet where Julia’s gaze was directed. “Justin.”
The tall, lanky boy approached them, and stopped in front of Julia. “I need to talk to you. Alone.”
“No you don’t,” Julia defied him.
“Yes you will,” he growled. “Or I will tell your mom.”
“Nice try, and go ahead. Tell her whatever you want.”
“She told you what she’s going to do if you don’t listen.”
“I damn well know,” Julia hissed at him. “Now fuck off!”
Jessie and Kelsey sat there, mouths gaping open. I have never heard Julia use profanity! And I was convinced she didn’t even know what the “F” word was!
He grabbed her by the shirt collar. “Don’t speak to me like that.”
Kelsey jumped up and wormed her way between the two of them. “Get your hands off her. Now!” she barked.
“Go to hell, dyke.” He drew his hand back and slapped her.
Jessie shot up like a spring. “Get out of here, now!” she yelled, charging him and grabbing him by the shirt collar. “Get out of here before you make us do something we all regret!”
He shook his hand free of her grasp. “You haven’t heard the last of me yet,” he threatened, before leaving. “Kiss your tennis team goodbye, Julia.”
Julia glared at him as he walked away. “You’re grasping straws, Justin,” she shook her finger at him.
“Tennis team?” Jessie asked. “What the hell does he mean by that?”
“We’ll find out,” Julia tersely replied. “By the way,” she said, grabbing a piece of paper out of her backpack, “if I don’t show up to school tomorrow, this is where you ought to look for the body.” She scribbled down her address.
“Julia, you’re getting morbid on me again,” Jessie worriedly noted.
Kelsey shot a worried glance first at Jessie, then Julia. I missed something. She was in good spirits when I got here.
“I’m pretty sure my mom is getting ready to kill me,” she told her. “She told me to date Justin or she’d pull me off the tennis team. I don’t think she counted on me hating Justin that much.”
“She—she—she can’t!” Kelsey cried. “The tennis team sucks without you!”
“She doesn’t care about the team,” Julia snorted. Quietly, she added, “And she certainly doesn’t care about me.”
Her dad picked her up after tennis practice. She was about to get in the car when he noticed she didn't have her duffel bag with her. "Where's your tennis stuff?" he asked.
"I left it with Coach Banning," Julia replied. "I won't need it anymore."
"What do you mean, you won't need it anymore?" Rhett asked, confused.
"Julia, what's going on?" he asked, concerned.
"Mom made me call her bluff," Julia replied. "Hell will freeze over before I date Justin!"
Rhett's eyes bugged out. "She didn't!"
"She did," Julia affirmed. "Date Justin or quit tennis. I'll poke out my own eyeballs before I date that creep!"
Quitting tennis is pretty close to it, Julia, her father thought to himself. He hooked a U-turn at the nearest stoplight. "You're not quitting tennis."
"I'm not going out with Justin!" she shrieked. "Don't push me!"
"Hell will freeze over before I let you date that bastard's son," Rhett told her. "We going to get this straightened out, first with your coach, and then I will straighten out your mother!"
Julia sat there and cried. She was pretty certain it was all her fault they fought the other night. Why can't I just be a good girl like all the others? she despaired, but the thought of kissing or dating Justin was just too repulsive for her to stomach.
Thursday morning. Julia sighed; the week had dragged on like no other in her memory. At least we’re beyond the halfway point, she mused to herself. One more night prepping the Hell House and it’s ready to roll. It’ll be nice to have it all over with.
She sat in the library, twirling her pencil. I wonder if Audrie is going to stop by this morning. I owe her an apology. A big apology.
She scribbled a few more things down in her notebook. Dad did read Mother the riot act last night, but I’m not so sure I’ve heard the end of it yet. I better keep myself steeled; Armageddon has merely been postponed.
“Hey,” Audrie greeted. “You look better today.”
“Thanks,” Julia blushed. “I’m sorry about being such a bitch to you yesterday. You were only worried about me.”
Audrie nodded. “I was worried,” she admitted. “Please don’t hesitate to talk to me when things bother you, okay? It can’t possibly be good for you to bottle it up the way you do.”
Julia merely nodded. I don’t know any other way.
Arriving in Student Council was always a relief. Her second period class was nearly unbearable with Justin in it, and she had spoken to the counselor the day prior about switching her math class the next semester to avoid continued harassment. The counselor was very concerned about it, and she suspected she had called in Justin afterwards, based on how angry he was during lunch. She was grateful they had switched seats in Statistics; she now sat in the back again, which slowed down how many times Justin could turn around and glare at her.
You don’t own me, you bastard, she gleefully thought to herself. Even my daddy called you one. Well, close enough. He called your daddy one. And my dad doesn’t say that about just anyone!
Third period. They were still assembling items for the fair on Saturday, and had split themselves into self-defined groups to work on the exhibits. Jessie and Kelsey were one team, Luke and Cassie another, Natasha was working on her own, Brendan and the freshman, Thomas, were working on one, and Julia worked with Audrie.
“Did you see the bruise on Kelsey’s face?” Audrie asked. “That’s pretty nasty.”
Julia looked over. It had colored quite well. “That is ugly.” She felt a little guilty about it.
“I wonder what happened,” Audrie mused.
“Justin,” Julia answered.
“What?!” Audrie exclaimed. “How in the…what happened?”
“Justin went to confront me at lunch yesterday. Jessie and Kelsey were sitting with me, and when he grabbed me, Kelsey stepped in and he smacked her.”
“What a rotten son of a—whoa Audrie, no profanity,” she jokingly scolded herself.
“The whole thing has prompted the same response from me, except I’ve had a few slips.”
Julia merely laughed. “I got pretty colorful during that little argument. Didn’t know that blue existed on my palette of language colors.”
Audrie laughed. “That is a pretty funny image,” she admitted. “But I’m glad you’re standing up to your mom about him. If he’s willing to punch your friends, he’s certain to—wait, you said he grabbed you! Julia!”
“By the shirt collar.”
Audrie shook her head. “You. Me. Lunch. This is escalating.” She gave her a serious look. “No arguments.”
“He did slap Kelsey,” Julia justified to herself. “I at least have to stand up for my friends.”
“That’s the spirit,” Audrie cheered.
Off in another corner of the gym, trouble was brewing.
“No devils as décor!” Luke protested when he caught a glimpse of Natasha’s exhibit.
“And why not?” she asked. “It’s all part of Halloween.”
“Intolerable!” Cassie backed him up. “You’re promoting Satanism!”
Natasha eyed the little devil she was drawing. “It’s just a cute little one,” she said, downplaying the incident. “You see them everywhere! What’s the harm in a little cute one?”
“Everything!” Cassie snarled.
“Like a Satanist is going to worship a cute, cuddly one,” Natasha laughed. “Get real. They’d want a scary one. Does this look scary?” She dangled the sign in front of them.
Cassie seized it from her hand and ripped it up. “Devil be gone!” she hissed.
“Hey!” Natasha yelled, outraged. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”
Jessie and Kelsey turned their heads to watch the fight. “Just like old times, isn’t it?” Jessie mused.
“Fighting over nothing,” Kelsey added. “Yup. Just like old times.”
Cassie’s beady little eyes pinned Natasha. “I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I’m exorcising this place of your evil ways!”
“Evil for evil,” Natasha taunted. “Like that’s going to work.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?” Luke growled. “Are you implying my girlfriend is evil?” He bared his teeth. “Because if you are…”
“Like you scare me,” Natasha cackled. “All I have to do is shake my boobs and you’ll forget what you were supposed to do.”
Cassie snarled and leapt at Natasha, claws extended. Natasha took one step back, so she was facing sideways. “Bring it on, bitch!” Natasha dared.
“Enough,” Mr. Eldon scolded the combatants. “Go back to your projects.”
“Natasha’s drawing Satanic figures!” Cassie accused.
“It’s just a little devil,” Natasha protested.
“Leave each other alone,” Mr. Eldon commanded. “I’ll screen the projects after class.”
Cassie and Luke returned to their project. “Say, you know how Julia’s doing that Hell House with Western Baptist?” Luke suggested. “We should do our own version.”
“You think it’ll pass the censor over there?” Cassie asked, taking a glancing look at Mr. Eldon. “The truth might be too much for him to handle.”
“I like edgy,” Luke chuckled. “Let’s push the envelope.”
Julia had overheard the confrontation between Luke, Cassie and Natasha. It’s a Halloween exhibit, for heaven’s sake. It’s evil by its own merits. What’s a devil or two anyway?
“Just like old days, isn’t it?” Audrie laughed, watching the two parties argue.
“Yeah,” Julia agreed. “Oops, little shoving match there.”
“They’re really going at it,” Audrie commented. “Natasha’s been quiet for so long, I wondered what happened.”
Julia shrugged. “No idea.”
The two parties separated, and Luke and Cassie went back to their project. Watching them made her a little uncomfortable. Audrie looked up at Julia and then followed her view. “They’re glowing.”
Julia nodded. “They look awfully happy around each other.” She paused, then asked, “Is that what love is supposed to look like?”
Audrie shrugged. “I think so.”
“I wonder if I’ll ever look at someone like that.” An image of Kelsey popped into her head. A boy, silly. Girls don’t count. But her mind drew a blank when it came to the opposite sex.
“I’m sure you will,” Audrie reassured her. “Just as I am sure for myself.”
If you knew how I felt about it, you wouldn’t be so willing to be sure! Julia chuckled to herself.
“Hey,” Natasha greeted Jessie and Kelsey at lunchtime. “Long time, no see.”
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Jessie concurred. The goth girl who was standing next to Natasha regarded the tall girl quizzically. “I’m Jessie,” she introduced herself.
“Kacie,” the slim goth replied, shaking her hand.
“So, what’cha two up to?” Kelsey asked, sitting across the table from the two goths.
“I was telling Kacie about what a psycho bitch Cassie is,” Natasha informed her.
“That was pretty funny,” Kelsey admitted. “Did you see the shade of red Luke’s cheeks turned when you told him how distractible he was?”
“Boobs,” Natasha beamed. “Gets them every time.” She put her hand up and whispered, “Even the gay ones.”
Kelsey laughed. “Why would that be? I thought they liked uhm…you know…”
“Dick?” Natasha supplied.
“Yeah,” Kelsey blushed.
Natasha shrugged. “I have no idea why, all I know is that they like them,” she grinned.
“And just how would you know?” Jessie asked.
“I was asked to give a demonstration,” Natasha chuckled. Kacie shot her a disapproving look, but it disappeared before anyone else noticed it.
“You’re incorrigible,” Jessie laughed.
“You betcha,” Natasha proudly stated.
Julia and Audrie left the counselor’s office ten minutes before lunch was over. “I have no idea if it’s going to do any good,” Julia said dejectedly. “If they call a parent conference I’m going to be in trouble with my mom.”
Audrie reached up and put a hand on her shoulder. “I think all parties involved need to know the gravity of the situation. Having an impartial third party such as a counselor tell them what’s going on will probably be much more convincing, since now it’s not just your word against theirs.”
“She’ll find a way to blame me, trust me,” Julia sighed.
“Let’s go give Kelsey and Jessie some warning that they might be speaking with the counselor,” Audrie suggested. “Where do you think they are?”
“Hmm.” She walked along silently for a few steps, brows furrowed in thought. “Let’s start by scanning the quad. I think that’s where they hang out when we’re not lunching together.”
“Alright, to the quad then.”
They entered the quad, and saw that the two of them were hanging out with Natasha and another goth girl. “Oooh, this is going to be interesting,” Julia commented.
Audrie nodded. “Talk about awkward. We’re going to have to get within striking distance.”
“Us two haven’t been baiting her,” Julia said hopefully. “Maybe she’ll let us be.”
They were within ten feet of the group when Julia saw the goth girl write something on Kelsey’s hand. She mumbled something to her, gave her a kiss on the cheek, then left.
Uh, is that what I think I saw? Julia asked herself, feeling a twinge of anger and envy. Why am I getting upset? she asked herself when she noted her own reaction. She has a right to her life, you know. She shoved down the irrational thought.
“Hey,” Julia greeted them. I might as well address all three of them. I’m sure Natasha knows about it by now. “We just spoke to the counselor about what Justin did yesterday at lunch,” she announced. “She’s probably going to want to talk to you guys to get your side of the story.”
“You spoke to the counselor?”
Julia nodded. “Audrie convinced me that the harassment needs to stop.”
“Good,” Jessie concurred. “Thanks for the heads up.”
The lunch bell then rang. “Off to class we go,” she sighed. “Don’t hold back anything. We certainly didn’t.”
Kelsey and Jessie nodded. “Will do. See you later.”
The two Christians left, leaving Natasha, Jessie and Kelsey alone. “Justin?” Natasha mouthed, looking at each of them in turn quizzically. She focused on Kelsey’s cheek. “Is that how you got that bruise?”
Kelsey nodded. “Yeah. He also grabbed Julia, and that’s when I interceded. I wonder if he was going to slap her.”
“Bad breakup?” Natasha asked.
Kelsey emphatically shook her head. “No, he’s been stalking her. He wants to go out with her, she says he gives her the heebie-jeebies, and he won’t take no for an answer. It’s really ugly.”
“I bet Justin’s not going to be showing up for classes once the counselor sees that bruise on your face,” Jessie pointed out.
“You think the police are going to get involved?” Natasha asked.
“They could,” Kelsey replied. “Jessie, I never did thank you for pushing him out when you did. You’d make a good bouncer.”
Jessie softly laughed. “I probably weigh twice as much as he does. No competition.”
The quad was starting to empty. “We better go,” Kelsey urged.
“Speaking to the counselor did help,” Kelsey admitted to Jessie after school. “My mom’s going to be pissed to have to leave the house though for a parent conference.”
“Break it to her tonight, she’ll have a couple days to get used to the idea,” Jessie suggested. “But if it makes you feel any better, my mom isn’t going to be happy about it either.”
“Sometimes it makes me wonder if we made the right choice,” Kelsey mumbled. She realized what she said, and quickly replayed the infamous situation in her head. “No, we did. Let the parents grouse.”
“I think he was going to hit her sooner or later,” Jessie stated. “It would have been uglier if we hadn’t been there.” She looked at Kelsey’s hand. “So,” she said in a low, conspirational voice, “are you going to call her?”
“Huh? Who?” Kelsey asked. Jessie picked up the hand with the ink on it. “Oh.” She laughed, embarrassed. “No.”
“Why not?” Jessie asked. “Might get your mind off a certain you-know-who.”
“She’s not my type,” Kelsey declared. “And I’m getting some weird feelings about the whole thing.”
“I asked Kacie about this boyfriend she just broke up with, and she looked at me funny.”
“And?” Jessie asked. “What are you getting at?”
“Natasha said she left us to hang out with her. She usually only leaves the group when there’s a boy involved. And Kacie got a little upset when Natasha made that comment about boys feeling her up.”
Jessie began to catch onto what Kelsey was saying. “You think that they—uh—were an item?”
“I have no proof, but it’s possible. Let me put it this way—I’m not taking Natasha’s leftovers!”
“Eww!” Jessie grimaced, laughing. “You think she might be—uh—switch hitting?”
“After that comment about Julia’s sexy growl, I think anything possible with that girl!”